How does population in the Northlands stay so low? Read and you may see.
Year -12 to Year 4
My Name is Nessa. Today I finished writing early. I want to write more so I'll tell -you who come after- about me.
I don't remember where I was born or what my familiy was called and I'm the only Nessa around so never needed a nick. My familiy were serfs. Elder Brother was older than me. I think he was married. Sister was older than me but a lot younger than Elder Brother. Brother was younger than me and Mother was pregnant.
When I was five Father took Sister and me to the fields outside the village. There were people there, some my age, and they weren't wearing any clothes, and some big men carrying spears. We went to a tent where there was a man who was wearing clothes and not carrying a spear. Father told Sister and me to take off our smocks. When we did he and the man started bargaining. While Father had Sister turn around I played cat's cradle with a naked woman Named Lanti a bit older than Sister. When the man started counting coins and handing them to Father Lanti took my hand and started leading me from the tent. When I reached for my smock Lanti stopped me. "You don't need a smock now Honey-Child," she said. "You'll get a pretty collar like mine though." She bent over so I could see the collar around her neck. I thought it was wonderful. I'd much rather have a nice leather collar than my ratty old smock.
I was a slave. I was five years old.
Being a slave was great at first. We only got two bowls of thin gruel a day, sometimes with vegetables, but we always got a meal, and we got to travel. Lanti was in charge of us five-years and once she was sure we wouldn't run away we could get out of the wagon and run and skip around. We couldn't go far, but whenever we tired we could get back in the wagon. Lanti was kind to us, and usually cheerful; singing and telling us Church stories when it was time to go to sleep. Sometimes though, usually late at night after Big Master or a guard had visited our wagon and they'd sexed, she cried in her sleep.
There were three wagons in the slave train. The biggest was for us Five Years, one for the Olders (older children), and one for the Virgins. When I heard that I thought Virgins must be dangerous monsters because that wagon had really thick boards and iron banding and heavy locks on the trap door on its roof. There were adult slaves in the train as well, but they had to walk. I learned quickly that some of the people in the train were nice, but most weren't and I should keep away from them. I was trying to stay away from the mean people when I invented the game that got me into trouble.
I had a passion for the traveling, and sometimes when I was out I trotted beside one of the wagons just so I could see its wheels turn. One day I had the idea of climbing aboard the wheel to let it carry me around. It was so fun I did it again, and it wasn't long before I was playing other games, like stepping from each horizontal spoke in turn as the wheel turned and counting how many times I could do it before I had to grab onto the top of wheel or jump off. I got good enough that I had to ask Lanti how to count bigger numbers. Then the boys saw me.
Lanti was teaching three of us girls a four-person cat's-cradle when it happened. Someone outside the wagons suddenly started screaming. I don't mean shouting or crying or wailing, I mean SCREAMING! Lanti dropped the cat's-cradle and rushed out, telling us to stay in the wagon "no matter what." A couple of Five-Years who were outside were tossed in with us then there was a pause and most of the rest of the Five-Years were put into the wagon. One boy said that Padder, one of the other boys, had been hurt, but no one knew any more. Then we felt the wagon move off the road even though it was to early to stop. Someone started crying, and it wasn't long before the rest us joined in. Something really bad had happened. We just didn't know what.
Lanti hadn't come back and we were huddled together in our wagon when one of the guards stuck his head in. He was one of the nice ones, but the look on his face set some of the other Five-Years to crying again.
"Which one of you is Nessa?" he asked.
I stood up.
"Come here," he said, gesturing toward himself.
I walked to the back and he picked me up, cradled me in his arms, and started walking to Big Master's tent. I started crying. I couldn't help it. Slave girls weren't picked up and carried. Slave girls had to walk on their own two feet unless they were very bad.
Outside Big Master's tent were three of the four Five Years who hadn't been in the wagon. Padder wasn't one of them. They weren't crying. They were white and sick with terror.
The guard took me into the tent and set me down. In addition to Big Master, the man who'd paid for me, there were several guards and Lanti. Lanti was kneeling on ground with her face buried in the dirt and her ass in the air. She was trembling and her skin actually looked green. Lanti had once told us that we should follow her lead if we didn't know what to do, so I knelt on the ground, and put my face in dirt and my ass up, but I couldn't stop crying.
