Taking A Stand

A second boot hit Beth in the ribs. There was no air left in her lungs to escape. She tried to curl into a ball, protecting as much of her body as she could. It only succeeded in exposing her back to a hail of blows from the wooden staffs.

“Not so brave now, are you?” one of the men jeered.

“Yeah,” another joined in. “I think she needs a man to protect her.”

All five laughed. One of them pushed Beth with the long staff he was wielding. She rolled over onto her back, the cold snow finding its way down the collar of her shirt. The man leaned down to her.

“So what you got to say for yourself, eh?”

She stared at him, holding her breath as his ale filled warmth washed over her.

“See, she ain’t got no fight in her.”

Still bent low, he turned to his friends and gave another laugh. It was cut short as Beth rammed one hand into his throat. The punch did not hold much power, but it gave her a chance to get to her feet as he staggered back.

There was a stand-off. Beth ankle deep in snow, fists clenched at her sides, breathing heavily and trying to ignore the pain, regarded the group. The cool night wind slipped from the trees picking up wisps of her auburn hair as it went by.

Four of the men regarded her with deep set eyes, three of them with hands tightly grasping the makeshift clubs they had brought. The fifth one, she remembered his name was Gerald, he worked as the apprentice at the blacksmiths in the village, still leaned on his pole, one hand holding his throat. None of them were over the age of twenty; all ten years her younger.

Beyond was the safety of her farmhouse, the door hanging open just as she had left it when she had come out to confront them. Light from the fire danced red and orange on the snow covered ground.

She thought about turning, trying to get deep into the woods where she could lose them, but the image of her father came to mind. All her memories were here. Playing with her sister in the summer grass. Sitting with her mother being taught how to braid hair. That had been before the wolves had taken the two women, before the dark pall had fallen over her father and times had grown worse. Now there was just Beth trying to make it all work. The only one left to run the farmstead.

Defiance built in her again, filling her body with a burning strength. “Is that what you’ve learnt at Perro’s forge?” she taunted the largest of the men. “Is it all you can do to beat on women?” Her eyes were narrow as she watched for a reaction.

Gerald straightened himself and turned to face her. “Perro taught me that women should leave the work to the men. Women are for the cooking and the rearing of children. There ain’t much else they’re good for, ‘cept all that and washing. They sure shouldn’t be running a farm.” He spat the last words at her.

“This was my father’s farm and his father’s before that.” She took a step towards him. “I have every right to it.”

“You said it. The farm’s been run by men not women. That’s how it’s always bin and you ain’t changing it.”

Behind him the four others shifted. Beth knew she was not going to win them over with words. There was real anger mixed in with the drink. She clenched her fists tighter and ran at Gerald, one arm pulled back.

He was a big man and heavy with it, but her speed bowled him over. As he landed on his back, the snow billowing up around him, Beth pounded with her fists as best she could. She brought one knee up hard and had the pleasure of watching his face screw up in pain. Then hands were pulling her back. One caught a clump of her hair. She was filled with too much anger to cry out.

A staff hit her across the chest, another dealt a stinging blow to her a knee. Then the boots came again. One kick struck her left arm as she tried to protect her face. There was a crack. Red hot pain shot up to her shoulder. For a moment she blacked out.

“Stop.” Gerald was standing again. The others did as they were told. “We don’t want her ruined so much no man will have her.”

“I’d have her,” one of the others said, his hand reaching unconsciously to his trousers.

“No,” Gerald told him. “There won’t be any of that tonight.” He turned away from Beth. “Burn the place down, then we’ll head back. She can crawl to the village.”

There was harsh laughter and grunts. Two of the gang disappeared inside the farm house, returning a moment later with lit torches and a lantern. They tossed them onto the thatch and grinned as the fire caught. Beth stayed still, her breath rasping as she lay on her back. After a moment they turned and walked away. One of them lashed out with a kick as he passed.

Minutes later the heat began to touch her face. Finally she raised herself up on one elbow and watched the burning building. Blood dripped from her mouth tainting the white snow.

She would not be leaving here. When it was light and the flames had died down she would clear the ruins and start rebuilding. She would never give in to them.

—————

7 August 2009:
Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein has waived her UN immunity to stand trial for wearing trousers in a restaurant in Khartoum, Sudan. The trousers are considered indecent clothing for women.

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