I slept naked that night, the bleeding sores on my back were on fire. I slept. I tried to sleep. He always beat me. One little thing wrong. Even if the people saw it not, he did and he would beat me. I was tired of it. So, so tired.
I sat up. Slowly I dressed myself. I will try and leave. My mother tried to leave. He killed her. Fed her to the lions. I. I must leave, and now is the time.
I quietly snuck out of my tent, and looked around. Three of the guards were still awake, near the centre fire. Some cries were coming from the ring masters tent – my fathers tent – and I wondered who he was shagging tonight. Was she one of us? Or was she just some poor wretch from a nearby village. Who knew. Who really cared. No one stopped him, no one bothered. To the people he was a blessing. A kind old man, entertaining the masses for just a few copper or silver coins. Even the tax-collectors liked him, although I doubt he ever paid in coin.
Some of the folks, the entertainers, were slaves. Fully and wholly owned by him. I felt sorry for them, to be at his mercy. At least, some part of him recognised me as his kin and while punishment was hard and fast, the others got far worse. Even the guards were punished at times. Several over the last year actually vanished. Bet the lions ate well on them too.
Now. Now Ymber.
I snuck hurriedly passed the guards who were belching and laughing in a drunken stupor. I ducked behind a cart and then tumbled softly behind another tent, hoping the light of the fire wouldn’t silhouette me inside. I didn’t stay their for long. Jumped over a small crate and landed behind a few bigger ones. Quietly I took some supplies and a leather satchel. Should keep me going for a bit I thought.
A girl came crying out of his tent, her clothing torn, her face beaten and bleeding. I bit back my anger. I wanted to go in there, take a guards spear and shove it into his heart. But I couldn’t, I stopped myself from moving as the guards grabbed her. She cried and screamed again as her night of torment was only just beginning.
While they were distracted with the young lass, I sped across the clearing towards the main ‘gate’ of our compound. Father always set up the camps in the same way. The larger wagons and cages formed outside walls and a single gate, guarded at all times, to control the flow of traffic. Tonight, it would be my last obstacle. I ducked behind a lonely tree just as the two guards by the gate turned around at the sound of the screaming girl.
A moment later, and the screaming stopped with a sudden thud. I knew she would not live tonight, and nothing I could do would save her. I gave up praying ages ago, but this night I prayed for her death to be swift.
The guards did not budge. Curses. I was hoping they would leave their post. Now. Hmm. That wagon. Storage I think. I crept silently up to it, and then climbed on top. My naked foot digging into the canvas, and letting out an audible tearing sound. I gasped, and pulled myself up, waiting, listening.
“Thought I heard something” the closer guard said, and I heard the sound of his crossbow been loaded. I laid there, quietly waiting. My back was burning sore and tears filled my eyes. Hungry, tired, and in pain. I bit it all back, and pushed myself further.
I heard him step onto the wheel of the wagon, and I quickly and quietly rolled off the top, landing softly on the ground on the other side at the same time the wheel creaked under the guards weight.
I let out a breath, and scampered away from the road and hid in a patch of bushes. I waited there, silently watching through narrowed eyes. The guard returned to his post and within a few moments they were relieved by the other guards. The girl was silent. I barely heard one say: “Best take your turn while she’s still warm.”
I nearly vomited in my anger and disgust. To think that these men may have wives and may even have daughters somewhere. I shudder to think what they do to the women they love. If they love.
I left as the sounds in the camp died down, and headed under a cloak of darkness to the nearby city. Nearby, but it was a good mile or two away at least. I hustled. Half running, half walking the entire distance to the city.
To my surprise the city doors were shut for the night. Odd I thought at first. But I had no choice now to wait till dawn and hope that no one missed me in the night. One advantage I had was my own tent and the ‘off limits’ command my father gave to any men and women who worked for him. He even had a stable hand hung for theft after the boy and I explored sins of the flesh. I miss him. The boy that loved me.
I shook the memory away. Waited. Waited in darkness. As the first ray of light peaked out from behind a distant mountain, I heard the door unlock and began to open. I also heard and saw a wagon coming down the road. Cannot be them I thought, but I wasn’t willing to take the risk.
I approached the gate. “Tithe” the guard said. “Gate tax is 3 coppers lass.” he said looking me up and down with a slightly curled lip. I was not dressed well and probably appeared to be some kind of beggar or peasant.
“Will you take some of this bread and salted herrings?” I pleaded, realising that I had no coins.
The guard smiled. “Sure”.” he said, taking more than half my food. I knew it was too much, but I didn’t care. The sound of the wagon grew closer and I had to get into the cover of the city.
“Go on in.” he said, and slapped my behind gently as I walked nervously into the city. I yelped, softly at his hand on my bum. “Hang on” he called after me. I swallowed hard, and turned around. “Please sir, let me go…”
Actual concern was on his face and the other guard. They looked at each other and then he gestured for me to leave. I realised that the blood must have stained my shirt. I nodded in thanks, and saw the wagon approaching the gate. One of my father’s guards!
I vanished, quickly ducking into an alley way and disappearing into the city.