Enjoy this excerpt from author Lara Lee’s Gryphon’s Handmaiden, coming January 29!
Slavery is a virus of the mind, thought Tabatha as she stared out of her rolling cage at all the dejected faerie men in the cage across from her. The seven men sat in their cell as beaten as their ragged clothes. Hopeless, their variety of ages made no difference in their sickly and underfed state. She knew the five women in her rolling cage looked the same way. It didn’t take much beating to get them like that. Just the horrible living conditions and being in a cage did a lot. It was a thing of the mind. She had been through his before, and it didn’t affect her like the others. It was just life. This was just who she was.
Tabatha sat against the wooden wall of the cage with her knees up almost to her chin. She leaned her head back gazing out the bars of the cell with passive curiosity, wearing the same ragged tan Nomad tunic and trousers that she wore the last time she had been up for sale. Most of her masters had been Nomads, but her head was uncovered and wore no belt. She had lost those when her last master’s family had her beaten before selling her to the trader. All the other women wore plan Huldra dresses from their previous rich, Huldra masters’ households. The faerie women sat around her silently staring at the ground or their hands. One sickly lady laid asleep.
Two Huldra men stood between the cages swishing their fox-tails as they talked. They were scrutinizing the women in her cell. Their eyes changed colors as they spoke. Today was Thursday which meant that it was the day the gaunt and sickly slaves would be sold. Most of them had been born in the Nomad Deserts, but they had been captured and owned by various previous masters. Slavery was illegal in Gryphendale, but the Nomad Desert was outside of the nine countries. New slaves were captured from there and sold secretly throughout the kingdom. Slaves existed in a lawless purgatory, being sold and resold until they died.
Various people in Gryphendale secretly had slaves still. The Ogres used them in their mines which had so many tunnels that the slaves could be hidden during inspections. The Huldra traditionally held all the Dryads as slaves, until they were freed thirty years ago and given back their homeland. The Huldra had replaced their freed Dryad slaves with “paid” servants. The pay was, in reality, just food and a bed with no choice to leave.
The tall, distinguished, Huldra man wore his blond hair tied back exposing his pointed ears. He sported a luxurious, red, embroidered tunic and black trousers. This lord of a large estate in the southern part of Samodivas had come to buy a maid. Tabatha could sense he was a dark magic Warlock even though he performed no spells. She hated those kinds. They were cruel masters.
The short, stocky, Huldra man with red hair and wearing a plain brown woolen tunic and trousers was the one selling the slaves. The slave-trader was one of only three slave-traders anyone knew about. If the royal guard caught him, he would be imprisoned, so he kept a team of five Nomad guards who scouted out the area.
His customers met him in secret in the depths of the southern Samodivas forests and learned about him by word of mouth. Often, he would only see those who were regulars or who came with a familiar customer. The cages were wooden on three sides and had a wooden panel that locked down so that they looked like regular merchant wagons when mules pulled them. He often had as many as ten slaves per cage. Each slave brought an excellent price to more than pay for all his expenses. Slaves became much more expensive when they became illegal.
Tabatha knew that around dinner time an Ogre would come and buy all the male slaves remaining to take to the mines. The women often sold quickly to the Huldra as household servants. They were more valuable and less likely to rebel. Today was the third sale day Tabatha had been here. She didn’t sell this time around.
Part of the reason she didn’t sell was that she was short. She wasn’t as small as a Brownie or Gnome who also never sold, but she stood a head shorter than the other women in her cell. She had mixed blood, and many people thought she must have Gnome blood mix with either Huldra, Sprite, or Dryad. When she was younger, she sold easily because she looked like a child who could be trained. Now she was womanly enough that people realized she would not get any taller. Being petite meant she wasn’t as strong as the others or even as beautiful. At least, this is what the buyers said. She knew that she was probably stronger than any other woman in her wagon, but she wasn’t going to say anything.
In fact, that was the other reason she didn’t sell; she was mute. It wasn’t that she had never spoken before, but she couldn’t now. She didn’t even know when she became mute. She had slowly stopped being able to talk. Now, she couldn’t speak even if she wanted to.
