Chains of Love
Chapter One – The Finding
The sky above was as black as coal, the rain streaked across the land soaking the rich dirt that lay the grounded path. The wind was rough and unforgiving, making the already harsh spring storm unbearable to withstand. Everything about the night was miserable.
Desperate footfalls were almost silenced by the echoing noise of the thunder and rain, but the splashing of the force hitting the growing puddles on the path were still vibrating between the water droplets that fell from the sky. Bare feet were struggling through the storm; they were cold and raw due to the freezing temperature.
Rain and mud soaked cloth clung to the body of a woman, who was heavily pregnant. She ran as fast as her condition allowed her to, periodically she looked over her shoulder into the black abyss that swallowed the path behind her, running blind from her captors.
The blackness of the night blinded the woman to the path she ran, she had lost all sense of direction the moment she ran out past the City of Lima's walls. Going back wasn't an option, for only death and suffering would await her and her innocent unborn child.
Exhaustion was beginning to take its toll on her body, making running through the sloppy mud harder as her slowing footfalls began to sink into the clay like mud of the grounded dirt. Then the inevitable stumble occurred as her legs became too weak to carry her further. Falling to her hands and knees, she barely managed to avoid falling forcefully onto the swollen stomach.
Shaky hands were lifted from their balancing station in the mud, to cradle the life she bore within her fatigued body. Hot tears burnt their way down the worn face of the young mother, the warmth of the tear droplets prickled the skin where the freezing rain continued to pelt relentlessly.
Tired eyes squinted, attempting the see through the thick sheets of rain. And there it shone like the guiding star that the men of God speak of in the dirtied streets of Lima. It beckoned her to travel closer, offering salvation from her torturous life.
It was a struggle to again stand upon her feet, but hope was a powerful thing to those in desperate need of it. The journey was slow and it wore her down to the point of deliriousness, but she made it, her guiding star was a hands width away, if only she had the strength to reach for it.
Her body had given its last efforts. She collapsed sideways heavily against a solid wall, her star shining brightly against the dark above her. As her vision blurred so did the light, until her world was as black as the world she so desperately desired to escape.
"Rachel hurry up sweetie, your father will be back soon." Said a dark skinned man who wore the cloth of a farmer, though he also bore the mark of a slave, which glared a delicate white on this forearm, visible to those who wished to see it gone.
"I'm coming. This bucket is rather heavy." Rachel replied breathily, as she carefully carried the bucket filled with thick cream fresh from the cows she had just finished milking. The transportation of the bucket was always the most draining part of her chore, her frame was small and she had little choice but to hold the buckets handle with two hands, while it swung dangerously between her legs, therefore she had to waddle slowly back to the run down house she called home.
She silently praised her smarts for wearing her belted tunic short enough, so that it came to her mid thigh; this stopped any filth or spilt milk getting on her clothes. The smell of milk was hard to wash out without soap and as it was her father was in no financial state to be able to afford such a luxury.
When she got to the door of the one story house, Rachel was met by the dark skinned man, who thankfully took the bucket from her with a smile and a thank you.
"Michael, what happens if father is unsuccessful?" the small brunette asked quietly, fiddling with the belt that was wrapped around her waist.
Their life was a simple farm life outside of the city walls, although they lived outside of the city they weren't devoid of taxes. And while the farm was doing well, it wasn't bringing in enough income to support them all. Three mouths needed to be fed and taxes were rising every year, expenses were becoming tight.
"I don't know sweetie, but we'll work something out." Michael replied gently, squeezing the small girl's shoulder caringly.
Hooves pounding against the dry earth could be heard from where the pair stood on the doorstep of the house, they both let their eyes follow the path that lead to the roads leading to the city. A small white man with greying hair sat upon a chestnut brown work horse, making his way quickly towards the house.
Eagerly Rachel ran to meet the man she called father, even though they bore no resemblance to the each other. She knew her origin, but her father and Michael were the only parent like figures she had ever known and they loved her dearly.
