EoT_Chapter II: 18 Kissed By Fire

Previously                    ¦             The Beginning of the Story

2 FLAURMONT 1005 AC, VILLAGE OF RYANIA, IN THE DYMRAK WOODS

From the small windows, I observe the sluggish moon enlightening the tiny village.
Midnight is the best time to rethink about life, especially if you’re me.

Once I was Reline the proud daughter of Gunnar the Stubborn of Clan Olasford .
Once I lived in the village of Ilfnir located a few miles south of Wilmik in the Kingdom of Soderfjord .
Once my only wish was to become a famous and respected Skjaldmær (shield maiden) …
… then in a cool, clear morning of Felmont my whole world was swept away

I still remember that day, every little detail of it is burned into my memory. We woke up early that morning, before the sun came up, I didn’t close my eyes all night long, full of excitement, I was the first to board the Vorish, the ship that would have accompanied us in our hunt. A few months later I would have started my fourteenth spring, bringing me well into adulthood and I would have to wait until the next season for my “official” trip, but did not want to miss it, so I tormented my father in order to attend to the trip, with the typical stubbornness of my family, and I managed to convince him. Of course it was also thanks to my brother Rorik that I succeeded: in the hindsight I do not know if it was really a wise choice, someone could tell me that it was fate, or whatever, to decide that, well I’d like to thank him in person, at least once.
It was a clear day, the smell of the sea filled my lungs and, as it announced the imminent arrival of winter, I started to feel the cold air in the bones. That would have been for us the last hunt before we holed up in our homes. I savored it all, the smell of grease on the wood, the smell of the sea, the laughter of my companions, the thundering voice of my father who barked orders left and right, the warm laugh of Rorik and his strong embrace, the roar of the waves on the keel. My heart trembled with the desire to fight, it would be my first fight and I was determined to earn the respect of my father and the clan. An entire day passed without even the sight of a ship, the impatience became untenable for me and irritating for the others, I started to fear that the trip would just be a tremendous disappointment, today I think it would be definitely better if it really had been so …

“Ma’am, would you like some beer?” The innkeeper asks with a gentle whisper.
“I’m not a ma’am, or a Miss. I’m only Reline. Yes, another mug. Thank you.” I answer and the man nods, returning to the kitchen.
He comes back few moments later with a mug full with cold beer.
I take a sip, thinking back to my past life.

