The Herb Plot 4

by Zack

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© Copyright 2004 - Zack - Used by permission

Storycodes: M+/ff; bondage; kidnap; nc; X

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The Star Fleet Series
The Herb Plot - Chapter 4
by Zack
The Herb Plot 3 by Zack
Chapter 4

Fear and pain struggled for domination in Carin's brain.  She could hear and feel Jani's shrieks, as the cargo net pressed them tightly together.  The net swung and twisted as they were hoisted up.  Carin kept her eyes shut tightly, not daring to look down or she too would be shrieking.  The trip up the cliff face seemed to take forever, but finally the crane swung over and they were lowered to a stone floor.

Carin moaned as the pressure of the net was released.  She had just about reached her limit, and if the pain didn't stop soon she was going to scream forever.  She shivered.  It was summer, so even here in the midst of the Southern Ocean the air wasn't that cool, but the cold, damp stones of the shingle beach had chilled her all the way through.

Carin tensed as three black-robed priests walked over to them.  One had been on the ship, she had heard him called Angko.  Carin felt a surge of terror. Would she and Jani be tortured for information? She struggled against the unyielding ropes.

Angko inspected the two hogtied women and grimaced in disgust.  He ordered, "Get these zlits covered and assigned to a labor crew.  I've seen too much of them already."

"At once, Exalted.  See to it, Vartro."

Vartro produced a knife and bent over Carin and Jani.  They whimpered fearfully, but all he did was cut the ropes off of their legs.  He pulled them to their feet and supported the women with a hard hand on an upper arm until circulation was back in their legs and they could walk.

Carin looked around.  They were on a stone platform, perhaps five meters wide, that ran for about twenty meters along the top of the cliff overlooking the beach.  At each end of this platform a stone battlement had been built out from the cliff edge.  The crane was midway between these two battlements, and a capstan was mounted on a wooden platform next to the crane.  On the inland side a large pond formed a moat.  Carin could see that the pond was much longer than it was wide, and guessed that it was actually a reservoir.  Then the priest  hurried her away from the cliff edge and toward a small stone building.

Carin's first impression of the island was of stone; stone buildings, stone walls, and two immense piles of stones near the battlements overlooking the beach.  The gray of the stone was complemented by the bright green of the summer grass.  There were also stones on the path; she winced as her bare foot stepped on a pebble, and then she concentrated her attention on where she was placing her feet.

Vartro stopped in front of the small stone building with a sod roof of bright green grass.  He unlocked the thick wooden door and pushed Carin and Jani inside and closed the door behind them.  Carin whimpered.  Was it to be more rape?  Then she relaxed some as Vartro ignored her while he collected items from the shelves that covered the walls.

He turned to Carin and pointed to a large stone block resting on the dirt floor.  "Kneel.  Put your head next to that."

Carin awkwardly knelt and put her head down.  Vartro put an oval iron ring around a wide and thick leather band and wrapped the leather around Carin's neck.  He put an iron staple through holes punched near the ends of the band and using the stone as an anvil he hammered it flat, creating a loose-fitting leather collar.

He pulled Carin to her feet and pointed at Jani.  "Now you."  Jani scrambled to obey, and in another minute she too was collared.  Vartro then cut off the ropes binding the women, and rummaged among the shelves while they moaned with pain as circulation returned to their purple arms.

He gave each woman a dress and ordered, "Cover yourselves."  He acted as though he found the sight of their naked bodies offensive.

Carin's arms barely functioned, but after a struggle she was able to pull the dress over her head.  It was nothing more than a loose tube of coarse gray woolen cloth, open at both ends.  Two pieces of string formed shoulder straps, and cutouts for her arms let the dress ride high enough to cover her to the neck.  The bottom edge fell just below her knees.  She was glad of the warmth, and that she was no longer naked. Jani's dress was identical, but it almost reached the shorter woman's ankles.

Vartro inspected them and grunted.  He grabbed Jani by her blonde hair, which was long enough to reach the middle of her back.  He gathered it in a tight bundle and then cut it off with iron shears.  When Jani saw the cut hair in his hand she burst into tears, something she hadn't done while she was being raped on the ship.

Vartro ignored her distress and issued each woman a pair of leather sandals.  Carin and Jani put them on gratefully.  Vartro took a piece of rope and tied the ends to their collar rings, linking the women together, then grabbed the center of this tether and led the women outside.  They walked for hundreds of meters, through several gates in stone walls, until they came to another dry-laid stone wall.  He let go of the tether and grunted, "Over."  Carin and Jani hiked up their dresses and climbed to the other side.  Here they found themselves in a large green pasture scattered with sheep.  Vartro vaulted the wall and resumed dragging them by their tether until they reached three women.

