"You will not bring up your objection again," said Margrave Uradel. He backhanded Ranee to emphasize his statement as if yelling his demand would not be enough to make his point to his only daughter.
Ranee wiped the blood off of her split lip with one hand and the tears from her cheek with the other. Her father's mood this evening did not match her meager courage. She should have been more careful in watching him during the evening meal and she would have seen that he had consumed more ale than usual. Their guests did make put the Margrave in a favorable mood either. She only had herself to blame for her beating which she had to admit was lighter than she had expected once she realized her father's mood.
"Get yourself to your room and repair yourself," he said. The Margrave grasped Renee's chin in the rough grip of his fingers. "You know I dislike seeing you in a dishevelled state when we have guests." He let go of her face. "It is well for you that Baron Briefadel is satisfied with your looks, such as they are." The Margrave snorted into his ale cup before he gulped a mouthful of the brew. "You should be thankful that he does not know of your willfulness. It is a very unattractive trait, especially as you are not beautiful enough for a man to overlook such behavior."
When her father turned away from her to get his cup refilled, Ranee backed out of her father's room. He would forget about her soon. Ranee had seen her father's latest woman lurking in the doorway of his bedchamber. Ranee did not recognize the woman. Her father must have brought her to the keep from another town. He must have gone through all of the women in their own hamlet.
The woman had an eager look on her face, whether it was from the Margrave's treatment of Ranee or from anticipation of her father's attention, Ranee did not know. All Ranee knew was that she would have some peace while her father was being kept busy by his newest wench.
Ranee made her way to her room by passing through the kitchens. She had not eaten much at the midday meal. When her father was home, the Margrave insisted on meals heavy with fatty meats in bread trenchers and supplemented with heavy dark ales.
Cook always put more delicate vegetable pies and fruit tarts aside for Ranee. She made small pastries that Ranee could hide in her pockets and smuggle to her room. Cook had a daughter, Cate, that Ranee had helped hide from her father's attentions when Ranee was six and Cook's daughter was fifteen. Since that time when Ranee had shoved Cate into her clothes chest to keep Cate from the Margrave, Cook had made sure Ranee never went hungry, even during those times when Ranee's father kept her from table as punishment.
Once when Ranee was twelve, she spent three days locked in her room because she had dared to come between her father and her mother. The Margrave had appeared in her mother's solarium one afternoon, still clothed in his battle wear, covered in dirt and blood. All of the women in her mother's entourage removed themselves from the room, leaving Ranee sitting next to her trembling mother.
"Get out, girl." The Margrave approached Ranee and her mother. When Ranee didn't move, her father shouted so loud, Ranee felt the vibrations of his powerful voice within her lungs.
"Move or feel my mailed hand upon your body."
Ranee rose and her father grinned until he saw Ranee move in front of her frightened and immobile mother. Ranee watched as her father's brows drew together and his eyes squinted and her bared his teeth. He was upon them in two huge strides, his arm swinging back and forward, light glinting off of a metal covered finger. Her father hit her on the side of her skull just above her ear, knocking her back into her mother's lap. Her mother pulled back dumping Ranee on the floor and pushing Ranee away with her feet. Ranee crawled away in time to miss the kick of her father's booted foot.
When she reached the curtain hanging over the door she pulled herself up and looked back into the room in time to see her father grab her mother's hair in one hand and the neck of her bodice in his other hand. He pulled down on the neckline, ripping her mother's dress and exposing her mother's breasts. The Margrave bent his wife backwards taking one of her breasts in his mouth. She let out a weak cry until the Margrave flipped his wife over, raising her dress above her hips and over her head. Ranee heard her mother's muffled sobs and her father's laughter as she escaped her mother's solar.
Her father had come looking for her when he was done enforcing his will upon his wife.
"I own you and your mother," he said. He punctuated each word with a stroke of his riding whip on her back. "You will stay, alone and without food, in your room until I leave again in three days' time." He threw her to the floor. At the door, he turned back to her.
"I will punish anyone who brings you food." He smiled at her. His smiles broke her heart because his face was so beautiful when he smiled but she knew there was no warmth in him, smiling or not. "I know how much you care for the servants. Just remember, their punishments will be far worse than yours." He posted a guard outside her door and the only one allowed in was the chambermaid to clear the chamber pot each day. The chambermaid brought Ranee pasties from Cook secreted in her pockets. Ranee tried to get them to stop, but they would not. Ranee was grateful to them, but spent three days terrified that they would be caught.
Once Ranee was allowed out of her room again, she learned that her mother had to take to her bed because the Margrave had caused her to miscarry a child no one knew she was carrying. When he found out that his wife had been pregnant, he beat her while she lay defenseless and already weak. He beat her until her face was unrecognizable. She remained unseen for two months by everyone accept her closest women. When she finally emerged, her eyes were hooded and she seemed always to be on the verge of falling asleep. Cook explained to Ranee that her mother had begun to drink special teas throughout the day that dulled the senses and kept her in another world within her own mind.
Her mother had never given Ranee much care and attention but from that time forward, they saw each other rarely and no longer spoke to one another. Her mother's women stayed far from Ranee, too, blaming Ranee for the Margrave's last brutal treatment of his wife.
The Margrave for his part, never went near his wife again. He began bringing woman to the keep whenever he was in residence. They never stayed more than a few days and they never came back more than once and they were never in any part of the keep but her father's rooms. Sometimes when one was visiting, screams could be heard and everyone knew the Margrave was in a foul mood. That was when everyone took special care to never look the Margrave in the eye and to stay out of his way if they could.
At seventeen, Ranee rarely made the mistake of attracting her father's negative attention anymore. She had mistakenly read his mood this day. She thought that the representatives from her future husband would put her father in a good mood but obviously she had misread the Margrave. Ranee simply wanted time to get to know her future husband before marrying him. She hadn't even met him yet, although her father said Baron Briefadel had seen her. Considering the way her father felt about her, she should consider herself lucky that The Margrave had not promised her to some old toothless man. She had heard from others that Baron Sucat Briefadel was a young, healthy and attractive twenty years old with a large land holding. She was told that most women found him quite handsome in appearance. She should know better than to push her father for some sort of gentle sentiment and count herself lucky that she would not be bedded by some wrinkled elderly gent or a hideously fat man who would smoother her with his love making.
