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Grinda leads a difficult life and it’s about to become a whole lot worse. That is until she’s kidnapped by a gang of violent barbarians and it takes an unexpected turn.
‘Go fetch more water from the well. And when you’ve done that, the cow needs milking. And when you’ve done that, bake some bread. The men will be hungry when they get home.’
‘Yes, Mother,’ Grinda said, picking up the pail.
She stepped outside into the burning day. The village was a bustle of activity. Women hauled along their pails of milk or water or grain. Children fetched eggs and tended the family gardens. Men made their way to the farms, carrying scythes and spades and shears, on foot or mounted on donkeys or mules. Grinda could hear banging from the blacksmith as he shaped his iron blades. There was the stench of shit as a woman shovelled manure into a wagon. From the oldest woman to the smallest child, everyone was hard at work.
Just another day in the small village of Quay—long and dull and difficult.
Grinda reached the well, put down her pail and pulled on the rope, hand over hand, the rope scratching against the pulley as she hauled up a full pail of water. She glanced up at the mountains, pale and stark against the sky—the Stone Mountains. A world away, where the wind blew cold and the village was nothing but a dot below, and where there were no cows to milk or bread to bake or heavy pails of water to carry.
She tipped the water into her pail, careful not to wet her skirt, then lifted the pail with a grunt. Staggering with the weight, she made her way back home, leaving the mountains behind.
Many hours later, as the sun began to set, the men returned home. Grinda dished out their stew, cut and buttered their bread, and by the time she sat down there was very little for herself. The men were ravenous after a hard day’s work out in the field: her older brother Kye, her two younger brothers, Mathew and Dillon, and her father, of course. None of them thanked her. None of them looked at her. Too tired to care. It wasn’t until they reached the bottom of their bowls that her father finally looked up.
‘It’s time,’ he said, gazing up at his daughter.
He was looking haggard and old, more grey in his beard then brown. His tunic sat loosely on his shoulders. His pants were belted with rope. Life was hard and harder still with so many mouths to feed: his three sons, Grinda, and now little Edwin suckling at his mother’s breast. Grinda knew what was coming but it didn’t make it any easier to hear.
‘Time for what, dear husband?’ her mother asked. Edwin squeaked as she shifted him from one breast to another, a drop of milk glistening on her nipple.
‘It’s time for Grinda to go.’
Her mother looked up with a start. Grinda could see the protest on her lips. For Grinda to leave meant she would have to take on all her daughter’s chores as well as her own. She glanced at Grinda, then tightened her mouth and looked back down at Edwin. There was no point in arguing. Father was the head of the household and always got what he wanted.
‘I have already chosen your husband,’ he continued. ‘You will be betrothed by the end of the week.’
Her brothers watched on silently, dark-haired and dark-eyed like their mother. Grinda had taken after her father: blue eyes and strawberry-blonde hair. She was tall like him too, and pretty. But that meant nothing if you had no money.
‘Who?’ She tried to be strong but the word came out in a croak.
Grinda winced. Desmond Brown: forty-years-old and crippled for the past year after his plough gouged his leg. He would have asked for very little dowry, no doubt intent on putting her out in the fields in his place. He’d work her like a horse.
‘Please, Father, I beg—’
‘No, daughter. You will do as I say. You will not stay here and be a burden. You will marry Desmond, and that is all there is to it.’
She dropped her head.
The week went by in a blur, long days of dark thoughts and hard work. Twice she passed Desmond on her way to the well and both times he watched her hungrily. Grinda shivered. He wasn’t an attractive man, and he was so old! She tried to convince her father to reconsider.
‘Can’t you find someone else? Anyone else?’ she asked desperately.
‘There is no one else. We are too poor. Nobody will have you.’
She tried again and again, but on her fifth attempt he lifted his hand, prepared to strike, and Grinda backed off.
Before she knew it the week was up, and she approached the chapel beside her father, a ring of flowers around her head, wearing her cleanest tunic, her mother and brothers in tow. Ahead, standing at the threshold of the chapel, was Father Joel dressed in his robes. Beside him was her future husband leaning on his stick. He smiled at her, but it did nothing to ease her anxieties. He would work her out in the field all day, then have her in his bed all night. She could see it in his eyes.
If she thought life was hard now, it was nothing compared to what lay ahead.
Father Joel was about to say something when they all looked up at the sound of a horn. Deep and booming, it echoed across the fields and through their little village, making everyone take pause. For several moments the village was still and quiet, the quietest it had ever been.
A crowd of mounted men had gathered atop a hill in the near distance, the Stone Mountains rearing high above behind them. Their steel weapons gleamed against the sun. Then the horn sounded again, and they galloped down the hill towards them.
