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The ship creaked and swayed, groaning as it rocked to the pattern of the waves. Indigo’s hazel eyes traveled throughout the hold, wondering how fate could have thrown him this lot. The others slept fitfully, some mumbled, tossed or turned, all engrossed in their own dreams. He sighed, wishing that he could escape his troubles, if only for a few hours. His chains clinked together, a cruel reminder of why he was here. Captured by slaver’s to be put on the market, he thought to himself, what a fine warrior you turned out to be. He rubbed his chaffed wrists and wished it to be morning, at least it would be one day closer to seeing the sun again, and feeling the cool, clean sea breeze. Also a day closer to being sold, a voice whispered in his head. He shoved that thought aside, I’ll deal with it when I have to, he told himself firmly. He settled down, not expecting to sleep, but the last few days had taken a heavy toll on him, and so his eyes closed and his breathing slowed until he too was immersed in the land of dreams.
All to soon came the dreaded day. Indigo, along with the rest of the slaves, were brought up to the ship’s deck. Indigo shifted his gaze from the poor humans whose misfortune it was to be caught and forced onto this boat to the packed harbor, looked at the brightly painted ships and the great variety of people on them. The wind ruffled his light brown hair, and made his ragged clothes billow around his slender frame. It was almost noon, and the sun felt good on his tan skin. Then they were led off the ship and taken to a stage of sorts. The slaver captain started bellowing, trying to attract customers. Once the captors decided that there were enough people they started auctioning off the slaves. Indigo saw the former cook, who had been nice to him, be sold, along with the sour old man, and the one that had hogged all the food. Then it was his turn, and a hand was shoving him forward. He looked dimly out into the crowd, seeing only cold, unfamiliar faces.
“Heres we got a boy ’bout fourteen, skinny but in fine condition anyways. Hes got a knack with horses, would be a good stable-hand. Place yours bids!” growled out the slaver. Indigo stood there, shaking with fright. Why was he here? Everything that had happened since last week, and ever, had just gone from bad to worst. Having no real family, earning what little money he could working in crude and filthy barns, then getting grabbed in the middle of a street by slavers and thrown in a hold, being shoved about and having almost no food, marched to a marketplace and now, getting sold. Indigo’s memories were pushed back into the farthest recesses of his brain and he shook himself back to the present. He heard a few shouted offers of money, and then his captors were collecting coins from a woman in a blue dress with a matching bonnet and unlocking his chains.
“Come along boy!” She snapped, looking at Indigo. He stumbled forward, casting a terrified glance back to his slave-mates as he followed the women out of the market. Indigo rubbed his wrists, warily eyeing his new master, or should he say mistress. “You will be a stable-boy. You will follow every command that Mr. Danson gives you quickly and efficiently.” She recited primly, still walking very quickly.
“Who- Who is Mr. Dadson, Mum?” Indigo asked, unsure of whether he should even be talking.
“Mr. Danson is the stable-master. There are four other stable-hands. They will help you get adjusted. You will address me as Mrs. Holli.”
“Where are we going?” A million questions tumbled through Indigo’s mind, yet he could only get a few out.
“You will speak only when spoken to boy. No stealing, lying or fighting or else you will be back at the slave block.” Then she relented a little bit and said, “We are headed to the Hedgehog Inn.”
“When will we get there?” The question slipped out before Indigo could stop it. “Err, sorry Mu- Mrs. Holli.”
She sighed and tutted. “You must learn the rules boy!” Mrs. Holli warned. Indigo he thought, Indigo, not boy- is it really so hard to remember my name? He knew better then to say that out loud though. I’ll have to be a quick learner he decided.
They got to the Hedgehog Inn without further mishap. Mrs. Holli pointed to the stables, and then walked inside the Inn without a word.
Indigo stood there for a moment, wondering if he should try to run away, but his common sense got the better of him and so he crept to the barn and its familiar sights and smells. They calmed his racing heart and gave him enough courage to approach the hearty man that was brushing down a horse. “Ex-excuse me mister, but Mrs. Holli told me that I was to work in here…” Indigo’s voice trailed off, unsure of what to say.
“Well, what do we have here?” asked the large man, and he grinned. “ Aye! Come here mates, we got a new un!” He laughed as three boys and a girl came running in from various barnyard chores. Indigo stood there, speechless and very scared.
One of the boys came up and hung a friendly arm around Indigo. “Come on now, he’s terrified out of his wits! Be nice, the lot of you!” He said
“Right off the slave market if I’ve ever seen one!” A boy with freckles and light brown hair remarked.
The third, with sandy blonde hair and a pug nose, looked Indigo over and said, “Look at him, isn’t he the scrawniest thing you’ve ever seen!” Indigo stood there, not sure of what to say or do.
Then the man started to introduce everyone. “I’m Joe Dadson, this here is Jack,” he pointed to the friendly boy, “this be Freddy,” he pointed to the boy with lots of freckles, “that’s Carlson, and Katie.” He points to the pug nosed boy and the cheerful girl. “Now, what’s your name?”
“Indigo” He whispered, nervous and awkward in front of all these people that he didn’t know.
“Welcome to the Hedgehog Inn Indigo! Katie, why don’t you show him the ropes.” Katie nodded and then everyone went back to what they were doing.
