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Thread: The Slaver

  1. #1

    Default The Slaver

    A man of unpredictable moods, Guy de Leon found himself better suited to life in the cavalry than to following his father in the silk trade. Though given an education in the noble courts of Zingara and afforded the luxuries of a son born to a rich merchant, Guy found more allure in the flap of lance pinions than in the sultry hiss of silk. Unlike silk, men willing to fight for as little as honor were always in demand by bickering Zingaran nobles and Zingaran cavalry never wasted an opportunity to seek battle honors. With his father’s curses following him, Guy forswore trading and took up the reins.

    So for years he followed the winds of war and earned the right to claim the title, “Cavalier.” Where ever a lance was needed, he went. Where ever men hurled themselves against one another for causes they often did not care about, he went. And the coin was good for light cavalry skilled in scouting and harassing enemy lines. Through skill, and what some might call the unnatural attrition of his commanders, Guy eventually rose to command his own company of a hundred lances.

    The company gained a reputation as men willing to undertake those acts of war many found detestable but often necessary. “War is not a pleasant thing,” he would say. “And we are not pleasant men. An act is only an atrocity if it is committed against you so it is best to commit them against your enemies first. And atrocities cost gold.”

    Gold swelled the company’s coffers but Guy saw the potential for so much more. In most every conflict, prisoners were to be expected. But light cavalry, needing to remain mobile, had little capacity to maintain prisoners so they were either ransomed, put to the sword, or sold to others. And it was in this exchange that Guy saw the profits of slavery. Most livestock came from buying prisoners from other companies. Others slaves came from those unfortunate souls that happened to be caught between the clash of fighting armies and were left wandering destitute and helpless once the war machine had rolled past them. Men. Women. Children. All swept up in the chattel lines marching off to their life of bondage.

    Unassailbale fortresses. Monuments to a monarch’s vanity. Gleaming cities with their vast libraries and temples and architecture. These things and the kingdoms that raise them may be designed by artisans but they are built on the backs of slaves. Guy’s business became moving slaves in large quantity and moving them fast for there are so many kingdoms needing to build so many monuments.

    Even more than war, coin from moving large numbers of slaves made the man richer than most suspected. In the end, it seemed the man of unpredictable moods was a trader after all.

  2. #2


    Baron Velon leaned over the thick legged table, studying an unfurled map drawn on a full cow hide. Wooden chits lay arranged on the map, little green and red squares marking positions of troops ranging from the Black River in the east to Castle Zirva in the West. Neat rows of green lined the Black River. Arcs of red spread from Castle Zirva toward the river like an onion’s expanding rings.

    Baron Velon’s eyes followed the lines of red, seeing no easy way through the maze and drummed his thick, stubby fingers on the map then looked up to the half dozen men assembled as War Council in the campaign tent. “Are we certain of Zirva’s positions?”

    “Positive, my lord,” said Sir Franco, an elder knight with untamed, bushy white eyebrows. “We’ve sent pickets across the river and de Leon’s scouts have confirmed the positions and relative numbers.”

    Velon turned his porkish face to Guy de Leon who stood mostly in shadow, back from everyone, and near the entrance of the large tent. “What have you seen, de Leon” asked the Baron.

    Guy pushed from shadow into the light of the oil lamps. The dry leather scales of his buckled on cavalry armor rasped against one another as if irritated at the dust and dirt that lay engrained between them. The others in their engraved and never scarred steel hauberks acted gentleman enough to not outright show their disdain for Guy’s common scale leather armor and the dirt beneath his fingernails. They reserved their sneers for when the upstart cavalier was away, out in the field doing the dirty work with which none of them wanted to soil their noble hands.

    “Those are their positions and numbers, my lord,” affirmed Guy. Guy smoothed out his drooping moustache and motioned to the arcs of red chits while describing each. “All Lord Zirva’s entrenchments and redoubts marked. Light infantry skirmishers along the perimeter. Halberdiers and pikemen in the inner arcs supported by crossbow secondaries. Noble infantry and heavy cavalry reserves closest to the castle. In all, perhaps twelve hundred men and a third as many cavalry.”

    “Too evenly matched my lord,” cautioned Franco, “It would be wasting men to send them across the river. Even if we did break through the lines we would not have the strength to lay low the castle.”

    Baron Velon scratched at his double chin, considering the situation. “Zirva is offering us battle and we will accept it. To refuse would be to invite the scorn of half of Zingara’s noble houses.” A general mumble of agreement rose up among the war council.

    Taking up a long matchstick, Franco pushed at the red chits closest to the castle. “If it is your intent to set the battle standard flying then we need to draw off these reserves. The skirmishers we can easily route. The redoubts and entrenchments we will need to encircle and that cannot be done with those heavy reserves waiting to drive into our flanks. If we can take the redoubts we can set our siege lines.”

    “De Leon,” barked the Baron. “You will see to the reserves.”

    Guy picked up one of the green chits on the right flank of the Baron’s army. Holding opposite corners of the square chit between thumb and forefinger, he plucked it to set it spitting. “You drew me and my men for scouts, Baron, not front line cavalry.”

    The Baron’s fat, dough-like body quaked with indignation behind his fine robes and the tight cuirass that looked like was made for the Baron fifty pounds ago. “How dare you refuse a fight and the battle honor that comes with it!”

    Guy again spun the chip in his fingers. “I did not refuse the fight, my lord. It is simply that front line cavalry is paid more than scouts. Especially if we are to draw off almost three times our number.”

    “Pox on your mercenary heart, Sir Guy,” said Franco not bothering to disguise his disappointment in the young cavalier. “The honor should be reward enough.”

    Guy shrugged. “More than honor, five stone of silver would go further to replacing horses and men lost in the fight.”

    The baron shook his head, his jowls sloshing about on his face. “Too much! You overreach your usefulness, de Leon. For five stone a company of heavy cavalry could be had, your light is worth no more than two.”

    “My lord,” said Guy, “We are not here wooing lady courtiers to open their legs. For five stone silver, you are not buying the chivalric manners expected of cavaliers in noble courts. You are not buying the lofty ideals poets sing of in the noble sacrifice of loyal knights. You are buying slaughter, the guarantee of Zirva reserves bleeding away from the battlefield and all the battle honors for yourself and those that remain here for the assault.”

    The baron regarded Guy with a critical eye. Franco took a slow breath. An old fighter, Franco knew to what Guy alluded. “Zaragosa’s second method, destroy the enemy’s ability to make war.”

    “Exactly.” Guy tapped a finger on the map a bit downstream from battle lines. “There is a ford about a half day’s ride to the south. Marshland stretches between it and here and an army trying to march through it would get bogged down. A company of lances, though, could push through and instead of turning back north to attack, continue west.” Guy flipped the chit onto the map at a place marked with vineyards, farms and spotted with small villages. “We get back here to Zirva’s soft underbelly and cut it open. Take what we can. Destroy what we cannot. Raze the towns. Kill anything we find. The reserves will start to leave to protect their supplies. In four or five days my light cavalry can cause such chaos that they will have all their reserves and more looking for us.”

    The Baron looked to the others in the war council. “Well?” The armored men murmured amongst themselves, all reticent to resort to Zaragosa’s second method, seeing it more a tactic born of desperation or cruelty rather than of necessity. At last Franco as the senior councilor raised his hand to silence the debate. “Though not preferred, Zaragosa’s second method is a sound strategy.” He looked to Guy then back to the Baron. “If de Leon is willing to forego battle honors for the acts of a common raider, let him.”

