Rachel sat next to the door, sword in one hand, and a bucket of water next to her. While the outside of the door was wood, the inner side was metal. She knew the bucket wouldn’t do much to stop a raging fire, but it would stop a small one. It would also cool off the door if it got too hot. Women and children were curled up on bedding and on chairs along the tunnel amongst food and water. Near the opening of the tunnel were two men and a few women. All had weapons of some sort. The sounds of battle began to carry. Maggie was going from person to person checking to see if they needed anything.
“Maggie, sit down and rest,” said Rachel softly. They’d tested to see if voices could be heard and learned if people spoke quietly, they couldn’t be heard in the great hall.
“I’m worried about Lord Raven,” said Maggie as she finally sat down next to Rachel. She pulled her knitting out of a pocket and worked on a sock.
“So am I. All I can do right now though is stay safe and keep all of us safe,” said Rachel.
“Aye,” said Maggie. “The men are fighting something fierce from all the crashing and clangs of metal. Just hope they don’t set fire to the manor.”
“We’d be safe, but I’d hate to lose it,” said Rachel.
Morrin and the men fought off the brigands. At one point, the men tried to set fire to the barn, but one of the stable lads opened all the stalls and let the horses run over the men. Then they tossed water on the fire. Some hay was lost, but not much.
Morrin and some of the manor men had finally driven those at the gate away and pulled the flaming haywain into the middle of the road where it could burn without too much damage to the woods. Looking around, they didn’t see too many of the intruders standing. Of those still breathing, he tied them up and headed back towards the manor. As he ran, he could see flames, but not where they came from. He and most of the men ran faster. As they came around the corner of the courtyard, they could see flames licking out the windows of the kitchen and pantry.
“Get the water!” he hollered and headed towards the fire. Morrin knew that inside the kitchen were buckets of sand and more water. He dunked his upper body in the horse trough and then headed into the kitchen. The brigands had lit a fire next to a door, hoping it would spread. So far it had burned part way through the door and set a table on fire. Morrin grabbed a sand bucket and hurled it. Then he grabbed a broom and began to beat at the flames. He was joined by others and in a few minutes, they had the flames out. Two men began to drag out the burned items into the courtyard.
“Eric, Martin! Come with me,” Morrin hollered. They opened the charred door and started down the hall. The kitchen fire hadn’t been the only one set. Martin pulled burning tapestries down in one room while Eric and Morrin tossed sand on burning books. It took a few minutes to get the flames under control. Luckily, Raven had insisted that the manor have doors in main sections which meant that the fires didn’t travel.
“Morrin! The Hall is burning!” cried Eric.
Morrin ran, knowing that the women were hiding in a tunnel just off the hall. He ran in to find Eric trying to open a window to toss out burning chairs and rugs. Morrin watched the tapestries catch and pulled them down as well. Water and sand was thrown on the more aggressive fires. He just hoped that Rachel, Maggie and the rest of them would stay hidden until he could check to see if everything was secure.
Eric and Peter headed upstairs to see if any more fires had been set while Morrin and Martin finished putting out the flames in the Hall. After that, the two men and half a dozen stable lads moved from room to room. Morrin found one brigand just getting ready to start a fire under Rosie’s loom. He took the shovel he was carrying and swung it up hard against the man’s head. There was a clang and a thud as the man fell dead across the fire he’d just started. Morrin and the lads pulled the corpse free of the loom and put out the fire. Opening a window, the remainders of the fire and the corpse were tossed out onto the manor lawn.
Rachel panicked a bit when the first scent of smoke wafted under the door. She wanted to open it and see what she could do to put it out, but knew that her best defense was to stay put. She poured a mound of sand across the bottom of the door to keep some of the smoke out.
Maggie watched Rachel and nodded. She walked down the tunnel and checked on people. When she got to the opening near the river, she listened as she talked to the men on guard. They all agreed it was getting quieter. If Morrin didn’t come for them by dark, one of the men would go out and see what had happened.
As the light faded, everyone got antsy. The smell of smoke was heavier and it was getting difficult to keep the smaller children quiet. Maggie had just sat down to tell a story to some of them when there was a loud pounding on the door that lead into the Hall. She looked up at Rachel.
Rachel waited. “Thump, thumpthump, thump, thumpthumpthump,” came the blows to the door. It was the signal that she and Morrin had agreed to as an all clear. She undid the main brace as one of the men came up to help. He stood with sword ready as Rachel stood behind the door and opened it up.
“M’lady, all is clear,” said an exhausted Morrin.
Rachel stepped out into the doorway to find Morrin scorched, soot covered and bleeding from various cuts. She stepped out into the Hall and realized that there had been a fire, but it had not destroyed the Manor or the Hall. She wrapped Morrin in a hug and cried.
Maggie came out behind Rachel and some of the others and looked around. “It could be worse,” she said.
“You haven’t seen your kitchen,” said Morrin quietly.
“What? Those brigands burned my kitchen? How Dare They!” she hollered and headed to the heart of the manor, her kitchen. Some of the women followed Maggie. Others took children off to beds in the manor.
“How bad was it Morrin?” asked Rachel.
