Tang Te sat quickly on the ground and watched the young man cry. Bris sat on a nearby bale of hay after gently pushing Quella to sit on the stable floor. “I don’t know what I was thinking.” He sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I didn’t realize that day in the blacksmith’s. While we were working on the stable I felt real lucky we hadn’t succeeded. Happy even.” Quella shook his head. “And I lied to Gygr. I was taken as a slave when I was a child.” Tears fell onto his cheeks and he brusquely wiped them away.
Bris took in a breath, shrugged and stared at the now shaking Quella. Tang looked at the old gladiator. Quella glanced quickly at the older man then at Tang Te. “I want to help you free them. Not just Gygr, all of them.”
“Why should we trust you?”
“You mean other than the fact that I know which mine she’s been assigned to?”
“Yep. Let’s start with that.” Bris stared at the man, folded his arms across his chest and waited.
By late morning dark clouds had quickly moved in from the north and the caravan suddenly found itself in a deluge. Rain was a rare occurrence in the desert and it was dangerous. The accumulated water did not have a chance to be absorbed into the hard earth. It rolled into the washes which filled quickly, the water rushing in the narrow confines of the banks lifting rocks, scrub and any other debris that was not deeply rooted, into boiling torrents that raced through the natural canals only to overflow across the sun dried hard dirt. The group heading toward Number One was caught off guard. They had been crossing a wide wash when a gigantic wave of water swept through taking with it everything in its path. The sound was an assault on their ears. To Emilie it was like thousands and thousands of horses were approaching shaking the earth beneath her feet, pounding through her insides. Even the air was heavier and seemed to press against her body.
The caravan had been making good time until the storm hit. The two wagons had been the last to cross a wide shallow wash and the horses were struggling to pull the huge wheels of the cagewagon up the embankment, the supply wagon just behind it, when the sound of the thundering water reached them. “Everyone run,” Ngano yelled as he spurred his horse urging the people to hurry away from the banks of the wash. He turned just as the water hit the supply wagon, the force pushing it down the raging torrent, the horses unable to hold their footing being carried with it. The cagewagon, being heavier, held only seconds longer, but finally the raw force of the waters going at incredibly high speeds carried it away as well. Anguished cries from horses, drivers and the two unfortunates in the cagewagon were barely heard over the roar of the waters crashing down the many washes.
The rain continued pounding what remained of the convoy. The group hustled ahead, frightened guards urging them on until they came to the bank of another wash filled with water, tumbling and swirling, pulling dirt from weakened banks into the tumult. Overhead thunder cracked followed immediately by lightning. The guards and their captives cringed and from the corner of her eye Gygr saw another flash strike the bit of a guard’s horse. The animal stiffened and convulsed then fell, it’s body burned and smoking. The guard lay several paces from the animal his boots smoking. His armor while good protection in battle was just the opposite in a lightning storm.
“Get your armor off,” Ngano yelled to his men, unbuckling his own and throwing it onto the ground. “No metal, take off all the metal.” The man yelled as he began unsaddling his mount tossing the saddle to the side as well.
Gygr watched in utter surprise as his men followed suit . When they foolishly began throwing their weapons to the side as well she dashed to the nearest sword and motioned her fellow captives do the same. It didn’t take long until the captives had subdued their guards and held them at bay. “You won’t get away with this,” Lumor who had been the only one to keep his weapons with him, yelled and finally tossed them aside.
“Who’s gonna stop me?” Gygr hissed.
“Yeah, who’s gonna stop us?” One of the others stepped forward and struck the captain across the cheek with the hilt of the knife he held.
Gygr grabbed the man’s arm and gave him the most evil stare he had ever seen. “Don’t touch anyone,” she hissed. “Everyone sit down until this storm lets up.” She turned and strolled to the outside of the group. “Jerome, Kosta gather the horses.” The men moved quickly to follow the order. It didn’t take long since the last thing any of the guards would have set aside in this wasteland was his mount.
