Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight

 

Aurelia smelled roasting meat. Food and love and family and home. A bird chirped in the chill hour before dawn. She had curled into a ball on her side beneath a soft furred blanket. The smell of breakfast drifted on the air currents from the kitchen, where the slaves were busying themselves with preparing a feast of stuffed olives, roasted venison and juicy ripe fruit.

She should get up soon, wash away the sleep from her body in her familias heated pool, and greet the day refreshed.

But the world had gone awry. The scent of the venison was mixed with the strong smell of horse and stale sweat. She blinked her eyes open, momentarily disorientated, until the events of the past couple of days rushed back to her like some half-forgotten dream revisiting her. No, nightmare, she thought despairingly. She was caught up in a nightmare and there was no waking from it.

 Tree roots were painfully sticking into her back, and she tried to shift away, only to realise she was tangled up in some kind of rich thick animal pelt. She ran her finger tips along the edge in confusion. After finishing the meal (a rather tasteless affair but her stomach welcomed it like it was the most sumptuous banquet she had ever tasted), Aurelia had stayed in her slumped position against the tree, watching the men milling about her with wary eyes. None had approached, choosing instead to ignore her. After some time, she must have fallen asleep on the early hours of the morning, eyelids too heavy to stay up and keep her vigilance. It must be some time after that, that the animal pelt was laid on her to keep her warm for the cold British nights.

 She certainly didn’t have it when she fell asleep.

Aurelia huffed under her breath. They could have cut the rope around her wrists too. The skin underneath was beginning to burn with the chaffing. Curling her fingers around the edge of the blanket, she drew it slowly from her face and blinked rapidly in the early morning glare of sunshine just peeking over the hills.

The camp was already in motion. Some men were tending to the weak fire, where the delicious smell of roasting meat was coming from, others were packing up their possession and bundling them into bags on their pack horses. It was done with such precision and deftness that Aurelia couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the war party acted as a cohesive group. The Roman Legion would be proud.

 The thought of the Legion immediately brought her Intended to mind and her throat closed in the sudden surge of tears. Biting her lip with her teeth, she concentrated on the stinging pain to keep the show of weakness at bay. There was no way she would cry in front of her captors, she wouldn’t give them the pleasure.

 Awareness of herself filtered back as the vestiges of exhaustion lifted and she attempted to put some semblance of order to her knotted hair by running her fingers through it, snagging on the pins. Sighing, she began to pull each one out until her dark hair tumbled around her shoulders in loose waves. Her hand paused in mid movement of brushing the pins off the blanket when she considered them. They could prove useful later…

Eyes flicking around her, she collected the pins and slipped them into the bodice of her dress, some poking into her flesh, but she ignored the discomfort.

Her stomach tensed with both hunger and trepidation of the day ahead, and her bladder needed to be emptied badly. Glancing furtively around, she slipped out from beneath the blanket and stood on wobbly legs. The agony she had felt yesterday from the walking had now died done to a dull ache that was much easier to overcome.

The moment she gained the balance of her legs, the blonde youth from the night before was beside her. His hand was hovering by her as if he was reaching out to steady her but she flinched from him and his hand dropped back to his side.

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