Big Master stepped over to me and grabbed my hair. He pulled my head up and shouted, "Stop that wailing!" Then he pulled me to a kneeling position and stepped back. His fists clenched once or twice and the look on his face terrified me. I've seen men completely enraged since then, but that first time was the worst. I managed to gulp once or twice and quiet, though I think my tears were still streaming.
"How long," he said in a quiet but completely clear and deadly voice, "have you been playing a game with the wagon wheels?"
I knew my numbers very well thanks to that very game. "Ten days," I said.
"Ten days," he said. "You're sure it wasn't less than that?"
I couldn't answer. I was sure, but that wasn't the answer he wanted, and I didn't want to make him even angrier. I started to tremble.
In the silence Lanti spoke up in a choked voice, "Master?"
"May I suggest that you ask her how she knows it was ten days?"
Big Master turned back to me. "Well then, how do you know it was ten days slave girl?"
I started to babble. I covered landmarks and camp events and rules I made and changed for the game until he held up a hand.
Then he looked behind me at the guards in the tent. "Ten days. A five year old girl was playing dangerous games out in open, where anyone could see her, for TEN DAYS, AND NO ONE NOTICED!"
"That was part of the game," I thought, but was smart enough not to say.
He kicked Lanti; not hard, but it wasn't just a tap either. "Get up. Take this one and the other three back to their wagon. No one is to leave it until I say otherwise."
Lanti crawled over and kissed his feet before she rose to her own. Then she came over to me and grabbed my head, forcing my forehead into the dirt before lifting me up. Holding hands we backed out of the tent. Then Lanti gathered the boys and we went to the wagon.
As the sun began to set the entire train gathered around a wheel that had been taken off one of the wagons and partially buried so it stood on its own. Two guards plucked me out of the rest of the Five Years and brought me in front of everyone next to the wheel and Big Master. When everyone was there Big Master began speaking.
"I can not and will not tolerate someone injuring one of my slaves. This girl is responsible for just such injuries to another slave. It doesn't matter that she's only five years old and didn't intend the injuries. She must still pay for her actions."
He stepped back and the two guards proceeded to tie me to the rim of the wheel. My forearms were tied together and then tied to the wheel to form a pad for my forehead. My knees were tied together and pulled back along the wheel so that I couldn't move. Then my ankles were tied so I couldn't move them either. One of the guards stepped back and the other checked my bonds and made sure my back, ass, and thighs were both totally available and immobile. As he checked my hair he whispered to me, "Open your mouth." When I did he slipped a thick piece of leather into it. "Bite down hard on that. Scream through your clenched teeth, but don't stop biting until it's over."
Then he said something it took me a long time to understand. "I'm sorry about this. It's all right to hate me."
Even if I could remember them I wouldn't write down the details of what followed. Suffice it to say he took a leather strap to everything behind me between my neck and my knees, and I screamed, and I screamed, and I SCREAMED.
(Writing this down is much harder than I thought it would be, but it also feels good. Jadrol, that's the first head sorcerer of House Blythe if -you who come after- don't already know, says the word is cathartic. I know now that things could have been much worse. They could have decided to use a braided whip or a stick instead of a wide leather strap on me. They could have crippled me, or slit my nostrils, or -- you get the idea. For a long time I did hate the guard who beat me -- especially since he'd given me permission. What I eventually realized is that he did the exact minimum that was required, and didn't enjoy doing it. I know there were men in that slave train who would have enjoyed beating on a little girl, and they would have done much worse. He did a nasty job he could have avoided because he was the best one to do it. I don't know his name, but today I honor him.)
What followed the beating is pretty hazy. I remember spitting out the leather into someone's hand. I remember someone holding my wrists and ankles to keep me on their shoulders. I remember seeing a short thick cock spurting. (That's how I know there were people who would have enjoyed beating on a little girl.) I remember being carried to the Virgin's wagon and thinking that if they ate me the pain would go away.
(Of course I was really too young for that.)
(Bad joke -- but who lived through this anyway?)
