Dannia lay on her bunk exhausted and looked up at the wooden boards above her head and began to weep as she touched where her shock of red hair used to be. The tears were not of self pity or fear but the red hot tears of anger.
After the raiders had secured the area the occupants of the village had been rounded up and divided into separate groups of men, women and children. The Mayor Francolin protested trying to tell them that they were peaceful and unarmed but to no avail and when he persisted they cut him down in front of everyone with as little concern as if he was a pig going to market.
Then they were made to walk back toward the raider’s home land in their three groups, the children crying for there parents and they in turn crying for their children. On and on they trudged in a silence enforced by the whips that cracked over their heads and on their flesh. Hour upon hour and well into the night they marched leaving the faltering children far behind. Any attempt to talk with their captors, to glean information or have them stop so they could relieve themselves was greeted the same way with the crack of the lash. People had to relieve themselves as they walked with others having to walk round the little streams of urine. Juliet towered over them all her hands fettered and a collar and chain around her neck like she was some outsized cur. Dannia’s lovely dress had been ripped off her body when they tried to work out if she was a child or not so that now all she wore was her underwear as she stumbled on trying to match the pace of her larger companions.
On the third day of their enforced march the men were led off in a different direction leaving the women under the care of a new set of guards, a group of hard bitten looking women. Any attempt to curry favour or to appeal to the women’s feminine nature failed miserably if anything they were even worse. They were watered and fed at certain times but only the minimum to keep them alive.
Eventually after a weeks walking they arrived at what looked like a hill fort with ditches full of spikes and wooden palisades. Tall watch towers were peppered around the perimeters where crossbow men and archers watched indifferently their arrival. Once inside they were herded into a narrow hut and forced to strip. For some reason the head of the guards, a stout ugly woman, had taken an instant dislike of Dannia and with great glee dragged her by her hair to a chair where she was clamped in place. The woman then began to cut off Dannia’s hair whilst yelling crude insults at her.
“What gives you the right to have hair you abomination. You freak of nature if I had my way people like you would be strangled at birth.” She twisted the strap that held Dannia in place making it bite into her neck and restrict her breathing. Once all the hair had been shorn from her head and it shaved the woman set to and began to remove the hair between her legs, thankfully missing the slit in her leg or assuming it was an old wound, and even off her naturally hairy feet. “All I have to do is slip and no man would be able enter you ever again. I’d sew you up freak. Now get over there and wash yourself.” Dannia was un-strapped and shoved to where an icy pool of water was were she was examined for ticks and lice before being forced under the water. When there was eight of them on the other side of the pool they were led away shivering to one of a collection of huts that filled the interior of the fort.
“You are in Labour Unit Female One.” A muscular male guard yelled as he paced up and down before them. “There are only two rules, one obey all the rules, two obey the first rule.” He laughed mirthlessly at his own feeble joke. “You will do anything and everything that your commanded to do, no matter what it is.” He stressed the last part of the sentence to make sure they all understood what he meant. “If you do not obey you will be punished severely even killed do I make myself clear. Good. The hut behind you will be your home till you die or become useless to us where upon you will be killed. You will enter the hut now and dress in the clothes provided and rest. Tomorrow at dawn you will be taken to your place of work and instructed in what you will do. Dismissed.”
Wearily they entered the cabin to find themselves confronted with a long single room containing two tiered bunk beds along one wall and wash stands on the other. A small pot stove sat at the far end where toilet cubicles with out doors stood next to a wall waterfall. Many of the women wept at the bleakness and the smell of stale sweat. Dannia wondered what happened to the previous occupants as she claimed after careful scrutiny a top bunk near one of the few windows in the hut.
And that was where she was now crying as badly as those she had condemned earlier. Suddenly a large head loomed over the edge of the bed with a worried expression on her face.
“Are you all right my little Angel?” Juliet asked her voice showing her concern. Dannia made no attempt to hide her tears letting them run down her face unchecked.
“It’s my hair.” She said with a snivel. “I loved my hair it had taken me so long to grow it that length.”
Juliet gently reached in to cuddle her the best she could within the confines of the ceiling.
“You and me we will escape you’ll see. I pretended to be thick and cowardly so they’d think I’m no threat. I think I can break enough skulls to get us out.” She said earnestly.
