Not A Takeaway Wench (short story)

Hastings

Saxon Story #3

The housecarl reined in his steaming pony on the summit of a low hillock surrounded by muddy fields of tilled earth. As he and Breya dismounted, they heard the peaceful gurgle of an ambling brook on the far side of the mound. The man removed his helmet and set it on the saddle-horn.

“Look there, lass.” The housecarl said. “That’ll be your new lord come to take possession of his lands.”

They had already traveled some leagues from the hamlet where Breya had been born, an unwanted burden left on a herdsman’s daughter by a marauding Norseman. Outside the mead hall where she had worked her elbows raw atoning for the sins of her father, a man in shining armor gestured here and there from atop a proud black mare.

Even as men-at-arms and lowborn knights battered in the doors of Saxon hovels, Norman serfs with bows across their backs set about marking a great square on the village common with lengths of white-dyed rope.

“What are those men doing?” Breya asked.

Her eyes were wide and appalled, having just born witness to the stable world she was brought up in spun around on its head. Everything in her life had fallen apart in what seemed like mere moments since the housecarl had brought news of King Harold’s defeat.

But the emerald hills and ancient trees of the landscape were unchanged by conquest. She clung to these like a drowning sailor to length of timber.

“They’re preparing to build your new lord’s keep.” The Saxon warrior replied. “Why don’t you run down and ask whether he wants your bedchamber built beside his kennel or the soldier’s barracks?”

Boiling rage rumbled in the pit of Breya’s stomach. The housecarl had every right to call her bastard-born and a frightened church mouse. He had done so already. But she was no man’s dog or whore.

“Aren’t we going to ride on before someone sees us?” She asked.

Breya had to concentrate all of her willpower on keeping her tongue civil. However vulgar the brute was, his sword was all that kept her from the suffering now being inflicted on her neighbors. She clenched her fists and dug sharp fingernails into her palms.

“Is that how it is?” The housecarl asked. “Aye, you’ll be my wench and I’ll take you away on my horse, for a night or two. After that it’ll be you alone and me on my way. I’m married to this steel,” He patted the scabbard at his hip as he spoke. “And none other.”

She could not help it, try as she might to resist the fury of the Norse heart which thundered in her chest. Breya snatched up the housecarl’s heavy iron helm and cracked its smooth, rounded top against the side of his skull.

“I’m no taking-away wench.” She spat.

The bearded warrior looked surprised, perhaps even amused for a moment. Then his legs went soft as lard and his eyes rolled up in his head. The links of his mail coat rattled as his tall body met the hard earth with a crash like a felled oak.

His mind was shaken loose of its hinges, Breya thought, but he would awaken soon. If he did not, she was damned to eternal torment.

Breya hauled her tired body up into the saddle and kicked her heels into the pony’s flanks. They were soon throwing up great clods of earth as they cantered through the wild meadows bordering the stream. The beast’s thick neck and powerful body heaved beneath her, saliva forming a thick lather where the bridle bit the corners of its mouth.

If she had been thinking calmer thoughts, she might have wondered where she was going. The path she followed led only away, and that was no true bearing at all.

PART 4

You can read Saxon Story #1 here.

Keep an eye out for my historical novel Vikingravailable on Amazon Kindle.

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