by Clare Seven
Justine’s year as a volunteer in a slave galley continues under the cruel whips of the overseers, the unspeakably harsh conditions on that hellship, and the unrelenting, extreme physical exertion at the oar. Now committed, she has no choice but to continue and to suffer the hardships and degradations. As if life on the galley were not hard enough, her subsequent incarceration and labour on land, deep in remote coastal cliffs, brings horrors Justine could not have imagined in her worst nightmares. Perhaps Joshua might save her from the most severe of the punishments, but he and his employer, the bizarre, terrifying Emil Tarik, have another agenda that only slowly becomes clear. And still, perhaps, there is something in Justine that needs and desires almost everything that happens to her…
Justine’s heart was pounding, though she eased and used her breathing, leaning forward to pull the oar in as the command was given. Sweat from the stretched legs of the rowers above her dripped on her back, stinging fresh lashes, though she ignored it. The collective sigh of the women filled the stinking deck, punctuated by pants and exhausted exhalations of breath and the creaking of wooden boards as the overseers walked the deck, some even starting to walk up the oily, wet steps to the deck above. Justine noted an air of happiness amongst them, as if some had indeed come home. She wondered what place this was, and what new horrors might await the poor prisoners.
“Unchain her,” she heard the words behind her, yet was afraid to turn around, in case her attention would attract the whip. The voice was familiar. Joshua?
“Yes, remove the chain from ankle fetters and unlock her from those wrist chains.”
Justine still had not turned around, yet she wanted to smile. Those damned chains. Her wrists would be free, at least for a short time. Her joy was short lived, however, as fear and paranoia rapidly gripped her. Why was Joshua having her released? Did he intend to have his way with her now that they had arrived at some sort of port?
The same fat Australian in shorts who had put her in chains so many days ago, now stooped, grunting with discomfort, to place his hands in the vile bilge water at her feet, unlocking the rusting chain and beginning to thread it back through the rings, gripping her calves as she winced, to pull them away. She wanted to scream ‘don’t touch me’ to him, wanted to kick him as he freed her, though a few days before she had been sucking his long, hard cock in order to avoid him whipping her back.
She limped up the deck as she was freed, her blistered soles taking the weight of her pain wracked body as she tried to keep pace with the strong arm that was pulling her along the filthy wet timbers. The last time she had been on her feet was when she was led to the spikes. She stepped over them now, eager to avoid the feeling of helpless oblivion that she had felt when last she had been forced to stand upon them for hours. Her legs and body were tired. Beyond training, this type of abuse no doubt built strong rowers, though there was no real recovery as there had been during her triathlon training in the past, no periods when the body could adapt.
One of her arms was being gripped tightly, pulled by the overseer as her feet slapped against the timbers. They were taking her toward the wooden steps. It had been months, or it seemed like months, since she had been brought down those very creaky wooden steps, clean, her hair freshly shaved, her ankles hobbled by her newly acquired steel fetters; so long since she had walked that deck with clean feet. And now, were they going to take up onto the deck, take her outside, into daylight. Dear God, was it true? Were they going to release her early? She wanted to ask them, determine exactly why she was being taken from her rusting chains, though she did not want to feel the whip.
She could smell the sea air as she emerged from below. She closed her eyes and turned away, yelping as the sunlight and the day stung her eyes – eyes that had been so unused to the normal day, a brightness that had become but a memory – then she hit the air.