When Dannia woke up as dawn began to beak she became aware of Fran’s gentle heartbeat beneath her ear. She sighed she was having such a nice dream of being home with Simieon that waking up back in the hut was a bit of a shock.
The door crash open and their early morning alarm call began its ritual.
“Get up scum you’ve fifteen minutes to get outside for role call.” Her rattan cane cracked down on to Julia’s back once again and again she didn’t react other than to stretch and yawn.
“Is it nice out today mother?” She asked with a smile.
“Yes nice and hot fang ready for you to lose some pounds in weight.” Her laugh was more like a bark than anything else.
She turned to Dannia’s bunk and erupted into a stream of invective.
“You filthy perverted whore scum.” The rattan cane rose and fell with a fierce intension but due to the cramped space it failed to make contact. “The commander will pull out your spines for this.” No one was quite sure if this was the truth or not and weren’t willing to find out either.
“Stop it guard, stop it! It’s not what you think.” The Lady Mayor commanded. “Our little Angel was frightened after yesterday and Fran comforted her.”
The guard stopped her onslaught and looked through narrow hate filled eyes.
“I’ll give the pair of them something to be really frightened about if I catch them in the same bunk again.” She was doubtful but as she couldn’t prove any impropriety she had to back down. “Get down here the pair of you.” When they reached the floor the cane was swung with such force on their shoulders they were driven to their knees. “Ten minutes and then I want you outside, all of you.”
“Why do you hate us so much?” Hattie asked fiercely.
“I don’t hate you, I loathe and despise you. You’re weak and perverted, Subhuman and festering in your own fetid depravity. When we eventually invade we will sweep you away and replace you with mountain purity.” The guard was unusually forthcoming in her rage but if Hattie expected anything further she was mightily disappointed as the vicious woman left the room.
“Thank you, Madam Hattie.” Dannia said as she regained her feet.
“Are you alright child?” She asked with genuine concern.
“Yes we both are.” It was a blatant lie but the woman let that pass.
“My husband always said, know your enemy more than he knows you, mind you that was about his political enemies not people like these. If we are to escape we need to get information where ever we can. Come on ladies our audience awaits.” Hattie squared her shoulders. “I think I’m going to be last today, oh dear.”
Once outside Hattie was slapped around the face and caned across the buttocks but hardly flinched from the blows though the moisture in her eyes gave away the pain she felt, if anyone cared to look. Dannia was very proud of the middle aged woman after all she has led a life of a certain amount of luxury before this time and seemed to be holding up better than most of them under the pressure which was amazing if you consider that she had already lost her husband.
It was she who brought Dannia’s attention to what was happening outside the hut opposite where the occupants were filing out. While all the rest of the slave labour forces were dressed in their course dresses these women were totally nude and were crying profusely as they were forced in a line.
The camp commandant appeared with her hell dogs at the podium.
“Women of the Labour camp prepare to witness punishment.” Her voice dripped like venom into the ear. “The leader of this group didn’t take care and attention when preparing armour for our sainted troopers and must be punished accordingly.” She signalled to two female guards who dragged a struggling woman to a cross like frame lying on the ground. They knocked her to the ground before buckling her face up against the frame.
Dannia wiped a bead of sweat from her top lip as the sun rose higher in the sky. The sky was a deep blue without a cloud to mar its perfection or a breeze to cool the air; it was going to be a scorching day.
The other women were compelled to carry water over to where she lay and pour it on to her while the guards positioned a frame with a clear magnifying crystal in it over the poor woman’s head such that it magnified the heat of the sun.
Dannia noticed once again the look of unease that flitted over the young lieutenant’s face.
“They are going to broil her. Sweet mercy they are going to get the others to cook her.” Fran muttered just loud enough for Dannia to hear.
“Let this be a warning to you all. Hut 6 will take over their duties.” Again there was this terrible sense of recognition for Dannia as the woman spoke. “Hut 1 will assist in Doctor Manfred’s work. Guards take your allotted prisoners to their tasks.”
As they were marched out Dannia spied a naked form attached to a whipping post in a swoon her back a mass of bloody whip marks.
“Guard that will your fate if there’s any more errors.” The young Lieutenant said as he dropped into stride beside them.