Each of the women was bent over and had a wooden scoop in one hand and a wicker basket in the other.  Carin couldn't imagine what they were doing, until she saw a woman scoop up sheep dung and put it in her basket.  When they got closer Vartro told the women, "Cower!"  Each woman quickly fell to her knees, put her forehead to the ground, and crossed her wrists behind her back.

The women wore leather collars like those on Carin and Jani, and a thick rope, about five meters long, was threaded through the collar rings so the women were linked together.  The rope's ends were formed into loops around the collar rings of the end women.  Vartro cut away one end loop and put the rope though the now empty ring.  He made Carin and Jani kneel, and put the rope end through Jani's ring and formed it into a loop around Carin's collar ring.  He fastened the loop closed with a wrapping of iron wire, which he twisted tight with pliers he produced from a pouch at his waist.  Then he removed the temporary tether and walked away.

Carin was experiencing a severe dichotomy.  The anthropologist part of her was treating all that was happening to her as just another field trip.  She was here to observe the strange habits of another culture, but it didn't involve her personally.  Soon she would return to her office and prepare a report on kidnapping and rape, and the effect it had on its victims.  But the basic part of her mind, the part responsible for survival, kept interrupting with emergency bulletins, screaming that no one knew where she was, that she couldn't possibly escape, that she would be a slave until she died.  Then the sophisticated citizen of the Amalgamation would reassert herself, and she would be calm and detached, secure in the knowledge that nothing serious could happen to her.

The other women sat up when they heard Vartro's footsteps recede.  The three looked remarkably alike; all were in their early twenties, with weathered tan skin, brown hair hacked off short, and shapeless gray dresses.   The woman next to Jani said, "Mida bless.  My name is Petra, and these two are Rakan and Grisemdamon, but we call her Gris.  What are you two called?"

"I'm Carin, and this is Jani."  Petra seemed to be the leader of the three.  She was the largest, and though she wasn't nearly as tall as Carin her broad shoulders and muscular arms made Carin feel puny.

Petra stood up.  "I want to hear about outside, and you must have questions about the island.  We'd better work as we talk, or we'll all get fielded."  She walked toward a barrel mounted on a wooden sledge, and everyone else perforce followed.

Jani asked, "Fielded?  What's that?"  Jani was experiencing her own flight from reality.  She had often been in sexual performances where she played the part of a slave girl.  This was just a more realistic scene.  It would be fun for a little while, and then she would use her safeword and end it.  She was part of an influential family, and nothing bad could happen to her.

"Fielded is short for field punishment." Petra pointed to a priest standing about twenty meters away. He was wearing a broad-brimmed black felt hat, and had a short bow strung over his shoulder.  There was a leather belt around his waist over his long black robe.  Attached to the belt were a quiver full of arrows, a sabre in a black metal sheath, and a thick leather strap.

"See that strap?  A priest can use it to put red stripes on your bare ass any time he wants to.  Formal punishment is much worse, but it needs approval from one of the high priests.  And the thing is, if you get a formal the whole crew gets punished too. We have to be responsible for each other."

Carin shook the rope.  "Are we always tied together like this?"

"Yep.  We work together, sleep together, even shit together.  Rakan and me been on the same rope for, what is it, three years now?"

"Closer to four."

"Yeah, you're right, Rak. Closer to four."

Carin exclaimed, "But why do they bother keeping us tethered?  How can anyone possibly escape from this island?"

"The only way a woman leaves here is over the cliff.  But if she goes over the priests want it to be their choice, not hers.  This way, the whole crew has to decide to jump.  And even then, a priest can stop it if he shoots just one or two of us."

This explanation stunned Carin.  Life here must be truly bleak, if preventing suicide was a major concern of the priests.

Petra and the other women emptied their baskets into the barrel, which was about half-full of dung.  There were two more baskets and scoops on the sledge and Petra gave them to Carin and Jani. "Let's get back to the dung patrol.  I got questions about the outside you newcomers can answer."

Jani asked, "How do you know we just got here?"

Petra laughed, "Your pale skin.  None of us is pale except at the end of winter."

Jani asked about her favorite subject.  "Speaking of skin, what about sex?"

"The priests won't touch you.  Even if they wanted to, the high priests keep 'em devout.  As for the women, well, most do, some don't.  But we work as long as it's light enough to see, and in summer that means a lot of work and not much sleep.  Most women are too tired for sex now.  But wait until the long winter nights.  Then the barracks is one big rut.  The priests don't care, we're just animals to them.  They call us zlits, and to them that's what we are."

