At the moment when all seems lost, Rafe finds another change of circumstances.

Changed Circumstances - Chapter 62: "Rescued"
by Chrisus
Series: Changed Circumstances

From within the dark interior of my crate I have to imagine as best I can what is happening on the outside. There is a brief pause while the cart stops as the outer gates are opened to allow it to exit into the dark, empty street. As I hear the loud squealing of the gates hinges, I visualize two of Lionel Schuster's burly slaves swinging open the massive, wooden gates allowing us to pass through.

However, by no stretch of my imagination could I anticipate what happens next. I am unable to see what is happening but, suddenly, light seeps through the cracks into my crate's interior as the courtyard is flooded with bright lights. Then, I hear the shrill sound of whistles and the shouted, authoritative order to.

"Everyone stay where you are!"

Briefly, pandemonium reigns outside my prison. I hear the panic stricken shouting of men caught off guard and the sound of running feet as they try to flee. There is loud swearing and abusive cursing as they are overtaken followed by the unmistakable sounds of men scuffling with one another. And I am left to wonder what is happening.

Briefly, all is confusion but order is quickly restored and I now hear the calm murmur of voices as men clamber aboard the cart. However, my panic returns and I wait apprehensively for what is to happen next. What is going on?

Has Guy Maratier devised some sinister plan to finally rid himself of me? Are these strangers really assassins that he has hired to kill me - and Thor? And is the staging of our spiriting away just window- dressing to disguise his real intentions? Fear makes me illogical and my wild imagination runs riot because of my mistrust of him.

I'm aware of my crate being opened but I am unprepared for the bright torchlight that dazzles me and temporarily blinds me as the lid is removed. I avert my eyes from the light's source and I feel my gag being removed from my mouth. I am now free to speak and I look up and see two faces peering down at me.

"What's happening? Who are you?" I ask fearfully.

Neither answer my question. Instead one of them simply asks.

"Are you Rafe?"

"Yes!" I reply. "But who are you?"

"And you were once called Lucien Barrois?"

"Yes. But who's asking and why do you want to know?"

As I identify myself I am sure that I have sealed my fate and I await their next move which I'm sure will be a knife in the chest. But I am wrong. Strong arms lift me out of the crate and as one man removes my shackles, a second man drapes a blanket across my shoulders covering my nakedness and giving me warmth against the cold, night air. This is one of the few acts of kindness I have received from a free man since my enslavement and I am surprised by his action.

I look to where Thor is being helped out of his crate and thankfully I see that he too is given a blanket to drape over his shoulders. Then both Thor and I are helped down from the cart and we stand huddled together bewildered by the events that have overtaken us.

The courtyard is brightly floodlit and I see Lionel Schuster and the slaver who was to smuggle us aboard standing in handcuffs in the custody of four, burly, uniformed men. Frightened, their slaves stand huddled together in a small group also under police guard. I note the fear filled look on Lionel Schuster's face; obviously he was taken by surprise and is just as bewildered as Thor and me. As yet, I can't make sense of what's happening but something tells me it's a momentous occasion.

Suddenly I hear panic stricken shouting outside the gates. Someone is loudly protesting his innocence.

"Let me go! I've done nothing wrong! I'm just here on an errand for my employer. You have no right to hold me. I'm a lawyer and I know the law!"

I recognize the voice as that of Simon Barrow. The arrogant tone he'd haughtily displayed towards me earlier in the day is gone. Stripped of his bravado, his voice betrays his panic and fear. As he is dragged bodily through the gateway and made to stand, handcuffed, alongside the two slave-dealers, one of his captors tells his companions.

"We caught this fucker trying to run away with his pockets stuffed with money."

"It's all a mistake," Simon protests, "a dreadful mistake. I've done nothing wrong. I was just doing a favor for my employer, Guy Maratier. You know who he is, don't you? He won't be pleased at your interference. If you let me go, I'll say nothing of this to him."

"I don't think he's in any position to care too much about you." The uniformed figure of the officer - obviously in charge - tells him. "My guess is that he's already in custody."

"Wha..... what do you mean?" Simon stammers. "Why is he in custody? And why are you holding me? I'm only his legal advisor."

"Then it would appear you've given him the wrong advice. Slave smuggling is against the law. As a lawyer you should know that."

