Saja gagged as the tanner’s breath washed over her in warm huffs that reeked of fish and ale. The man leaned forward from his perch upon the stoop of the guildhall, and pulled her close, his hands fumbling along her waist and rump.
She considered for a moment to let him have his way. Her father had left her with few choices, and almost all ended with her lying upon her back. She cursed her father for the thousandth time that day, wishing him dead, and at the same time wondering if he still lived. She hadn’t seen him for three days, since the Feast of Raast, where the denizens of Kuthahaar had celebrated those of the Sultan’s royal blood, the Kitame, the Children of Light.
The tanner forced his mouth to her neck, and its warmth broke her from her stupor. She shoved at the man’s chest. He raised a hand to strike her, and she quickly lowered her head, staring at his sandaled feet in meek submission.
“Please,” she said. “My father’s always been loyal to the guild. It is said you protect your own.”
The tanner smirked, revealing rotted teeth that pointed like daggers. “But your father’s not in the guild, no more than the boys who collect dung for the vats.”
“He sells you oak bark and lye, gathered from across the Seas of Abthinar. You need him!”
“Phaw, forget that doddering fool. There are a dozen others who would give us as fair a price for their bark and lye, and they wouldn’t squander it all in cups at the taverns.” The tanner rose. His eyes roamed her body. “Come inside, and we’ll find work for you.”
He grabbed her arm, and she slapped it away. Staring up at his leering face, she knew whatever work the tanner would offer, it was his bed he wanted her in. She took a step back, and his smile dropped.
Jerking forward, he snatched her close again. His fingers dug into her shoulders; his chin crushed down on the top of her head. She shrieked and tried to bat him away. He growled and threw her to the ground.
“Leave, then!” he barked.
Saja glanced about, but though the street was busy, no one stared at her. No one cared. The Immortal City of Kuthahaar was never kind to those without wealth or power, and less so to those without family or guild to protect them. Despair bubbled in her gut again, but she pushed it down. Her father had always taught her that panic during a negotiation produced only two effects: a spoiled stomach and an empty purse.
She settled her shoulders and drew her face blank. “I will find him,” she said, though the words brought little comfort.
…to be continued
Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.
© Craig Comer