Chapter 11: When in Rome...

One thing Raven could say about her erstwhile "allies", they sure did not tire easily. Marching day after day with a blistering speed that she doubted even Robin could have matched for such a long period of time. Alas, that had led to a series of rather embarrassing events for Raven.

"I'm not that slow," she grumbled whilst fighting valiantly to keep the pout off her face. She had more dignity than that, dammit! Not that you could tell that with how she was currently carried bridal style by her ever silent and ever annoying guardian.

"Are we really in that much of a hurry?" she asked, even though she knew that no answer would be forthcoming. Though she was a bit grateful for him giving her aching feet a much needed rest, she definitively took great issue with his methods. It was downright humiliating to be carried around like blushing maiden like this, in plain view of the entire party. She could even now hear some of them snickering at her. Clearly, they found great amusement in her predicament. Speaking of…

"Wipe that smirk off your face if you know what's good to you," she warned the only one who could even understand her.

"I don't know what you're talking about, my lady," the highly amused voice of the old man spoke up from somewhere to her left, conveniently hidden from her sight thanks to her position within her guardian's arms. You could only turn your head so far, after all.

"I can feel your smile, you old geezer," she stated, but that only amused him further as he openly laughed.

"If you say so, my lady," then he finally appeared in her field of vision again, with a smile on his lips. Knew it.

Though his appearance made her realize another unfairness of the whole debacle. "One day I'm gonna figure out how you're able to keep up with these beefy marathon runners with your creaky old bones,"

"Please, don't work too hard on that mystery just yet. You're still young, after all, with many years of vigor ahead of you," he teased, still smiling at her. Raven just huffed at him.

"Do you at least know how far we have left to go? My pride can only take so many beatings," she instead asked, glaring into the distance.

"Oh, I'd say a few more hours," well, at least there was some good news. Which reminded her.

"So, Ragnar and his people are part of the Gröling tribe?" she checked, just to be on the safe side.

"Graeling tribe," he corrected her.

"Right, right, Graeling. And they live off of hunting and fishing, correct?" they had already gone over this before, but Raven felt it more prudent to double check just to be sure she got it right. Would be a bit embarrassing if she turned up completely clueless about her hosts.

"Whenever they're not raiding the southern lands, yes," and even though Raven had already been told of this before, and having suspected it for even longer, it still brought a chill down her spine at the mention of what her true hosts were like. Raiders and pirates, people that made a living of the misery of others. And she was about to be carried straight into the heart of one of their settlements.

"As I have told you, none would dare harm you. Even though you are most keen to deny it, the blood of daemons flow through your veins, a sign of divine blessing to these people," the old man assured her, as if able to sense her misgivings. Who says he isn't?

"This may come as a shocker to you, but that doesn't fill me with much confidence," because daemon worshipers were nothing new to her. Heck, her father had a whole church dedicated to him back on Earth. And as far as experience had taught her, people willing to bargain with daemons were not to be underestimated or trusted. Not unless you wanted to end up as their next sacrifice.

"I suppose I can't begrudge you that, having no doubt fought your father's servants for many years. But I assure you, these people would never so much as touch you, not unless they wished to incur the wrath of the gods,"

Raven might have taken some comfort from that, if not for the image of a sickeningly beautiful man appearing before her mind's eye. "And what if they already have the favor of the gods?"

To his credit, the old man said nothing to refute that question. Not that his silence helped with Raven's unease.

"Anyway," Raven suddenly began, desperate for a change in topic. "Any particular customs or taboos I should be aware of? I'd hate to give the entire village a reason to gut me over a simple misspoken line,"

"Oh, no need to worry about that. As long as you don't kill or steal from anyone, you will find yourself welcomed with open arms,"

A raised eyebrow was what he got in response. "Really? That's all? Forgive me for being skeptical about that,"

But he just waved a dismissive hand at her. "There are other customs among the Norscans on how to show respect and subservience to those more powerful, but they would never dream of imposing such laws upon a Godspawn such as yourself,"

At that, Raven could not help but groan. "Godspawn? Please don't tell me that's going to become a recurring title. Gem of Scath and Pride are bad enough as it is,"

"I can assure, once these Norscans get going, Godspawn will only be one of countless other titles heaped upon you," the old man explained.