“Yes sir! Will you be joining us today sir?” The guard was obviously shaken by the threat and obviously wondered if the young man had been sent to spy on her.
She looked in absolute horror as Dannia put her hand up.
“Yes?” The young man drawled.
“Permission to ask a question sir?” She asked with great trepidation.
“Granted.” The young man actually smiled at her.
“Who are you sir? All I know is that I was captured while at La Mer but not why.”
The guard bristled and looked if she wanted to strangle Dannia with her bare hands. If the young officer noticed this by play or not Dannia wasn’t sure but it didn’t seem to stop him from answering.
“I am Lieutenant Peter Von Bullow and we are members of the Alpine Purity League comprising four countries of which Transalpine and Trisalpine are the strongest. Our aim is to spread purity across the world by Teutonic might and destroy all inferior races and impurities.” It was if he was repeating something he had learnt by rote rather than anything he truly believed in. “I believe you are called Angel a blasphemous use of a Holy name.”
“It is a shortened form of my full name Sir. I’m Angelica by birth Lieutenant.” She replied coyly.
“I see, well in that case Angelica you will remain silent for the rest of the journey.” With that he sped up and walked just ahead of the group whilst the guard glared at her. Their guard was a youngish woman called Caroline but if there was any affinity between them it was certainly buried deep. She was a vicious short woman who bordered on the paranoid when it came to the letter of her strange rules.
The young man looked back over his shoulder at the guard and said with a stern voice.
“If you want to report my conversation with the slave unit feel free Caroline. I shall be putting it in my report anyway. How can we expect to win over the hearts and the minds of the pure bloods of their nation if they have not heard of what we represent?”
The guard struggled to formulate a reply. “Don’t bother to think up a reply leave the thinking to the officer class you just obey orders, like getting those slackers at the back to speed up.”
Soon the woman was wielding her cane again to drive Hattie and the fishmonger’s wife to hurry with an intense scowl on her face.
When they reached their destination they were instructed to pee into a bucket already containing urine before entering the long low building where two burly men in leather aprons waited for them. Once again they were forced to strip and hang their clothes on pegs attached to the wall but this time they were grateful as the room was baking hot from the sun and stunk to high heaven. Everywhere hung the bloodied hides of cattle, goat and sheep and what Dannia could have sworn was horse, while buckets of vile liquid peppered the floor their vapours stinging their eyes. At the far end was a forge where rivets were being made. They suddenly realised with sinking hearts they were in the tannery where the other women had failed in.
They were soon allocated their tasks for the day. Dannia scraped the remaining flesh off the hides that had been soaked in urine while making sure she didn’t damage them in the process. Juliet due to her previous skill with a forge was made to make rivets and plates that could be used to strengthen the armour she was making. She had to stretch the leather over chest and back plate formers making sure she had enough waste but not to much to trim off after they had been placed in boiling water to shrink it. The others were allocated different buckets in which they would dunk, wash and swirl the skins including the one that had the urine in.
The heat inside was almost unbearable as the day progressed and after they had finished their fourteen hour day they were grateful to get outside into the somewhat cooler air. To be honest it wasn’t that cool but anything was better than the heat within. They formed up preferring to carry their sacking dresses rather than wear them.
“Put on your clothes you degenerates I will not have you marching back looking like common whores.” Caroline screamed her face going red with apoplexy.
“But guard we are too hot. We would faint before going a hundred yards.” Hattie complained.
“Trouble Caroline?” The lieutenant’s voice purred with contained pleasure. “Why are these women still naked?”
Caroline glared at the assembled women especially Dannia before answering.
“They are far to hot from working in the tannery and would faint if they marched clothed sir.”
“A good idea Caroline but they will dress before we enter the camp.” His voice conveyed clearly that he didn’t believe it was the guard’s idea. He looked across at Dannia and smiled. “I take it from your raised hand that you have another question Angelica?”
“Yes sir. Why do you think we are inferior sir?” Dannia was pushing her luck but it was a risk she had to take.
“How dare you ask that you freak!” Caroline raged her cane slashing out to crack cross Dannia’s back. “Back home you’d have been strangled at birth along with fang there. We don’t allow any deviation from our purity; we will destroy all those that fail to meet the criteria.”
