The cell was cold, wet, and moldy. The air was thick with fear. She had not seen sunlight for months. Screams were ever present, and she could not seem to shut the sound out. These were her people, they were suffering, and she couldn't do a thing about it.
She pulled her rag of a dress more tightly around her and winced as it scraped across the new gash on her arm. She took a mental check of her injuries. Four dislocated fingers, one gash on her left arm, burn marks on her right thigh, neck, and another just underneath the tattoo on her right cheek. Her black eyes should be healed by now, she thought, and eventually her various cuts and bruises would fade. The grime and dirt would wash off. She wasn't sure about her fingers, but otherwise there would be no lasting damage. 'Who was she kidding?' she thought. She would never forget the screams, the blood, the terror. That would be lasting. She would never forgive herself. She had gotten complacent, leading her friends right into this trap. How had it come to this?
Rebekah had never had such a good time in all her six years. She had had her first sword lesson today, and she had already decided that this was the kind of life that she was going to lead. Her father was laughing, head thrown back, the picture of joy. His little girl was going to be a demon on the battlefield, he thought. She would carry on the ways of her people, she would save them. Granted, she was not particularly skilled yet, but she had a feel for the blade, a passion for the art. She would do, he thought. She would do.
They lived secluded from their people. He did not want anyone looking to closely at this child. She was too precious, too important. Her mother had been a great leader among the Woads. She had died in battle, leaving behind an infant to care for. He had been heartbroken, but knew that he had a job to do. Their people needed a new leader, and he would give them one.
They had lived for too long in the forests, when their ancestors had once worked the land. This was their home, and the Romans had no business here. The Romans took what was not theirs, even the children of those they had conquered. They had incorporated them into their army. The knights that lived within Hadrian's Wall were such children. They had been taken from their parents in Sarmatia at an early age, many of them dying for a cause that was not their own. He could not hate these people, who were doing what they had to do to survive. He was doing the same thing himself. He could not forget all the lives that had been taken by their blades, however. They were formidable adversaries, and not to be trifled with. One day, the Sarmatian knights would have to be defeated, or the Woads would never retake their land.
His little girl wasn't little anymore. Her fourteenth birthday had come, and her skill had grown past even his wildest dreams. She was able to use her sword, arrows, knives, and she was also very able to fight without any weapons at all. Many people never bothered learning hand to hand combat, always assuming that their opponent would give them plenty of time to arm up, or give them time to retrieve their weapon. He had seen too many people die in their beds for that to be true. Just because you have no weapon did not mean that no one would kill you. Those who thought so were simply stupid in his opinion. His daughter was not stupid.
He had told her tales of their people, battle stories that made her eyes shine with pride. In her head, she was one of these heroes. She would fight and win when the odds were heavily against her. She would save hundreds, no, thousands of innocents from the faceless villains. She grew up with a great understanding of honor and courage. In a way she was raised, not only by her father, but also by those already dead, that lived on in these tales.
She had been with her tribe before, but only on special days of worship, so she did not have any friends. She went off by her self often, and learned the sounds of the forest, and was always able to discern when something was amiss. She was a skilled tracker.
There was one thing that had always rather unsettled her father, however. With her dark brown hair and blue-grey eyes, he could see how many of the young men would be distracted. To disguise her beauty a bit, he had given his daughter a traditional tattoo on her cheek. The girl had been delighted, and he realized his mistake. She wanted what was best for her people, and no amount of beauty would ever change that. He heaved a deep sigh as he watched her go through her drills.
It was time. They were going back.
They had been greeted with such warmth, and happiness that Rebekah had immediately felt at home. This is where she belonged. She was surrounded by people her own age! She made friends quickly. There was Guinevere, Merlin's daughter, who had been the first to introduce herself, Sera, who had quickly followed. They were rarely not together, always sharing a joke or sparring. Guinevere was the only one who could beat her in archery, and Sera could always best here with knives, but no one could touch her in hand to hand, or with a sword.