    The Baron grunted pig-like and dismissed Guy with the wave of a meaty hand. “See to it de Leon and the silver is yours.”

    Guy offered a polite bow of his head but could not suppress the smile creeping across his face. “As you wish, my lord.”

    Guy walked through the Baron’s encampment to where his cavalry company camped along a line of trees a hundred or so yards off the river. Campfires dotted the river bank, each a small pool of red-orange light around which soldiers laughed and drank or took liberties with the whores and other hangers-on that inevitably followed armies to battle.

    Guy stopped at his tent. Horses tied along the tree line harrumphed and shifted against one another. A few nibbled at the remaining soft grasses not already trampled by their iron shod hooves. Beyond in the darkened trees crickets chirped their summer songs and fireflies drifted like drunken stars through the night. How quiet it must also be at those drowsy little villages and farms where none suspected the night songs and drifting stars would soon become the thunder of butchering cavalry and the fires of savage slaughter.

  3. #3


    Excerpt from the forward to “A Combat Treatise” by General Zaragosa, Knight Commander of the Rose Order.

    War is inevitable. It is a natural state of man, the contentious and territorial creature that he is. Pains should be taken to avoid war but when there is no other course but war, it should be committed to without reservation and with no intent other than to stand victorious. When fighting a war, there are three things you can destroy in order to bring the war to an end; The enemy’s physical ability to make war, their capacity to sustain a war and the will to wage war.

    Of these, the first is the most often emphasized of the three especially if your forces greatly outnumber the enemy. In destroying the physical ability to make war, one destroys the enemy armies in the field. One destroys their men, their horses and their leadership. Important leaders, if not killed on the field, should not be ransomed until after the war is over. This by far the most direct route to winning a war but it is also the easiest route from which the enemy can recover. A new army may always be replenished by forced levies, though the new recruits will likely not be as experienced as those lost to battle. New leaders may always be found in ambitious young nobles willing to make a name for themselves.

    The second method, destroying the ability to sustain and wage war, takes longer and is often the chosen method when one is outnumbered, seeks simply to punish the enemy, or wishes to buy time for one’s own war machine to be built. To eliminate the enemy’s ability to wage war, one destroys an enemy’s resources and infrastructure. A burned field cannot produce grain to make bread for an army. A razed town cannot be squeezed for taxes to purchase new arms. Of the three methods this has the longest recovery. It is not recommended if conquering is the ultimate goal since those things destroyed will need to be rebuilt by the conqueror.

    The final method can be the most brutal or the most subtle depending on how it is applied. However, it always leads to a more complete victory. If the enemy’s will to fight is destroyed, one can guarantee no chance of rebellion in a conquered people. Though this brings about the most complete victory, destroying the will to fight is the most difficult of the three methods and if employed incorrectly can have the opposite effect. Spies and saboteurs are often key elements in this method as is the suspension of mercy on the battlefield. When victory is won, this method must cease soon after and be replaced by generosity towards the conquered people. If one persists in this method after winning victory then without exception this transitions into the third method of rule, Tyranny.

  4. #4


    A gibbous, pregnant moon lounged just over the horizon as if too lazy or exhausted to climb higher into the summer night. The low, undulating land slept under the pale blue light, with gentle summer zephyrs drifting across it like the breath of a sleeping lover across the ear. Shadows pooled in the cleavage of low hills and from atop his horse Guy de Leon surveyed the curves of the land as he might those of a woman. Two, three times he had already envisioned the path through the moon shadows he and the other cavalry men would take to the village not more than a quarter mile away. A few candle lights glimmered here and there in the distant windows but they were not the lights Guy was looking for.

    De Leon took a deep breath and let out a slow, irritated sigh. “How long does it take four men to start a damn fire?” His horse harrumphed, mimicking Guy’s agitation. Guy’s horse, like the twenty others, sensed an impending charge. The saddle cinched tight. The shifting weight of a rider on its back. The creak of leather riding armor buckled onto the rider. The horse knew that soon it would feel the spurs and be released to hurl itself headlong against whatever the rider wished.

    “Maybe I should have taken that shiit after all,” mumbled one of the other horsemen lining the ridge of the low hill.

    “I thought you had,” said Sergeant Vetrano further down the line. “But I guess you just smell that way thanks to sow baiting Marrana before we left.” Soft chuckles rolled along the line of men. Great sport was made among the men with the camp follower called Marrana, a woman of both piggish features and proportions. They bartered with the whore using food instead of coin. Sow Baiting they called it and if it worked, they would make boarish, snorting sounds while riding her to let the others know they had been successful with their sow bait. It amused them even more that slop, the thrown together leftovers of other meals, seemed to work as the best sow bait.

    Guy did not discourage the practice. When on a campaign, things like sow baiting kept the men occupied in the tedium between battles. Guy would rather have them sow baiting than being at one another’s throats. But like a sword, Marrana was just a tool to be used until it dulled and was tossed aside for newer, brighter blades. No doubt new games would arise now that they had been given leave to rampage unhindered behind Lord Zirva’s lines.

    “Fire,” said one of the men. Yellow flames flared at the edge of the village, small at first but quickly spreading among the piles of barley ready to be threshed.

    The fire grew, spreading to the small livestock sheds and into the fields. Small black shapes darted about in the firelight. Some just frightened animals looking to be away from the angry flames, others peasant villagers rushing to save their grain stores and stop the fire marching into the fields and licking at the eaves of village houses.

    Guy waited until it seemed nearly the entire village was running about with buckets from the well and trying to douse the fire. “Make ready,” he called and drew his sword. His horse tensed and snorted, knowing full well the ring of steel from a sheath and the sudden commanding tenor of its rider meant it was about to be unleashed.

    “Two,” said Vetrano. The others looked to him unsure of what he meant. The knight sergeant hefted his light lance. ”Two peasants at once. Like skewering meat for the cook fires.”

    “Challenge accepted,” said several others couching their lances and the game of meat skewers surplanted sow baiting.

    “Leave no structure standing,” ordered Guy. His voice grew louder, more commanding as he spoke. “No mercy to those that resist. Chains on those that submit. Coin in our pockets for blood on our hands! Now, you grimy sons of whores, FORWARD!” Guy dug spurs into the horse’s flanks.

    Horses charged along the rolling hills, their thick hearts thundering in their chest, hooves kicking up the soft soil of the fallow fields. Like rolling river of man and beast they surged along the little vales between the hills and as Guy expected, broke into the mass confusion of villagers battling the fire. Some tried to fight the tide of cavalry flooding the village. Mostly the younger men thinking wooden hay forks and hoes matched equally against lance and sword. Split skulls and impaled chests taught them otherwise. Some thought to lock themselves away in their meager homes. Most burned when their homes were put to the torch. Some ran into the fields to be either cut down or captured at the whim of persuing cavalry.

    The moon in its quiet sky watched fire consume village and field. Columns of smoke reached to the heavens like plaintive arms seeking respite from the cruelty of man but no god heard the pleas or turned an eye to the suffering. The maelstrom of slaughter and mayhem lasted only thirty minutes. Those villagers that did not lay dead or manage to escape into the night huddled at the edge of the burning village surrounded by men spattered in the blood and viscera of dead family and neighbors. The stench of charred wood hung heavy in the air. In the fields pockets of fire continued to eat away at the wheat and barley.

