Enchanting the Flower Ch. 02bySecretFantasy69©
Thank you for the comments! I've been duly corrected about the terms for the horses, so thank you to both of the readers who pointed that out. ;) Just to reiterate, Enchanting the Flower is the story of Mathilda St. Ives, who was introduced in Warrior. So here is Chapter 2. Enjoy!
©SecretFantasy69 aka Violette D.
"Why are we being held, Braden?"
Raynor Elric Christian McLean, Chieftain of Stonehaven, Brentwood, Calabrax, Kilroy, Damacus, and many others that he'd acquired through his prowess, shifted impatiently upon his stallion. Sensing his master's unease, Midnight, a pitch black war horse with a white star at the top of his head, snorted and pawed the dirt ground. Raynor drew a strong, comforting hand down Midnight's neck, willing the beast to be at ease.
Like the hundreds of armored men surrounding him, he was eager to be home, to take what would be his first bath that didn't include a dip in cold, sometimes murky lake, to sleep in an actual bed, to once more find himself among the comforts of the fairer sex. He ran his hand over his face, feeling the thick growth of beard and grime covering it. After months of insurrection, the wayward clans to the West had finally been subdued. The leaders who hadn't been killed had sworn fealty to Edward of Andalucía through Raynor, his most known warrior, and as such, Raynor was able to return to his main seat at Stovehaven.
""Tis the slavers, my lord. Their carts are blocking the way," Braden responded, peering ahead and pointing to a place that Raynor could not see. The general had ridden from the front to inform his chieftain that the slavers had opted to present their new quarries to the returning soldiers. Raynor might have smiled at the slavers' business sense had the thought of slavery not repulsed him. It was an archaic practice that should have been abandoned years ago but for the king for whom he currently fought. He barely resisted the urge to grind his teeth. As it currently stood, the only reason he placed his sword arm behind Edward of Andalucía was because the alternative—a leaderless land filled with opposing chieftains—meant chaos. It would be the Dark Ages once more, and Raynor had fought hard, and had lost good men—friends, soldiers, cousins even—to ensuring that the kingdom would prosper.
"We can make them move, my lord," Braden said lowly, sensing that Raynor was not pleased at this new development.
Although Raynor would have been happy to do exactly that, he could already hear the excited chatter rippling through his soldiers. They'd been riding, and some walking, for the better part of seven days. Although Raynor wasn't a cruel lord—he'd given them breaks—the men hadn't been excited about anything, save this. They were officially in Stovehaven, in a small outskirt village visited by warriors and merchants who dabbled in trades of the flesh. Ladies would never be found in Cragden.
Nudging his stallion forward, and to the right, Raynor shook his head. "Tell the soldiers that we are breaking for half-an-hour. At the end of that time, we will continue to Stovehaven Castle." They were but an hour's ride away.
"Yes, my lord."
Raynor drew Midnight to a halt when he came to the front lines, and surveyed the wagons and overturned carts with a critical eye. It seemed like most of the local slavers were out today. A few carts held merchants selling trinkets, but most of them were selling people.
A loud cheer went up among the men, and Raynor knew that his information had been related. He easily vaulted down from Midnight and drew the stallion to the side. Reaching into the pouch at his waist, he withdrew half of a carrot, and fed it to the beast. As Midnight ate, his master braced against the wooden fence behind them, and listened. Between the slavers calling their prices, his men objecting, and the fighting when another tried to outbid them, it was hectic.
He patted Midnight's side, and walked over to the merchant selling trinkets. The older man was half-asleep, and his eyes seemed to widen in confusion, and then anticipation as the great chieftain approached his cart.
"Lord Raynor," he said, his voice loud enough to alert the other merchants around him that the chieftain was coming to him, and not them. A few murmurs went up among his competitors, and the merchant was pleased.
"Merchant," Raynor greeted, looking down at the various bits of feminine trinkets atop a dirtied cloth. They were handcrafted pierces of various colors and textures. Some were shells, designed into earrings, and bracelets made from woven cloth. Others were stones, probably those gathered along seas and rivers that were cultivated into rings and bands.
"Name's Tibulus, milord. Lookin' fer somethin' fer yer lady?"