“Come on, lets go!” Katie’s raven black hair streamed out behind her as she started racing around the stables, her emerald eyes twinkling with laughter as she gave Indigo a tour. “This is the feed room, we feed the horses at nine and six every day. You can give them apples from the bin, but not too many or they’ll be sick.” Indigo nodded, and she went on, “There’s where the guests will give us their mounts to look after, and that’s where we bring them once they are ready to leave...” Soon Indigo was well acquainted with all the barn jobs, and Katie was explaining how things ran at the Hedgehog Inn when a bell rang. “That’s the supper bell, let’s go to the kitchen!” Katie laughed and tugged Indigo’s arm, pulling him toward a door on the side of the Inn where delicious smells were coming from. Indigo was starting to get the impression that she always laughed, no matter what she was doing.
After supper all the Inn staff sat in the kitchen and traded stories, jokes, and riddles. Indigo was just starting to relax in this warm and comfy surrounding. Then, all to soon, everyone broke up to go back to their rooms and sleep. “Indigo, you’ll share a room with us, come on.” Jack said and motioned for Indigo to get up. Sleepily Indigo nodded, and followed the three boys to one of the Inn’s rooms with two sets of bunk beds.
“Sorry mate, but first come first served- you’ll have to take the bottom bunk,” said Freddy and he pointed to the empty bed. Indigo shrugged to indicate that he didn’t care, then he pulled off his shoes, rolled onto his bed and fell into a deep sleep.
Once Indigo figured out what was expected of him his days took on a general rhythm, and Indigo became quite adjusted to his new life. Then, on a day about a month and a half after he had arrived, Carlson came up to him with a grim look on his face. “She wants to Inspect you today” He said, his face pale. Indigo didn’t have the faintest idea of what Carlson had just said. Carlson realized that and started explaining. “Mrs. Holli gives each of us an Inspection once in a while, to see that we are doing our jobs right and all. Today it’s your turn.” He clasped a suddenly very pale Indigo on the arm, his face solemn. “Good Luck.” After that he walked away, feeling sorry for Indigo.
At the appointed hour Indigo met Mrs. Holli at the front of the stables. He gulped, hoping that she couldn’t see how terrified he was, but knowing that she could. “Well shall we get on with it?” She asked crossly.
“Y-Yes Mrs. Holli.” Indigo managed to stammer out. He went into the stables and brushed, saddled and bridled one of the guests horses. He managed not to drop any of the brushes, but he did buckle the girth on backwards. Once he had corrected his mistake he brought the mare out front to where the guest was waiting for her. Using his most polite manners, he offered the man his horse. “Your horse is ready, Master.” He said respectfully. Indigo held out the reins, and as soon as the man had taken them he bowed, tried to turn around on legs that had turned to jelly, and went back inside the stables. Mrs. Holli nodded, then told him to move onto his other tasks, which he did.
Indigo thought that the day was never going to end. Every mistake he made, every tiny detail that he didn’t notice, Mrs. Holli did. He was sure that she would remember every single one of them, and that made him panic even more. He fumbled when carrying the wheelbarrow, dropped a barrel of hay down from the loft, and then had to go retrieve it, red-faced. After, when exercising the horses, usually his favorite part of his job, he couldn’t get the lead-ropes to fasten, and somehow managed to get all the extra ropes tangled in a knot when trying to tidy up the barn. Finally, after torturous years of being followed by Mrs. Holli, she came over and addressed him, “I have seen enough, finish up your duties and report to me after supper.”
Indigo nodded, then realized that she was waiting for an answer. “I will Mrs. Holli.” He croaked out. Then she walked slowly and properly back to the Inn, and Indigo sighed an enormous sigh of relief.
Freddy and everyone came over and slapped him on the back, making jokes and acting surprised that he had survived his very first Inspection. “Aww, little Indigo is all grown up now that he’s had his very fist Inspection” Katie said in a baby voice.
“Ohh be quiet Katie- let Indigo enjoy what little honor he has left!” Carlson said teasingly, and pushed Katie, who pushed him back, and soon everyone was shoving each other and laughing and having a good time. Then the bell rang and Indigo’s joyful mood disappeared. He knew that he was going to have to face Mrs. Holli after he ate, and so he was glum throughout supper.
After supper was eaten, all the dishes cleaned, and he had delayed as long as he dared, Indigo dragged his feet to Mrs. Holli’s office and knocked on the door. “Come in” she snapped. Indigo hesitantly stepped in and was about to open his mouth to speak when Mrs. Holli cut him off. “Today was your first Inspection, and while you are still in the rough with some things…” She raised her eyebrows and Indigo turned red as he remembered all that he had messed up, “I have decided that you have enough knowledge and skills that you will be allowed to stay, and…” Indigo jerked his head up, thrilled that he was going to be allowed to stay, and apprehensive about whatever else she had in store. “and that I will free you, so you may work for me as a servant and not that of a slave.”
Indigo gasped, and stuttered “ Th-Thank you! Thank you Mrs. Holli!” Even in his wildest dreams he could not have thought that evil Mrs. Holli would free him and let him earn money. On a crazy impulse he ran over and hugged her, then scurried out the door. He didn’t know it, but Mrs. Holli smiled once he was gone.
Indigo burst into the kitchen with a huge smile on his face and told all the staff the good news. Everyone cheered and drank a toast to Indigo. The stories went late into the night, and the last thought Indigo had before he closed his eyes was how happy he was in his new life. Warm, fed, content, and surrounded by friends, he slept.