    Guy rested his hands on the saddle pommel and looked from the villagers to Sergeant Vetrano walking among the crouching, bound prisoners. “How many, Sergeant?” he asked.

    Vetrano finished knotting a rope around a woman’s neck, securing her in a chattel line with the others and looked up to Guy. “Eight men. Twelve women. Six children from five to about ten.” The Sergeant knew Guy inquired only about the usable captives and discounted the other dozen that were either too old or too young to be of any value as slaves. “We found some wagons that’ll make it easier to get them back to our lines rather than walking them back.”

    “I meant how many skewers.”

    Vetrano snorted. “None for me,” he said, irritated. “They scattered like roaches. I think Fillan got one skewer in the initial charge through their bucket line but that was it.”

    “Next time I’ll offer a silver piece for a skewer,” said Guy. “That might improve everyone’s accuracy. As for the slaves, you and four men take charge of them. Use what horses or oxen from the village that you need for the wagons. Take what provisions you can and get these slaves back to our lines. Destroy whatever remains.”

    “What about the unusable ones?” Vetrano indicated the very old and very young which had been segregated from the valuable livestock.

    “Tie them and leave them behind,” said Guy.” As useless as they are to us, the more of a burden they will be on Lord Zirva. The ones that managed to escape into the night will be back once we leave and I think these toothless wretches can survive being bound for a few hours. But they best pray those that escaped return before the fire dies and the scavengers come crawling out of the night.”

    “Yessir, I’ll see to it.”Vetrano nodded and went about the business of cataloging the captives and loading them onto wagons.

    Guy tugged on the reins and wheeled his horse about. If luck held, the four other raiding parties he sent out to other farms and villages would haul as many or more captives. A hundred or more slaves for a night’s work and maybe two more nights before having to worry about decent troops arriving from Zirva’s reserves to try and stop the raids.

    He looked up at the moon through the drifting smoke. It hovered in the sky like some lopsided silver coin and for a moment Guy wanted to reach out and snatch it from the heavens. ‘Silver in the pockets for blood on the hands,’ he told the men and de Leon planned on his hands being slippery with blood before this campaign was done.

  5. #5


    Cage wagons lined the hard packed dirt road leading up to Castle Zirva’s gatehouse. Dirty, sullen faces stared from the cage lattices, spirits as battered as the walls and parapets on the castle. Hands reached from the cages when soldiers passed by, frail voices begging for a scrap of food, swallow of water or that most basic of human capacities , mercy.

    But only those with noble blood found mercy in the civil warfare Zingarans so often waged. Ransoms had been paid for captured nobles so now Lord Zirva and Baron Velon dined in the castle’s great hall as if they had never been at war. The only change was Zirva declaring loyalty to Velon. At least until such time as Zirva felt his soldiers were strong enough could defy Velon’s wishes. That was the way in Zingara, always some minor little war between nobles looking to expand their territories.

    Like castles or land, the people also served as spoils of war. Those loaded into the wagons were Guy De Leon’s spoils, all taken from the raids behind Zirva’s lines. Nearly two hundred souls. Men, women, old, young. All destined for the Black River slave fortress and then the markets in Cordova. And from there, well, Guy did not much care once they had been paid for. With Zirva and Velon no longer at war, now began the trading of captives with other units.

    Guy idly lifted and let fall the small wooden tokens in his hand, letting them click together. “You choice,” said De Leon with an apathetic shrug. “Sell them to me or let them rot.”

    Captain Travera, a stout man still wearing a tabbard stained in battle, grunted. “I could get more in Cordova.”

    “You could,” agreed Guy. “But you have to get them there first. And you have to feed them along the way.” Guy glanced over the twenty captives Travera wanted to sell. They stood in a line, ropes tied from neck to wrists to the neck of the next captive in line. A young girl stood at the end of the line of captive soldiers. She stared at her bare feet, dark hair disheveled and with bruises along her arms. Little doubt entered Guy’s mind that Travera’s men had made sport of the girl before knotting her on the end of the slave line. “Most might make it. The captured soldiers, that is. The girl on the end, likely not. Unfortunate since the younger ones tend to fetch a better price from the nobles in Cordova.” Guy paused then added. “If they are still virginal.”

    “Very well,” huffed Travera waving a dismissive hand at the slaves. “Take them.” Gone were his hopes of using the girl to bargain for more money. “They are more of a headache to maintain than to simply let you rob them from me for this pitiful offer.”

    Guy counted out five wooden tokens and pressed them into Travera’s waiting hand. “Give these to my paymaster in the lead wagon and he will give you your twenty five silver.” Travera clenched the tokens in his hand and marched off. Guy looked to three of his men keeping watch over the wagons and indicated the line of slave he just purchased. “Get this livestock loaded up,” he ordered. “But bring the girl over here.”

    One of the men sliced free the rope connecting the girl to the man in front of her and led her over to Guy. She stood, staring down at the tarnished buckles on the side of Guy’s boots and the grey crusting of dried mud that reached just above the ankles. She did not look up but she felt his eyes on her, appraising her as one might a horse on the market auction block. What a frail, ragged thing, barefoot and wearing the tattered remains of a simple peasant skirt whose shredded hem barely covered her knees. Her raven black hair, wild and knotted by sweat and dirt lay in tangles about her face and shoulders.

    Guy cupped his palm under her chin and lifted her face to get a better look at her. “What is your name, girl?”

    “Elena,” she murmured. “If it pleases you.” She quickly glanced up to Guys face and then cast her eyes back down to his chest. For all the dirt and grime on the man’s leather cavalry armor and the heavy must of horses that hovered about him, Guy’s face with its drooping, smoothed out moustache seemed oddly untouched by the summer heat and dust.

    With his hand at her chin, Guy turned her face slowly side to side to get a better look at her. “And how old are you, Elena?”

    Elena closed her eyes, feeling the midday sun on her face. ”Fifteen,” she said. The warm sun reminded her of happier times when she would lay in the tall grass, close her eyes and just listen to world. Gone were the twitter of songbirds and the rustle of rabbits in the grass. Replaced now by the shouts of men and the grunting of warhorses. For a moment she almost felt as if she could imagine herself back in the tall grass but Guys hands starting to slide down her side wrenched Elena back to the present.

    Guy ran his hands along Elena’s sides. Rough hands followed the curve of her waist and hips. He felt, as he would a horse, for the line and tone of muscles. “Sturdy peasant stock,” he grunted and grabbing her bound wrists to study her palms. Though not as rough as would be expected from a common laborer, Elena’s palms were not as silk smooth as a noble woman’s whose days are spent in idle needlework. “Where did Travera’s men find you, Elena?”

    “The scullery.” Elena held her hands close to her chest when Guy released them as if it would somehow make her smaller, and unnoticed beneath Guy’s scrutinizing green eyes.

    “We might be able to use you,” said Guy crouching in front of her. “If you are a decent cook.”

    Elena heard the doubt in his voice. She opened her mouth to say she was good but clenched her mouth and eyes tight when Guys hands slipped under the tattered skirt to wrap her left thigh with his hands. That touch, though inconsequential to Guy as a matter of simple appraisal flooded her mind with the rough hands of Travera’s men at her legs pushing them apart and their leering faces hovering over her, laughing at her tears.

