Note before the story: I am not a native English speaker, in fact my language is vastly different from it. So before you attack me viciously for punctuation and mistakes I am bound to make, perhaps you should consider the fact that by writing fanfiction I am not only keeping myself amused (indeed, I am writing for myself first of all) but that I am actually trying to learn and test my skills. I am always grateful for any well-meaning, constructive criticism, because I am neither a professional writer nor a Thesaurus, and there is always room for improvement. However I am not at all interested in useless hate spitting by somebody so cowardly that he/she does not even dare to send messages off-anonymous mode, simply out of fear that someone might call them out directly on their low manners. If you do not like my writing, you are entitled to your opinion, but if you also have NOTHING to contribute except for curse words and personal attacks on someone you do not even known, perhaps the best thing for your blood pressure would be NOT to read the story. The troll who keeps sending the profanities (to my great amusement even taking pains to replace letters with stars just so his vocabulary is not detected by filters) may also be informed that I moderate the reviews, so he/she may kindly give up the effort to publicly offend me.
Finn cursed silently as the slave trader pushed her roughly onto her knees. The sharp splinters of the rough wooden planks pushed painfully into her skin, but she ignored it. After all, the tight ropes binding her hands behind her back felt much worse. As did the humiliation of it all. The irony of the fact that she had escaped slavers from New Amazonia only to be captured here was too bitter. They had not stripped her, perhaps because they decided her own outfit was revealing enough to fetch a handsome price, but they did take away her boots. Finn looked at the crowd of bidders who had gathered around the small platform in the middle of a dusty village and wondered how many of them probably had a foot fetish. To her astonishment the crowd did not consists of only humans. She caught a glimpse of two or three strange, lizard-like creatures in armour. They looked sophisticated, even elegant, and a far cry from the rest of the little mob. She had no idea where Challenger ended up after being herded into another part of the settlement with other captured men, and Marguerite had already been sold, in front of her very eyes. Finn shuddered in disgust at the memory. The bidders had seemed bored, but as soon as the former heiress appeared on the crude stage, the atmosphere at the human market changed. Unlike other female slaves Marguerite did not cry or crouched in vain attempts to escape. She did not even flinch as the blouse and skirt were almost ripped off of her and her braid unbound. She merely stood there, clad only in her camisole and pantaloons, looking like a Michelangello´s marble statue. It was not only her attitude that singled her out from among the rest of the unfortunate women intended for sale; her pale skin with fresh, rosy colouring, her curly hair, her large, silver eyes, all that was something extraordinary here in the middle of the South-American nowhere. But more than that, Marguerite´s being was breathing incredible femininity. The way she chose to stand, the way her lips trembled slightly, the way her head turned little to the side – it was as if the lowly human market transformed into a temple of worship and Marguerite was the idol. Too soon, however, the spell was broken. There was a brawl later on, as the bidders lost their temper, each vying for the prize and hoping to posses Marguerite either for themselves or for their Masters, but it was, in the end, one of those peculiar lizardmen who threw his purple cloak around her shoulders and led her away.
The auction continued. „We start bidding at one thousand!" the slave trader roared into the crowd as Finn was kept down on her knees. She had given him a black eye and a cracked rib before he finally managed to capture her, and he was now enjoying the opportunity to humiliate her as much as he possibly could. „Blond hair, blue eyes – possibly a Hagan. Or even an Amazon!" he described her to the bidders. „Feisty one she is, too! Will need a firm hand! Anyone feels up to the challenge?" In spite of everything Finn had to wonder what currency she was being appraised in. From the reaction of the crowd she was apparently, much like Marguerite, one of the high-points of the day. Her eyes were darting from one face to another, trying desperately to keep up with who bid on her, but soon she had to give up. On her knees and feeling the rough grip of the slaver on the back of her neck, it was difficult to even raise her head. She was almost surprised when the grip loosened and she was yanked up to her feet. The bidding was over. The same lizardman that had bought Marguerite was standing in front of her, eyeing her with what seemed a doubt as well as curiosity. Money exchanged hands and the lizard took Finn by her upper arm. His grasp was firm, but not hurtful, as he pushed her through the crowd and away from the platform, where another unfortunate female took her turn. The girl from the future cursed under her breath as her bare feet came into contact with sharp pebbles covering the ground. She hissed in sudden pain. „You know you could have at least bought my boots as well to get a complete package," she said, annoyed, when the lizard turned to her. His face remained unchanged, but he obviously understood. Within a second Finn found herself thrown over his shoulder. „Well, I certainly hope I´m the most expensive sack of potatoes you have ever carried," she muttered. Considering all the possibilities, she stopped resisting. Maybe she could find Marguerite. And then they could do some planning.