“Lord Zedoary, here is an exotic one,” said the slave trader to the Huldra lord. He often recommended her to buyers, because he was desperate to sell her this time.
“Her colorful eyes and her long silky brown hair are no lie. She might be a pleasure for someone like yourself beyond her service.”
Tabatha snarled. If he tried it, he would learn how her last master died.
The rich man frowned as his eyes turned from green to brown.
“She does have remarkably large eyes. I can’t tell what color they are. They have a flex of both blue and brown. Now there is some green. Not quite Huldra eyes and not quite traditional either. She is very pale, though, and scrawny too. What race did you say she was?”
“We think she is mixed blood,” said the slave trader.
“You don’t know?”
The slave trader sighed.
“She’s mute. I’ll give you a good deal on her. She is a real bargain.”
The Huldra man studied her, and she met his eyes with an unwavering stare.
“There is something familiar about her.”
Tabatha looked away. She knew the man was a friend of her last master’s son, Lord Darnell. Slaves were invisible to the nobility, but Tabatha wasn’t a typical slave. She dearly hoped he didn’t recognize her. It would cause her a lot of problems.
“She would be difficult,” he said after a moment. “I have seen that kind before. You can’t beat out that kind of stubbornness.” The Huldra man turned to the tall blond woman with tan skin next to her. “No, I can can’t have a servant who can’t relay messages. How about this Undine woman. She would do.”
The slave-trader motioned for one of his thugs to get the blond woman with webbed hands and blue dress. She didn’t put up a fight, but just obediently crawled out of the cage with the Nomad thug. That was good. The last one who fought only got a black eye for her trouble.
The Huldra lord paid the slave trader with gold coins and had his male Sprite servant take the Undine woman to a wagon in his entourage. She was placed in the back of the wagon. The Huldra lord mounted his horse, and the group departed into the woods.
The sales continued in the same way the rest of the day until Tabatha again was left alone.
“You are bad luck,” said the slave trader to her through the bars of her cell. “I can’t get rid of you. Maybe, I should dress you like a boy and sell you to the Ogres the next time.”
Tabatha frowned and narrowed her eyes. He might do it too. They didn’t bother feeding her that night. She wasn’t surprised. That had happened the last time too. It was punishment for being unsellable. She sat where she had all day just watching them eat and celebrate their new money around a fire.
The Huldra and Nomad men drank themselves into a stupor and slept deeply by the fire. Tabatha discreetly created an invisible ball in the air and lobbed it at the Huldra on guard duty. He lounged under a tree staring out into the darkness, but he began to nod off when hit by her spell.
Once he was as deeply asleep as the others, Tabatha reached into her pocket. She had been able to steal a couple of long skinny nails. It took a lot of patience and quick hands to get them. Tonight was the first time everything was lining up just right for her. She silently crawled over to the black metal padlock on the door of her cage and worked quickly to pick the lock. It didn’t take her long. The lock clicked open, and she quietly slid it off of the door.
She glanced again at the men. They were snoring deeply. She knew the door would squeak open. She took a deep breath and prayed silently to the great blue Gryphon. She had earned all the scars on her back, but she wasn’t eager for more.
She pushed the door open enough for her to slide out of the wagon prison. She squeezed through and hopped onto the ground. She glanced back at the sleeping men around the fire again. Nothing had changed. She then silently disappeared into the woods. For the first time in over ten years, she was free. It was too bad that she was dying, anyway.
Read more in The Gryphon’s Handmaiden coming out January 29, 2019, on Amazon!
Lara Lee is the author of the young adult fantasy fiction novels Gryphendale, The Shadow of the Gryphon, and The Gryphon’s Handmaiden. She has also had two short stories published, “The Worst Hero Ever” and “Trust Old Juniper.” Sometimes, she is also a graphic designer, wife, and mother. After growing up in Florida with her head stuck in various books, she ran away to Oral Roberts University to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Graphic Design and a husband. Then, she worked professionally with the children’s curriculum publisher, Mentoring Minds in Texas before following her husband on a crazy adventure in Scotland. She has lived in three states and four countries and has visited even more destinations with an insatiable curiosity that shows up in her writing. Currently, she lives in Texas with her husband and son who both regularly participate in her misadventures and random schemes.