Three of ours dead. Plenty wounded, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two died. Eight of theirs dead and three captured. It’s slavers, and I found Lord Raven’s horse dead on the road. They have him and George as far as I can tell. Eric and Peter have set off to Holke Croft. Raven’s a good man. We’ll find him,” said Morrin.
Rachel nodded. She wanted to curl up and cry, but there was work to be done. She headed for the kitchen where she could hear Maggie shouting orders.
George felt rough hands grab him in the dark. They dragged him out of the cell and down the hall. He was pulled into another cell and his hands were placed in cuffs chained to the wall. A man sliced the back of his shirt open and checked both shoulders.
“No marks Horace,” said the man.
“Well, we’ll just have to fix that,” said a deep voice that George recognized from the Assembly as that of Horace. George braced for what he figured was coming next. The smell of hot iron reached his nose about the same time the branding iron seared the flesh of his left shoulder. George screamed. He barely caught his breath when the lash struck his back. He tried to move away from it, but could only swing by his wrists. Blood ran down his back and his arms. He passed out more than once, only to be revived by icy water being thrown onto his back. The whip curled around his scorched flesh and he blacked out.
The door of the cell opened and a body was thrown in. The men grabbed another man, one of Kress’ this time. He screamed and fought as they dragged him out. When the door clanged shut, Kress and Raven crawled to where George lay moaning. They rolled him on his stomach and looked at his shredded, burned back.
“George, can you hear me? Are you going to be alright?” asked Raven.
“Yes, once I slit Horace’s throat,” said George through gritted teeth.
Raven gave him some water from the bucket near the door and then helped him sit up. They covered his back with the scraps of his shirt.
A while later, the door opened and the scene was repeated. Kress and Raven helped the man who’d been whipped and branded like George. Raven looked at Kress after they settled the man. “Who’s next? You or me? And, do you think they’ll have the guts to brand us?” Raven asked.
“Probably me. You pissed Horace off more than me, and I think he’s trying to make things worse by making you wait,” said Kress.
“I hope not. Do you think they’ve hit our crofts?” asked Raven.
“Yes. I just hope my sons raised the alarm,” said Kress. The men fell silent waiting for the door to open once more.
The cell door opened and the man was tossed in, but neither Kress or Raven were grabbed. Buckets of food and water were put into the room and the cell door slammed shut. Raven passed out the food and water.
“Guess he’ll wait a bit for us,” said Kress as he took his share of the food.
“I agree. Can’t possibly be because someone has come looking for us,” said Raven. He ate trying not to think about what would happen when it was his turn. He tried to think of Rachel and hoped all was well with her.
Dawn came accompanied by the sound of men and chains. Three men with pikes came into the cell and pushed Raven and Kress to the back while the three men who’d been branded and whipped were collared, chained and hauled out. Raven and Kress protested and fought only to be roughed up by the pikemen. Once the three men were hauled away, the pikemen let go and left the two men alone.
“Damn!” cursed Raven as he slammed his fist against the door.
“Well, didn’t expect that,” said Kress.
“No, but now we know that Horace intends to sell his ‘stock’ as rapidly as possible, before the rest of the crofts and towns find out that slavery has been outlawed,” said Raven.
Kress nodded. He put his hands on hs knees and let his head hang down. “I’m too old a man for all this shit.”
Raven just stared out the small cell window and waited. He knew it wouldn’t be long before one of them felt the lash and maybe the iron. He was right. Not long after the men took George and the others away, the door opened once more and Kress was hauled out kicking and fighting. Raven sat waiting. There was nothing in the cell to make into a weapon unless one considered the slop bucket a weapon. He could hear the cries of Kress echo up the hall. Raven began to count the ways he would kill Horace if he lived. If he got out of this situation. He’d gotten to twelve when the door opened and Kress was unceremoniously tossed onto the filthy straw. Raven had just enough time to register that there was no smell of burnt flesh when the guards grabbed him. He struggled, but knew it was of little use. Instead, he used his efforts to look around and figure out where he was. As they passed a window, he saw a pub sign he recognized. They were in Holke Croft. Then Raven was slammed into the wall and chained with the cuffs recently occupied by Kress. They were still wet with his blood.
“Ah, Lord Darkwing, so glad to have you in my cells,” said Horace. “Your George brought a high price in spite of his new brand and stripes. I hope he enjoys the southern plains.”
“You will not get away with this,” growled Raven.
“Oh, but I am. Granted, I’ll not sell you or Lord Kress. I’ll just keep you here to play with until your manors capitulate and let me in to ransack and pillage. I look forward to taking that slave of yours. Rachel I think is her name? Sweet looking piece of ass,” said Horace.
“Damn you Horace! You will pay for this,” yelled Raven as he twisted in the chains.
“No, you will. I will begin with twenty lashes,” said Horace. He picked up the whip wet with the blood and proceeded to stripe Raven’s back.
Raven did his best not to react, but the third lash caught the tip of his ear and the pain made it feel like his entire ear had been ripped off. He screamed and Horace laughed. When the count reached twenty, a bucket of icy water was thrown on Raven. It was not only cold, but salted. It stung and Raven cried out again. He’d almost caught his breath when the whip fell again. He passed out at thirty-five lashes.