York, 883 A.D.
The air smelled like the sea, the kelp had washed onto the shore, creating a pungent smell of salt and decay. To some, such a scent would be repulsive, but to the girl on the cliffs, it was comforting.
Aiya sat at her usual spot on the cliff overlooking the ocean. She sat there often in the morning before her chores began and in the evenings before bed, there her thoughts and emotions were private. There she could sit and gaze out to sea, wondering about what adventures lay out there and if there was more to life than just servitude.
“Up here again Aiya?”
She didn’t need to turn around, as the owner of that familiar voice was undoubtedly her dearest friend. “Noah, you know I come up here to be alone.” He crouched down next to her, uncertainty on his comely face as he peered at the beautiful sunset.
“The village of Greeta was raided by Vikings last eve.”
“Vikings?” That can’t be, Vikings have not raided these shores since before we were born.”
She glanced at Noah. “You don’t think they will come here, do you?”
“I don’t know.”
Noah had been her only real companion in all her years of servitude. He was dearer to her than life itself, a brother and a protector. He wasn’t like her though; he was the son of a poor farmer. Noah was poor but free. Aiya was a slave, bound to serve one Lord forever. Serve forever, or die. She worked, hard day in and day out for as long as she could remember. Her back and shoulders held many scars from the whip, reminders of her small moments of defiance. She felt almost free when she thwarted her masters. The crack of the whip no longer scared her, the torn flesh of her back was numb, and the pain was no more.
As the sun was setting, she knew she must return before someone came looking for her. She gave one last longing glance at the engaging horizon. Noah rested his hand on the back of her neck before he stood and stretched.
“Come on, I’ll walk you back.” He hated taking her back to that place. He hated what they did to her.
“No, don’t worry about it, you get home before your mother worries herself to death.” Noah gave a long sigh, running his fingers through his thick dark hair.
“You’re right, I better go.” She couldn’t help but smile. “Give her a kiss for me.” She waved as Noah walked back down the steep hill that led back to the small village.
She needed to get back to the castle before dark, or Lord Hemming would have another reason to lash her. He was fond of disciplining her.
He was not a good man and the people of York hated him for his neglect and cruelty.
She had only just walked through the door of the servants quarters when a shrill voice shot through her, making her stare with alarm.
“Aiya, Lord Hemming has demanded you be arrested!”
“Why? I have done nothing.”
Annie was a bit older than Aiya maybe by two or three years. To everyone else, she was quite cordial, but to Aiya, she always came across as condescending and impatient.
“Aiya, are you listening to me?! Lady Hemming has accused you of stealing!”
“Are you insane? I’ve stolen nothing.” She had not expected the door to slam open at that moment. Four castle guards stormed into the room, hideous scowls on their homely faces.
“You!” One of the guards yelled as he approached her. “To the castle with you!” He took her by the arm, she could smell his body sweat through his armor and had to hold back the urge to make a face of disgust.
“What do you think men? Should we have a tumble with the thief first before the Lord has her punished?” The men laughed, stepping closer to her. She tried to pull away but the man’s grip was too strong, her struggling caused the men to laugh harder.
Annie stood staring on in horror, Aiya wasn’t her favorite person but she would never wish this upon the girl. With the guard’s attention fully on Aiya, she was able to slip away.
The other three men circled around her, their hands reaching out and groping at her. She bit her lip when the guard holding her stuck his hand under her dress. She tried to scream out but he clasped his hand over her mouth as she struggled to free herself from his grasp. She bit into his hand causing him to scream out in pain and release her. When her mouth was free she spit into his face, she never took her eyes from his even when his hand flew back behind him, when it connected with her face, her eyes watered.
Aiya was taken to the castle. She wasn’t taken to the to the dungeons, she was taken directly to Lord Hemming’s rooms; Paintings and fine rugs lay about the dwellings, things that must have been quite costly, things she could never dream of owning. While the villagers struggle to pay taxes that rose steeper every month this man lived like a king, along with his cruel wife and spoiled daughters.
“Good Eve, Aiya.” He sat at an extravagantly carved wood desk, papers littering its shiny surface.
“Good Eve, my Lord.”
“I’ve been informed that my lovely wife’s prize ruby necklace has gone missing; you have been the only servant in and out of her chambers.”
As he spoke he stood from his desk, moving towards her until he stood right in front of her. She could smell liquor and rotting flesh on his breath, and she did her best to not gag.
“What say, you girl?” When she did not answer he shouted, “Speak!”
He gripped her arm, “Forgive me my Lord, but I believe Lady Rose had entered the chambers after-” Aiya felt a hot sting across her cheek, she could feel the bruise beginning to form.