    Guy ran his hands down Elena’s leg and gripped her slender ankle. “Number two shackle,” he mused to himself. “Though ankle bells would be better.” His hand wrapped the ankle on her other leg and started inching up under her skirt once more. “Did Travera’s men set you to use as a comfort slut?”

    Elena trembled. The man’s large hand gripping insistently at her inner thigh demanded an answer she did not want to give. Not here, in the open where others could hear. She wimpered, begging silently to uncaring gods that she would not have to answer. The helpless wimper became a hitched cry when De Leon cupped his hand against the saddle of her legs and with thumb and finger verified what he already suspected.

    Guy stood and wiped his hand in Elena’s tangled hair. “When I ask a question I will get an answer,” he snarled. “One way or another.” With a hand between her slender shoulders, Guy shoved Elena toward Sergeant Vetrano. She stumbled, falling to the dirt, weeping. “Get the girl cleaned up,” he barked. “Tell the cookmaster she’ll be cooking and serving for the time being. No one is to touch her until I say so.”

    Vetrano nodded his understanding and lifted the girl by the arm to haul her away. Along the hard packed dirt road, forlorn faces gazed out from cage wagons at the passing girl with the wild black hair.

  6. #6


    Night settled as it usually did at the end of the languid summer days in Zingara. The rose of sunset gradually succumbed to evening’s soft purples and eventually to a sky strewn with stars.

    Elena looked up to the quiet sky. Campfires spattered the clearing, their wavering light pushing back but never blotting out the darkness or outshining the glory of an endless sky. She followed with a finger the Milky Way’s meandering path through the heavens, remembering her grandfather’s face and the story he used to tell her about how the Milky Way came to be.

    “Elena!” barked the cookmaster.

    Elena snatched her hand back as if caught trying to steal the stars from the sky. She looked toward the cookmaster, fear flickering through her eyes.

    “Stop dreaming and get your ass over here!”

    Elena hurried to the cookmaster, skirting around open cook fires with their pots and spits. A man with a face rugged as stone and a voice jagged as ripped steel, the cookmaster had few kind words for anyone, especially slaves. Twice in the week since they left Zirva the cookmaster had slapped her to keep her attention. Lazy, daydreaming bitch, he would sneer.

    “Yes, cookmaster,” she whispered, hanging her head and expecting another greasy, meat-handed smack to the cheek.

    Instead the man thrust a dented tin plate into her small hands “Here,” he grunted. “For some reason the commander wants you to bring him dinner. Don’t know why, you are about useless for anything except slopping the livestock.” The cookmaster slapped a hunk of cornmeal bread on the plate, dumped a ladle of beans over it and topped it off with a slice of venison from the deer killed by foragers earlier in the day.

    Elena hesitated, unsure if this was all. It was the same plain food the cookmaster smacked onto the plates of the men from the heavy pots he made her carry around when they went out at dinner time. “Well, gets your ass moving,” snarled the cookmaster. “The commander is in a foul mood to begin with and cold food will only make it worse.”

    Elena hurried through the camp, weaving around the campfires and the groping hands that reached out for her as she passed. De Leon’s tent was not much larger than any of the others but was marked by the unit standard, a grey rampant boar on a red field. Outside, Guys horse stood tethered to a metal stake driven into the ground. The large roan beast regarded Elena with black, indifferent eyes then went back to nibbling at a bucket of oats on the ground.

    Elena slipped into the tent, just large enough for a cot, a small folding table and perhaps three or four people to stand about comfortably. Guy stood at the other end of the tent, back to Elena, pulling on a loose linen shirt. A life of warfare had shaped Guy, molded his back and shoulders and for a moment Elena stood staring with girlish admiration at the lines of his back and the curious diamond shaped scar just above his left hip. Guy finished pulling on the shirt and started turning to face her. “Forgive me, master.” She said quickly and averted her eyes. “I should have asked before entering.”

    Guy took up a half empty leather skin of wine and downed a deep swallow. He regarded Elena with hawkish, predatory eyes. Gone was the dirty little mouse he first saw at the end of Travera’s slave lines. Dark hair fell about her shoulders in long, loose waves, wispy bangs failing to hide those large, expressive eyes whish she cast down in both fear and supplication. She stood there in a shirt meant for a man twice her size, belted at the waist with the hem falling to her thighs. The loose shirt hid her thin body, no longer that of a child but not quite that of a woman.

    “Master?” growled Guy. “Who told you to call me that?” The tone of his voice demanded truth and promised pain for anything perceived as a lie.

    “No one,” said Elena, almost adding ‘master’ to the end of that. “I just thought…”

    “I am not your master, girl. I am simply your keeper until such time as you are sold to your master.” Guy plopped into a chair at the little folding table with such little grace that Elena suspected the wine skin in his hand was not the first one of the day. “Sir. Commander. Captain . Knight Commander. Knight Captain. Any of those will do, girl.”

    “Yes sir,” she said with a quick, unpracticed curtsy.

    Guy snorted at the awkward attempt at courtly manners. “You curtsy like you have a thorn in your ass, girl.” It then struck him that perhaps it was not a thorn that had been in her ass and he asked through gnashed teeth, “Has anyone touched you, girl?”

    Elena did not look up but she felt the harsh glare and heard the barely contained anger in Guy’s voice. “N-no sir,” she said hurriedly. “Not in the way you mean.”

    Guy grunted, accepting for the time being Elena’s assertion she had not been set to use by the men and his flare of anger cooled as quickly as it had risen. “Well, I cannot very well eat with you holding the plate way over there, girl.”

    “Sorry, sir.” Elena hurried the few steps to the small table and set the plate before Guy. She began to step away but Guy’s hand, quick as a striking snake caught her by the belt. Elena froze, a confusion of fear and excitement gripping her as tightly as the hand at her belt.

    “Stay,” Guy commanded and pulled her by the belt to stand at his right. “Dinner is better when in the company of others and you are easier on the eye than any other in the camp.” He took up a knife on the small table and stabbed at the slice of venison. After lifting and gnawing off a hunk, he offered a bite to Elena. She just shook her head and Guy shrugged. “Just as well. A bit overcooked anyway. You roast up this deer?”

    “No sir,” said Elena tugging nervously at the hem of the large shirt. “The cookmaster only allows me to cook bread and stew. He will not let me touch a knife.”

    Guy broke off a dry piece of the cornmeal bread and used it to sop up some of the beans. “Not bad,” he said chasing the bread with a swallow of wine. “Not near as dry as it usually is.”

    “I made it with extra butter and some extra eggs,” she said proudly then added quickly, “Not too many, sir.”

    “Well, it is better than usual. I suppose a few extra eggs and some butter does not much matter.”

    A small, grin crept across Elena’s face. For some reason she found herself pleased that the man liked something she did. Even if it was as simple as corn bread. She watched as Guy ate, stealing glances now and then at the man when she was certain he was not paying attention to her. He smelled of horses and sweat just as he did the first time she saw him. Though the same combination of smells, Guy’s was different than when her father and brothers returned from the fields. Theirs was one of toil and drudgery in service to the feudal lord that let them work the land. Guy’s was one of uncompromising command and confidence.

    Guy finished the simple meal in short order and relaxed back in the old chair. The wood creaked and groaned to the point Elena thought the seat would crack and break at any moment. “Will that be all, sir?” Elena leaned forward to take away the old tin plate. Guys reply came not with words but with a large, rough hand sliding under the hem of the belted shirt and grasping on to her inner thigh. She wanted to run but knew she could not. Part of her feared the casual way with which the horseman groped her body and that part conflicted with the bit of her that wanted the rude hand between her legs. She froze, not knowing what to do.