Guinevere had taken Rebekah to see her father on her first night with the tribe. She would never forget when his eyes settled on her. She went still, and held her breath. He had stared at her for so long, it felt as though he could see right through her.
"Your mother was a strong woman, I am glad to see her daughter following in her footsteps."
Whatever Rebekah had been expecting, it had not been that. She bowed her head and retreated, her thoughts full of doubt. Could she take her mother's place? Could she show the same strength? Guinevere had interrupted her thoughts, telling her it was time to eat. Rebekah had followed her to the fire, and tried to put the meeting from her mind. She would worry about this tomorrow.
The years past quickly, Rebekah, Guinevere, and Sera improved their skills, and had many opportunities to test them. The Woads were growing restless. They were tired of living in the shadow of the Romans. They ventured farther and farther south, until they were having regular battles with the Sarmatian knights that lived within Hadrian's Wall. Merlin knew that this could not continue. They were losing far to many people, and at this rate, the Romans would have no trouble taking the rest of their land. Something had to be done.
Merlin began to spread his troops out, hoping to hold as much land as possible. He sent his daughter and her companions farther north. This achieved several things. For one, it kept her farther from danger, for another, someone had to do it, and Guinevere and her companions had much battle experience. If worst came to worst, they could fend for themselves. He only hoped that their journey would be safe.
When given their assignments, Guinevere nearly protested, but her training held, and she accepted the orders without question. They were to watch the family of wealthy and influential Roman. If any interesting information came along, they were to pass it on.
All was going well, until Rebekah had decided to get a closer look.
" We can't get that close, Rebekah, the man doesn't get hardly any news anyway, it's not worth the risk!" Protested Sera.
Guinevere agreed, but Rebekah could not be swayed. Their assignment had been so tedious, and she had simply gotten bored. In the end, Guinevere and Sera could not in good conscience let her go alone.
What they saw did not sit well with any of them. Everyone was forced to work for this "man of God", even children no more than six. Those who did not were beaten as an example; some were taken, and never seen again. Not only that, they didn't even get to keep the food that they had harvested. Most looked about ready to collapse from lack of food.
" We can't let them be treated like this, these are our people too!" hissed Rebekah.
"What can we do, pray tell?" asked Sera.
"Well, for starters, I would like to speak to this 'man of God' wouldn't you?" and without even pausing for a response, she went charging for the gates. The Soldiers posted at the gate were caught off guard, and didn't have time to close the door. Guinevere and Sera were running after her, frantic to get her away and into the woods. This however was not what happened. Rebekah had her dagger out and was already threatening a servant woman.
"Where is he?" It was more of an order than a question.
The servant looked at her with terrified eyes, she opened her mouth a few times but nothing came out. Her words were not needed, however, as Marius Honorius himself stepped outside to see what all the commotion was about. Dressed in his best robes, he was a sharp contrast to the peasants, with their threadbare clothing.
"What are you doing? Why are you not in the fields? The grain does not grow by itself, no?" He had asked angrily.
"And here I was coming to ask you the same question." Rebekah had replied coolly.
"How dare you speak to me in that tone, as if we are equals! Do you know who I am, peasant?"
" Oh, I know who you are, and you are right. We are not equals. I, and every other 'peasant' out there are ten times your superior in everything that matters."
Sera and Guinevere stood behind Rebekah with identical expressions of loathing and disgust. This was no man. This was a worm. He had no consideration for anyone but himself. If that was his wife (the shadow of a woman standing next to him) then he also had a problem with keeping his fists to himself. The Roman pig did not deserve obedience.
Rebekah's words had infuriated the man of the house to such an extent that his face was turning a lovely shade of puce.
"Guards, I think we have a few extra rooms for our guests, no?" he said.
