[excerpt from work in progress; 740 words]

The guards led her line of chained women to the edge of camp for their “opportunity to empty bladder and bowels”. That cursed slaver tried to sound so civilized! Dark Gods take him! Why hasn’t someone slit his throat yet? The slaver wasn’t to be seen, and Briath looked at the guard. He was busy trimming his nails with a large knife. He was trying too hard to look intimidating. He looked foolish. Her female companions were doing their best to ignore her and pretend they were alone while they delivered the contents of bladder and bowels onto the leaf strewn ground. She wedged herself between two large roots and slipped her leather pouch out from under her shirt without anyone noticing. She quickly shoved it in a gap under one of the roots and scooped leaf litter and soil over it. Not the best hiding job, but no one here would notice and no one would be eager to investigate the stinking tree later. She was busy making certain of that when the guard barked “Done!” and jerked the first woman on the chain to her feet.

Briath made certain she could find the spot again, looking at the land marks as she stumbled along behind the other women and noting how the place looked now in the autumn and imagining how it might look at the height of summer. It may be a while before she returned, but return she would. The Moon Goddess had given her a token and it grieved her to leave it behind. Stashing it here and being separated from it was painful, but far better than letting these nasty dogs have it.

Briath’s fitful sleep was disturbed by a string of curses from one of the guards followed by a woman’s scream. The guards woke them with harsh kicks. Never mind that they were all awake and very aware of what would happen next. The guard, she’d named this one Barky, stoked the fire while another guard, whom she’d dubbed Bigdick, dragged a woman into the firelight. He threw her to the ground and kicked her in the head and pointed at the stunned woman. “She tried to escape. Watch her punishment.”

She tried to rise and he slapped her to the ground. Briath hugged her knees to her chest and started to rock. She could not help the woman. In the back of her throat, low and quiet, she hummed a song to the Goddess. Bigdick opened his pants and the woman tried to run again. Briath forced herself to watch. She would be a witness as she had for all the others. She would remember each woman and her gifts and each guard and his gifts. When the time came, when she was able, each stroke of her knife would deliver a cut to each man for each horror delivered to each woman ending with a death blow for each man. She continued to rock and hum. Tears washed down Briath’s face and her body shook with repressed rage and revulsion as Bigdick grabbed the scrambling woman around the waist, deftly shoved her tattered dress aside, and entered her from behind. She screamed and thrashed. Bigdick pushed the woman’s face into the dirt and continued to grind into her. Her thrashing changed into sobs and painful moans. When he was done, he kicked her away from him out of the firelight. Barky dragged the limp woman to their line and chained her. “She must like me an awful lot!” Bigdick said as he stuffed himself back into his pants. “That’s the third time she’s tried to escape. That’s her last chance, ladies. Another escape and she’s what my boss calls a ‘liability’. Liabilities are disposed of.” He snorted with amusement. “After all the guards enjoy them!” and he guffawed. “Anybody else want to please me tonight?” Complete silence greeted his question, not even the sounds of night animals in the trees could be heard. “Sure?” he said leering at Briath. She looked at the ground. “I’ll be ready in five minutes!” he said shoving his groin in the face of a woman to Briath’s left. The poor woman collapsed in a faint. Bigdick laughed all the way back to his sleeping place.

“Sleep!” Barky ordered. The rest of the women obeyed and quiet sobs could be heard among the group. Briath rested on her back and looked up at the stars in the moonless sky. Dear Goddess, she prayed, deliver us all.


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