She knew her father was eager to get his hands on the Baron's land. The Margrave was so sure he would be able to control the Baron. Part of the Margrave's plan was for Ranee to captivate her new husband on their wedding night. He had sent one of his women to her on the night of the previous full moon to explain to Ranee exactly how he expected Ranee to captivate the Baron. Ranee was shocked and horrified when the woman showed her the trick her father expected her to use. Ranee could not bring herself to go near a broom handle from that moment on. But this was nothing compared to her father's questioning of her about what she had learned. She had tried to keep her eyes closed during his interrogation, but he would have none of it.
"Do not be a simpering maid like your worthless mother," he said.
"If she had been more of a whore, we would have had more children and I would not have had to beat her so often." He smiled to him self, looking all the world as if he were remembering fond moments of the past.
"Open your eyes, girl. A man likes to look at a woman and see she is enjoying having him within her. I tell you this for all of our benefit." He cupped Ranee's chin in the palm of his hand, for once not hurting her in the process.
"If you can use you tongue for something other than speaking your marriage may be a good one." The Margrave rubbed her lower lip with his thumb, slowly inserting it between her lips.
"Show me what you have learned." He spoke so softly, Ranee wasn't sure she had heard correctly, until he shoved his thumb further into her mouth.
"Do it now." This time he spoke quite clearly.
Ranee ran her tongue around her father's thumb, her face burning, her eyes looking into his until he pulled his hand from her and shoved her away from him.
"Get out," he said. He turned his back to her and she wasted no time in leaving his presence.
In her room, thinking about what her father expected of her, she began pacing the space she called home. If her choices were between becoming a body barely alive like her mother or becoming a whore like one of her father's women, she thought she could find herself a better choice. She began grabbing a few of her clothes together and tied them within her warmest cloak. Anything had to be better than the life she currently had or the one her father was selling her into. She would wait until the candles were dowsed and the fires banked for the night. Then she would leave through the kitchen, grabbing some traveling cakes and dried meat and leave under cover of the keeps many shadows.
Ranee laid down to get some rest in her warm room, probably the last warmth she would have in a long while.
She woke to the sound of the dogs fighting in the hall, which often happened when the day guards came in the rest the space in front of the fireplaces from the hounds. It was later than Ranee wanted to leave. She gathered her bundle and quietly made her way down the back stairs. In the kitchen, she tied hard cakes and dried meat into a piece of cloth and added them to her bundled. The food would be as valuable as the few coins she had managed to gather over the years. She took four meat pasties putting two in each of her pockets. These she would eat over the first two days of her escape.
She unlocked the outside door of the kitchen using the secret key Cook had for the door. Only the keep's chamberlain was to have keys to the outside doors for the safety of all enclosed in the keep but Cook had a special relationship with the chamberlain. He had given her an extra key to make her life easier. Ranee hoped Cook would be up early in the morn to lock up and hide her key so Cook would not get in trouble.
Ranee kept along the keep's wall, going slowly and listening for every sound. When she finally reached the end of the building directly across from the field leading to the forest, Ranee felt a cold wet touch on her hand. She yelped at the unexpected feeling and looked down to see one of the keep's many dog's sitting at her feet. He was sniffing at her skirts, a low growling in his throat. Ranee slowly reached into her pocket, hoping she had enough pasties to keep the hunting dog busy while she dashed across the field to the waiting darkness of the forest. She threw one of the pasties back towards the way she had come. The dog did not move. She threw a second after the first, followed by the third and then the forth. Finally, the hound trotted off after the food as if it knew exactly how many pies Ranee had. So much for the nice food for the start of her journey.
Without giving the pies any further thought, Ranee pushed herself away from the keep's wall and ran. She ran like she had never run before. She ran as if her father was just behind her. She had no doubt's he would follow as soon as he discovered her gone.
Friday, October 30, 2009
"You will not bring up your objection again," said Margrave Uradel. He backhanded Ranee to emphasize his statement as if yelling his demand would not be enough to make his point to his only daughter.
Ranee made it to the first tree at the same time she heard dogs barking back at the keep. She hoped it was from the dogs fighting over the pastry she had thrown for the dog that met her when she was leaving. She did not have much time to wonder what the sound meant. She took one brief moment to catch her breath, then went into the forest, trying to hide herself among the shadows. She knew her way well from the many times she had hidden from her father's wrath. It would not take her long to reach the stream she would enter to hide her scent from the hunting dogs.
The loss of the pasties was a hard blow to her morale, making her feel lost at the very beginning of her escape. She would not eat anything until tomorrow evening. She tried to think of a plan while she made her way to the stream but nothing came to her mind. She had no real idea of where she could go. She had rarely gone anywhere other than the area around her home. She would not expect any of her father's serfs to take her in and shelter her. That would be too dangerous for them all.
There were blue berry bushes near the stream where she was going to enter it. She took the time to eat several handfuls of the sweet fruit before stepping into the cold water, rushing water. She knew that if she went upstream she would reach the keep of their closest neighbors. Normally, she would avoid going in that direction but she thought her father would expect her to go in the direction where fewer people would be so she would go towards their neighbors but skirt around their holdings, staying far enough away to avoid them but close enough to confuse anyone following her.
By the time she reached their neighbors' holdings, her feet were numb and her legs were tired. She stepped out of the creek where the women came to wash their clothes. She needed to find somewhere to hide herself very soon. The sun would be breaching the horizon soon. She would hide in the wash house. The smell of the aging urine would be strong enough to mask her smell. A day of discomfort would be a small price to pay for her freedom.
Ranee crept up to the building. There was no lock on the door because no one would want to steal anything in the building as it only contained barrels of urine fermenting in the building with no windows. While the liquid was valuable for bleaching the woolen garments everyone wore, it wasn't valuable enough to take. Not to mention the foul stench. Ranee almost threw up when she first went in.
She covered her mouth and her nose with her shawl. She made her way to a back corner and scrunched down behind a large covered barrel of piss. There was enough room for her to lie down. She rested her head on her bundle. It was warm in the shed so she needed no cover. Despite the horrible smell, Ranee fell asleep from her exhaustion. It was Sunday, so she knew no one would come here today to do any washing. Only the most necessary work was done on Sundays and washing was not one of the chores that needed to be done. She slept all day, not stirring until a mouse ran over her out stretched hand resting in the straw covering the floor.