Mock blew the horn, then licked his lips, grinning as the men around him shouted and whooped. Their target was a large village, rich with women and supplies and maybe even gold. It would be a great day for the Quarthi.
Villagers scattered, screaming and shouting. Most tried to run away. Others hid in their houses, mostly women. Some of the men stayed back to fight. Good. It’s been too long since I’ve bloodied my blade. He unsheathed his sword.
His first kill bent beneath his strike, head arched back, eyes wide, as Mock split him from groin to chin. Blood exploded out of him, spraying Mock in a red shower. The man didn’t even have time to cry before he hit the ground.
His next kill decided to drop his weapon and run—too late. Mock ripped him up the back, his blade grating against his vertebrae. More blood splattered his face, and he licked his lips again, savouring his kill, the death, the thrill. Ahhhh. There was little better than a pillage: the sound of men screaming, the satisfaction of sinking his blade into flesh.
He had made seven kills, his sword bloodied from point to hilt, when the village was taken and the real fun began. Women screamed as the Quarthi rushed into their houses and dragged them outside, or else rode them down, sweeping them onto their horses. Mock was of the latter group. But he chose his target carefully. He didn’t want just any woman. He wanted one he’d remember after he slit her throat. One that would sit tight around his cock, wet and smooth, with breasts that were soft and plump beneath his hands. One who’d moan in pain and pleasure at his every thrust.
Then he saw her. She was standing frozen to the spot, staring at a corpse by her feet. Whoever had killed him had split open his chest, revealing the bloodied gore that was once his heart and lungs. The girl looked up at his fast approach, staring straight into his eyes. She was only young, barely a woman, and beautiful, her face white against her pale hair.
She didn’t run from him, she didn’t even grunt as he curled his arm around her waist and hoisted her onto his horse. He clasped her against him, pinning her arms tight to her chest, as he galloped through the village, passing other Quarthi as they looted homes and robbed the dead, stealing belts and boots and any coins they could find. Bodies were strewn everywhere, most still, some squirming. Several he leapt over, others he trampled, bouncing in his saddle as he did. The girl gasped as she almost slipped from his grasp, but he clutched her tighter, his cock pressing hard against her back.
By the time they left the village, he was barely able to keep control. The best fucks he ever had were after a killing. And he had killed seven today.
He reigned in his horse. Several other Quarthi had the same idea, their horses grazing as they thrusted in the grass, bronze arses gleaming with sweat in the midday heat. Women cried out, screamed or moaned.
Mock slipped off his horse, pulling the girl into his arms before laying her down on the ground. Straddling her, he unclipped his pants. His cock sprang free, blushing and hard and moist at the tip. The girl was whimpering quietly, white as the clouds above, trembling violently between his legs.
He hoisted up her skirt. So smooth and warm. The girl yelped as he tore apart her underwear, ripping out a few of her hairs. He brushed his hand through her pubic hair with a sigh. Pale, like the rest of her. Then he pushed his finger inside her. She gasped. Dry as a bone but that won’t stop me.
He lay on top of her, groin to groin, face to face. She had blue eyes, rare for these parts. Her hair shone in the sunlight. Tears glistened on her cheeks. She squirmed beneath him, trying to push him off, but he seized her wrists and pinned them to the ground. Her blue eyes looked up at him, begging, pleading. Don’t even try. You won’t get any mercy from me.
Grabbing his cock, Mock went to thrust into her, but something was wrong. ‘What the—?’
He looked down. His cock was flaccid. Impossible. He smoothed it in his hands, jiggled it about, tried to masturbate, but nothing could make him hard. Embarrassing. If a Quarthi couldn’t rape his spoils, he was no man. Mock straddled the girl, glaring at her. Anger flared in his heart. She had done something to him. Maybe she is a witch. He pulled a knife out of his boot. Not for long.
The girl’s eyes widened in terror. Tears made her eyes glisten. She babbled something in her language, pleading.
He pressed his blade to her throat. She silenced, arching her neck and freezing beneath him. A droplet of blood trickled down her neck, so red against her white skin. Her breast heaved at every breath. More tears streaked down the sides of her face. And her blue eyes looked up at him, still begging, still pleading. So young. So beautiful.
He steeled himself, pressed the blade down harder. The girl whimpered. Kill her, kill her, kill her, kill her. But his hand wouldn’t obey. He released her with a snarl, plunging the blade into the earth beside her head.
He got up and yanked her to her feet. ‘You’re coming with me.’
Mock dragged her back to his horse and heaved her onto it. He retrieved his knife and slipped it back into his boot before clipping shut his pants and climbing up behind her. He would take her back to camp, where everything would be right again. Nothing to worry about.