“Is this true sir?” Dannia asked shocked.
“Yes, if a mother was to produce a defective child that child would be taken away and killed. The mother would be taken away for study as to why it had occurred, but many take their own lives because of the shame.” He turned to Juliet. “And both your mother and father would have been destroyed for taking part in an unnatural coupling.”
“I don’t know my father; I know what he was but not who he was because my mum was raped.” She said in a slow plodding voice unlike her normal one.
“Your mother would be expected to tell the committee where she would be tried and if guilty hung, if not she would be expected to kill the child at birth and then herself. I’m sorry but that is the law.” He did seem to be contrite.
“But sir I’m not a freak of birth all my people are my size in fact I’m considered quite tall at three foot seven. We come from Erin Sir an island in the Cold Sea.” Dannia explained.
“You are one of the little people of legend?” He was obviously stunned but swiftly pulled himself together. “Enough of this! March them away guard!”
As they made the journey back Dannia became embarrassingly aware of the young officer stealing glances at her over his shoulder as he marched ahead of them back to the camp.
The sun was just touching the horizon as they returned to camp now fully dressed to counter act the cool air coming up from the river. The woman still lay stretched out on the dusty earth but now her skin was bright red from sunburn and her face was scarlet from where the sun had been magnified. Vomit pooled from her mouth and out of her nose showing where she had choked on it, she was quite dead. On cross trees around her were hanging her hut mates beaten black and blue but thankfully still alive, just. While they watched they were cut down and thrown into their hut followed by the dead woman’s body by the guards.
“Wall them up.” The commander ordered. “Seal them in. Let them eat her cooked carcass if they want food.”
The guards set to work sealing the building while their lieutenant crossed to speak to her. The woman listened intently nodding and explaining even placing a hand on the young mans shoulder before turning to Dannia’s group.
“Angel of Erin step forward so I can see you?” The voice seemed reasonable and actually warm.
“Here I am Madam.” Dannia said stepping forward nervously. The woman was psychotic so anything could happen.
The woman looked her over critically as if she was a farmer inspecting a prize cow to see if was sound, she half expected her to check her teeth.
“I can see why you may have thought this creature was of the legendary race of little weapon bearers. She is certainly small and fair enough but if you look her eyebrows are more prominent and the head too steeply sloping at the front, in fact the whole body structure is too solid to be of the fairy folk. This is clearly one of the inferior races but you were right to voice your concerns.” She spoke calmly as if at a beast fair. The commander turned to a male guard. “Have her flogged for her impertinence in claiming to be connected to the fairy smiths.”
While the others watched unable to do anything accept protest and offer to go in her place Dannia was dragged to the cross trees where she was stripped and suffered ten strokes of the cane across her upper legs, bottom and back. Dannia used her training to shut off the pain and put it under lock and key for later in her brain, but one emotion did burn in her soul more brightly than a torch, that of revenge. When it was done she was untied and pushed toward the others and ushered into the hut.
“Oh my god Little Angel what have they done to you.” Beatrix said when she got a close look at her back. “I’m going to need water and plenty of it.” She ordered just managing to catch Dannia as she literally collapsed into her arms in floods of tears.
“Take her to the waterfall quickly now.” Beatrix ordered as she divested herself of her dress. Juliet ever so gently carried Dannia to the waterfall muttering soothing words as she went, as Dannia tried to control herself and stop her body wracking sobs. Soon Dannia was standing naked under the waterfall with the cleric using the stream of water to heal the open wounds the knotted cane had created.
“Will I have marks Beatrix?” She asked worriedly. Dannia was proud of her still smooth youthful skin unmarked by the trade she was in and the thought of it being damaged or marred in anyway terrified her.
“No Little Angel, though they broke the skin I managed to get to it quickly enough. But I can’t keep doing it I just won’t have the energy with the way they are working us and starving us.” The cleric replied her face drawn; the skin cracked around her mouth, the floor of the waterfall area was strangely bone dry.
“Then we must escape and soon while we have the strength.” Hattie’s statement and the fierce way she delivered it stunned them all. “I have no intension of dying in this shit hole just for their pleasure I’d rather die fighting.”
“What with?” The young woman, Alice, from the other village asked as she handed Beatrix a cup of water to help replace what she had lost.
