Only the excruciating agony of the knout slashing across the naked velvet of her shoulders was real to Anna Drancy. The pain shot through her back. It froze her graceful legs. Her sobs became screams.
She felt the brutal tug at her bound wrists as she stumbled forward, almost careening into the muddy ditch by the side of the road. The heavy ropes which circled her breasts and waist held her only a few scant inches from the evil smelling ooze of the Caucasian swamp.
The Murid rider leaned far out over the flank of his mount. The lash swirled over his head with a whirring sound. It shot out once more, crashing against the small of Anna’s back. The weighted barbed tip dug a furrow through what was left of her delicate shift. She felt the stickiness of her own blood coursing down, the plump mound of her hip.
Rage enveloped the French woman. It overcame the suffocating terror. Even as she sank to her knees, she tossed her lovely head in defiance of her tormentor.
Hadji Mourad reined the horse. The stallion pawed the empty air with its front hooves. Anna felt herself being jerked upward. She slammed against the horse with a terrible force. The binding ropes seemed to be sawing her in half. Then she heard Hadji Mourad’s maniacal laugh grating against her ear. She felt his taloned fingers clawing away the straps of her shift. Her legs kicking in futile protest, she was hoisted across the broad and sweating back of the stallion.
The horn of the saddle dug into her belly. She squirmed wildly, not heeding the delectable and erotic action of her hips and thighs and their inflammatory impact on Hadji Mourad.
“You will learn!” Hadji Mourad promised. “You will learn well!”
Behind their leader the rest of the Lesghiens strung out. Anna Drancy heard a shriek of unendurable agony. She caught a glimpse of Princess Nina’s nearly nude young body being dragged through a swiftly running stream. Just short of being drowned, the golden haired princess reappeared on the bank. Her arms, which had been tied securely behind her, were almost wrenched from their sockets by the lurching of the horse which towed her.
The column passed Hadji Mourad at a gallop. Each rider carried his prize in a very special and very brutal way. Anna Drancy was amazed to be able to view the hideous proceedings with a sense of detachment. Even the severed heads with the blood still gushing from the mutilated neck arteries did not cause her to faint. The horses’ saddles decorated with the amputated hands and feet of former victims were so bizarre that Anna Drancy could not accept them as being real.
But they were real. Terribly real. So had been the sudden attack on Tzenondali. So had been the sounds of butchery as the Murids had quickly dispatched the male servants. So had been the sounds of the invaders’ boots crashing against the hard wood staircase until the stairs had splintered under their weight and the baltrade had come crashing down with a roar.
So had been the experience of being dragged out into the manicured gardens of the royal country estate and being stripped of her gown and petticoats by the Murids.
She had flailed out at Hadji Mourad with her own tiny fists. She had clawed at him and kicked him until he had dragged her to the ground.
And now she was bound helplessly across his saddle, racing on the back of a horse to a hell which she could not imagine. And behind her rode the members of the royal family, now looking more like the martyred slaves of a bestial conqueror.
At 25, Anna Drancy was as lovely a woman as had graced the great concert halls and ballet performances of Tsarist Moscow. But life had not been good to her. She had married early. A divorce followed. In her memoirs, she did not clarify her reasons for leaving France in favor of the city of Tiflis in Russia.
The Georgian venture of running a French library had failed. Call it pride at not wanting to return to her parents or a thirst for adventure, Anna Drancy gave no thought to leaving Russia. Instead she became tutor and governess to the lovely young daughters of the King of Georgia.
Fate now stepped in to call the tune. For years the Murids had tried to wrest control of Georgia in the name of Islam. But they had been thwarted in their attempts. Imam Shamyl, the Murid’s intrepid leader had watched his armies bled almost dry. The war had seemed hopeless.
Then Russia’s foreign enemies struck in the Crimea. The Turks and the British mounted heavy attacks. Tsar Alexander sent out frantic calls to his nobles to rise to the defense of the motherland against the foreign invaders. The call was heeded and the countryside was stripped of its manpower.
Shamyl picked this moment to strike. He desperately needed hostages to trade for his son who had fallen into Tsarist hands. What better way to obtain them than to send his trusted lieutenant, Hadji Mourad against the estate at Tzinondali?
