The next morning, Raven rode out with the other lords to head for Holke Croft and the assembly. Other riders were heading through the countryside calling for people to attend the assembly.
Rachel had watched as Raven rode off with George and some of his men at arms at his side. Maggie stood next to her and handed her a handkerchief when the tears threatened to roll down her face. Rachel hugged Maggie and then the two of them began to take stock of the manor. Raven had asked them to make sure that his manor was secure. No one was to venture past the first pastures or farther than the gate at riverside.
In the smithy, Morrin was making sure there was a good supply of arrow heads and the blades of the household armory were sharp. First thing he’d done though was sharpen all of Maggie’s knives in the kitchen. Raiders wouldn’t think about women being armed. They didn’t know Maggie very well. He had Tod and the other small lads running around checking on buckets of sand and or water, making sure the animals were fed and storing piles of rocks in strategic places. When Rachel asked about the piles of rocks, Tod pulled out his slingshot and showed her what he could do. She was very impressed.
Rachel and Maggie kept everyone engaged in cleaning and preparing the manor for whatever might come down the lane leading from the main road. Her biggest surprise was finding the hidden door in the main tower. She found it when a candle rolled under a tapestry. When she asked Maggie about it, Maggie explained that it lead to a tunnel which came out near the river. A former lord had a lover he went to met via the tunnel because his wife had been a harridan. Upon hearing the explanation, Rachel asked some of the maids to make sure it was clean and clear all the way to the river. One never knew when an escape might be needed.
Raven rode into the courtyard of the hostelry. The other lords were here and the place was a mass of people, animals and noise. He grabbed George and the two of them went to secure a room. He assembly was due to meet in the morning. After finding their quarters, they headed into the town to find some food away from the noise.
Down a quiet lane, they found a pub. Supper was meat pies, ale and apple tart. Filling and good. The two of them talked quietly and watched the people around them. There was some gossip of the assembly to come and from what they could hear, most people would be glad to see slavery outlawed. The talk died when a burley man came in and demanded ale.
The bar maid served him quickly and then disappeared. She was replaced by a burley man and the crowds began to thin.
“Wonder who he is,” said George.
“From the look of him, an unsavory character. See if you can find out,” said Raven. George nodded and headed to the bar for more ale. He chatted with the burley man, nodded and paid for the ale. No one noticed the extra coin.
“That M’lord is Horace. He heads the local slave market and he’s said he’ll put a bounty on any lord willing to stand against his business,” said George.
“Ah. That would explain the sudden lack of customers,” said Raven. “Watch our back on the way to our rooms.”
Rachel found it difficult to get to sleep in the great empty bed. She missed Raven. The smell, heat and hardness of him. She cuddled her pillow and inhaled his scent. That helped a little. After a bit, she was still not asleep. She ran her hand down her breasts and stomach to her cleft and began to touch herself. She thought of how Raven touched her and her fingers delved in and out of her damp opening. Then she worked her button like Raven did and soon found herself stiffen in orgasm.
“Ohhh,” she moaned into the pillow. The scent of Raven combined with the orgasm had her drifting off to sleep in moments.
Raven tossed and turned. He missed Rachel and wondered if she missed him. His hand drifted to his cock, and he stroked it lightly. In the next bed George snored. Raven sighed, rolled over and went to sleep. His sleep was interrupted twice in the night by fights downstairs. By the time dawn lit the windows, he was up and dressed. George still snored away and Raven thumped his foot. “Get up George.”
George startled, realized who had woken him and got dressed. Both men were out the door and off to the assembly after a quick breakfast of bread, cheese and tea.
The Assembly was crowded, noisy and full of sweaty bodies. Lords, Freemen, servants and slaves all jockeyed for a place to stand. Lord Hawkness stood ready to speak as did many others Raven and George stood off to one side and watched the people watching the lords. Horace, the slaver, was walking from one small group to the next. He whispered, cajoled, threatened and was obsequious as needed. Raven made note.
“We have a war on our borders. Slavers versus free people,” started out Lord Hawkness. He continued on, describing the current state of affairs and the recent increase in raids on local crofts. He cited Maredun Croft and Lord Darkwing’s rescue of the heir in the very market of Holke Croft. “If we do not take a stand, it could well be our children in the slave market, our crofts burned and us laying dead in the courtyard,” he finished with a fine resounding thump of his hand on the lectern.
