Chapter 50
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Warning: Profanity

Reality hit as soon as Brand caught her, for the girl screamed like a banshee and kicked and fought. The last two girls he’d kidnapped were almost willing. He’d forgotten what it was like to have to be rough with them. Brand had no choice but to roll her in the carpet, and even then, she screamed and yelled and cursed like a demon.

“Let go of me, you bastard! Let me go!”

When he arrived back, it was late in the day. Brand hadn’t slept all night. A headache pulsed in his skull, made worse by the girl’s high-pitched yelps. He flew up to one of the deserted rooms and rolled her out of the carpet. She did not come quietly.

“You bastard!” she yelled “My father will string you by the neck for this!”

She ran at him, fists flying. But the magic of the castle held her back. This didn’t stop her from flailing and frothing, the wilted flowers falling from her hair. Brand took a deep breath.

“My lady—” he began.

“My brothers will gut you!” She screeched. “My sisters will wear your intestines as ribbons.”

“I am a sorcerer. You are—”

“My mother will gouge out your eyes!” she cried. “My grandma will dance at your grave, you damned whoreson bastard—”

“Shut up!” Brand yelled.

He slammed all the windows shut and switched his face to that of his grandfather.

She stared. “What sort of demon are you?”

“I’m a sorcerer. You are in my power. Lie down on the bed.”

Instead, the girl grabbed one of the wine glasses and threw it at him. Either she had terrible aim, or the magic of the castle intervened. The glass flew at the wall and shattered. Brand let out an impatient sigh, bound her with his magic ropes, and pinned her flat on the bed.

“You raping bastard!” she yelled.

“I said be quiet!”

Brand pushed the curse into her, but she hardly seemed to notice, intent as she was at cursing him out. He let her go, and she flew out of the bed and went at him, once more. The coils held her back from him, but they did not stop her from grabbing everything she could find and throwing it at him.

“Stop destroying my things,” he said in a low voice.

But she wouldn’t. She was red-faced, having a full-on tantrum, screaming curses at him.

“Let me go, you raping bastard, you whoreson dog—”

“Enough!” Brand yelled at last, stringing the ropes around her, binding her like a cocoon. And since she wouldn’t shut up, he muffled her as well.

The ropes bound her tongue, her jaw, her vocal chords. It felt very much like being strangled. Brand knew, because his grandfather had done it to him, when he was a child. The girl’s eyes went wide, but she continued to thrash. So he bound her tighter and tighter, until she could no longer move.

“Are you an idiot?” Brand asked. “Do you have absolutely no concept of what magic can do? You are in my power and that means I can kill you without so much as raising my hand. I suggest you stop struggling and listen to me!”

Finally, she stopped resisting and went still. Brand did not know if it was the ropes or his words that had done the trick. It didn’t matter. He didn’t release her.

“I put a curse on you,” he said quietly. “In three months, you will be transformed into a dragon, unless I choose to lift it. Once you are a dragon, you will have no mind of your own. You will obey me. I can set you upon that precious family of yours. Your father, mother, brothers, sisters, grandma—they will scream as you burn them to cinders. Do you understand?”

He threw her on the bed and released her from the bindings. She lay on the blankets, gasping for breath.

“You will come downstairs for dinner,” Brand said coldly. “By then, you had better learn to control yourself. I will treat you as you act. If you act like a lady, then your stay here will be pleasant. If you continue to act like an animal, you will find yourself sleeping outside and rooting for table scraps on the floor.”

She clutched her throat and did not speak.

He left. His words sounded like something his grandfather might say, but he did not care, for though he hated the man, he had respected him. Brand would be respected. He was sick of being walked all over. He stomped downstairs and found Seri and the other girls waiting. They must have heard, for none of them would meet his eye.

“Explain the rules to the new girl,” Brand told Seri.

“I’ll talk to her,” she said. “For her sake,” she added, under her breath.

“Oh, what a surprise,” Brand snapped. “You’ll not do it for me. What have you ever done for me, Seri? Not a goddamn thing!”

He glared at her, daring her to reply.

“Brand…” Nel said, coming closer.

“Don’t,” he said sharply, and she drew back.

“I will see to the girl,” Seri said quietly and walked upstairs.

Brand felt his rage dissolve. He looked at Nel and saw, for the first time, a look of terror on her face. He glanced at Gretchen and saw that her head was down and her expression blank. He felt a twinge of pain at their looks, but what could he say? He walked off.

Because the new girl did not have her mirror covered—either, he had remembered to remove the covering or it had fallen over in the fight—he was able to see her. The new girl grabbed her pillow and screamed into it. At the knock on the door, she jumped up, throwing the pillow away. She went to ground and picked up a shard of glass, holding it as a weapon.

“Who is it?” she called.

“My name is Serihilde of Castle Staghome. Seri, for short. I’m one of the girls Brand kidnapped.”

“There are others?”

“Four of us, including you. May I come in?”

The girl did not let go of the glass shard, but she did open the door.

“Hello,” Seri said.

“How do you know his name?”

“He told me.”

“Are you working for him? You don’t seem to have put up much of a fight.”

“I did,” Seri said. “At first. And I still resist him in my own way—”

“What does he want? What is he going to do to us?”

“He…” Seri hesitated. “What he wants is complicated—”

“He’s going to rape me, isn’t he? Oh, God—”

“No, no, not—”

“How bad is it? How often does he do it?”

“What is your name?” Seri asked.

“Alonsa. Of House Whitemoor.”

“Alonsa, listen. Brand is not going to sleep with you unless he thinks you’re willing.”

“What? Why? He’s no gentleman, I can tell you that much. He kidnapped me.”

“I know. But he’s peculiar—”

“He said he’d turn me into a dragon. Was he lying? Can he actually do it?”

Seri showed her the scales.

Alonsa began to panic. “Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God.”

“It’s okay,” Seri said.

But Alonsa began to go into hysterics, babbling incoherently and cursing. She was in such a tizzy, she’d hardly let Seri get a word in edgewise. Brand supposed he should feel sorry for her, but he did not. He brought out his book on the Lords and Ladies of Houses and Castles and, but he found nothing of note. By the time he’d finished, Seri had finally succeeded in getting Alonsa to calm down and was explaining the situation to her.

“So, you just give him whatever he wants, and he’ll let you go home?” Alonsa said.

“Right,” Seri replied.

“What does he want?” Alonsa asked. “Sex?”

Brand rolled his eyes. Always the first thing they thought of.

“Well,” Seri said quietly, “he has been known to sleep with the women he—”

“Did you sleep with him?”

“No.”

“Is that why you’re turning into a dragon?”

“It’s not—I won’t give him—”

“What? If he doesn’t want sex, what does he want?”

“Typically, families have magic objects. If you—”

“I don’t have any. I’m from a House, not a Castle.”

“Well, then… it may be something else.”

“What else could it be? He wants me to sleep with him. Fine. If that’s all he wants, I’ll do it. Then, he’ll send me home, right?”

“I… We’ve been trying to resist his seductions—”

“And look where it’s gotten you,” Alonsa said. “Before long, he won’t even want to sleep with you, and then where will you be? No, I’ll sleep with him tonight, then he’ll break the spell and send me back the next morning.”

“Usually it takes three months—”

“Three months? Are you crazy? Why would you wait that long? Just fuck him and get it over with.”

Brand stopped watching. He’d heard enough. He was rather upset by the whole conversation. He did not like that she had been rude to Seri. He did not like her flippant attitude toward sleeping with him. Frankly, he just didn’t like her. This was what happened when he acted on impulse. It never ended well.

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