By ReGi McClain
Logo by [email protected] Ray
Copyright 2016 Wild Berry Publications
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
First Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Wild Berry Publications
Cover Image: Circe and Her Swine by Briton Riviére, 1896
Logo by [email protected] Ray
George McVey, Nat Davis, and Christian Olson
Without these five people, the quality of my writing would be significantly lower. I greatly appreciate their encouragement and the time and effort they put into helping me polish this story and grow as a writer.
Thanks, also, to Jon Kalin and Britni Weiss for looking up toxins I won’t even be mentioning by name to see if they’d interact oddly for me, and to Janice Clark for contacting them on my behalf.
And, of course, thanks to my Savior, for all the things.
Standing with her legs spread wide to resist the eager shoving of the pigs, Inga emptied her heavy buckets of kitchen waste into the trough. It smelled less foul today. It seemed His Majesty ate his bread with quince jam this morning. Inga’s sensitive nose picked out the fragrance of it among the cucurbita shells, spoiling cream, and burnt gristle. The pains in her empty stomach begged her to give up her pride and steal some of the swill like all the other servants under Yaeger’s thumb.
She wiped the sweat from her brow, ignoring the grit she smeared across her face in the process, and told her stomach to hush its whining. Pausing before going for her second batch of slop, she stared at the tiny window that ventilated the entire dungeon. The chief torturer reserved that room for himself, though its proximity to the animal pens surely filled it with the unpleasant aromas of manure and rotting hay. Even pig-tainted air seemed a luxury after a few minutes in those putrid halls. Or so one flirtatious guard told her.
“Oye, pig whore!” A woman Inga thought of as Sourface trudged by dragging an overfull cart of pathetic vegetables, aided by one Inga called Haunteyes. “Pinin’ fer a sweet beatin’ art ‘ee? Wantin’ ‘im as knowth ‘ow to do it best?”
Inga bit her tongue and straightened her back, refusing to let the insult attach itself to her. They only act thus because it is how they’re treated. She planned to fix that.
The women cackled and moved on, their wheezing chortles falling to the ground behind them rather than mixing with the air like proper laughter.
Inga allowed herself five more heartbeats to look at the window. Tonight, she promised herself.
Once upon a time, Inga fancied tending animals a pleasant job. The herders of her country spent the days wandering lush fields, picking flowers and humming to themselves. Not so in this country.
She shifted for the hundredth time, popping her spine and trying to keep her backside from going numb. Perched on the rail of the pigpen, the smell and sound of pigs dulling her senses, she tried to concentrate. These days, she found idle daydreaming difficult; keeping focused on her plan took herculean effort.
At last. Careful to show just enough ankle to tease, she swung around and hopped down. From the moment she met the butcher, she started working on him, swaying her hips, batting her eyes, pouring out charm like a coquette, but as she starved on the meager rations and her curves dissolved, his interest waned. To keep it, she added a hint of immodesty to her flirting.
The butcher’s eyes widened at the peek of her calf and fixed themselves down there. “I come to find a pig fer His Maj’sty’s dinner a’morrow. Art there one as thou seez fittest?”
She tucked a finger under his chin and lifted his face until his eyes found her smile. Her perfect smile, the rarest form of beauty and one she never before showed in this accursed kingdom. Every tooth sparkled white, all whole and symmetrical to their mates.
The butcher’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. No surprise, given how few teeth he boasted.
Inga lowered her eyelashes and tilted her chin down. Not that the butcher noticed her sultry expression with his eyes stuck on her teeth. “Aye. One o’ the sows ‘ath a litter a-sucklin’.” The affected pronunciation grated against her nerves, but necessity kept her from speaking as herself. “I wager ‘is Maj’sty liketh a suckler well ‘nuff. But I wants to talk to ‘ee ‘bout sumfin’ other.”
Eyes still fixed on her mouth, the butcher nodded.
“I need ‘ee ta do sumfin’ exter special nice fer me.”
She listed the favors and items she wanted from him.
His eyes jumped up to hers. “I doesn’t want a part in’t.”
Inga let him turn around, then stepped close before he could leave and whispered, “I’m a-payin’.”
A shudder ran down his spine at the tickle of her breath. “Hafta be a lot to make me risk His Maj’sty’s wrath.”
He spun to face her. “S-s-seven crowns?”
“Aye. Will that be ‘nuff?”
The butcher fell to his knee and kissed Inga’s hand. She looked around in alarm, fearful of the ramifications of the breach of propriety. The goose girls giggled as they walked by and she heard something about it being fitting the butcher should marry the swineherdess, but no soldiers lurked nearby. She sighed in relief. A rumor of marriage posed less threat than a rumor of loose morals. Laughing awkwardly, she lifted the butcher to his feet, using the motion to slip the coin into his hand. They held a quick, whispered conference, then went back to their duties.
Arms hanging limp at her sides, feet dragging, Inga lurched her way back to the small shack she shared with the other women servants. Fifteen of them crowded into a space no more than four paces long and three wide, sleeping on straw with thin, scratchy burlap blankets as their only cover. When she first joined their ranks, the stench of the room overwhelmed her despite the wind whistling past the blanket that served as their door and trying its best to remove the odor. The women huddled together and jostled for positions closest to the center of the room, away from the cold.
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