Elyssa struggled for every breath that passed her lips. They had come. The entire village was on edge. For the past year, ever since she had turned eighteen, Elyssa had feared the day would come when she would be forced from her Mother’s home, thrust into a world she did not know. That day was finally upon them. Though she did not show it, Elyssa knew Mother struggled with the knowledge that today would be their last.
The men marched through every street, hard fists banging on every door of every house. Elyssa huddled in the attic, palms pressed over her lips to smother any screams. “Give us the girls” echoed through the streets outside. They were known to the small village simply as The Guard. Every year they came. They only took the eldest of the girls, those eighteen and over. Elyssa did not know how but, somehow, they knew what age a girl was simply by looking at her. They had taken her eldest sister the year before. Mother had swore they would lose no other daughters to these men.
Just as they had done the previous year, the door to their house shattered from its hinges. She could hear Mother below. She swore they had no more daughters to give. They did not believe her. They shattered through the house, searching every nook and cranny. She heard one holler from below. The attic door behind her creaked open. Elyssa did not move. She hoped, somehow, they would not see her. It was of no use. Fingers wrapped around her ankle, yanking her backwards. She screamed. Her nails dug into the floorboard.
“We gots us a fighter.” The man below bellowed. Another hand snatched at her ankle. Despite her protests, she was drug from the darkness.
“Elyssa!” Mother screamed, lurching for her.
One of the men took hold of her, tipped blade pressing against the base of her throat. “Oh please!” Elyssa screamed, “I will fight no more. Please, do not harm her!”
The man with the blade hesitated a moment, eyes flickering towards the obvious leader of the group. He nodded. The other man dropped the blade. Mother’s petrified eyes bore into Elyssa’s. “May I bid my mother farewell?”
The leader grunted, “Make it quick.”
Elyssa flew into Mother’s waiting arms, “What will happen to me, Mama?”
Mother kissed her, tears streaming down both cheeks, “I do not know, child. You must promise to behave. Do not give them cause to harm you. I hope to see you again one day. You and your sisters.”
Growing weary of their goodbyes, the leader snatched Elyssa from her mother. True to her word, Elyssa did not fight. She allowed herself to be led from the small hut. A large wagon of sorts sat just outside the door. Other girls, all terrified and grim faced, were already within. As she dutifully climbed inside, it dawned on Elyssa that some of the faces were not familiar to her. Were they from other villages? One girl stood apart from the others. It soon became quite clear she was no prisoner here.
“Silence!” Her voice echoed through the night. All the girls ceased their whimpering, faces tilting to gaze upon the redhead that now spoke, “I know this is a very confusing time for all of you.”
“What is happening?” One girl cried out, “Where are we being taken?”
Of the men jabbed the butt of their sword through the barred sides. “Silence whore.” He snarled. The girl cried out but said nothing more.
“As you may know, every year we visit your precious little village.” She sighed, fingers lifting her hair from the base of her neck. She turned for all to see, “Like you, I was among the Chosen.” A brand decorated the base of her neck. It appeared a serpent encased within a circle, “Our destination is Hvar, a vast empire to the North.”
Elyssa blinked. She had heard of no such place. Her head tilted back to the adults that now lingered outside their households. They held each other tightly but, alas, it was not fear that washed over their tear stained faces. Her eyes widened. They knew. Despite their protests, their parents knew exactly where they were being taken and for what purpose.
“You will be taken before the Were council and, there, your fates will be decided. You will become Slave, Wife, or Breeder.”
Hushed whispers washed through the sea of girls. Elyssa shuddered. She needed no explanation as to the titles. She did not wish for either of the three. She was Untouched, having never felt a man’s touch. The unknown woman searched the crowd, waiting for the whispers to die before speaking again.
“Now, there is truly nothing for you to fear. No matter the position you are chosen for, each of you will be treated with respect.” She narrowed her eyes at the men hovering just outside the carriage, “You will have to forgive them their rough hands. It has been many moons since they have seen a female.”
As if that explanation explained their confusion, the woman turned her back to the crowd. No other words were spoken. The carriage lurched forward. Many of the girls began to cry once more. Elyssa had no more tears left to cry. She settled herself on the floor, back pressed against the bars that imprisoned them. She drew her knees against her chest.
“You do not seem afraid like the others.” A voice whispered.
Elyssa’s head snapped to the side. She found herself staring in the strange woman’s eyes from earlier. She regarded Elyssa with an air of curiosity, “I am quite terrified.” Elyssa confessed.