She couldn't bring herself to eat in the shed. The smell was too bad and made her stomach queasy. Ranee squinted through the boards of the building and saw no light outside. She rose from the floor and crept through the dark room. She knocked into one of the barrels and a wooden bucket fell to the floor. Ranee stood still, holding her breath for several heartbeats. When she heard no other noises she continued more cautiously towards the door. When she reached it she edged it open and looked out.
Full night was upon her and no one was about. All was quiet and still. She left the shed and went around the corner and stepped into another body. She was grabbed around the waist and a hand was clamped over her mouth. She couldn't see the face of her captor but she could tell the person was a man who was much larger than she was.
She was dragged back to the bleaching shed, and pulled inside. She struggled to free herself but only ended up getting herself thrown to the ground, the wind knocked from her lungs as the body of her captor covered hers, his hand never leaving her mouth. Ranee attempted to kick the man or knee him in the groin but he wove his legs around hers so she could not move. She tried to open her mouth enough to bite his hand but his hand was so large it kept her jaw closed shut. He was so heavy upon her she could not breath.
Ranee tried shift her head around to loosen his grip but only succeeded in getting a look at the door to the shed. She saw a flicker of candle light and the face of a woman in the door way. Ranee grunted at the woman for help but the woman only fled when she saw Ranee covered by the male bulk. Ranee's eyes must have given some warning to the man because be looked away from her for a second which was long enough for Ranee to get her mouth free and she began to scream with all of her might.
"Stop screaming," the man said into her ear. "You will get us caught."
Ranee just continued to scream.
The man got up from her, grabbed her while she kept screaming and slung her over his shoulder. She stopped screaming when his shoulder made contact with her stomach but she soon was back at it. The man smacked her on her butt which surprised her into silence.
"Thank God," he said. "They are bound to find us with all of the noise you are making."
"Good." Ranee manged the one word between the jolts of her ride on the man's shoulder.
He came to an abrupt halt and Ranee found herself swaying on her feet looking into the face of her captor. She saw fire light dancing in his eyes. He spun her around and she was facing a group of men with torches, her father in the front of the pack.
"We have found the kidnapper," said the Margrave, "and found your prize, Baron."
A man a good two heads shorter than her father stepped forward with his torch held in front of him. He came within an arms length of her, wrinkled his nose and stepped back again.
"She stinks," he said. "Where did you two bed down, cousin? A pig sty?"
The man behind Ranee stepped forward into the light.
"We did not bed down anywhere,
"Liar," said the Margrave. "Who is this man, Baron?"
"This, Margrave Uradel, is my cousin, Hyd, and I am not surprised he has tried to kidnap my bride."
"I do not know this woman," said Hyd, "and I did not kidnap her. Tell them." Hyd addressed Ranee without looking at her.
"Yes, daughter, tell us what happened," said the Margrave. "Be not afraid to tell us this man abducted you." Ranee's father did look at her, quite closely. "Any other explanation would be unimaginable, would it not?"
Ranee noticed her father's hands balled into tight fists as he moved half a step closer to her. The chords of his tendons jumped and moved under his skin, betraying his anger and his tension. Ranee knew if she did not give her father the correct answer, his fists would showed her his displeasure in a very physical way.
"Margrave Uradel, why don't I handle this situation," said the Baron. "Your daughter will soon be my wife." The Baron plucked some straw from Ranee's hair. His upper lip curled slightly and his brows drew together. He moved away from Ranee.
"I suggest your lovely daughter be cleaned and clothed and fed and then we can meet under more favorable conditions." He nodded to a someone standing behind Ranee and Hyd.
When Ranee turned to see who it was, Ranee saw Hyd staring at her. A woman took hold of Ranee's arm and steered her away from the others.
"You, dear cousin, will be held in the cellars until we settle this matter." Ranee did not hear anyone respond and the woman with a grip on her arm was pulling her along so fast, Ranee stumbled across the ground.
"Slow down," Ranee said.
Ranee jerked her arm from the woman's grasp.
"I can walk on my own."
"You can't even escape your father for more than a day."
"I followed you from your father's keep. I know you were running away." She reached to grab Ranee's arm again, but Ranee avoided her.
"Who are you?"
"I am not surprised you don't know me. Why would a spoiled girl like you notice a mere servant?" The woman smoothed her hands down the bodice of her dress.
Ranee looked more closely at the woman, squinting through the darkness, the woman's gesture triggering a memory of someone she knew.
"I've never heard your voice before," said Ranee.
"Why should you? It would not be appropriate for someone like me to talk to you."
"What is your name?"
"Jyll, but do not think knowing my name will make us any closer." Jyll reached for Ranee again and got her wrist. She held on tight and pulled ranee along behind her.
"Sucat wants you cleaned up and I always give him what he wants."
Jyll's grasp on Ranee was unrelenting. They got to the hall and Jyll dragged Ranee into the bathing room off of the kitchen. Jyll told a sleeping scullery to bring in hot water. Jyll began yanking Ranee's dress over her head. Ranee struggled with Jyll, but Jyll was quite strong and was able to get Ranee's clothes from her, both her over dress and her chemise. Jyll threw them at a second scullery that arrived.
"Get the tub filled and bring some strong soap," said Jyll. She ordered the sculleries around as if she had been here many times before. Jyll turned to Ranee.
"You get clean. I will get you some fresh clothes." Jyll left the room.
The sculleries scurried around the room hurrying to get their orders filled. They did not look at Ranee's naked body. Ranee stood in a corner hoping they could get the tub filled quickly so she could get in. If she was honest with herself, she would admit she dearly wanted to get her hair clean and even she could tell she smelled awful. Her brief brush with freedom did not go well, but she did not believe that was her fault. If she had not run into the man called Hyd and he had not molested her, she could have gotten away. Why was he out near the building she was at? Was he following her, too for some reason?
Jyll came back into the room with a bundle in her arms. She placed the clothes on a table. Jyll went over to one of the sculleries and look in the pail the girl was carrying.
"This would go much faster if you actually put some water in there." Jyll slapped the girl who was only about twelve years old. The girl dropped the bucket, sloshing water water on Jyll's dress. Jyll hit the girl again.
"You are worthless," said Jyll, her face close to the child's. "You can be sure I will tell the Baron about your behavior. Be prepared to go back to shoveling dung."
