neoXeno
 

Mistress Margret

A Conduran Tale
 
 

She couldn’t quite understand how things had gotten to this point.  For years her boys had been peaceful in nature if not completely happy.  The manor house was the largest in the eastern countryside, and she went to great lengths to ensure they were properly clothed and fed.  Yet, the events of the last 24 hours had sent her entire world crashing down upon her, and she was feeling the weight.  As the one called “First” by her and “Thomas” by the others closed in, she struggled against the makeshift restraints.  Ah, the irony of life.  How many times in the past had she relished the feel of fabric tight around her wrists and ankles, a warm hand covering her mouth?  But this time was different.  Tonight he meant to murder her – no sweet words or intimate embraces or barest brush of lips.  She looked over and saw the others standing, watching – the gleam of anticipation bright in their eyes.  “Traitors,” she thought.  “All of them.”  Thomas came to stand in front of her, blade raised.  She thought of the day she brought him home, and she looked into the clear green of his eyes.  “You won’t kill me,” she willed.  For a moment he faltered, eyes wide.  Regaining his resolve, the blade lowered as he swung.  A sharp pain.  A loud crack.  And all the world was darkness…

Margaret A’Kar grew up an only child on her mother’s dairy farm.  In the small, rural town of Ha’Kai, dairy farming was the economic boon of the time.  Margaret’s mother, Rae, owned the largest dairy farm in that region.  Two thousand cows peppered the A’Kar estate.  Milking barns produced 15,000 gallons of milk per day.  What once was a modest sized lot with one barn had blossomed into a substantial and significant business.  Enough to dress Margaret in the finest clothes and hire the best tutors.  By the time she was 2, Margaret was as fluent in the Galactic tongue as any adult, and she was gaining an understanding of several of the “old languages,” but the most entertaining lessons to Margaret were the ones that involved counting and numbers.  When Margaret was three, Rae left her in the care of the house manager for 6 months.  The effects of the Mallorian Revolution were sweeping through the larger cities, and Rae wanted in on the action.  The size and success of the farm provided the perfect inroads to Conduran politics but, more importantly, into Conduran power.  Her seat on the Council of the Southern Hemisphere established, Rae returned home to Margaret, who’d turned four while Rae was away.

As the farm became more self-sustaining, Margaret saw her mother less and less.  Council business took her to the major cities two or three weeks out of every month.  Margaret spent most of her time with her tutors or alone in her room reading.  When she was seven, she asked Rae why she had to be away so much.  “Life for adults is complicated, Margaret,” Rae said.  “Children don’t understand that.  I travel so you can have a better life than the one I had growing up.”  Deep down, though, Rae knew this was a lie.  She didn’t travel to provide for Margaret.  Revenue from the farm was enough to feed and clothe 50 children.  No, Rae traveled because her thirst for power outweighed any maternal desire to care for her daughter.  Besides, Margaret was old enough to learn a difficult lesson about life – everyone leaves, no one stays.  Margaret simply nodded, looked down at the floor, and listened as the door closed behind her mother.

The next day a package arrived for Margaret.  The plainly wrapped brown box bore the scars of interplanetary post.  At first, Margaret thought her mother had sent her a surprise from her travels, but when she looked at the handwriting on the label, she knew it wasn’t her mother’s.  Curious, she took the box up to her room, closed the door, and locked it.  As she carefully unwrapped it, a small envelope fell from the packaging.  Margaret picked it up from the floor.  Her name was written on the front in small, spidery letters.  Inside was a 2-line note in the same web like script: “We were happy once.  The farm is yours.  Dad.”  Margaret touched the letters with trembling fingers: Dad…She had no memory of her father.  In all her short life, no one had ever mentioned him openly.  Once she overheard Rae telling someone that he ran away when Margaret was a baby.  Very little of the hushed conversation stuck with Margaret, but she remembered his name: Cian A’Kar…Dad.  Margaret read the note again, folded it and put it back in it’s envelope.  She then turned to the sealed card board box.  She peeled back the clear packing tape and removed the package foam.  Inside was a holobox.  When Margaret lifted the lid, a grainy hologram appeared of a man holding a sleeping baby.  She adjusted the volume and heard the man quietly singing.  It was no song she knew but she heard the name “Maggie” several times.  She realized that the man was Cian A’kar, her father, and the baby was her.  The two minute loop fascinated her.  She watched and re-watched until she heard a door slam shut downstairs.  A flurry of voices carried upstairs.  Something had the house staff abuzz. 

