When Roslin got back to the tent, Shea and Cadie had retired for the night. Cadie slipped out of bed and quietly approached the young woman who was sitting forlornly on her cot. "Why don't you want to be my friend?" the child asked, a tear starting down her cheek. "Don't you like me any more?"
Roslin pulled the sad little girl into her arms. "No matter what happens, you will always be my friend, don't ever forget that." She stroked the child's head, and rocked her back and forth. "I didn't tell your Papa something important, and now he's mad at me, but it has nothing to do with you. I don't want you to get in trouble because of me, so please don't talk to me when he's around. Now get back to bed before he gets back and finds us together." She kissed Cadie on the forehead, and sent her on her way.
Roslin knew it would not be long
before Brice would retire. Should I wait on my cot for him 'til he calls
for me? She wondered. NoŠhe said anticipate my desires without being
asked. I have to be waiting for him when he gets back. Reluctantly
she disrobed and walked around the screen to his cot and slipped under
the blanket. Roslin had been attracted to the man, and had grown to care
very much for him. She had even wondered and fantasized about what it would
be like to make love to him, but this was different. She was repulsed by
the thought of her body being used for the pleasure of someone who had
grown to despise her. She was thankful for the privacy screen and wondered
if the purpose of it was so he could have sex beyond the view of his family.
Brice started back to her tent and
wondered to herself why she felt the need to be so hard on Roslin. She
didn't seem to be able to help herself. She just couldn't seem to separate
her feelings' for Lord Athol from her feelings' for his daughter. The thought
that she had been attracted to that monster's child was hard to accept.
She entered the tent and stepped behind the screen and sat down on the
cot to remove her boots. She felt Roslin immediately and jumped up and
turned to face her. Cold fury pumped through her body. Reaching out she
grabbed the edge of the cot and tipped it over, dumping her slave onto
the floor. "Your father murdered Cadie's mother, and you think you can
take her place in my bed?" She picked up a blanket and threw it on Roslin
to cover her nakedness. "He snuffed out her life as if it meant nothing.
You disgust me. You have no concept of love or compassion, do you? What
does it matter if you destroy a few lives, so long as your needs are met?"
"NoŠI'm sorry," Roslin stammered. "You said I was to serve your every desire. I thought that meant in your bed as well." The young woman stood and wrapped the blanket around her body. "I know you don't believe me, but I am so sorry for what my people did to you. I understand now what it's like to be a slave."
"YOU UNDERSTAND NOTHING! A lifetime of suffering can not be comprehended in the few hours you have been a slave."
Roslin realized that Brice was right. She could not possibly understand what a lifetime of this type of treatment would do to a people. But the young woman had been a slave long enough to feel the helplessness and humiliation it caused. Her eyes filled with tears and she put her face in her hands and sobbed. To realize she had treated people as her possessions without even giving it a second thought broke her heart. She turned and ran out of the tent.
Brice watched Roslin run away and
shuddered at the thought that the young woman thought she wanted to use
her as a bed slave. She had been hard on her, yes, but she would never
force herself on the woman. She did not have to be raped herself to understand
the pain and humiliation it caused. The pain of what Elsbeth had endured
flooded back into her consciousness, and she tried to lock it away again
in a dark corner of her mind. "I'm so sorry ElsbethŠI wish I had been able
to protect you." She whispered, as the memories refused to be locked away
When Elsbeth failed to meet her at the stable that night, Brice went to her home only to find that she had been taken early in the day. Captain Alban of the Sovereign's royal guard had claimed Elsbeth as his bed slave. The thought of one of those pigs touching her was almost too much to bear, and the guilt Brice felt that she had been spared, while the woman she loved had to endure this nightmare was overwhelming. They had both known that this was inevitable, but that didn't make it any easier to accept, now that it had finally come to pass.
Brice walked back to the stable
in a daze. She saw the large oak tree in the side yard, and suddenly it
was no longer a tree, but the Ryshtan captain who had taken her Elsbeth
away. With a rage that could not be controlled, she used her fists to beat
the tree until exhausted, she sank to the ground, her hands a bloody mess.
Eamon found her there in the morning, curled into a ball, her hands looking like raw meat. He took her into the barn, and cleaned and wrapped her injured hands. He tried to think of something to say that would make this easier for her. "Elsbeth had luck on her side," he said, sitting down pulling her close for a hug. "The captain of the guard has never been able to sire a child. At least she will be spared that pain."
Brice nodded. As bad as the situation
was, nothing was worse than having your innocent babe murdered. At least
she would be spared that part of this nightmare. Now that Elsbeth had been
taken as a bed slave, the only time they could spend together would be
the few days a month she was soiled with blood. Bed slaves were not to
be touched when they were unclean, and this time was given them to visit
Two years passed, and Brice prayed for the time that Elsbeth would come home for good. Caption Alban had not been a brutal man, and Elsbeth had learned to tolerate his unwelcome attentions. She lived for the few days a month she and Brice were given.
Word reached Brice that Lord Athol had seen Elsbeth in the company of Caption Alban, and was so taken with her that he clamed her for his own. Elsbeth had been in the Sovereign's household for over a month and Brice prayed she would start her monthly cycle soon. Brice needed to see herŠknow that she was all right. They could only hope she would not become pregnant too soon, for a woman heavy with child was not allowed a home visit until the child was born and disposed of. The Ryshtans could not allow the possibility that a babe might be birthed and hidden away.
As each day passed, Brice's fear that Elsbeth could be pregnant grew. Nine months away from her love seemed an interminable amount of time. She heard the bell sounding, and quickly made her way to the meeting hall. She had been stirring up the people and had finally gotten enough supporters to call a meeting with the elders. She went inside to find that Mikah, the leader of the slave elders was already there. She nodded a greeting to him, and sat down to wait for the rest of the men to arrive.
Brice knew it would be hard to convince the elders that they must not allow their people to go on like this anymore. Too many generations had gone along with this life, accepting it as a fate that could not be changed. She could not do that, and although she was young, her physical resemblance to a leader that was prophesied to lead them out of slavery was helping to sway many to her way of thinking.
The prophecy stated that a man would come that was as tall as the trees, with eyes as blue as the sacred crystal, and if they were to follow him, he would lead them to freedom. With her blue eyes, and the fact that she stood six foot three inches tall, it was easy for some to believe that the prophecy was coming true. It was a patriarchal society, but as long as they remained ignorant to the truth of her gender, they would continue to follow. The truth was, Brice was beginning to believe that she was, in fact, The Chosen.
The large room filled up quickly, and the sound of voices filled the room. Mikah stood and called for quiet, and a hush spread across the room. "We are here tonight because some of you believe that young Brice here is the one chosen to lead us from this life of slavery. I have watched this young man grow up, and I find it impossible to believe that this gentle young man could be the chosen one. I say a life of slavery is better than no life at all, and to follow a boy barely eighteen is foolishness." Turning to the young trainer he continued. "If we follow your lead Brice, we'll all be killed." He swept his hand around the room, "Do you want their deaths on your head?"
"Slavery is no life." Brice stood, letting her height once again influence her followers. "If we stand together, we can beat them." She looked around the room at the defeated faces of the elders. Their spirits had been broken long ago, and fear of reprisal ruled their decisions.
"They have weapons; we don't. Are we supposed to start a rebellion with rakes and shovels?"
"And who makes their weapons?" Glen asked, stepping into the fray. "We doŠand we can bloody well start making a few extra at a time, stockpiling them until we can properly arm ourselves." He looked at his sister and smiled.
Brice returned the smile. "They think they've broken our spirits and we will never strike out against themŠwe can use that to our advantage."
Some of the younger men were getting
fired up, and support for a revolution was growing. Some really did believe
Brice to be the Chosen One, but it would take many more numbers than that
if they hoped for a victory. It was decided that for now, they would start
to prepare. They would store arms, and train to use them. The non- believers
thought that it would not hurt to be ready for the time when the real Chosen
One would come. A message would be sent to all fifteen city-states through
the tax collectors driver. He was the one slave that could travel unnoticed
to all parts of Ryshta. When the time was right they would defeat Ryshta.