The woman smirked, “You hide it well. That will set you apart from the others.” Her fingers lifted, brushing a loose strand of hair from her face, “You are rather pretty, little one. Tell me, what is it they call
The woman’s smile broadened, “My master will like you, of that I have no doubt. You will make an excellent breeder.” Elyssa’s heart sank. She attempted to hide it. She failed, “Oh, being a breeder is nothing to fear. It is better than a Slave or a Wife. You get the freedom to do as you wish, to bed whom you wish. You are not chained to one man or one family.”
“Am I free to love then?”
The woman sighed, “No. Alas, that is the one thing a breeder must never do.” The woman rose to return to her former place.
“Are their only three fates that may await us?”
The woman paused, “There is the coveted position of Beta. But-” She chuckled a bit, “No human will ever gain that title.”
Elyssa sank back, her heart now officially in the pit of her stomach. As the night grew darker, the other girls grew silent. They huddled against one another. Until that moment, Elyssa hadn’t realize just how many there were. She counted at least thirty. Her own village had only produced eight.
Elyssa had know there were other villages scattered across the mountainous landscape but she had never actually laid eyes on them. There was no need. They grew all their own food, hunted the wooded areas surrounding them. They harvest timber. Or, at least, that was Elyssa had been led to believe. As the carriage traveled down the gravel path, another headed in the opposite direction. Driven by a burly stranger, Elyssa’s eyes widened at the massive amount of barley and grain said carriage held. She sank against the bars, unwilling to accept what her eyes had just seen. Surely the adults of their village had not done the unthinkable, willing trading their daughters freedom in exchange for a few pounds of food?
Despite the doubts plaguing her mind, Elyssa found her eyes growing heavy. Like all the rest, her body slowly succumbed to sleep. When she awoke, they were no longer in the wilderness. They sat in the midst of stone buildings, curious eyes peering at them. A little boy, no older than perhaps nine, reached tiny fingers through the bars. His fingertips brushed her bare arm. Elyssa recoiled. The boy found this amusing, turning to the adult man at his side. They exchanged words in a language Elyssa did not know. Whatever the man said, it was enough to deter the little boys attention. The pair wandered back into the crowd. Elyssa’s heart lurched. Before she could react, she was grabbed from behind. The driver of the carriage, joined by someone she did not know, forced her from the carriage. She was one of the first to be taken. The others were forced from the carriage immediately after her. Each of the girls were bound, coarse rope digging into the sensitive area around their wrists.
They were then led through the massive crowd of people, herded like cattle towards the largest of all the stone buildings. Elyssa could hear the others screaming for mercy, to be released and allowed to rejoin their family. Each cry of despair only brought derisive laughter from their captives. Elyssa kept her lips firmly sealed. She would not allow these brutes to strip the last shred of dignity she had left. The woman who had accompanied them followed behind. Elyssa could sense her eyes upon her. She did not acknowledge this.
The curious people were not allowed within the stone walls. Once inside, even the brutish men let them be. Nodding at the strange woman, they departed the structure. Elyssa watched with growing apprehension as the doors shut behind them. Turned her attention from the sealed doors, Elyssa focused on what lay within their newest prison. Steaming water puddled in the floor, numerous women now starting towards them. Elyssa let out a soft gasp, one of the man faces standing out to her. Aliana, the first of her sisters to be taken. Elyssa had been a mere babe when she was taken but, yet, she had never forgotten her.
Forgetting the girls that crowded her, Elyssa called out. “Aliana!”
The red head, at first, did not acknowledge Elyssa. Only when the crowd parted did a light flicker in the older woman’s eyes, “Sister!” She exclaimed, welcoming the youngest sibling in her welcoming arms, “Oh how I have missed thee. Tell me, how is Mother?”
Elyssa took a moment to compose herself before speaking again, “She is well.” She scanned the crowd, “Are the others here?”
Aliana shook her head, “They claimed by men from different tribes. Elyian was chosen as a wife, Triani was chosen as breeder. Alas, Yevonne perished on the journey.”
Elyssa swallowed, tears swelling for the loss of her dearest sister. Yevonne had been taken two years prior. “And what of you?’
A sad smile passed her lips, “Alas, I was chosen as neither wife nor breeder. I am a lowly slave. But, compared to others, my master treats me kind. I have been allowed to wed a man of my own race. We have three sons and a daughter. I am quite happy.”
“Aliana. I did not realize you possessed any more sisters to be claimed.” A soft voice spoke from behind them. The still unknown woman appeared, “I shall allow you to be the one to prepare her for the Council then.”
Aliana bowed her head in respect, “Thank you, milady.” Only when the woman had departed into the crowd did Aliana turn her full attention back to Elyssa, “You must never cross her, Elyssa. She has the power to make your life here full of misery. She is Friia, Beta to the former Alpha. She lays claim to the current title of Beta until a replacement is found.”
“What-what is this place?” Elyssa whispered, “What is to become of us?”
“Come, little sister. I shall show you.”