A hint of a smile touched the lord's lips as he thought of the lady in question. His mother was one of the wealthiest ladies in all of Andalucía, but she preferred these types of trinkets to diamonds, emeralds or rubies. When his father was alive, she wore the expected jewelry for one of her class, but she'd also worn trinket chains that could be hidden by the cuts of her dress.
Tibulus pushed out his skinny chest in pride. Lord Raynor had not only visited his cart, but he'd smiled. He would have a story to tell for months.
Raynor picked up a pale green bracelet, turning it over in gloved hands. "How much, Tibulus?"
Tibulus cracked a partially toothless smile, and rattled off his price. After Raynor paid him, he placed the trinket into the pouch at his waist.
He was about to turn in the opposite direction to find a fruit vendor—Midnight would appreciate an apple—when a woman's scream split the air. For a few seconds, everything grew quiet, before the noise picked up once more. It wasn't uncommon to hear a scream from a woman in places likes these.
Still, something made Raynor walk in the direction of that scream. He didn't have to go far because he came upon a large gathering of his soldiers not moments later. The men were huddled close together, as if all were fighting to get to the front. His height allowed him to see over most of their heads, so he could make out the struggling girl being held by two slavers.
"And this one 'ere's from foreign lands!" One of the slavers was saying. He held one of her arms while the other stood behind her, his hand gripping the back of her neck, keeping her head facing the front. "A feisty bit o' work, but Eleanor 'ere is everythin' you'se could want in a slave."
Raynor stared at her long and hard. She was probably dirtier than he, with scum in her hair, and all over her body. The dull dirtied yellow gown that she wore had obviously been cut to show off her long legs, and arms, and a tantalizing little glimpse of budding breasts. She was thin, painfully so, and didn't look a day over her ten and five.
"...can read, do 'er letters, speaks like a lady, an' everythin' youse want."
"Can she spread 'er legs?" A solider called out, and a cheer rang out from the men.
"Is she any good at it?" Another followed.
The slaver didn't answer, but Raynor watched as a snake-like smile spread across his face. The men either didn't notice or didn't care because they continued with similar questions.
All the while, Raynor watched the girl. Her skin was a darker hue, a bronzed color unnatural to the people of his country. Her face was small, slightly oblong, but proportionate in structure. From where he stood, he couldn't make out the color of her eyes. Deciding he wanted a closer look, Raynor tapped the shoulders of the soldiers in his way, moving closer to the front as they wordlessly parted to allow him through.
The lewd questions continued, but by the time Raynor reached the front, the slaver had lifted both hands.
"She's all that, and more," he announced, to the guffaws of the soldiers. "Wait—wait!" He placed a finger under her chin, forcing her head higher. "Eleanor 'ere is a' 'onset to Gods virgin!"
"Think youse we'se fools?"
"Let me try 'er, and I'll tell ye."
The girl's eyes lowered, as if she was trying to escape the inevitable, and fell to Raynor's. She blinked, but kept her eyes on him as the slaver tried to verify her innocence to his potential clients.
Yellow-gold. That was the color of her eyes. The slavers were right about her being foreign because he'd never seen anyone with her skin or her eyes, and he'd scoured East, West, North and South of Andalucía.
"Eleanor 'ere is worth at least five silver coins, but I's gonna start the bid at two."
"How's we to know she's pure?"
"She ain't no innocent. Look at 'er! 'e's probably 'ad 'er every night since 'er capture."
"Is youse gonna refund my coin if she's no' pure?"
A scuffle broke out between the soldier willing to pay five and the one who'd outbid him at seven, and both curses and cheers came from the soldiers surrounding them.
Through it all, the girl's eyes never left his. In fact, as the bidding proceeded, she seemed to square her shoulders more, and her eyes became cooler. She looked majestic, which was impressive for a young innocent being sold into the harsh life of slavery. Only a person practiced at recognizing fear would see the terror hidden in that gaze.
Raynor's eyes narrowed. Who was she?
They were pigs. The two men who'd captured her, dragged her aboard their ship, and were now selling her into slavery, were pigs. Worse than pigs. To call them pigs were to give the animals a bad name.