Among the chatter, Margaret heard Rae’s voice.  She quickly stashed the box and the note at the bottom of a chest at the foot of her bed.  She went to the window and peeked through the curtains.  In the circular driveway was a vehicle Margaret had never seen before.  The retractable roof was open, and inside was something else she’d never seen before: a real-life man.  Margaret had spent very little time away from the farm, and everything she knew about males she’d learned from her female tutors or read in books.  Every worker on the farm was a woman, though Margaret thought many of them looked a lot like men.  All of the house staff were women – including her mother’s driver and personal attendant.  Margaret saw Rae walk out the front door over to the back seat.  She said something to the man then opened the door.  When he got out of the car, Margaret could see his face more clearly.  He looked about her mother’s age.  He had brown hair cut short and stood at least six inches taller than Rae, who at 5’9” was tall for a Conduran woman.  What surprised Margaret the most – aside from him being male – was that the man wore only short pants, no shirt or shoes.  Rae escorted him into the house, past a staff that looked on in excitement.  Margaret ran to her door, cracked it slightly, and peeped down the hall.  With no one there, she tiptoed down to the ledge overlooking the foyer.  She could see the man better here.  Although he looked no older than Rae, his facial features were sunken, and he looked haggard and sickly.  His skin was pale and almost hung from his bony arms.  Margaret wondered if he ate.  When he turned around, she saw pinkish red marks crisscrossing his back.  Rae was explaining to him the areas of the house that were off-limits.  She mentioned the south wing, which was Margaret’s.  Rae led the man toward the back of the house, and the staff followed.  Margaret slipped down the stairs and circled around so she could hide in doorways yet still watch and listen.  They were in the kitchen now, and Rae pointed out Anne, the cook, and Sada, the house manager.  After that, the remaining staff introduced themselves.  With everyone talking at once, it was hard for Margaret to make out what they were saying.  When the chatter subsided, the man spoke.  “I am Aymes,” he said in a deep but tired voice.  The pleasantries now over, Rae opened the door to the downstairs rooms.  Sada descended the stairs followed by Aymes then Rae.  The rest of the staff went back to their duties.  Margaret remained crouched in a hall shadow – watching and waiting.  Soon the door opened again, and Rae and Sada appeared.  “Have Anne send down the food,” Rae said.  “Call Pria to make sure the remaining clothes are coming.”  “Of course” was Sada’s reply.  Both women walked away, and Margaret snuck back to her room unseen.

It was three months before Margaret met Aymes officially.  She’d glimpsed him sitting in the kitchen and walking the property with Rae.  As the weeks passed, he looked less and less sickly.  He was always fully dressed, and at a normal weight looked even taller.  This was also the most time Rae had spent at home that Margaret could remember.  Rae called Margaret down to the kitchen.  When she entered the room, Margaret saw Aymes sitting in a chair near the downstairs door.  Rae was standing next to him.  “Margaret, this is Aymes,” Rae said.  “He’s a new worker here.”  “Hello,” Margaret said.  Aymes only nodded.  “Ok, that’s all,” Rae said looking at Margaret.  Margaret turned around and went back to her room.

Over the next few years, Margaret saw very little of Aymes or her mother.  At times, she would forget he was even there.  Occasionally, she would see him walking to the outer fields on mornings when she would awake early or see him eating alone in the kitchen in the very late evenings.  Margaret wondered what he did in the fields because he often had nasty bruises and cuts on his face.  He never went into the main areas of the house or said words to anyone except Rae and Sada.  The rest of the staff did their best to ignore him.  As time passed, Margaret’s curiosity about Aymes grew.  “What does he do in the fields?” she wondered.

Rae’s position and influence in The Council was also growing.  As the Southern Hemisphere chairman now, she was away more and more – often nine months at a time.  When Rae was at home, she spent a lot of time in the downstairs rooms, which peaked Margaret’s curiosity more.  “Why does Mother spend more time with him than me?” she thought.  One night, when her mother thought she was asleep in her room, Margaret snuck down the hall to the ledge overlooking the foyer.  She tucked herself away behind a chest in the corner and waited.  Sleep crept over Margaret, and she dozed in the shadows.  Footsteps on the stairs startled her awake.  Downstairs was completely dark save the glow of the moonlight from the foyer window.  Rae came down the stairs and turned toward the kitchen.  Margaret heard the door to the downstairs quietly open and close.  She waited for what seemed like forever then made her way to the kitchen.  It was empty and dark.  Margaret stood in the back corner and waited again.  She wouldn’t risk alerting anyone downstairs to her presence.  What if Rae returned quickly and caught her sneaking around?  Margaret would certainly be done for.  Slowly Margaret moved from the corner and leaned her ear against the downstairs door.  She listened.  Nothing.  Carefully, she opened the door and peered inside.  She saw no one on the stairs.  Margaret stepped through the doorway and closed the door behind her.

