This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Here she was, in the castle of Lord Richard Huston and his wife and son, Beatrix and Arnaud Huston. It has been seven months now that she has had to do all of Arnaud's chores. For his 21st birthday his parents had the good idea of offering their only child a slave just for himself.
These were hard times in the small village of Marietta, no more so than for Aria's parents who had lived in poverty for years. Their only chance at survival was to sell their only daughter into a life of service. On the eve of her eighteenth birthday she had been prepared for transfer into His Lordship’s care.
This decision did not come lightly to the Starbird family; but at the threat of eviction and being on the brink of starvation, they felt they had no other choice. With Aria’s commission, she knew her family would be taken care of. So with a heavy heart Aria kissed both of her parents and made the short journey across town to the Huston estate.
Aria found the work uninspiring at first. Having helped her Mama with chores growing up, she quickly fell into a routine. The first week was uneventful and she started to feel safe in her new situation.
What she was not prepared for was when she unfortunately forgot one, little thing. That was when he hit her for the first time. He punched her in the face so hard that red welts were left on her cheek, and that just because she forgot to bring him his pants. That was also when she decided that she was not going to be an easy slave. She was going to fight.
Ever since she had been a little girl, Aria’s Mama had told her that Starbird women were strong and could handle anything that was thrown at them. So even though she was stuck in this unfortunate situation, she would not give up or back down from the strong woman she knew she had become.
And so now, after seven months of constant defiance of Arnaud’s outlandish demands and childish attitude, Aria was set to be publicly humiliated as punishment for her failure to serve the little Lord Huston. This was to take place in the neighboring village. A lot of Lords would be there, watching the slaves get whipped, beaten, and in some cases, killed.
As a young girl Aria had witnessed many of the Huston slaves being publicly whipped for failure to perform their duties, but she had no idea what awaited her up on the old wooden stage in the center of town. Her only comfort was that she would not be sentenced to death, having already been told she would be attending to the auction that would follow the punishment and be sold to another family, but she shook with fear of her master’s whip.
She also wondered about this new family. Would they be as cruel as the Hustons? Would she be in the service of a woman this time around? All she did know was that she would be punished at over a day's journey from her village and her family.
Aria waited alone in the hall for her departure when Arnaud appeared around a corner; a rope in his hands and a smirk on his face. Arnaud was a disgusting man in Aria's eyes. She used to think he was a good looking Lord with his short brown hair always well done and his dark brown eyes that gave him a mysterious look. But of course that was before she became his slave, his object.
She was dressed only with a piece of old brown fabric and bare feet, like she always was, beautiful dresses were something she missed dearly but she had no choice, and Arnaud was not one to treat his slaves in a good way. Her hair was fastened with a piece of string as usual, every time she would look at her reflection in the mirror she would scrunch her nose up in disgust, her hair was not as blond as it used to be, surely because it was too dirty to see its real color.
“Give me your hands, girl!” Arnaud ordered, trying to grab her left hand, he had such a harsh voice with no particular accent as he was born in America, he did not sound like a Lord at all, not even articulating his words.
“What are you doing?” she asked her voice a contrast to his. Like him Aria had been born in America so she had an American accent but her voice was sweet and gentle. The fact that she talked in a proper way was surprising for a lot of people, it was rare to see a slave with excellent diction, but Aria had been raised like a Lady even though she had never been one herself.
“Give me your hands, I've got to tie you up for the trip,” Arnaud said calmly but Aria knew better, he was far from being a calm man.
“You will not touch me,” Aria sneered as she pulled her hands out of his reach.
“Oh yes, I will,” Arnaud assured her, eventually gripping his long fingers around her slender wrist and encircling it with the rope, then grabbing her right hand and doing the same. Next, he encircled her ankles, letting enough space between the two so she could at least walk. “Don’t need you getting any ideas about running away.”
“You have no need to tie me up. I am all too happy to escape this place…and you. I will not fight! Just thinking about the fact that I won’t have to see your disgusting face every morning when I wake up makes me smile,” Aria said, smiling and looking into Arnaud's murderous glare. She wouldn’t have shown it, but she actually was frightened by the glare he gave her at that very moment. Aria knew that she should hold her tongue, but she couldn’t help herself. She was never one to hold her tongue, which was not really ladylike; ladies would usually keep their thoughts to themselves not wanting to offend men or to seem impolite.
It only took Arnaud a few seconds before his anger turned physical, like it always had, and he slapped her hard across the cheek. Aria lost her balance for only a moment, steadying herself against the wall. She looked back at his dark brown eyes, not showing him for a second how much it hurt, defying him with her intense stare. Her cheek reddened from the slap and she knew that if he hadn't punched her as usual, it was just to avoid bruises on her face to try to have more offers from the other Lords at the auction that would follow the punishment.
