The Ropemaster approached the village in the forest on foot. Smoke came from some of the huts that had been torched during the recent attack. Most huts were intact though, there was no point in torching a village that you wanted to rule. The Emperor was clear on that.
Nobody was outside. The village was silent. Even the birds did not chirp. The Ropemaster wore the coat of an Emperor official. None of the villagers would dare lay hands on him. But none were eager to come forth to greet him either.
The huts were set around an open plaza. It was to that plaza he was heading. The villagers had delivered the bamboo poles, as the Emperor had commanded. They lay in a nice stack on the plaza. He only needed the poles and some rope, and he always carried the rope with him. Crafty villagers may build weaknesses into rope.
He sat down the pack he carried on his back, drank some water from the well, sat down with folded legs, and started to eat food from his backpack. After eating he meditated before getting back on his feet to start his job. The village had remained silent all the time.
The sun was low on the horizon when he finished. The sturdy bamboo frame stood eight feet high. Each pole knotted in place with his own rope, each knot sealed with lacquer and his own signet, given to him by the emperor.
Satisfied with the sturdiness of the frame, he walked towards the huts and entered the one he had been told would hold his victim. She was there, curled up in a ball in the darkest corner of the hut, chained by a collar to a sturdy peg in the ground. He wasted no time, unlocked the collar and grabbed her by the long black hair that reached almost to her knees. He pulled her crying from the hut to the frame. She fell to the ground, pleading for mercy. He cut her clothes off, not heeding the cries and the whimpers, and started applying rope to her body.
The girl had given up. Who was she, a simple farmer’s daughter, to cross the will of the Emperor? Once a village was defeated, the Emperor would send a Ropemaster to place one of the young ladies on a bondage frame, to hang there until she died. As a warning to others. To scare the village into submission. Each knot would be sealed with lacquer and a Ropemaster’ s signet. Anyone that undid any knot would suffer death on an ant hill, half their village would be burned, and three more ladies would be put on frames. So, nobody dared release the poor bound girl. It took the Ropemaster over an hour to get the ropes proper and the sun was near the horizon. The girl was out of tears by then. She just lay there shaking.
The Ropemaster was a skilled one, one that took great pride in his work. His goal was to make the girl live as long as possible but with as much pain as possible. She would suffer and die in front of her fellow villagers, and nobody would dare to release her or end her misery by killing her. That would break any remaining fighting spirit of the villagers. Once she was dead, her body would remain bound until there was nothing more for the ropes to hold. Still, none were allowed to touch the ropes or the frame.
Most girls the Ropemaster bound would last several weeks before they died. During those weeks their screams and pleas would keep the villagers awake at night. The dying girl would drive the message from the emperor home: Submit or die a terrible death.
The Ropemaster pulled a rope, and her feet left the ground. She screamed, more in surprise than pain as her head hung down. She was a beauty, her long hair hanging all the way to the ground. He had plans for that. He had noted that her hair was extremely sensitive. Even a gentle tug had caused her to scream. As she hung in front of him, head at the height of his chest, he started braiding a rope into her hair. Soon she found herself suspended by her feet and hair, hands useless in a box-tie in the small of her back, legs spread wide. Her firm breasts hung down as the lowest point of her body. He encased them in a rope harness, using the roughest of his ropes to make sure that her tender flesh would hurt the most.
The Ropemaster made a large knot on a rope and forced the knot into her mouth. The knot would prevent the villagers from feeding her, but they would still be able to water her. The latter was important to prolong her suffering. The villagers knew that but could not help themselves from giving her water. Dying of thirst was such a terrible death. The gag would still allow her to scream.
The Ropemaster stepped back and looked at the girl. Tears were again flowing from her brown eyes. She tried to keep her head as still as possible, as each tug on her hair sent knives of pain into her scalp. All her ropes suspending her met in one swivel-point near the top of the frame. She would be rotating in mild wind and swing in strong winds. The Ropemaster started making a large knot of the coarsest rope he had. He went to her spread legs and pressed the knot in her vagina, securing it like a chastity belt, sealing the one knot that held it all together with lacquer and his signet stamp. The girl was now screaming. She could no longer hold still, and pain shot through her scalp. Tears and spit gathered in the dust below her.
The Ropemaster was happy. This girl would last at least a couple of weeks, weeks in excruciating pain, weeks that would drive home the message of obedience with the villagers. After she died, her rotting body would linger for maybe years before her bones lost all connecting tissue and fell to the ground. She would even then remind them to obey the Emperor.
The Ropemaster picked up his backpack and slowly walked out of the village. He would be back in two weeks with soldiers to check that the ropes had not been tampered with.