Until then they would bide their time, doing nothing out of the ordinary
to draw attention to themselves. It would be a slow and arduous process,
but now that a plan had been set in motion, Brice felt new life surging
through her. For the first time in her life she had hope for a better future.
The end of the next day found Brice working with a promising new colt. Not only was he showy, he could run like the wind. Horseracing was the Sovereign's favorite entertainment, and the last few years had proven his racing stock the most successful in all Ryshta. She loved putting the colt through his paces, but today her heart was just not in it. Another day, and still no sign of Elsbeth.
Eamon watched his daughter at work and could see something was wrong. It saddened him that Brice no longer confided in him as she had in the past. She had moved out of his house and into the stable the day after he had confronted her about Elsbeth, and they had never been able to get past it. He joined her as she began to cool down the colt, hoping he could get her to open up to him.
"Is there a problem I can help you with?"
Brice looked at her father and shook her head. She could not discuss her feelings' about Elsbeth with him because she knew he had never been able to come to terms with their relationship.
Eamon reached out a hand and pulled her to a stop. "I want you to know that I was wrong to expect you to live your life without someone to love. Elsbeth is a fine girl, and if you wish it, we will welcome her into our family."
"Thank you, Father." She started walking the colt again and her father fell in step beside her. "I'm worried about her, Father. It's been over a month and a half; she should have been home by now." Suddenly she heard her name called out and she turned to see Elsbeth running down the path to meet her.
"I'll take the coltŠyou go see to your lady," Eamon said as he took the lead from his daughter.
The joy of seeing Elsbeth put wings to her feet, and Brice fairly flew to greet her. Wrapping her arms around the young woman, she ushered her into the privacy of the barn. Elsbeth was out of breath from running most of the way home and she clutched Brice tightly, unable to speak, she was gasping so. Brice just held her close, savoring the feel of her beloved in her arms once again. "I was so worried about you," Brice said, as she kissed the top of her head. She could feel the young woman's grip around her tighten, as Elsbeth broke down into gasping sobs. When her breathing returned to a more normal rhythm, Brice led her over to the bench so they could sit down.
"I think I am with child," Elsbeth blurted out, as she began to sob again.
"And they let you come home?"
"They don't know. I cut my finger and soiled myself so they would believe my cycle had begun." She looked into her lover's bewildered eyes. "What are we going to do?" she asked, falling again into Brice's arms.
"We'll run away." Brice realized almost immediately that this plan would not work. Even if they managed to stay ahead of the solders, the Ryshtans would take out their defection on their families. The possibility of her family being executed on her behalf sent a chill through her long frame.
"We can't run."
"I knowŠ" Brice closed her eyes
and just held on to the young woman. She couldn't send Elsbeth back. She
felt helpless. How could she just stand by and let them continue to do
this to the woman she loved? He will pay for what he's done to you,
she silently told herself. They will all pay.
"I promise I'll fix a place to hide you. You won't have to go back there ever again," Brice said, as tears started down her face. "We'll make them think you're deadŠthey won't even try to find you."
"How can we do that without a body?"
"I don't know, but we have five days before you have to go back to think of something."
"I'm afraid," Elsbeth said, wanting to believe it was possible, but terrified of the consequences if they got caught.
"Trust me." Brice kissed the top of her head. "They won't hurt you again."
The rest of the evening was spent in frustration, as they tried to figure out where Elsbeth could be hidden safely, and still be close to Brice, should a problem with the pregnancy arise. The trainer's work tied her here to the large barn and training arenas surrounding it. She looked around and her eyes fell on the door to the grain room off to her left, against the back wall. "That's it," she shouted, jumping to her feet and running to the enclosure.
Brice had built a room to store the grain that was fully enclosed, including a wooden floor. Anytime you try to store grain, you have to deal with rodents, who think they should have a share. Felines were abundant in the stable area, but still the problem persisted. The rest of the barn had a hard packed earthen floor.
Elsbeth was confused. She knew her young love was not the only person to enter the storage area, and it was not large enough to keep her concealed from their view indefinitely. Brice was already inside when she got there, pulling sacks of grain out and stacking them outside the door until she had a six foot by six foot area of floor cleared. Her puzzlement grew when the young trainer ran to fetch her tools, and began pulling up the floorboards. Then it dawned on her.
"You're not going to hide me in a little hole in the ground?" she asked, not quite believing what she was seeing.
"NoŠ I'll dig it out so it is
almost as large as the grain room, then I'll build wooden walls to reinforce
the earthen sides, and it will look like a room, not a hole. Run fetch
me a wheelbarrow. I need something to haul the dirt away in. We can't use
a horse and wagon, it would make too much noise."
The earth was dry and hard packed, and the digging went slowly. The hole was too small at this point to allow both of them to dig, so Elsbeth filled buckets with dirt and carried them to the river to dump.
Brice dug throughout the night, wrapping her hands in cloth when blisters formed and burst. When the wheelbarrow was full, she would make a river run to dump it, then return to her digging. She was exhausted and her muscles were screaming an hour before dawn when she finally stopped. She had to put the place back the way it was so no one would suspect what they had been doing. After replacing the floorboards, she and Elsbeth climbed into the loft and collapsed.
Brice had been sleeping only a few minutes when she heard activity beginning below her. Reluctantly, she forced her aching and exhausted body to rise. She looked at her slumbering companion and smiled; at least she could sleep.
The rest of the week was spent much the same, with Brice lucky to get even an hour of sleep a night. But the room was finished, and now the rest of her plan had to be put into effect. She was going to make it appear that Elsbeth had drowned. The peaceful river flowed into a small lake, then narrowed and continued on at a swifter pace over a waterfall and a series of large boulders forming rapids. It was well known that anyone swept over the falls, although not high, would be thrashed to death in the rapids beyond. The Ryshtans would believe that she was killed and her body carried down the swift flowing river.
Brice attached a rope to the thick underbrush on either side of the falls. The rope was pulled tight against the rock wall underneath the fall, and could not be seen by prying eyes. Attached to the rope was another rope, just long enough to reach the bottom of the falls, but not long enough to get to the rapids beyond. Now she only had to wait for daylight to set the rest of the plain in motion.
Morning found the anxious couple praying for this desperate plan to work. Brice would tend to her duties as usual, and when it was time for the noon meal, they would slip away to the lake. The weather had been extremely hot, and the Ryshtans, having no labor to keep them occupied, spent most afternoons splashing in the lake's cool depths.
Brice tied the rope securely around
Elsbeth, and then attached another rope that she would use to pull the
young woman to the edge of the river after she had gone over the falls.
Everything was set, and all that was left was to wait for the audience
to arrive. When enough people were across the lake, Elsbeth waded in. She
waited until one of the Ryshtans spotted her and yelled for her to get
out of the water, then she started thrashing about, and let the current
carry her over the edge of the falls. She felt the rope jerk as she reached
the end, and then felt the other rope start to pull her toward the edge.
Then suddenly, the pulling stopped and she started to panic. As the seconds
ticked by her lungs felt like they were going to burst. Then she started
choking on water as her body instinctively forced her to try to breathe
and everything went black.
Brice watched Elsbeth go over the falls, and clutched the rope tightly. As soon as she saw her go under water at the bottom of the falls, she started to pull her toward her. The young woman was about half way there when the rope hung up on something. Brice pulled with all her might and couldn't get it to break free. She tied the rope off, then holding on, pulled herself hand over hand until she came to the tangle of branches that the rope was caught in. Cutting the rope on the other side of the tangle, she braced herself against it and pulled the unconscious young woman to her. She attached the rope around her middle, then started frantically pulling herself and Elsbeth out of the water. She dragged the young woman into the underbrush, then clutching right under her ribcage she gave several strong thrusts to force the water from her lungs. Still the young woman lay there not breathing. Desperately Brice tried to breath air into her lungs, but when she blew air in, instead of going into her lungs, she could feel it come out Elsbeth's nose. She tried again, holding her nose this time. One breathŠtwoŠthreeŠ Elsbeth started to cough and breathe on her own, and Brice pulled the young woman into her arms, rocking her gently and sobbing. She thought she had lost her, and the relief was too much to hold back.
