Rahlei of her Own Destiny
Rahlei picked herself up off the dusty ground and stared back at the man defiantly, willing herself not to cry.
He raised his fist again, knocking her in the jaw, sending her down to meet the earth again.
"Now get back in the house and don't let me catch you out here again until you're finished with your work!" he bellowed at her, sounding like an angry bull.
Rahlei scrambled to her feet and scampered past her father, not meeting his eyes.
"Get!" he yelled, snapping the back of her legs with his horsewhip.
She quickened her pace and ran into the house, fighting back tears.
Rahlei slammed the door behind her and leaned against it, panting. She gingerly reached up to touch her swelling eye and aching jaw.
"Rahlei, what is it?" her mother, Yelda, asked coming out of the kitchen. Her progress was slow due to a very pregnant belly. Yelda "tsked" lightly when she saw the girl. "Now really, Rahlei. Can't you go one afternoon without crossing your father?" she chided. "Come, child," she said with a sigh, leading Rahlei into the kitchen and getting a slab of raw meat for her eye.
"I'm sorry, Mother," Rahlei whispered as tears stung her eyes.
"It's not me you should be apologizing to. It is your father that you angered," Yelda said in her soft, sweet, and reasonable voice.
"I'll never apologize to him," she spat angrily.
"And it is spite like that, my child, that gets you into so much trouble," her mother replied, now cutting up apples for a pie. "Let me see," she said, leaving her apples and looking at Rahlei's eye. "Eh, it will do." She put the meat away. "No go wash up and finish carding your wool," she told Rahlei, as she returned to her pie.
Rahlei washed her face and the dust off her arms and legs and returned to the chair near the empty fireplace where an enormous pile of sheep's wool sat, waiting preparation. She yanked roughly at the wool, brushing it harder than necessary, thinking up as many ways as possible to make her father's life a living hell.
"Gently Rahlei, gently," her mother reminded softly, coming into the room and sitting down at her spinning wheel with some amount of difficulty. "You know it can't be spun if it's full of knots from rough carding," she scolded.
Rahlei scowled, but carded the wool more carefully just the same.
Her mother picked up some of the already carded wool and began to spin it into a fine yarn, her pale face set with determination.
Rahlei noticed her mother's degenerating state of health. She had seen it grow steadily worse over the past nine months. Had the midwife not said that another child would likely be the death of her? Rahlei shivered at the thought of being left with only her
father. It was his fault after all. He knew the risk that came with getting her with child. His lust overcame his common sense however and she found herself wishing the bastard nothing but a slow and painful death.
Rahlei was the oldest in a family of nine, soon to be ten stillborn or miscarried siblings. She began tugging violently at the wool again as she remembered the pain her mother had endured with the death of each baby.
She didn't think her mother would be able to handle another.
"Rahlei! Be careful with that. You know what your father will do if he finds the wool is ruined due to careless carding."
Rahlei's scowl deepened. Indeed she did. He would probably take her out back to the horse shed and give her thirty lashes across the backs of her legs with his horsewhip, making her count each one, adding three more for every noise she made or tear she shed. It had happened often enough.
"Rahlei, you will someday have to accept that men are above us," her mother said gently, correctly interpreting her expression. "The sooner you come to accept that, the happier you'll be."
Rahlei nodded, knowing it was useless to argue. She never won that argument, and she didn't want to tax her mother's dwindling source of energy.
But she knew she would never be happy as long as she was dominated by some man that had "I am Mithros" written across his forehead. Whether it was her father or future husband, she knew she could never accept it. But what was she to do? Stay here and deal with it anyway? Give into defeat and become the soft, gentle, meek, obedient wife and daughter that her mother had
become? Was she to spend the rest of her day catering to the slightest whims and every beck and call of some self centered pig?
She didn't think so. If fact, she was determined not to. And she didn't care what it took to achieve it.
She spent the rest of the afternoon carding the pile of wool, pretending to be the obedient daughter on the outside, while she churned and boiled with loathing on the inside.