The rain continued but everyone knew there was nowhere to go with flooded washes both in front and behind and the certainty that there were many more all around them. Gygr felt the safest course of action at this point was to wait. The lightning had passed and she saw it was now way to the south. Everyone was cold but pleased when the much lighter clouds and even some blue sky slipped in from the north, coming slowly, but definitely moving toward them. That’s the way with desert storms. They come and go quickly. The damage is fierce and often devastating.
By late afternoon the waters had been either absorbed into the parched desert ground, evaporated or settled into the washes and lower areas. Already brown scrub looked greener. Small animals began to foray out of their burrows looking for sustenance.
Tang Te, Bris and Quella stood on the dock in Port Misery and decided to split up to gather more supplies and three extra horses to use as pack animals. Deciding who could be trusted would have to be set aside until someone made a move that jeopardized the rescue effort. By the next morning the three were on the road to Hyr and eventually Number One. Although a bit nippy in the early morning the sun had heated up the desert and the men found themselves stripping to the waist to enjoy the warmth and gentle, if intermittent, breeze that would evaporate the sweat and cool them. All three men had the tanned bodies of having been outdoors and in the elements most of their lives and it served them well on this journey.
The former slaves had eight horses to share between eighteen people. All had weapons of some kind, knife, sword or both. The guards were relieved of their boots and Gygr had appropriated the whip and rode Lumor’s horse with Emilie behind her.
When the water finally receded enough from the washes to make them passable, Gygr and her band continued toward Copus leading the guards before them.
“So, what’s your plan,” Lumor walked beside Gygr and looked up to her.
“Not sure yet,” Gygr looked toward the far off hills that housed the mines of Number One.
“We’ll hunt you down.” The captain almost sounded sorry, “we have to.”
“You’ll do what you have to do.” She turned her mount, said a few words to Jerome then heeled the horse faster away from the group. The warrior stopped about half a league away and inspected the area carefully.
“What are you doing?” Emilie looked around and tried to discern what they were going to do.
“We have to eat.”
Emilie nodded, “Okay.”
“See that?” Gygr pointed to her left.
“The holes Emilie, they’re burrows.”
“Oh. Yeah.” She nodded smiling. “You’re gonna hunt?”
“Gonna to try real hard.” The warrior slipped off the horse and helped Emilie down then removed some strips of leather from the saddlebag. “Got these leather strips off Ngano’s saddle.” She stooped to the ground and picked up a small pebble and showed it to the young woman. “Find me more this size.”
As Emilie searched for more pebbles Gygr folded one leather strip in half and pressed the middle with her thumb stretching it out until it made a small indentation into which the pebble fit nicely. “Sit down beside my legs and don’t get up,” the warrior swung the sling over her head and snapped her wrist releasing the pebble directly in front of her. It hit a branch of a scrub bush and snapped it cleanly. Satisfied with the accuracy of her shot she carefully approached the burrows.
Emilie had a half dozen pebbles in her hand and passed them to the woman. Gygr examined the tracks around the burrow. “Desert rabbit.” She looked at Emilie and smiled, “should make a nice meal. First we have to find more rocks.”
The two women scavenged the area gathering small rocks and pebbles and dropping them into a pile. “Now throw the bigger rocks as hard as you can into that scrub,” she nodded toward rain-greened desert scrub. Emilie selected the largest rocks and began throwing them as she was directed while the warrior swung the sling over her head. It didn’t take long for a long eared rabbit to fall victim to a deadly aimed stone. It took some time, but finally they had nearly twenty wild hares.
Jerome and the rest of the party had stopped when they reached the warrior and young woman. Two men began skinning and preparing the meat to be cooked while others collected what they could to build a fire. The guards, whose feet were bruised and bleeding, were thankful for the rest and overjoyed to learn the group would spend the night right where they were.
