Embers crackled as deep voices bickered back and forth over the flames between them. Raina’s hands twisted in her skirts as her father suddenly turned his annoyed face towards her, studying her for a long moment before returning his attention back to their visitors. A deep feeling of disquiet settled in Raina’s stomach as she continued to try to pick up the few words she knew of the strange language the men spoke. Her stomach rolled as her ears caught on the word ‘woman’ and her father cast her another forlorn gaze. The visitors were talking about her? The atmosphere of the longhouse shifted as the shadows at the edges of the fire seemed to reach for her, obscuring one of the visitor’s tattooed faces in obsidian, making him look particularly fearsome.

Shuddering, Raina felt dread clawing its way into her chest as her mother’s hand settled on her shoulder, squeezing gently, reminding her she was home. That the fire burning before her was one that had offered shelter and warmth on many a cold night. That she was safe in a place she had grown among her brothers. She had nothing to fear here, surely.

Reaching up, Raina placed a firm hand over her mother’s, letting her know her momentary panic had ebbed. It was not wise to show fear in the presence of tentative allies. They would not want to partner with weaklings. She did her brothers grave dishonour by shaking in their presence. They would never allow her to come to harm. As if aware of her thoughts, Anik placed his hand on her knee and patted, tossing her a reassuring smile as he leaned in to whisper in her ear. “They only appear fierce, the enemy run seeing their ugliness, so they have never had need of their weapons, they are ill practiced and easy to defeat come real battle,” he teased.

Forcing a small smile to her lips, Raina nodded at her little brother who had grown much larger than her in the last few seasons. She didn’t believe him for a moment though, the five men opposite her were the most intimidating looking warriors she’d ever laid eyes on. There was little doubt in her mind that every scar on their rough, toned bodies was a sign of a hard-won victory.

Her eyes widened as their leader met her gaze, a challenge in his smoky grey depths. Straightening her spine, Raina refused to look away, her deep blue eyes sharping as her nostrils flared, insulted he would think to so openly appraise her. She was the chief’s only daughter, how dare he? A lazy smirk curled the edges of the warrior’s mouth, softening his expression some as his gaze dropped to her chest, lingering on her breasts before turning his attention back to her father.

The strong maternal hand tightened on her shoulder as the foreign rumblings continued and Raina turned to see her mother’s jaw clenching, her eyes wet with a sheen of unshed tears. “Oma?” she whispered. Her mother’s head shook ‘no’ so slightly it was almost imperceptible. Confused, Raina looked to her eldest brother, Rukh, standing at her father’s right shoulder, he too looked upset, white lines forming at the corners of his mouth as he crossed his large arms over his chest, his brows low and sinister over his stormy eyes.

On her right, her father looked disappointed, only Anik on her left was his carefree self. Raina blanched as she deduced it was because only she and Anik had not yet learned the foreigner’s tongue. Just what had upset her family so?

Hovering by the door, Marin stared at her regretfully, his hands balled into fists at his side. Raina’s fingers flew to the flower he’d placed in her braid only that morning. She pulled it into her lap, caressing the petals, wanting to feel connected to him amid all the tension in the room. Her brows snapped low in confusion a minute later as he held eye contact and pulled the beaded bracelet she’d made him from his wrist, dropping it in the dirt. Her heart clenched in her chest at the sorrowful look he gave her before exiting the longhouse, leaving her alone with her family and the strangers.

“It’s a deal then?” the leader of the visiting warriors confirmed in Raina’s language.

Raina’s father nodded solemnly, “give us the night to say goodbye and I will have Rukh deliver her at dawn,” he promised, gesturing at his successor.

Raina’s head swivelled from her father to Rukh as he closed his eyes in defeat and nodded, agreeing to his chief’s words. “Her?” Raina spat, ignoring the dig of her mother’s nails into her shoulder, “Me?” she shouted, the reality of what her father had been arguing with the demon across from her finally clear. This was why Marin was rejecting her? Because she was being promised to another man? She would not have it. Glaring across the fire, anger swirled in her belly as the demon feasted his eyes on her like a piece of meat ripe for gnawing.