Rven suddenly had the urge to punch him straight in the face. "Why thank you for enlightening me of the terrific times ahead of me,"

"You're quite welcome, my dear," he replied without breaking stride. Silence settled between the two of them as they continued marching onward. It would be many hours later, but then they finally stepped out of the dark forest and beheld Ragnar's home, nestled comfortably in a quiet little fjord.

By the standards of Earth's modern society, it was little more than a hovel. A village of maybe a few hundred inhabitants, living together in small houses of wood and thatch with a wooden palisade for protection. To Raven's eyes, only three things stood out about this settlement. First, the number of longboats drawn up on shore, their sleek and menacing style eerily similar to those of Earth's ancient Vikings.

Second was the longhouse situated at the very heart of the village, towering far above all other buildings around it. Raven would hazard a guess that it was Ragnar's equivalent of a mansion. Finally, a particular spot just outside the village, easily spotted by the great care the locals had gone through to keep it tidy. A circle of stones, gathered around a crudely made obelisk. She was too far away to see proper details of it, but she could easily guess that it was a place of worship. She made a mental note to stay as far away from it as possible.

As previously observed, this was a sad excuse for a settlement if compared to the likes of Jump City. But to Raven, having been scrounging for survival out in the harsh wilderness for Azar only knows how many months, this was as close to salvation as she would possibly get.

"Hardly the most grandiose of places, I'll admit, but it has its rugged charms to it. For a Norscan settlement, that is," the old man commented from his place at her side.

"As long as they got food and a hot bath, I'll be satisfied," Raven admitted without an ounce of shame.

"Can't say that I blame you for that. And not to worry, they should have plenty of both for you," he assured her.

"I'll hold you to that," then she turned her attention to her guardian. "Now please put me down. I still have enough dignity left in me to want to walk the rest of the way,"

As always, he never uttered so much as a single word, but he did gently lower her back onto her own two feet without hesitation.

"Thanks," she had said that word many times, and he had never once given any indication to either understanding or caring about it, but Raven still felt compelled to express her gratitude to him. Whenever he was not a massive and overprotective asshole, that is. Together, they all set off towards the settlement.

Stepping inside its gates, the group were met with a throng of cheering people, visible joy among all of them at the group's safe return. The warriors in turn were striding in like conquering heroes returning from a great crusade, chests puffed out and throats bellowing out all kinds of words that Raven had no hope understanding.

Then Ragnar stepped forth, speaking quick words while gesturing grandiosely towards her. The crowd grew quiet, and many pair of wide eyes were drawn towards her. They made Raven ill at ease, for they were filled with awe and adoration, as if she was some demi-god that had descended from the heavens.

"So where will I be staying?" she asked of the old man, trying to bury her unease behind an air of nonchalance. The knowing look she received in turn showed at at least one was not not fooled by the act. Words were exchanged between the old man and Ragnar before the attention returned to her.

"Your lodgings have been prepared, if you would follow me," then they were walking down what passed as a road in this village, which amounted to a dirt path snaking around the various buildings. The crowd parted before them, those closest even bowing to her, and it made Raven consciously fight against the urge to fidget. That urge did not go away as they continued the journey.

Just as the old man had said, this village bore all the hallmarks of a fishing hamlet, complete with the smell and everything. Even now, she could see groups of women hard at work repairing fishing nets, only for them to stop and stare at her as she walked past. From behind shoddy little houses, children would peek out at her, only to duck back in when she looked their way.

Raven could not help but notice the lack of elderly people, with the oldest one she could see looking like he was not a day over fifty. And even they would bow at her passing, watching her like she was their messiah in human form.

"Must they all bow and scrape like this to me?" she whispered to the old man.

"You are closer to the Gods than anyone else here, of course they will afford you the reverence you deserve," she really should have expected that response out of him. That did not mean she had to like it.

"I never wanted to be that close to your Gods, nor do I want such reverence," she snapped back at him, to which he just shrugged his shoulders.

"What we want is seldom what we are given," a bitter truth, but truth nonetheless, and one that Raven dearly wished she could have avoided altogether. Oh well, no use complaining over things out of my control. Just bear with it.

It was then that they finally reached their destination, one of the larger buildings of the village barring the longhouse itself, which conveniently was literally just a stone's throw away. Any other day, Raven would have taken the time to inspect the runes and decorations marking the outside of the building. But today, she just wanted to get away from all the eyes staring into her back, and so she hastily entered the building.

