“You need to get rid of that girl, I don’t like her.”
Laura Galagher sat at her vanity, arms crossed and facing away from her husband. Thomas ran a weary hand down his face. He’d just had a satisfying night after a hard day’s work and the only thing he needed now was his bed – not the nagging wife he had been saddled with by his relations. She did come with her perks though. She knew of his indiscretions and kept her thoughts to herself, like any meek wife would do. She ran the household to perfection and while she was plain as a pikestaff, he didn’t really need more from her than an heir.
Her hefty dowry was a nice incentive too, even though that was never spoken of.
Occasionally, however, she would decide she didn’t like a servant or slave here and there and he would have to get rid of them. It was a small price to pay for the relative peace he got from his otherwise perfect household.
“Which girl is it this time?”
“The catty one. Do you know she ignored me calling her from the fields the other day? I don’t like the slaves putting on airs. She needs to go.”
“Be clear, woman. Which one are you talking about? There are more servants on this plantation than I can count. ‘The catty one’ isn’t description enough.”
Laura huffed and turned away from her husband. She knew she wasn’t being specific but he should know to whom she was referring. Her wayward husband went to her often enough. The wench wounded his pride more than once, and most often while he was in a drunken stupor, which led him to seeking favours from his wife, favours she was more than loath to give.
Now that Laura was with child and willing to close that chapter, she needed the girl to go. If she wasn’t careful, that girl, that… Poppy or Daisy, or whatever… would usurp her place in the plantation. Laura was a lot of things but stupid certainly wasn’t one of them. He would, and could, verily chase her off without a penny and let that servant girl take her place – a place she hadn’t asked for but was a sight better than being unmarried or worse – divorced.
For that reason, she had to go.
“You know the one. The one you keep returning to even though she spurns you. The one you seem not to realise you favour. I can’t stand her and she needs to go.”
“Rose?” asked Thomas finally catching up, “You want me to get rid of Rose?”
“Ha! You even know her name. Are you two that intimate?”
“Dear wife, are you growing jealous of a servant?”
Laura took umbrage at that and his tone made her bristle.
“Look here, I am a Devesham, a woman born and bred in high society. I do not get jealous over the help. I am merely pointing out that she is of no more use to us and she needs to go. Post Haste.”
At this she picked up her brush and began to vigorously comb her hair. She heard him sigh considering her words. He didn’t buy it, she knew. Theirs was not a union born of love, but they tolerated each other and they knew each other very well. He may not accept her excuse but she knew he would do it. One word from her to her family and she could ruin him and his precious plantation. After a lengthy silence, he finally groaned and fell back on the bed.
“Very well, wife. Rose shall be sold on the morrow.”
“Good,” she said, knowing the argument was over.
“And you, shall make sure you bear me an heir.”
“What?” she said snapping her gaze back at him lying on the bed.
“That is my one condition. Rose shall be sold,” he said rising on his elbows to look at her, “but I shall have my conjugal rights until you bear me an heir.”
Laura sputtered at that. She definitely did not expect him to retaliate with this. He knew she did not enjoy their coupling and for him to ask this of her…
“I will not…”
“Choose your words carefully, wife. You may have the ear of your family now, but I shall have it if you do not bear me a legitimate heir. You know as well as I that if there is nobody to claim our legacy, it shall go to whichever relative happens to be closest – and you will not have done your duty by your people. They shall have no claim to the plantation nor all that goes along with it which was part of the bargain when we were wed. And, upon my death, timely as it may or may not be, you shall lose it all – unless you bear me an heir.”
Laura fisted her hands and stared into the mirror. It was task enough dealing with the illness that came of being pregnant and the thought of childbirth turned her stomach more than she cared to admit, but damn it all, he had a point. She needed an heir to secure her place and for that, she would need to lie with him more than once. He had called her bluff. She would have to give in this time.
She was quiet for a long while and Thomas was just drifting off into a weary sleep when her reply finally came.
“Very well. I know you are right, damn you to hell.”
“I shall meet you in the flames, my dear,” he chuckled, rolled over and finally fell fast asleep. Laura stayed up glaring at her mirror. She would have to lie with the swine she had been saddled with until she bore an heir – if this child was not one already. Most of high society didn’t care for heirs and heiresses were coming into fashion as well. She was one of them and could not fathom why the custom was not altogether changed.
