Volume 8: Margaret Again

The Four of Cups cover of Volume 8: Margaret Again

 Chapter One

In which pollygoggers take me away from everybody, and everything, I love.

My head ached and, subjected to a jolting motion, I felt sick.  The taste and smell of vomit filled my mouth and nose.  Beneath my back lay a hard and deeply rutted surface – wood.  The smooth waxed University floors had been damaged by slaves dragging crates of weapons, but surely not reduced to this state.

 

Goading my sluggish brain into action, I remembered the head of a bronze statue descending towards mine.  A rock had shattered the window, fracturing at the neck the Leather Mistress’ image.  Watching the heavy metal chunk falling, I’d realised that I was in its direct path.  Had I been quick enough to avoid its trajectory?

The previous day I’d felt a presentiment of impending evil.  On the surface, all seemed to be well.  Lady Isobel, my beloved owner, was expected to return within the week.  There had been news of a military victory.

In celebration, the persons of the house and University had descended into drunkenness.  Their keepers’ guard having dropped, dangerous untrimmed he-slaves escaped from pens on the far side of the campus.  A muscular barbarian, I’d been told, had raped my friend Honeyminge.  Fear gripped me – concern for the safety of Tuerquelle, my six year old daughter.

With some relief, I recalled being told that Tuerquelle was safe, but wondered what had happened to my friend and lover, Passibelle.  Why hadn’t she moved me?  Had she been injured?  Had she been raped?

Had I been raped?  Experimentally, I moved my thighs.  The once familiar feeling of recent penetration was absent.  Investigating with my fingers, there was no stickiness – no semen, no blood.

Shifting with insufficient caution brought vomit to my lips.  Coughing, I tried to spit.  My mouth was dry.  My tongue felt swollen.

Raising cautious fingers to my cranium, I found a lump the size of a hen’s egg.  The Leather Mistress’ head had certainly connected with mine.  That accounted for the throbbing pain.  Touching my injury served only to aggravate the wound.

Somebody sang softly – a man’s voice – the sound barely discernible above what I now recognised as the creaking of an ill-maintained cart.  It dawned upon me that I was no longer at the University of Berenice and Nadine.  Where was I being taken?  And who was taking me?

Forcing my eyes open, I saw a crisscross pattern of light and shadow – but could make little sense of it.  Bright lozenges of sunlight lay scattered through my range of vision.  It was certainly full daylight – perhaps midmorning.  In all likelihood, I had been on the move for several hours, and a considerable distance probably lay between me and the University.

Moving a little, I immediately regretted doing so.  The action revealed a fresh set of aches and pains.  My new position had the merit of giving me a fresh vantage – allowing me to see a sort of trellis arched above my head.  Shifting my eyes, rather than move the hurting mess that was my body, I took stock of as much as possible.

One end of the trellis arch was almost filled by a person’s back, clothed in a leather jerkin dyed bright pink.  Perched above the vivid garment was an emerald green broad brimmed hat, decorated with a large purple feather.  Beyond the figure, swayed the rear end of a piebald ox – I was in an ox cart, the trellis work a frame designed to support an awning.  When the driver turned to speak, a deep voice and a stubbly chin demonstrated that he was not a woman.

“Are you awake?” he asked.

“Yes…  Where am I?  Where are we going?  Who are you?”

“Ah, my girl, you’ve fallen on your feet this time.  I’m Dashing Daniel, the bold pollygogger, and you’ve been rescued.  I’m taking you back to your daddy in Lundin town.”

Raised, none too kindly, as a princess – the daughter of the Usurper of Lundin – I’d been enslaved more than seven years before.  There ensued some terrible times in bondage – rape, separation from my daughter, serving in a brothel and as a cart slave.  Six months before – through the bounty of the goddess – Lady Isobel had delivered me, reunited me with my daughter Tuerquelle, had seen to the mending of my body and soul, taken me as one of her concubines for ecstatic nights.  Since then, my life had overflowed with all that I desired.

“No,” I said feebly – meaning that I didn’t wish to return to my father’s palace.

“You’re the last of me cargo,” he said, ignoring my weak protest.  “So, as soon as we’re on the Wey, we’ll be on our way.”

He laughed at his weak joke.  There was nothing to make me smile.  It was essential for my happiness that he take me back to the University.  Only there might I join my mistress, Tuerquelle and all whom I desired.

What, at that moment, was my daughter doing?  How many tears had she shed that morning?  Called away on political matters, did poor Lady Isobel know, as yet, what had happened?  If so, how she must be worrying!

And Passibelle, the other concubines, all of my friends!  Honeyminge, Gusibelle, Spanqumi, Switi, Fuquibelle, Wiggli, Queuti, Squirmanne, Cuddli, Dimpli – I reviewed their faces – there were so many of them.  All must have suffered.  Concern for me surely made matters worse for each of them.

Not only love called me back to the University, but also duty.  However he had broken the laws of the Meadowlands in raiding Watt’s Ford Gap, Cap’n Gentle – the pirate who had seized my former princess self – registered me legally as a slave in Surrey.  Since then, I had passed – by the correct procedure – to Berenice Blackheart, Madame Scurf, Sam the carter, and Lady Isobel.  There could be no doubt that my mistress owned me, that I’d been sold in good faith and purchased with valid coin.