10. SOUTHERN LAWS
After the little conversations we shared, Forrest and I were parted. He was taken with other prisoners while I was guided to what I believed might be the kitchen. It was so much different than I was used to. An unroofed area enclosed by a wall and small buildings with a roofed platform along the outside of the structures, arranged beautifully all around the area.
Women busied themselves in chopping the vegetables, putting coals into the fire, skinning the meats, boiling water into the pots, and sun drying the grains.
“I brought another pair of hands for help,” Rowan remarked, instantly grabbing the attention of some of the hardworking women. They all looked over the disruption barely with an interest but when their eyes fell on me, they stopped doing what they were engaged in a minute ago. Soon, more gazes followed and a silence settled over the place.
I felt awkward. I didn’t know what to say, should I even say something or merely just wait for them to speak first. I stood there, waiting for how the situation would unfold. Few of the women gasps in shock, others scrutinizing me as if I was a deranged wolf, would attack them at any minute.
“We have mouths to feed. Why did you all stop working?” A woman appeared out of a building dressed in a sage green long straight skirt with some familiar patterns over the fabric. Another layer of clothing wrapped around her waist and the ends were hanging on one side.
Her head was covered with a scarf and some of her hair had fallen out of the sides. Few grey streaks had started appearing but it would be long before it would conquer over the remaining black strands.
Her thin lips pressed tightly together. Eyes narrowed. Bringing out the wrinkles in the corner of her eyes and on her forehead, announcing her age and experience. Though her stance spoke of authority and endurance.
When she noticed what caused the commotion or rather who, her eyes shifted at me, eyeing me with such an intensity I had to look away before giving her the assumption that I was challenging her.
“I’ve been ordered to bring her here,” Rowan spoke out and greeted the woman with respect.
“Very well. I’ll see to it then.” The woman didn’t take her eyes off me and I felt conscious and conflicted about what I was supposed to do or was I doing anything wrong.
“Grant me the permission to leave. Two guards are stationed outside. For assistance and help.”
“We, women, can take care of ourselves. We know how to hone a blade and how to use it.”
“Of course, Yara.” Rowan did a quick bow and took his leave.
“Bree,” The woman called out and a young girl hurried to us, looked with such obedience and guilelessness to Yara, all she wanted the woman to give an order and she would follow dutifully.
“Take the northerner to the bank of the stream. See to it that she washes all the pots and pans.” The young girl widened her eyes in shock before giving me a brief glance and nodded. A woman, an older version of Bree, possibly her mother abruptly stood up and spoke out, “Bree can stay here. I’ll go with her.”
Yara shot an angry remark, “Isn’t Bree capable of doing her tasks?”
Bree’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment. “No, I’ll go.” She quickly defended herself by agreeing to go with me.
Bree kept a good distance between us as we walked to the bank to do my assigned task. I wondered what beliefs the southerner had been fed that made them fear us.
It didn’t take us much time to reach. The river was away from where the dwellings were situated but close enough, running along the border of the southern territory.
Few of the women were gathered at the edge of the bank, cleaning the cooking utensils and chattering among themselves. Noticing our approach, they stopped and turned to see, when their gazes met with mine, they looked at one another for the answer none of them had. They didn’t have to wait for long as seeing their questionable looks Bree spoke out the orders Yara had given her.
No one objected. The women discarding their tasks, leaving all the dirty, unclean and suds filled pots scattered, washed their hands and ascended the small slope to the levelled ground. But they didn’t leave, clustered together and watching me.
I didn’t have much experience with household tasks, mainly because my mother never wanted me to do the kitchen tasks, including cleaning and scrubbing. She always told me doing those work would make my hands rough and skin thicker, steering the subject to the highborn northerners who were looking for a mate, not a maid which they plenty had. Her no work rule to the kitchen helped to direct my focus something I never aspired to be skilled at - archery, northerners weapon of choice.
Mother forced my father to take me with him so I could get to meet the highborn warriors in the packhouse and hopefully catch someone’s attention. But neither happened. Father might be a warrior but he was also an Omega. So in a few occurrences, he was needed to visit the packhouse, otherwise, he would have been given omega duty to patrol the border of Blackridgepool with his fellow omegas.
At first, to pass the time, he handed me an arrow and allowed me to venture into the forest. There was no risk as he was protecting the border and there were others a few miles away who I had already known since childhood.