The girl burst into tears and ran from the room, leaving her bucket and the spilled water for the other girl to clean up.
"Do you often make promises for the Baron?" said Ranee.
"You will find I have a special place in the Baron's life," said Jyll. "It would be best for you to understand this now."
Jyll stood in front of Ranee, her hands on her hips.
"I am more beautiful than you are," said Jyll. She lifted some of Ranee's hair.
"Your hair is a plain black." She combed her fingers through her own hair. "Mine is a beautiful golden red and thick and curly. I am tall and well rounded. You barely reach up to my chin."
Jyll stroked Ranee's neck, down across her collar bone and over the top of Ranee's breasts.
"Your skin is soft but you have had a soft life." She pinched Ranee's left nipple.
Ranee backed away and covered what she could of her naked body with her hands.
"That will be over when Sucat marries you. You will know your worth then." Jyll tested the water in the now full bathing tub. "Get in and get clean for your future husband." She shoved Ranee towards the tub.
"My father is the Grand Duke. If my mother had been a little higher on the social ladder, not the wife of a serf, Baron Sucat would be marrying me and not you."
Ranee stepped into the bath, losing some of what Jyll was saying when she ducked under the water. She had no idea what to think of what Jyll was saying to her but it was obvious the girl knew the Baron well and seemed very comfortable in his hall. If the Baron really thought as highly of Jyll as Jyll seemed to think, she would be a problem in Ranee's new household. She was sure she would not be given another chance to escape her fate. When she rose up from the water, Jyll was still speaking.
"He may marry you but it is only for your title. He knows your father is after his land but no one, not even your father, can out wit him." Jyll was rummaging through the clothes she had placed on the table, holding each dress up for inspection. She chose one and turned back to Ranee.
"Hurry up," she said, "You have wasted enough of every one's time already. Sucat will be waiting in the hall."
"The Baron allows you to use his given name?" Ranee stood and stepped out of the bath. The scullery handed her a towel.
"Thank-you," Ranee said to the girl, who smiled shyly in response.
"Get out," Jyll said. She kicked one of the water buckets at the girl, who ran out of the room.
"Get dressed. Comb out your hair. I will be back shortly after I see to the Baron's afternoon repast."
Ranee watched Jyll leave. Ranee recalled seeing her at her father's keep when they were younger, but did not recall ever seeing her during the last few years. Jyll must have come to Baron Briefadel's keep then. No wonder Ranee did not recognize her at first. If Jyll had spent the last three years in the Baron's bed, Ranee cold well understand why the girl felt secure in her position. This would definitely be a challenge for Ranee. Even though they were the same age, it seemed Jyll had far more knowledge and experience than Ranee had.
A male servant knocked on the wall just outside of the washroom.
"The Baron waits upon you mistress if you are now ready to be seen."
"I am ready if you will show me the way." Ranee padded down the hallway in her bare feet, following closely behind the man who was sent to fetch her. He showed her into the main hall and left her standing before a seated Baron Sucat Briefadel, her future husband and Jyll, who sat at his right hand. The room was empty except for her and these two.
"You smell much better," said the Baron. He took a sip from his wine cup and stroked Jyll's cheek in an affectionate way.
"Since we are to be married tomorrow..."
"We are not to marry for three fortnights," said Ranee.
"Do not interrupt me again," said the Baron. "Learn your manners now and you will find life much easier for yourself." He drained his cup and Jyll refilled it.
"Jyll, as you see, has a special place in my home because she knows what I want from her. While I will want different things from you, it is still possible for you to live well here, if you, too, give me what I want." He took his time sorting through some dried fruit and nuts in a bowl in front of him. When he found one to his liking, he chewed it slowly savoring the morsel.
"We will marry on the morrow. Your father and I agreed it would be best, although we each thought so for different reasons. You see, I know my dear cousin did not kidnap you or molest you. He would never do such things. But you will say he did and Jyll will be a witness to my cousin's foul deeds."
"No. I will not lie. He will be punished. How can you want that for your cousin."
"You will say what I tell you to say. You think what your father has done to your mother was bad. Yes, everyone knows how he treats her but believe me that will be nothing as to what I will do if you do not obey me. I have much better ways to hurt you and give myself pleasure at the same time. I love an unwilling partner." The Baron rose from his chair and approached Ranee. When he raised his hand to touch her hair she could not help but flinch from him. He wrapped his fingers in her hair, tugged and pulled her close to his face.
"You will do as I say. I am good at hiding the bruises and I will not allow you to lose yourself in potent herbs." The Baron yanked her closer and brutally kissed her, biting down on her tongue. Ranee whimpered in her throat.
"Do you understand me?"
She nodded her head.
"I will make it easy on you." He clapped his hands together and two soldiers appeared.
"Escort my bride to my chambers and make sure she does not get out and no one gets in, for any reason, until I come back."
One soldier moved to each side of her, each taking an arm and steering her to a set of rooms at the top of the stairs above the main hall. They escorted her in, left closing the door behind her. When she cracked the door open and peered out they had stationed themselves on each side of the door, their lances blocking the exit.
Baron Sucat Briefadel left the hall to the care of Jyll.
"Get this room ready for my wedding, my sweet," he said. "I will return shortly with the priest and the Margrave and such witnesses as are needed." He kissed Jyll gently.
"You continue with your affections and loyalty to me and you will get everything you deserve."
"I remain your faithful and ardent subject."
The Baron went to the church to prepare the priest for a difficult bride. Once he had the priest convinced to proceed with the ceremony in the church's best interest, he felt his biggest hurdle was over come.
He found the Margrave in the guest hall with one of the Baron's serving wenches. The Margrave was amusing himself in the girl's ample bosom.
"Ah, my future father-in-law," said the Baron. "You have found the lovely Maria. I can tell you find her charms as alluring as I did."
"My explorations of this wench and several others I have noticed is as of yet incomplete," said the Margrave. "I hope I am not being disturbed in my quest for no good reason."
"The marriage of your beautiful daughter and my self will begin in two bells. You should gather those of your party you wish to witness the great event."
"You are certainly eager. Quite wise of you to progress with haste."
"After the nuptials have been performed and the marriage consummated, of course, we will be holding the trial of my dastardly cousin. Once that matter has been settled, we will celebrate our mutually beneficial agreement."
