Gwyn watched in mounting frustration as her brothers August and John took turns practicing against each other with their mock swords. They had been “training” for the better part of the morning and still had not gotten around to working in the fields as their father had commanded them. They hated field work and longed to be off serving as squires at arms to the local Duke. Their father had sent Gwyn to “deal” with them.
“Get off with you lazy lads! To the fields with ye!” she chided them in her lilting brogue. The brothers stopped and regarded her with annoyance.
“Lazy?” repeated August, making a great show of sheathing his practice sword. A dulled ugly thing in comparison to the ones he had lusted after at the blacksmith’s shop a fortnight ago when last in the village. She could barely haul him away, so consumed he was with lust at the gleaming blades and bejeweled hilts.
“Have ye not regarded with what gusto we have trained these past few hours?”
“Aye! Lazy me arse.” John guffawed.
“You’ll not be addressing me so cheeky!” Gwyn said, stepping forward, a menacing look on her face. The faces of both brothers instantly quelled and went white as a banshee’s. Their eyes round with horror. Gwyn hesitated…surely she didn’t look that fearsome! She only wanted them to get to work in the fields; not terrify them!
“Gwyn!” squeaked John, looking past her; his body trembling. Gwyn turned and looked about just as she felt arms of iron wrap about her body and physically haul her up onto a horse so that she lay stomach down like a trussed sow.
With sudden terror, she looked behind and saw her brothers experience the same fate. Marauding English slavers had entered their land by stealth and taken many captives. She saw a long line of her fellow villagers tied to one another by a common rope, their wrists bound and their faces gagged so they couldn’t cry out a warning.
“Let me down off this flea infested nag or I’ll cut off your ear’s just as soon as soon as I draw breath!” she managed to growl to her smelly captor.
“Shut yer pie hole, wench!” he growled right back at her, taking a stave and smacking her smartly on the rump. “If you don’t mind yer manners I’ll sell ye to a cathouse instead of as a serving woman to a fine manor house!”
Gwyn was ready with a smart retort but thought better of it. She was in no position to indulge her vast vocabulary of insults on a knave who held her and her brother’s fate in his grimy hands. She pressed her lips together in a firm line and concentrated on drawing breath in the most uncomfortable position she had ever assumed on a horse. If only she hadn’t worn her corset that day; the combination of both was making her light-headed for lack of breath.
The slavers didn’t even pause to rest for the knight, knowing the hot-tempered Celts would be on their heels like hounds to recover their loved ones. They paused only long enough to tie Gwyn up with her brothers to the rest of their unhappy countrymen and made to march triple time until they reached the sea.
It was almost nightfall and the slaver ship was almost invisible beyond the surfline. A waiting coracle; large enough to seat 20 (if crammed in like sardines) waited upon the sand for the slaver’s “catch”. As they herded their captives into the freezing cold surf to get into the boat, Gwyn, August, and John finally got a brief moment together again.
“You alright, lassie?” August asked her with concern. Gwyn nodded, putting on a brave smile.
“You?” she asked both brothers. They nodded; unable to hide the naked fear in their eyes. They were all being taken from their homeland and would probably be split up; never to see each other again once upon the other shore or know of each other’s fate. It made Gwyn’s blood boil with fury. What right did these vermin think they had to kidnap and enslave freeborn Irish to work in their slaughter houses and brothels! What gave them the right?
At that moment, the chief slaver caught hold of her arm to pull her into the coracle. Gwyn shook his arm off with a scowl and spat in his face. A hush descended upon all; except for her brothers who perked up and bellowed with laughter at the insult she had dealt him.
Their laughter was silenced with a brutal blow to their heads and they were unceremoniously bullied into the boat. Gwyn stood her ground, arms akimbo, legs spread wide, prepared to do battle without so much as a dirk. She had grown up with two rough and tumble brothers and knew well how to handle herself. The slaver regarded her with wary eyes; trying to assess just how much damage she might be capable of doing to him. He crouched low as if he were about to spring and nodded. Gwyn realized her stupidity too late. It had been a ruse. She was grabbed from behind by a smelly bear of a man while another grabbed her by the ankles and lifted her bodily off the ground and dumped her on top of her brothers and the other captives in the boat.
She screamed and struggled with a fury like a she-cat as they hog-tied her, bruising both herself, her brothers and the other captives by her struggles.
“Easy Gwynnie!” August protested, grunting with pain as her knee connected with his ribs. “It’s us you be hurting not them!”
“Aye!” grumped John, rubbing his now black and blue one with the side of his arm. The next thing they all knew the coracle was being pushed into the arms of the waiting sea and rowed to the slave ship. There they were all pushed and herded down into the bottom-most parts of the ship and chained together with leg irons. If the ship went down in a storm they would all certainly drown. The only small blessing was that Gwyn and her brothers were shackled together. They huddled in cramped misery in the bitter cold, trying to keep other’s spirits up and their bodies warm in the sickening plunge and yaw of the ship as it slowly made its’ way to Britain.
It was a miserable trip. Just about everyone ended up sick and vomiting, causing even those without seasickness just to retch from the stench. The smell was overwhelming, the trip unending and no sleep was to be had. They were all cold, hungry, miserable and covered with filth by the time they reached shore two days later.