Margaret was not allowed in the downstairs rooms.  After her first and only interaction with Aymes five years ago, Rae had forbidden her to ever go there.  Margaret went down the stairs, pausing near the bottom to make sure she wouldn’t be seen.  Sure the room was empty, Margaret stepped into a spacious and dimly lit living room with a gray, stone floor.  Heat from the center fireplace warmed her cheeks.  A large, comfortable-looking couch sat near the fireplace.  A lone chair rested against a back wall.  Next to it was an unmade bed.  What surprised Margaret the most were the shelves and shelves of books on either side of the room.  Margaret had never seen so many books in so confined a space.  Thick and thin, tall and short.  Books that looked ancient and others that looked fresh from the press.  Margaret walked to the closest shelf and pulled down a large, leather-bound book.  It looked exceptionally old and was written in a language Margaret did not recognize.  She skimmed the pages and returned the book to its place.  Margaret also noticed a door in the back of the room.  It was ajar.  She walked to the back and peeped inside.  There was another large room, identical to the one she was in but without the accoutrements.  At the back of this room was another door, also ajar.  Light and sound coming from that outer room drew her attention.  Inching her way along the wall of the empty room, Margaret came to stand on the side of the doorway – her back pressed against the wall.  She crouched and peered around the door frame.  When her eyes adjusted to the brighter light, she saw a scene she would never forget…Aymes.  Bound.  Gagged.  Naked.  Rae.  Whip. Pain.  Blood.  Margaret was terrified.  She couldn’t move or speak, which worked in her favor.  Had she been seen by her mother, Margaret doubted she’d ever be allowed to leave her room again.  When the shock of the scene wore off enough to tell her brain to move her feet, Margaret eased away from the door.  She turned and tiptoed through the empty room, the main room, up the stairs and back into the kitchen.  In her room, she climbed into bed and covered her head with the blankets.  She thought of her father and wondered where he was, why he left her and what it would be like to live with him.  She got out of bed and pulled the holobox from its hiding place in the chest.  Back in bed, she watched the singing man and the sleeping baby.  Margaret began to cry; she cried until she fell asleep.  She dreamt of the awful scene she’d witnessed downstairs – of blood and of pain.

By the time Margaret was sixteen, life on Condura and in the A’Kar household had changed significantly.  Out of a 15-month year, Rae was home maybe 2 months, and Margaret preferred it that way.  With Rae away, Margaret was free to roam.  She began traveling into town with her tutors.  She saw first-hand the continuing results of a revolution that ended years ago.  Men were subjugated; women literally ruled the world.  Margaret was fascinated by all that she saw.  Men could not speak without being spoken to first.  They were not allowed to look a woman directly in the eye.  Males were not allowed to own property or be educated.  Those that were degreed before the revolution began were smart enough to leave the planet early on.  Those who stayed were either poor and stupid or idealists.  Neither breed fared well on Condura.  Margaret heard stories of public executions and floggings, of punishments both severe and swift.  A man had very little legal standing on a planet controlled by women.  The precious few “sympathizers” worked in free legal defense and rarely won cases.  The slightest accusation from a woman against a man brought certain imprisonment – guilty or innocent.  In Margaret’s region of Condura, hangings were commonplace.  Margaret didn’t know what to make of everything that was happening.  It all seemed so strange and intriguing.

There were six men working on the A’Kar farm by then.  Rae had a medium-sized, two-story structure built behind the main house.  This is where 5 of the 6 men slept and ate.  Aymes still occupied his room downstairs, and he ate, alone, in the kitchen.  Margaret never officially met the other five.  She saw them occasionally through a window, but they were not allowed in the main house.  She certainly never went to the servant house.  Rae continued to spend her time at home with Aymes, in the downstairs rooms.  Margaret never told anyone about the horrible scene she’d witnessed years ago, but the memory of it stayed with her.  She didn’t look at her mother the same anymore.  Their already estranged relationship became more and more distant.