When she was sure Elsbeth was
all right, Brice left her hiding in the woods and made her way back to
the stables. The young woman would wait until she came back for her later,
then they would remove all the ropes, so no one could accidentally stumble
over them later and discover the deception.
Brice and Elsbeth settled into
a frustrating routine. They were happy to be able to be together each night,
but as time passed, Elsbeth came to hate being shut away in the little
room more and more. Being alone day after day, with no one to talk to,
and nothing to see was driving her crazy. She had very little light because
Brice would not let her have more than one candle, for fear light could
shine through the boards and announce her presence. The normal emotional
ups and downs of pregnancy were intensified by the situation, and she became
increasingly short-tempered with Brice.
"I can't raise a child in this hole," Elsbeth said, rubbing her ample belly. Her babe would be born soon and the young woman feared for her sanity, and the well being of her child. "A child needs light, and fresh air, and others to play with."
"So do you, love." Brice reached over and cupped her cheek. She had been watching Elsbeth wither in this dark prison they had created, and could no longer allow it to continue. "Tessa, my brother Dover's wife died almost six months ago now and he needs help to care for their two children so he can bring them back home. He has agreed to take you into his family to tend to them." Brice leaned down and kissed her lips. It would be so hard to be without Elsbeth, but this was no kind of life. She could bear the loneliness, if it meant getting the woman she loved out of this hole and into the light. "I made arrangements for him to take you back with him when he comes into the village to pick up seed for this year's crop. We will hide you in a grain sack."
Elsbeth sat up. "Why did you make these arrangements without asking me?"
"I was afraid to get your hopes up and then have him say no." Brice took the young woman's hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorryŠI thought you would be happy to get out of here. If you want to stayŠ"
"NoŠ I'll go mad if I have to stay. It's just that I should have been consulted. I'm not a child, and I'm not your slave." She pulled her hand away from Brice's grip.
The young trainer felt as if she
had been kicked in the gut. Had she been treating Elsbeth like her slave?
That the woman she loved would liken her to the hated Ryshtans was devastating.
She got out of bed and walked to the ladder. "Dover will be here tomorrow
afternoon, and will leave at first light the next day. I'll sleep in the
loft tonight." Without another word she climbed the ladder and left the
young woman alone.
Brice watched the wagon pull out
with the woman she loved hidden safely away. She wished she had said a
proper good-bye, but Elsbeth's cutting words still hurt, and she let her
leave with silence between them.
It was a little over two months before Brice had word of the young woman. It was the first free day in some time that Dover had come with his children to visit his parents. With Tessa's illness, his visits had been sparse over the last year. Some months Tessa felt up to the trip, but most of the time they stayed home. Then after her death, he just didn't feel like socializing. He brought news that shortly after he brought Elsbeth to his home she had birthed a daughter, and both were doing well.
The separation from Elsbeth had been hard on Brice, but the news that she and the child were doing well brightened her mood. She ached to see the young woman, and decided that next months free day would be spent in her company. She hoped the three-month separation would be enough to make her a welcome sight to the new mother.
Brice also ached to get the revolution
started. Defeating the Ryshtans was the only way she would be able to make
a home with Elsbeth and her daughter. At the rate they were collecting
weaponry, it would be at least another year before they could arm themselves
adequately enough to hope for a victory.
Shea lay quietly on her cot, sorry for the pain those two young people were going through. Deciding it was time she told Brice her feelings'; she got up and walked to the privacy screen. After stopping for a moment to pull her thoughts together, she stepped around the screen to find Brice sitting on her cot, her jaw clenched tightly.
"I've had enough of this Brice. You owe that child an apology."
Brice's mouth fell open. How could her mother expect her to apologize to a Ryshtan?
"I can't. Mother, you don't understand."
"I think I do," Shea said, reaching over to cup her daughter's cheek. "You were attracted to her. You thought perhaps you were falling in love with her, and that made you feel guilty because you thought you were being unfaithful to Elsbeth. While you were trying to work out that guilt, you found out Roslin was Ryshtan and that you were falling for Elsbeth's murdererŠthe ultimate betrayal. You have been taking out the sins of Roslin's father on her, and that's just not fair." She sat next to Brice, and squeezed her hand. "You have hurt her, and humiliated her. Any more and you will be no better than the ones we are fighting against. You just made a speech to her about the Ryshtans not caring if they hurt someone and how much that disgusted you." Shea took her daughter's face in her hands. "Look at yourself, Brice. Do you think because they did it to us first that it makes enslaving them acceptable? I see you becoming more and more like them in your treatment of that child, and I can't condone that kind of behavior from a child of mine. I brought you up better than that. Roslin was brought up to think slavery is acceptable. Give her a chance to see the error to it. I believe she has a good heart, and her apology to you was sincere."
Brice dropped her gaze to the floor. Could her mother be right? She was behaving like the ones she despised most in the world, and the thought sickened her. God! What am I becoming? The final insult to Elsbeth's memory would be for her to become no better then the animals that murdered her.
"I'm sorry MotherŠI didn't realize," Brice said pulling her in for an embrace. She kissed the top of Shea's head. "I can't forget that she's RyshtanŠI just can't. I don't like myself for the way I have treated her, butŠ" Brice closed her eyes, and a tear trickled down her cheek. "I'll tell her tomorrow that she is no longer a slave, but I don't think I can apologizeŠnot yet." She was still not prepared to fully trust the woman - that would take time - but she could treat her civilly.
Shea squeezed Brice's hand and left her to think about what they had talked about. She had faith that her daughter's heart would eventually win this battle.
Brice sat on her cot, her mother's words playing over and over in her mind. Why did things have to turn out like this? Why did she let herself fall under that woman's spell so quickly? A small voice broke her silent musings.
"Why did you make my friend cry, Papa?" Cadie asked, looking up at Brice sadly.
Brice felt guilt settle heavily on her shoulders. Not only had she behaved badly, she had done it within earshot of her precious Cadie. What kind of an example was she setting for her child. "We had a misunderstanding Cadie, but I'm sure it will work itself out."
"When someone hurts my feelings and I cry, you always talk to me and make me feel better. Please go talk to Roslin Papa. She needs to feel better."
Brice pulled Cadie into her arms
and hugged her tightly. "I will, little one." The little girl had a way
of making everything seem so simple.
Brice found the young woman huddled
on the ground by the cook-tent. She appeared to be asleep, and Brice decided
this talk could wait until morning. She would tell her then that she was
no longer a slave, and that they would set her free to go - or stay - as
she chose after the Battle for the capital city of Dairus was won.
Roslin saw Brice walking toward her and quickly closed her eyes. Hopefully whatever task he had for her would be forgotten until morning if he thought the slave was asleep. Roslin listened as the footsteps stopped for a moment, then turned back the way they came. She had come to realize that she did not begrudge these people their freedom. She understood now that slavery was wrong. She believed that with all her heart, and wondered why she had not seen it before. Perhaps it was because her life had been so removed from the plight of the slaves. Roslin was sure if she had really understood what was going on, it would have made a difference. She chastised herself for not caring enough to even try to find out how these people were really treated. One thing was for sure, Roslin did not want to continue to be a slave, and she couldn't sit by and let them slaughter her friends and family either. A decision was made. She would wait until she was certain everyone slept deeply, then she would slip away and go home and warn her people. Brice had told her how close they were to Dairus, and she believed if she left tonight, she would be there by late afternoon, or early evening, tomorrow.