Her father came in just after dark and demanded his dinner. His wife got clumsily to her feet and hurried into the kitchen to comply. Rahlei finished the last bit of wool and went to help her mother with the food.
"Hurry up, woman!" he shouted from the table. "I've been working all day and I'm famished."
Rahlei came out with a stack of plates in one arm and a loaf of bread in the other.
"Did you learn your lesson, girl?" he asked with a sneer.
She nodded slightly and hurried back to the kitchen.
Dinner was a quiet affair. No one was allowed to speak unless he spoke to them first. He said he couldn't stand chatter while he was eating.
"The lambs are thriving out there," he said proudly after about five minutes of utter silence. "I imagine we'll have near five hundred to sell to market come fall," he added.
"That's wonderful, Matthew," Rahlei's mother said in her quiet voice.
"Remember the ewe that had the dead lambs last year?" he asked after a few more minutes of quiet eating.
"Aye," her mother replied.
"She had another two dead this morning."
"I'm sorry to hear that," she said quietly, looking down at her food.
"I did away with her," he added, leaning back in his chair.
Yelda glanced up quickly before returning her gaze to her food. "I'm sure you did what was best," she commented with a quavering voice.
"That I did," he said pompously. "Everything's got to earn their keep around here, isn't that right, Rahlei?"
"Aye," she answered dully.
"Don't you take that tone with me," he snarled, sitting up straighter in his chair. "I am your father and I expect the utmost respect from you, understand?" He glowered at her.
"Yes, father," she said, looking up with a sappy smile and eyes that could freeze fire.
"Good," he stated as he settled back into his chair. "Is the pie done yet, Yelda?" he asked cheerfully.
"Oh, yes," she said struggling to her feet and shuffling to the kitchen, coming back a moment later with a golden pie.
"Needs more sugar," he stated through a large bite. "Put more sugar in next time," he commanded.
"I'm sorry, dear," Yelda said apologetically, lowering her head. "It won't happen again."
"Well, I should hope not," he muttered with annoyance. "Girl, get outside and water the horses, would you?"
It was in the form of a question, but Rahlei knew it was far from a simple request. He was daring her to rebuke him so he could have another excuse to hit her.
She nodded and rose from the table to do his bidding.
"Aren't you going to help your mother clear up the dishes?" he asked, just as she was about to open the door. Without giving her a chance to answer he added, "You are an ungrateful child. Here your mother slaves away to feed you and you don't even offer to help clean up. I'm ashamed to call you my daughter!"
Rahlei's eyes narrowed. "Well, that may be the case, but I'm even more ashamed to have you as my father," she hissed with contempt.
Yelda gasped. "Oh Rahlei," she whispered through her hands.
Matthew's eyes widened and his face reddened. He rose from his chair and walked angrily towards her.
Rahlei held her ground and stared at him straight in the eye. "You ungrateful little wench," he spat, slapping her across the cheek. "How dare you speak to me that way! I am your father and I will not tolerate this kind of behavior from you!"
He grabbed her arm with one hand and his horsewhip in the other. "I'll teach you some respect!" he said, hauling her off to the horse shed and throwing her up against the back wall.
"Start counting!" he bellowed at her, bringing the whip down across any bit of uncovered flesh it could find.
Snap! "One." Snap! "Two." Snap! "Three!"
It didn't stop at thirty. It didn't stop at fifty. He only stopped when he had successfully demolished all her pride and had her writhing on the ground before him begging him to stop. He grabbed her hair and hauled her up so their eyes were level.
"Are you ever going to do that again?" he asked with forced calm.
She shook her head violently from side to side.
"Good. Now what do you have to say for yourself?"
"Forgive me father," she said, her voice filled with contempt. "I'll never forget my place and anger you again."
"Right you are," he growled fiercely. "Now, you can spend the night out with the sheep like the dog you are and think about what you did, understand?"
"Yes," she muttered through gritted teeth.
He slapped her one more time before turning on his heel and storming off towards the house.
She shivered in the night's chill and wished to all the gods and goddesses she could be rid of the beast that had sired her.