Nothing to worry about, he told himself, though he didn’t quite believe it.
Grinda huddled in the corner of the tent as the wind howled, snapping and whipping at the walls. It was late in the day and almost as dark as night, the clouds black and the rain thick. She could hear leaves rustle and creak all around her. The barbarians had hidden their little settlement deep within the Morbic Woods where nobody would ever find them. Large droplets were pelting down, and she wondered how the tent didn’t leak. Her home had leaked all the time—before the barbarians had burnt it to the ground at least.
Grinda dropped her head into her hands. Though her father had been a hard, uncompromising man, she still loved him, and he hadn’t deserved to die like that. She tried to remember him the way he had been, strong and bearded with those careworn lines around his eyes, but all she could see were his final moments: coughing up blood, his innards glistening wetly, eyes bright with pain. She could still hear the barbarian’s laughter as he ripped open his chest. His name was Croki, she knew it. After seven days, she was beginning to know much about the barbarians.
She was one among a handful of women they had decided to keep alive, to use at their pleasure. She could hear them even now through the storm—the screaming and weeping, while the men laughed. The storms made it worse. It meant the barbarians were stuck at the camp with nothing to do but drink and gamble and rape.
All the women suffered. All of them, except Grinda.
She looked up as the tent flap opened. Mock smiled at her as he entered, carrying a parcel under his arm. He was saturated, dripping all over the furs on the floor. It was a small tent, barely high enough to crouch in and only large enough to fit two, but it was warm and safe.
‘Food,’ he said in his language. Grinda knew basic words but little more. He crawled into the middle of the tent and unwrapped the parcel, revealing nuts and berries. She smiled at him as she helped herself. He frowned. ‘No meat. Too wet,’ was all she understood.
She shrugged, smiled. ‘That’s fine.’
As Mock dried himself off, Grinda gazed at him. He was still a young man, probably early thirties, a lot older than her but still much younger than Desmond. He had a full beard, long wiry hair and eyes the colour of moss. Like the rest of the barbarians, he was overlarge, bursting with muscle and so tall she had to crane her head back to look at him. He could break her neck if he wanted, rape her until she bled, like the other women suffered. But he hadn’t touched her since that first time. It was so strange. She had thought him a monster. When he had laid her out in that field, she was sure her life was at an end.
Now, her life had never been better. Mock always made sure she was fed, warm and safe, and she didn’t have to work: no baking bread, no milking cows, no carrying pails or serving the men. For the most part, she just slept, for hours and hours, as though she was catching up on years of lost sleep. And he let her. Sometimes she woke to see him watching her, but he never touched her, never violated her, just watched, as though he had never seen something like her before.
That first day he brought her to the barbarian settlement, he seemed to hate her, throwing her in his tent like she was a flaming torch that burnt him. But day by day he became more tender, the sharpness in his eyes softening, the anger in his voice blunting, until his frowns turned into smiles that quickly became laughter.
How could she not fall in love with him though he had done so many terrible things? Particularly when she knew he suffered for it. The barbarians teased him, isolated him, even threatened violence—and all because of her. A rukta, they called him—a womanly man.
‘Mock,’ she whispered.
He looked up.
She crept into their bedding and lay down, holding out her arms. ‘Hold me.’
There was silence for a moment, then rustling as he crept over to her. He gazed down on her, much as he had done out in the field, but this time she felt no fear. He lowered himself onto her and she wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders.
His kiss was soft, and she giggled as his beard tickled her chin. He grinned, kissed harder, his tongue pushing against hers, then slipped his hands under her shirt. Grinda gasped as he rubbed his thumbs over her nipples, so gentle and soft, turning them hard and making her whole body erupt into goosebumps. Then he pushed his hand between her legs. She stiffened.
He stopped kissing. ‘Grinda?’ He said it with such an accented ‘a’ that it made her chuckle. She smiled, touched his face, brushing her fingers through his beard. He waited, trembling at the strain of keeping control. She kissed him, took his hand and pushed it back between her legs. He stroked her opening, making her tingle, then pushed his finger deep inside. And this time she was wet.
He quickly unfastened his pants. And there it was. Grinda stared at it. She had only seen an erection once before, on Pentash, the village’s stallion. But this was very different. She touched it, tentatively at first, then ran her hand along it, more confident. It was hard and yet so smooth and velvety. Everything she had ever learnt from her parents, from the church, from the other village women, told her to abstain, to protect her virginity. It was the most valuable thing she would ever have. But as she gazed up at Mock, none of it seemed to matter anymore.