    “The cookmaster have any honey,” asked Guy.

    Elena gripped the edge of the small table to steady herself. “I… I think so, sir” she stammered as the hand slid up her thigh.

    “Good. We’ll need to have you sugared before you are on the blocks in Cordova.” Guy pinched and tugged at the tangle curly hair. “The buyers there do not pay for hedgerows on their women slaves. They prefer smooth bodies.”

    Elena winced. “Sugared?”

    “A resin of honey or melted sugar pressed to the body with cloth and allowed to dry. The cloth then gets pulled off along with the hair. This tangle of black peasant hair will likely take several sugarings to remove properly but you will fetch more on the block. Now go,” said Guy laying a heavy handed smack on Elena’s ass. “And be sure to tell me if anyone insinuates themselves between those thighs before I allow it.”

    Elena just nodded, grabbed the tin plate and rushed from the tent. On her way back to the cookmaster she looked up to the Milky Way girding the sky and remembered her grandfather’s story.

    “It was not always there and full of stars,” her grandfather would say of the Milky Way. “Once, a young milk maid was asked to bring Mitra a bucket of fresh cream. She did not know the bucket at a small hole in the bottom and by the time she came before Mitra all the cream had drained out across the heavens. She cried, having failed in her simple task but Mitra took her out into the sky and showed her how the stars gathered to drink the cream, how happy they were and how she had brought joy to the heavens. So, Mitra asked the young girl to spill cream across the sky every night from then on. Since then and to the end of time she’ll bring happiness to all the stars in the sky and the people that gaze up at them. And do you know what her name was?”

    Elena would smile at her grandfather and look to the trickle of cream snaking across the sky. “Elena.”

    How she hated being taken away from all she knew and loved. She hated this place and the men’s leering eyes on her. She hated their promises of what they will do once Guy allows her to be used for comfort. A tear born of despair and frustration crept from the corner of her eye. Oh how she hated Guy but like the sky maid to the stars, how too she so wanted to make him happy.

    And for that, she hated herself.
    Last edited by Guy-de-Leon; 2nd July 2013 at 01:21.

  7. #7


    Since midmorning when they exited the shadowy, tangled mass of gnarled oak trees known as Torquea Forest the train of wagons and cavalry had followed a hard packed dirt road which paralleled the gentle curves of the Black River. A harsh summer sun hovered in a cloudless sky, pouring punishing heat across the heavens and earth.

    Wagons rolled on creaking wheels along the rutted dirt road. Horsemen in loose line formation stretched along the road ahead of and behind the wagons. A few riders had broken ranks and rode through the tall grass at the left of the road to be out of the road dust churned up by wagon wheels and plodding hooves. To the right, the Black River flowed lazily through the broad Zingaran pasturage.

    Elena rode on the cookmaster’s wagon with the ham fisted man driving. An old apron strung between two spit poles provided some small amount of shade for the wagon seat but did nothing to combat the motionless, humid air. Elena sat at on the right edge of the wagon seat, legs dangling over the side of the wagon. Most of the shade was on the cookmaster’s side of the seat and in spite of the feeling her skin was cooking under the sun, Elena avoided being any closer to the man than was necessary.

    Sunlight sparkled along the Black River like golden stars in the milky way. Why, she wondered, did they not stop along the riverside. How inviting the water looked. Cool and refreshing. The dirty, sweat smeared faces of slaves in cage wagons mirrored her silent wonderings. Why not just a few minutes to cool the skin or take a few swallows? Locked behind the cage bars, the captives might as well have been as far away from the river as the blistering sun was above their unshaded heads.

    “Not long now,” said the cook master, though it seemed he spoke more to himself than to Elena.

    He’d said nothing since striking camp just after dawn. Not that Elena would complain. The heat and humidity made speaking a chore and Elena was glad for his silence. She did not care why he suddenly chose to speak and since the man seemed to be speaking more to himself than to her, she did not bother to reply.

    “Ever seen the fortress, girl?”

    Elena just shook her head. The man rambled on but she did not really listen. His voice became lost in the creaking of the old wagon and the clank of hanging cook pots swaying against one another. She had no idea how long the man had droned on before he caught her attention with a quick smack to the back of her head.

    “Stop daydreaming, bitch! Here comes the captain.”

    Guy rode his horse from the front of the line at a quickened but unrushed pace. Elena smoothed out her raven black hair ruffled by the cookmaster’s swat. She leaned forward on the side edge of the wagon seat, crossed her ankles and idly swung her legs as they dangled over the side. Maybe the captain would notice her now smooth legs. She sugared them herself, wincing with each rip of cloth that pulled away hair along with it.

    Guy slowed his horse, wheeled it about and rode alongside the wagon near Elena. Streaks of sweat crawled through the dust covering Guys face and against his sun darkened skin, it looked as if dried blood covered the man’s face. Hawkish eyes alit briefly on Elena then focused on the cookmaster.

    “Start restocking provisions as soon as we are back,” Guy said to the cookmaster. “Word is a messenger from Count Chazar is at the fortress looking for swords. Odds are we will be leaving within the week to join his forces in the field.”

    The cookmaster nodded. “I’ll need silver, captain, to buy enough supplies on such short notice.”

    “I’ve already told Paymaster Dimati to expect a requisition for ten fingers of silver. Spend as much as you need. Keep half of whatever is left and return the rest to Dimati.”

    “I’ll see to it, captain.”

    Elena swung her legs out, toes tentatively brushing against the horse and Guy’s old saddle. Guy took hold of her thin ankle. Elena’s breath caught at the sudden, tight grasp of a leather gauntleted hand. She looked up at him then down quickly, fearing she had angered him in some way and he would yank her off the wagon as a lesson.

    “What about the underbrush, girl,” asked Guy.

    Elena looked back up at him and stammered, “W-What, Sir?”

    Hand still grasping Elena’s ankle, Guy lifted her leg, pulled it aside and looked up the skirting of the large belted shirt she wore. “Still there,” he said. “But the legs are a start, at least. We’ll deal with what is between your legs soon enough.”

    Elena rested her hands on her lap, pushing down the loose fitting shirt to alleviate how exposed she suddenly felt. The man spoke so casually about such things . They were not the fumbling, sophomoric words of young village boys which made young village girls giggle. Guy’s words were painfully direct. They stunned yet enthralled her. Never before had anyone spoken to her like Guy.

    Guy grunted and let her ankle go. “No need to be so bashful, girl. There will be plenty more eyes on you at the fortress. Even more once we have you on the blocks in Cordova.”

    Elena crossed her ankles, holding her knees together. She tucked the loose hem of the shirt under her thighs. “As you say, sir.” She lifted her eyes to him but Guy’s attention had wandered to some commotion near the front of the line.

    At the font of the line the unit standard swung left to right, the red, rampant boar on it looking as if it swayed drunkenly. “Fortress!” came the call from the lead horsemen. Shouts relayed the word down the line. At each shouted relay one of the horsemen raised their lance from which hung a long red and green streamer and waved it side to side. The eyes of free and slave alike followed the dirt road to a low hill and beyond that, to the towers of the Black River Slave Fortress. The fortress’ heat shimmered walls stood like sheer, unassailable cliffs against the river and bright pinions atop the towers hung limp in the dead air as if exhausted by the brutal Zingaran Sun. In those walls and towers free eyes saw respite from weeks of summer campaigning. Enslaved eyes saw only deeper despair. What they once only imagined now loomed in reality before their eyes. Larger and more grim than they dared guess.