Immediately, the three friends formed a triangle, backs to the middle, swords drawn, ready to defend themselves against the six guards that were trying to subdue them. The guards attacked, and Rebekah was relieved to find them very unchallenging. Something happened, however, that had never happened before. Guinevere trippedon the unfamiliar tile, and dropped her sword.
In an instant, one of the guards swooped down and had his arms wrapped around Guinevere, a knife at her throat.
"Drop you weapons." He commanded.
Rebekah's mind raced for a solution, anything to get them out of this mess that they were in, that she had led them to. Her mind came up blank. She dropped her sword and dagger. She heard several other clangs, and knew that Sera had dropped her weapons as well. They were grabbed roughly by their guards and were quickly brought around to the side of the villa, where there was what appeared to be a small hut. Once inside, however, they surmised that the rooms must go underground. They where brought to a man with wild eyes. He gazed eagerly at them, a crazed grin on his face. He immediately noticed their various tattoos and said,
"You are here to redeem yourselves. You have lived an evil life, full of sin. You are safe now, is there anything you would like to confess?"
Rebekah could not believe her ears. How would this man know anything about her life or her sins? She had seen many other people chained to the walls, some already dead, and the sick feeling in her stomach only deepened. They were going to die here, they would not be able to help her people, and it was all her fault. Why had she done something so rash? It was not like her. Rebekah always liked to have a plan, and now, looking into the eyes of the monk, she realized that she could get out of this place now, but she would not be able to help the others. The guards had their arms securely behind their backs, so movement was difficult. Guinevere and Sera couldn't fight hand to hand very well anyway, and could very well be killed. She had to wait until she could get a weapon into their hands, and that was not likely to happen any time soon. She had to get the monk to focus on her, and hopefully, he wouldn't pay as much attention to her friends.
"I have something to confess." She stated.
The monk blinked, but quickly recovered, a gratified smile on his face. Finally, he could lead a sinner willingly from the fires of hell! He had been waiting for someone like this to come along.
"Yes, my child?"
"You'll have to come closer, it's too shameful to say too loudly." Rebekah said, nearly achieving a remorseful look. The monk saw only what he wanted to see, and came closer. As soon as he was in range, she hit his forehead with hers. She had expected the monk to be furious, to beat her. What she was unprepared for was his smile. It slowly got wider and wider, until Rebekah thought it would take over his face. As much as she hated to admit it, that smile frightened her more than any violence. The monk stepped close to her again, this time, the guard holding her head. He brought a grimy hand through her dark brown hair.
"I have a feeling that we will have much to talk about, my child." He said in a soft undertone.
Rebekah shivered in spite of herself. This would be bad.
The Roman's wife was outside her cell, and hurriedly passed her some food. Rebekah had been in this cell for four months, and the first time that the woman Fulcinia had come to her with food, she had been shocked. This was the waif of a woman that allowed her husband to beat her? This woman actually went out of her way to defy her husband? It just goes to show, she thought to herself, you can't judge us women by our exteriors. We always surprise you.
Rebekah had certainly surprised her torturers. She had never one cried out, not even when they had dislocated her fingers. She only allowed herself to cry when she knew they were gone. Every time they touched her, she forced herself to think of her mother, and her people. She would be strong; she would be strong for them.
The Roman woman left with Rebekah's thanks, and Rebekah sat back against the wall of her cell. She tried to call out to Guinevere and Sera, but she found her throat was too dry for use. She sighed, curled up in a corner, and tried to sleep.
Suddenly, she heard the door to the hut being thrown open. She sat up quickly and winced. Who was there? She heard voices, but could not remember ever hearing them before. The voices were yelling at the monk, and soon she heard footsteps.
A man was outside of her cell. He stared at her through his mane of braids. He quickly opened the door and entered the cell. She tried to stand, but found that she could not. The man picked her up wordlessly, and carried her out of the hut that had been her hell. Rebekah was blinded by sunlight, the wind played across her filthy face. For the first time in her life, she allowed herself to cry in the presence of another human.