 

He was the most beautiful person she had ever seen, and Margaret loved him from the first moment he arrived at the farm.  Kristjan had skin like the sunset – ruddy and flawless - and hair blacker than the starless night.  He was tall, taller than Aymes, and he had the clearest, greenest eyes.  He was wearing long pants and shirt despite the day’s warmth.  Margaret had overheard the house staff talking about “the new boy,” but she expected someone much older and more rugged-looking, someone more like Aymes and the other five.  Margaret stood fixed at the window.  She watched Rae do something she had not done since Aymes’ arrival: Rae led him into the main house.  With the five, Rae always walked them around the house, to the building in the back.  He was allowed inside.  Margaret snuck to her spot on the ledge.  Rae, the staff, and the boy walked into the kitchen, with Rae giving orders to Sada along the way.  They all went through the doorway to the downstairs rooms.  That was the last Margaret saw of him for the next three weeks.

She was reading at her window when she noticed a young man on a horse riding across the back fields.  It was him going out to the outer pastures.  Rae was away on council business – as usual – and most of the house staff had gone into town.  Her tutors were away as well; it was the month-long break for Conduran solstice.  Margaret had thought of him often during the past weeks.  Normally, Margaret would get a formal introduction to a new male from Rae, but there wasn’t one this time.  Margaret wasn’t allowed near the males so she couldn’t introduce herself.  Rae had adamantly forbidden it years ago, and it was reiterated by the staff.  Margaret already knew these rules.  She’d read extensively about the Mallorian Revolution.  She knew the roles of men in Conduran society and how they were punished for breaking the laws.  Until this point, she had no real interest in any of the males at the farm, but he was different.  She wanted to see him...No, to observe and study him.  What is he called?  What does his voice sound like?  Where is he from?  Where did he live before coming to the farm?  These and other questions circled in Margaret’s head.  She stood at the window deciding...

She would never have an opportunity like this one.  No one was around.  No one would know she’d left the house.  Even Sada was on holiday.  Margaret’s stomach fluttered nervously.  Her fingertips were tingling with anxiety, excitement.  She walked to the door and listened...Nothing.  She opened the door and looked down the hallway.  As expected, no one was there.  She snuck to her spot on the ledge.  This wing of the house was quiet.  Margaret could go down the stairs to a side door and slip out unnoticed.  Getting across the back fields would be another story.  That area around the house was so flat and open, she was sure to be noticed by someone...Instead of sneaking through the side door, Margaret walked straight out the front, grabbing a book from the shelf on her way out.  She casually strolled across the front lawn toward the gardens.  One of the security staff looked her way and nodded.  Margaret smiled and raised her book in reply.  “Just out for a read,” Margaret thought at the guard.  “Like I have been before.”  She reached the edge of the garden where the tall bushes would block her from the guard’s view.  Her casual stroll soon turned into a brisk walk.  It took her 15 minutes to walk to the back edge of the garden.  She turned left and ran along the edge to where the garden met a line of dense, tall trees.  Margaret could travel unseen inside that line of trees – back toward the house and beyond, to where the outer pastures began.  It took longer to reach the house on the walk back.  The trees were thick, with shrubbery crowding the trunks.  No one came through here very often, and it showed.  Margaret had leaves in her hair and scratches on her arms when she emerged from the trees.  She was very close to the spot where the new boy had disappeared from sight earlier that morning.  She’d been out this way before, and she knew the grazing areas well.  Margaret figured she was 2 miles from where he would be working.

Beads of sweat were forming at her brow, and Margaret began to doubt the wisdom of her decision.  She couldn’t imagine what Rae would do if someone caught Margaret isolated and alone with a male.  And what would happen to him?  With Rae’s status in society, his punishment would be severe; Margaret would never see him again.  When she’d decided to turn around, Margaret saw him – riding a caldera among the herd.  She was transfixed by him.  His beauty.  His strength.  His presence.  All the reservations she had before disappeared and were replaced by an ache she didn’t understand and couldn’t explain.  She felt nauseated and lightheaded.  Hot and sweaty.  Her mouth watered, and she thought she was going to faint.  She felt tingly in places she didn’t believe capable of feeling tingly.  Margaret was still some distance from where he was riding, and she took a few minutes to compose herself.  In all of her deciding and anxiety, she had not considered what she would do when she approached him. 

To Be Continued...

 

 
   
 

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