The desert cooled quickly when the sun went down and everyone tried to keep as close to the fire as possible. Because of the leg manacles none of the former captives could wear boots. Even so they had forced the guards to go bootless to limit their ability to escape. Part of the group liked the idea that the guards suffered just as they had been forced to at the beginning of the journey.
Emilie and Gygr sat apart from the rest of the caravan and cuddled to keep warm. The warrior had appropriated Lumor’s cloak and they used it to cover themselves. “Gygr,” Emilie looked up to the woman who sat beside her.
“What are we going to do when we get to Copus?”
“We’re going around Copus.”
“Oh.” Emilie shivered.
“Yes. Just a little.” The warrior held her closer and rubbed her arms to help generate warmth.
I like this feeling. I guess she got out of Nicopolis. She’s been so quiet. Scared probably. “Warmer,” she looked into the young woman’s eyes. Green. Did I notice them before. Seems like years ago.
“Yes, thank you.” Emilie lay her head on her own arm and yawned. “Are you going to kill them?” She closed her eyes.
The warrior turned her head to where the young woman lay. “Nah. Just going to use them to negotiate our freedom. Unless they do something stupid.”
“Night Gygr,” Emilie’s body relaxed beside the warrior who realized the girl was already asleep.
“Night Emilie,” she whispered and tucked the cloak around the small woman to keep her warm. The warrior settled her arm behind her head and looked into the clear black heavens. Stars glowed and twinkled above.
Morning brought with it the sun, light clouds and a warm breeze. The caravan continued its journey having adjusted course to bypass Copus. The going was slow because of the blisters and cuts forming on the feet of the barefoot former guards. Although the warrior tried to kill enough game to feed the entire group, as the days went by, it was becoming more difficult to fill everyone’s stomach.“Bris, what are the lights in the night made of?”
“I don’t know Little One.” The two lay on a soft bed of new summer grass and stared into the night sky. “Some say they are made of diamonds.”
“Diamonds?” Sevent-year old Gygr scrunched her face trying to envision diamonds in the heavens. “Diamonds need the light to make them sparkle Bris. Where’s the light that makes them sparkle?”
“Maybe the light is inside the diamonds.”
The child lifted herself on one elbow and stared at her friend and mentor. “Bris that’s silly. Diamonds don’t have light inside them.”
“Maybe the diamonds in the sky do have light in them.”
“No,” she lay back again, “no I think it’s something no one ever thought of before. And when someone does think of it everyone else will say, ‘of course, why didn’t I think of that,’ and will be embarrassed.”
“Little One maybe you will be the one to think of it.”
“No,” the child yawned, “I think whoever does hasn’t been born yet. Night Bris.”
“Night Little One.”
Gygr heard them long before anyone saw the dust the horses kicked up in the north. “Soldiers,” she whispered to Emilie.
“Soldiers from Number One. Probably wondering why we’re overdue.” Gygr heeled the mount to the top of a hill and saw the large dust cloud slowly approach them. “Tartarus,” she turned and hustled to the small group who were continuing at a slow pace and ordered them to stop. “We’re going to have company,” she stared at the Nicopolians. “What do you want to do?”
“What do you mean what do we want to do? We don’t want to be slaves that’s for certain.” Jerome held the sword tightly in his fist his knuckles white. “Let’s fight.”
Kosta put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “what are our options?” He looked to Gygr.
“We can give up and end up in the mine.” She looked at Jerome, Kosta and the others then to Lumor and his men, “we could offer to trade them for our freedom, but I don’t think that will work.” She turned and looked at Emilie who sat very still behind her, “or we could fight and die.”
Emilie still held the warrior around the waist, “do you think we’ll be punished if we give ourselves up?” The look she gave the warrior showed no fear for her own safety.
“I think if anyone is punished it would be me. I did start it.”
“We should fight.” Jerome thrust the sword up raising it high. “I don’t want to be a slave for the rest of my life.”