When the camp had been quiet for
some time, Roslin got up and slipped into the cook tent. She grabbed a
loaf of bread and a jug of water, then walked silently to Brice's tent.
She had run out of there with just the blanket wrapped around her naked
body, and needed to retrieve her clothes and sandals before she could began
her journey. She prayed that Brice was not too light a sleeper, and that
she could get in and out without disturbing him. Afraid to even breathe,
she crept to where she had left her clothes and scooped them up. She didn't
breath again until she was safely outside. Slipping into the shadows at
the edge of camp, she dropped the blanket and dressed quickly. She didn't
know how soon they would discover her missing, but she hoped she would
have at least a few hours head start.
Cadie woke to see Roslin leaving the tent. Rubbing her eyes, she wondered where she was going. It was not even light out. She remembered that Papa sometimes went out just before light to get to the river when the sun came up. He told her that early in the morning was the best time to catch fish, and Cadie wondered if Roslin was going fishing. That must be it, she thought. Roslin and her Papa must have talked and made up. I bet Roslin is going to catch a fish to surprise Papa. He loves fish better than almost anything. She decided to follow her to see, and ask if she could help. Papa would be so proud of her if she helped Roslin bring home a nice big fish. She slipped into her shoes and grabbed her coat and went outside. She couldn't see Roslin, so she stood still and listened. She heard a faint noise and followed the sound to see a movement in the shadows.
Cadie followed along quietly, afraid if she let her presence be known too soon Roslin would send her back to camp.
It seemed to Cadie that they had been walking forever when the sky took on the soft glow of approaching dawn. We have to be there soon, Cadie thought. Fishing is best at first light. She was watching the sky and not where she was walking, and stumbled over a rock.
Roslin heard a noise behind her and ducked into the underbrush to hide. She waited until she saw Cadie running along, panicked that she had lost sight of her friend. Stepping out onto the road she grabbed the girl as she ran by. "What are you doing here?" Roslin asked, angry at herself for not noticing that she was being followed.
"I wanted to go fishing with you," Cadie answered, a grin returning to her face. Her friend wasn't lost after all.
Roslin didn't know what to do. They
had been walking for hours, and there was no way she could take the child
back. As mad as Brice would be at her for running away, he would kill her
for taking his daughter. She thought about the life the girl had led until
now, not having a home, traveling from battle to battle. That was no life
for a child. But was taking her away from the only family she had ever
known right? Roslin thought of the times she had seen Brice with Cadie,
the love that shone in his eyes was real, and the child was not even his
true daughter. She had never seen her father's eyes light up like that
at the sight of her.
No, as much as I would like to have my sister with me, I can't take her away from Brice. It would break his heart. A decision was made; she could not go back, but somehow she would find a way to get Cadie back to her father.
"I'm not going fishing Cadie, I'm going to see my father." She took the girl's hand and led her away from the road. With the child along, the chances of Brice following her went from probable to certain, and she decided they would walk out of sight of the road.
"I'm hungry," Cadie said, looking up expectantly.
Roslin had planned on eating as she walked, not wanting any delay that could allow Brice to catch up with her. But now things had changed. She needed to let Cadie rest, or she wouldn't make it without being carried, and Roslin didn't think she was strong enough to carry the child any distance. They would take a short break to rest and eat. Walking to a tree, she sat down resting her back against it. She wasn't aware of how tired she was until she sat, grateful to be off her feet. Breaking the small loaf, she handed the girl half.
"Are we almost there?" Cadie asked, around a mouthful of bread.
"No, we still have a long way to walk."
"I'm tired, I want to go back to my Papa."
"I'm sorry you're tired Cadie, but you shouldn't have followed me. Now finish eating, we need to get started again." Roslin knew that if Brice wasn't already up that he soon would be, and on her trail. She had to get the child up and walking again. Standing, she pulled Cadie to her feet.
Cadie started crying. "I want my Papa," she sobbed, as Roslin pulled her along.
Roslin tried to think of something to quiet her down. If she kept this up, Brice could find her with no problem. "You know, I sure would love to hear one of your stories, Cadie. You tell them so well."
The little girl stopped crying and gave a crooked little smile. She loved the way Roslin praised her stories, and immediately started into a tall tale. They took turns telling stories until Roslin finally started to see familiar landscape. When they finally reached the city, she was carrying the child. Exhausted and hungry, Roslin thought her arms would break off.
Instead of turning toward the palace, Roslin turned and walked to the slave village. She knew that once she told her father about the slave rebellion, none of these people would be safe. As much as she had tried not to believe Brice's words, Roslin had finally come to the conclusion that he did indeed speak the truth.
Brice woke, but lay in bed thinking about her actions last night. Power with nothing to balance it is a dangerous thing. She had succumbed to it without even realizing it. She shuddered at the thought of how much like the Ryshtans she had allowed herself to become. She was grateful to her mother for stepping in and forcing her to see what she was doing. Stretching, she got up and dressed. This was going to be the last day of the journey that had started five years ago when Elsbeth died. They would reach the outskirts of Darius tonight and make camp. It seemed the closer she got to where it all started, the more on edge Brice became. She hated Lord Athol with every fiber of her being, and the thought that she would finally be able to get her revenge was intoxicating. This quest had taken its toll, dividing her family. Her father and oldest brother had both followed her, and her father had fallen in battle a year into their journey. The three middle brothers had chosen to stay in Darius, not believing that their little sister could really be the chosen one. They feared that to follow her would mean death. The reunion would be bittersweet.
Stepping around the privacy screen, she found all three cots empty. She walked to the tent flap, only to be met by Shea coming in, concern showing in her eyes. "MotherŠwhat's wrong?"
"Have you seen Roslin and Cadie?" Shea asked, looking around the tent hopefully.
"No, I just got up. Have you looked everywhere?" Shea nodded, and Brice pushed past her to make a search of her own. The camp was quiet, most of the people still in slumber. Walking the parameter of the camp, she found the blanket Roslin had been wrapped in the last time she had seen her. The young woman's footsteps were headed west, away from camp. Brice's heart stopped and real panic set in when she saw the small footprints of her little girl walking west also.
"NO!" Brice screamed, as she crumpled to the ground. "She took my baby." Pictures flashed through her mind of what Lord Athol would do to Cadie if he got his hands on her. Her grief was replaced by blind fury, as she got up and quickly walked to Glen's tent. Walking in, she pulled her brother out of bed, and dragged him outside. "Roslin has run away to warn the Sovereign, and she's taken Cadie with her. I'm going after them. I don't know how much of a lead they have on me, but they are on foot. I'm going to try to stop them before they reach Darius. You're in charge here. When you get to Darius, if I'm not there waiting with Cadie, then I didn't make it in time. Don't make camp and wait. Start the attack immediately.
"What about you?"
"Don't worry about me. I'll find Cadie and get her to safety, then I'll join you." Brice turned and walked to where the horses were tethered, and began to saddle her mount. "Get everyone up and going, we've lost the element of surprise, and every moment we delay, gives them time to prepare a defense." With those words, she mounted up and was gone.
Roslin found her way to a largish building, and inside she found a group of women sitting and sewing. Some were stitching fine silk garments, and some were weaving cloth. An older woman looked up at her with a puzzled expression.
"I don't remember seeing you before. Why are you out and about in the middle of the work day?"
Roslin placed the sleeping child on the floor, and turned to face the woman. "Do any of you know a tall man named Brice?" Gasps were heard all around the room, as all eyes turned to the stranger, who asked of their lost friend.
The woman rose and walked to the little blonde. "Yes, we knew Brice. Why do you ask about someone who has been dead for five years," she asked suspiciously.
"Brice isn't dead. He's on his way here now with an army to try to defeat the Sovereign."
The woman looked shocked. When Brice and his followers ran, the Sovereign sent his army after them. They came back with a report that all had been killed, and their bodies left for the vultures. They had all been grateful that they had not followed him too, and been slaughtered as well. Could it be true? "How do we know you speak the truth?"
