Content Warning: Intimidation, child traumatization
Forcing their way in the moment she opened the door, they began to upend her small dwelling—turning over the bed to look beneath, opening every cabinet, and peering inside every pot and bowl in her meager kitchen. Her heart had begun to pound in rage, then rage had turned to fear as she saw how the boy had frozen in terror at the sight of the soldiers. Shrinking into the farthest corner of the room, eyes wide and mouth open as he began to hyperventilate, he watched the soldiers tear apart his home with ever-rising panic. She took a step toward him, but one of the intruders barred her way.
“Whose land is this?” he demanded.
“Walter Fürst’s,” she said, trying to step around him, without success.
“Have you paid him his due?” he said, thrusting out his hand into her chest to keep her back.
She knew he could not feel her breasts, tightly as she had bound them only that morning, but she felt a flicker of panic in any case, and she used it to fight down the even greater fury she always felt when manhandled in such a way.
“Yes, of course,” she answered.
“Well, now it will be more,” he said, a smug smile creasing his lips as he observed her evident discomfort. “Fürst’s taxes have been raised.”
He took a step toward her, so that his face loomed over hers. “I ought to cuff you for that,” he growled. “Holding out on us, talking back—”
A moaning sob erupted from the corner where the boy cowered, and she hastened to appease the brute towering over her, ignoring her mutinous wish that he would do just what he threatened and ignite the oil-soaked fuel of her rage.
Instead, she lowered her eyes and adopted a placating tone. “No, no, my lord, forgive me. I was only curious. Here,” she continued, going to the stack of animal pelts she had trapped and dried to exchange at the nearest market town. She seized the whole bundle of them and thrust it at him. “Here, take this in payment of the additional tax.”
He took them in his hands, then at once threw them back into her face. “Coin only, fool,” he said with a sneer. “Think I want to waste time handling dirty animal fur?”
The other two soldiers, who had apparently satisfied themselves that she was hiding nothing else of value, turned toward the door, and he followed them out of the cabin, warning her, “Have your payment ready tomorrow when we return.”
They left the door open, but she ignored it and flew at once to gather up the child into her arms, soothing him in a low voice and stroking his hair as he sobbed out his shock and fear into her shoulder.
“Ssh, my son, don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, no one will harm you. Ssh, now, don’t be afraid. I love you, I love you. Don’t be afraid.”
Gradually his crying subsided, and she carried him to the bed, then sat stroking his head as he fell asleep, and fighting the nausea that flooded her as she remembered the last time she had soothed his terror thus.