“If we fight we’ll be slaughtered. These guards were easy to overpower,” she motioned to the guards who sat out of hearing range, “but the rest are Jauka’s soldiers. Trained soldiers. We would be as much a challenge as flies.”
“So what do we do?” Kosta shrugged his shoulders.
Stamos stood looking up at the four as they talked over their horses heads. “Gygr’s right. She would be the one who would be disciplined.” He looked at the woman, “and it will be very unpleasant.” He turned and looked at the captives who had gathered, “but Lumor probably won’t hold anything against the rest of you. If we fight those who live will beg for death. I’ve seen it before. And if you should happen to win there’s no place to go. All the towns are dependent on the mines. Only once has a town harbored a runaway. They paid with their freedom, those that survived the torture.” He patted the neck of a horse and slowly turned away. “Whatever you decide, I’ll be with you. I don’t like being a slave but I don’t appreciate the alternative either.” Stamos dropped his head and walked away.
“Let me speak with Lumor,” Gygr dismounted and helped Emilie from the horse. She looked around at the others who dismounted as well and settled around a hastily built fire.
“They’re coming aren’t they?” Lumor didn’t even look up.
“And you want to negotiate a . . an agreement?”
“What do you want?” He looked at the warrior who now sat cross-legged beside him.
“Not going to happen.”
“Freedom for them then,” she absently picked up a pebble and rolled it between her thumb and forefinger.
“I don’t have that authority.”
“You’re the commandant. Who’s to say they didn’t die on the way here? Who would question your report on the loss of the wagons and these people?” She nodded toward the depressed group who now sat beside a small fire.
“I’ll go back with you. But the girl is freed.”
“Gygr,” Emilie whispered loudly.
“Shut up Emilie,” she gave the girl the fiercest look she had and Emilie visibly paled, then turned to Lumor. “Do we have an agreement?”
“No.” Lumor stood as over a hundred soldiers galloped into the camp and surrounded the group. “Like I said,” he frowned, “I don’t have the authority.” He turned to the soldiers noting weapons had already been confiscated and manacles and collars were being placed on the slaves.
The final leg of the journey to Number One was uneventful. All the manacled captives could think of was the impending punishment they would incur. Soldiers and guards didn’t spare the whip or truncheons and to their surprise Lumor did nothing to prevent or even mitigate it. The guards knowing who had initiated the attempted escape took every opportunity to demean and demoralize Gygr.
Number One was the largest of the mines, the most efficient and the most profitable for Jauka. The tunnels into the hills continued for leagues, twisting and turning as new veins were located and followed. The continuous procession of units slowly moving from the mouth of the tunnels, carrying baskets of earth to the sluice boxes, which sat beside washes. The baskets were dumped into the sluices and the units returned for still another basket. Basket after basket, hour after hour, day after day human pack animals did their mind numbing work.
At the sluices more slaves broke up the hard dirt as others poured water down the sluice. Bucket after bucket to separate the valuable gold from its hiding place. Emaciated bodies stood beside those of still strong ones. The newcomers watched as a group used their hands to dig what would become a reservoir to hold rainwater for use by the sluices. Hundreds of hands dug into the hard desert earth, bodies bent, knees and fingers bleeding, eyes never looking up.
Mud buildings housed the soldiers, the kitchens, the supply house and the accumulated gold waiting for shipment to Jauka. The new units were stopped and gladly sank to their knees exhausted from the forced run of the final two leagues.
Bris, Tang Te and Quella found an inn in Hyr. The recent rains had made traveling treacherous and exhausting. The horses needed rest as much as the men. Until they assured themselves they were not runaway slaves, the townspeople were wary of the three. The men had decided to pose as merchants from Alaistria who were bringing goods to Doria in the hopes of expanding their trade. Once the citizens of Hyr assured themselves these new merchants had not escaped the mines their fears melted like an ice sculpture in the summer.
