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Chapter 1

Laurissa lived in a small village called Norstrumn with her mother. Her father was an anonymous rouge who sought her mother’s comfort for one night. Parnell never spoke of her lover to Laurissa. Whenever Laurissa asked about it, Parnell would only tell her he was a mistake that cost them dearly and to never speak of it in public.

The small village of only one hundred people pulled together like one big family. Money was rarely exchanged. Instead, everyone with a skill traded their skill for goods-The farmers traded produce for cloth, the weavers traded cloth for food, and so on. Everyone was responsible for their own household, but the town pulled together to help one another.

When the villagers discovered Parnell’s pregnancy was out of wedlock, they shunned her. Parnell was considered a disgrace and an advocate for the devil. Because Laurissa resulted from such a scandal, the villagers viewed Laurissa as a demon spy and feared she would kill their children.

Parnell was a seamstress. She owned a few sheep and would trade the wool, string, cloth, or articles of clothing for food that fed her sheep and herself. Unfortunately, The villagers viewed Parnell’s wares as tainted from her touch and forced her to seek trade with a neighboring village.

Parnell tried teaching her daughter everything about sewing and caring for the animals. Laurissa was headstrong and didn’t care to learn how to sew. She liked the sheep and would talk to them and tell them how mean the other children were to her. She never spoke to anyone other than the sheep or her mother. The villagers thought Laurissa was mute and cursed because of Parnell’s sin. Laurissa thought if she did speak, she would make it worse for her mother. If she is a demon spawn, then anything she said would be considered a lie or a deception.

When Laurissa reached seven years old, Parnell moved them to Madwell. Madwell is ten times bigger than Norstrumn and rested five miles to the south. Madwell is run by a man named Lord Dunkan, and it is rumored that he collects young girls to run his manor. Parnell hoped Laurissa would catch the Lord’s eye.

Parnell found a home that cost her three of her sheep. It was a rundown shack that barely kept the rain out. People in this village do not care what their neighbors did, nor do they trade or help each other. In the village square were several booths and buildings where people sold goods for coins. Everything one could imagine is there. Vegetables and fruits (some Laurissa had never seen before), beasts of burden, such as goats, chickens, cows, and sheep, are sold. People sold a variety of trinkets and clothing.

Today is one such day. It is a crisp day with a chilly breeze that warned of a very cold winter. The sun is high in the sky and has already started its descent to the horizon even though it is only mid-morning. Travelers wore cloaks and leather boots to keep warm.

Laurissa followed Parnell through Madwell. The people traveled through the main road with their oxen pulling carts of merchandise. Other people were buying meats and grains to store for the winter. The fur vendor had several people looking through his wares.

Her mother rarely had enough wool to need a cart or a vendor. This time Parnell carried nothing in her arms. She passed the clothing vendors then the food stalls. Toward the end of the market was a large wooden stall with a man talking to several wealthy villagers. Laurissa noticed a large group of people huddled near the stall. Their skin is not like anything she has seen. They are very dark with black hair, and they don’t look happy. The men are only wearing a loincloth, and the women are wearing a very thin piece of cloth. It left little to the imagination. Their hair is wrapped in a bun in the back of the head. The men’s hair is cut extremely short. The rich inspected the group of people. They poked and pinched several places on the naked people, then gave coins to a merchant and took one of the people.

Laurissa stopped in the middle of the road, paralyzed by what she witnessed. People are selling and buying people like sheep or food. Parnell noticed Laurissa had stopped and turned around. When she saw the fear in her eyes, she knelt down in front of her. Laurissa’s eyes begged her to protect her. It tore at Parnell’s heart.

“What’s wrong, Laurissa.”

Laurissa breathed heavily and pointed to the slaves. “Those are slaves, Laurissa. The wealthy purchase them to work in their homes and the fields. Depending on the age and strength of the slave will determine their worth. I have heard you could buy a slave for as little as three gold coins.”

Laurissa’s eyes widened, and tears began to fall. That is a horrible way to live. No person should be made to serve another. Those poor people all looked very sad, and some looked sick.

“Don’t worry yourself. Their master will feed them and clothe them for the services they provide. Come with me.”

Parnell grabbed Laurissa’s hand and quickly led her past the slaves. Laurissa had to jog slightly to keep up with Parnell. She noticed how warm her mother’s hand was but thought it was because of how fast Parnell was walking.

Only several yards down the road, another group of people gathered. This time the group consisted of young women of various ages. They were all talking excitedly about Lord Dunkan. Laurissa’s heart began pounding in her chest when she realized what Parnell had intended to do. She was going to offer her to Lord Dunkan as a slave. She couldn’t blame her mother. All her life, her mother has struggled to provide food and shelter for her. She had to work to get out from under the shadow that she created. Never once had Laurissa felt unloved by Parnell. Parnell is doing everything she can to ensure Laurissa lived a long life. But becoming someone’s slave did not seem like the best option.

Parnell could feel her daughter’s hands tremble. This is for the best. If Lord Dunkan chose Laurissa, then she will live a long healthy life. Parnell is sick and had been for a few days. She can’t afford medicine. She will not be able to care for Laurissa much longer.

Parnell stopped at the end of the line of young maidens that lined the edge of the road shoulder to shoulder in their freshly washed clothing, then knelt down to Laurissa.

“Please forgive me, Laurissa. I have made terrible choices, and you have had to suffer for it. This is the only thing I can give you.”

“Mama, let me stay with you. I promise to learn how to sew. I won’t eat much. You don’t even have to acknowledge you have a daughter.”

She didn’t want to become a slave. Perhaps if she didn’t burden her mother, then she would be allowed to stay with her.

Parnell’s eyes watered. Her only daughter doesn’t even know that the living conditions she is in is worse than what pigs sleep in. Parnell gave Laurissa a long hug.

“My sweet daughter. You are not a burden to me. I love you very much. This is why you must charm the noble Lord. He will take care of you, better than I can.”

Laurissa looked over her shoulder at the slaves and feared becoming like them. “But I don’t want to be a slave.”

“You won’t be a slave in his home. The slaves you saw being purchased will work hard. They will bleed and sweat and starve for their master. Most of the noble ladies here are his. Do they look sad?”

Laurissa shook her head and looked past Parnell’s shoulder to the line of women all dressed in freshly clean clothing. Some looked brand new. Girls wore dresses that showed the bosoms. Some girls held their dressed high up to show their legs. Near them were beautiful women in elegant clothing, chatting with the girls, and visiting the men that gathered nearby. They were a bit pale, but they looked clean and happy.

“Go, Laurissa. If he doesn’t choose you, I will welcome you back with love. Love is all I can give.” Parnell wiped tears off Laurissa’s cheeks and guided her to the line of girls.

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