"I know nothing about smuggling slaves." Simon's protestations lack conviction. "I was asked by Mr Maratier to deliver the money in my pocket to Lionel Schuster. I was just doing my job. Please let me go."

"You were asked to secretly deliver a large sum money in the dead of night and you suspected nothing was wrong. Do you really expect me to believe you? Tell it to the judge in the morning when you appear before him. But for now, just shut up."

I watch as Simon stands alongside Lionel Schuster and the slaver. Immediately, the recriminations start as Lionel and Simon engage in heated discussion. Each protests his innocence, claiming they were duped by the other and Guy Maratier. Desperately, like drowning men clutching at straws, they seize on this strategy and apportion all the blame to Guy.

I recall the saying there is "no honor among thieves!" Obviously this is also true of rogues and villains.

As their arguments and counter-arguments grow louder and more heated, the officer in charge loses his patience and orders them to be gagged. I watch with immense satisfaction as the gags that had been used on Thor and me are now used to silence the two co-conspirators. They now stand shackled and gagged as they await further developments. And I feel no pity for them.

Both conspired with Guy Maratier to help him rid himself of my presence. All three were to gain from my fate and it would appear their efforts have failed. In trying to injure me they have wounded themselves and now they face the prospect of harsh punishment. It is a classic case of all three being "hoist on their own petards".

Slowly it is sinking in that Thor and I have been saved from being sent abroad. As yet, I still believe myself to be a slave and, as I consider the events unfolding around me, I wonder what is to happen to us. I don't as yet understand that I am being delivered from slavery. The dream of freedom is long dead within me and it's inconceivable that I am being rescued. Fearfully, I too await developments.

I look towards Thor huddling under his blanket but he is as bewildered by events as I am. The initial flurry of activity has ceased and an uneasy sense of normality returns to the courtyard. Then I see another group of five figures standing quietly together to one side watching as the court officers finalize their raid.

To my utter amazement, I recognize them as four of my former friends, Miles Fortescue, Jack Stanford, Daniel Carew and Francois Fournier. The fifth, older man I don't know. But his sober clothes suggest to me that he is either a lawyer or a court official.

Why are they here? What brings them out in the middle of the night? These questions tumble through my mind but the answers elude me.

The officer in charge talks to them and apparently he gives them permission to speak me. As the group approach, I am seized with panic. Have they come to gloat as they had on that day long ago when Lionel Schuster had evaluated me shortly after my enslavement? What should I do? After being a slave for so long, I am imbued with a slave's mentality which sees all free men as my superiors. Etiquette demands that I remain silent and respectful in their presence and so I stand quietly and bow my head in humility as I wait for their next move. Miles is the first to speak; he takes my hand and holding it, he tells me with great feeling.

"Lucien, you're free!"

Those three words are momentous and yet their meaning is lost on me. As I wrestle with their implication, the four crowd around me and take turns to warmly hug me. I am unused to such warm displays of affection and I remain unmoved by them. Once more Miles speaks.

"Lucien you're finally free! Do you understand what I'm saying? You are free."

Dazed and confused, all I can ask is.

"I ........don't understand." I stutter. "What do you mean? How can I be free?"

"It's true, Lucien." This time it's Francois who speaks. "Miles is right, you are free. All is to be finally put right. Tomorrow morning, you'll appear in a special court convened by His Honor, Judge Henry Fitzwilliam who'll set aside the original findings of Judge Matthews. You are to be set free and all your property will be re-instated. Welcome back, mon ami!"

Francois sweeps me into his arms and as our eyes meet, I see his are brimming with tears. He draws me closely to him and his voice chokes as he asks.

"Forgive me Lucien! I should have been a better friend to you."

"Francois it wasn't only you. We all should have been better friends." Miles adds hoarsely. "We all have much to be ashamed of. Lucien, when I think back to that awful day when we first saw you as the slave Rafe, I am overwhelmed with shame and remorse. I know how our rejection of you that day must have hurt you deeply. But of late, we all have tried to make amends. Perhaps, in time, you'll learn to forgive us."

My mind still can't fathom the full implication of what Francois and Miles are saying. The idea that I am to be set free and re-instated to my old life seems too preposterous to be true. And their presence only confuses me even further. Are they playing a cruel jest with me?