"Father!" She shouted happily, her smile beaming brighter than the midday sun. It was a sight her father never wished to cloud.
When the horse had been reined to a halt Rachel held the muzzle attached to the horses head, steadying him for her father to safely dismount. The brown beast nudged Rachel's shoulder nearly knocking her off her feet; they had a rocky relationship at best. Now Rachel and the cows, well they got on like pigs in mud.
"Hello sweetie, how about you take Brutus to the stalls while I speak to Michael." Her father said, ruffling her hair playfully. Happy to have her father's attention, Rachel did as asked immediately, even though she knew it was going to be a more challenging task than that of the bucket. The horse was a stubborn mule, with the build of a beast...she resigned to that fact that this might take a while.
"Eli, how bad is it?" Michael asked as he led his master inside the house, taking the cloak that hung around the shorter mans neck as they entered.
"I couldn't get the loan. I checked in with my financer and it turns out we are further behind on our taxes than I had previously thought. We can expect the taxman any day now, I don't know what they'll find here worth the amount we owe, and we have so little already. I fear they may seek you or Rachel as payment." Eli replied distraughtly, how quickly their lives could be ruined and what was worse he didn't know how long he had to enjoy his family. If he was forced to choose between his daughter and his devoted slave, whom he has had since childhood, well he just didn't know.
How could he decide the fate of the two most important people in his life? While Michael has been a slave all his life, his innocent daughter had never known or seen how a real slave lives. He could only imagine how horrific a life of slavery would be for his naive daughter. He would much rather die than have to choose, but the men seeking payment rarely want a profitless death, when they can take a valuable life to the Forum for auction.
"Are you going to tell Rachel?" Michael asked sadly. He knew that if it came to it he would gladly give himself for this family, his family.
"I think it best she stay ignorant to this whole mess, let her enjoy life. Who knows, she may not have many happier moments in the future." Eli sniffled, turning his head away from Michael, to hide his tear prickled orbs.
His heart caught in his throat as the door flew open, but he quickly relaxed when he saw that it was only his daughter, who was looking a little worse for wear and soaked to the bone.
"That animal is a menace!" She screeched unhappily. Flinging out her arms and legs, shaking lose some moisture from her tunic. Her hair was plastered to her face, making her look like a creature from the deep.
The two men knew exactly what the young girl was shouting about, this wasn't the first time Rachel had had a run in with the force that was Brutus. It was actually common knowledge that there was a war going on between to the two. At times Rachel would either be drenched via water troth or dirtied via muck stalls, and then there was Rachel's revenge which would lead to Brutus having half a tail or a dyed mane.
"He's just warming up to you, sweetie." Eli said sweetly.
"He's treated me like this since my infancy." Rachel huffed. She then shivered, which led to her grumbling on her way to her room to rid herself of the frozen sheet that covered her. At least it wasn't her best tunic this time.
Eli couldn't say he regretted the day he taught the girl to read and write, which is a privilege that most girls weren't privy to in this day and age. Michael had taught her everything else, though they could stake no claim on her natural talents which must have come from her mother.
Rachel's mother was a sore spot for both men, she really was a fighter. She gifted them with gorgeous girl they brought up as their own, before she parted from this world for a happier one. They felt deeply for her, and they wished they had more to tell Rachel of her mother, but they had known her merely two days before her birth. Giving birth to Rachel had taken the little stream of life the woman had, but the woman known as Shelby had smiled at her daughter before leaving them peacefully.
"Everything will work out. The world has a way of righting itself after all." Michael said quietly, patting the smaller man on the shoulder firmly. They smiled brightly at each other as Rachel's gifted floated through the air, it was a melody they had heard Shelby singing once, but they had never figured out how Rachel came to know it.
"You know, had she been born into a family with a higher standing, she'd have become a legend within the city's theatre walls." Eli sighed; so much talent was to be wasted in an uncertain life, one that more than likely wasn't going to take that special child to where she deserved to be, applauded for her talents.
He only hoped her talents would be discovered and quickly recognised should she be taken from them, her voice may just be her saving grace.