“I don’t know, but I do know that we won’t get anywhere by being defeated before we start.” She turned to where the two naked women were drying themselves. “Little Angel are you well enough to join in a meeting to decide our next course of action?”
“Oh yes, try and stop me.” Dannia had no doubt that the suggestion was well meant but she doubted that they would get very far.
As they all sat around the table in the sweltering heat it soon became obvious how exhausted they all were as they fought to stay awake.
“Fran as a druid can you bring any special skills to bear, come to think of it can you transform yourself into an animal like a bear at all? I know that druids can do these things.” Hattie asked but the young woman just shook her head.
“I’m not advanced enough in my teachings to do transmogrification but I can do some other things. I can call up insects to my command, I do that to aid pollination of the plants back home, and as long as there are plants in the area I can accelerate their growth to form snares and barriers. I can communicate with most animals except those devil dogs and ask for aid, it’s how I get the foxes and wolves to leave the flocks alone. I can also control the weather to some extent and though I haven’t tried it I can call down lightning. But that’s about it I’m afraid.” Fran replied a little shame facedly.
“Excellent.” Hattie said trying to hide her disappointment. “Beatrix?”
“I’m a healer Hattie not a warrior or mage, the most I can do is like Fran call down
Holy flame strikes and slow time up for an individual or small group but it isn’t easy.” She said bitterly.
“I can help.” Dannia said trying not to get angry with their unintentional looks of amusement. She coughed and reached and a small ring with tiny burgling tools dropped out of her mouth into her palm. “I can open doors and defuse traps. My sister Dannia showed me how.”
“I didn’t know you had a sister neither you or you brother Simon mentioned her.” Fran said trying to divert the conversation that she felt was getting nowhere.
“No, we are a little at odds with each other. She is my twin but we are chalk and cheese. She’s very austere and doesn’t approve of my life style. She’s a scout with the military and tried to get me interested in joining by teaching me some of her tricks so I can be useful in any escape.” Dannia fabricated.
It was Juliet’s turn next and she offered her strength to the venture as did the fishmonger’s wife Bella who had mighty muscles of her own and finally Alice who was a competition bow women if they could ever get their hands on a set of bow and arrows.
“Did you notice that hut 1 is empty?” Dannia asked as they climbed up into their bunks to allow Hattie to absorb the information. “I wonder what happened to them.”
“I hope we don’t have to find out by joining them because I have a feeling it won’t be pleasant.” Said Fran as she gave Dannia a passionate goodnight kiss before taking, thankfully, to her own bunk.
Soon everyone bar Dannia was asleep giving her a chance to go to work. Carefully she lifted up and slid aside the wood panels above her head to make a space just large enough for her to slip through into the roof space where in absolute silence she changed into her black leathers and gauze face mask. With great care she removed the roof tile above her and slipped out into the warm night.
One of the properties of her black leathers was its ability to turn Dannia into a living shadow that was nigh impossible to see. A mage in her previous town had put the magical effect on them for Dannia on the proviso that she helped him slip away from this mortal coil and not suffer the final indignities of his illness and infirmities. She had smothered him while he slept before repositioning him at his favourite spot at his desk. She was nothing but considerate.
She watched critically as the patrol moved around the compound in the flickering torch light from the lighted sconces. Though they weren’t lackadaisical they weren’t that observant either which made Dannia’s movements somewhat easier. Clinging to the shadows she made her way across to the fenced off area and after a short run up somersaulted over the fence and dashed into the shadows of the wooden building in the centre. Anyone with very sharp eyesight may have been lucky enough to have spotted a fleeting shadow on the roof before it disappeared.
Dannia crawled along the beams that crisscrossed this much longer hut shocked at what she saw. The women where emaciated and gaunt as they lay in their cots like so many corpses in their shrouds, as if waiting for the undertaker to take them away for interment. Dannia examined their faces intently looking for their Sorceress Louisa hoping against hope that she would recognise her wizen form. Eventually she found her lying on a cot in a dark corner of the room weeping gently. Louisa, like Fran, Beatrix and Juliet was in her early twenties and a vivacious lively girl nothing like the dry seventy year old that confronted her. She carefully removed her hood and gauze mask and then removed a selection of food from her pouch which she lowered down to her friend below.