Mathilda had read about such barbaric things happening in the Forbidden Lands, but she'd never dreamed of seeing it firsthand.
After taking her aboard the ship, the man called Rory had divested her of her furs and her dress. He'd even stripped her of her chemise, leaving her stark naked for their lecherous eyes. Weakened from the blow to the head, Mathilda had tried to hide herself. When she next opened her eyes, she remembered seeing the face of an old woman, and then her legs were parted—. She shuddered with revulsion. At least after that mortifying incident they'd left her alone. She was mostly in an out of consciousness for the next days, but she remembered waking up in a scratchy gown, chained by hands and feet to another woman, who like her, was shackled to another.
As the journey continued, more women were added. Like her, most had been captured. Mothers, wives, daughters. Mathilda grew nauseated thinking about how Rory and other men would come down to the holding cell at night. The first time, she'd been sleeping, but had awoken to the sounds of women weeping and men grunting. She'd turned her head to see what it was, and after that, she kept her head facing the wall, her eyes tightly closed. It went on nightly until countless days—weeks—later when the ship anchored in the Forbidden Lands. Most of the women were sold as soon as they embarked from the ship. The rest, all young and pretty, had been taken to different places, and auctioned off. Mathilda had grown fearful after recognizing that she was the last. Rory had sold them all, but he'd never allowed anyone to see her. Now she knew why. He intended to auction her off to people who could pay in silver. She still couldn't quite understand the dialect in which they spoke, but she understood enough to know that the men were counting upwards in silver coins. The men from the previous sales had paid with other coins—probably the currency of their country.
When they arrived in this village, and Rory forced her out onto the wagon, Mathilda had resigned herself to the fate of being bought, raped, and enslaved for the rest of her life, never to see Jaisyn or Isolde or nieces or nephews again. She was attempting to blank her mind, to dull her senses to take whatever was inflicted upon her, when the crowd parted and a tall man, dressed similarly to the men who were currently trying to buy her, in dark armor and a dark blue cape, walked to the front. Maybe it was the reaction of the crowd, or the fact that he didn't seem as eager as they to buy her, but her eyes followed him.
His hair looked brown, though she couldn't be sure from the amount of dirt on his body, and his eyes were a shade of either blue or green that she could not pinpoint. Had she not been in this predicament, she would have thought them pretty.
Rory pulled at her arm and she glared at him. He grinned down at her, revealing blackened teeth, and gums, and then she was being dragged forward.
Oh Lyria, someone had bought her. Her heart thundered in her ribcage, her empty stomach clenched painfully as her legs threatened to give out.
Mathilda struggled, but against two men it was futile. She would have given anything for her dagger, or even a sword. She had no intention of killing herself, but she would gladly stab both Rory, and the one whose name she did not know.
They pulled her down the short stairs of the cart, and continued to push and pull her until they stopped before the man with the blue-green eyes. She'd known that he was tall, as he stood at least at head over most of the men, but standing on even ground with him, she at her height of five feet six inches felt dwarfed by him.
Rory was talking again, and she caught something about a lord, and that he would be pleased, before Rory gave her a shove forward, and the tall man caught her.
Confused, Mathilda stared up at him.
Rory spoke once more, but she was too confused to have even tried to understand what it was. The man holding her reached into the leather pouch at his waist, and Mathilda watched as he placed two gold coins in the palm of Rory's greedy hand.
Rory made a mockery of executing a grand bow, and then he rushed back to his wagon with his companion.
Taking a step back, the said slowly, "Come."
He began leading her away from the men. Mathilda followed him, wishing she understood enough of their language to know what the men were calling out as they passed.
She kept up with his stride until they approached a tall and bad-tempered horse that reminded her of Vulcan's stallion, Shadowfax. Except this one was less bulky, and had a white patch by its forehead. The memory brought tears to her eyes. Were they searching for her? Did they even know where to look? Had Avery made it safely back to Montak or had she fallen prey to other slavers?
Mathilda didn't know she was crying until a gloved finger touched her cheek. She blinked, and looked up at her new owner. The thought itself repulsed her enough that she almost heaved. She couldn't vomit as she hadn't been fed enough to do so.