    “The fortress?” asked Elena without realizing she spoke aloud. “It is… so big.”

    “Only Hell has more condemned souls pass through its gates. But given time even Hell will envy us.” Guy said this with so little emotion and with such a stoic expression that Elena found it difficult to determine if the man was serious or making some insensitive joke only he found amusing. “Come,girl,” said Guy holding out his leather gauntleted hand to Elena. “Dinner will be in the fortress tonight so the cookmaster will not need you.”

    Elena placed her hand in Guy’s and he pulled her onto the back of his horse to sit behind him. Guy clicked his tongue and set spurs to the horse’s flanks. The horse started off at a trot and to keep from falling off, Elena instinctively wrapped her arms around Guy’s waist, hugging against his back. The leather flaps that formed the scales of his light riding armor felt softer than she thought they would be. Several scales were a different shade than the rest, replacements for those scales torn off in battle. The patchwork colors of leather scales reminded Elena of the reds, browns and tans of the speckled trout that used to swim in the lazy stream behind her village.

    Guy tugged the reins, pulling the horse from the road into the tall grass and aimed the horse toward the fortress. Grasshoppers leaped from the horse’s path, little black and green specks arcing left and right through the air. He rode ahead of the train until the clatter of wagon wheels faded to be replaced by the chatter of ciccadas in the long grass then guided the horse back onto the road.

    The road followed the base of a hill, snaking between hill and river. A framework of some type sat on the hill that reminded Elena of the skeletal frames of houses and barns as they were being built. It was always an event, raising a barn or a house in the village. Everyone came, young and old. Everyone helped whether it was men lending their backs to house building labor or women their hands to cooking the communal meals. Then at night, bonfires and dancing and stories told by village elders.

    As they rode closer, Elena realized would be no celebration or dancing on the hill. No craggy faced old people telling fairy stories. Just bonfires for the dead. What looked like a barn frame in the distance became gallows up close. Men and women hung from the T-shaped gallows on the hill like sad little forgotten ornaments. Some dangled by the neck, others had been left to linger in agonizing strappado as their shoulders slowly dislocated. The corpse of one man still slumped in a steel gibbet cage which acted as a hellish bird feeder for the crows.

    “Reminders,” explained Guy sensing Elena’s unasked question. “Reminders to livestock entering and leaving the fortress that punishment is swift and often permanent.”

    “What did they do, sir?”

    Guy shrugged. “Perhaps they were found stealing or were simply disobedient to the point of being unsellable. Does not much matter so long as occasional examples are made.”

    As Guy rode by, the crows took flight from their feeder, heckling and cawing. Their sudden flight set the gibbet turning slowly on the hanging chain. The old steel creaked and as the corpse turned to follow their passage, Elena found she could not take her eyes away from the twisted face and ragged, ripped skin where the crows had eaten their way to the bone. “And him, sir?”

    Guy did not bother to glance at the dead man. “The gibbet is for slaves that revolt and encourage others to do so. The moans as they slowly starve serves as a tremendous deterrent to other would be revoltists.” Guy turned his head to looks at Elena out the corner of his eye. “I trust you will not be revolting, girl.”

    Elena shook her head, large expressive eyes looking up to Guy. “On no sir,” she said quickly. “I’ll be the least revolting of any in the fortress!”

    Guy smirked, his intentional pun unintentionally returned by the, illiterate, dark haired peasant slave. “I have no doubt.”

    Elena caught sight of that wry little smirk but had no idea what Guy found amusing. The man sometimes saw humor in the oddest things. As if he alone perceived some cosmic irony which escaped everyone else in the world. She often wanted to ask him to explain but she had seen his ill moods rise and fall like summer thunderstorms and did not wish to upset him. If she did, maybe he would have her put into the cages with the other slaves or tossed as a toy to the men as Captain Travera had done. She wanted to ask why he kept her separate from the other slaves and why she was not to be touched. She resolved so many times to ask but when in his presence her courage always wilted away like flower petals beneath an unforgiving sun.

    Elena looked to the sky and the angry light that swept all the blue out of heaven. How like a wilted flower she felt, weak and crumpled.

  8. #8


    The portcullis in the south gatehouse of the black river fortress yawned like some hungry, jagged-toothed dragon. Thick, round barbican towers stood sentinel at either side of the gate and pikemen leaned against the walls, staying in the shadows to avoid the sun. The men watched with disinterest those entering and leaving the fortress. The slave yards occupied the majority of the Fortress’ southern quarter so those coming and going were either overseers, traders, or those locked in chains and cages.

    Guy and Elena passed under the dragon’s teeth and into the shade of the gatehouse where guy reined the horse and barked to one of the watchmen. “Fetch the wall sergeant.”

    The watchman started to protest but seeing it was Guy, he offered a quick salute, touching thumb and forefinger to his brow. “Right away, knight captain!” Setting his pike against the wall, the watchmen hurried off through the gatehouse’s inner portcullis, into the keep and through an open door at the bottom of the nearest tower.

    The twenty or so feet between outer and inner portcullis lay in shadow. Beyond the gates, sunlight fell so harsh that it washed the colors from the world. It took a moment for Elena’s eyes to adjust to the shade but once they had, she looked around from behind Guy. Just large enough for a wagon to squeeze through, the gatehouse’s thick walls seemed to press in like the cheeks of a stone dragon about to swallow whole anything in its mouth. A pattern of holes three wide and tree deep decorated the tall ceiling. Large enough to drop a pumpkin through, they lay covered by wood planks to keep those on the battlements above from falling through.

    “It must get wet in here when it rains,” mused Elena.

    Guy followed Elena’s gaze and grunted. “I do not think rain is a consideration when the masons mortar in murder holes.” Guy patted Elena on the thigh. “Off the horse, girl. But stray beyond spitting distance and I’ll have the soles of your feet lashed bloody.”

    Elena slipped from horse and tugged down the hem of the belted shirt. She rested a hand on the horse’s side, figuring arm’s length had to be well within spitting distance. The horse turned its head, one large black eye regarding the slave. It turned its gaze away and swished its tail, considering the girl no more important than a fly. Inside the fortress, lines of slaves bound together by neck and ankle shuffled through the processing yards. Their overseers stopped them now and then. At one place to count them. At another to add or remove slaves from the line. At yet another to have someone inspect their hair and in some cases to have it shorn off. Seeing this, Elena absently tugged at a stray tendril of her dark hair and looked up to Guy.

    “De Leon!” said an older man walking into the gatehouse shadows from the processing yard. “Good to have you back.” The man limped toward Guy, a lopsided grin on his white stubbled face. Elena peeked around the horse. Most called Guy, Captain or Commander. She’d only ever heard nobles and those with chivalric badges refer to Guy as De Leon. This gnarled old soldier neither looked noble nor wore on his common tabbard any heraldry marking him as a knight.

    Guy grasped the elder soldier’s extended hand. “Always good to come back alive, you old goat. Especially with stock.” Guy nudged Elena with a dusty boot. “Girl, come around so Guiterez can have a look at you.”