Several of them had gotten sick and were now shaking with chills and fever. Gwyn and her brothers were a little worse for the wear but otherwise unscathed (except for their clothing which had become so rank it was only fit for the dung heap). They had neither eaten, drunk nor slept since the moment of their capture but instead of defeating their morale it only made them more furious. Gwyn was chafing for an opportune moment and then heaven help the poor sot when she was done with her tongue lashing!
The next day, after a brief rest where they cleaned themselves up as best they could in a nearby stream, given stale mead and hard bread; they were then forced to march again where one by one they were sold off to various farmers, merchants and tradesmen as slaves. The slavers pocketed less than they would have liked and were saving Gwyn and her brothers for last, hoping their strong bodies and fine looks would bring a better price from the Baron to whom they hoped to sell them as a threesome. Gwyn as a maidservant/serving wench and the boys for whatever menial labor the master could think of.
It was late afternoon after two more days of trudging when they finally reached a large estate. The seneschal had been expecting them and was waiting impatiently by the gate with a disdainful scowl. He gave August and John a sneering once over, wrinkling his nose in distaste at their “ripe” fragrance which only served to make the hackles rise on the back of Gwyn’s neck in protective indignation.
To be sure you wouldn’t be smelling as sweet as a rose either if you had been captured, shoved into a stinking ship’s hole and made to sit in your own reek for days with naught but a dirty stream to wash in! She fumed.
As if he had heard her thoughts, the seneschal turned about and glared at her. “You!” he said with a sneer. “Come hither!”
Gwyn may have had shackles are on her wrists and ankles but she was no man’s slave to be commanded! She crossed her arms and stood with her feet firmly planted a shoulder length apart in absolute defiance. August and John shared a knowing look. There was no messing with Gwyn when she got her head up…
The seneschal scowled at her, obviously unused to be defied. He slowly walked up to her, swung his arm back and backhanded her. The blow sent her reeling backwards, tripping over her shackles and sprawling onto her backside into a mud puddle. Mud spattered everywhere. August and John were incensed and lunged forward but were restrained by their slavers who had been expecting a reaction.
“Gordon!” snapped a voice that left no doubt it came from a much higher authority. The seneschal immediately bowed and remained bowed as a large man in rich clothing brushed past him to where Gwyn still lay flat in the mud puddle, fighting back her tears of anger and humiliation.
“Give me your hand,” he ordered, extending his to her.
August and John sucked in their breath, wondering what their sister would do next. They hadn’t long to wait. As the master bent lower to grasp her hand, Gwyn clasped hold with both of hers and yanked down as hard as she could, catching him totally off guard. He wound up sprawling in the mud beside her, completely ruining his costly tunic and velvet cloak. All stared in hushed silence except for August and John who were practically bursting with the need to laugh out loud.Gwyn had shown them all who was boss!
The master regained his composure, sat back on his haunches and regarded Gwyn with nonplussed look on his face.
The seneschal grinned, anticipating that a good whipping would now be in store for the impertinent little strumpet!
A bellow of laughter punctured that hope and deflated it instantly. The master bent forward at the waist and continued to laugh with abandon, completely surprising and disarming Gwyn, his laugh taking all the fight out of her. He stood to his feet, still offering his hand to help her up, which she accepted with deep chagrin.
He pulled with all his might, pulling her up and then lifted her and slung her over his shoulder like a sack of meal. Turnabout, after all, was fair play. Gwyn took to this new humiliation with renewed rage and flailed and kicked at him while he marched her past the seneschal, her brothers, the other slavers and captives all the way into the main house, through several richly appointed rooms and into a courtyard where he unceremoniously dumped her into the fountain.
She landed amongst the lily pads with an enormous plop that sent a backslash flying up to drench the Master who stood there with his mouth hanging open in mid guffaw.
“Hah!” Gwyn shrieked at him in triumph, crossing her arms.
“Hmph,” was the only response she got. He left her sitting there dripping and shivering and returned a short time later with a large blanket. He lifted her out of the fountain (since it was impossible for her to climb out with shackled ankles) and set her on her feet, wrapping it around her. If her teeth hadn’t been chattering so hard she would have shoved him away but all she could manage was a sneeze. He began to lead her back into the main house but the shackles made progress agonizingly slow. With a sigh of exasperation he stopped and scooped her up, carrying her into the house, up the stairs and into a room where a surprised chambermaid stood with her mouth hanging open in shock.
He stood Gwyn back on her feet. “Get her cleaned up, into a fresh pair of clothes and bring her back before me when she’s more presentable,” he instructed, with a cocked eyebrow in her direction.
“Yes, mi’lord,” curtseyed the maid, eyeing Gwyn in fear. Gwyn realized at that moment that her fate had been sealed. She was his property now…well,she wasn’t going down without a fight!
She picked up the nearest thing at hand and flung it at the head of the Master where it crashed against the doorframe at the precise moment the door closed behind him.
“I’ll be dammed if I ever bow to the likes of a fusspot like you!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs. The door reopened and Gwyn found herself ducking as an urn came flying at her head.
“I believe you just did, mi’lady!” replied the Baron with a devilish grin.
Cypress Hideaway -- Releases in October
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