I'm not sure how long I spent in the Virgin's wagon. They'd put me there because it was well padded and they could strap me to the floor to keep me from moving around and tearing off the sav they put on my back. There was plenty of room because there was only one virgin in the wagon. (I didn't count.) I quickly learned, of course, that a Virgin wasn't what I thought it was, and that the wagon was made that way to keep people out, not in. I also learned what happened to Padder.
Lanti was there. She visited me every morning and evening when the wagons were stopped to give me the half bowl of gruel I was now allowed. She was only permitted to stay for a few minutes, but she told me what was happening with my friends among the Five Years.
"You're not doing her any favors," Virgin said. (When I asked her name she said she'd get a new one when she was sold. After that I just called her "Virgin," just like she called me "Girl.") "She'll just lose all those 'friends' when they're sold."
"You can't be afraid to make friends just because you might lose them," was Lanti's soft reply. "Going through life friendless is no life at all."
Virgin started to reply, but I interrupted. "Lanti?" I said.
I couldn't think for a moment. I'd interrupted because I didn't like it when they argued. (Looking back, though, I think they enjoyed the arguments. They certainly baited each other enough.) I said the first thing that popped into my head. "How's Padder?"
There was a long pause before Virgin asked, "Padder?"
"The boy who was injured," Lanti replied.
"Oh," Virgin said. There was another pause and she said, "If you won't tell her I will." A short pause this time before she said, "They put him down Girl."
"Down?" I asked. "Down where?"
"They killed him Girl," Virgin said bluntly. "No one is going to buy a crippled Five Year, and a physician would charge more than the slavemaster could get for him. That's assuming he could fix the boy. The slavemaster not only lost his profits from the boy, but his reputation of twelve years on this route without losing a child."
"He's dead?" I asked in shock. "I killed him?"
"No. Nessa, no," Lanti said. "You didn't kill him. It was an accident. The Big Master just needed someone to blame. It's not your fault, you were just easiest."
"Listen to her Girl," Virgin said harshly. "You didn't dare him to get on that wheel, or cause him to fall off, or put a knife in his throat. You have nothing to be sorry for."
Listening to Lanti and Virgin arguing you would have thought they didn't agree on anything, so if they both told me something it almost had to be true. Right? I thought so at the time, but . . . well honestly I still think so.
I still cried for Padder though. He was big, and his skin looked loose, like he should weigh more. I hadn't liked him. He was clumsy and poked and pinched us girls to make the other boys like him. He shouldn't be dead though.
(Those days in the wagon after that beating likely did more to make me who I am than anything else in my life. Lanti always talked about the need to have faith, to keep on trying, to believe that things will work out even when it looks hopeless. To Virgin life was about being tough. You had to survive first and not think other people were going to look after you. Yet in spite of that she gave me some of her food every day. Somehow I managed to take both of them to heart, and with what the mages have told me about time and what they want from me it makes even more sense.
Be tough, but have faith.
I have to wonder what -you who come after- think of that. Does it seem incredibly naive to you? Is it something that some of you follow and other don't? Has it become the cornerstone of being a Guardian? I hope for the last, but it doesn't really matter. After all, I'm tough enough not be insulted by something else, and have faith that whatever -you who come after- think is for the good.)
(This writing into the future is incredible. Knowing that someone will be reading these words, but only when I choose to let them, gives an amazing sense of importance and freedom to what I write.)
Eventually I got moved out of the Virgin's wagon and back to the Five Year's. The days passed. My food was increased, but not back to two full bowls the other Five Years got. I kept more inside the wagon instead of outside. Then at what the guards said was halfway through Big Master's round, Lanti was sold.
It was the first town I ever saw. I don't know its name or where it is, but I'd recognize it again. It was up in the mountains and the roofs were sharply peaked and covered with red tile. No one was allowed out when we reached the town and all of us struggled to sneak glances out of the back of the wagon. We'd all come from farms or distant estates and none of us had seen a town before.
In town we Five Years and Lanti were put into one big room. There was more room than the wagon, but that was because we weren't allowed out of it. There weren't even any windows. You would think that my beating would have taught me what a slave was, but it wasn't long before I was begging Lanti to let me go outside. I made enough of a nuisance of myself that Lanti eventually lost her temper, yelled at me, and slapped me.