“Louisa its ‘Little Angel’.” She called softly using the name Louisa always used for her.
Louisa looked up and saw the pale shape of Dannia’s face looking down on her.
“Have I died then and gone to heaven?” Her voice was cracked and dry like rustling leaves.
“If you have I’ve gone as well and since I haven’t neither have you.” She whispered down to her frail friend.
“Pity.” Louisa replied. “I’d quite relish death over this existence.
“There’s some food in the cloth I’m lowering, it’s not much but it might help. What happened? How did you get in here and how did you get like that?”
Hesitantly the young woman replied telling how she was captured as she sucked on a piece of fruit trying to extract every last drop of moisture. The enemy almost caught her on the hop at the Witch Tower, she was taking the air on the veranda that morning rather than as was her usual habit of sleeping in. She had a slight headache and hoped the air would stop it becoming a migraine when she spied the raiders running up to the Witch Towers door. With out hesitating she dropped a fireball into their midst badly hurting two of them but now warned they set up a steady hail of missiles to break her concentration then an officer rode up and fired some sort of charge from a long ebon rod that seemed to drain her of energy making her pass out. When she came to she was trust up and made to drink a vile green liquid that withered and desiccated her to the condition she was now in. Each morning after the others were gone they were taken over to be fed with the minimal food and made to drink more of the rancid drink which keeps them in their emaciated state.
“What happened to the Mages spell books?” Dannia asked. You see there is a difference between a mage and a sorcerer a fundamental one which explained why Dannia was trying to feed up Louisa.
Mages though more powerful than a sorcerer had to relearn their spells, hence the spell books, before they slept so they could store magical energies into the glyph’s they had created in their minds whereas the sorcerer simply knew the spell and the energy was stored automatically but the energy was limited and therefore so was the spells.
“They were taken and stored in a brick block house inside the compound, I know that because they torment us with the knowledge that they are so near and yet so far.”
“I’ve got to go and get back into my own hut. Be prepared. I’ll try and get more food and some of the scrolls and spell books for the next time.” With that she pulled up her hood and gauze making her merge into the darkness once more. “What ever happens I’ll be back.”
“Little Angel be careful.” Louisa replied before rousing her cabin mates and sharing out the food.
Dannia was soon out on the roof of the hut watching the patrol once more before leaping off dashing over and somersaulting over the fence and vanishing into the dark. She was just about to climb up the end of her cabin and squeeze in through the hole she had made when she heard tuneless whistling and soft footfalls of the lieutenant as he approached on his nightly walk. There was no way she could avoid being seen going up the shed side her mind was racing to come up with someway of escape as the man drew ever nearer.
She swiftly pealed of her leathers and bundled them into the deeper shadow behind her and slipped on her dress leaving it totally unbuttoned at the front. When the lieutenant came into view Dannia was lying back against the hut flapping the open front of the dress to cool herself revealing her naked form underneath.
Aware that he was watching her she didn’t react until he called to her then she jumped if startled and covered herself up from his eyes.
“What are you doing outside of the hut woman?” He tried to be gruff but for some reason it didn’t work, perhaps because his heart wasn’t in it.
“Please lieutenant, don’t punish me again please it’s so hot in the hut I couldn’t bear it.” That was true the day had been hot and without good ventilation the hut had become stifling.
“You know as well as I do that to be outside after curfew is a punishable offence.” He paused before adding in a gentler voice. “Is your back still painful from the punishment?”
“Yes sir, very. You won’t report me will you sir?” Dannia was pulling every trick in the book to illicit sympathy and information and it seemed to be working.
“No not this time. Can you get back inside with out being seen?” She nodded. “Good. Now after I have left go and get yourself back inside the hut and I will say no more about it.” He looked down at the orchard fruit that he still held in his hand, the remains of his evening meal that he had intended to enjoy during his walk. “Here catch.” He threw it to her and with a show of pain Dannia caught it deftly in one hand.
“Thank you sir, and good night sir.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” With that he turned and leisurely walked away as if nothing had happened so he failed to hear Dannia’s reply.
“I’ll be here lover boy same place same time.”
And then she was gone leaving no evidence of her passing behind.