by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith
The Laurentian warrior lords sit around the banquet table, enjoying what has for the past few weeks been a nightly event. The atmosphere is as usual one of unbridled raucousness, and of an uncouthness that only noblemen can manage. The Campagnard Elder is shackled to the wall behind the lord Daubert, the cuts and bruises on the old man's face a map of his tormentors' character. He ignores their jeers and keeps his gaze set on a point in the distance; his back is straight, his chin high, his face impassive.
Young peasant women carry platters of food and jugs of wine into what was once the banquet hall of the Liege of Campagne. The Liege is no longer of this earth, and young Campagnard women are subjected to hands upon them that would have, in more civilised times, been hacked off at the wrist for their insolence. But since the fall of Campagne the days have been ugly; one father will, from now on, only ever be able to see half his daughter's face - a drunken lord, a knife, and a few moments of disposable hilarity have etched away the other half. Other fathers are envious of him - his daughter is out of danger now, whereas theirs are still pretty and can still bring shame and sorrow to their home.
Meat is greedily torn from bone, juices drip down warrior lord chins, jeering laughter bites at the ankles of all those not sat at the banquet table. Empty platters are carried out, and the tray of smoking implements and materials brought in. The Laurentians are ready for the second part of the evening, and the jokes take a more lascivious turn. The group of specially chosen young women is heralded into the banquet hall, while their fathers sit at home in shame and sorrow.
The old statesman can no longer feign pride and strength. Tears fall down his cheeks as they always do when the evening reaches this stage: the sight of the young woman leading the bare-breasted procession once again proves too much for him. He is not her father, but she is like a daughter to him; she is the late Liege's only child and the Elder is the one who watched over her first steps, and taught her to read and write . But she is no longer to dance across the banquet hall, spreading sweetness to old and young alike with her beauty and her gentleness. She is now reduced to a conqueror's plaything and made to traverse the hall bare breasted, her eyes spitting bile at the man who intends to defile her again. The Liege is not here to witness this, but the old man takes upon himself all the shame and sorrow that death has spared the girl's father.
The lord Daubert beckons over his favourite toy, delighting in her anger at him, and in her powerlessness against him. She goes to him as she must, if she is to avoid his dagger devouring part of her face. She positions herself between the table and Daubert, and the other young women take their cue and file into their respective places, their eyes expressionless, their shoulders stooped. Daubert leers once again at his prize; he barks an order at her - it is a worse one than usual, and the girls pale as the lords cheer. The Liege may be dead, and by the Laurentian's own hand, but the lord finds he can relive the satisfaction of his victory every night by bringing more shame and sorrow upon the sovereign's house.
The other lords watch Daubert and his trinket with gleaming eyes. But the old man has a keener eye than those who have spent the last few hours drinking wine; he watches it all unfold. One of the serving girls lets out a cry and holds her fist high. The Elder watches as the Liege's daughter reaches under the table and brings out a knife. With her teeth bared, she grabs a fistful of Daubert's hair, plunges the knife into his stomach and guts him like a hare; his eyes widen in the horror of realisation and she spits in his face. She takes the dagger to his throat and with a swift move empties him of the rest of his blood. As it courses thickly down his chest she plunges her hands into it and covers her breasts in the dark, warm liquid. The old man looks on in shock as she picks up her knife again and removes the nobleman's scalp.
The Elder watches this almost in a reverie. One of the serving girls frees him from his shackles and helps him up. He kisses the girl's forehead in thanks, and looks around in disbelief: he sees serving girls with bloody knives, Laurentian stewards with bloody necks. He is open-mouthed as he sees the lords all slumped around the banquet table, with their scalps held aloft by women wearing dark red tunics made of the most precious Laurentian material. He watches as the Liege's daughter leads these women out of the banquet hall and onto the balcony overlooking the busy marketplace. The people in the square look up in surprise as they see the blood-covered knives and the scalps held high, and hear the women issue a cry the like of which has not been heard before. It is a cry the Campagnards can but answer with one of their own; the uprising has begun and fathers no longer feel shame or sorrow for their bare-breasted daughters.
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