“How dare you blame my daughter! She is neither liar nor thief!”
“Perhaps you would learn obedience better in the stocks? Beatings don’t seem to be working.” A devilish grin came across his lips as he spoke, his eyes raking across her body.
She noticed his rotten yellow teeth. He was repulsive, a pig-like man; fat and pink, just like the swine he was.
“You really have grown into quite a beauty.” His lecherous hand reached out to stroke her cheek, she recoiled in revulsion.
He glared at her hard before continuing his incursion on her. “I will have you warming my bed this eve.” He jeered at her.
“I would rather rot.”
“You speak as though you have a choice.” At that moment Hemming lunged towards her pinning her to the wall with one fat hand covering her breast, his hot mouth on her throat leaving a slime trail where he touched her flesh. She brought her knee upwards, connecting with his groin, he crumpled to the floor cursing and calling for his guards. They stormed in through the door and seized her.
Hemming brought himself back to his feet and struck her across the cheek again. If the guards hadn’t been holding her she would have hit the floor. “I could hang you for that.” He was shaking from anger.
“I’m not finished with you yet!” Hemming said through clenched teeth. “Put her in the stocks! he yelled at his men.
The men dragged her from the room.
She was taken to the castle square. It was still too early for the villagers to begin work, for the sky was still dark. She was placed between two pieces of wood. Her head and hands were trapped, she was no stranger to such embarrassment.
The air was chilly and she could feel goosebumps creeping up her arms and legs, she gave a slight shiver and wished for a warm fire and a hot cup of tea. She heard faint footsteps in the distance, a soft gasp, and feet hurrying away. Her eyes remained pinned to the dirt floor of the castle courtyard until a familiar voice spoke.
“Aiya, what’s happened?”
“Oh thank God you’re here; Lord Hemming has accused me of stealing. When he tried to rape me, I hit him. Noah, I swear I never stole anything.”
“Hush, I believe you.” She heard him fiddling with the lock on the trap.
“Noah, don’t! If you’re caught trying to help me, the penalty is death! I could not bear that.”
“I’ll take my chances.” He then gave her a kiss, he had never done that before but it was the sweetest kiss in the world. Of course, she had nothing to compare it too.
“We haven’t much time before everyone wakes up.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“I was working in the armory this morning, Annie came and told me.”
She was shocked that it was Annie who had gone to find help. She would have to remember to thank her.
“Why were you in the armory? You’re no soldier.”
Noah was still working on the lock, using a sharp metal object to pick at the hold.
“Hemming is convinced Vikings are going to attack the North Shore any day…there I got it!” She heard the lock click, and before she could brace herself she was set free, falling to the ground with a muffled thump.
“Come on! We will head towards the river.” He took her hand.
They made their way to the stables staying low, there was a small door leading out to the fields that they would use to get out of the castle. The fields were tall and overgrown; it would provide cover for them from the castle walls and prying eyes.
When they reached the river, not a boat was in sight for their use.
“Now what do we do? They will soon notice my absence.” Aiya’s voice was shaky.
“Just stay dow.” Noah’s eyes were alert as he scanned their surroundings, something was off. The silence that lurked around them was eerie.
“Noah, I don’t think we can go this way. Maybe we sh–”
“Quiet!” He cut her off. “I need to listen.”
“We need to keep moving, let’s go,” She tried to tug on him, but when she stood to leave, his arms shot up around her body and one of his hands clasped over her mouth. He brought both of their bodies back down to the ground, to hide them under the overgrown foliage.
Before she could protest again, the storm hit. What seemed to be a giant two-headed dragon drifted silently up the river, one of its heads in the front leading the vessel and another in the back, watching the tail. It floated so silently down the foggy river it was like it came straight from hell, or one of her nightmares. Three more dragon ships followed just as silent as the first, not a soul in sight. She had seen such a ship in her darkest dreams, dreams that left her drenched in sweat, her screams piercing the darkness.
Without warning, hands shot out from the bushes to stifle their screams of alarm. No matter how hard they fought, the almost invisible hands would not release them. Before they knew what had happened the castle was back in view and they were thrown to the feet of Hemming himself.
“My Lord, we found them down by the river.”
She gazed up to find him sneering down at her, he made her skin crawl. “Vikings are ready to attack the North Shore, Sire.” The guard bowed and began to ready his men for battle. “Good, about time for some excitement, I’ve grown disinterested in my day to day life. I’m sure you can understand that Aiya.” He grabbed her by the chin and she jerked from his touch.