Part of the problem was that another woman had been moved in with us. I think Tava was a little older than Lanti, but not quite as pretty. Lanti hated her at first sight. Lanti was supposed to train Tava and Tava was supposed to help Lanti, but Lanti put Tava to impossible tasks and insulted her when she failed. I thought Lanti was being unfair, and after she slapped me I tried to make friends with Tava, but Tava wasn't interested. I still think Lanti was being unfair, but admit Tava was lazy, cruel, and, worst of all, stupid. She also acted differently to us Five Years when a guard or Big Master was around. When they were around she spoke softly and tried to be sweet. When they weren't around she ordered us and slapped us when we were slow. One of the other Five Years said she tried to get a guard to give her a belt so she could make us behave better.
On our last night in town Lanti gathered us all together and told us that she was going away. She was pregnant, and pregnant slaves didn't travel well, so she had to stay behind. She told us that Tava would look after us and that we should be good. Then she took some of us aside to talk privately. I was the last.
We sat whispering in a corner as she told me how I was her favorite. I'd always be in her heart, and she'd always be dedicated to me. She then gave me a lot of advice, but kept tearing up. I think she knew that advising me to be meek, and speak softly, and not argue was hopeless. I remember thinking that I wish I could get Virgin's advice as well. She stroked my hair and told me that if I watched Tava I could learn how to keep from angering masters, but that I should never trust her. Finally, she asked me if I'd mind if she gave my name to one of her daughters. I said no, but I wanted to give her name to one of my daughters. She said yes and we laughed, and cried, and held each other for a time. Then a guard called and Lanti left the room.
I never saw her again.
Things were different back on the road. Some of the guards had left and Big Master hired others. Lanti wasn't the the only adult slave that was sold, but some others were bought. Tava wasn't was as nice as Lanti, but the rules were the same. The wagons were getting crowded with Five Years and Olders. The big difference was that some of the Five Years were from town. Some of them had never seen sex, and whispered and giggled when the guards visited the wagon to ream Tava. They were punished and learned to be quiet when the guards and Big Master visited. Mostly though the town slaves thought they were better than us farm slaves. That's how I got in trouble again.
Two of the town Five Years knew each other before they were sold. They weren't interested in being friends, they just wanted to bully the rest of us. It wasn't long before there were two different groups in the wagon. It's to simple to say it was town against farm, boys against girls, new against old, but that was mainly it. I don't know how it happened, maybe because I was trying to act like Lanti, but I ended up leading the farm-girl-old Five Years. (Maybe "leading" is too strong a word. When the boys started bullying the others looked to me before we did anything is all.)
One evening a bunch of us were sitting together telling stupid stories about how when we were grown a noble would see us and become infatuated and make us concubines and we'd lie in bed except when we were wanted, or how a mage would capture us and we'd help the lady he also captured so that when she was rescued she'd give us easy work as her personal slaves.
(Stupid stories. It's strange there are so many names and faces I can't remember from that time, but I can remember every one of those stupid stories. We even had rules. What happened had to be possible. Yelling "not!" meant the teller had to take it back unless someone else was willing to argue. The stories had to have a happy ending, and the stories couldn't be about ordinary stuff. (That yell was "bo-ring!") Stupid stories made by five year old slaves who knew they would be sold soon. . . .)
So we were telling stories when I heard someone say, "Lie down and spread your legs!" Of course I'd heard that plenty of times before, but never from one of the Five Years. I looked up just in time to see one of the leading town boys shove a girl so hard she fell down. She wasn't exactly one of "my" girls, but she had friends who were.
The boy was about to lay down on the girl when he saw me rushing over. I paused just out of reach and said, "What are you doing?"
"What's it look like Skinny? I'm going to ream her."
After the things Virgin had taught me I almost laughed, but this wasn't really about sex, it was about power. I looked down at the girl. She hadn't spread her legs, but she wasn't getting up either. "Only the masters can tell you what to do," I said. "You don't have to obey a slave unless they tell you." Looking the boy right in the eye I went on, "Particularly not a shit-sucking catamite sl . . ."