Roslin pointed to the child sleeping on the floor. "This is his daughter Cadie, she can tell you her father is alive."
A woman stood suddenly, and all eyes in the room turned to her. She walked to the sleeping girl and knelt down and stroked the auburn hair that was so like Elsbeth's. "Cadie?" Tear's started down her face as she watched the girl sleep. "I thought my grandchild was dead."
"You're Elsbeth's mother?" Roslin asked, as the woman returned to stroking the child's head.
"Yes," she looked up and extended her hand. "I'm Cora."
Roslin was pleased that she could leave Cadie in the care of her grandmother, knowing she would be in loving hands. "Cora, I need to leave Cadie with you. I didn't know that she had followed me until it was too late to take her back. Please get her safely back to Brice. Spread the word that Brice is on his way here with an army. You need to get your families out of the city as soon as you can. You're all in danger if you stay. The battle could begin as early as tonight, but no later than first light in the morning. You don't have a lot of time."
"We'll all be killed," a voice from the back of the room said.
"Not if you stay calm," Roslin responded quickly, before a panic could spread. "You need to go on with your work like nothing is happening. As soon as the bell sounds, go home and gather your families and get out. Don't take time to gather your belongings, just get out. Hopefully, you will all be long gone before the fighting starts."
Roslin knew that when she warned her father about the rebel army, he would no doubt try to round up the slaves of Dairus to use as a shield. She couldn't live with herself if they were all butchered because she warned the Sovereign about the uprising. No, she was glad she had warned them so they could get to safety. Now the problem was timing. She didn't know how much time she had, but was certain that it was not much. Roslin knew that she could not warn her father until at least an hour after the bell sounded. She hoped that would give the slaves enough time to get away, and still give her people a chance to prepare for the battle.
Brice had pushed the gelding to near
exhaustion, when he stumbled and almost went down. Brice climbed down and
looked at the lathered animal. She knew better then to treat a horse like
this, but Cadie's life was at stake. "I'm sorry Angus," she said as she
slipped the bridle off of his head. Removing the saddle as well, she patted
his neck and continued. "I'll be back for you as soon as I can." Realizing
that she needed to pace herself, or she would end up just like Angus, Brice
broke into an easy jog. It would do Cadie no good if she collapsed and
didn't make it at all. The fact that she hadn't caught them by now confirmed
her fears that they had left last night and not early this morning as she
had hoped. Undoubtedly they would already be in the city by now, but they
would not be expecting her army to arrive until late tonight. She could
still slip in and get Cadie out if Athol hadn't already murdered her. Pacing
be damned, she thought, as she picked up speed.
Roslin approached the palace with
much trepidation. The guilt that she felt from the prospect of betraying
Brice and the people she had grown to love was overwhelming. She couldn't
think of any other way. She had to at least give her people a chance. She
saw a group of slaves bringing fresh produce into the palace, and joined
them, fearing the guards would not let her enter. Once inside, she quickly
walked to her father's chamber and knocked on the door. Well, she
thought as the door opened, it's too late to change my mind now.
Athol was shocked to see his daughter dressed in the crude homespun garb of a slave. "What happened to you girl, and why are you dressed in those rags?" he asked. Walking around her, Athol saw the red discoloration on Roslin's upper arm. He grabbed her and pulled her close to examine the blemish. "Who dared to brand my daughter like a common slave?" Rage flashed in his eyes. The humiliation of his seed walking around branded a common slave was overwhelming.
"The slaves have mobilized into a rebellion, Father. Grandfather Gage is dead, and Frama has fallen. I was afraid and ran away and the rebels found me. I was forced to be the slave of their leader Brice. I managed to escape, and came home to warn you."
"He used you as his slave!?" Athol shook his head in disgust. He would never be able to marry her off now. No man would have a woman who was used in this manner. "Cover that up girl; I don't want it public knowledge that those barbarians used you as a slave. I would never live down the shame."
"Yes father," Roslin answered, trying to stretch her sleeve down to cover the burn.
"BriceŠthat name is familiar. Wasn't he a trainer in my stables?"
Athol glanced at Lennix, his slave boss, for confirmation, and received a nod.
"Brice is the slave who went berserk over the death of your runaway bed slave," Lennix answered. "The girl and her father were executed, and hung out as an example of what happens to runaways, and anyone who harbors one."
"Ah, yes, I remember. Brice was a bad one all right. He ran away too, taking a good many of my able bodied slaves with him." He turned to Lennix. "We let it be known that they had been hunted down and killed, to prevent others from trying to follow and join them."
"They should be arriving here late tonight." Roslin told her father. She had given her people a fighting chance. That's what she had come here to do, so why did she feel guilty about it? She wished she could think of a way to stop the battle without bloodshed. She didn't want the Ryshtans to win. She believed they were wrong, but she didn't want them slaughtered either. "May I be excused to clean myself up, and put on some appropriate clothes?"
"By all means get out of those rags," Athol said looking at her with disgust. "And try not to let anyone else see you until you look decent."
Roslin walked to her room in silence. The guilt she felt at warning her father seemed to hover around her shoulders, weighing them down. If Brice didn't hate her before, he certainly would now. Now that she understood the pain he had been through, she understood why he had lashed out at her. If only there was something she could do to stop the fighting. A thought came to her; if she could just put her father's solders out of commission so that they couldn't fightŠYes, that could work. She hurried to her room to change, so she could set her plan in motion.
Brice could see the lights of Darius gleaming in the distance; she was almost there. She knew she should feel exhausted, but the adrenaline pumping through her made her oblivious to it. It seemed the closer she got, the more energy she felt. All she could think of was finding Cadie. Once she knew that her little girl was safe, Roslin and her father would pay.
Roslin knocked on the door, and waited for the healer to answer. This had to work, so much depended on it. The door opened and the raven-haired healer Belvin greeted her. He was a rather obese man, with thick bushy eyebrows. His cheeks and nose were always flushed, giving the appearance of long hours in the sun. He looked at her with surprise. The young woman was supposed to be in Frama.
"What can I do for you, my Lady," he asked in concern, bowing his head to show respect. She looked haggard, and there were dark circles under her eyes.
"I am in need of a strong sleeping powder, Belvin. I think I shall go mad if I don't get some rest."
"Of course, my Lady. Come in, I have just the thing." He stepped aside to welcome her inside. He turned and led the way to a room that was full of bottles and jugs of every size and shape. He walked to a large jug and scooped out a spoonful of powder and emptied it on a square of cloth, which he tied up and handed to the young woman. "Put a pinch of this in some water or juice and drink it down. It should do the trick, but be sure not to put it into wine. When mixed with spirits, it is ten times more potent, and it will knock you right out, with a most unpleasant headache when you finally awaken."
Just what I need, she thought.
"I'll be careful," Roslin answered, reaching out to take the cloth pouch.
"Thank you." Now I just need to figure out how I am going to get back
in here to get that jug of sleeping powder without been seen. That
problem was solved when someone pounded on the door and asked the healer
to rush to his wife's bedside. She was about to birth their first child,
and the man was all in a dither. The two men rushed away, leaving Roslin
to collect the powder unhampered.
The final part of Roslin's plan would kill two birds with one stone. The palace slaves that lived within the palace grounds had not been warned and sent to safety. She would need their help to drug the wine and get it to the soldiers. There was no way she could get it all done in time by herself. Slipping out of the palace, she went to the slave cottages in the back. If she could not get these people to believe her, all would be lost.
A fair haired child answered the door and silently stared at Roslin. "Who is it Elise?" a voice asked, as the child's mother appeared at the door.
"I need your help, Lena," Roslin said, recognizing the woman as one of her own personal servants.
A Ryshtan would never come to the home of a slave, much less the daughter of Lord Athol. Something was very wrong. The woman knelt before the young woman and asked. "How may I serve you, my Lady?"
Lena's husband had arrived at the door and dropped to his knee as well.
"Please get up, your people are in danger. I have come to warn you and ask for your help in preventing bloodshed between your people and mine."
