Thursday, 25 July 2013

What price freedom?

Standing waiting for the sale to start it all feels like a dream. I hold Nathan tightly. He is covered by a muslin cloth to protect him from the baking heat and to stop prying eyes. There has been a rumour that today’s sale will be extra special but no one knows exactly why yet.

I first came to the market three years ago. I am pale skinned for an Arab and the owner’s son had decided that made me fair game. I had always been courteous and never given him cause to think of me as anything more than a slave. It had all happened on Mid-summer’s eve, as I was leaning over the watering hole filling one of my jugs, the three boys entered the clearing.

‘Hello Serena, waiting for us I see,’ said John, the Master’s son.

‘Just fetching water, Master John,’ I said keeping my eyes turned to the ground.

‘Well as you’re here why not stay?’ he patted a log and indicated I should sit.

‘I have to go Master. Mother is waiting for the water.’

‘I said sit.’

Knowing better than to disobey, I sat down next to him, keeping my eyes turned to the floor. He turned and placed his hand under my chin, turning my head so I faced him.

‘Come on Serena you know you want to.’

Suddenly his lips were on mine, his tongue forcing itself into my mouth. I gagged and bit down on the slimy mass filling my mouth.


I started to run but the other two boys were on me before I had chance to make it out of the clearing. I struggled but his friends held me tight. The more I struggled the more they seemed to enjoy it.

‘Oh look at her squirm. We know you want a piece of the action. You walk round with your wiggles and your sly looks, now you can have what you’ve always wanted.’ I was forced to the floor and John slowly started to undo his belt as he walked towards me. I thrust and bucked but I couldn’t move far with the weight of the other two boys holding me down.

‘Oh she’s a live one this one,’ one of the other boys laughed.  The other boys were either side of me and they forced my legs apart as John, his trousers round his ankles lunged onto me. I struggled hard but it was no use.

‘Please don’t. Let me go,’ I cried but they were too involved to hear or care. I felt the tears roll down my cheek as he thrust into me for the first time. I closed my mind, the pain was unreal, sharp and stabbing every thrust sending pain into my soul. As I focused on the full moon shinning through the trees, I could see the leaves moving in unison with the thrusts. The leaves moving faster and faster. Then with one huge thrust and an animal grunt he collapsed on top of me. Thank god it was over.

‘Come on John, let the rest of us have a go,’ said the boy to my left. What? Surely that was it. Not again. I realised they would not be happy until they all had taken a turn and then who knew what they would do to me. I lay very still and gathered all my strength knowing that my life may depend upon what happened in the next few seconds. As John got off and was try to pull up his trousers the boy whose turn it was next let go of my arm and started to undo his. They had decided I was not going to cause any more fuss and they weren’t paying too much attention. As the second boy move towards me and started to lower himself I quickly heaved my knee straight into his balls. He fell and the other two were too shocked to react. I was racing back to the village and safety before they even had chance to realise what had happened.

 Many months later I realised I was pregnant. There was nothing I could do. No one would believe it was the Master’s son’s baby and unless it was a boy no one would want it anyway. My mother pleaded with the Master to allow me to visit my aunt on a plantation in the next valley. She explained that the Aunt was sick and needed my help. He only let me go on the understanding the rest of my family would have to do my work. Lashings where promised if we fell behind.

So I headed off to see my Aunt. She had brought her freedom many years before and lived in a mud hut on the outskirts of town. She helped me through the birth and when the baby was just a few days old we took him to the market. The Master’s son was blonde and I was pale so luckily the baby looked white. The bidding for a blonde, blue eyed male baby was good and we made ten thousand tokens. I left the money with my Aunt and travel back to help my family to meet their quota.

When I returned everything was as normal until the Lord of the Three Valleys decreed that, in this modern age, slaves should be given the right to buy themselves out of their contract. Some masters had always allowed this to happen but most set the fee so high that it was impossible to ever reach the target. To buy out our family it would cost twenty five thousand tokens. As slaves we earned five tokens a day, but I had ten thousand tokens saved. As I sat wishing I had been able to get more for the baby things started to change.