For the first few days, I returned with either empty hands or a broken arrow. He didn’t ask for the details but on the fifth day, I caught two fish - one was the size of my arm, another could easily fit into my palm.
Then Father made me my own bow and arrow, lighter than his and more suitable to my height. He would mark the trees all over the forest and I would try to hit them for hours, that was how my skill got improved and I wanted to become the first female warrior of Volkov and unfortunately, that led me straight to Alpha Demetrius’ den.
“What is she staring at?”
“Does she thinks the dishes would get cleaned by themselves?”
“Is she devising a plan?”
“What are you doing?” The guard barked out which made me instantly act, to go near to the bank.
Though I had never done it, I had seen my mother and occasionally, Ivy while I was visiting her house, doing it many times. How hard it could be?
I picked an earthen pot and a bristle brush, that looked like a coconut husk or resembled a ball of hardened wool. The heat from cooking circled black under the pot and it was hard to remove. I gave all my strength to scrub off the grime, chafing my hands back and forth, a crack appeared then the pot split open.
A woman said something and the others joined in and snickered. I looked over at them and then at Bree for some help. Bree looked down, her expression was troubled. If asked, she may offer help but I knew she wouldn’t go against Yara as she kept that woman in the highest regard and helping me would definitely be the very indication was she wasn’t supposed to do.
I didn’t want to embarrass myself further in front of the women waiting for me to make another mistake and laughed among themselves. I proceeded with the pots that were already scrubbed clean, only needed to wash into the water.
I dumped them all into the water, rinsing out the suds and placing them in the dry place on a little higher ground. Going back and forth, cleaning and keeping them away so the mud couldn’t get into the cleaning pots made my limbs ache.
Suddenly I noticed the river current was taking away a pot, I hurried down and stretched my hand to reach for it and plucked it out of the water but I didn’t notice the ground was already slippery and muddy and I tumbled into the water.
I popped my head out of the surface of the water and darted my eyes here and there to see where the pot had gone. It was floating away to my right and I began to swim after it. Few voices were overheard over the commotion of the swells of water but I paid them no attention and went after it.
I hardly made a good distance from the women, two guards and Bree when something hard stuck my feet. I kicked out my legs, struggled back, and tried to get away from whatever it was. It tugged my legs and I screamed before I was brought under the water.
I couldn’t see much under the water, all foggy and unclear. I got scared when something tangled around my body and yanked me out of the water. I spat out water and was about to scream for help when I caught Aloïs face, staring at me, fuming in anger.
His curly ends of hair looked straightened, falling a bit further down his neck. Droplets of water were dripping down his beard. His eyebrows deepened as if he wore a permanent scowl on his face. My eyes lowered over his naked chest and I noticed a ring on a chain hung from his neck.
When he noticed my gaze, he quickly clutched the ring around his fist and flung it on his back. He crossed the remaining distance and we were stood chest to chest. I froze. I had never been standing so close to a male and with his lack of proper clothing and me, drenched from head to toe, clothes clinging to my body, didn’t help my case to appear brave.
“What are you doing?” Aloïs asked me but he didn’t let me answer or maybe I was taking more time than needed to answer so he answered for me assuming my intent.
“If you think you can escape, let me prove your theory wrong. It’s not that easy. Impossible, I might say. But I believe if one can find a loophole in Volkov, she may find it elsewhere. That’s where you northerners are wrong where Demetrius believes his enemy is powerless. I find out the reasons that make my rivals strong and how I can attain them and defeat them using their own tactics.”
I was shocked. Though he wrongly accused me of something I wasn’t even attempting, I got a glimpse of what Aloïs was capable of. He might not be ruthless like Alpha Demetrius but he was fierce and brutish. Not just a southern. Not even an alpha. But so much more than a title could suggest.
I saw it with my own eyes how southerners listened to him, followed his order and showed respect to him. Because they believed in him, believed the fire burning in his eyes assuring to give them justice and the hate he had towards Alpha Demetrius. I wouldn’t rest until I find out what made the relationship between the north and the south strained.
I didn’t say a word and Aloïs didn’t force me to or simply he had no interest to know. He wrapped his hand around my waist, turned me away and tugged me along with him towards the bank. I didn’t know what to say, so many things were happening at once and my mind was wrapped around all of it. Only then I noticed one of the guards assigned after me, peeking his head out of the water, watching our exchange. When he noticed Aloïs taking me to the bank, he swam back.