The couple did not rise, afraid to be caught standing in the presence of the Sovereign's family. The man looked at her skeptically. "Why would you want to help us?"
Roslin lifted her sleeve and showed them the brand on her arm. "I don't have time to explain everything right now, but I understand now that slavery is wrong, and I want to do what I can to try to stop it." Roslin could see by the shocked expression on the young man's face, that the sight of her burned arm had had the desired effect. "A runaway slave called Brice is on his way here with an army to destroy Dairus. If this happens, there will be many casualties on both sides."
The young man's expression had changed from skepticism, to wanting to believe, and then back to skepticism at the mention of Brice's name. "Brice can't lead an army; he died five years ago."
"He's alive. I spent the last few weeks with him and his mother Shea, and daughter Cadie," Roslin said, hoping desperately that they would believe her and help. Time was quickly running out.
Lena grasped her husbands arm. Many of their dear friends had supposedly been hunted down and slaughtered, but no bodies were returned as proof. The Sovereign had announced that they had been left for the scavengers to feed on, that they were not worthy to bring home for a proper burial.
"I don't have time to argue with you about Brice's death," Roslin continued, "There is an army approaching, and lives will be lost unless we do something. I have a plan that can prevent this, but I need your help to drug my father's best wine and deliver it to the soldiers so they will be unable to join in the fight. Round up all of the palace slaves and send the women and children away. The rest of you can help me stop the soldiers."
The young husband found it hard to believe that the Sovereign's daughter would help them like this, but she seemed sincere, and he found himself trusting her. Standing, he extended his hand. "My name is Rogan, and I am proud to help you, Lady Roslin."
"Thank you," Roslin said, taking
his hand and squeezing. "Please hurry, we don't have much time."
Roslin sat at Rogan's side as he drove the wagon full of wine toward the palace gates. This has to work, she thought to herself, glancing back at the crates of drugged wine behind her in the wagon. They stopped at the gate and the palace guard greeted the Lady Roslin with a bow. Roslin acknowledged the bow and asked. "Open the gates. My father is sending his finest wine so his noble solders can drink a toast to victory before the battle. Of course the Royal guards, such as yourself, will have the honor to drink their toast with the Sovereign himself and not have to settle for his daughter." She was relieved to see the grin spread on his face as he opened the gates, and waved them through. They drove the wagon to the soldier's enclosure, and Rogan helped Roslin down. Men were bustling around busily, preparing for battle, but stopped in their tracks when they saw Lady Roslin. Taking a deep breath, Roslin began to speak.
"Good soldiers of Ryshta, my father wishes to honor you by presenting you with his finest wine. He has every confidence in your victory over the rag-tag rebels that threaten our sovereignty. He has asked that every man of you drink a toast to the coming victory." Roslin extended her hand to the wagon. "The leader of each division will take enough for his men, and make sure that every man drinks to a swift victory." With that she beckoned Rogan to follow her leaving the men to distribute the wine, and carry out what they believed to be the Sovereign's wishes. When they were out of sight of the soldiers, Roslin stopped and turned to Rogan. "It's time for you to join your family in safety. Thank you." Rogan started to kneel in front of her and Roslin took his hand and pulled him back up. "You are a free man now. You no longer need to kneel before the likes of me."
Rogan dropped to his knee. "I am honored to have been of service to you, Lady Roslin." He took her hand and kissed it. "I say this as a free man, and I kneel because I want to, not because I have to."
A tear came to Roslin's eye. "Thank you. Now get to safety, your family will be worried."
"What about you, my Lady?"
"I have to go back and try to keep my father occupied until I know the drug has had time to work. I am hoping when he finds out, he will see he has no choice but to surrender. If we're lucky, this could be over soon with no one getting hurt."
"Luck be with you then, my Lady," Rogan said, as he stood to leave.
Roslin watched him until he was out of sight, and then started back to the palace. It looked like things just might work out. She hoped that once Cadie got back to Brice, and Rogan explained everything else, perhaps he could even forgive her for accidentally spiriting away his daughter. Roslin knew he had to be frantic with worry over the child, and she was so sorry for causing him such grief.
Brice reached the palace, and slipped over the wall unnoticed. Pathetic, she thought. The Ryshtans had grown so complacent, even a child would have no trouble sneaking in. Brice had never been a palace slave and was not familiar with the palace, or its grounds. Having no idea where to start, she decided she would just go from room to room until she found Cadie, and anyone who tried to stop her would pay dearly. She started through the garden when she saw something moving out of the corner of her eye. Glancing over, she saw that Roslin was also walking toward the palace.
At that moment, Roslin's eyes fell on Brice and she froze. She recognized the look in Brice's eyes for what it was. It was clear that Brice planned to kill her, and she turned to run. Brice overtook her effortlessly, and threw the young woman to the ground. Straddling Roslin, the tall woman placed her dagger against her throat.
"Tell me where Cadie is," Brice demanded, as she pushed the blade until blood started to trickle down Roslin's neck.
"I gave her to the slaves. I asked them to warn the others, then take Cadie back to you."
Brice found it hard to believe this incredible story. Why would Roslin take Cadie, only to send her back? It made no sense. No, she had taken the child to use against her when the battle started, and Brice was not about to let that happen. Roslin would tell her where Cadie was, then she would die. "Don't lie to me! I'll kill you and anyone else that keeps me from my daughter."
"I told you the truth. I would never hurt Cadie. I love her."
Brice was trembling, she was so angry. She had believed that Roslin was falling in love with her before all this started, and that turned out to be a lie. She was only pretending until she could run away and warn her father of their plans. Now to hear the woman profess to love her little girl was too much. "I hope you have made peace with your God, because you are about to die." Lifting the dagger into the air, Brice made ready to plunge it into her betrayer's heart.
Roslin watched Brice's trembling hands as she waited for the dagger to strike. They seemed to hover above her forever, prolonging the agony. "Just do it and get it over with!" she screamed, as she reached up and grabbed Brice's hands, forcing them down toward her chest.
Startled, Brice watched as the tip of the knife broke through the skin of Roslin's chest. "No!" Brice shouted, as she pulled the dagger back, then tossed it to the side. Roslin watched Brice's expression change from one of fury, to one of pain. "Why did you steal my baby? I cared for you." Brice asked pleadingly, a tear starting down her face. She got off the young woman and sat, her eyes never leaving Roslin's face.
Pulling up the sleeve on her right arm to expose the raw burned skin Roslin answered. "You have a funny way of showing it."
"I'm sorry I did that, butŠ I was hurt and angry." Brice looked down at her hands, unable to continue to look into confused green eyes. "I thought we were growing to love each other. I cared about you, and you lied to me." Looking back into Roslin's eyes, she pleaded. "Please, I don't want to hurt you, I just want my baby. Give her to me, and you'll never have to see me again."
Roslin couldn't believe how vulnerable Brice had allowed himself to become. She couldn't bear to see the pain reflected in his eyes. Reaching over she covered one of his large hands with her own. "Please believe me, I didn't steal Cadie from you. I would never do that. When I ran away, she followed me. I didn't know until it was too late. I couldn't go back, and I couldn't leave her alone, so I brought her with me." Tears started down Roslin's face as she continued. "I told you the truth. I gave her to your people, and asked them to warn the others, then get Cadie back to the safety of your camp." She squeezed Brice's hand. "Cadie is safe."
Brice searched the green depths of Roslin's eyes. She wanted so desperately to believe what she said. A lifetime of hate and mistrust of the Ryshtans made it difficult for her to believe that one of them would protect her child, especially after the way Brice had treated the young woman when she found out the truth about her. She felt relief wash over her as she realized that she did trust Roslin. Cadie was safe. Brice took a deep breath, and closed her eyes, wiping the tears from her face. "Thank you," she whispered.