Meanwhile the bidders on the market began to disperse. It was obvious that nothing more interesting would be on sale today.
„Is that her?"
It was the first thing the lizard said as he entered a colourful tent beyond the perimeter of the village.
That was distinctly Marguerite´s voice. Finn was standing again, her arms finally free of the ropes, taking a proper look around. In one corner of the tent a bunch of women huddled together in apparent misery. In another corner there was a number of men, just as mournful. They were all in chains, guarded by more lizards in full armour. In the middle of it all there was Marguerite. Sitting on a comfortable chair, her figure still draped in the purple cloak, and looking as unperturbed as ever. No chains, no ropes. In fact she looked like she owned the tent and everyone in it. And her tone gave no doubt that she was the one giving the commands at the moment.
„Have you found the Professor yet?" she asked the lizard who had brought Finn. There was nothing pleading or apologetic in the way she said it. „After all, you finally know what he looks like, don´t you?"
If it were possible, the lizard seemed ashamed. „Indeed. I will not make the same mistake again." With that he left the tent and Marguerite turned her attention to Finn: „Are you alright? They did not hurt you, did they?"
„Nah. But my ego has been better," answered Finn and flung herself into another chair nearby. „I cannot believe we never noticed we were being followed! Oh, and I am so not going bug-hunting with Challenger ever again!"
„Never say never, he can be very persuasive," smiled Marguerite. All the gentleness and vulnerability she had used earlier on the audience have disappeared. She was back to normal. Finn could almost sense her thinking, weighting all possibilities and probably already scheming to get them out of the mess. „And you can bet that once we safely get home the first thing he will do is mount another expedition after the damned bugs."
„I wish I had never caught one and brought it home for him in the first place."
„That makes two of us."
„Anyway," Finn lowered her voice and moved her chair bit closer to Marguerite, „care to tell me what exactly are these lizards and how you became their Queen in as much as ten minutes?"
„Queen? Oh no. Though at one point I was very close to their Empress, after the good Captain who has just left, ransacked the Treehouse and drove me, Roxton and Malone to the lizard city" the dark-haired woman stated matter-of-factly. „We have first run into these lizardmen shortly after landing here on the Plateau. Then several times afterward. Let´s just say that the combination of my wit and few ounces of gunpowder endeared our little human bunch to one of their most charismatic leaders. About a year and a half ago he had a chance to really bond with Roxton," she suppressed a wry smile, „and we got acquainted with his Empire. Let´s just say he seems to have a soft spot for us."
„Oh I´d rather say he has a soft spot for you, my dear."
Unlike the two women the red-headed scientist looked rather worse for wear. The slavers refrained from harming Finn and Marguerite, aware that every bruise would inevitably lower their value, but for an elderly Englishman they had little mercy. Both women rushed over to support him as he limped inside.
„It´s nothing serious," he assured them. „I just think I have a sprained ankle. Rest is just bruises. They will go away shortly. You two are well, I hope? Ah. Just imagine! They gave me away practically for free! Apparently they do not hold intellect at great value!"
„I guess they earned a lot for other people. And our guns. Fortunately the good Captain here managed to buy the artillery as well as us," Marguerite laughed bitterly, making Challenger snap out of his musing over a wounded pride.
„They did not force themselves on you, either of you, I hope," he said worriedly. Marguerite and Finn just shook her head.
„We need to get moving now," said the Captain lizard.
„Well, accept our gratitude then. If you just give us our weapons and drop us somewhere safe, we can make our way back to the Treehouse," suggested Challenger.
„It is not that simple, Professor," he said formally. „By buying you and your weapons I had to give up a large amount of gold meant to supply us with much more slaves than we were able to buy." His eyes darted to Marguerite for a second as he said that. „You may think you were lucky that we spotted you in the crowd, but you should know that by indulging in charity carries a considerable risk for me. What if you are not worth that much to the Emperor? Then I will be lucky to loose only my career! No, Professor, you have been bought and you are our slaves now. Your weapons are in possession of the Emperor. Only he can decide what to do with them – and with you."
The three explorers exchanged a grim look. Marguerite was already wondering if she had not miscalculated.