The instant she was inside, her body was hit by blessed warmth, originating from the fire burning at the very center of the room. Despite her best efforts, she could not quite restrain a sigh of relief. Months of warming herself by a small fire out in the freezing wilderness, and finally her suffering seemed to be at an end with a properly heated house. Hardly the equal of her old room in Titans Tower, but she was not picky at this stage.

The room itself, for that was what the whole building amounted to, was richly decorated with gold and silver tools, all of which looked far too advanced for these people to have made themselves. The walls themselves were covered with intricate carvings of what she supposed were great warriors performing glorious deeds in combat.

"This place is usually reserved for visitors from neighboring tribes, and it's made to impress upon them the tribe's many victories by displaying loot taken from all around the known world," the old man explained.

"So I can see," Raven murmured as she ran her hand over a drawing board that looked like it had come out of a Renaissance era noble mansion. Though her eyes were on the reptilian skull mounted on the wall above it.

"Lizardman, a local from the continent of Lustria. Ferocious creatures with the strength to rip a grown man in half with their bare hands,"

"Let's hope I never have to go there then," Raven commented as she moved around what would be her new home for the foreseeable future. Considering their level of technology, this place had all she would need: a bed, a fireplace, and even a basin. She could do without all the displays of war, but she could at least tolerate it.

"I have sent some thralls to prepare a bath for you, as well as procure some new clothes," the old man then added. Raven was about to thank him for the gesture when a single word in his sentence caught her attention.

"Thralls? As in slaves?" she asked slowly, whole body tensing up yet again.

"I suppose those two words are pretty interchangeable in this instance," he answered absentmindedly, clearly not seeing any point to the discussion. Raven very much disagreed on that front.

"These people practice slavery?!" some small pat of her was grateful that they were alone in here or else that outburst would have garnered some hefty attention, even if they could not understand her. But the majority of her was too furious to care about such details.

The old man looked downright puzzled now. "Why yes they do. I thought that was obvious at this point, considering we've clearly established that these people are raiders,"

It had been pretty obvious, even though the topic had never been brought up before. But Raven had not wanted to face the obvious, and so had chosen not to see what was staring her in the face. Now she was beginning to see what a mistake that had been.

"I won't allow it," she declared.

"Won't allow what? Having them prepare a bath for you?"

"Don't patronize me, dammit! I won't allow slaves to exist here!" how she dearly wished she had her powers right about now, just so she could show him just how much this stirred her anger up.

"Oh? And where would they exist instead? Out in the wilderness? They wouldn't survive a day out there," the old man merely mocked.

With gritted teeth, Raven began marching towards him. "Don't start playing smartass with me either. Set those people free, right now,"

"Again, where would they go? They can't survive on their own in the wilderness, and the Norscans certainly won't waste time transporting them back home. Whether you like it or not, this is their home now until the day they die,"

"Oh yeah? So why do they need to be in bondage then? Why not set them free and let them decide for themselves? Maybe some of them actually want to stay here if given the option," fat chance of that happening, but at least then they would have a choice. More than Raven ever had in her childhood.

"Hah! As if the Norscans would ever let their prizes just walk away like that. They shed blood and sweat to capture those people, and they're not letting them go until they're in their graves," and finally, the old man arrived at the true issue here.

"And that's the real concern, isn't it? All that talk about them not surviving on their own is just a bullshit attempt to distract me from the fact that the Norscans view them as property, something which they have sole right to,"

"And this is an issue to you?" she would have thought him still trying to mock her if not for the genuine confusion written plainly on his face.

"You damn right it is! I believe that every sentient being has the right to choose their own lives, and I won't stand for this barbaric practice!" she was close to all out screaming at him, but she still maintained enough control to keep her voice contained to just this room.

"Truly? I must say, it is an odd stance to take for a half-daemon, let alone one of Trigon's spawn," she would never admit it, but that observation hurt way more than it had any right to.

It also brought out a bitter smile to her lips. "Then I guess you and your masters don't know quite as much about me as you like to boast,"

But he just shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose so, but that doesn't change the reality. The Norscans will not give up their thralls,"

"Then I'll make them," Raven declared.

