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The Scarlet Shackle
By Diana Laurence
THE SCARLET SHACKLE
by Diana Laurence
©2004 Diana Laurence
As Julia ascended the steps to the platform, she couldn’t believe her life had come to this. A daughter of the third house of the Trethapians, captured into slavery by her people’s worst enemy, tied round the neck with the scarlet ribbon, about to be sold to a stranger to serve as—
—Truly, the thought of it was more than she could bear. Her train of thought turned instead to praying to the gods for some kind of mercy.
The Auctioneer raised his voice over the murmur of the crowd and recited: “Julia, age twenty-eight, not a virgin but childless, born under the sign of the rose. And clearly a beauty! See these fine raven tresses...” And with this he lifted a handful of Julia’s long hair and let the strands drop a little at a time to her shoulder. She shuddered. Merciful angels, have pity... “Bidding begins at one hundred fifty!” squawked the Auctioneer.
The announcement of this number drove home to Julia the reality of this surreal moment. Some man was going to take her home. Wherever he took her, there she would possibly remain until the day she died, and that day could come quite soon if such were his wish. And she would be in every aspect his property. In every imaginable aspect. For she wore not the orange ribbon of a kitchen slave, or the green ribbon of a field slave, or the black ribbon of a hard labor slave—these by law were given certain privacies. It was not so with the scarlet ribbon of a pleasure slave.
Suddenly Julia recalled a conversation she had had with her childhood friend, Zoe. They had been barely nubile at the time, no more than thirteen, and with childish incomprehension had listened to the grown-ups discuss the horror of a neighbor’s niece being captured for the red ribbon.
“Just imagine,” Zoe said, nibbling on a bit of sugar candy, “being on the auction platform, with horrible strange men calling out to buy you!”
Julia, always a creative child, could clearly picture it. Bound, standing perhaps on a stool, with a horrible auctioneer all in black turning you this way and that so everyone could stare. “I would most certainly weep,” said Julia with real horror.
“But would you try to look your best, or your worst?” asked Zoe.
The question perplexed Julia. “Perhaps if you looked your worst, no one would want you and you might be sent home.”
“But silly, no one chosen for the scarlet ribbon could look so bad if she tried.”
“You’re right. Then perhaps you would look your best, and pray to the gods that you would catch the eye of a man of quality.”
“What man of quality would buy a girl to be his slave?” asked Zoe with disgust.
“In Nestodore it isn’t seen that way,” replied Julia. “In the upper class it’s done by everyone, good and bad the same.”
“But are there any good men among our enemies?” Zoe asked, somewhat rhetorically.
This question echoed now in the mind of Julia, finding herself in the very nightmare scenario that had terrified her so long ago. Could there be any man in this crowd that she would wish to belong to? It seemed impossible. But at that moment it was her only hope.
“One hundred fifty!” cried a voice to her far right.
There was a pause, then another voice far in front yelled, “One seventy-five!”
Julia tried to find faces to match the voices but there were too many people and it was happening too quickly. A third and a fourth voice called out bids, then the first again, and then she lost track of who was speaking. So it continued for a minute or so, and then she heard, from far to her left, a new voice:
“Three hundred,” it said.
This voice was strong but strangely soft. There was a reedy quality to it; it was not low and yet somehow very commanding. The timbre was quite beautiful; Julia could tell at once that in song the voice would be lovely.
The first bidder called out, “Three fifty!” Julia was still trying to locate the face of this newest bidder, but the Auctioneer grabbed her chin and forced her to face forward. “Stop gawking at the bidders,” he hissed to her.
The bidding continued, and every few shouts she would again hear that singular voice off to the left. The insane conviction came to her, If I must be someone’s property, at least let his commands be made to me in such a voice. A little comfort, a little comfort, Holy Ones!
After a brief while the bidding came down to these two, raising each other by twenty-fives. Julia came to hate the first bidder, who would by his stubbornness deny her the only wish she had in this awful circumstance. It seemed to go on and on and she feared there would be no end to it, she would be forced to stand there on the platform in suspense and terror till the sun had set and forever.
“Six seventy-five!” cried the first bidder, with frustration and bitter determination in his voice. By the tone Julia could tell that the contest had become personal, motivated no longer by the desire for property but the competitive ferocity that only males possessed. He would never surrender.
There was a pause. Then, with a tone not to be contradicted, the voice said, “One thousand.”
The crowd emitted a universal chuckle at this. Julia held her breath, every muscle in her body tense.
“We hear no answer?” asked the Auctioneer, his joy at this rich bid shining plainly on his face. “No answer...no answer...She is yours, One Thousand.”
She is yours, One Thousand.
The crowd applauded enthusiastically. It was a very expensive purchase and executed with some drama.
But one thought screamed in Julia’s head: I am whose? She felt a bizarre sense of gratitude to her faceless new master, and this gratitude made her feel shame. Why should she be thankful to a man who had done nothing but overspent to buy himself a pleasure slave? And yet she couldn’t deny it, and her eyes darted over the crowd trying to locate him.
“Go with him,” the Auctioneer was saying, pushing her roughly towards an assistant, who took hold of the rope that bound her around the waist. He led her back down the stairs behind the platform, and in turn passed her to a custodian in the holding area, and there she waited. No doubt the gold was changing hands; who knew how long the record keeping might take?
But only a few minutes had passed when she heard a voice say, “Take off the rope, she will wear my harness.”
It was the voice.
She turned to it. He was not an old man, far from it; indeed he could not even be forty. He was ably built, moderate height but strong looking. Was he handsome? Not like the statues in the temples, but his face was striking. He had a large nose with nostrils that were interestingly curved, not a handsome nose but strangely beautiful to her nonetheless. He had golden brown hair that was tied back neatly in a black ribbon. His eyes were dark, and his brows likewise, and he looked stern. Just then he turned his eyes to her and in them she sought some sign of feeling, whether warm or cold.
He was inscrutable.
“Come Julia,” he commanded, in that voice that was so sweet, in a tone that was firm and utterly without emotion. She found herself stepping forward. The custodian was pulling off the rope and her new master quickly replaced it with a broad leather belt. His arms came around her as he wrapped the strap at her waist, and she could smell his scent. He smelled clean, and of some soothing spices. She stood dumbfounded as he fastened the buckle with a key, and then with the same key did the clamp that held a chain to the buckle. Then he turned to the custodian and gave him a silent nod. When the man had moved on to a new task, her master turned again to her.
“Stay by my side and I shan’t have to pull this,” he said, indicating the chain. “It’s not far to my home.”
Being addressed for the first time as a slave, Julia felt strange, perplexed and sad. “What...what should I call you?” she asked fearfully.
He looked back at her, his liquid brown eyes still void of emotion. “You shall call me ‘My Lord,’ but my name is Marcus. And you shall not speak unless bidden to, Julia.”
Had he not ended the command by calling her by name, it would have been far more cruel. But that small personal gesture granted her a little dignity. She felt the firm tug of the chain upon her waist. Marcus held her with his eyes, then raised one brow as if a question had been posed. But Julia dared not speak. She lowered her eyes and her chin, and at that she heard him say, “Good.” This brought much relief and she raised her eyes again. “Come,” her master said, and they began walking.
* * *
©2008 Romance at Heart Magazine.
Book ©2004 by Diana Laurence.Return to Page Top