[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 3
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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The soldier carried me screaming and wiggling to the corral and dumped me unceremoniously behind the fence with my other healthier and more able neighbors. I fell into the mud with a sickening splat and lay there for a moment, too upset to move. Uncle’s face kept playing behind my eyes and I began to cry into the mud that covered my face. Suddenly a hand clutched the back of my dress and pulled me upright.
“Timmy!” My arms flew around her neck. “They put Uncle in the cottage and-”
“Hush child. I know.” She pulled me into an embrace, for her comfort as well as my own. “There’s nothing can be done now.”
I lay my head on her soft bosom and cried, watching the glowing fire that devoured our village. Nothing would be left after it finished its work- nothing but ashes. I cried harder.
“Timmy? What will become of us?” I asked through my tears.
“They’ll take us to Groithia, dearie.”
“And then what?”
She was silent for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“All right people,” a soldier shouted. He stood on the second rail of the fence and looked down at us all disdainfully. “Get into a line and these boys here are going to fasten ropes around your hands. Anyone not cooperating will join the rest of your village.” He looked purposefully towards the smoking town.
No one said a word. The corral was frighteningly quiet except for the sounds of our feet splashing through the mud and the tightening of the ropes around our wrists.
It was a group of young boys who were tying all of us into a consecutive line. They looked barely older than I and when one came to fasten me behind Timmy, he looked down with sorrowful eyes at me. I could not hate him. I tried. I wanted to hate him. It was his kind who killed Uncle. It was his kind who burned my village. It was because of his kind that I was living in a village in the first place.
But he looked like someone I would have played with had we been in different circumstances. He was gentle with my hands as he tied them together with itchy twine and before he moved to the next person, he gave me a sincerely apologetic look. My face remained stoic.
The journey to Groithia was uneventful. In my memory, it is only a collage of images and feelings. I remember being tired and thirsty. My feet ached with every forced step and always I was sweaty and dirty. Every day, at least one of my neighbors collapsed from exhaustion and hunger and they would merely be released from the chain and left where they fell.
It was only with Timmy’s help that I survived the hundred-mile trudge. She gave me a ration of her food and water and gave me the encouragement I needed to go on each day.
When we reached Suraad- Groithia’s capital city- two months later, I was weak with exhaustion and malnutrition. But I was alive. The small, darkened cell that I, along with twenty others, was thrown into was a welcome change from the forest floor.
The cement floor was cool on my hot and blistered skin. I curled up in a corner and soon fell asleep. The next morning, I was awakened by the key in the great iron lock of my cell. With a shrill creak, the door swung open and the soldier there gave a swift kick to the first person he saw.
Whoever it was, groaned and pulled himself upright. The rest of us did the same, opening our bloodshot eyes and letting them adjust to the sunlight that poured through the narrow window in the cell wall.
“Get up! All of you get up!” The call echoed through the dungeon corridors and everyone struggled to their feet. Then soldiers with sharp spears came in and prodded us like cattle through the dank maze of corridors up and out onto the streets of Suraad.
Suraad to me looked much like the busy cities I had passed through on my way to Dezla. The same variety of species existed there and other than the flags which lined the streets, everything was the same. But I had no time to take it in before I was herded with the others into a large arena.
We were put into a corral much like the first one in Dezla and there we stood and awaited our fate. Around us were thousands of Groithians, seated in the stands, eyeing us scrupulously. There were other corrals, too. Many other little pins were scattered around the sandy arena floor and in them were hundreds of Danubaens- all as dirty and sullen as we.
There was a platform in the center of the arena and I watched in horror as groups of Danubaens were paraded across the platform and Groithians bid on them from their seats. I found Timmy and clutched her hand in fright. Her big hand patted my back with intentions to sooth but only frightened me more with its shaking.
Soon, three pins had been cleared and half of ours and Timmy and I along with three others were herded onto the platform. There were thousands in the arena but only the handful in front of the platform were buying. The others were there to take joy in our humiliation. I watched the bidders with fear and anger as they stood about. Some talked with each other, some looked over us silently.
I clung tighter to Timmy’s hand as a man and a young boy approached us. The man studied Timmy first and then me and as he did, the auctioneer came to stand beside him.