"I am looking forward to all of your planned festivities," said the Margrave. He went back to fondling Maria's breasts which he had never let go of while talking to the Baron.
The Baron's final visit before heading back to his hall was paid to his cousin, Hyd, who was spending an uncomfortable time in the Baron's cellars. The Baron dismissed the guards while he interviewed his cousin, the last Count Stahl.
"My cousin," said Sucat, "How do you fair?" Sucat looked through the small window in the cellar door. He could see his cousin sitting on the floor with his wrists and ankles chained together making it impossible for Hyd to stand or even to sit up straight.
Hyd looked up when he heard his cousin's voice, straining his neck to appear more comfortable.
"All is well by me," he said. "How are your plans progressing?"
"I would say I am doing rather well in this game we play." The Baron opened the cellar door and stepped into the room and stood over his cousin, forcing him to really stretch to look up.
"Yes, you do seem to have the upper hand at the moment."
"I believe I have won this time, Hyd. I can see no escape for you this time." The Baron chuckled and kicked at a mouse that got too near his boot.
"I will be married to the Margrave's daughter within the hour and so I will be higher in status than you, as it should always have been. Then, once I have bedded the wench and proven she was no virgin in my bed, I will convene your trial for kidnap and rape and have you hung, thus inheriting your lands and more importantly your fortune."
"I know not of the girl's virginal condition, but she will say I did not kidnap her or molest her."
"If she were in any condition to testify, it may be possible she would say those things. But as her husband, I will let everyone know that she is in no condition to speak before the court, which I assure you she will not be when I am done. She is quite willful and needs a lesson in a woman's proper behavior." The Baron paced around the cellar room, circling his cousin.
"I will tell everyone that she said you did kidnap her and that you did assault her."
"To what purpose?" said Hyd. "I did not even know the girl"
"Why out of your insane jealousy towards me."
"No one believes I am jealous of you. More like the other way round."
"They will believe whatever I tell them," said the Baron. He continued walking around Hyd, kicking straw at him occasionally.
Hyd did not bother trying to look after Sucat.
"I suppose you are the judge in this case."
"Naturally, as we are on my holdings."
"Your verdict will not stand."
"I have a witness to the assault."
"Jyll saw you attack her future mistress."
"Your whore will be witness against me," said Hyd. "I see you have truly taken great care in this plot to rid yourself of me and take my wealth."
"I do believe I have won," said the Baron as he walked from the room and closed the door.
He called the guards back to insure his prisoner's safe holding.
When he went back into the hall, he found the tables arranged and laden with bowls of fruit. Fresh herbs and flowers were thrown into the rushes on the floor, their fragrances rising to the Baron's nose as he walked to the wash room. There he found Jyll, naked in a tub full of hot water, one leg draped becomingly over the edge. The Baron removed his clothing and joined her in the tub. Despite his agitation that all go well and his need to burn some of that energy off in the usual way, Sucat was very gentle in his love making with Jyll. He whispered kind and romantic words to her, telling her she would soon have a Margrave's daughter at her beck and call. He needed to do all in his power to keep Jyll happy and content for a little wile longer.
Once he had his cousin's property, he could get back to his preferred behavior. He had used so much self control where Jyll was concerned, but that would soon be over. He had been cultivating her adoration for several years and soon his patience would pay off. Once his plan was complete, he could show this haughty bitch what his affections really entailed.
He was getting overly excited just thinking about it. He took several deep breaths and slowed down so as not to frighten her at the critical time.
When they were done having sex, Jyll washed the Baron, rinsed him with lavender water, combed out his hair and helped him dress in his court clothing. She did all of this naked, using the only goods she had to keep him attracted. He left the wash room, walking with a happy, assured gait.
Jyll took he time finishing her own grooming. She sat naked before the fire, leisurely combing out her long, curly hair, brushing the tips against her lips and dreaming of what it would be like to have a Margrave's daughter to torment. Sucat had a special dress made for Jyll for this occasion. Jyll had never had a dress she had not made herself. This was the beginning of being treated like the Lady she should have been. As the daughter of the Grand Duke, she should have been held in higher esteem than the Baron and the Margrave. She cursed the fates that had given her a low born mother. With her looks, Jyll could have been a queen if it weren't for her mother. Jyll finished dressing. Things would be different from now on, now that Sucat and her had completed his plan to the Baron's delight and satisfaction. She went out into the great hall to supervise the servants who all knew where Jyll's place was in the Baron's affections.
The Margrave Uradel was already seated at the head table as the guest of honor. His entourage was also seated and they all had drink in their cups. The priest had also arrived and was standing off to the side, not wishing to be connected with the ribald jokes and heavy drinking that the Margrave participated in. The few of the Baron's closest associates and advisers were also in attendance. They were not drinking yet. They knew the Baron wanted them sober until all was settled. Their celebrations would be held much later.
At the sound of a shield being struck by a sword, the assembled party rose from their seats and all faced the stairs leading from the upper floors. The Baron was escorting his bride down the steps. The priest came forward as did the Margrave. Two of the Baron's advisers came forward as witnesses. The Baron leaned into Ranee and whispered something into her ear. She nodded her head, nearly falling over in the effort. Her father laughed and the Baron held her tighter.
The priest began the reading of the ceremony. When he asked his questions, the Baron spoke loudly and clearly in response but no one but the the immediately nearby could hear Ranee's answers. Jyll knew that the Baron had planned on drugging Ranee to make sure she cooperated during the marriage ceremony and he must have done so as her head would lean to the side and she would slump against the Baron until he pushed her back upright.
When the priest announced them officially married, the Margrave clapped his new son-in-law on the shoulder and went for his drinking cup.
"May your marriage be fruitful to us all," he said. He drained his cup in one gulp and called for more. He never even glanced at his daughter.
The priest left as fast as he could once his duty was done. He never looked at the bride either.
Sucat signalled to Jyll, who came over to the newly wed couple. Sucat and Jyll helped Ranee upstairs. With Jyll standing in the room watching, Sucat undressed his new wife, placed her on his bed and climbed on top of her. When she cried out in protest and pain, he covered her mouth with his hand. When she struggled to be free of him, Jyll helped to hold her down.