The three Alaistrians called themselves the Alaistria Merchant Company and discovered their faux business boomed. “If I’d have know being a merchant was so easy I’d have done this a long time ago,” Quella smiled.
The men had brought what they had thought would be necessities offered everywhere, pots and pans, cloth, thread, seeds for various edibles, and farming tools. What they had no way of knowing was these same items were scarce in Doria. The residents of Hyr, being mostly former slaves who had won or bought their freedom were not allowed to travel from Doria and Alaistrian merchants had stayed away from the island supposing profits could not be made in such a desolate country.
The towns that had popped up around the island, Hyr, Copus, Tillymoss, Pilon, Llang, Kolosek, Fok, and Knaub were filled with former slaves and soldiers eager to start a new life. Jauka’s soldiers were paid regularly and were eager to spend their singli on everything from a comfortable bed to a new pair of boots. They splurged on dinners and drink and celebrated with women who were eager to sell the only thing they had to put food in the mouths of their children.
The economy of Doria was strong. With laws preventing anyone but soldiers and approved visitors from leaving, made the island itself just another prison. Compared to the mines the towns were nicer, more palatable, less threatening but still a prison. The members of the Alaistria Merchant Company, which they came to calling Almeco, saw the potential.
“We’re here to get Gygr,” Bris stressed to the two other men, “not make a killing as merchants.”
“Why can’t we do both?” Quella could feel his palms itch.
Tang faced his old friend, “he’s right you know. We’re going to need money to get a ship so we can leave here. There’s no way we’ll get anyone through Port Misery or Doak.” The men sat at a table in the back of a tavern and spoke quietly as they ate. The young former gladiator continued, “we have no idea how long it will take to get them out. Tartarus, Bris, we don't even have a plan.” He held the older man’s wrist, “we know where she is. Let’s set up everything before we make a move.” They spoke well into the night and decided on three things. First they would build Almeco into a profit making business to pay for a ship to get everyone back to Alaistria. Second they would begin making the rounds of the mines to assess the security under the guise they could open small outlets and finally they would begin with Number One.
All the new units were assigned to digging the new reservoir. The rainy season would be coming within a month and Lumor wanted the additional water available so he could add several sluices. Gygr had been the only member of the new group to be punished for the aborted escape attempt. Lumor had left the punishment decision to Ngano who turned out to be a very creative man in addition to being a very ambitious one.
For Gygr it was an unfortunate combination. And for Gygr the hardest part about the punishment came when she was reminded that Emilie would share it with her. The unit was into the second week of punishment sharing half the food ration and forced to work until both literally dropped from exhaustion. When they both dropped the two were locked into a small cage open to the heat of the day and the cold of the night beside the reservoir under construction. When they awoke the two were welcomed with thin porridge and more work until exhaustion overtook them once again. The punishment was to last six months. Gygr worried that Emilie would not survive since she felt her own strength and energy rapidly being diminished. After seven weeks the reservoir was completed and the group was moved into the tunnels to dig into a promising vein.
Gygr tore a strip from what remained of her tunic and tied it over Emilie’s mouth, “that will keep the dust out of your lungs,” she smiled.
“How ‘bout yours?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m used to this.” Gygr continued pulling dirt from the wall and packing it into baskets that would be picked up by others and taken to just outside the cavern. There the baskets were taken to the sluices. It was a never ending cycle. Gygr did most of the digging allowing Emilie to rest as much as she could. The girl had lost so much weight she could barely function. Gygr became worried when a light cough the young woman had developed began to worsen until her entire body shook with each agonizing series of coughs. They were no longer allowed into the fresh clean air of the outside and Emilie worsened. Gygr dug, filled the baskets, fed her partner, and held the young woman while she slept only to be awakened by the blows of a guard who’s sole duty was to make sure the warrior never slept.
“I want to speak with Lumor,” Gygr stood before the guard.