"And how would you do that? By asking them politely?" the old man simply questioned. She was close to grinding her teeth by now.

"Weren't you the one who previously went on and on about how much a god-like being I am to these people?"

"You overestimate your influence over these people, my dear. They hold you in the highest esteem, but they will not listen to your words if they go against their way of life," oh great, the one time her celebrity status could have been of use to her.

"Even so, I won't simply turn my back on these people, not when they need help," her proclamation brought out a sigh from the old man.

"You are proving surprisingly vexing now," he lamented.

"Why thank you, I do try my utmost," she snarked at him, which earned her the ever popular stink eye. Would have been funny to see if she were not already so damn agitated.

"In any case, you still haven't answered how you plan to fix this so-called issue. You can't convince them, and you can't force them," he pointed out.

"I don't know, okay. Still working on that," she admitted with great reluctance.

He looked downright perplexed right now, as if her statement went against the very laws of nature. "And yet even without a plan, you'd still try it? What has these people ever done for you to earn such favor?"

"I'm a Titan, it's what we do," she simply stated, not caring at all if he even understood what a Titan was to her.

"Very well then, if you're so set on this goal of yours, then allow me to propose a solution to it," the old man offered, an act which had Raven giving him quite the skeptical look.

"Why the sudden change of heart?" she asked.

"Oh, don't mistake my actions for an act of kindness. Truth be told, I couldn't care less about anyone in this village, Norscan or otherwise. No, the only one I have a vested interest in is you, and so I'm offering my aid purely to further those interests," he admitted without a moment's hesitation.

It garnered a raised eyebrow from her. "You're not very good at this whole 'trustful' thing, are you?"

"My dear, you already don't trust me, and probably never will, so why bother in the first place?" he asked with a mirthless smile.

Raven just shrugged her shoulders. "Point taken. So what's this suggestion of yours then?"

"It's very simple, really. Become powerful again. Norscans respect strength above all else, and will readily follow anyone with the power to force them into compliance," and already, Raven was not overly fond of this plan.

"Might makes right, then? I get strong enough to toss them around like ragdolls and they'll do whatever I tell them to?"

"Not how I would have put it, but in essence, yes," to be honest, she should have expected this by now.

"And that would mean waiting and letting these people suffer in the meantime," she was quick to point out the big flaw in this plan.

"Indeed it would, but what other choice is there? Words alone mean nothing here in Norsca without the strength to back them up," he was even quicker to counter with.

"Have I mentioned how barbaric your nation is yet?" Raven could not stop the scathing words from slipping out, but the old man only found them humorous.

"What nation?" he simply asked. Silence then fell between them, long and heavy, with Raven deep in thought and the old man patiently waiting for her decision. This idea of his made logical sense, but it went against what she stood for. How long would these people be forced to wait? A month? A year? A millennia? Far too long for her taste anyway. But what other choice is there?

"Very well," she finally relented. "We'll do it your way, and I'll keep my mouth shut on the matter. For now,"

"As good as it will ever get, I suppose," then he was striding towards the door, giving her a last comment before he was gone. "The servants should be here any moment now. And I suggest you make yourself presentable, because Ragnar is throwing a feast in your honor tonight,"

And then Raven was alone in her new quarters, alone to stew on what she had learned as she began pacing back and forth.

"Of course he is," she grumbled to herself, mind whirling through recent events. Had she made the right decisions? Had she made any right decisions? Was she safe here with Ragnar? And could she truly make a difference to the thralls with her current plan?

"Too late to turn back now," she lamented. She had already gone far too deep with these people, and she doubted her just up and leaving without warning would go over particularly well with them. But what had her life come to? Scraping by in the wilderness before seeking shelter with slavers and rapists.

Like many times before, she found her hand reach into her pocket, tightly grasping her rusted communicator. She tried to think of better times, of happier times. When she had her friends by her side, and when no obstacle seemed to great to overcome. Wonder what they'd think of me if they could see me now? Probably wouldn't even recognize me.

Her somber musings were then interrupted by a group of young women entering her house. Her mood instantly soured, for she could easily recognize them as slaves. Dressed in dirty pieces of rags that barely served as cover for their malnourished frames, all of them shuffled in with lowered heads, like beaten dogs whimpering to its cruel master.