I ducked as he rushed me. My kick at his balls missed, but I managed to slam my head into his nose. Then the other townie leader was running at me. Some of my friends jumped in, and before long every Five Year was involved.
It didn't last long, of course. The guards and adult slaves pulled us apart as soon as they realized what was happening. I stopped struggling as soon as they pulled me off the boy I was fighting. I wondered how much trouble I was in, but decided I didn't care. Since I stopped struggling the guards didn't tie me hand and foot like they did some of the others. When they gathered us together I was proud to see that my side had come out the better. My best friend had a black eye, a few scratches, and had lost a tooth. She was the worst off on my side, and a lot of Five Years on the other side were worse off than her.
Big Master came out to examine us. I'd expected him to be angry, but I'd seen him angry and this wasn't it. Then he started to frown, looking at us Five Years who were standing there. I remembered the last time in his tent and quickly pushed my face in the dirt and my ass in the air. I think the rest of the Five Years followed my lead, but of course I couldn't see them.
"Eyes forward," Big Master said.
I raised my head to look at him. He looked around and I suddenly felt that he was more amused than angry. "Eyes forward means remain kneeling, but sit back on your heels with your back straight."
I took that position and heard him say, "And where is the Five Year Training Slave?"
Though it wasn't long, I was still surprised by how long it took Tava to arrive and fling herself at Big Master's feet. He left her face in the dirt while he spoke, "I've come to expect fights around this point, but -- rarely -- do they involved all the Five Years. They were also quite slow to assume the correct posture. It seems the Training Slave has been remiss in her duties."
Tava started shaking.
"Five strokes to each Five Year," Big Master said. "Then clean them up and put them in their wagon." He paused. "Oh yes, the next Five Year caught fighting will get much worse than five strokes."
"Clean them up" didn't, of course, mean that we got a bath. We were just checked over and the most severe injuries tended to. A couple of broken noses packed and cuts and scrapes scrubbed out. The five strokes were with a leather strap on the backs of our thighs. It wasn't much compared to my last beating, but I had trouble walking.
That evening an older woman from the adult slaves was sent to our wagon. She wasn't Lanti, but she was a lot better than Tava. She made sure to watch us, and never found out about the few fights after that. Tava was sent to walk with the other adult slaves, but every night all the slaves watched as she took position after position in response to commands or events until she was completely exhausted.
Finally, the slave train reached the end of its route: the town of Dorilie. I know its Dorilie because that's where Barony Blythe bought its field slaves. It was raining when we entered the town and the wagon was packed with children. For days we'd had to sleep in shifts or sitting up because there wasn't enough room for all of us to sleep at the same time. In the rain I didn't get to see much, but it looked like everything was dreary gray stone. When we taken from the wagon I saw Virgin for the last time. The virgins were being taken through another door into the holding pens than the Five Years. I waved, but I don't think she saw me.
Inside the holding pens we were ruthlessly sorted into different groups. Our hair was cut off and we were scrubbed with hard brushes and harsh soap. Eventually I was separated and put into a square holding pen about 20' by 20' with bars on all sides. Thinking about the girls kept in that pen I can imagine a sign out front reading, "5 Year Female Field Slaves -- Strong."
I tried to make friends and talk with people, but the girls in the pens were too scared, and the outside slaves too busy. After two days I started pacing. On the third day I started running, circling the pen over and over again. After that I ran every moment I could and the days blurred together.
My next memories are of hauling water to the field hands during the harvest. I'd been sold to Barony Blythe, but have no idea how I got there, probably because the food in the pens wasn't enough to keep up with my running. After the harvest came winter, which wasn't too different from living with my familiy, more bodies and fewer clothes is about all. Spring, however, was horrible. While other slaves worked to prepare fields and tools in the sloppy mud I was set to running messages between the work gangs. In addition to always being muddy and never getting enough food or sleep there were the miscarriages. Most of the slave women who got pregnant in the winter miscarried in the spring, and many bled out. After planting things slowed down a bit until harvest. After that first harvest I was always running messages, and every year I ran further, even between different estates. I even learned to read a little when I carried a message both written and spoken.