“How dare you meet my eyes as if we are equals, slave.” Arnaud spat at her, but her pride wouldn’t allow her to drop his gaze. “It's a pity I can't keep you! I find it rather arousing when you resist me like this,” Arnaud brushed his rough thumb over her swollen cheek and Aria slightly turned her head to the side but he still touched her, “Unfortunately my father said you are not worthy and that your sharp tongue and bad behavior were not accepted anymore. Oh, and one more thing. If you do anything to embarrass me or this family on our journey,” Arnaud’s smile grew in a sadistic way, “let’s just say you may have a nasty fall that prevents you from ever reaching your future Lord's estate.”
Aria finally looked away, disgusted by his comment and not wanting to show him the fear in her eyes, she was a proud woman. She had taken it too far and she knew that he had the capacity to kill, so even though every bone in her body wanted to show Arnaud Huston for the coward that he was, she lowered her head and answered, “Of course, Lord Huston.”
With a satisfied smirk Arnaud leaned in close to her again, breathing in the scent of the lavender that he knew she tucked in to her bun, “I'm going to prepare for our trip, be ready to depart in twenty minutes.” He turned and headed for the stairs, once again leaving her alone in the cold marble covered hall.
During her time alone, Aria thought about her parents. They would certainly never know she was not with the Huston family anymore. She was truly happy about that fact, not being at Arnaud's service anymore. The life with him had been hell, and now she would eventually be rid of him. But it also scared her because of the punishment she would have to go through before the auction. That caused her to think about the auction, she didn’t know which Lord would buy her. She heard stories about some Lords you would rather die than work for them. She didn’t hear much, just about a family composed of three Lords and one Lady, all brothers and sister. The rumor said they had a terrible secret, but no one except the people who worked for them knew what it was. They were bound to secrecy and would not dare say a word about it, too scared of the consequences. Close friends knew what this secret was. She also heard you would rather not know about it. It was surely nothing that awful, rumors tended to be a lot scarier than reality, it was surely simply a family of brutal Lords that were feared.
Aria’s thoughts were interrupted when a maid came in her direction. When she reached her, she took the end of the rope Aria was tied up with and began to walk along the hall to the front door.
“Good morning to you, too, Jane. Yes, I am fine, thank you for asking. It shoots me straight in the heart that you worry over me, but no need to, of course,” Aria said, looking ahead as Jane continued to bring her outside. “Yes, I know, I will miss you too. It is not like we have been friends for seven months now,” Aria continued. Jane finally turned around to take a look at Aria. Jane was a beautiful and young woman with big brown eyes, long brown hair and black skin, Aria had met her when she had started her work for Arnaud (if we could call it 'work').
“I'm sorry, Aria. Of course I'll miss you, but I can't talk to you. They said if they caught us talking to you then we'll be treated as traitors. Please don't make me feel even worse about this,” Jane said in almost a whisper to be sure no one would hear her talk to Aria, even if no one was in the room. Aria could see tears forming in Jane’s eyes and Aria, being Aria, felt badly about what she had said.
“Oh, I am sorry. I did not know. It’s all right. Just don’t talk to me, I understand. I know you care about me. Do not cry, please. Besides, I am sure I will be fine with my future master. Just bring me outside like you are supposed to and do not talk to me,” Aria said. She didn’t let it show, but she was a little hurt they forbade her friend from talking to her. She didn't want Jane to be punished because of her, though.
Jane turned around again without saying a word and brought Aria outside where Arnaud and Lord Huston were on horseback waiting for her.
“Arnaud, my son, did you not prepare a horse for Aria?” Lord Huston who was an older version of his son, same eyes but gray hair that showed his age, asked Arnaud.
“Well, Father, I thought a little walk wouldn't hurt her,” Arnaud said, looking at Aria's feet.
“But I am bare foot and it is a one day walk, Arnaud. Are you insane? Of course this 'little walk' will hurt me. I cannot believe it! You really are the worst arsehole I have ever seen in my life!” Aria said angrily, looking at Arnaud with a glare that could kill. Another thing about Aria, she swore a lot, something her mother had not been able to tame raising her.
“Enough! Mind your tongue, Aria! You are the slave here, not the other way around. You will behave for the rest of the time you are ours,” Lord Huston said, outraged, but also used to it coming from Aria. Arnaud looked at her with a grin before grabbing the end of the rope with which Aria was tied and tying it to the saddle to be sure she would follow.
And then, they began moving forward.
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