What has happened to me? she wondered. I can’t remember how I got here or on that road. Where am I from? What is my name?!
She began crying again, this time in earnest.
The girl spent days working in the vineyard, with another, older woman, who had been enslaved for many years. It was hard, physically demanding work. Her hands quickly roughened and became callused. The girl cut grapes, packed boxes for the grape presses, hauled heavy boxes of grapes to the presses and weeded with all else was done. The girl was surprised at how fast her muscles strengthened. It was as if she’d done some kind of tough training. She couldn’t remember!
She and the others were up before dawn, had a short midday break and worked until dark when they had dinner. After eating she dropped into her bunk and slept heavily.
Late in the afternoon, two weeks after the beating, she was again called into Barth’s house.
Barth was sitting in his usual place at the far end of the table, drinking a large flagon of wine. He was also clearly drunk. “Well, girly,” he slurred, “good to see you up an’ about. Ol’ Varta tells me yer’ doing fine workin’ th’ grapes. Good, good. Maybe we’ll keep you out there. Th’ hard work seems to fit you.” He tossed down the rest of the flagon.
“Here, gimme more wine.” He held the flagon up for her to take. She instantly went to him and took the vessel. The wine cask was behind him on a rough-hewn wooden stand behind the table. The girl filled the flagon to the top and turned to give it to Barth. She hadn’t heard him approach from behind.
Barth made a drunken grab at the girl’s work-worn shirt and managed to rip the front down and knock the wine from her hand. Because he was drunk and off balance, he also fell hard on the floor in a mess of broken pottery and wine.
“Damn you! Help me up!”
Terrified, the girl backed away, not knowing what to do. She did realize, suddenly, that she had disobeyed.
Barth staggered to his feet and lurched toward the girl. “I’m gonna give you a beating that will take the skin off you bones!”
Just them Meegan came into the room. “Barth, you ol’ farq’. Leave the girl be! I saw what ye did. Ye fell all by yersel’, ‘y old fool.” She turned to the girl and pointed at the door. “Go now, before I changes me mind. I’d almost rather ‘e had you then me tonight. Git! G’on.”
The girl ran from the room and out of the house and up to the slave quarters. The slaves lived in a ramshackle bunkhouse several hundred yards upslope from the house. They actually had a better view than did the Holdmaster. Tiny rewards are best taken where they could be found. The girl and Varta shared a room, actually an open-topped cubicle with a ragged blanket for a door. The men shared an open area and Subulu, the slave master, had his own, enclosed, room.
The girl ran tearfully into the cabin and literally crashed into Subulu.
“Hold there, Little One. Is there a fire?” She cried and told of what had just happened.
Subulu gave her a small hug and stepped away. “Then it is of no matter. If Meegan came in and sent you on your way, then the Master will have no right to beat you. Besides, tomorrow he’ll have forgotten all about it. Now go to your room. Dinner is soon on the table.”
The girl sat on her hard bunk and thought about her situation. She felt that she was at the end of her rope, what with the constant fear and working so hard in the vineyards. Varta was an old woman, not given to much conversation. On occasion, when Varta thought the girl wasn’t working hard enough, would swat her on the rear with a short crop she carried. Other than that, the girl ate, worked and slept. In the two weeks she’d been there, she’d only had one other bath. All the other slaves thought something was wrong with her for wanting to be clean. Once a month was good enough for them!
For some reason, it seemed bathing helped her chip away at the memory block. Sometimes it lifted the dark veil in her mind, but only just so. A peek into a better world…
Subulu was the only one to understand about her need to bathe. He had prepared the last one she had and mercifully this time had left the cook shack and given her some privacy. Daily he checked the damage to her back. The girl was healing nicely.
The time seemed to fly from when she came into the cabin and Subulu’s call to dinner. The group of slaves gathered around their common table and ate quietly. As usual, they were too tired for much more than desultory conversation.
Subulu nodded and passed bread to one of the others. “After dinner is cleaned up, I will draw your bath and check your back.” There was a momentary pause. “I also have some news for you.” The girl could not tell from the tone of his voice what the news could possibly be. Good or bad?
The girl nodded and finished her meal silently. As it was her turn, after dinner she and Varta cleared the remains of the meal and cleaned the eating utensils. One of the other slaves washed and put away the cooking pots and removed the ashes from the small cook stove in their quarters.
The evening was quiet and warm…breathless. Songbirds sang in the trees while others flitted around the cookhouse, chasing small flying insects. The girl entered the shack and found Subulu waiting by the huge tub.
“Ah, here you are, Little One. Your bath is ready. But first, let me look at your back.”
Unselfconsciously, the girl dropped her robe, the very robe, in fact, he had given her on that first terrible night. She turned her back to Subulu. Although he had seen her naked a number times, this time the sight of her caused something to catch in his throat. A feeling stirred . . . a feeling he hadn’t had in a long, long time.
He touched the warm skin of the girl’s back, tracing some of the marks left by the cane. “You are healing very nicely. Much faster than I have ever seen before. I cannot believe it has only been a matter of two weeks. You must have some Healer blood in you.”
The girl’s head snapped up! She turned to face Subulu, her eyes wide with excitement. There was something in that phrase that brought a sudden wide gap in the darkness of her memory. Yes! I am to be a Healer, she thought. My…my sister? What else?
Just as suddenly, the curtain dropped back across her mind.
“What you just said reawakened a memory. I was, or was to be a Healer.” She smiled though, and stepped away from Subulu and into the bath. That memory was a breakthrough for her.
“Subulu, you said that you had news for me. What might that be?”
“Oh, yes, I do indeed.” He smiled, “Tomorrow you are to be used in the main house.” He saw the look of horror enter her face.
He shook his head. “Not as that. I have told the Master that you have a head for numbers and I have watched you deal with merchants. You are very good.” Another brief, all too brief, memory sprang quickly into her mind and just as quickly, went away. “You will be used in the counting room.”
She looked across the cook shack at him. Subulu was a handsome, very big man; standing well over six feet and weighing a solid, work toughened, two hundred and twenty-five pounds. His hair was dark brown which he kept braided in rows much of the time. His black eyes seemingly glared over a long, beaked nose that had been broken numerous times in drunken brawls when he was younger. His dark brown skin glistened in the floating lights.
As the girl settled into the warm water with a satisfied sigh, she noticed that Subulu remained in the cook shack with her this night.
Was it the perfumed oils in the water? Was it the quiet night air? Whatever it was Subulu was not the only one with feelings stirring.
The girl looked over at the quietly standing Subulu. There was a sign that he was still a man. She said simply, “There’s room for two in here.”
That warm, still night provided the reawakening of Subulu as a man.