But his family was an old one and one based on traditions. One condition of their marriage was that she would bear the family an heir - one who would take over the plantation and carry on the name of his family. If she did not fulfill her end of the bargain, her claim to her family would be useless. Such was her fate. It may have been irrational to now turn around and blame all this on that servant wench, but blame her she did.
If she had not somehow charmed Thomas, Laura would not have gotten incensed. If she had not ignored her that afternoon four days ago, Laura would not have been forced to speak to Thomas about it and consequently, her unreasonable husband would not have brought up the issue of heirs.
No, this was all on that worthless slave. And she would pay for what she had done.
Rose was hauled out of her bed early in the morning. The sun had not yet risen and two strong men had muscled their way into the small room that she shared with Maude and dragged her out onto the lawn in the back yard. Before she had a chance to ask what was going on, she caught sight of a lone figure standing on the back porch lit by firelight.
That woman had hated her guts since the moment she had walked onto the plantation. Rose had given them hell and she knew that the only reason she was kept on was because that bastard of a master of theirs had taken some insane liking to her – much to the mistress’ displeasure.
When she had been called into the house that week, she had known it was only on a mission of humiliation and was thankful for the fact that she had been given strict orders not to leave the plantation for any reason. She was a good harvester – and those were in short supply since the last disease epidemic had swept through. Many good slaves had died and it was mostly thanks to Maude’s quick thinking and wisdom that Rose had survived at all.
This must have been the retaliation for that. While he didn’t like seeing her hurt (he had even, in some small way, tried to apologise for the time he had beaten her almost to death) the master had only so much leniency. She had a valid reason, but he wouldn’t protect her from this, even if he wasn’t sound asleep – as he probably was that minute.
“Tie her there. I want to see everything.”
Rose tensed as she saw what she meant. She was to be tied to the whipping pole. A pole she had only been tied to once and never again – and then because she had tried to escape and been caught. It had been a mercy, she knew. She could have been fed to the dogs instead or buried alive or drowned in the nearby lake for her insolence and nobody would have batted an eyelid. Needless to say, she had never tried it again.
Now she was to be whipped and she had no idea why. Did that woman need a reason? She was as bloodthirsty as the rest of them – and she hated Zahra’s guts. Double jeopardy. She would not give her the satisfaction of screaming. She would not make a single sound if she had to bite her own tongue and kill herself…
No, she could not die here. She still had not seen Hadi again. Then again, after so long, could he even be alive? Could he have survived the war that had ripped her from all that she knew and loved all that time ago? She had not seen anyone else from her village so she did not know its fate or that of her people.
Her arms were hauled in front of the pole none-too-gently and bound tightly with rope.
“Tighter. She can’t be allowed to fall.”
Zahra took a deep breath as the ropes tightened around her wrists. The pain would come and it would pass. Then life would carry on. There was no way around it. The hell spawn on the porch was the mistress of the plantation. No amount of cozening or coddling on Zahra’s part could change that even if she was willing to use such wiles on the master – which she wasn’t.
Their customs were not hers. Her scarred body was testament to that. She felt the cold air hit her back as her dress was ripped to give the whip better access to her skin. She wondered briefly if she could really stand this again and even considered maybe begging for her life. She had screamed in pain until she had passed out the last time. That was where it had stopped. The master had been showing her a kindness. She had lived.
The mistress would not be so benevolent, would kill her if she could. No, she decided, that would be cowardly and it would shame her people, her ancestors. She heard the man with the whip step behind her and ready himself.
The first crack of the whip came and with it a white hot searing pain across her back. Zahra bit her lip hard even as she threw her head back in pain. She would not make a sound. She must not give the mistress her pleasure…
The second lash hit her shoulder and went across her back. The third hit her square in the back and may have even drawn blood. The next almost drove her to delirium with the pain. But he did not let up and the lashes kept coming, one after another, each lick like fire on her skin and she had no way to stop it.
This was true frustration. This was true helplessness. Finally, after the next blow and with no more will left inside her not to cry out, she was given reprieve – not by her cruel mistress, oh no. She shut her eyes gratefully as she gave herself up to blessed oblivion.