“I will not be his! Is that beast even a man?” she shrieked as Rukh’s heavy hand circled the back of her neck, forcing her to stay seated as she tried to stand. “Rukh! No!” she objected pleadingly, looking to the brother that had always coddled her for aid. Seeing only regret in his eyes, she turned to her father, “please, Oba!” she begged, “surely he will take something else!”

Caressing her cheek gently with the back of his knuckles, her father shook his head, “be silent daughter, it is your duty to do as I bid,” he reminded her.

“You would have him mount me?” she snapped, jabbing her finger at the mountainous man glaring at her as his companions chuckled and grinned lecherously at her.

Her father’s next words silenced her protests, the fight leaving her as she stared open mouthed at him, horrified. “Yes. Repeatedly. You are his now. He will have you as many times as it takes to fill you with child, our tribe’s survival depends on it.”

~ ~ ~

Scowling, Asim tugged at the straps of his saddle, securing them, the horrified look on his bride’s face haunting him. He knew he wasn’t the most pleasing of men to look upon, but the woman’s reaction had upset him. Most would be happy to call a warrior as fearsome as he, husband, wouldn’t they? She would want for nothing under his care. Did it really matter if his face was scarred?

He rubbed at the intricate tattoo above his right eyebrow wondering if his branding was what scared her. Then again, her brother was scarred and tattooed, and she didn’t seem to be frightened of him. Frowning, he ran his fingers over the bottom half of his tattoo that sat below his right eye and covered half his cheek bone. Feeling ridiculous, Asim whipped his fingers away from his face. Who cared if she thought him attractive? She was to be his wife. It made no difference if she found his visage pleasing or not. A frightening scowl returning to his mouth, Asim fixed his attention on his men, watching as they mounted their saddles in the pre-dawn light.

It mattered little what she wanted, Asim reminded himself, the woman could protest the rest of her life and it would change nothing. His people needed the food off her fields and her people needed his protection. Farmers did not make good warriors and nomadic warriors made even shittier farmers. He could just take their crops by force, but diplomacy would ensure his people acquired the skill to provide for themselves. Hopefully, taking a Shaniri woman to wife would encourage the others to breed with her people, make more connections, drawing their tribes closer until they were one. Grunting, he swung one powerful leg over the side of his stallion, gripping the reins in one hand as he waited for his bride.

~ ~ ~

Raina yanked strands from her braids haphazardly before plucking the beads from the leather wraps binding her plaits, trying to make herself look as unkempt as possible. Her mother had taken great care to prepare her, dressing her before the moon had even given wane to the sun. There had been no need to wake her, Raina had not slept at all, wanting to be conscious for every precious minute she had left with her family as they snored around her.

She’d hoped Marin would come for her in the night. Invite her to run away with him.

He did not.

Dragging her fingers across her lips, Raina smeared the berry tint her mother had applied, staining the corner of her mouth, hoping it went well with the bags under her eyes and her dishevelled hair. Looking down at the rest of her body, Raina frowned, finding nothing more she could do to make herself less presentable other than ripping her own wrappings. “I still do not see why I could not have my own horse,” she whined, sliding her hand back around her brother’s waist to join the other.

“Your husband insists you ride with him, so you can not run from him,” Rukh explained, his voice hard. “After the protests you made last night, I would do no different in his position.”

“He’s a fool if he thinks my own two feet will not do the job well enough,” she snapped prissily.

Grunting, Rukh nodded, “I am not pleased about your union either, but Father did what he feels is right,” he sighed, knowing they did not have the warriors needed to fight off the Uruki that threatened them on their own. “The Kurili are strong and their warriors numerous. Your union will save many,” he told her solemnly, “take comfort in that.”

“Easy for you to say, you’re not the one that has to lay with him,” she snapped, her heart yearning for Marin.

Yanking on the reins, Rukh halted his stead, turning in the saddle to glare at her, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he took in her tussled appearance. “Promise me you will not fight him, he will have you one way or another, do not encourage him to harm you, his people are savage,” he advised her firmly. “And you’ve done yourself no favours,” he warned, gesturing at her hair and face, thinking she looked as though she’d just been bedded. “Fix yourself, now.”

Sneering at him, Raina crossed her arms angrily, “let him hurt me and give me more reason to hate him then,” she spat immaturely.