Ranee kicked and attempted to scream even though she knew no one would come to her aid. She was able to get one of her hands free and she scratched Sucat across the cheek. Jyll grabbed her hands and held them down while Sucat finally penetrated Ranee's maiden head. Once done, Sucat ordered Ranee off of the bed. She huddled in a corner near the fireplace while Jyll stripped the bloodied sheets and tossed them in the fire. Jyll covered the bed with unstained sheets. Jyll tossed Ranee a shift to cover herself. Then Jyll and Sucat had sex in the bed leaving fresh, unbloodied signs of sex on the sheets. Then Jyll left to call the witnesses to the room.
When they came to inspect the signs of the consummation, the Baron sat in his chair with Ranee sitting quietly on his lap. When he poked his dagger in her back, she dutifully smiled for their guests. Once everyone was satisfied with their look at the sheets and outraged at the lack of blood and Hyd's role in the matter, and complimenting on the Baron's forbearance in taking damaged goods, everyone left for the hall again.
"Go to bed, wife," said Sucat. "Your role this day is complete."
Back in the hall and seated at the head of his table, Baron Sucat gave the signal to have his cousin and prisoner brought before him for trial. Jyll gave witness that she saw Hyd attacking Ranee in the bleach house. Sucat asked the assembled guests if any of them had seen blood on the bed's sheets and of course no one had. Sucat asked his father-in-law if he thought his daughter would disobey him by running away. The Margrave could conceive of no such thing. The prisoner was given no opportunity to speak.
"As much as it pains me to do this, I fear I have no choice," said the Baron. "For your abduction of an innocent maid and because you raped her and deprived me of my pure bride, I sentence you, Hyd, Count Stahl, to death by hanging. Your sentence to be carried out this very evening."
Before he was even removed from the hall, the revelling began. Wenches squealed as their bottoms were pinched by men when they were served their ale if they were soldiers and wine if they were titled gents. The alcohol was flowing fast and free. Hyd had no doubt he would be hung but judging by the amount of ale being sloshed around, he did not think it would be tonight.
Hyd, unable to stand on his own from the beating he had received upon his cousin's orders, was dragged off and locked back in his prison.
His bruises and injuries did not show as they were to his back and ribs. His cousin, Sucat, during his morning visit to Hyd, had ordered the guards to beat Hyd while he was bound and defenseless. Sucat had stood by telling Hyd about his plans for Hyd and Ranee, going on in detail about how he planned to rape Ranee as he was sure she would not go willingly along with his plans. He talked about how he preferred to dominate women who fought him and that he was getting quite expert at it. Sucat watched his cousin closely as he was kicked and beaten about his ribs and stomach, back and thighs, chuckling to himself as several blows landed to the genitals. While the blows were severe, Sucat did not allow too many as he wanted Hyd to be conscious during his trial.
He lay in the filthy straw on the dirt floor, trying to figure out how he was going to get away, thinking that this time there may not be a way. He felt bad for the girl who had gotten caught up in his feud with Hyd although he realised she was a pawn in Sucat's plans to get more property and gold. His bravado could only get him so far. In the shape he was in he could barely move on his own and putting on a brave front before the assembled judges had taken all of his energy. Well, he could at least rest for the night.
His guards were grumbling about how unfair it was they were missing the celebration. They talked about opening up his cell and beating him more because it was his fault they were not upstairs drinking with their fellow soldiers. Hyd didn't think he could survive another beating, especially from four very angry and sober men. He went off in his mind, thinking about home when he heard the keys scrapping on the lock. Perhaps thinking of better times would dull some of the pain he knew was coming but he wouldn't count on it too much.
He was dreaming of a hunt they had had not too long ago, as he heard Eadward,his groom who was also his best friend and illegitimate half brother, calling hello in the distance. He sounded drunk but Eadward never drank. It was this conundrum that brought Hyd back to reality.
Hyd heard a voice in the hall calling to his guards and the voice did sound drunk and it did sound like his brother Eadward but the guards were answering back as if they knew him. The beating must have damaged Hyd's brain after all, because now he heard Eadward's voice drunkenly singing a lewd song and his voice was joined by two other voices that also sound familiar. The song broke off and Hyd heard Eadward's voice call to the guards as they got closer.
"Brothers in arms," said Eadward's voice, "we have brought you ale from the celebration. You are to go up to the hall and enjoy a bit of fun for a spell while we relive you."
It sounded to Hyd like the men had fallen into the guards as there was a loud thud against his cell door. Then Hyd heard the guards shout but they were cut off by the sound of breaking pottery and flesh being pounded by flesh.
Hyd could only listen as his chains and injuries would not allow him to stand to look through the small window of his cell door. There fighting went on with calls for aid from the guards quickly drowned out by the sound of bodies hitting walls and steel scraping steel. Hyd nearly went mad with not knowing what was happening in the passage outside of his cell. He dared not hope that some how Eadward had discovered he was being held prisoner and he had come to rescue Hyd with some of his men.
Soon the sounds of fighting ceased to be followed by grunting and the sounds of scraping and dragging. Lying on the ground, Hyd rolled to his side and looked at the door. Eadward's face appeared in the small window space. Hyd had never been so glad to see all of that crinkled red hair in his life. Bits of Eadward's beard poked through the window as he grinned at Hyd.
"We've come to rescue you, dear brother," he said. "Get thee to thy feet."
"I can't" said Hyd, "I am trussed like a pig to the slaughter."
"Hindering my efforts as usual." Eadward laughed as he unlocked the door to the cell.
"You do like to make me life interesting." Eadward came in to the small room, his large bulk taking up space in the most comforting way. He helped Hyd to sit up, Hyd grunting in pain.
"See here," said Eadward, "Have you gotten yourself beaten again by that rascal of a cousin of ours?" He unlocked Hyd's manacles at wrist and ankle.
"I know you are the better man, but sometimes it just does not look like it."
Hyd glared at his brother. As glad as he was to see him right now, Eadward sure could be annoying. He laughed at everything although he found so very little really funny. Hyd supposed it was Eadward's way of dealing with the the problems that had always seemed to come up for them. Eadward told jokes and funny stories to make light of their troubles.
"Help me up," said Hyd. "It does seem that I am always at Sucat's mercy in one way or another, but we don't have time to talk about my short comings now. He intends to hang me as soon as he can manage it."
"Well, then let us be gone from this place." Eadward reached under Hyd's arms grimacing as Hyd winced in pain. He lifted Hyd's shirt and gasped out loud.