“And then what? You and I are going to be hardly inconspicuous out there are we.” Dannia smiled at the blacksmith. “We can’t steal clothes and mingle with other people in the area, for one thing we won’t find anything to fit and for another we are both bald.”
Juliet sighed and reluctantly nodded.
“You should have said you were sick Dannia. I could have vouched for that.” Beatrix somewhat smaller head appeared beside Juliet’s.
“I can’t risk that either, there’s no saying what they would do to sick people, kill them probably.” Dannia replied as another head appeared besides the other two. It was the druid Fran.
“If we’re going to try and escape I think we better check our surroundings first and then work out a proper plan. No offence Juliet but a plan that relies on more than batting someone over the head.” Fan said a little timidly for fear of angering the mighty woman.
Dannia looked down at her hands and began to wring them as if in distress.
“I don’t think I would survive out there on my own. I’m scared.” They didn’t see the little feral smile cross her lips as the three women gave assurances to look after her. Or the calculated look at the ceiling boards above her.
There were eight of them in their hut Dannia, Juliet Guitar, Beatrix Pheonix, Fran Griffon, the Mayor’s poor wife Hattie Grief and two women from La Mer, Bella Colberg and Alice Cousin, and a young woman called Michelle De Brook from a fishing village up the coast with the odd name of The Two. The two women from the town were known to Dannia having seen them in the market; the elder ran the fish stall with her husband while the younger was a maidservant at the Witch tower. The woman she didn’t know was known vaguely by Fran as the daughter of a fisherman.
Later while the women slept Dannia coughed up a small metal ring on which were attached several tools and lock picks. She slipped it on her finger like a ring and set to work on the boards above her head any little noise she made covered by the stentorian snores of Juliet.
As sun rose the following morning they were rudely awoken by the dulcet tones and rattan can of their guard telling them to get up and assemble outside.
“Get up, get up for role call you whores.” The cane cracked down on Juliet’s bare back and almost splintered. “Get up Tusk you ugly daughter of a bitch.”
Juliet turned over yawned and said with out any obvious irony.
“Yes mummy.” Her eyes shot open and looked around her. “I thought I dreamt this.”
“This is no dream Tusk it’s your fucking nightmare now move yourself.” The guard screamed at her before taking her leave.
Once outside shivering in the cool morning air Dannia could see the extent of the camp as the women from the other huts collected outside. There seemed to be about twenty huts in all containing either eight or ten occupants all dressed in the same sacking dresses. A form of raised dais was placed at the far end near an inner fenced off area that had only one long hut and two far shorter buildings. At first Dannia thought it was the guard’s quarters but soon realised they had been placed outside the confines of the stockade.
A short woman with two massive strange savage dog like creatures on chain leads took to the dais after the role call. She seemed familiar to Dannia but she was sure she’d have remembered a ruined face like that. The whole face seemed a mass of scars with one eye and a part of a nostril missing and a scar running from the corner of her mouth to her left ear pulling it up into a strange leer.
The dog things pulled and strained at there leashes foaming at the mouth their breaths curiously steaming in the warming air.
“Devil dogs!” Whispered Fran as she slipped a comforting arm over Dannia’s shoulders. “Their breath can freeze you or burn you depending on how they feel.”
“Silence!” Their guard called hoarsely. “The next one that speaks I will personally see the back bones of.”
The woman looked round at the gathered woman her eye swivelling in its socket.
“I am the Camp Commander of this labour camp and you will address me as madam at all times. But since none of you will address me in any way it is irrelevant. Some of you will already know this having been here for several weeks.” She paused for effect before continuing. “Pay heed to what they tell you. Tomorrow you will be allocated work details at which you will work from sunrise till sundown. There will be no slacking or mistakes both will be punished severally.”
The Mayoress stepped forward before anyone could stop her and called to the Commander to get her attention.
“Madam I am these women’s Mayoress and respectfully request for information on our children?”
The guard swung a baton with such force it drove the woman to her knees. Everyone watched in shock as she regained her feet.
“I also request if you can tell us what will happen to us?” The guard’s baton struck again and again. Dannia and Juliet were having a hard time resisting the urge to break the guard’s neck.
