Natir Whitebridge: A Grain of Respect

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Chapter 23

A Humble Woman

A shock was waiting for Natir when she knocked on the door, so much so that she was taken aback a step; the door was answered by a familiar face, one that she was not prepared to meet like this.

“Uh!”

As it turned out, Gull was no other than the very man who had saved her in the forest.

Natir was spontaneously mesmerized by his manly sight, with her eyes feasting on him in admiration.

He was shirtless, and his beard and long black hair were wet, as if he had just washed his face. Water dripped down his chest, prompting her gaze to follow it onto his sore chest muscles.

Still waiting for his visitor to say something, Gull lay his arm on the door jam and rested his head on it, looking down at her with sleepy eyes.

She snapped out of it. “I..um, hello. I mean, good morning.”

“Good morning,” he said after a pause.

“I’m so sorry, I never had the chance to thank you properly, sir.”

“What?”

“For the other night.”

He said, unsure, “You’re welcome?”

Natir was confused. The man was scrutinizing her face as though he had no clue who she was.

She reminded him, “For saving me from the wolves? Back in the forest?”

“Oh, you’re the one?”

“Yes, that was me. Thank you. No one ever did anything like that for me before.”

He humored, “What, you’ve never been attacked by wolves before? Really? Well, I’m not sure where you come from, young woman, but it sounds like a place I would love to herd some sheep at.”

She sucked on her lip not to laugh.

“I...I just can never find the words to tell you how grateful I am. You were...you were really something. Thank you.”

“You like to knock on other people’s doors first thing in the morning just to thank them?”

“What? Oh, no, actually, I was wondering if I can have a word with Joyce for a moment. I know that she was sent here last night and, um, there’s something I need to ask her.”

Short of interest, Gull shrugged and made way, just enough space for Natir to pass through.

“Thank you.”

He closed the door behind her and headed to a table where a bucket of water was and resumed washing his face.

Natir stood still, watching his back.

“She’s in the storage room.”

She headed there.

Joyce was crouched down, smiling ear to ear, as she peeled and washed a cabbage.

She looked over her shoulder and surprise drew on her face when she saw Natir walk in through the beads-curtain.

Joyce stood up to face her and said, dryly and quietly, “What do you want?”

Natir matched her tone, “We need to talk.”

“We have nothing to talk about.”

“Oh, I think we do.”

“What connection we once had was severed. We belong to different masters now.”

Natir gazed down, suppressing a laugh, and then shook her head.

“Yes. Yes, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.” She walked past Joyce, turning her face left and right at the rich contents of the storage. “And I bet it was the most convenient thing in the world for you, wasn’t it?”

Joyce spun around to follow Natir with her mad gaze. “Freemen decided what they want, and we were both inherited by others. There is nothing convenient about any of it. If you’re not content with your fortune—”

“Are these dry peaches?” Natir said as she unwrapped a bundle. “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I got distracted by these.” She picked a peach and sniffed it. “It smells so lovely. You know, I don’t think I had a peach in ages.” She put it back. “Maybe you can ask your master to lend some to my master? I mean, he must be in a good mood after getting your skinny ass for free and all. Unlike my master, who probably had to borrow a chicken to come out with my payment.”

Joyce approached Natir and hissed, “I think you should leave. Now.”

They were trying to keep their voices down but the hostility in the air was so high, their voices kept growing with every word they spoke.

“Not before you tell me everything.”

“I have nothing to say to you. Please go.”

“You and everyone else, it seems.”

“Don’t make me do something you will regret.” Joyce attempted to give her a push.

Natir quickly seized her wrist. “Now you listen to me, you slut—”

“Let go of my hand—”

“You better start talking, or I swear—”

“Let go of my hand right now or I’ll scream—”

Just then, Gull walked in on them and both women quickly broke it up and jumped a step away from one another.

He slowly turned his face between them, looking uninterested. “If you got things to say to each other that you don’t want others to hear then go ahead.”

Joyce chased after him to the other room. “No, no, we don’t, master!”