Throughout the blazing heat of the day, the Murids galloped towards the horizon. Nausea gripped at Anna’s belly. Numbness set into her bound limbs. Although she could not see her wrists or ankles, she knew they must be swollen from the constant chafing of the ropes. When she tried to lift her head, Hadji Mourad placed his knuckles against the nape of her neck and ground the tender flesh.
Anna closed her eyes and prayed.
At nightfall, the riders reined their horses to a stop. Gratefully, Anna felt herself lowered to the ground. She even managed a smile of appreciation when Hadji Mourad loosened the knots.
She lay huddled on the blessed dampness of the grass, trying to recoup her strength. Despite the suffering she endured, she was able to make little mental notes which she later included in her journal. It surprised her to see that there was no real community life among the Murids. Each acted independently of the other. Each considered the captive who had ridden with him as his own personal property. The women were not penned up together. Nor were they allowed to communicate.
It is said that youth has the strength to adjust to any surroundings. This may be true. Anna Drancy was able to overcome the chill of the night air on her naked body. Soon the pain of the returning circulation eased and all that was left was the throbbing where Hadji Mourad’s whip had scourged her back. She dozed off into a dream filled sleep.
It came to her first as a disjointed nightmare. Some huge and hairy beast was crouched over her. Its hot and disgusting breath surrounded her. Heavy hands plucked at the remnants of her clothing.
Her eyes flew open. A shriek of terror froze in her throat. Anna Drancy convulsively jammed her knee into Hadji Mourad’s groin. They rolled over each other. Her Murid captor clawed at her naked thighs. His fingernails gouged her flesh as he sought to spread her legs. Anna Drancy bared her teeth and sank them into the Murid’s throat. She tasted the warm saltiness of his blood under the matted hair of his beard. But like a wolf who is protected by a heavy neck ruff, Hajid Mourad shook her off. Now he gripped her wrist, imprisoning it in his fist. A poker of pain shot through her shoulder. She gagged on her scream.
Anna’s knees scraped over the sharp pebbles. She saw the thick tree trunk. She felt its rough bark scraping the tender flesh of her breasts and belly. She struggled wildly.
The damnable ropes circled her wrists. She was being dragged upwards. Her toes stretched to their utmost, trying in some way to make contact with the receding earth. The strain on her outraged arms was intolerable as they bore her full weight.
But even this was forgotten a second later when the knout cracked across her naked hips. Anna Drancy’s lithe body jerked spasmodically. The branch to which she had been tied creaked under her straining weight. Its sound was blotted out as the lash tore once more at her.
When Hadji Morad finally cut her down and took his ease with her, the French governess did not resist.
For the women of the bestial caravan, time became a reddened, agony-filled blur. They were to learn how terror and horror can mount with every succeeding day. They were passed from the hands of the Tchetchens to the hands of the Lesghiens (Imam Shamyl’s most savage shock troops).
Anna Drancy’s mind grew dull with the horrors which were perpetrated upon her. And always there was the threat of what was to come on the morrow and what the final terror would be when they reached the aoul of Shamyl himself.
Anna Drancy began to piece little phrases of the foreign tongue together. The Imam had a seraglio where women were kept as virtual slaves. There were no rights. There was no freedom. Here a beautiful girl could live out a lifetime of drabness punctuated only by the lash and the bubbling oil which was her lot if she displeased her captor.
The fierceness of the tribesmen grew as they neared their destination. The women were alternately whipped, dragged forward by their bound wrists, savagely beaten by the hammering fists of the Murids and made to do the vilest and filthiest of chores.
But the approach to Shamyl’s aoul filled the Lesghiens with a growing religious fervor. Anna Drancy was at least spared the rapine lust which had visited her before in the night. The horseman who now urged her on with his singing whip showed no interest in violating her femininity.
Anna was to write later, “They were indeed a strange breed of brutes. They were horribly evil. They reveled in pain and debauchery. Yet the wicked things they did were done as if by naughty children. But rather it seemed because it was a way of life to them.