    Elena slipped around the horse. She looked down and tugged at the hem of the long shirt she wore, unsure of how she should stand or what she should do. Guiterez grasped her chin with his hand and lifted it. Elena’s dark eyes raised briefly to the old wall sergeant’s. There was in his eyes and the lines at their corners more years than she first thought.

    With a hand at her shoulder, Guiterez turned Elena around and regarded her with a soldier’s practical eye giving her a cursory visual inspection. “Sturdy but not thick. Decent peasant stock I’d say.”

    “There will be about two hundred more heads arriving within the hour,” said Guy. “Mostly peasants but there are some war prisoners. They’ll need processing. Tell the handlers to classify them as they see fit. As for this one, have her cleaned, give her something better to wear, hang a green placard around her neck and send her to me with eight gill of silphium.“

    Guiterez arched a brow. “Eight gill for a little spit like her? A bit excessive isn’t it?”

    “Travera tossed her to his men before selling her to me.”

    Guiterez regarded Elena “How many?”

    Elena looked at her feet, too ashamed to say anything. She wanted to forget those three days being passed from tent to tent. As if trapped in some dark and vivid dream she saw still the dirty, contorted faces of Travera’s men grunting out whatever pleasures they desired to take from her.

    Guy shrugged. “I got her for such a bargain that did not particularly care how much she had been used as a comfort slut so I did not bother asking.”

    “I’ll send ten gill. That should flush anything out in a day or so.”

    Ten gill. She’d only ever heard apothecaries use the term but never in such a quantitiy. She reckoned ten gill to be about two and a half pints but had no idea what silphium was or what it was intended to flush out.

    “See to it, old friend.” Guy looked to the inner fortress and the keep standing along the north He sighed as if resigned to some inescapable fate and looked back to Guiterez. “Word is Count Chazar sent Graecus to negotiate for sword arms.”

    Guiterez’s mouth twisted in disgust. “The arrogant worm’s been strutting about for the past three days as if he owned the place rather than being here to beg for help.”

    Guy clapped heels to the horse's flank and rode out of the gatehouse shadow into brutal sunlight. “Well, Chazar has deep pockets,” he laughed. “Let’s hope he is desperate enough that we can make his much more shallow and ours all the deeper.”

    “Good luck,” said Guiterez and grabbed Elena by the arm to shove her toward the slave yards. “Come on, girl. Let’s get you processed.”

    Elena looked up, hoping that Guy would change his mind and let her come with him. Or at least look back at her with some assurance that everything was going to be fine. That she had no reason to fear anything. But he just rode on.

  9. #9


    Guy dipped his hands in a bowl of water being offered up by one of the keep’s male steward slaves. He splashed some water on his face and took a small towel draped over the slave’s arm. “Where is he” Guy asked wiping water, sweat and dust from his face.

    “Sir Graecus is in the council room, Sir,” said the slave. “He’s been there since hearing word that you were spotted along the river road.”

    Guy finished wiping his face and neck then draped the used towel back over the young man’s arm. He looked through the keep’s reception chamber and to the narrow stairs curving up the north turret. “Have the steward send up some wine,” he said and started for the stairs. “I’ll likely need to get drunk after dealing with the man.”

    The young man nodded his head. “As you say, Sir.”

    Guy tromped up the stairs and through iron hinged door into the council room. Dusty midday light fell at steep angles through the unshuttered, cross-shaped arrow slits along the curved turret wall. Graecus lounged in a chair at the head of the long council table, ankles crossed and heels of his black leather knee boots propped up on the table. He gnawed on a hunk of roast pheasant and regarded Guy indifferently.

    “De Leon!” Graecus tossed a pheasant thigh bone onto a plate beside the roasted bird’s carcass and wiped his hand on the table. “About time. I don’t know how you suffer these abominable backwoods accomodations. Three days is about my limit.”

    Guy plopped into a tall backed chair at the opposite end of the long table. Six other high backed chairs lined either side of table, standing like carved wooden tombstones. Guy grunted, not bothering to disguise his disdain for the man. “Then perhaps I should have waited another day before returning.”

    Graecus feigned disappointment. “Oh, De Leon. How ungracious of you. I come on behalf of Count Chazar offering gold for sword arms and this is how you treat me?”

    “Decorum dictates the extension of hospitality to visiting knights. It does not dictate pretending to like it.” Guy looked away from Graecus to the slanted beams of light casting skewed crosses on the floor. “Nor does it dictate pretending to like the visitor.”

    Graucus swung his feet off the table, a derisive little smirk on his lips. “It has been years, De Leon. You cannot still hold a grudge.”

    Guy’s hawkish eyes looked back to Graecus with such sharp anger that they could have cut a scar on Graecus’s left jaw to match the one on the right. “You prevented my peerage.”

    Graecus waved dismissively. “You are the son of a silk merchant who is at best a minor courtier. Not a noble. And you, ha! You are a slaver. It is only because you are useful on the battlefield that you have even been allowed the title of Cavalier. Luckily, it is a lay title and not peerage. So whatever little low born *******s you happen to spawn will not inherit the title or this dreary excuse for a fortress.”

    Guy shrugged a shoulder, letting the insult pass in the interest of wheedling from Graecus the reason he was there to hire men. “Yet, you have come to this dreary slave fortress, as so many others, seeking the lances and swords that follow my banner. Chazar is one of King Ferdrugo’s favored nobles. Perhaps you should seek royal support in whatever little political spat Chazar has managed to get himself into. ”

    “The spat happens to be with the King’s cousin, Grand Duke Alizar and the King will not commit troops to either side of the conflict. So, here I am gathering men on behalf of Chazar. For all your ignoble faults, De Leon, you are a fine horseman and battlefield butcher. Those are valuable traits .”

    Guy leaned back in the chair. The compliment was uncharacteristic for Greacus when dealing with unpeered knights like Guy. Guy sensed desperation hidden under that compliment in spite of the begrudging way in which it was delivered. Chazar, Guy thought, had become worried about the Grand Duke. About what, Guy did not much care. It mattered only that Graecus, one of Chazar’s best knights, was trying to buy the unrestricted butchery for which Guy and his men had become known. “And just how valuable to the Count are horsemen and battlefield butchers?”

    “Thirty pounds of silver per fifty men for the duration of the campaign.”

    Guy shook his head. “Alizar would pay seventy five pounds of Eagle Weight silver.”

    Graecus snorted and threw up a hand as if to bat away the very idea. “Eagle Weight silver? Are you mad, De Leon?”

    “The King might not commit troops,” said Guy, “but I am sure his cousin would have access to royal Eagle Weight coins. And those can buy so much more loyalty than standard weight silver.”

    Graecus’ face twisted in barely concealed frustration. He knew Guy was right. “Fine. But seventy five pounds of standard weight silver for each fifty men you bring. Plus you will have first right to captives taken as spoils.”

    Graecus agreed far too easily. Sensing more desperation that he had at first thought, Guy, like some lucre hungry wolf, sought to rip the golden sheep’s neck wide open. “Agreed. But only until the end of summer. Another seventy five if the campaign stretches into autumn. An additional one hundred if we must winter over.”

    Graecus considered the wolf at the other end of the table. Even if they had to winter over, half of Guy’s men would likely be dead by then and the winter would finish off most of the rest. With any luck it would finish off the wolf, too. Graecus nodded his agreement, disgusted with having to deal in such base terms with a low born lay knight. “When can you leave?”