“See anything that might be of use to you Mister…”
“Lord Colias,” the man shot curtly. “Perhaps. I’m looking for new house servants- a maid, a cook, and such. I’m afraid I don’t know what to look for…my wife usually handles this sort of thing but she passed a few years ago, you see.”
Lord Colias seemed indifferent about his wife’s death but the boy at his side visibly flinched at the mention of- I supposed- his mother. He looked a bit older than I- possibly thirteen or fourteen. He was lanky and had obviously had a growth spurt recently because he was like a colt with his long arms and legs. But his face was handsome and kind and I found myself relaxing before him.
“Where have they come from?” Lord Colias was asking.
“Oh, they were bred as slaves in the west, m’lord. They have all come from backgrounds in service and are most experienced.”
“We are not sla-!” I began to exclaim but Timmy clapped her hand over my mouth.
The auctioneer glared down at me and I shrank from him, huddling closer to Timmy’s skirts. Lord Colias frowned.
“Where are they truly from?” The auctioneer opened his mouth but Lord Colias interrupted him. “And be careful with your answer. Your life might very well depend on it.”
Looking defeated, the auctioneer spoke truthfully. “They are captives from Danubae, m’lord.”
“Where in Danubae?”
“I do not know.”
Lord Colias looked thoughtful. “Well…with the way the war is looking there’s not much chance I should have to return them any time soon…if ever.” He addressed us. “Have you any experience in housework? Cooking? Cleaning?”
“Yes, m’lord,” Timmy responded. “I can cook and clean and garden, if you like.”
“Is this your daughter?”
She hesitated. “Yes, m’lord.”
“Does she cook or clean?”
“She has some experience, m’lord. And she is a fast learner.”
Lord Colias turned to the boy. “What do you think, Gadel?”
Gadel looked at Timmy appraisingly. Then his black eyes turned down to me. He smiled kindly but then looked at his father with an indifferent shrug. “They’ll do, I suppose.”
They left us and took their seats to begin the bidding. Timmy clutched my hand. “They’ll buy us, Havara.” Her voice sounded hopeful.
“Well they didn’t sound so enthusiastic about it. Are you sure they will?”
“They had to sound that way around the auctioneer or else he’d take them for a ride and they’d end up paying ten times more than we’re worth.”
I gaped up at her. “I’m a prin-!”
“Hush, child! You’re not anymore! Groithia’s gaining territory by the day and the king’s armies aren’t stopping them. This is the best hope you’ve got for a life now!”
I practically growled. “When I’m of age, I will take command of the kingdom! That is my life! I’ll go home as soon as I have the chance to!”
“Don’t be foolish, Havara. You’ll never make it home. Soon, there won’t be any home to go to. These men are kinder than most I’ve seen today and perhaps if we serve them dutifully, we’ll be set free in time.” She looked down understandingly at me. “I know you were bred for something great. You’ve been educated and trained in your short decade more than I ever will be. But sometimes life doesn’t work out like it’s supposed to. You’ve got to accept that.”
As I thought on her words, she was ushered to the front of the platform and the bidding began. Lord Colias bought her for thirty mir. Next he bought a young man in his twenties- Nealp- who I knew from my village. Nealp was slow, a step away from being a complete idiot but he could do manual labor. He was big and well muscled and was half ogre, which explained his mental state.
Then I was ushered up to the front. I found dozens of eyes fixed appraisingly on me and I felt a hot blush creep up my cheeks. But I held my head high and peered out at the buyers, even as the bids began. They were small. I was little and delicate and many, I assumed, didn’t believe I’d be of much use.
But one large, sweaty man in the front commented to another that I was “awful pretty” and should “grow into a real hot little thing” that “might be some fun”. I looked down at him in horror and he gave me a wink and a lewd grin. A shudder ran up my spine and I looked away, finding the eye of Gadel who was two seats away from the sweaty man and had caught the whole exchange. He nudged his father who bid forty-five mir and the auctioneer pounded the gavel to end the bidding.
I was seized around the arms and dragged off the platform to where Timmy and Nealp were waiting. I was tied between the two of them to form a short chain and then the chain was tied around a guard’s wrist. Soon we were joined by Lord Colias and Gadel who began saddling their horses.
“Timmy? Where are we going?” I asked hesitantly.
Gadel answered me. “Colias Manor- your new home.”
And thus began the next chapter of my life.
To Be Continued
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