“Once I recall being viciously lashed. Moments later, my torturer pressed a tiny flower into my hands and retreated. His face was wreathed in smiles.”
The terror became completely unendurable as the caravan entered the Tower of Pohali.
Anna Drancy saw the squares of black cloth. She knew that the end must have come. Black was the color of death. Certainly the squares which were being fitted over the golden tresses of Princess Nina and her sister must indicate the ultimate in punishment.
But the Murids made no further move until a tall rider walked his horse slowly between them. Then they bowed down until their turbans almost scraped the dung from the courtyard.
Shamyl, Imam of the Murads had arrived on the scene. Terror clung to Anna’s heart. The man’s eyes were hypnotic as he surveyed his prizes. His features showed no expression at all. If he were considering a torture death for the women of the infidel, he revealed nothing of it.
Shamyl gave an order to his aide. Then the Imam slashed at the flanks of his black stallion. A cloud of choking dust covered the women as their captor rode out of the courtyard.
Thus did the women of Tzinondali arrive at the aoul of Shamyl. Now the day to day agony of being cooped in one small room without the barest of sanitary facilities was upon them. Incarcerated as they were, they were driven almost to the point of madness by the continuous sing song chant of the Murids at prayer.
When Princess Nina was led out of the seraglio to be taken to Shamyl, Anna Drancy and the others shivered for her. As the hours went by, they conjured up the most hideous of images. Anna Drancy could see the beautiful young girl being stripped of the voluminous pants and short jacket which had been her prison garb. She could see the half naked Murid torturers closing around the trembling princess.
She could hear the rattling of the chains as they were attached to the girl’s wrists and ankles. Now her vision showed her Princess Nina dangling head downward over the simmering cauldron of oil. She could almost hear the bubbles bursting into an ugly scum on the surface of the huge vessel. She imagined the princess shrieking her pleas for mercy as she tried to swing her body from side to side to escape the searing heat.
Her flitting mind changed the scene for Anna. Now she had replaced the princess in the torture chamber. Calloused hands reached out for her to strip her clothing. She was lifted high in the air and carried to the huge rack which stood in the center of the room. The ropes encircled her wrists and ankles, stretching, dragging, pulling until the sockets of her shoulders and hips cracked with the strain. They were heating an iron brand. The hissing metal was coming toward her. She tried to shrink against the unyielding surface of the rack. The torturers anticipating her action. They leapt to the great rollers. The strain on her limbs increased. Her back barely touched the boards. As she watched, the brand was lowered across the softness of her exposed belly.
The mental torture which Anna Drancy’s imagination spawned for her had no basis in fact. Whatever his legions had been, Shamyl was not a blood lusting brute. He had an infinite respect for womanhood. Although he saw nothing wrong with the harshness with which his captives had been treated, he took no delight in rape and torture. Princess Nina returned to the seraglio unharmed.
To Shamyl, the women were a means towards an end. Perhaps their lovely young bodies could be used in barter for the return of his own son, Djemmal-Eddin.
Throughout the heat of summer and the lowering skies of winter the negotiations went on and the women continued their existence of terror. They were tortured by rumors. Shamyl was losing patience. Soon he would turn his captives over to the tender mercies of his Naibs (royal followers). Once this was done, the princesses and their French companions would know degradation and torture such as few women had ever experienced.
The Murid women who were jealous of the captives reviled them with accounts of the hideous lusts of the Naibs. Anna Drancy’s sleep became ruptured with the all-too-real dreams of the future.
Just at the point where her nerves threatened to snap, Anna Drancy heard the music of a Russian military band. She ran to the window to see a long column of Russian troops entering the aoul. At their head rode Djemmal-Eddin. The exchange of hostages had been completed.
The French beauty finally returned to her native country to live out her life in a drab anti-climax. Never again was she to be touched with such high adventure. The other members of the cast of the drama moved towards their ultimate appointment without ever having crossed paths again.
Shamyl, called tyrant, brigand, torturer, nobleman, made his peace with the Tsar and died in dignity in 1871.
Anna Drancy was given a pension as a post mistress of a small French town. She died in 1864.