He tried to be gentle but Grinda still hissed, digging her nails into his shoulders, as he slid inside her. He pressed his cheek against hers as he thrust, planting light kisses on her face at every hiss and grunt and gasp she made. She gripped onto him tightly, tried not to express her pain, but it was impossible. The stinging only got worse until it became more than just painful, but agonising. She held her breath, bit back a cry and was on the verge of telling him to stop when it was suddenly over.
He grunted, gasped, then slowed his thrusting, and the sting began to ease. Grinda closed her eyes, finally able to enjoy the feel of him inside her, the heat of his closeness, the smell of his skin.
‘Grinda?’ he said, brushing at her eyelids. Grinda opened her eyes and Mock brushed away a tear trickling down her cheek. ‘Hurt?’
She shook her head, and he smiled and wrapped her in his arms.
Mock woke the next morning to a grey dawn. The storm had finally passed.
He sat up. ‘Grinda?’
His bedding was empty. He stared at the patch of dried blood. There was blood on his penis too. Maybe she’s out relieving herself or cleaning herself up. He froze at the sound of a small shriek somewhere in the distance. Quickly, he seized his sword and wriggled out the tent. He stood and looked around but the woods gave him no answers. Between the trees he could see the other Quarthi tents—but no movement and no Grinda. Everything was still. Somewhere nearby a crow cawed.
‘Grinda!’ he bellowed, his voice echoing through the trees.
‘Mock,’ came a muffled cry.
Left. Away from the rest of his Quarthi brothers. He sped towards the sound, his bare feet slapping through mud and puddles of water. Who was it? Pith? Khud? Croki? They were the more untrustworthy of his brothers, but they still should have known better. Grinda was his and no one else’s. He had made that very clear. His grip tightened on his sword. Whoever it was would pay.
He burst into a small clearing, sword raised. Croki sneered within his beard, already on the defensive, waiting for him. Grinda lay unmoving on the wet ground, still naked from their lovemaking yesterday, pale hair knotted and matted, eyes wide with fear. There was blood between her legs and through her pubic hair, but he couldn’t know if it was from him yesterday or from Croki.
Hot rage flooded his body at the thought.
Croki gave nothing away but simply met Mock’s slash with his war hammer. Croki was strong and the sword jarred in Mock’s hands as it struck the hammer’s iron head. But Mock was strong too—and furious.
He cut and slashed and chopped, forcing Croki to back away, turning Croki’s sneer into a snarl. Croki was the biggest of the Quarthi, but Mock was the fiercest. You should have known better, Brother.
‘Die, die die!’ Mock cried as he cast blow upon blow upon Croki’s hammer, driving him to his knees. Finally he smashed the hammer from Croki’s grasp. Croki dropped to the ground, avoiding Mock’s slash, then rolled back to his knees. Baring his teeth, he whipped out a knife from his boot and jabbed Mock in the side. Mock grunted. Blood spurted. Agony ripped up his left side. But he swung his sword again, and this time Croki wasn’t so quick. Mock’s sword was sharp and it sliced through Croki’s neck in one sweep. His head hit the ground with a thud, rolled and settled upright, eyes and mouth wide open.
Silence followed. Leaves rustled. That same crow continued to caw. Then Mock clutched at his side, warm blood welling through his fingers. The sword slipped from his grasp and he fell to his knees, bowing over Croki’s headless body as it pumped blood onto the groundcover, filling the air with the scent of iron.
Grinda dropped to her knees beside him. She touched his bloodied hand as it gripped his wound, then looked up at him in despair. He shook his head. ‘I am strong.’ He gently touched her between the legs. ‘Croki—?’ He almost choked on his brother’s name.
She shook her head. And he knew the truth of it; his fingers came away dry. No new blood. No rape. He grabbed the back of her neck and pushed his face against hers in relief. ‘Grinda.’
They had to flee before his other brothers realised what he’d done and took their revenge. They dressed quickly, grabbed a skin of water, then Grinda mounted his horse.
He tried to climb up behind her, but it was difficult and painful. Croki had wounded him deeply and blood gushed down his horse’s flank, coating its pale hair in red. But he succeeded, gasping for breath and so dizzy he had to wrap his arms around Grinda’s waist lest he fall.
Grinda flicked the reins, and with a ‘Ha!’ their horse galloped through the trees.
The sun was blazing by the time they left the woods and sped over the grassy fields. Mock looked behind him but his brothers weren’t following. Grinda looked across her shoulder too, her gaze distant, and he knew she was thinking of her burnt village many leagues away.
Mock gave her a gentle squeeze around the waist, and she looked away, facing the mountains ahead. They reared high above, sharp and distinct against the gleaming blue.
He tightened his grip as Grinda flicked the reins and drove in her heels, spurring their horse into a faster pace.
© Morgan Tonkin 2018