Cries of ‘Here! Here!’ and ‘Aye’ were mixed with ‘traitor’ and ‘cowardly bastard!’. George watched and worked around the crowd over to the side where Horace and his men stood. He listened as best he could. Horace and his lackeys were plotting.
Lord Kress was up next. “It is time we gave up this archaic method of working our land. We need to fight back against those who use to serve us by providing labor and who now feel free to attach us and demean our lives by throwing good families into slavery!” Lord Kress went on for some time on how the economics could be changed. He used many of the formulas that Raven had given the men a few days earlier. Once again, there were as many hisses as cheers.
Then it was Lord Fowler’s turn. He barely started before the boos drown out what he wanted to say. He waited. When the room fell quiet, he started again. “Gentleman, While my life has been made for years on the breeding and sale of humanity, I have come to reconsider my views. While a lucrative business, it is difficult. When I rode out to hear what other lords and crofts had to say, I was of the opinion that slaves were slaves and didn’t matter. Just two-legged livestock. However, on our journey, I began to see the world as others have done. Riding by burned out crofts brings home the seedier side of life. I thought about the fact that three new purchases not too long ago had arrived in charred clothing, and reeked of smoke. When they arrived, I didn’t care one whit. Now, I have a better understanding of their plight,” he said. He stood a little straighter.
“While it is one thing to be born a slave, it s quite different to be dragged into it. As I said, I had not previously thought on this. At Ravens Croft, I heard the story of a woman dragged from the family croft and thrown into slavery. I expected a dull witted, slatternly twit. Someone who deserved to be a slave, because it actually brought her up in the world. Instead, I met Rachel of Maredun Croft. She was ever so much a lady. Her bearing and manner denoted fine breeding. Her wit, and intellect are amazing. Yet because of raiders attacking crofts, this Lady, this fine example of our upper class is bound to be a slave until a year has passed. This is wrong!” he said pounding his fist on the lectern. “We must change our ways!”
This time, the cheers were almost universal. Only Horace and his men were silent. After the roar settled down, Lord Fowler held up his hands. “I have one last thing to say and then it is someone else’s turn. On my way here, I stopped at my own croft. I looked at my family and thought of how they’d fair if ripped from my croft. My sons were right. It was time to quit. I have done as Lord Darkwing requested. I now have thirty tenants on my croft.” With that, he stood down and as he walked past Raven, he clasped him on the arm.
“While my pocket curses you, I couldn’t look my wife in the eyes. She and your Rachel are two of a kind, and the thought of her in the slave market broke my resolve,” said Lord Fowler.
“I understand. The moment I saw Rachel in the market I grabbed her, knowing deep in my bones that she did not belong there,” said Raven. “Here’s hoping though that your former associate is not a vengeful bastard.”
Lord Fowler looked towards Horace out of the corner of his eye. “And if he is, he will die horridly,” he growled.
Raven nodded slightly and let the man pass and watched as the next speaker came up. In time it was his turn. “As many here have spoken, I will not repeat their words. In your heart, if you can kill a person, hold one hostage, rip them from their homes and sell them, then you do not belong here. It is time to be more civil. More cultured. More enlightened. Slavery and slavers have become a plague we can no longer suffer. I call the vote,” he said raising his arm high.
“I second the vote!” cried Lord Kress.
“All those in favor of the assembly ending slavery move to the right,” called Lord Hawkness. He then stepped down and moved to the right. Alongside him stood Lord Fowler and Raven. In the end, the only people left standing on the left were Horace, and a few of his henchmen. As he was neither Lord nor croftholder, he didn’t count.
Lord Hawkness stepped forward to the lectern. “The vote is cast. 138 Lords and Crofters to 0. I ask that Lord Darkwing, Lord Fowler and Lord Kress attend me to draw out the proclamation which will define the new status of individuals formerly held as slaves.”
There were cheers and murmurs as people left the assembly chamber. The rest of the men gathered around a table with a scribe to write out the document. It would be a long afternoon.