Before I reached the bank, Aloïs stopped me by tightening his grip around my waist and turned me to face him. His teeth clenched and his eyes zeroed on the Volkov mark. He leaned towards me and I instantly tipped back but I had nowhere to go with his hand clutched at my waist.
“Don’t trust anyone with your Volkov mark. It will be wise to hide it for now.” His hand left my waist, caught a handful of my damp hair from my back and put it over the mark. “Even if you are innocent, your death will be evident.” Aloïs whispered.
I didn’t get to ask why. Bree hurried down towards the slope, out of breath with her widened eyes and mouth opened in a shock. Aloïs didn’t get out of the water, he helped me to get my grip on the ground with my wet feet and water dripping from my body didn’t make my situation easier.
“Give her some dry clothes. See to it that she doesn’t catch a fever.”
Aloïs already covered a good distance then again dunk under the water. I turned to see the cooking utensils were there just how I had left them. I huffed out a breath and busied myself to do the remaining tasks.
Bree immediately protested, “You will get sick. Please leave those and follow me so I could...”
“If you don’t want me to get sick, why don’t you just help me.” Luckily the women left and the guards were on the levelled grounds, far away from listening to what we were talking about.
“You know I can’t.” Bree cried out in distress.
“I’m not telling you to lend me your hands. All I’m asking you to show me how to clean the dishes and pots properly.”
Bree wrung her hands and gave it a thought. I knew I needed to give her a push so I added, “Aloïs didn’t want me to get sick. I don’t know who he blames for if I...”
“Okay. Okay. You don’t tell, right?”
“I swear.” I felt bad for tricking her into doing something she didn’t want to. She was a nice girl, walking within the boundary of rules and here I was encouraging her to break it. Wasn’t rules were meant to be broken? What was life without a little daring adventure and enjoyment? I yearned for my friends, Chaz and Ivy, remembering the good old times we used to spend.
With Bree’s help, I managed not to break any more pots or let the water take away. She even taught me some tips and tricks that would make my tasks easier. I didn’t have to tell her when she piled up the cleaned dishes and other cooking utensils and placed them on the higher ground, making my tasks easier, not to go back and forth and supposedly save my time.
The sun dipped low into the sky when finally I completed my tasks. Bree helped me to gather the utensils and took them back to the kitchen. But in the next ten rounds, no help was provided to me. Back and forth between fetching the cooking utensils to the kitchen and then going back to the stream to carry them again.
I was exhausted. My limbs ached. It felt like my arms would come out of my socket. Blisters burning my feet and I hardly had any strength left in me.
When I returned with the last cleaning dishes, a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread were offered to me. I barely had it in me to whine about the watery texture of the soup and the soggy bread. I half chewed and half swallowed with the soup.
Yara emerged out of a building and stood with her straightened spine, eyeing me from head to toe. With drenched clothes, which had already begun to dry due to the warm weather here and with damp, tangled hair, I looked like a mess.
“What you northerners did, you don’t even deserve a scrap of bread but that’s the only kindness we’re willing to offer. Have your meal. The guards are waiting outside to take you back to your cell.” Yara didn’t linger. She disappeared into the building she came from. I finished my meal quickly than I intended to, in fear of snatching away from me before I had the chance to fill my stomach.
I couldn’t skip a meal or any food offered to me. I needed my strength to survive and see to it what could be done about my situation. And what feuds southerners bore in their minds believing, we, northerners were responsible for. I needed to find out.
I placed my bowl with the uncleaned pots and dishes lined along the wall. Cleaned my hands and on my way out, I noticed an opened sack filled with peanuts. I grabbed a handful and filled the pocket stitched into the dress and headed out.
The guards were stationed as mentioned. I followed them back into the cell. Going back and forth through the place helped me not to fear the dark and my lack of visibility. Soon, I was locked in my cell and waited for the guards to leave. When I was certain they left, I scooped out the peanuts from my pocket and dropped them on Forrest’s cell. Not knowing if he was offered any food or not, this was the only thing I could grab while I was leaving the kitchen premises and possibly not get caught.
“Aura, “I muttered.
I plopped down on the thin carpet and this time the darkness didn’t matter. I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep.
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