They carried with them a great wooden bathtub, large enough for a grown man to seat himself in, and several buckets of steaming water. One of them also carried with her bundles of clothing. Wordlessly, they arranged her bath and then stepped back to a respectful distance, head held low and eyes firmly locked on the floor.

"Thank you," Raven managed to haltingly say, using German for a lack of any other language to use. Some of them gave no indication of understanding her, but some made minuscule twitches. One slave in particular almost raised her eyes to meet Raven's before she apparently remembered her place and redoubled her efforts to stare holes in the floor.

There was an ache in Raven's chest as she beheld the poor little thing, more girl than woman actually. She could not possibly have been older than Raven, and yet already reduced to such a state. Why could things not have been as simple as beat up the slavers and free them all? It was not helped by a sudden swell of guilt at taking advantage of them just to get a simple bath.

But the reminder of the feast to come, and her own little selfishness, won over in the end and she began to awkwardly strip out of her clothes. Her cheeks even gained a bit of a rosy hue as she bared more and more of her skin to these strangers. Get ahold of yourself, girl! This is nothing new to you after shower times with Starfire at Titans Tower. That girl did NOT understand the concept of modesty or personal space.

Once having discarded all clothing, and taking great care to make sure her communicator was not lost by mistake, she stepped into the improvised bathtub and carefully lowered herself into the scalding hot water. She did her utmost to resist the urge, but there was no stopping the moan from slipping out as her body got a taste of nice and hot water for the first time in ages. By Azar did I miss small comforts like these.

Raven got to enjoy just soaking in the water before one of the slaves stepped forward again with an assortment of cleaning tools. No soap. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, but I had held some faint hope to the contrary. Nevertheless, she accepted the tools and began scrubbing herself down vigorously.

It was only now, with access to a proper bath, that Raven truly felt how filthy she actually was. Layers of sweat, dirt and grime all but coating her skin, and she took to scrubbing herself like a woman possessed. By the time she was finally done, her skin felt raw to the touch, and the water had gained a brown tinge to it, but Raven felt more content than she had been in months now.

But her good mood took a dip when her eyes landed on the slaves yet again, still standing in silence and awaiting further commands. The guilt returned tenfold, and her gaze was drawn to the young girl again, who was still staring resolutely at the floor.

"Can you understand me?" she asked of her. No verbal response, though she did flinch at being addressed. Raven tried very hard not to imagine what she could have been through to instill such a reaction.

"Look, I just want to talk. I promise I won't hurt you," she tried to placate the young girl. There was hesitance in her stance, but she began to slowly raise her eyes. But just as it seemed like they were about to make eye contact, she brought her eyes down again and refused to look at her further.

Raven could not contain the disappointed sigh, but let the matter drop. She knew better than anyone when to let a matter rest. After that, she did not remain in her bath for long, largely due to it starting to grow cold again and she had had her fill of that, thank you very much. As soon as she rose up, another servant hurried forth with the local equivalent of a towel.

"Thanks," she tried again, but received yet again no response. As she dried herself up, she took the opportunity to inspect the new clothes provided for her. First thing she noticed, and she almost squealed in delight, were the set of proper pants provided for her. Thank Azar for small mercies, I was worried for a time that they would force me into a dress.

As for the rest of her new outfit. Given the level of society she was residing in, she could quite clearly say that these were some expensive clothing. Largely leather and fur, and lacking the many ornaments and accessories that one would expect from aristocratic fashion loonies, it was nevertheless crafted with obvious care and precision, no doubt reserved for only the most influential or the very rich.

"This had better just be a mere coincidence and not some damn sign of them expecting me for months," she mumbled to herself as she donned the new clothes, and finding that they fit her surprisingly well. Last to be added was a new cloak and hood, which for some reason included feathers in it. That had best not be their idea of a joke. At least it's blue in color.

"Ah, I see that you're ready," the old man suddenly spoke up, and Raven was but a hair's breadth away from shrieking in fright and decking him right in the face.

"Ever heard of knocking before?" she growled at him, hand clutching over her heart.

"I have, but never felt the need for it," he answered.

"Well, you better start feeling a need for it, or you'll be feeling my boot between your legs next time," she warned with the most potent glare she could summon forth. She might as well have been glaring at a mountain for all the good it seemed to do.