“Enough! Samantha, go and bring out our special guests and let those gathered here see what happens when I am disobeyed. Bring out the degenerate witches.” The woman called. “As for you, all of you, you have no children. They have been taken to a correction institute where they shall be brought up as proper people and not decadent creatures like you. As for you, you will work until you are dead that is all your fit for scum.”
A few moments later a sight greeted their eye which will mark their souls forever.
Twelve shambling corpse like creatures exited from the inner gate to be driven by blows to line up in front of the dais where they stood swaying with utter fatigue fighting to stay erect.
These weren’t the dead brought to life but women brought close to death. Their bodies were emaciated, gaunt and covered with sores, the skin pulled tight over predominant bones.
The woman laughed a cruel cackle.
“Look well. These dared to defy nature and turned to the black arts, revelling in their vile practices. See how we have brought them low and taken away their power.”
One of these women walked away from the others as another fainted from the effort of standing. She began walking toward the wall of logs that was the outer perimeter, slowly steadily hypnotically but strangely no one tried to stop her. She was three feet away from the wall when she triggered the trap. Thin incredibly sharp wires sprang up at the same time from two different directions and swung over by 180 degrees to lay flat on the ground once more. Unfortunately the poor woman was in the middle of their trajectory and was simply sliced open like an orange. She fell apart and the upper part of her head hit the ground and bounced twice off the hard surface before spinning to a stop.
The other thin women vacated the spot around the woman who had fainted knowing what was coming next. The woman had regained consciousness but was too weak to rise and could only weep. The commander after a few affectionate words to the dogs released them straight at the fallen woman who screamed and feebly tried to fend the beasts off. The dogs tore into her ripping off bloody gobbets of flesh and wolfing it down with gusto. At one point one of the creatures had her head hanging from its jaws and was shaking it like a toy while the other crunched the woman’s bones to get at the marrow within.
Dannia buried her head into Juliet’s chest not to hide from the sight but to hide the rage she felt inside. Many of the women vomited including Fran and the stranger from the other village in their group.
The Commander called the dogs off and ordered that the frail women be returned to their compound leaving two bloody corpses on the ground.
“You women!” She called pointing at Dannia’s group. “Since you dared to speak, not once but twice, you can have the privilege of cleaning this mess up.” She paused. “With your hands only. I will return in an hour to inspect the area and you. If I find blood on you or the area you will suffer.” The dogs back on their leashes she turned away and left the area.
The guard swung round on them lashing out in rage with her rattan cane.
“You stupid bastards I told you not to speak.” The fact that she hadn’t till after someone had spoken seemed irrelevant as she took out her spleen on Dannia and Juliet. “Fucking perverts.” She didn’t seem worried about accuracy either.
When Dannia reached the area where the trap had activated she took off her clothes and folded them neatly before placing them on the grass, the other women followed suit. As she lifted the first section of the woman’s body the blood ran down her arm to her chest, warm and sticky, making it difficult not to vomit. Her eyes scanned the ground surreptitiously absorbing the sight of the trigger mechanism and searching for any others.
“Where shall we put these guard?” Dannia heard Juliet ask.
“In the swill bin stupid, over there by the gate, though by rights I should make you eat it.” The guard replied hitting Juliet with the cane once more.
Dannia had noticed a young guard officer, a lieutenant she thought, watching everything that occurred with barely concealed horror and decided to store the information for a later date. He could well be a soft mark that’ll make their lives that little bit easier. Hurried along by savage beatings they finished the task and even had time to wash the blood off themselves before the camp commandant arrived to inspect them and their clothes.
She walked down them as if she was inspecting cattle at a market before sniffing in disgust; it was quite evident she was looking for a reason to punish them and having not found that reason only increased her rage. She beckoned the Mayoress over and slapped her hard across the face.
“We don’t have degenerate corrupt Mayoress or Royalty only the people remember that and you may live a little longer. If you speak again to me I will cut out your tongue myself and make you eat it raw.” She grabbed the woman’s face hard and squeezed it. “If I see you lording over the others or hear of it I with hang you up for the crows to feast on.” With another hard slap that drew blood from the dignitary’s mouth she walked on.
To give the Lady Mayor her due she barely flinched so not to give her adversary any pleasure. After she had gone was a different matter as the poor woman broke down in tears.
Dannia vowed vengeance, a bloody and slow vengeance.