The girl, whose name was Alina, hung from the frame, swinging gently in the breeze. The rope gag and the knot in her vagina as well as the constant pull on her hair was driving her insane. The Ropemaster had laced all the ropes with an ointment that both burned and attracted flies, and flies were swarming all around her suspended body. She saw her fiancé looking at her, unable to help her beyond giving her some water. The other villagers avoided eye contact.
It was then she decided to make it the last task in life to deny the Emperor his will to subdue her village. She reached deep down into her soul, traveled as far inwards as she could, until she found a peaceful place where no pain could reach her. From that place, she made it through the night. She did not let a single whimper escape the knot in her mouth. Instead, she hung motionless and quiet, save from the gentle pushes of the wind. When they tried to give her water, she shook her head and refused.
Two weeks later, in the late afternoon, the Ropemaster came back, this time riding a horse and flanked by a detail from the Emperor’s guard. They were there to install their permanent order in the village, to appoint their own and loyal leaders.
As they passed into the village, the Ropemaster saw that the frame was gone, and the girl had disappeared. In rage, he kicked the flanks of his horse and rode straight to the open space in the middle of the village. The frame was still there as a pile of bamboo poles. Each rope had been removed by cutting through the middle of the seal. The Ropemaster cried out in rage. The soldiers were weary. They feared the thick jungle that could hide an enemy.
The Ropemaster commanded them to search for the villagers. An hour later it was clear that the search was futile. There were no villagers to be found. But furthermore, there was nothing left in the village, no pots, no tools, no clothing. It was as if nobody had ever lived there. As nightfall was close, they decided to camp overnight in the abandoned village. Sentries were placed along the perimeter of the jungle, and a fire built of the bamboo from the frame.
The mood was relaxed when a swarm of arrows rained down on the camp. The emperor’s guard did not stand a chance. Soon all but the Ropemaster were dead.
Alina walked calmly into the circle of light from the burning bamboo. Her long hair flowed around her. She wore a short skirt, known as a hunting skirt, commonly used by the women of the village when they had to move with agility and speed.
Alina stopped a few meters short of the Ropemaster. “You now have more than 50 arrows aimed at your body. We have a message for the emperor: We will not yield to his will, not now, not ever. Had the villagers not risked their lives by cutting me down, I would have been dead or almost dead and insane by pain and hunger now. My life now belongs to the villagers. They have put their lives on the line for me. There is nothing the Emperor can do to scare us. Each day extra that we live is a day we were not counting on living.
If the Emperor sends soldiers here to conquer us, we will kill all but one that we will let live to tell the story. How can you guard against the unseen drawn bow among the leaves of the forest? How can you fight a thousand poisonous snakes dropped from the trees or the tens of thousands of wasps that attack your horses? Tell this to the Emperor. Tell him that this is the land of Alina, the Empress of the Forest. Tell him that if he comes here, he will die. Bring this arrow with his name on to him. And now Ropemaster, undress, because we will let you leave, but your clothes and your sandals stay.”
The Emperor was outraged. He had Ropemaster tied on top of an anthill of and then sent troops to hunt Alina and her people down. Each time he did so, only one man returned, and each time that man carried with him the terror of his fellow soldiers that died, a story of a woman of the forest with shining black hair down to her knees and an arrow with the Emperor’s name on it.
Rumors started circulating. Rumors that Alina was a daemon. That she not only killed the soldiers, but also ripped out their souls to send them to the underworld for eternal suffering. Rumors that she could fly between the trees in the forest. Rumors that she could sent an arrow flying without a bow. Rumors that she would hit anything she aimed for. Rumors that her people were immortal. Rumors that they commanded the trees and the animals of the forest.
The Emperor’s soldiers soon feared Aline and her people more than death on the ant hill. The patrols became fewer and fewer. They penetrated shorter and shorter into the forest. The Emperor himself heard of the rumors and started seeing enemies everywhere. He isolated himself in his castle with his harem. Arrows with the Emperor’s name on kept turning up everywhere.
One day a new girl was presented to the Emperor for inclusion in his harem. This was supposed to be an honor for the girl, but an honor that came with a sting: If she was not found worthy, she would be put on the ant hill. The Emperor’s hopes were high as his advisors had told him much about the beauty of this new girl. She had been captured in a village far outside the forest. As usual, the girl was presented wearing a red cloak that fully covered her. The hood of the cloak hung down to conceal her face. She was lead before him. She stood straight, not whimpering and trembling like most of the girls presented.
As the cloak was removed, the Emperor saw a beautiful, naked woman with dark brown eyes, hair down to her knees, clutching an arrow to her chest with both hands. The Emperor ran out of the room screaming. He tore open a door leading to a balcony and threw himself to the street far below.
Thus started the reign of The Empress Alina.