The Wolf and the Dove

By: Kathleen E. Woodiwis

“Fetch me ale, slave!” he roared and raised her by the scruff of her garments and hurled her toward the keg of brew, but her hobbled feet could not catch her and she sprawled again.

“Ale!” the man shouted and threw his horn at her.

Maida stared blankly at him, not understanding until he cuffed her and pushed her toward the barrel once more. She struggled to her feet but the soldier stepped on the rope, tripping her and sending her down hard upon her hands and knees. This seemed to better meet his pleasure.

“Crawl, bitch! Crawl like a dog,” he laughed and she was forced to serve him on her knees. As she gave him the full horn other men called for her service, and soon she was again hobbling about bringing ale and wine to them with the aid of the two serfs, Hlynn and Ham, who had been caught fleeing the hall.

Maida served the Normans, but her bruised lips began to move and she crooned in a sing-song voice. The Saxon words penetrated Aislinn’s consciousness and with a horror she labored to hide, she realized her mother heaped vile threats upon the uncomprehending men and pledged the curse of every slimy demon of the swamp upon the enemy’s ears. If but one had seized upon Maida’s meaning she would without much hesitation have been spitted like a roasting pig. Aislinn knew that their survival hinged on their captor’s slightest whim. Even her betrothed was in unsafe hands. She had heard these Normans speaking of yet another bastard who, under William’s rule, had gone to Cregan to obtain that town’s surrender. Was Kerwick dead too, after fighting so gallantly beside King Harold at Hastings?

Ragnor gazed at Maida and thought of the regal poise and vintage beauty she had shown until his man struck her and marred her face. He could find no hint of the former woman in the painfully shuffling, dirty creature who stumbled about her labors with a twisted face and gray-streaked auburn hair matted with blood and dirt. Perhaps the maid at his feet saw herself as she stared so intently at her mother.

A scream tore Aislinn’s attention from her mother, and she glanced around to see the serving girl, Hlynn, being pulled back and forth between two of the soldiers who were arguing loudly over her. The timid maid, just entering her fifteenth year, had never known a man and now faced the nightmare of rape at the hands of these ruffians.

Feeling the girl’s terror, Aislinn bit into her own knuckles to keep from echoing Hlynn’s frightened cries. She knew only too well that soon she would be prey to a man’s passion. There was a rending of cloth as Hlynn’s gunna was torn from her breasts, and a restraining hand clamped down roughly on Aislinn’s shoulder. Cruel, calloused hands snatched and pawed at the young girl’s body, bruising the tender flesh. Aislinn shuddered in revulsion, unable to drag her eyes away. Finally one of the men stunned his rival with a blow to the head and rose, lifting the thrashing, screaming Hlynn in his arms and strode out the door with her. In despair, Aislinn wondered if the girl would survive the night, and she felt the odds seemed high against it.

The dreadful weight upon Aislinn’s shoulder became suddenly unbearable. Her violet eyes flashed their loathing as she turned once more to glare at her captor. The Norman’s eyes returned the challenge and a slow sneering smile crept across full and generous lips, mocking her defiance. Yet as her stare grew more contemptuous and unwavering, his grin faded. Aislinn felt his fingers tighten upon her, bruising her shoulder. Unable to further contain herself, Aislinn shrieked in rage and lifted her hand to strike a blow to his cheek, only to have him catch her arm and force it behind her back until she was crushed against his hauberk. Her face was nearly pressed to his, and his hot breath touched her cheek as he chuckled at her helplessness. She struggled to wrench herself from him as his free hand moved with deliberate slowness over her body, sampling with crude lust the soft ripe curves beneath her garments. Aislinn trembled at his touch, loathing him with every ounce of her being.

“Filthy swine!” she hissed in his face, deriving small pleasure from the startled expression on his face that her French words had brought.

“Eh!” Vachel de Comte sat up sharply, his ears pricked by a feminine voice speaking words he could understand. He had not heard such since they had sailed from Saint Valery. “By damned, cousin, the wench is not only beautiful but learned as well.” He kicked in feigned disgust at the late lord’s saddle. “Bah! ’Tis your luck to get the only wench in this heathen country capable of understanding you when you give her directions in bed.” He grinned as he relaxed back into his seat. “Of course, I must take in account that rape does have its drawbacks. But since the maid can understand you, mayhaps you can coax her into a more congenial mood. What does it matter that you killed her father?”

Ragnor threw Vachel an ugly scowl, and let Aislinn fall to his feet again. His superiority over her once more had slipped a notch, for the wench knew French when he had no inkling of her language.

“Be silent, cub,” he snapped at the younger man. “Your prattling annoys me.”

Vachel pondered Ragnor’s mood and smiled. “Dear cousin, you do worry overmuch, I perceive, or else you would see the jest with me. What can Wulfgar say when you tell him that we were attacked by these wretched heathens? The old man was a wily fox. Duke William will not blame you. But which bastard do you fear most? The Duke, or Wulfgar?”