Jani realized that the choice of partners was going to be limited if the women were always tethered together, and she started to understand why the crew was so close-knit.

The crew spread out and the women walked slowly across the pasture, scooping dung into their baskets.  Some of the dung was fresh and soft, some dried and firm.  Jani flinched as a soft chunk fell off her scoop and landed on her foot. "Eew.  What do they want this stuff for, anyway?"

There were exclamations of surprise from the other women, and Carin spoke quickly to cover the gaffe.  "Jani's a city girl.  She doesn't know anything about farms."

Rak said, "Huh, she must have been brought up in a barrel if she don't know what dung's for."

Carin changed the subject. "Is this what we'll be doing all the time?"  And then she had a terrible thought. 'Am I going the spend the rest of my life collecting dung?'

Petra answered, "No, there're a lot of different crew jobs.  This is one of the easiest, but it's hard on your back if you're not used to it."

"What are the hardest?"

"Plowing, clearing stones, them's the worst.  Although capstan crew can be just as bad if there's a lot of cargo to haul up the cliff.  That don't happen too often this time of year, but in the fall we get a lot of fleece shipped in."

Rak interjected, "I think the worst is spring plowing.  There aren't any horses or oxen here, so we have to pull the plows.  I seen women worked to death, pulling a plow."

Jani exclaimed, "That's terrible!  Why do you put up with it?"

Petra snorted, "Hah!  You won't ask that question after you've been whipped."

Carin asked, "What about in the winter?  You can't work outside then."

"No, the winters are easier.  We're in the workroom then, carding and spinning wool, getting the fleece ready for weaving.  It's not as hard as working in the fields, but you can't talk in the workroom, so the days drag on forever.  But the nights are longer, and we're not too tired to have fun in bed."

Carin looked up and saw two other groups of women picking up dung. "How many people are there on this island?"

"About twenty crews now, there used to be more back during the war, when slaves were cheap.  And fifteen or so guard priests, although they don't all work at the same time.  And maybe twenty or thirty more priests who distill the potions and do jobs like that."

"Are all the crews the same size?"

"Yep, five women to a crew."

"But there were only three of you."

A look of pain crossed Petra's face.  "Several days ago they took Elia and Tala to the distillery.  The rumor is the priests have a new poison to test.  I don't think we'll see them again."

"That's terrible!"

"What can we do?  To suffer is a woman's lot, especially when these damn priests rule our lives."

Carin refused to accept that.  She would escape this horrible place, and see that the priests were brought to justice.  Then she gave way to despair.  "How can I possibly do that?" she muttered.  "I'm an anthropologist and a pacifist.  I've never been in a fight in my life."

* * *

Once Vartro dragged Carin and Jani out of sight Angko turned to the other priest.  "Just being close to those creatures makes me feel unclean.  Last night on the ship was disgusting, the way the men actually mated with them.  But what can you expect from people who worship Crnath?"

"Yes, Exalted, they are no more than animals themselves."

"Now, Mawlop, tell me how far you have progressed with the preparation of the queen's potion."

"We're producing it at the same rate as before, Exalted.  The testing is not going so well.  We're having trouble determining the optimum dose."

"That is not acceptable.  Mavolo insists that all be in readiness by the Harvest Festival, as we had planned.  There has been an unfortunate development, one that made it clear we must not delay."

"What happened, Exalted?  Is that what brings you back here so soon?"

Angko's lips moved to shape a smile.  "You sound disappointed, Mawlop.  Do you enjoy being in command here that much?  Ambition can be dangerous."

"I'm loyal to you, Exalted!  My only ambition is to serve Sigur."  He made a cringing half-bow.

"That is good.  Loyalty is an important virtue.  Too bad not everyone possesses it. The unspeakable has happened.  Sigur was betrayed by a member of the Inner Council."

"No!  Who would do such a thing, Exalted?"

"It was Maspre.  He had a perverted lust for women, and it made him talkative.  He told those two zlits about our plans for the queen.  Fortunately, we were able to intercept them before they could warn Narona."

"How disgusting!  But are we sure they were the only ones he told, Exalted?

"Oh, yes.  We questioned him vigorously, and eventually Maspre was eager to tell us all he had done.  We are confident only those faithful to Sigur now know the secret.  And the zlits, of course.  But they will be providing useful service here on Sigurla."

"Vartro is glad to get them, Exalted.  It's not so easy to get workers since Narona abolished slavery."

"All that will change soon.  Who knows, perhaps Narona herself will one day serve Sigur here."

End of Chapter 4

Copyright ©2004 by Zack. All rights reserved.
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