In times before this, when the term slave came to mind, I had never thought of the adversity that could come with this station. The servants in my family's household seemed genuinely content with their lot. They were well paid and well cared for, they were never treated as lowly, they never went hungry, were never beaten, and most definitely never taken for granted. In fact, I had grown up thinking of most of them as a family.
I never knew there was hardship in the world. I was sheltered. My parents carefully concealed from my eyes anything that might unsettle my delicate state of mind. I was considered fragile, though I was not ill. Nothing could have prepared me for the path my life would take.
I remember the night it all happened as though it were yesterday. It is that fresh in my mind, though I have spent many nights and months under the rule of the man who has become my keeper.
It was a dark night, overcast with angry clouds that spelled out the evening's foreboding. I was sequestered away in my room settling in for the evening. The house was silent, which is why what followed became such a shock to my senses.
It started with a sharp bang in the distance. Then came the gunfire, the lights, and the torches. Before anyone knew what was happening the sound of shrill cries filled the air. Houses were invaded and people pulled from their beds, the hardiest and most able-bodied of the young among them. Then came the weeping. The heart-wrenching sobs of parents pleading for their children, the gunshots which were fired in more rapid succession and bodies falling to the ground in pools of their own vital fluids while children cried into the night being hauled away to boats, dragging their feet and begging for their now deceased parents.
Of all the people in our village only I was brave enough to look upon this scene. My curiosity overcame me as I slipped with all capable stealth from my bed to the window pane to witness things. The shock of it barely registered in the naiveté of my mind. Who could do these things? Why would they do them? And what would become of those poor children?
I didn't have long to wonder this, as there came a discreet wrapping almost immediately at my door. My maid in her nightcap and gown looking harried by candlelight imploring me to follow her. I must be kept safe. I must hide. Behind her, at a safe distance my brother and family servants, armed with whichever means were available to them, prepared to defend me to the death. My mother a few rooms down looking pale and frightened while weeping. My father beside her looking grave, his hand on her shoulder strong in its comfort, encouraging me to behave and follow the maid.
The trek through our family home was made as quietly as we were able. The hallways were unlit except for what candles we dared to carry, the silence made the journey all the more frightening as none of us dared speak for fear we'd draw attention to ourselves. In truth, we were scared to even breathe, the silences so stark around us save for the cannons and gunfire from outside, that we were certain we'd be heard and found out entirely.
At some length we made our way at last to a place that we deemed might be safe from the night's terrors. We watched through tear strained eyes as the night progressed and houses were plundered and burned around us. The night filling with noises of grief and terror, only punctuated by the pleading of parents as they attempted to bargain with these ruthless men for their children to no avail.
The moments were interminable, the voices blending into one another as we listened, our hands clenched and gripping at another in fear. The monotony was only broken when suddenly, one of those voices became very clear and distinct, cutting distinctively through the to the other cries, so distinct it drowned out all the other sounds. It was my mother.
The villains had finally arrived at our home, having searched and sacked the place, and had hauled my mother and father out to the street at gunpoint. My mother was brutally held by one of the men by her hair while my father pleaded for them to justify whatever money or objects they wanted and leave them. My mother sobbed wretchedly as they threw her to the ground and proceeded to assault my father. The conversation that ensued, while strained and diluted by the noises around us, came to our ears with sharp and cruel clarity.
"What makes you think you have anything we want? There are 4 bedrooms there, and that's a fair sized house of yours. Don't think you can hide her, where is?" The leader of the group demanded.
"We don't know what you're talking about. There's no one else here but us." My father argued. Trying to deny my existence, being beaten so I might escape and survive. I tried to run to them, to beg them to stop as the others before I had but strong hands held me in check. Trying to soothe the terror that was raging through in my heart, breaking through the shock, and relieving me of my calm. I became hysterical and collapsed to the ground in silent shuddering sobs.
What happened next was unbelievable even to my grief-stricken ears. First came the cocking of the shut gun, clear and distinct in spite of the noise and chaos surrounding us. Then came the begging the sobbing as the men lowered the gun to my father's head. My mother's wails cutting through the air like a knife.
"The truth old man. We know you have a daughter here and a son as well. Where are they?"
There was a moment of silence at the demand. My father barely having time to deny the accusation when my mother's terrified voice, trembling broke the silence.
"They're in the back, in the servant's quarters. Please! Just don't kill him."
My face must have turned deathly pale. I clearly couldn't have heard what I had just heard. Could I have? My mother couldn't have done this. She wouldn't dare. I looked to my brother's face for confirmation that I was right. That it was my delirium and shock speaking. That I had misheard that last part of the conversation. What I saw will forever sit in my mind as the last sign of my freedom slipping away from. My brother sat there, his face drawn, white as my own, as the gun fell from his hands. Surrender etched upon his features.
The next few moments were like a blur in my mind. It all happened so fast. The maid trying to urge me to run. My mother sobbing in the background. My brother, strong until this point, falling to his knees on the ground. Vaguely in the midst of all this, I heard the word run, somewhere in the back of mind. But it was too late. The men were upon us, one of them coming upon me from behind, the other striking my brother an incapacitating blow. My maid shrieked, and the fainted. I remember taking a moment to glance up at the man behind me, boldly a moment, as finally, the shock took its toll and I fainted into his arms.
When I awoke some hours later I was alone. Sequestered in a darkened room somewhere aboard a ship. I only know this because I could hear the rocking of the waves behind me. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream and throw things. But what would it matter? There was no one to save me now. My brother and maid, they were gone. I had no idea of where they were or if even they were on the same vessel. I dared not look outside for fear of what I might see. So I stole myself to silence, forcing down the panic that was shaking me, closed my eyes and feigned sleep. Hoping once again unconsciousness would save me.