"In the barn there's a grain storage room. Three paces from the south wall, there is a door in the floor that can be pulled up. There's a nick in one of the floorboards. That's how you pry it open. It leads to an underground room. You'll be safe there until this is all over." Brice stood and turned to leave.
"Wait," Roslin said, standing quickly and grabbing Brice's arm. She was torn as to whether or not to tell Brice what she had done. If her feelings were correct about the rebel leader, Brice would help her take down Ryshta with as little bloodshed as possible. But what if she was wrong? It would be the slaughter she had been trying to prevent. "IŠ"
"Yes?" Brice answered, as she waited for Roslin to say something, indecision clearly evident in the young woman's eyes.
"I sent drugged wine to my father's soldiers to drink a toast to victory. They should still be unconscious when your army arrives."
Brice looked into startlingly green eyes, and she believed her. "Why?"
"I was trying to prevent bloodshedŠon your side, and mine."
"Do you know what you've done? Your father will never forgive you for this."
"I don't seek my father's forgivenessŠonly yours." Roslin looked away, unable to hold the blue gaze any longer.
Brice placed a finger under the little blonde's chin and lifted her face so their eyes could meet again. "I'm the one who needs to ask forgiveness. Can you forgive me for the way I treated you when I found out you were Ryshtan?"
A tear started down Roslin's cheek. "I can," she answered, never breaking eye contact.
Brice wiped the tear away with her thumb. "And I can forgive you," she said. "Now I need to get back to my army and let them know the situation before all hell breaks loose around here." Leaning down, she pulled Roslin into her arms, and pressed her lips to her forehead in a gentle kiss. She closed her eyes and clung to the young woman, not wanting to let go. "Promise me, you'll go to the safety of the hidden room until this is over. I'm afraid of what your father will do to you if he finds out what you have done."
Brice leaned down for one more kiss, and then she was gone.
The captain of the royal guard knelt before his Sovereign. Alban was visibly shaken by the news he was to relay to Lord Athol. His Lord was known for his temper, and frequently took it out on the messenger of bad news. "My Lord, we searched the village and the slaves are nowhere to be found."
"WHAT!" Lord Athol bellowed. Anger flushed his face. Somehow the slaves had been warned and had managed to escape.
"There is more to report, my Lord. It would appear that someone drugged the wine you sent to your army for a victory toast. We found the men unconscious at their posts."
"I SENT NO WINE," Athol shouted, furious at the turn of events.
"But the guard at the palace gate told me that the Lady Roslin personally told him it was from you," Alban said, confusion clearly showing on his face.
"Roslin?" How could this be? There must be some sort of misunderstanding. "Find herŠbring her to me."
"Yes, my Lord."
Athol was stunned. Roslin? Would Roslin try to undermine their defenses? It couldn't be, she was, after all, Ryshtan. There had to be something else at work here and he intended to find out what, or who it was. He needed to think, clear his head. Walking outside into the cool moonlit night, he sought the solitude of his garden. Hearing voices, he slipped behind the hedge that bordered the garden. He could see Roslin standing with the rebel leader Brice. When the slave kissed her, and she did not try to rebuff him at all, it was more than he could stand. She was the daughter of the Sovereign; he was a piece of low-life trash. Suddenly he understood why all the slaves had vanished. Roslin had betrayed him. How could she choose to side with a pack of rebellious barbarians? The bastards had even branded her, yet she was helping them. He wished he had had some of the royal guard with him, and he would have had Brice captured on the spot, but looking at the size of the man, there was no way he would try to take him on alone. No, he would wait until he left, and then deal with Roslin.
Roslin watched Brice disappear into the darkness. The world she grew up in was crumbling around her, yet she smiled. All she could think of was that Brice did not hate herŠhad actually asked for her forgiveness. Not only did she forgive him, she was grateful to him for opening her eyes to the suffering the Ryshtans had caused.
"Well, well. What do we have here? My daughter, willingly consorting with the enemy."
Roslin whirled around to face her father. She watched as he slowly approached her, a look of pure hatred reflected in his eyes. "Father, IŠ"
"SHUT UP!" Athol shouted, as he slapped her across the face. "I don't need to hear any excuses from your betraying lips. Anything you say would be a lie. You let that low-class-scum touch you. I saw the look on your face when that bastard kissed you. You enjoyed it". He backhanded her hard, his ring leaving a bloody scrape across her face. He reached down and grabbed her arm, and started for the palace, pulling her with him. "He may take Dairus from me, but he will not take you. When he returns, he will find his new woman hanging out on display, just like the other one."
Roslin couldn't believe this was happening. Her father meant to kill her and hang her out to torment Brice. Frantically she pulled away and tried to run, but he grabbed her again, and this time she felt his fist slam into her face, and everything went black.
Brice went over the wall again with no problem, and started away from the palace at an easy jog. She headed for the woods east of the city, sure that she would find the recent evacuees in its protective cover. Glen and the rest of her army would not arrive for some time yet, but she could organize the men of Dairus who were willing to fight with her. She was not sure how many would join her; after all, these were the ones who had been afraid to follow her five years ago when she ran away and started building and training an army that would one day bring an end to the reign of the Sovereign.
Reaching the woods, she moved silently, listening for any sound that would lead her to the hidden slaves of Dairus. She was almost to the other end of the trees when she finally heard them, and crept closer to verify that these were indeed her people. Brice smiled as she recognized friends she had not seen in five long years. Her long strides carried her swiftly into the large group of people, who sat and waited for word that Brice's army had arrived. Spotting Mikah, she walked to where he stood talking to a group of men. She could tell by his tone that he was not pleased with the turn of events. The old man saw her approaching, and walked to meet her.
Brice had never been able to get through to the village elder, and by the sound of it, he was still trying to convince the people of Dairus that to follow Brice would mean their death. It was also evident that they were no longer willing to listen to him, now that it appeared Brice had in fact been the chosen one all along.
"Well," the old man said, "I see the rumors are true." He looked around to see if anyone accompanied Brice. "Where is this army of yours that's come to liberate us?"
"I came ahead. They will be here sometime tonight." Brice answered, looking through the throng of people. More and more were gathering, as word spread that she had arrived. Suddenly someone was shouting her name, and Brice turned to see her brother Collin running toward her. He threw his arms around her in welcome.
"They told us you had all been hunted down and killed," Collin said, hugging her tightly. Then stepping back, he took a good look at his little sister. "You are a sight for sore eyes," he hugged Brice again. "Come on, I'll take you to see the rest of the family." He smiled and turned to lead the way.
"Is Cadie with you?" Brice asked as she fell in step with her brother.
"Yes, Cora brought her when she gave us the news that you were coming. Cadie is going to be so glad to see you. I think she was a little bewildered to wake up among strangers."
They continued through the crowd of people who had come to see for themselves that Brice was really there. Everyone wanted to shake her hand and thank her for coming back for them. It was slow going, but finally the people she found surrounding her were family. She could see her brother Dover standing away in the shadows watching her, but he made no move to greet her with the rest of the family. Some wounds take a long time to heal, she thought, and knew when this was all over; she would probably have to make the first move to re-establish a relationship with Dover.
"Papa," Cadie shouted, running as fast as her little legs could carry her.
Brice knelt down and scooped the child up in her arms. They had been apart for only one day, but it had been agony. "You scared me when you ran off like that," she said, as she hugged Cadie fiercely. "Please don't ever leave again without telling me where you're going."
"I thought Roslin was going fishing, so I followed her. I wanted to surprise you with a nice big fish."
"I know little one, but it's important I know where you are or I worry."
"I was okay Papa, I was with Roslin," Cadie said, wondering why her Papa would be worried about her when she was with her friend.
Brice felt arms wrapping around her as Rylan greeted her.
"It's about time you got back," Rylan said, releasing his hold on his sister, and punching her arm. "When this is all over, we have a lot of catching up to do. You have a niece and nephew you've never met." Looking around he continued, "Are Mother and Father with you? And where's Glen?"
"Mother and Glen are on their way here now, butŠ" Brice looked down sadly. "Father was killed in battle almost a year ago."