"Duly, noted, my lady. Now, the fest is about to begin, so if you would just follow me," his request was accompanied by theatrical gesture towards the door.

Raven just gave a nod at said door. "By all means, after you,"

The old man simply smiled and walked out, followed soon after by Raven and then some of the slaves taking up the rear. She found her guardian standing vigil just outside her door, and he obediently fell in line at her side the instant she stepped outside.

"Hey, big guy. Quiet evening for you?" she asked of him, and he gave the faintest tilt of the head a sign that he had heard her. Yes! Progress!

"Why do you still attempt to strike up a conversation with him?" the old man asked of her.

"Why do you still care if I do it?" she snapped back, and there fell a silence between them. A silence that was slowly whittled away as they approached the doors of the longhouse, and the general noise of drunken merriment came from within. Raven took a mental breath and steeled herself just before she stepped inside.

The scene that greeted her could have been taken right out of some fantasy Viking movie, with multiple tables packed full of food and drinks of great variety. And gathered around every single table, some seated while others standing, were throngs of cheering marauders drinking and laughing amongst each other. But at her entrance, it suddenly grew silent, and every pair of eye was directed squarely towards her. Raven dearly hoped her current façade of stoicism was as good as she hoped.

Now that everyone had grown quiet, Raven could now also see another table at the very end of the hall, raised higher than all the rest so that even when seated, it's occupants would loom over everyone else. And Ragnar was seated at this table, with an empty seat at his side that he even now gestured towards while giving her a smile.

"Well, here goes nothing," she mumbled quietly to herself, then raised her head high and marched straight through the great hall as if she owned the whole damn place. Out of the corner of her eyes, she took note of the way those around her reacted to her presence. The older among them, a handful even showing a few grey strands in their unruly beards, bowed their heads at her passing, whilst the young ones looked upon her like she was a particularly savory piece of meat or an enticing challenge.

She made a mental note to stay away from those particular bastards.

But as she approached the high table, she could not help but notice something else among the teeming masses: the many slaves scurrying between tables with plates of even more food and drink. And as she passed one by, her sharp eyes were quick to spot bruising across the face.

Her façade almost cracked, but she managed to maintain it with only her hands tightening into fists to give away her real thoughts. Be patient. You're alone and surrounded by murdering hooligans, there's nothing you can do for them right now. Maybe if she told herself that enough times, she might even start fully believing it? Doubtful it would do much for the guilt though.

Then, she was standing next to the empty chair, and she did her damnedest to dispel those thoughts for the moment. Can't let them distract me now of all times. Her guardian dutifully stepped forward to pull out the chair for her, and Raven came very close to smiling herself.

"My, what a gentleman you turned out to be," she teased as she seated herself. And as soon as she did that, it was as if a spell was lifted and everyone gathered returned to their feasting. The only one not interest in the food anymore was Ragnar, who was even now speaking to her in that accursed language of theirs.

"He asks if your new accommodations are to your liking," the old man translated, having taking up a spot just behind the two of them.

There were many unflattering things she wanted to say to the man, but reluctantly held her tongue on that. "Tell him that they are… more than satisfactory, and that he has my thanks for his generosity and kindness,"

Those words tasted like ash on her tongue, but she endured it and focused on the food brought to her. One thing she could not deny was that she was starving, and she dearly longed for some real food rather than some bland stew or overcooked meat out in the woods. Raven herself considered it a great feat on her behalf for not just throwing herself at the plates of meat and vegetables placed before her, and instead restraining herself to eating at a more dignified and sedated pace. Still, the taste of real food on her tongue made her palate dance with joy.

Thanks to this restraint, she was able to observe as a group of Norscans approached the high table, giving shallow bows and not even attempting to hide their scowls. Ragnar for his part looked like the epitome of the cat who ate the canary and got the dog blamed for it. Even with no understanding of the language, Raven could easily tell that less than flattering words were exchanged before the strangers stormed out of the hall entirely, though not before giving her a thorough once over with their eyes.

"Well, they seemed like quite the joyful bunch," Raven commented sardonically.

"Bjornlings, my lady. Ancient rivals of the Graelings. The two tribes have been raiding and skirmishing with each other for untold generations," the old man explained to her.

"Odd of them to then show up here with that kind of attitude. I've grasped that diplomacy is not the Norscans' forte, but that was just ridiculous," she pointed out.

