This story wants to write itself. So please be patient. It’s waited 30 years, so…. I’m indulging it.
Raven looked back into the wagon at the girl. She was curled up asleep in the hay. He didn’t think she had made it past the city walls before succumbing to exhaustion. It hadn’t been his intention to buy a slave today. His plans had been to buy a breeding mare or a milch cow. Instead, the crowd had grabbed his attention and when the girl was pulled up on the platform, he opened his mouth and bid before he even had time to think. “Now what am I going to do?” he thought.
As the wagon bumped along he ran through a list to organize his thoughts. “No wife to piss off, or even a mistress. Plenty of room, but how do I keep her safe?” he thought. He realized his impulse wasn’t just to assuage a hyperactive libido, but because he felt compelled to rescue her. Then there was that other issue. The slavery itself. He realized he had to explain to her that she had to stay a slave for a year and a day by law. She seemed to understand him at the market, but he wasn’t sure.
“Didn’t hurt the coffers, but I’m still out a cow or a horse needed for the estate. I’ll have to go back to market next week. He thought about the logistics of housing this girl and dealing with Maggie the housekeeper once he got home. Maggie was older than the gods, and knew just about every stone on the estate.
The turn to his land was up ahead. The gate was manned by Maggie’s great nephew, a lad of about six. When he saw Raven, he hopped down and opened the gate.
“Mornin’ Sire,” the boy trilled.
“Morning Tod,” answered Raven. He moved through the gate and the boy closed it and hopped back up on the wall. Clucking the reins over the horse’s back, he moved towards the barns and farmhouse.
Rachel woke up as the wagon jarred to a halt. Looking up she saw sturdy farm buildings and trees. She sat all the way up and looked around again. A huge farmhouse, the barn, animal corrals and people heading towards the wagon. She wrapped the cloak tightly around her.
“Ah, you’re awake,” said the man who’d bought her. He held out his hand. Rachel took it and he helped her down. “Stay put a minute,” he said sofly.
Rachel stood there looking around. His accent wasn’t that different from hers. She was glad she could understand him. The slave auctioneer had been hard to understand, as had been the slavers at first. Two men and an old woman came up to greet the man.
“Where’s the livestock?” asked one.
“Whatcha got here?” asked the other.
“That child has no shoes!” commented the old woman.
“No, and she needs some other things as well,” the man said. “Maggie, would you take her in and find her some clothes?” he asked. “You’ll need this as well,” he said handing her a key.
Maggie took a look at the key, growled and then held her hand out to Rachel. “Don’t know what yer name is girl, but come with me. Don’t understand why himself came home with the likes of you, but he better have a damn fine reason else he won’t be eating supper tonight,” she said over her shoulder as the two women walked to the house.
Rachel walked behind Maggie into a kitchen that looked much like her mother’s. Large fireplace with a spit, kettles boiling, tables covered in herbs, veggies, and food being prepared. In one corner, a young woman was washing pots and pans. They passed through this room into another filled with supplies. Maggie opened a door with a key on the far side. In this room were cloth goods, boxes and other household items. Maggie rooted around in various boxes and stuffed things into her apron. Then she motioned for Rachel to leave the room and they headed back out towards the kitchen. There they turned off and went down a hall. A few minutes walk, and they were in a bath house. Water steamed on the fire. Maggie put the items in her apron down on a bench and turned to the girl.
“Get that cloak off girl,” she said.
“Um, I’m…” Rachel started.
“I know girl. But I can’t get rid of the chains until you take off the cloak,” Maggie said holding out the key.
Rachel turned slightly and dropped the cloak. Maggie being all business didn’t look at the girl, just the shackles. She had them off in a moment and threw them in a corner. She got rid of the collar too. Then she pointed to a tub. “Get the water in there, add some cold and get scrubbed up. Hurry up, I don’t have all day,” she said.
Rachel freed of the collar and shackles moved to get the bath water. She climbed in the tub and let the hot water sink into her flesh. Scrubbing with a rough soap Maggie handed her and a rag, she was soon clean. Standing up out of the water, she looked around for a towel. Maggie handed her two. One for her body and a second one for her hair. She dried off quickly and then wondered what the old woman had brought for clothes.
“I’m Maggie by the way. Housekeeper,” Maggie said handing the girl a long under tunic.
“Rachel,” she responded. Grabbing the tunic, she slipped it over her head. Next came an over skirt and then a bodice that held her breasts up and out. Better fit than the vest she wore at home. Finally, wool socks and leather slippers. It felt so good to be dressed again.
“Now Rachel, let’s see what we can do with this mane of hair,” said Maggie grabbing up a comb. Rachel sat while Maggie deftly worked the comb through the tangles. A few minutes later, her hair was braided in two long braids down her back.
She helped Maggie tidy up the bath house and then followed her deeper into the house. Rachel tried to get a map of the house in her head, but there were so many distractions that she just felt lost. Maggie opened a door and there was the man who had bought her standing next to an empty fireplace.
“Come in,” he said.
Rachel walked into the room and stood next to a chair. She wasn’t sure what was expected of her. Maggie closed the door behind her and disappeared.
“What’s your name,” he asked. Looking her over, he realized that she was beautiful. His first assessment of her naked and chained trying to cover herself with her hair had been right. Question was though, would she cope with her new situation.
“Rachel,” she replied.
“My name is Raven Darkwing and I’m the owner of this estate. My word is law on my land. Do you understand me?” he asked.
“Yes, you bought me. I’m your slave.” she said, looking him straight in the eyes.
“I bought you, however my intentions are not to have you as a slave,” he said. “Now comes the difficult part,” he thought.
“So, you’re going to free me and let me go home?” she asked with a hint of sarcasm.
“Were it within my power to do so, I would. However, the law states that you are mine for a year and a day. After that, you may buy your freedom, or I may give it to you,” he said.
“Oh. Would you contact my family and let them know I’m alive?” she asked trying to deal with the whole situation. This man being calm and nice was almost worse than the slavers yelling at her. She was trying very hard not to cry.
“Yes, Give me the information,” he said and walked over to a desk. Pulling out a piece of paper, an ink pot and a quill, he looked at her.
“Gideon Farm, East Grove. Tell ’em I’m fine, and I’ll see them soon as I can. Tell them I’m a servant, not a slave please,” she asked softly.
“Not a problem,” he said and wrote for a few more pen strokes. Then he folded and sealed up the letter. “I’ll post it when I go back to market. That’ll be next week,” he said.
“Okay,” she answered. “Now what?” she wondered.
“You will work here, and when the time comes, I will send you back to your family if that is what you want. You will not run off. You will not disobey me. You will not cause disruption on my lands. Do you understand?” he said with his voice almost growling by the time he finished.
“Yes,” she said with a gulp.
“Now, what did you do on that farm?” he asked.
“Um,… I worked with the horses and other livestock. Mum said I was too clumsy to work in the house. No talent for feminine things like cooking and embroidery,” she said.
“Hold out your hands,” he demanded. She complied quickly. He took her hands and inspected them each in turn, noting the calluses and rough spots that no amount of beeswax or lanolin would soften. “Well, at least you tell the truth there. I don’t tolerate lies,” he said as he dropped her hands and walked around her. “So, I take it you’d be more comfortable in trews than a skirt?”
“Yes sir,” she said.
“Well, we’ll see to that in the morning. For now, go back to the kitchen and help Maggie with the rough work. She’ll tell you where to sleep tonight,” he said and with that turned his back on her and stared out the window.
Rachel left, and tried to remember how to get to the kitchen. She followed her nose.