Dismounting, Rukh reached up and grabbed his sister by the waist, dragging her down to him. Tugging the bands from her hair, he combed his fingers through her braids, causing the black locks to fall in gentle waves down her back and shoulders. Next, he licked his thumb and wiped at the side of her mouth roughly, cleaning the deep red smears from her tan skin. Cupping her cheeks in his hands, he placed a kiss to her forehead and closed his eyes, “do not fight him sister,” he begged, pulling her into a fierce hug.

At the genuine worry in his voice, Raina frowned, prickles of fear teasing their way down her spine as he released her and helped her back onto the horse. “I won’t,” she promised, planning to run from her ‘husband’ long before he had the chance to bed her.

~ ~ ~

Doing his best not to give away the excitement he felt the moment a rider appeared on the ridge, Asim bit down on his own tongue, focusing on the discomfort it caused him. He would have his pretty bride settled between his thighs soon enough, his men did not need to know how eager he was for her.

In truth, before meeting her, he’d resigned himself to the union even if she’d resembled a pig; knowing it was what was best for his people in the long term. He had been pleasantly surprised by her beauty and even more so by her spirit.

When she’d locked gazes with him over the fire, her almond shaped eyes churning like a rough sea under delicate brows, her tempting mouth pulled back in a sneer, he’d wanted nothing more than to force her onto her back and dare her to deny him. He looked forward to seeing how her ferocity would playout in his bed furs.

Kicking his heels lightly into the flanks of his mount, Asim ignored the rising of his cock, picturing her deep blue eyes as he rode to meet his new brother-in-law.

“Ho, Asim,” Rukh called, riding up to his side, reaching out to clasp his forearm.

Asim gripped the other man’s arm in greeting, his eyes locked on the windswept beauty behind Rukh.

“Ho, brother,” he acknowledged, maneuvering his mount closer so he could reach over and collect his woman.

Raina stiffened in his hands as he settled her across his lap, her bottom balanced between his thick thighs. “Be patient with her, my Father spared her the whip too many times,” Rukh cautioned worriedly, a frown on his lips as he studied the way Asim manhandled his sister.

Nodding, Asim clasped Rukh’s forearm once more before turning his mount back towards his men. Kicking his heels a little harder than necessary, he grinned as he caused Raina to pitch back against his chest, her fingers gripping tight to his upper arm as he used his free hand to wrap around her waist, steadying her as he pulled her closer. He rode in silence, his men falling into line behind him, enjoying the way her loose hair teased his face as it fluttered in the breeze.

Asim groaned as she wiggled against him an hour later, her plump ass bumping up against the hard length of him was the sweetest torture he’d ever experienced. “Do that again, and I’ll take you right now astride the horse,” he warned, lowering his mouth to her ear so he wouldn’t be overheard.

The flash of uncertainty in her eyes and the way she sat straight up, preventing her shoulders from leaning against his chest, made him grin. He didn’t mean a word of it; he’d never give his men such a show. If they were alone, he might make good on his threat though. He rather liked the idea of allowing his warhorse to do the work for him, bouncing her on his cock the way she bounced on his thighs with each gallop. “No protest this time?” he teased, a little disappointed.

Asim delighted in the hard set of her eyes as she glared at him, “it would seem I am yours to do with as you please. My objections did nothing to help me yesterday, why would they do so today?” she replied icily, feigning acceptance of her fate.

The side of his mouth quirked, “docile and acquiescing doesn’t suit you. You are not a farmer’s wife, you are wife to a warrior, a fighting spirit is good. It will make for strong sons. Besides, your objections amuse me.”

Raina frowned and turned her head forwards, doing her best to ignore the man at her back, unsure how to feel. Her father and brothers had always warned her that her temper and haughty tone would get her into trouble one day, Marin had even warned her in the past to watch her mouth, she never imagined her husband would encourage it.

~ ~ ~

Swallowing nervously, Raina glanced around the settlement that was to be her new home for the day, planning to sneak away at the first opportunity. She was disappointed to see only canvas tents. The differences around her made her long for home, for her quiet village with cozy longhouses filled with her people.

These peopled lived together, but separately. Instead of many families in one dwelling, it appeared only a few people shared each tent. The distance from others made her gaze back at Asim, worry goose pimpling her skin. She hadn’t counted on being so alone with him. How would she get away if she were the only person around to draw his attention?