“It’s fine. I don’t care.” He collected his things off the table as he went. “I was on my way out anyway.”

Joyce reached her arm after him. “I’m preparing breakfast—”

He had already left and slammed the door behind him.

Overtaken by rage, the two women looked at one another then suddenly they both jumped at each other.

“Natir, you bitch—”

“You fuckin’ rat-whore—”

“Just when I was about to set the mood. Aghh—”

They were thrown back onto the storage amidst their struggle.

Natir was surprised by how easily she overpowered her opponent, it was as if Joyce had the power of a child in her arms; she pinned Joyce face-down, with her knee at Joyce’s back and her hand twisting Joyce’s arm up as the other pushed Joyce’s head down against the floor.

“Set the mood?” Natir hissed, “Set the mood, you tramp? I should set your ugly face with the floor for what you did, NOW TALK.”

“Let go of me.”

“Start talking or I’ll break your arm.”

“I can’t breathe. Natir? Natir, I really can’t breathe,” she begged and pat Natir’s thigh, surrendering.

She flipped Joyce over and mounted her chest. Both of Joyce’s arms trapped under Natir’s shins. She waited for Joyce to catch a breath.

Joyce grimaced. “If you think you can harm, Aghh—”

Natir immediately grabbed Joyce’s bangs and slammed the back of her head to the floor.

“I just did. So what? Come on, threaten me some more, see how that will work out for you.”

“Just what is it that you want from me?”

She leaned down and hissed, “You ratted me out, didn’t you?”

“I never—”

Her hand clutched Joyce’s throat. “I came here ready to kill you for what you did! You think I care what happens anymore? You think anything you do will make me take it easy on you? Go ahead and try me.”

She let go and stole a moment for herself, staring down at Joyce with true hate in her eyes.

“You should be grateful,” Natir said, “no, you should be licking my shoe and telling me how grateful you are that all I want to take from you is the truth.”

“What truth?”

“You look at me like that again AND I’LL GOUGE YOUR EYES OUT. I swear, I should kill you. I should kill you like I killed Cahal.”

Overtaken by shock, Joyce still managed to summon a frown.

“Lies,” Joyce said.

“Is it?”

“You wouldn’t dare. And even if you did, still you would never breathe a word about it to anyone. Alfred killed Cahal, and we both know it.”

“Does it sound like I’m lying? But it doesn’t matter if I told you or not, does it? Because you’re part of it.”

“Am I?”

“ENOUGH WITH IT… No more lies, Joyce. Enough is enough.” She panted with rage. “Alfred knew about Cahal’s plan from the very beginning, didn’t he? He knew, and he was prepared for it, and he turned the ambush back on Cahal so easily, not because he heard about it from a spy on one of Cahal’s friends, but because he heard it from a spy within Cahal’s own house. He heard it from you. You were eavesdropping on us and you ratted us out since day one. That’s why he’d never sent for me ever since. There’s just no other way he could have found out about it so quickly. IT WAS YOU.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Tell me that I’m wrong.”

“You are wrong. Wrong and an idiot!” she shouted then intoned, meanly and very hush, “You think I was eavesdropping on you two? How naive can you possibly get? Who do you think put that thought in Cahal’s head in the first place?”

“What?” Natir froze with shock.

Joyce’s mad eyes remained firmly upon her.

With doubt sneaking into her chest, Natir was befuddled. “No… No, you’re lying. Cahal explained his plan to me, he told me he’d been waiting—”

“He told you garbage and men’s ego…” she interrupted. “Tell me, did Cahal really seem that bright to you? Or was he the kind of person who had enough patience to plot something and wait for years to execute it? The man didn’t even last a fortnight in a game of patience with Alfred, for Veles’ sake! Pay attention to whose mouth the words come from before what they say!”

Slowly, Natir got off and Joyce pulled herself up to her feet.

With tears gathering in her eyes and rage in her voice, Joyce let it out.