"Captain Lumor does not speak with slaves.” A quick swing of the truncheon caught the warrior across the shoulder. She quickly grabbed the man by the neck and squeezed until he dropped the weapon. The man squirmed, “you’ll be flogged for this.”
“Let’s talk with Lumor.” She stared into the man’s panicked eyes and looked at the young woman who lay on the ground beside her. “Pick her up,” she tightened her grip then loosened it, “gently.” Holding the hapless guard by the neck she led them to the front of the cavern where other guards surrounded them. Walking was difficult with the chain still around Emilie’s ankle. “I want to speak with Lumor.” She watched as one man separated himself from the group and disappeared outside.
The commandant, followed by a score of soldiers, approached the cavern and saw a guard holding an unconscious young woman with Gygr beside him, his neck surrounded by her large hand. “Gygr,” he nodded to the warrior.
“She’s sick Lumor, she needs to see Stamos.”
“Get Stamos,” Lumor quietly nodded to a guard. “What do you want me to do about this?”
“I want you to take care of her.” She squeezed the guard’s neck and he winced almost dropping Emilie. “I’m the one who deserves the punishment and I’ll take anything you can give out, but not her.”
Stamos rushed toward them and stopped. With a nod from Lumor he approached Emilie and lifted her from the arms of the still terrified guard. The physician turned to Lumor who glanced at the young woman in his arms, “take care of her.” Two men settled an anvil beside Gygr’s leg and using a chisel broke the manacle from her leg. Stamos turned and after a quick look at Gygr left. “Okay. She’ll be cared for.” He sat on a chair a soldier hastily brought. “Now what?”
“Nothing,” Gygr released the guard and was immediately grabbed by several soldiers.
Lumor held up his hand and waved them away. “Nothing?”
“Nothing.” She dropped her head, “do what you want with me, but I’d like your word of honor the girl won’t be harmed.”
“I don’t have to promise you anything Gygr But I give you my word she won't be punished.” He stood and approached the warrior. "You realize this little indescretion invites futher punishment."
The warrior straightened her shoulders and looked into the man’s eyes. Slowly she felt the exhaustion, the hunger, the pain in her shoulders, hands and fingers and lowered her head and closed her eyes. "Yes." Lumor saw the shoulders drop in capitulation. “I’d left your punishment to Ngano.” The commandant nodded to the lieutenant who stood at his side, turned and left.
Ngano stood before the woman. “Oh, Gygr, Gygr.” He sat in the chair Lumor had vacated and flipped a truncheon in his hand smiling.
Gygr stood before the sanctimonious piece of dog shit.
“Gygr, the Captain doesn't always know what goes on in camp.” Ngano lifted her chin and they made eye contact. "Understand?" She nodded. I want your word you will not cause any more trouble. "If you do, well . . ." He shrugged. "Understand?"
Gygr understood the threat to Emilie. "Yes master." You are a dead man Ngano. Better get your jollies while you can.
“What’s going on there,” a merchant asked the soldier beside him.
“Gygr is being punished.” The young man laughed. “She’s a new slave here and she tried to escape when they were bringing the new group in. Ngano knows how to get what he wants from her.”
Bris watched incredulously as his old friend licked the boots of some cocky young lieutenant who sat before her.
“Come on I’ll take you to see the commandant,” the soldier turned and Bris followed, his last glance at Gygr nearly made his heart stop.
“Very nice Gygr,” he patted her head, “feed her and have her cleaned up.” With that the lieutenant walked away from the cavern and toward his own quarters.
“You wish to open an outpost here?” Lumor raised his brows.
“Why not? Right now your men buy in Copus. We could set up a small store here and visit every fortnight. We have agreements with leather craftsmen and smiths and others to handle just about anything your men could want.” Bris smiled at the commandant. “And my partners are in Alaistria as I speak arranging for a larger shipment into Doria. We will be able to supply your camp with just about anything it needs.” That at least was true. Quella and Tang Te had an export office in Panadol arrange agreements with merchants around the country.