By mid-morning the next day we saw two ships heading south, I remember that I began to cry for joy, my father gave the order to unfold most of the sails to reach them, I heard someone say: “The wind is in our favor, Odin is giving us His blessing”. After not so long we reached them, they were two vessels much smaller than ours and my father directed the Vorish right among them. My father was always a capable commander and on his side he always had an able and loyal crew, it was a perfect maneuver and we were like a peregrine falcon swooping on the unwitting prey! Everything changed in less than one minute and the surprise was ours when one of the two ships hauled down the white sail and hoisted in its place a sail black as the night and we heard the ferocious cries coming from that boat. A storm of arrows began to fall upon us, instinctively I covered with the shield, between the screams I heard my father yell clearly “They are the Osterlo of Saltshore !!! They are outnumbered! Slaughter them all! “. The wind continued to push us towards them, we began to fight back and as soon as the two ships were side by side we boarded them. A few moments later we realized that it was not Odin blowing us toward them but more likely Loki, other arrows began to rain upon us from the other ship too, that had not shown any signs of hostile activity before and now hoisted black sails too. They had laid a trap and we fell into it with all the boots! The real battle began at that point, but immediately it was clear who would emerge the winner. Rorik never left my side, we fought like madmen wounding and maiming anyone who tried to approach us, my spirit was in ecstasy and I imagined to tell our deeds to Gherda’s tavern while sitting at the bar sipping her beer. I had the distinct feeling that we could turn the tide of battle and fought with more determination, then I saw our father fall under the blows of the double axe of a huge warrior and soon after my brother was pierced by no less than five arrows while trying to attack the man who had made us orphans. The lifeless body of my brother moved as if time had slowed down, touched the deck of the ship, his head turned towards me and I saw the expression of surprise and pain in his face, a trickle of blood dripped from a corner of his mouth. Something exploded inside me, the dreams of glory wiped out by the sole desire to tear down that son of a bitch. He saw me coming and laughed, my heart throbbed so strongly to make me almost deaf but I perfectly heard his laughter, and my anger grew.
He waited with the axe raised above his head and as soon as I was near he dropped it on me convinced to finish me with one strike, I dodged it at the last moment and I heard the thud and the weapon’s impact vibrations on the wooden deck. From a vantage point I wounded the calf with my sword, he laughed again and gave me such a strong kick to make me fly against the mast, I barely had time to turn around and he was back on top of me, he lifted a mace and hit me, I raised my arm with a shield to protect myself and both exploded, the pain was so strong that I almost fainted, I was hit by hundreds of wooden splinters of what was until a few seconds before my last defense. I waited death looking the man, dozens of braids wrapped together formed his long blond beard, his cold eyes were locked into mine, he was the tallest and biggest man, that I saw in my life. “Valgard wait! We need her alive!”, the man turned to the source of the voice and lowered the weapon, all the anger left me and I fainted.
I woke up a while after with the sound of the sea in my ears, I found myself inside a cell that contained barely the straw mat where I was lying, they took off my armor and the wounds had been healed, the only thing that was left to me was the blanket that my mother sewed for me before I was born. I never knew my mother, she died giving birth to me, my father always told me about her as a kind and polite woman but with unparalleled force of will, he told me she was a cleric of Freyja and that Sowelu, the rune sawn on my blanket, had the meaning of care and good health. The journey was unending, the only man I saw all the time was a cleric of Frey named Alrik, he told me that the only thing that saved me from certain death were my red hair, of which I never cared before at least until then and he also told me that the blanket was left for me out of respect for the cleric who had given it to me. He always treated me with great respect, taking care that I ate at least three times a day, healing my wounds, combing my hair and making me do many baths with salts which, according to him, would have softened the beautiful skin that I had, another thing I never cared at all before.

I was not the only “guest” aboard the ship but at all my attempts to communicate with the others I always got one “shhhh” of Alrik as answer. When we arrived at the port of Thyatis Alrik made me wear a suit of a fabric unknown to me, he put a makeup on me and then combed my hair with an elaborate headdress. Then he put the blanket in a small leather bag and handed it to me wishing me a good journey with a prayer and a blessing. We were about twenty girls to get off the ship, all more or less the same age and from places far from each other, and we were immediately escorted to a huge building made of stone and brick with flags depicting a bird of prey. On the way I was struck by the nauseating smells of the port, smells of rotting, dead fish, excrements, blood. Unlike others, I was not afraid, I knew what I was going into, after all even my clan had made it hundreds and hundreds of times but, certainly, I never expected that I would find myself on the other side of the issue. Arrived to the building they made us go directly through the front door, the two guards at the entrance will not even deign to take a glance, I was really impressed by that building, very tall white stone columns adorned the main facade, in the interior, painted floors, friezes, life-size statues, completely frescoed walls. We did go out on a garden built inside the building itself, and there, some people sat on the seats, some on sofas, some even on sedans and were waiting for us: no less than fifty men and women dressed in clothes of such a beautiful workmanship that I never saw before, jewels of every shape and color reflecting the sunlight, creating a storm of colors that blinded me. I counted at least twice as many slaves intent on serving food and drinks or to hold over the heads of their masters towels or huge leaves of who knows which plants to shield them from the sun.
We were lined up and, one by one paraded in front of them, at every step, I heard whispers, saw nods or hand signs, I saw indifference or boredom, when it was my turn I heard a “ohhhhhh” of surprise, to be honest it surprised more me than them. Immediately began a series of excited nods, sharp orders, shouting in an incomprehensible language, one minute after, all the fuss was over and I was brought to a man in the second row, almost as tall as my brother, with tanned skin with a strangely thin mustache and black and slicked-back hair. I just arrived in front of him and he stroked my hair and sniffed them, I felt a shiver of terror down my spine, what sort of pervert sniffs the hair of a little girl. The dark-skinned man at his side said to me: “This is Lord Hubris of Marchermoris and from this moment on he will be your new master.”