And yet their requests for my forgiveness suggest otherwise. I recall the day Miles referred to when they'd scorned me and watched as Lionel Schuster and Guy Maratier had humiliated and shamed me. Those bitter memories still linger and to speak of my forgiveness is premature.

However, their words seem genuine and their expressions of remorse sound sincere. Suddenly, I also remember on that long ago day, it was Miles who'd given me water to drink when I'd begged Lionel Schuster for water to ease my raging thirst. The slaver cruelly refused my request and it was Miles who had defied him and helped me to drink. And I recall the rancor and bitter recriminations his actions had caused between Lionel Schuster and Guy Maratier.

And so slowly, hope begins to manifest itself within me. Can it be that I am to be set free? Immediately, my thoughts turn to Thor as I look to him for support. I look for him and I'm shattered to see that he has moved aside and is standing forlornly alone outside of the circle surrounding me. My heart aches as I see the sadness on his handsome face. The truth that is eluding me is all too apparent to him. He understands that I am to be set free and he obviously sees no place for him in my life other than as my slave.

I reach out to him and draw him close to me. As I hug him close to my chest, I want to show him that he is very much a part of my life whether that life be as a free man or a slave. There is no doubting my great love for this beautiful man who helped and sustained me through the three, bitter years of my slavery. And yet, I have every reason to be grateful for those three years; for they gave me Thor. He is now my reason for living and he gives my life its true meaning and purpose. And if I had to choose between freedom and slavery to keep Thor at my side then I would gladly opt for slavery over freedom.

Thor means that much to me!

Deliberately, I take Thor's head between my hands and kiss him and this serves as an ice-breaker. The others obviously recognize how much Thor means to me and they welcome him in to their midst. Miles warmly shakes his hand but irrepressible Daniel - who usually acts and speaks without thinking first - impulsively wraps his arms around Thor in a tight bear-hug. Jack and Francois take their lead from Daniel and embrace him too.

Thor is both surprised and a little embarrassed by their welcome. Nevertheless, he shyly responds to their friendly overtures by smiling as I keep him close by my side.

Miles introduces the fifth man, Michael Stewart to me as an attorney appointed by Judge Williams to oversee the raid on Lionel Schuster's premises and to stay with me until my court appearance tomorrow morning.

By prior arrangements, it had been decided that I will stay with Miles and the others at his home from where I'll accompany them to the court. Naturally, I have many questions I want to ask but the ever practical Miles tells me that, as the hour is late, we should return to the comfort of his home where he and the others will explain everything to me. I am curious as to what will happen to Simon Barrow, Lionel Schuster and the illegal slave-trader and I ask Michael Stewart what is to happen to them.

Michael tells me they will be taken to the cells adjacent to the courthouse to await tomorrow morning's appearance before Judge Fitzwilliam. He also tells me that Guy Maratier was arrested in a simultaneous raid on his home and that he too will spend the night in custody. Then, he tells me that the slave Norge - the ownership of whom will be restored to me tomorrow morning - is to spend the night in the cells as well.

I protest that I won't leave Thor on his own and if he is to spend the night locked in a cell then I will accompany him. Michael tells me I have no cause for concern and that "my property" will be well cared for in my absence. I bristle at his reference to Thor as mere property and tell him, should I regain my freedom, my first action will be to petition Judge Williams to grant Thor his manumission papers.

Michael tries to persuade me to allow Thor to be taken with the others to the court's holding cells. However, I stand resolute and insist that Thor and I will stay together either at Mile's home or in a court cell. The choice is his to make.

Finally, he agrees that Thor and I can stay together if Miles is willing to shelter him for the night. Failing that, we'd both be taken to the cells for what remains of the night. Miles, sensing that I won't be dissuaded, agrees to Thor accompanying me to his home.

It is now well past midnight with just a few hours remaining before dawn and Miles tells me there is still much to do and that there'll be no sleep for any of us tonight. He tells me we are to appear before Judge Fitzwilliam at 10.00 AM and there is much I need to know about my changing circumstances.

The truth is that I am too tensed up to be tired. But despite my acquired pessimism, I do allow myself to feel some excitement at the prospect of being set free. However, my experiences over the past three years have robbed me of both hope and trust and I'll need convincing that things are as they seem.


1 Comment

  1. erossb - March 28, 2024, 5:15 pm

    Got it the first time but am grateful I got to read it again, looking forward to the next chapter.

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