Riding up to the largest tent, Asim dismounted, handing the reins to a young boy. Holding the tent flap open, he glanced back at her expectantly. “Aren’t you going to help me down?” she snapped, glaring at him.

“Why? Are you a child? You have need of me to carry you?” he challenged, the scar bisecting his lip twitching with mirth as she stared at him, mouth agape.

Nostrils flaring in annoyance, Raina pushed herself off the horse, her hide boots splashing mud onto her calves as she stomped towards him, shoving past him as she entered his tent. Admiring her backside, Asim let his eyes rake the length of her long tone legs. He couldn’t wait to have them over his shoulders as he pumped himself between them.

Raina’s gaze danced over everything, taking in the small space. In the center lay a bed of furs, a wash bowl with fresh water only inches away from the bed. Her eyes widened apprehensively, drawn to the amount of weapons lining the tent. Bows, axes, arrows, swords, blades of varying sizes. If there was any doubt as to the man’s occupation, there was none now. He had been bred and raised to fight. Is this what would become of her future children if she were forced to stay?

Wandering over to the three baskets on the far side of the tent, the only seemingly safe things in the tent, Raina crouched and opened them. The first contained food stores, the second tools, the third furs. Her inspection complete, she turned to look at her husband.

“This is my home now?” she asked, trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice. The tent was minimalistic in comparison to the busy longhouse she’d previously occupied. There were no toys, no children, no mending, no herbs, no weaving or beading. What was she to do with all her time?

Nodding, Asim tugged at the strings of his leather greaves, tossing them into the basket of furs she’d left open. Raina’s eyes trailed his arm, surprised to see the wicked tribal tattoo tracing his chest, shoulder and bicep extended the entire length of his arm. The bear claws of his beaded necklace rattled as he bent over to loosen the ties of his boots before stepping out of them. She frowned as his hands went to leather strap crossing his chest filled with blades. “What are you doing?” she asked softly.

“Undressing,” he replied bluntly.

“I can see that, I meant, why are you undressing?” Raina clarified.

Arching a brow at her, Asim tossed his dagger belt into the far corner of the tent, “so I can claim my woman,” he told her plainly, his large, scarred hands moving to the wide belt holding up his leggings and waist wrap.

“Right now?” she sputtered, flushing as she pushed herself to her feet and took a step away from him, dismayed to realize he’d give her no time with which to flee.

“Is there some reason I should wait?” he asked curiously, amused by her reaction as he unbuckled the heavy belt, his lower coverings tumbling to his ankles.

Raina took another step back as she watched his thick manhood rise for her. This was not the first time she’d seen a man naked, far from. It was however, the first time she’d ever seen a man that looked like him bare.

Pressing her thighs together, she did her best to ignore the arousal he incited in her as her eyes raked his body. Ignoring his feet, buried in the material of his leggings, she took in his muscled legs, surprised to see the tattoo that wrapped his arm was mirrored on his leg, making almost the entirety of the right side of his body tattooed. Between his legs, his cock stood proud, bobbing slightly with his excitement, his heavy stones hanging below.

Swallowing, wetting her dry mouth, Raina blushed prettily as she continued to stare, comparing the monstrous man to her sweet Marin. Marin was lean in everyway her ‘husband’ was bulky, and she frowned as she acknowledged her lust flared to life inside her for both men despite their differences.

Asim stared at his wife, enjoying her perusal as her eyes flitted over his chest and arms, pausing on the long, wicked scar that extended just over his belly button and down to his left hip. “Is there no part of you that had not been marked by a blade?” she whispered, seeing for the first time just how littered he was with the burden of his trade.

Brushing his long black hair off his shoulder, the beads in his war braids clacking, he gestured at his heart, and then his cock, “I protect the bits that matter well enough,” he promised her, huffing in delight as she laughed nervously, the sound pleasing to him. Stepping away from his clothes, he sat down on his furs and gazed up at her expectantly.

Her feigned peace deserting her, Raina shook her head as he gestured for her to join him. “It’s too soon,” she objected, doing her best not to sound uncooperative, remembering her brother’s warning, “the sun is still high in the sky.”

Scrunching his face in puzzlement, Asim stared at her, “your people only fuck at night?”