"Leave it for now," Hyd said. "The bruises and broken bones will heal. A snapped neck is forever."
Eadward had brought John and Stephan with him to aid in the rescue. As Eadward freed Hyd and helped him out of the cell, John and Stephan gagged and tied the four guards and dragged them into the cell. They locked the door and collected the guards weapons and followed Hyd and Eadward out of the cellars. They moved slowly because of Hyd's injuries and they expected to be stopped any moment by other guards.
The court yard was silent in sharp contrast to the loud noises coming from the hall. The doors to the hall stood open to the night and the light from the fires and the candles and lanterns pooled at the foot of the steps leading into the hall. They heard minstrels playing harps and pipes. Men shouted for more ale and more meat and they were answered by the laughter of women who sounded as drunk as the men.
Their horses stood just around the corner from the hall entrance in an alley way between the hall and the building that housed the cellars and other storage areas.
They were just entering the alley when a pair of soldiers with a buxom wench sandwiched between them came staggering out of the hall and headed in their direction. It was impossible for Hyd to hurry. His injuries did not allow him to move normally. He had to hunch over to walk. He was sure ribs were broken, but the sound to the soldiers coming towards them added some urgency to his step.
By the time he reached his horse, he was sweating and shaking. He had no idea how he was going to get up on the nag. He stood by Steel's smooth grey side, gripping the horse's mane tightly to keep himself from falling. The huge war horse did not move a muscle. He simply looked back at his master and waited patiently for Hyd to decide what he would do.
"You've got to get up on that horse," said Eadward. "The guards are almost upon us."
"I don't think I can manage," said Hyd. It cost him to admit that he was too beat up to go on.
"Leave without me."
"I think not, brother of mine. If you do not get your arse on the horse, I will tell you my latest yarn and you will die from the pain of laughter."
"Please do not torture me so. I have been through enough for one day. The three of you will need to help me, if I am to get up on this beast of mine."
Hyd grunted with effort and pain as Eadward, John and Stephan pushed and shoved and lifted Hyd up his horse. Eadward was pushing Hyd up, leveraging his shoulder under Hyd's ass when the soldiers and their girl rounded the corner. Hyd sort of sat on Eadward's shoulder while John and Stephan waited for the other men to notice them. They were so busy with their hands and mouths on the wenches breasts that they only looked up and saw Hyd and his group when the woman let out a squeal of surprise.
The two groups stood staring at each other for several breaths and then the soldiers attempted to sober up enough to release the woman, who feel on her butt in the mud. She screamed in indignation while the two soldiers pulled their knives from their belts. They had left their swords in the hall, not thinking they would need them when they went a-whoring.
John and Stephan engaged the soldiers while Eadward gave a great push on Hyd's backside and shoved him up on his horse. John and Stephan were not having any problems with the soldiers as they were so drunk they tripped over them selves but the woman had begun screaming in a half hearted way and she was scrambling to get up and make a run for it. The bulk of her body and the bulk of her skirts hampered her progress but if Eadward didn't get to her soon, they would be caught.
Just as he got close to her, she yelped and tried to turn and run but the soldier Stephan was fighting tripped over his loose breaches and stumbled into Eadward who fell on top of the escaping wench knocking her over backwards into the mud once again. Eadward landed with his face between her breasts and the struggling soldier splayed across Eadward's back.
The woman had stopped screaming. Once Eadward was able to dislodge his face from her cleavage, he could breath again. John and Stephan gagged and tied the two soldiers and placed them in a corner. Eadward heaved himself off of the wench and helped her up. She tried to pull him back into her bosom and he called for some help from his compatriots. They stood back laughing at him until the woman decided they were laughing at her and she began screaming again. Eadward jumped on her covering her mouth with his hands. John and Stephan finally came over with a gag and some rope and added the woman to the pile of the two soldiers.
Hyd looked on, his smile more a grimace, because he hurt himself when he laughed at his three rescuers. They brushed themselves off and caught their breaths.
"You find us most entertaining, do you brother?"
"I believe you will have another great tale to tell, Eadward."
"Let's not think on that now," Said Eadward. "We have wasted enough time with these follies."
Eadward, John and Stephan mounted their horses and pulled their heads in the direction of the fields they need to cross to make their escape.
"Wait," said Hyd. He moved closer to Eadward. "We have to rescue the girl."
Eadward narrowed his eyes as he looked at Hyd. He shook his head, his bushing red hair, mustaches and beard trembling with his unhappiness.
"Don't look at me like that," said Hyd.
"What girl?" Eadward's voice was low and rough. He was not happy. They had been so close to escape.
"The girl that Sucat married and raped on her wedding day."
"Oh, that girl," said Eadward. "Why is there always a girl?"
"Why do we need to rescue this girl?" asked Eadward.
"We can not leave her to Sucat," said Hyd. "He told me he raped her after they had married and that he enjoyed hurting her."
"If they are married, there is nothing you can do."
"I can't leave her. I think she was trying to escape when I ran into her in the laundry shed. It's my fault she was caught."
"Do you even know her name?"
"What do names have to do with anything? Let's get her and go."
"Where is she being held?" asked John. He sat patiently on his horse. He was used to these kinds of escapades that Hyd and Eadward got themselves into. He just wanted to know what the plan was going to be. His stomach was grumbling. He hadn’t eaten since morning, being called from his woman’s bed by Eadward’s need to rescue his brother. John and Stephan were close friends with Hyd and Eadward. They all grew up together on Hyd’s father’s estates. He had never known a titled man who willing embraced his illegitimate brother the way Hyd did. Hyd even had Eadward’s mother running his household.
Eadward looked at Hyd.
"You don't even know where she is, do you?"
"Well, not exactly."
“So how do we find her?” Eadward didn’t bother to argue with Hyd. Eadward wanted to find the girl too. Both he and Hyd liked rescuing people in trouble but they especially liked taking things or people from their cousin Sucat, Baron Briefadel, just to add piss to his pot. Sucat had never acknowledged Eadward as a family member, so of course Eadward could not like, let alone love Sucat the way he did Hyd, but Sucat’s cruelty and constant trying to get the better of everyone made Eadward hate him. He would do whatever he could to mess up Sucat’s plans.