    “We will need to refit and resupply,” said Guy. “We can be on the march with a hundred men inside of a week.” The door creaked open and the same slave that had brought Guy water walked in with a gourd of wine and two simple pewter mugs on a wood tray. Guy motioned for the steward slave to pour the wine.

    “Fine,” said Graecus taking the offered mug from the slave. “I suppose I could suffer another week in the poor excuse for accommodations you offer here.”

    Guy indicated with a nod to the slave to place his wine on the table then waved away the young man. He waited for the slave to leave before speaking. “There is no need for you to stay. I’d prefer you leave. To of course carry the news to Chazar that I am on the way.”

    Graecus shook his head. “For as much money as you are being paid, de Leon, I will personally ensure you and your men are on the field.”

    Guy took up his wine. “As you wish. But be warned we do not travel in the comfort or luxury to which I am sure you have become accustomed.” Guy downed a deep swallow of wine and started topping off his mug from the gourd. “We actually get dirty, you know.”

    With any luck, thought Graecus, It will be grave dirt and I’ll be the one to put you there.

  10. #10


    Elena looked out the tall lancet window. In the time she had been waiting in Guy’s room the sun had dipped below the Keep’s western wall and the harsh afternoon light had faded to shadowless twilight. Dull orange leaked from a few other lancet windows around the keep, the weak, flickering lamplights standing ready to push back the night once darkness settled.

    She turned from the window. The room was smaller than she expected, cramped and spartan behind the thick stone walls. The bed was no more than a wood framed cot barely large enough for one person. The thin mattress thrown on it, though stuffed with down, was nothing but a simple sackcloth douvet. A coarse wool blanket folded on the bed looked more suited for padding horse saddles than sleeping. An unpadded chair and small table of rough-hewn lumber took up the majority of the remaining space. The gourd of silphium tea she was told to bring sat on the table. It smelled like devil spurge and reminded Elena of the foul tasting milk when the family cow got into those prickly nettle bushes.

    The only item that could be considered a luxury was a large brass mirror hanging on the wall. Even that was tarnished at the edges and in need of polishing. Elena looked at her reflection. A slightly distorted, dark eyed image looked back at her from the old brass mirror. She tugged at the long linen overshirt, pulling the hem a bit further down her thighs. It rode higher than the old shirt she was given to wear for the trip to the fortress but at least it was clean. As was she after being scrubbed, inspected and the knots combed from her hair without anything that approached gentility.

    The processors also wrapped a leather collar around her neck. A bored, pie faced man affixed the collar at the back, using large pliers to clamp closed a metal pin through small steel lock plates riveted to the leather. He did not bother looking at her though she was sent to him after the baths, naked and trembling. Once finished, he just shoved her towards one of the handlers and started collaring the next naked slave. Dispassionate as he was, the man might as well have been branding cattle.

    Painted leather tags dangled from the front the collar, two green and one red. The tags had symbols cut into them. Elena supposed it was writing of some type but being unable to read she did not know what they meant. Maybe she would ask Guy what they meant. She knew he would tell her in his usual frank manner though she was unsure if she truly wanted to know.

    Elena sat on the edge of the bed and her face scrunched. Even with the thin down mattress the bed was horribly uncomfortable. She poked at the mattress, finger hitting the cot’s wood deck. Maybe that is why Guy always seemed so irritable.

    The door opened and Elena leaped to her feet. A hand swiftly brushed at the bed cover, erasing the rumples and the evidence she had sat down. “Sir Guy,” she said with a little bow of her head, hands clasped behind her.

    A cup of wine in one hand, Guy elbowed the door closed behind him. He looked at Elena with that appraising, critical gaze of his. One that made her uncomfortable and unsure of herself. “Ah, the peasant with the hedgerows between her legs. They cleaned you up well enough in processing but I don’t suppose they had time to take care of that.” Guy closed the few steps to her and lifted the front hem of the long linen shirt Elena wore.

    “N-no, sir.” She said, though she knew he could see for himself when he lifted the bottom of the shirt she had belted at her waist. Then she offered almost hopefully, “They said they would, though. When there was time.” Elena kept her eyes down, focused on the odd colored flap on the dusty scale leather cuirass Guy still wore.

    Guy grunted and took a swallow of wine from his cup. He raked his fingers through Elena’s hair. No longer a wild, tangled mass, that thick, soft raven hair slid easily between his fingers. It practically pleaded to have a hand fisted in it, tugging her head back in order to crush a deep, claiming kiss against her lips. No doubt this one would fetch a fair bit of coin at the markets. Thin, whip-like braids accented the dark mane and guy found himself rubbing one between thumb and forefinger.

    Elena enjoyed the hand slipping through her hair, a gentle yet somehow powerful thing that set her young heart racing. She glanced up nervously. “He said you would like it. The braids.”

    “Who?” Guy again combed his fingers through her hair looking for more hidden braids.

    “Wall Sergeant Guiterez.”

    Guy grunted. “That old warhorse knows me better than most,” he said with a fondness Elena had not yet heard from Guy. But it was a sad fondness. As one might speak of a faithful hunting dog grown so old it can only muster the strength to lay by the hearth fire yet will still rise on painful, weary bones at the call of his beloved master. Guy draped a handful of hair over the front of Elena’s right shoulder. His hand slid down, smoothing the hair against her breast before falling away.

    The hand sent a nervous tremble through Elena and Guy’s sudden morose silence left her feeling the need to fill the dead air. “He had a few of the slaves put in the braids while the silphium was being prepared. I hope you like it, sir. My hair, I mean. On my head, not-.”

    “Ah yes,” said Guy. Elena quieted, glad that he interrupted her girlish rambling. “I’d almost forgot about that.” Guy drained the last of his wine, set the pewter mug beside the gourd and filled his mug with the silphium tea. He turned, handing the mug to Elena. “You’d best get busy, girl. I want that gourd empty by the time the moon rises.”

    Elena took the mug in her hands. She sipped the tea and winced. The remnants of wine did nothing to disguise the bitterness. “Ugh! It tastes like nettles!”

    Guy moved past her and started tugging on the buckles cinching his leather armor tight to his torso. “Drink it,” he barked.

    Elena took a deeper swallow, not wanting to arouse Guy’s often quick and explosive anger. She swallowed quickly but that did not help the taste and she coughed. “What-what is it for, sir?”

    “Cleans you out,” said Guy unlatching the last of the buckles and slipping from the scaled leather cuirass. He set it on the floor at the foot of his bed and rolled his right shoulder, working out the ache of old injuries.


    “We’ll get a lower price for you in Cordova if we cannot say for certain that you do not bear a child.” Guy sat on the bed and started removing his boots. “The silphium will bleed out anything that Travera’s men may have left behind. You’ll bleed heavier and longer than usual but if any seeds have taken root, the silphium will flush them out in a red flood.”

    Elena did not want growing within her anything that was seeded by the casual use Travera had set her to but she hesitated taking another swallow. The weight of what Guy said settled over Elena like a heavy blanket. He would bleed her out and any hint of a child within her not out of mercy or concern but for the sake of a few more coins when he eventually sold her.

    Guy set his boots aside, tone again becoming harsh, commanding, “Drink it!.”

    And she did. But the taste was not so bitter as the realization that she was no more than a commodity to the man. Even then, she still hoped for more but didd not know why.

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