‘Morning Serena,’ Henry called.

‘Morning,’ I smiled and waved. I had been lost in my thoughts and hadn’t really considered what I was doing. Henry had been one of the boys who had held me down on that fateful night. He came over and sat next to me.

‘Look Serena, I just wanted to say, well you know.’

I looked up at him and smiled. An idea was starting to materialise at the back of my mind.

‘Don’t worry Henry. I know that the other boys can get a little boisterous some times. You need to stand up to them.’

‘Oh Serena if only I could. You know how awful my life would be if I upset the rest of the guys.’ He started to cry and I let him rest his head on my shoulder. I slowly wrapped my arm around him and we kissed. Just then we heard a rustle in the trees and we pulled apart quickly. We were just in time as the rest of his little gang appeared.

‘Hello Serena. Want to join our gang again?’ said John as he emerged through the bushes.

I gathered up my skirts and ran as quickly as possible back towards our settlement, their cruel laughter ringing in my ears. I had to get away, I would never be truly safe whilst I was a slave in this village and those boys still thought they could take whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it.

 I lay awake for most of the night formulating my plan. Could it work? Could I do it? Would it all be worth it? By morning I had decided that nothing was more important that getting my family their freedom. My brother was starting to develop a stoop from all the manual farm work and he was only eight.

I spent the next few days making sure I was around when Henry was. A wave when he was alone, a shy little smile when he wasn’t. After two weeks some of the other boys had to go to see the Lord as part of their schooling. Henry was unwell and couldn’t attend. That’s what he told his father anyway. That night we met by the watering hole and consummated our friendship. It wasn’t so bad when you weren’t frightened and fighting for your life. Henry was young and excited by my attention and it was over in seconds. I held him for a few minutes and then made out I could hear something in the bushes so we had to part.

My mother was not happy when I told her I was pregnant again.

‘Serena, how can this have happened again?’ My mother asked.

‘Don’t you see mother this is perfect. I can travel to Aunt Babelar again and sell the baby at the market. With any luck I can get a little more for this one and we’ll be free.’

‘You should not have done this. It is wrong to treat yourself with so little respect.’

‘But how else can we raise the money? This way we can be free in six months.’

‘You will never be free. To give up one child is bad but with the circumstances… Well I understood. To give up another child! This will haunt you. Maybe not now but sometime your actions will cause you pain.’

‘Don’t be so silly mother. I have something the rich want and I’ll get them to pay for it.’

The master forbade me from taking another trip to see my supposedly ailing aunt so we agreed that I would buy myself out of the contract. This he said would cost seven thousand tokens but as I was the fittest in the family he was worried that they would not attain their target. He would give them six months at a reduced target because of my fee but after that if I had not returned they would need to hit the target or be punished. I knew I could make it back within the six months so I agreed. He also said that to buy out the rest of the family would be another twenty thousand tokens. I argued but he would not budge.

I sent word to my Aunt and two days later my cousin arrived with the money. As I set off my mother turned her back on me. I was doing this for her, for the family. Why couldn’t she see that?

The second baby was a girl. Unfortunately there was no call for girls at the market and she only fetched three thousand tokens. She would probably be used as a housemaid when she grew up but as a plaything for a nanny or cook whilst she was still young.

I didn’t know what to do as my time was running out and I still needed another fourteen thousand tokens. I had to have another baby.

Pietor was a quiet boy and never seemed to mix with the others. His hair was of the whitest blonde and his skin was almost translucent when the sun hit it. The other children thought he was something of a freak. I first saw Pietor at the prayer session one Saturday morning. I had no call for the god of the land owners but they insisted all attended and even after you had bought yourself out of your contract, to not attend would have been seen as disrespectful and would have led to a lashing in the town square.

I was late getting to the church and sneaked in at the last moment. The only chair left was at the back next to Pietor. I had not really seen him around before as he kept to himself and had to stay inside a lot of the time due to his skin. I smiled at him and sat down. As the service progressed we both mimed to the hymns and when it was time for the prayers we kneeled and he nudged me as I bowed my head.