“My men might appreciate that.” Lumor thought. “But they also want access to women for recreation.”
Bris didn’t know how to respond. “I thought they had that here with the uh . .”
“No. Not at this mine. They do at the others but I forbid it here.” The commandant rose from behind his meager desk and faced the window, “we’ve had too many women give birth. We’ve no facilities to take care of babies and small children.”
“I understand,” and Bris really did. Hard to dig gold with a baby at your feet or in your belly. “I really hadn’t thought about it.” Bris what are you thinking? “I’ll have to discuss it with my partners.” He stood and the men clasped each others arms. “I’ll get back to you in a fortnight Captain Lumor,” the merchant smiled.
Gygr was taken to the infirmary. After returning with the slaves Stamos had persuaded Lumor to allow it be built when he needed a place to help the guards whose feet had become infected. Now it housed several slaves who’d come down with a fever and Emilie who lay unconscious on a pallet in a corner. Lumor had allowed Stamos to train two slaves to assist him and they now relieved the guards of the tall warrior. “You cause problems you know what the recourse will be,” she was released with a sneer and a slight push by a young soldier.
Stamos motioned the woman to sit on a stool and began examining her.
“How’s Emilie?” The warrior's throat hurt.
“Not good.” The man cleaned the warrior’s wounds starting with the raw skin around her ankle from the leg chain. “I’ll do the best I can. Just wish I knew more about healing.”
“I thought you were a physician?”
“No. I was an apprentice when Jauka came through looking for more bodies to fill his army.”
“This is the infirmary.” A guard strode through the door followed by the merchant Bris. “This man is going to set up a merchant outpost here.”
“Thank you Gliystramicus,” Bris looked around the room, “I’d like to have some time with the physician if I may.”
“Sure. I’ll be back later.” Gliystramicus smiled to Stamos, “take care of him. Our captain likes him.”
Bris and Gygr locked eyes. The old gladiator and the woman nodded to each other understanding the silent communication from the other. I’m fine, she’d said. We’re working on a plan, he said. Stamos smiled to the visitor and spread his arms indicating the room. “Welcome. If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them the best I can.”
Bris stood over Emilie, “what’s the problem with this girl?” Bris dropped to one knee beside the pallet and examined the young woman. “She needs water and food. And lots of rest.”
“You must be a physician,” Stamos raised an eyebrow.
“No. But I know something about the healing arts,” he looked again at Emilie and his heart rose to his throat. “This one has been without food for a very long time.” He glanced at Gygr, saw tears fill her eyes, but the man knew they would not fall.
“It’s my fault,” the warrior whispered hoarsely. “I was supposed to take care of her and I failed.”
“What is passed is past.” Bris settled his eyes onto the warrior. “She does not need recriminations of yourself.”
“Exactly.” Stamos turned to one of his helpers, “Listra bring two bowls of soup.” He motioned Gygr onto a pallet and the helper gave her a bowl. “Eat.”
The warrior wanted to drain the bowl into her mouth but sipped instead. The sudden sensation of food in her stomach almost made her loose it. She watched as Stamos dribbled broth into Emilie’s mouth and stroke her throat to help it go down. He took his time and after half dozen spoons lay her back down to continue her long needed sleep.
The guard returned for Bris who promised to return in a fortnight to continue negotiations with Lumor. His heart was heavy realizing Gygr was in for some vicious times ahead but he was relieved his friend was alive.
The warrior finally finished the soup and slept on the pallet until two soldiers came for her. Ngano had enjoyed the afternoon and promised himself entertainment deserving his rank. Gygr would work out just fine. The man smiled to himself. Oh, yeah. Just fine.