"Come," her new captor said in that firm voice of his. Before she knew what he intended, he slipped his hands around her thin waist and lifted her atop his stallion. Mathilda clenched her legs, and the beast reared, almost unseating her.
Grabbing the reins, the man said something urgent to the horse, who calmed and snorted, before swinging himself up behind her. His hand moved around her and he pulled her back against him. He clicked his tongue, and the horse began to move.
Mathilda sighed and closed her eyes. Weeks ago, she was a princess heading to Morden to be courted by a king and now she was someone's slave. A whimper escaped her lips, and she forced herself to breath through it. She'd shed enough tears the first days of her captivity. They would do her no good in this primitive land.
The hand at her waist tightened, and she cringed. Not because he touched her, but because she didn't feel repulsed as she should. No, the hand at her waist gave her a false sense of peace, telling her that she would be safe, when in actually, she would be wise to fear him. He was her new 'master' and he now fully controlled her life. He could kill her and he would be in the right. Even as that thought scared her, her lids grew heavy and she fell into a fitful sleep, her body inching closer to the warmth at her back.
Raynor knew the moment the girl in his arms fell asleep. Her body lost all its tension, and snuggled closer to him, seeking warmth. It was a wonder that she wasn't shivering from the chill of the day, given the flimsy and tattered dress that she wore, and the lack of meat on her bones.
He turned his head at the sound of Braden's voice. His general was upon him seconds later, looking down at the sleeping girl in his arms with a lifted brow.
"A new scullery maid," Raynor answered absently.
Braden looked doubtful, and Raynor resisted the urge to glare down at his the man next to him. Although Braden was his general, he was also his friend. As the son of one of one of his father's generals, Raynor and Braden had grown up together. They'd practiced weapons together, had scuffled before they were old enough to understand what the word meant. They'd also been trained for combat in Edward's army. As he remembered those times, a scowl touched his lips. Braden couldn't be closer to him if he were his brother. He owed him many times over for saving his life, and Braden could say the same for him.
"Tell the men to remount. I am anxious to be back at Stonehaven Castle."
The other man nodded briskly, passed a fleeting glance to the girl in his lord's arms, and turned his mount. Raynor watched as he rode through the throng of men, barking orders to lieutenants, who barked orders to the warriors, who in turn barked orders to the soldiers, who continued the lot of barking.
The girl shifted against him, mumbling something, and Raynor held her closer to him. He'd had no intention of purchasing a slave today, or any other day for that matter. Stonehaven Castle had less than a dozen slaves, and those had been inherited after his father's passing. He did not wish to add to that number. Still, something about this frail child had beckoned to him. It was perhaps to do with the amount of innocents he'd seen abused and murdered in the name of war. Or maybe it was do with the strength that he'd glimpsed in those golden eyes. He didn't particularly know why he bought her; he just knew that he had to.
"Bael," the girl murmured, turning her head to the other side.
Raynor stilled. She was possibly calling the name of a dead relative. He wondered how much death Eleanor had seen before her captivity. Had her entire family been murdered, and she sold into slavery?
He wasn't left long to ponder that because Braden rode up to him once more.
"It is done, my lord. Most of the men are mounted," Braden said. He passed another glance to the girl in Raynor's arms. "If you want, I can carry her, my lord."
Raynor shook his head and nudged Midnight forward. No. He would carry her to Stonehaven, where she would work as a scullery maid. The kitchen was already overstaffed, but she was young. Perhaps his mother would find another task for her. If she was intelligent, which he suspected she was, perhaps she would become the companion his mother needed. Deciding that he'd made a good investment, if only because he wanted to ease the suffering of an innocent, he allowed his thoughts to roam to more important matters.
Within the week, he would have to journey to Inverness to personally brief Edward about the outcomes of the latest war. The king had never liked him, and he wholeheartedly returned his feelings, but they needed each other. Edward needed a strong warrior chieftain who could raise powerful armies to fight for his cause, and Raynor needed a leader capable of uniting all of Andalucía despite his many faults.
"You don't have the look of a man who is once more returning a champion, my lord."