"True enough. My guess is that this visit was just an excuse for them to confirm certain rumors,"

"Really? And what would those rumors be?" the old man said nothing in response to her question, instead he just gave her a very pointed stare. It did not take her long to connect the dots.

"Oh, don't tell you've been tattling on my existence to other people as well?" it came out more as a groan than a question, and it had Ragnar looking at her in confusion, but she cared not.

"Hardly, my dear. But as I've told you before, I'm not the only one able to gaze into the currents of time. Others like me have seen your arrival and foretold the many possible roles you could be playing, and it has peaked the interest of many different parties," and that answer did little to calm her nerves.

"Wonderful, absolutely wonderful," she grumbled while munching on a vegetable. That was when she saw something that brought a chill down her spine. It seemed that the slaves sent to tend to her previously had been recalled to serve their masters in the great hall as well, including the young girl. And said young girl was now boxed in by a trio of burly Norscans with drunken grins on their faces and far too frisky hands.

She did not need her empathic powers to tell what they wanted of her.

"Stop them," she found herself saying, eyes never leaving the cruel spectacle.

"I beg your pardon?" the old man, hardly even paying attention to the slaves, was a bit slower on the uptake.

"Those men over there, they're about to rape that girl," she pointed out to him.

"Yes, I can see that. And what of it? It is within their rights, after all," the old man simply answered with an unconcerned shrug. It made Raven's blood boil.

"Tell them to stop it and leave the girl alone," Raven now outright ordered, earning herself a reproachful glare from the old man.

"I thought we were in agreement on that, you're not in a position to challenge their traditions yet," he reminded her.

"I don't care, make hem stop," she hissed right back at him, struggling to keep her tone low lest she attract the attention of the entire hall.

"What difference will it even make? If they can't satisfy themselves on her, they'll find another slave instead. And do not humor me with ideas of protecting them all, you're smart enough to see the futility in that," the old man argued. His logic may have worked before. But now, with an act of cruelty happening right before her eyes, Raven cared not for the consequences.

"I'm not in the mood for a lengthy debate. Either make them stop or I'll do something I know that we'll both regret," she stated with finality. Even if she would only be able to save this one girl, it would still be one more saved than if she stood by and did nothing.

"You know, I'm beginning to sympathize with your father," the old man grumbled before he began speaking with Ragnar in their language. Whatever was said must have worked as Ragnar then shouted something at the three men, prompting them to hastily step away from the young girl before another slave hurried forth and escorted her out of the building.

"Okay, what did you say to make them so compliant?" Raven wondered, more than a little suspicious after how much the old man had warned her about Norscan stubbornness.

"I told him that you had taken a liking to that particular girl and desired her as your personal slave. Ragnar has thus gifted her to you as a sign of his good will," the old man explained, right before leaning in closer to whisper his next words. "I would caution against asking for such a boon again. This one was given freely, but the next one will have a steeper price to it,"

Raven felt a chill crawl its way up her spine. Not at the old man's warning, but at the implication of what had just transpired. She had not realized it, or even meant to, but she had bartered for the girl's life like it was a piece of commodity. And now her life belonged to Raven as far as these people were concerned. Calm down, girl, calm down. Had I done nothing, she would have suffered a worse fate. At least this way, you can protect her.

That was when she noticed Ragnar's attention on her, looking very expectantly. Even though she wished nothing more than to shove a boot up between his legs, she still managed to give him a smile and a nod. The closest thing she could give as a sign of gratitude. That seemed to be more than enough for Ragnar, as he smiled in triumph before swiftly returning his attention to the feast.

"You know, it's growing quite vexing to have to rely on you as a translator. I really need to learn their language as soon as possible," Raven remarked to the old man, once she was sure no one was really paying attention to her.

"I would be happy to teach you this, my lady, though I warn you that it will not be an easy thing," the old man's words merely made Raven snort.

"Please, I know English, German, Latin, Romanian, ancient Sumerian and Sanskrit. What's one more language atop of that?" They lapsed into silence after that as the feast continued on long into the night. Raven could not really say that she enjoyed it, but she did slowly learn to pretend to enjoy it. Pretending. Why does it feel like that's something I'll be doing a lot of for the foreseeable future?