Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of Jen Black's Far After Gold. Check back thoughout the week for more excerpts and a quiz on Friday evening. Leave a comment with the correct quiz answers for a chance to win a copy of Far After Gold!
The overseer’s harsh laughter rang in Emer’s ears. Her shoulder stung from where his cane caught her, but she ignored it. His threat of selling her to the African coast, Moorish Spain or the frozen lands of Baltic Russia was enough to terrify her. She reached the back wall of the slave compound, sank to her haunches and crossed her forearms over her knees to still their trembling.
The huge wooden doors of the stockade swung open.
Emer shut her eyes. She prayed that no buyer from foreign lands would walk through the gates today. She wanted to get home to Pabaigh, not be taken further from it.
She peered around other slaves, tugging as she did so at the hated leather collar that irritated the soft skin of her throat. She hated it as she hated everything about this foul, stinking market where men, women and children were herded together like cattle crowded inside a ring-fort, but she could not break it.
Snatched glimpses of the buyers reassured her. An older man who held himself well, though his face was seamed with years and his beard streaked with grey. A long brown cloak lined with fur after the manner of the Norsemen swung from his broad shoulders. Emer’s brows rose when she looked at the other man, so young he seemed barely out of his youth, though strength and confidence shimmered in the air around him. She stared at his silver gilt hair, and swallowed. His smile, when he made a comment to his companion, was wide and white against his sunburned skin.
Almost as if someone had called his name, the young man lifted his head. His sharp blue gaze raked over the huddled group of slaves and settled on Emer as if he’d known exactly where to find her.
Shocked, Emer ducked her head. Send him away! Please, not her! Dear Lord, don’t let him notice her! The thought that she might be purchased filled her with cold, horrible fear.
She shrank back against the stockade wall. To her relief the guards thrust the men into lines, and pushed the women away. No doubt today’s strangers wanted strong young men to work in their fields and barns.
The buyers moved closer. Emer stared at the ground, anxious not to draw attention to herself. Feet shuffled in the dust around her. Voices murmured, the overseer snapped out an order. Emer stiffened. A rough hand yanked her to her feet.
She would have run but there was nowhere to run to. The guard’s rough grasp tightened, and she grew frantic in her efforts to get away.
All she gained for her struggles were bruises. The guard hauled her across the dusty ground as if she were a child and pushed her to her knees before the strangers. Panting, Emer risked a swift, upward glance. The young man laughed, but the older one frowned. She bit her lip and dipped her head. Her hair fell over her face. It was the only privacy left to her.
“She looks like trouble, Flane. Forget her. Take the little redhead at the end. She looks biddable.”
It was the older man who spoke. A snort of laughter followed the comment. A large hand grasped her chin and jerked her head up. “I can’t see her for all this hair. Ah, that’s better.”
She jerked her chin aside, but could not shake free. Held in the hard grip of the young man’s hand, Emer looked straight into his challenging yet quizzical gaze. Eyes the colour of bluebells stared back, and the silver brows above them drew together in a frown. Her heart plunged once and then raced like a mad thing. Heat flooded her face. She couldn’t think beyond the thudding in her ears.
Flane. The older man had called him Flane. Her mouth dried as she waited.
His dense gaze stayed on her, drifted to her mouth, returned to her eyes. He let go of Emer’s chin and glanced towards his companion. “But this one’s prettier.”
The older man grunted. “You’ll be buying trouble.”
Flane turned to the overseer. “I’ll take her.”
The overseer smirked.
Flane’s gaze rested on her. She stared back. “I don’t think so, Skuli. She’s frightened, that’s all. She’ll make an excellent bed slave.”
Stunned, Emer’s eyes followed him as he half-turned and walked away. He glanced back over his shoulder and winked. Emer scowled. A bed slave, according to her mother, was a woman of the lowest social class, desperate to take up with any man who could afford to keep her. Wives tolerated such women because they were not a threat. No man ever married his bed slave.