“Be still,” he said in her tongue, his accent was strange. He stood to resume his guard.
With a few words in a forghen tongue, two young men were dragged away towards the sea shore. The rest of the captives were lined up, with quick and precise blows heads fell from bodies in fountains of blood. The chief dragged Maeve to her knees circling her slowly he moved behind her and with a grunt the blow was struck, all went black.
Her mind explored her numb body, it felt alien to her. Was this death, why was it so dark? A voiceless choir whistled tunelessly in her ears, then her first feeling came, sickness. She lay as still as she could while her senses returned. Everything hurt to much for heaven and not enough for hell. The rocking motion and creaking of oars straining in water told her she was at sea. She felt the tickle of cold water slosh across her naked skin as the boat pitched on rolling waves. She pried the dried blood from her eyelids slowly letting the bright light into her brain. Feet were planted above her head, naked legs joined and straining bodies dripped sweat on her from bare timber planks. She was still tied and stowed under the rowing benches against the hull of the ship. A raised walkway in the centre was patrolled by the chief and five Norse warriors, roaring with good spirits and strong drink. As the feeling returned to her body so did the cold. She cold not stop the shivering of her muscles. Above her a pair of keen eyes noticed the movement, thankfully it was not a Viking but the giant red-chested slave. Their eyes locked as he strained forwards and backwards, the timber oar groaning in his mighty grasp. At last with a slight twist of his foot he dislodged a leather hide that lay on the bench ahead of him. It landed on Maeve sheltering her from the worst of the sea spray and cutting wind. Such little comfort was manna from heaven as she let the darkness take her mind once more.
The jolt of the ship grounding on soft sand woke Maeve. Pain flared in every part of her body. The Norse men spat commands in Gaelic as well as other languages, driving the slaves into the cold water, drawing the lighter ship higher on the beach. They came and went constantly, the evening sky darkening. When the red giant lifted Maeve gently from the bottom of the boat it was early night. He carried her through the waves holding her above the water. She was still covered with the cow hide he had dropped on her hours earlier. The boat was moored in a little cove. On the beach a huge fire burned sending a stream of sparks into the night sky. A whole pig was mounted on a spit and being turned over the flames by a slave. Above the high water mark stood a fisherman's hut, the door was open and a body lay to one side on the sand, clearly the fisherman.
Inside the six warriors sat around a table, a fire blazed in the open hearth, the fire set so big it was going to use up the fisherman's stack of gathered timber in one night. The warriors voices rose in merry song, wild with blood lust and victory. The giant ducked under the low door with Maeve in his arms. The chief stood and wobbled over to them, unsteady on his feet but his eyes were aware and dangerous. He flung the skin aside revelling her bruised and naked body. A chorus of yells erupted from the men at the table. With one powerful hand he spun her, out of the massive arms that held her, onto the ground. With her hands still bound she was dragged kicking towards the table. Her bonds were sliced free as the warriors seemed to enjoy it the more she fought. For the next hour she endured rape and beatings at the hand of each of the men. They only stopped to eat and drink. In the end Maeve's limp body was carried unsteadily up a ladder into a hayloft in the roof of the cottage by the Norse Chief. A cask of cider was tossed up after them and the drinking continued below. By now both Maeves mind and body was completely numb to her tortures, she endured the Chief several more times before he landed a savage blow across her temple knocking her gratefully unconsous.
When Maeve awoke it was dark in the little hut, heavy snores came from close by as well as below. Maeve lifted her head and looked around, the great gut of the Chief fell in steady rythem of deep sleep. His leather armour discarded in the heat of rutting lay just within hands reach. A blood encrusted sword handle poked out from under it. With silent movements she got to her feet. Drawing the blade a fraction at a time until it rested heavily in her hand. With cat like steps she moved until the blade hung over the rising chest of the sleeping man. With a firm double hand grip on the weapon she let her whole weight fall forward driving the blade in cleanly between the ribs. The Chiefs eyes shot open, air grunted from the body but it was a killing blow, she must have pierced his heart cleanly. She watched as the life left the Chiefs eyes and she smiled. His body went into spasm, below a warrior stirred, Maeve let her whole weight hold the Chiefs body as still as she could. It was not enough, in a flash of panic she began to pant and groan, imitating the sounds forced from her body by each of them in succession earlier. She heard the man below chuckle and settle back into sleep.