The brothers became very quiet, as the sad news was digested. They had accepted their family's death five years ago, but hope that the whole family would be reunited had blossomed with the news that Brice and her army were on their way home.
"I know you all want to know what happened to Father, and I'll tell you everything, but this is not the time. We have to get organized and prepare for what's to come." Collin and Rylan nodded in agreement, and Brice continued. "I believe we will be able to take Dairus with little or no bloodshed." She saw the skeptical look on their faces, and hastened to explain. "The Lady Roslin managed to drug most of the Sovereign's army. All that remain are the royal guard, and when my army arrives we will have them vastly outnumbered."
"Are you sure we can trust her?" Rylan asked, plainly confused. " What if she only told you she drugged the soldiers? What if it's a trap?" He looked around at the gathering crowd. "Why would the Sovereign's daughter help us defeat her own people?"
"I'm sure," Brice answered, her face becoming very serious. "I would trust Roslin with my life." Brice smiled to herself to realize that it was true. She trusted the young woman completely. "Roslin spent the last few weeks in my camp, and has come to view slavery as detestable as we do, and she's made me understand that perhaps not all Ryshtans are the monsters we thought them to be."
One of the men listening to this conversation stepped forward. "Brice speaks the truth," Rogan said. "The Lady Roslin asked for the help of the palace slaves to drug the wine and deliver it to the soldiers. I personally drove her and the wine to their destination. She risked her life to help us."
Cora stepped forward too. "It was Roslin who gave me my granddaughter, and warned us to run so that her father could not use us as a shield against Brice's army. I see no reason to doubt her sincerity."
Brice wrapped her arms around Cora. "It's good to see you," she looked around at the faces of her family then made eye contact with Dover and smiled, "All of you. I've missed you so much." Her face became serious again. Looking at her brothers she continued. "I need you to poll everyone, and see who is willing to fight. I'm hoping that it won't come to that. There is a chance they will surrender to our greater number. When Glen gets here, join your forces with his and explain what has happened."
"Won't you be with us?" Collin asked.
"No, I'm going back to Dairus. I need to make sure that Roslin made it into hiding safely." Although Brice knew that she had been able to move more stealthily without the young woman, the rebel leader couldn't help wishing now, that she had brought Roslin with her. She just had a bad feeling, and knew it would not ease up until she went back to check. "When they get here, I want you to surround the palace wallŠlet them see the reality of our numbers. Even if the solders had not been drugged, they would have been hard pressed to beat us. If you don't hear from me when you get there, assume that I have been incapacitated, and Glen will be in charge." With those words, Brice turned and slipped back into the darkness.
Athol walked into Roslin's chamber and dumped his unconscious daughter unceremoniously on the bed. Pacing back and forth he waited for her to regain consciousness. He wanted her awake, and fully aware of what was happening to her. Growing tired of waiting when it appeared she would not awaken anytime soon, he slapped her a few times until she started to come around. Roslin awoke feeling groggy, and fought to clear the fogginess in her head. This can't be happening, she thought, as Athol stripped the fine clothes off her body and forced her to put on the simple garments she had been wearing when she arrived home. As far as Athol was concerned, she was no longer his daughter. She had defected to the other side and would die without honor, dressed in the disgusting rags that would let everyone see the reduction in her station.
Roslin grimaced as her hands where tied tightly behind her, and she was dragged from the room. Her brothers Kyle and Lon met them in the hallway, and ten-year old Kyle gasped at the sight of his battered sister. Running to her, he threw his arms around her and burst into tears.
"What happened to you?" he asked his sister, clinging to her.
Athol pulled Kyle away from Roslin. There was no keeping what Roslin had done a secret. He decided that now was as good a time as any for them to learn out the truth about their traitorous sister. He didn't believe in coddling his children. "With the help of your sister, the slaves have mounted a rebellion. She has doomed us all to be butchered by those ungrateful low-lifes."
Roslin glared at her father. "Ungrateful? Were they supposed to be grateful to you for keeping them as slaves and dehumanizing them?" Roslin took a step closer to Athol, never losing eye contact. "I believed you, Father, when you told me that slaves were so ignorant and lazy they would have died if they had not been taken under our control." Roslin looked over to her brothers and continued. "I found them to be just the opposite. They were good, hard working, caring people. They saved my life and took care of me."
"And they branded you a slave," Athol spat at her.
"Only after Brice found out I had lied to him. That was the day I ran away. The rest of my time with them, I was shown nothing but kindness. Not because I was someone important and they feared reprisal. I was a stranger to them, but they took me in and shared what they had with me. What I went through that last day opened my eyes to what we have done to these people. When I think that I participated, it sickens me."
"I can't believe that my daughter could turn her back on her family and her people, condemning them to death after such a short time with those barbarians."
Roslin could see that her words were having no effect on her father, but she hoped she could at least reach her brothers. If, for some reason, the Ryshtans managed to win this conflict, her brothers were the future, and needed to see the truth. She let her gaze move from one brother to the other, beseeching them with her eyes to believe her. "I am not a traitor. I'm trying to save our people, and theirs. There is no reason we can't all live together as free people."
Athol gripped Roslin's jaw, forcing her to look at him. "And in this free society of yours, who will do the labor? If we don't force them, they won't do anything."
Roslin's eyes bore into her father's, refusing to be intimidated. "You don't have to force them. Just pay them a fair wage or a share in the cropsŠ"
"This is ridiculous. If you really think something like that can work, you're crazy. You committed an act of treason by betraying us to the enemy. For that you will die." Athol started pushing Roslin down the hallway, and Kyle started crying again. "Lon, take your brother to his room and keep him there."
"Yes Father," the fifteen-year-old answered. Roslin must be mad to talk back to him like that, the young man thought. It was dangerous for any woman to address a man in such a way; but this was not just any man, he was the sovereign. Not even a man could speak to him like that and go unpunished. He wondered, as he dragged his little brother away if it was true what their father said. Had Roslin really committed an act of treason? Guilt gripped his heart, and he wished he were man enough to stand up to his father like Roslin had done. The young man could not agree with his sister's support of the slaves. Everyone knew they were inferior, but just the same, he found himself admiring his sister, even if she was just a woman. She would die, and if what their father said was true, he supposed it was a just punishment. Still, he wished there was something he could do to prevent it.
Roslin was grateful her brothers would not be forced to witness her execution. Kyle had grown especially close to her the last three years. Because of their mother's illness he had depended on her for the mothering that the ill woman was unable to give. As a female child, she had spent little time with her brothers until then. Girls and boys were schooled separately, and seldom, if ever were allowed to play together. They were together at mealtime, and that was about it. She noticed that in Brice's camp, girls and boys were schooled together, and played together. If Ryshtan boys had not interacted with their mothers, they would have had very little contact with females at all until they were twelve and allowed to take their first bed slave.
Athol pushed her through the door for the walk to the wall surrounding the palace grounds. He planned to hang her from the wall in full view of Brice's army as they advanced.
"Lord Athol, they are coming," Captain Alban said, rushing to his sovereign's side.
"How long before they get here?"
"Perhaps five minutes."
Athol pushed Roslin to walk faster; this had to be finished before the rebels reached the wall. "Sorry you won't get to say good-by to your lover, but you will be dead before he arrives."
When they reached the steps leading up to the sentry walk atop the wall, Roslin stopped. "PleaseŠ Father, don't do this. Lay down your arms and talk to them. This can be settled without bloodshed."
Athol stepped around her and started dragging her up the stairs. When they reached the walkway, he placed a rope around her neck, then forced her to climb to the edge of the wall. The rope hung down her back, and she could feel it with her fingers. Roslin grasped the rope as her father pushed her off the wall, but when she reached the end of the slack, her arms were wrenched back painfully, causing her to let go, but at least she had managed to break her fall and prevent her neck from being broken. The weight of her body pulled the knot tight, and she began to strangle.