Natir woke up in the middle of the night.
The inside of the wagon was hot, humid, and so dark, Natir could not see her hand in front of her face.
Something heavy was pressing on her chest. She soon realized that it was the bare foot of the man who shared the wagon with her and had a bad habit of turning in his sleep. Natir carefully set the hairy foot off to free herself. His uninterrupted snoring assured her that she did not bother him.
She blew a great breath and covered her eyes with her forearm. She wasn’t feeling well, and the humidity was choking her, so she searched for her cloak as she decided to go out and get some fresh air…
Lazy snowflakes floated weightless in the air as she walked within the small camp.
Her spirit was down. Natir had had nothing over the past few days but cold looks from rough men whom she knew nothing about, and her attempts to get close to Earhart were shut down miserably as each time she tried to approach him, she was met with a cold shoulder.
Natir couldn’t stand this situation, this cold, this place, and this company. She didn’t belong here, and she felt desperate to go back.
“Can’t sleep?” someone called.
She didn’t recognize the voice of whoever it was keeping watch at this hour, so she headed towards the campfire where he sat.
His face was familiar, but she didn’t have a name to attach to it yet.
“Not really,” Natir answered as she stood next to him. She stole glances his way.
Her caller was a young man in his twenties with brown hair and average build. The campfire’s light gave him a much firmer looks than he deserved, but the light-trick did not deceive Natir. His short beard caught her eye. It was carefully brushed, perhaps in his attempt to hide the fact he wasn’t the type to have a fully-developed beard at such young age.
“Mind if I join you, sir?” she asked.
He moved aside on the log, so she took the offer and shared his fire.
He asked after a pause, “Bad dream?”
“No. The man sleeping in the wagon, sorry, I forgot his name...Hefeydd! He turns often in his sleep.”
“And he snores even worse. You can hear it from over here.”
“Yes, that too.”
“That’s why we talked him into taking the wagon to keep an eye on you,” he chuckled.
Natir gave him a questioning look.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “he’s our friend and we like him. It’s just that, well, we’d like him a whole lot more if we didn’t have to share the same tent.”
It was deliberate!
Natir slowly dropped her face in her palm.
“Don’t let it bother you,” he continued. “He’s a brave man, you’d want him around if things go wrong.”
She lowered her hand and echoed, “If things go wrong.”
“You just never know… So, what’s your story, Natir? Why are you out here?”
“I honestly don’t know, but I’m sure you’ve heard that my master was cornered. He needed a way out, and I was the only scapegoat he could afford.”
He chuckled. “Your master? You mean Volk?”
She looked at him. “Yes. Why did you say it like that?”
“Like I’m telling a joke.”
“Because it is a joke, and everybody knows it.” He snapped a twig and fed it to the fire. “Alfred rarely shows interest in women, but once he sets his eyes on one, well, it can’t really be called a secret for long.”
Now he snagged her attention. “So you know?”
“Everybody knows. We’re not blind.”
“Is that why no one tried to touch me? They’re all worried what Alfred might think of it?”
“I imagine that it has a lot to do with it, yes. For some, that’s a very good deterrent. Alfred can be quite the madman sometimes. But for others it’s even simpler than that: no one wants to get into trouble for touching another man’s slave without permission. It can cost quite a bit, you know.”
“And which of them are you?”
He chuckled. “Neither. My woman will kill me.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Your woman will kill you?”
He brushed his hand through his hair. “Yes, well, I ended up with quite the jealous companion.”
“That sounds unlucky.”
“To the women she thinks are making a move on me, yes, quite unlucky.” He laughed. “You see, she gets these, um, I’m not sure what to call it. Uncontrollable seizures of rage. She just...she snaps! The next thing you know, she’s trying to strangle them or break their teeth or something.”
She chuckled. “Okay, now I feel bad for you.”
“Don’t be. She may be a handful, but I truly think I’m the luckiest man alive. It shows me just how much she cares.”
“Yes, but still, to be jealous of a slave is… Well, it’s quite unusual.”
“It is what it is. It doesn’t matter to her if it’s a free woman or a slave. If she got tits then she’s off limits, it’s as simple as that.” He looked at her. “But then again, are you really still a slave?”
She rocked back and forth. “Will this finally be my night of enlightenment? Will you be the one to tell me all about it?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me.”
“Like I understand a thing. Please, tell me what you know.”
“I wish I could, but I don’t really get what Alfred is doing, myself… Most of the time he won’t look at the same woman twice, and you’d think that’s okay. But then one day he suddenly snaps and go crazy for one. And you’d think that’s okay, too. That it’s kind of normal. But this is where the confusing part kicks in. I mean, he’s not really with them, but he’s not letting them go, either. So, what was it that he really intended? I don’t get it.”
“Yes, well, I don’t get it, either.”
“The only thing I can tell you for sure, though,” he waited for her to look at him, “is that you’re no longer a slave nor a free woman.”
“Then what am I?”
He shrugged. “Just Alfred’s.”
“And you’re all okay with that?”
“I don’t see anything wrong with it. I mean, forget that he’s the earl and he can do whatever he wants, but also, as far as I’m concerned, if that’s how a man has his fun then by all means, so be it. Let each worry about their own flock, right?”
Natir muttered, “Maybe… I don’t know.”
“I guess that nothing I’ve said makes sense, does it?”
“No. I’m not sure that it explains anything, either, but I am glad that you told me this much. I feel that I needed to hear it.”
“Stop worrying about it. You’ll see, things will work out eventually… You should go back to sleep now. We’ll be heading off the road tomorrow, so the wagon will be left behind. This might be the last night you get any good sleep. Make it count.”
She nodded and headed to the wagon but she stopped to ask, “I didn’t get your name, sir.”
“Teyrnon, thank you.”
He looked back at her. “For what?”
“For what we just had. For days now, no one has bothered to talk to me, not even once.”
“What are you talking about? We talk to you all the time.”
“Yes. Don’t go far! Fetch the wood! Do the cooking! That’s not talk. I was...it made me feel worse than a slave, it made me feel like an outsider.”
“What, you need someone to bed you or something?” he humored then shook his head. “Nah, you’re just a green twig and you tend to overthink things. Go back to sleep.”
“Still, thank you. That was very nice of you.”
He waved his hand in return.
Natir smiled and headed back to sleep, feeling a cold breath of relief embrace her lungs.