When spring started every new year I figured my age, so I know I was twelve when I was sent to serve the guard-whores. It was mid-summer when I was stopped by a man riding a nullcorn. He asked me a few questions and then sent me on my way. When I returned to the castle the overseer said I was no longer needed as a messenger, and I would be serving the guard-whores from now on.
I would have liked to stay a messenger, but working for the guard-whores wasn't all that bad. We got as much food as the field slaves, but had to do less work. I quickly learned that the girls sent to serve the guard-whores were picked for potential as slave-concubines. The guard-whores talked a lot and I learned more about sex and childbirth in three moons with them than I have before or since. They didn't talk about the slave-concubines though. Niether did the house slaves.
It was in my thirteenth year that my body changed. Some of the guard-whores tried to help me, but they couldn't do much. I could tell the other girls were laughing behind my back. I was ugly: thick waist, wide hips and shoulders, big ass, almost no breasts, and hard angles instead of soft curves. I was afraid at first that I'd become a guard-whore, but even the guards weren't interested in me. I continued to serve the guard-whores and cried myself to sleep -- a lot.
Some people took pity on me when I was 14 and I got laid. First one of the younger guard-whores taught me to handle girl-girl, and towards the fall an older house slave taught me about guy-girl. After that I got laid whenever I could, but couldn't find enough partners.
I was fifteen when the old baron was executed and Jadrol became the new baron. Jadrol arrived just before harvest and immediately started to change things. After executing some guards he moved on to the house slaves, and by the time he got to the field slaves everyone was afraid of what he would do next. What he did, strangely, was disband the guard-whores and tell the field slaves that males and females would be separated for the winter. Slaves who wished could serve guards, but the slaves could leave at any time. Slaves could become slave-whores if they wanted and give sex to the other slaves over the winter. Slaves would be divided into sections which could visit the slave-whores every six days. (There were few deaths that winter and very few miscarriages and no deaths the following spring.)
When I heard the baron's plans I realized it gave me an opportunity. Though I'd been trying to get a position as a house slave, those were positions everybody wanted, and I wasn't favored enough to get one. I'd expected to be sent back to the fields, but what I really wanted was weapons training. Soldiers got to travel and got extra rations. So I looked up the corporal of the squad with the best reputation among the guard-whores and offered to service them all. The corporal agreed that they would train me with weapons in exchange.
After we agreed I was afraid that some other girl would take my place, but apparently they thought other squads were better, because, come winter, I moved to the squad's quarters.
The work was mainly fetch and carry, though I did a little cleaning. Mainly though I got laid morning, lunch, and twice in the evening. With only twelve men in the squad it was easy duty, though a couple of times when winter kept everyone inside I had to handle five at once. (I couldn't do more because my breasts were too small, and I never practiced enough with my feet. Luckily it wasn't a problem.) The best part was when I learned that some of the guards liked seeing me with a weapon in my hand. (If I'd known that I would have traded for lessons years ago.) They'd give me a lesson, then we'd strip and spar until I'd lost my weapon. That would inspire them and we'd ream each other. I managed a lot more and better training than I'd expected.
Towards the end of the winter I was called to Shavelude. When she and Senkia had arrived just before the harvest festival I hated her with all the raw jealousy I could hold. She was beautiful; full breasted (well, fuller than me), narrow waisted, and trained in weapons. A beautiful woman who was also a soldier. At first she was just assigned to help Gotova (who was in charge of the guards), but as winter went on she gained more respect for herself. She was good with weapons, but, more importantly, she was a master of strategy and administration. There were rumors that she would be assigned to head the guards come spring and Gotova would move into another position. My hatred withered a bit when I learned what she wanted from me. The baron was interested in permitting those women who wanted it to become soldiers. Almost before she'd finished speaking I agreed to become the first of them.
For the next two years I trained as a soldier. The hardest part was getting used to clothes. As a slave, for ten years I'd worn nothing. Now free, I had to get used to armor, and learn to handle both tousers and skirts. I tried to get assignments that would allow me to travel. I learned to ride, and when the baron showed off the snow planks he'd invented I was eager to learn them as well.
It was my skill with the snow planks which led to me becoming a guardian. That's another story though. For now, I've said all I want to say.