“You think...you think I felt threatened when Cahal bought you? I was scared shitless that day, you dumb bitch! I’ve never been so scared in my life… And why shouldn’t I be? Cahal got himself a new toy to play with, his friends had fresh meat to rent, and even Alfred showed interest in you from the first step you took in this horrid place for who knows what madness his mind is plagued with—

“BUT WHAT ABOUT ME? Huh? Just look at me. What do I got going for me? I don’t compare to you in looks, my best years are behind me, not a man in this rotten village didn’t already have enough of me, and Alfred never approached me the way he approached you. I’m the old joke no one laughs at anymore… My value to both brothers was suddenly deteriorated, and my days were numbered. Just like the woman before me, and the one before her, I too was of no more use to anyone. It was just a matter of time—

“But then, when I realized exactly what kind of interest Alfred had in you, that’s when I saw my one last chance to save myself. So, yes, I was the one who whispered in Cahal’s ear to accept Alfred’s money rather than whip you senseless and disfigure your stupid face. I was the one who dictated the whole plan to him. I was Alfred’s ear on Cahal all along. And I was the one who told Alfred all that he needed to know about it long before Cahal even approached you with his plan… You honestly thought you killed Cahal? No, you were just the fool who finished him off. The one who really killed him was me.”

Shocked senseless, Natir couldn’t believe a word she was hearing.

“You were behind it? You? Joyce?”

“That’s why I told you, you’re an idiot. You have no clue how this world works. You don’t..you don’t just pick a side and then go around praising what he did for you, ask all those questions about him, sex him, and...and...have that look of eagerness in your eyes for him UNDER THE ROOF OF HIS FUCKIN’ ENEMY… Frankly, I’m not even sure what kind of luck you must have to have survived this.”

Natir stuttered, “You did this to me? To Aina?”

“I could not foresee how things would turn out for any of us.”

“HAD YOU EVEN THOUGHT WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO HER?”

“I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST YOU AND AINA. You’re just slaves, same as I am. But we were all drowning, and I chose to save myself.”

Natir inhaled fire into her lungs. “I warned you not to lie to me.”

“And I didn’t.”

“No. That was a flat out lie, what you just said. I was there last night, I saw you when they gave us away,” she said, causing Joyce to roll her eyes. “You were so happy your legs could barely hold you. And you dare to tell me that you were just trying to save yourself? That you’ve gotten nothing out of it?”

Joyce yelled out of her mind, “What difference does it make when it just so happens that two things came together…? When it was over, Alfred asked me what I want for a reward, and I named Gull. A true man who cares not for slaves nor fortune, and every woman dreams of him. I’m as good as free already. In fact, he already told me I’m free to leave anytime I feel like it. But I won’t take his offer just yet, not before I share his bed and carry his child inside of me. And then maybe he’ll take me as a companion, and even if he doesn’t then for his own blood whom I shall bear, I’ll be set for life. All that I have to do is to stop putting a bung between my legs, and everything I ever dreamt of will come true.”

The two women shared a tense moment, eying each other.

“You should never underestimate a humble woman.” Joyce motioned at Natir with disgust. “She knows exactly what she can and what she cannot do, thus she never falls into a mishap over her head.”

Natir dropped her face, silent and nodding.

She then came closer and suddenly grabbed Joyce’s head and like lightning she repeatedly slammed it against the wall.

Joyce fell on her knees and almost immediately Natir kicked her to the head, knocking her on her back, yelping, with blood on her mouth and her nose.

Natir grabbed a knife and came back. She crouched next to Joyce and put the tip of the knife just beneath Joyce’s jaw.

She whispered frightengly, “If you ever risk Aina’s life again, if any harm ever comes upon a single hair on her head, even if you have nothing to do with it and you are merely standing near by, I swear on Perun’s heart that even the dogs will be too disgusted to eat what’s left of your flesh, once I’m done with you.”

Natir swiftly flipped her wrist, causing a cut on Joyce’s skin, then headed out with the knife slipping from her fingers and onto the floor with a resounding clang as she went.

“Add this to the things you can never ever do, humble woman.”

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