“Would he not keep his new bride in his rooms?” said Stephan. “At least for tonight while guests and strangers were about to witness the proceedings.” Stephan liked a bit of mischief too. His wife liked a good story when he finally got home. She didn’t care much if he went off on his adventures. He brought home enough gold to keep her happy, they got on well when in bed and the rest of the time they left each other to their own devices.
“A good point, Stephan,” said Hyd. “See, Eadward, already our plan begins to take shape. We have a place to look. Let us proceed.”
“Hyd you are in no shape to go a-rescuing,” said Eadward. “You can barely stay on your horse.”
“I must go. She has never seen any of you before, but she has seen me.”
“Is this girl someone you know?”
“When did she see you, then?”
“She saw me when I was arrested.”
“That aught to give her a sense of confidence in us then.” Eadward took the reins of his horse. “Let’s find a place to hide the horses while we go get your girl. Then we’ll go in through the kitchens and find a way up to the master’s rooms. Let’s hope the revelers are drunk enough to cover us as we make our rescue.”
Hyd groaned as he lifted his leg to get off of his horse. Eadward, John and Stephan looked on with smiles as Hyd fell to the ground. Hyd thought he even heard some snickers from the trussed up soldiers and their doxy. The laughter hurt more than the actual injuries.
They led their horses around the back of the hall and tied them to a post they found by the back entrance to the kitchens.
It was decided that Stephan would go in first since he had a certain way with women. They all seemed to love him on sight. He entered the kitchens. Hyd, Eadward and John waited by the entrance. It wasn’t long before Stephan was poking his head out of the door and waving a quail leg at John.
“Hungry? Betsy has some good victuals in here waiting to be savored.”
Stephan ducked back in not waiting for them to join him. They were right behind him. Upon entering they were surrounded by scullery maids and under cooks and Cook. The women stood looking at the men as if they had never seen any before. They were given meat and drink, stewed apples and fresh bread dripping with sweet cream.
“What’s going on?” John asked. He was having a hard time talking properly because he had so much food stuffed in his mouth.
“They are just happy to be around some men who are not trying to grope them all of the time,” said Stephan.
“I wish my stomach didn’t hurt so much,” said Hyd. “This food is really good.” He smiled at Cook who came over to him and touched his ribs. He flinched and let out a yelp.
“Take off your shirt, sir and I will bind you,” said Cook. “I have been treating ailments most of my life.”
While the other three ate their fill, Hyd took Cook up on her offer. It might mean the difference between getting caught and getting safely away. Cook had one of the sculleries rip up cotton toweling into strips that Cook wound around his ribs. She bound him up tight making it a bit hard for him to breath deeply but the pain lessened a lot.
By the time she was done, the others had finished eating. Stephan was off to the side talking to one of the housemaids. She was smiling at him like he was her long lost love. He stroked her cheek and gave her a chaste peck on the cheek, then joined John, Eadward and Hyd.
“The girl, Ranee is her name, by the way, is in Sucat’s chambers. He has her locked in and the doors are guarded by two very sober soldiers. Sindee says there is a back stair to the upper floors just behind the pantry. It leads first to the privy, which she says has a secret door into Sucat’s private bed chamber. Sindee says it is never guarded because only the sculleries use it as a short cut when carrying out the ashes when cleaning the fire places. Sucat doesn’t even know it’s there. The help does not carry for their master. He is harsh with them. They like to make life difficult for him, too.”
“We will not get them more involved than they are now,” said Hyd. “Once we are shown this door, no one is to be around us so he can not blame them.”
The four men pulled their knives for weapons.
“Sindee, can you show us the way?” said Stephan.
The house maid led the way up the back stairs. They moved quietly up the steps in single file with the young dark haired girl holding her skirts so she would not trip and fall. When they reached the top they entered the hall door to the privy. The privy seats, four in all, ran along the outside wall of the room, the chutes emptying out over a half moat. To the left of the seats were shelves where Sucat’s tunics and leggings were stored, the smell from the privy protecting the cloth from moths.
Next to the shelves, they could just make out the lines of the secret door. Sindee showed them how to press on the door so it would open. Stephan kissed her on the forehead and sent her back down to the kitchens. They popped open the door and entered Sucat’s bed chamber.
Ranee stood over by the main door to the room with a ceramic jug raised to throw but she had expected men to enter from the front door and not from a side wall.
She lowered the jug but did not move or speak. She just stared at the four large men who invaded what little space and peace of mind she had left.
Hyd moved forward and she recognized him as the man who was accused of raping her.
“Have they let you go?”
“Not willingly,” said Hyd. “Come, we must leave this place, quickly and quietly.”
“No,” she said and moved back a step.
“You do not want to leave this place?”
“Yes, you do not want to leave or yes, you want to stay?”
“What are you two saying?” asked Eadward. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Just dress and gather your belongings. We are leaving.”
“These are my only clothes and I have no belongings.”
Stephan ducked back into the privy and came back with a tunic and leggings. He walked over to Ranee and handed her the clothing.
“Put these on quickly,” he said. “We must be off before anyone comes looking for you.”
She did not ask for the men to turn around. After what she had already been through, she had no more modesty left. She pulled the leggings on under her sleeping gown. She turned around and pulled the gown off over her head and replaced it with a soft wool tunic brushed into a smooth cream color.
She found a pair of light boots warming by the hearth. They were a bit long but they would protect the soles of her feet. She had no idea where she was going but any place was better than here.
Hyd went over to the hearth mantel, lifted something from its surface and placed it in the pouch at his waste.
“Are we ready, children?” asked Hyd. “Well, ready or not, we must be off.”
They all went back out the privy’s secret door, Ranee in the middle of the line: John, Stephan, Ranee, Hyd and Eadward. Eadward closed the door quietly and followed the rest of his group into the hall. They made it into the kitchens without incidence.
They stopped long enough to take the bread and cheese Cook had wrapped up for them. Cook also gave Ranee some roasted meat since Ranee had not eaten since yesterday. They went to the back door to the kitchen to leave, exiting in the same order that they left the bed chamber, Eadward last in line as before.
“Well, if it isn’t the pretender to the family.”
Eadward turned around to the voice of Sucat.
“Cousin,” said Eadward, adding a pronounced sneer to the word.
“Do not call me that.” Sucat screamed, spittle flying from his mouth and rolling down his chin.