‘Hi I’m Serena,’ I said. The preacher shouted so loudly during the prayer session that as long as we looked like we were praying no one would hear us.

‘Pietor,’ he looked around checking we were being eavesdropped upon. ‘I’ve seen you around. Aren’t you Babelar’s niece?’

‘That’s right. Which is your clan? Are they here?’

‘There’s just me. No one else.’

‘Why?’ Just then the prayer session ended and talking was difficult for the rest of the meeting.

As I was leaving church I was grabbed by my Aunt and had to go off to meet one of the local boys. She knew my plan and didn’t agree with it. She was trying to marry me off to one of the local boys but most of them were still under contract and that would mean that I would then be included in their contract and everything would have been in vain.

The next time I saw Pietor was a few weeks later and he was sitting under a tree near Babelar’s hut.

‘Hi’ I said waving as I walked over towards the tree.

‘Hi. Not seen you around lately.’

‘No Aunt Babelar is trying to get me married so I’ve had a lot of dates.’


‘Don’t worry, I only go to keep Babelar sweet. I don’t have any money so she lets me stay there free.’

‘I wish I had an Aunt would cared enough to try and marry me off,’ Pietor said.

‘You never did explain why you are alone. Did your family die somehow?’

‘Oh no nothing so un-painful. They sold me.’

‘Well I am sure they had a reason.’

‘Yes money.’

‘Surely it is more than that.’

‘All I know is that when I was born I was almost albino and the Lords pay well for an albino baby. It is seen as lucky to have the palest baby to them. I know my family would have been well paid. When I got a little older I started to gain colour and by the time I was eight I am as you see me now. That was not pale enough for my Lady and she thought it was bad luck that I was getting darker so the next time she came through here on market day she left me.’

‘Just left you?’

‘Yep. I was lucky that the villagers could see I was still pale and they fed me but that is all. I sleep in the stable and have to fend for myself. I have been thinking about moving on for a while now and seeing what’s out there, but then you arrived.’

I blushed and smiled. ‘The sun is starting to fade would you like to walk a little?’

We walked down to the watering hole and sat there all evening talking about our lives and how mine had not been so much easier for me on the plantation. At least he had always been free, although it seemed to be a captive with a family to love you was better than being alone and free.

We met most evenings and walked and talked until one night a few weeks after we first met we sat close on a log. As Pietor held my hand I looked into his eyes and knew we would always be together. When we kissed it was as if I was being kissed for the first time. In a location almost exactly the same as the place I was raped I finally found out the joy of real love and of making love to someone who cared.

We were lying naked in each other’s arms when I first heard the rustle in the bushes. Pietor was still trying to get into his trousers as they burst through into the clearing.

‘See I told you it was her,’ Henry shouted.

‘Well done mate,’ it was John. ‘Filled out nicely hasn’t she?’

I held my dress in front of me.

‘My turn first this time I think,’ called a third boy. He had been the one I had kicked in the balls the last time.

Everything else is a blur. I was knocked to the ground and the last thing I remember was Pietor diving at the boys to keep them away from me. I awoke the next morning bloody and sore and found Pietor’s cold dead body lying next to me in the clearing. I held him tight and let my tears fall onto his beautiful soft face. I kissed him one last time and then returned to the village.

Nathan is Pietor’s baby and the most beautiful child I have ever seen. He, like his father, looks albino but has eyes as blue the cornflowers that grow on Pietor’s grave. I am here at the market to complete my task and get enough money to buy my family out of their contract. Mother has been ill and my brother takes the beatings for her. I must protect them. Nathan will earn a lot of money and I know he will be safe with a Lady.

The auctioneer approaches. He knows what is under by blanket but not how beautiful he is.

‘Hi Serena. Got another one for me,’ says the auctioneer.

I look down at Nathan and he gently lifts his right hand and touches my cheek. A tear trickles down to meet his fingers.

I finally understand what mother meant all those months ago and hope she will understand too.

‘Sorry not today.’ I reply as I carefully make sure Nathan is covered from the sun and I turn and head back to Babelar’s.





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