“Ma’am? I’m sorry but we’re closing. Can I show you your room?” Suddenly the innkeeper is next to me, like a gentle shadow.
I nod and he guides me to my room.
“Good night, ma’am.”
“I’m not a ma’am!” I say, closing the door on his face. I lay on the soft bed, rethinking about the innkeeper: I used to be a maid under Lord Hubris.
He was a good master and he taught me a lot: he wanted me near him day and night, especially during his sumptuous parties. I had the feeling that he was bewitched by my hair: he never stopped to coddle and smell them.
I was at his service for two years: I knew that it couldn’t last forever. After my sixteenth birthday Malnus Hofridis, an important imperial functionary, a poor envious man, accused my master for some crimes and all Lord Hubris’ belongings, including me, became properties of  Malnus.
The last time I saw the Lord of Marchermoris the guards were escorting him out of his own home, I got close to him and he coddled my hair like he usually did. He had on his face the expression the deers have when they’re encircled by wolves. I cut a lock of hair and put it in his hand: a feeble smile appeared on his face.
Slowly sleep prevail on me, and I fall asleep, the sweet memory of Lord Hubris in my dream.
I wake up later in the morning: I have only time for a bath, a good routine.
During the hot bath I think about Malnus.
My duties under the new master were totally different, I spent my days to clean the toilets, the floors, to throw the garbage, eating once a day and not washing myself for months which, to my surprise, irritated me quite a lot, the bath had become for me a ritual difficult to skip. Things got worse when Hubris noticed me, one night his other slaves made me take a long hot bath, combed my hair, put makeup and perfume upon me, I was reminded of what Alrik did and I had a shiver, a premonition perhaps of what would happen in a little while. They made me wear an indecent dress that did not hide anything and then accompanied me in a luxurious room, on the way I heard them whispering what seemed to be a prayer. Shortly after Hubris entered the room wearing only a red toga, that night he wanted something from me that I did not want to give him. When I was in a position of advantage I hit him with all the strength of despair and he fell tumbling to the ground, I took the opportunity to flee with the porcine screams of that pig in my ears, before leaving the villa I went back to the corner where I used to sleep to take the blanket of my mother. As soon as I reached the outside world I turned to the north and kept running for days, stopping only to sleep a few hours, while fleeing I stole here and there some clothes and food to survive, my goal was to get to the mountains, there I could breathe a sigh of relief. My freedom did not last long, in less than two weeks after my escape, I was captured by a band of robbers who after having thoroughly satisfied themselves with me decided to sell me to a crazy magician, owner of a salt mine just at the feet of those mountains that I tried in vain to reach.
Zanzer Tem was my last master, I saw him once on the night that I killed him. Life in its mines was a real ordeal, I saw many die as a result of overwork, others beaten to death for the same reason, I for my part survived but received in return dozens of lashes that left me deep scars on the back, many others caused by the ropes used to tie my wrists and ankles, you know the orcs do not know how to treat a woman. I worked in the tunnels for about a year and a half, I never let go and never lost hope, the only thing that gave me comfort and warmth was the blanket, now worn out, of my mother. I was always on the alert and when the opportunity to escape presented itself I caught it on the fly, having continued to train in those years was very helpful to me, I killed my captors and made my way through the Dungeon till the exit .

Since then it has been almost a year, I do not have aims nor ideals to follow, I live day by day happy to no longer be someone’s slave, I try to take a bath whenever I can, it’s a ritual that somehow puts me at peace with the world. I often fight for food, for money or to avoid abuses, sometimes I win sometimes I lose but I am always free.

I end my bath and go down to have lunch: in the large room a group of people is talking to the sheriff.
Maybe they’ll be interesting people.

To be continued…

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