From dawn to dusk, the streets hummed with activity, while in the numerous taverns with their huge wine casks, long benches, and reed-strewn floors, drinkers with nothing better to do spent their time gambling on dice games. There was open-air entertainment, too, for those who had time to watch it. Clowns bumped and tumbled, jugglers showed off their skills, and minstrels crooned the latest ballads to the accompaniment of a fiddle-like instrument called the vielle. Roving troops of actors performed morality tales for the crowds, often enlivening popular Bible stories with slapstick comedy and satirical asides to the audience. And behind this incessant hustle and bustle, church bells tolled away the hours, dictating the rhythm of people's lives across the city; for in the perpetual half-light of the narrow streets, the passage of time was heard rather than seen.
I struggled to hold up my torn garment, crossing my arms over my breasts, so that it did not slip and expose them to the blue eyes scrutinising me with such cold passion.
He grinned at my attempted modesty.
'I can do whatever I like with you now,' he continued. 'Do you realise that?'
I held my tongue.
'Answer me.' The fist clutching my collar shook.
Could there be life without pain?
He wanted to see me suffer. I saw the cruelty in his eyes. I bit the insides of my mouth to keep from crying aloud. I would not satisfy his desire.
'Answer me, Cumal.'
I knew quite well the despised Irish word for slave-girl.
'Yes,' I hissed through clenched teeth.
He struck my face again, harder than the first time. His heavy gold ring caught my cheekbone below my eye.
'Put your arms down.'
But I would be unable to hold my gown up then. I did not respond.
He gave my collar a twist.
'Are you deaf as well as stupid? I gave an order, slave.'
Slowly, after adjusting the rent material as best I could upon my shoulders, I lowered my arms. Held them stiffly at my sides. My breathing sounded as ragged as the dress.
Prince Modred did not allow it to stay. Never loosening his grip on my collar, his other hand jerked the garment down. The entire rag fluttered to the floor. Nothing remained between Prince Modred and me except a small band of brown leather.
Debra A. Kemp
The House of Pendragon: Book 1
the early 6th century
He inserted a chisel under the lid and tapped with a hammer. The lid eased up, and he got a good grip with his fingers and began to pull. The lid began to move with a great screech of wet wood, and came off so suddenly that he almost fell backwards. He handed it up to Michael, and all five of them peered into the open coffin.
Bartholomew moved back, gagging, as the stench of putrefaction filled the confined space of the grave. His feet skidded and he scrabbled at the sides to try to prevent himself from falling over. Jonstan gave a cry of horror, and Cuthbert began to mutter prayers in an uneven, breathless whisper. Michael leaned down and grabbed at Bartholomew's shoulder, breathing through his mouth so as not to inhale the smell.
'Matt!' he gasped. 'Come out of there!'
He began to tug frantically at Bartholomew's shirt. Bartholomew needed no second bidding, and scrambled out of the grave with an agility that surprised even him. He sank to his knees and peered down at the thing in the coffin.
'What is it?' breathed Cymric.
Bartholomew cleared his throat to see if he could still speak, making jonstan jump. 'It looks like a goat,' he said.
'A goat?' whispered Michael, in disbelief. 'What is a goat doing here?'
Bartholomew swallowed hard. Two curved horns and a long pointed face stared up at him, dirty and stained from its weeks underground, but a goat's head nevertheless, atop a human body.