“My brothers helped my father farm, but my parents feared for us girls. They knew Zarek’s men could come at any time and that they raped the land and the women, taking whatever they wanted from whomever they chose.” She swallowed hard. “My family tried to protect us, but eventually the pressure became too great.”
“What happened?” Mara pulled her chair closer.
“Zarek’s men caught my oldest sister, Marise, on her way to the well one afternoon. They . . . enjoyed . . . themselves with her for the remainder of the day.” Nina’s eyes spilled great tears. “They left her a shell of her former self. Worse—they also left her with child.”
“Oh, I am so sorry.”
“She was never the same again. But now we had yet another mouth to feed—and wouldn’t you know it—another girl at that. My parents were desperate.”
The young woman took another taste of her wine. The flavor she might have savored at any other time was bitter now as her story unfolded. She put the glass down, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes.
“Our circumstances were dire. We didn’t have enough food for the approaching winter. There hadn’t been much to begin with, and then Zarek’s men raided what little stores we’d accumulated.
“About that time, Zarek put new policies into place. He decreed that he’d pay families who had sons an annual royalty, while he’d charge those with daughters double the amount as a penalty.
“So my parents were to receive two royalties for my two brothers, but were to pay ten penalties for my three sisters, my sister’s child, and me. We were going to starve.” Her body tensed as she recalled her memories.
“And then?” Mara prompted.
Nina bit her lip. “Then a handler came to my parent’s farm.”
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