Clean and with a bowl of soup in her stomach the warrior felt better as she was led to Ngano’s quarters. Her body still ached from the beatings but she’d finally seen Emilie awaken and take more soup. The young woman had actually smiled to her before falling into another deep sleep. I’ll do anything to keep her safe. Anything. Gygr didn’t quite understand why she felt so protective of the girl. Because of Bina? No. Because she’s an innocent. Because she doesn’t deserve this kind of life. Because I failed her. I failed them all. I will do anything. Then I’ll kill them all.
Ngano caught the smile before it disappeared and thought it was for himself. This should make it easier. He wasn’t quite sure what the protocol was for entertaining what would become his entertainment, so the lieutenant decided to start with a meal. Yes. She’d enjoy some good food after the slop she’s been eating. But this one has to learn her place. “Remove your clothes,” he said when she was shown in.
The woman did as she was told. The guards laughed at her discomfort and she settled her face to show no emotion. I can do this. Anything. Ngano turned and dismissed the men as he sat in a large ornate chair that did not look at all comfortable to the warrior. He wanted to unbutton his pants and get right to it but instead he waved her to the table. “Fill two plates and bring them here.”
The woman selected the same fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meats for each plate and moved toward the pompous officer. She sat at his feet as he motioned and began eating when he told her to. The food was delicious but she ate slowly hoping not to incur the wrath of a long too empty stomach and was pleased that she was able to clear the plate. She felt better already. Maybe with a few more half decent meals and some rest she’ll be able to recover more of her strength.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes master,” she played the game and lowered her eyes. Anything.
“Do you want more?”
How do I answer? “May I take some with me master?” Now that doesn’t sound too bad.
“Yes, yes. Of course you may take all you can carry.” Ngano’s eyes widened. This is going rather well, I think. He unbuttoned his pants as nonchalantly as he could. Next time have her do it. “Please me.” He’d spent hours trying to figure out exactly what to say and when the time came this was all he could force from his tight throat.
Gygr, holding down the rage building within her, delicately parted the cloth. She licked her lips and then parted her legs revealing herself to him. Ngano almost choked. Emilie. Anything for Emilie. Her fingers dipped between the folds of the pants where his organ stood erect, bulging and throbbing in anticipation. Gygr lightly circled the tip with her forefinger and flicked her tongue along the sides. Ngano groaned and closed his eyes. Gygr watched his neck veins throb as his pulse increased. She toyed with him exciting the man to the point that he begged for relief.
“Gods,” Ngano was hoarse. He wanted her to fill her mouth with him.
“I would like to be able to visit . . . uh my friend every so often,” she stroked him and played her tongue over his cock until it hardened again. “. . while she gets better.” She heard his breath come in gasps. “Do you think . . ,” she lightly licked the tip, “that might . . ,” then she stroked firmly from bottom to tip, “be arranged?” She took him into her mouth and felt the man shudder his release going down her throat.
“Yeah . . . uh sure,” he moaned. As he slept Gygr ate and got some sleep herself. When he awoke she pleasured him again. At dawn she was taken to visit Emilie then to the tunnels where she again dug with her hands. Ngano had her again that night and after a time her days were spent digging in the tunnel and her nights entertaining Ngano. Sometimes he would invite others whom he wished to impress and the warrior would go without sleep on those nights.
Even though she was eating better and more food the lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with Gygr. When she was caught not moving fast enough the guards exacted their own punishments with the truncheon or whip.
Lumor knew about the uses Gygr was being put to and chastised himself for allowing it to go as far as it had. When Bris had returned to continue the negotiations the commandant knew he’d found his way out of the dilemma.
“Ngano, you can no longer use any slave for your own or any of the men’s personal pleasure.”
“But there is no chance of her bearing a child.”
Lumor frowned, “I will not have slaves used in such a way at this mine. Is that understood? I don't want to have to reprimand you."
“But, . .” But what? He’s the commandant. “Yes sir.”
“Good. Then the woman will be returned to the tunnels.”
“Yes sir.” Ngano cleared his throat, “about the punishment if she fails to follow the rules . .”
“That is still yours to determine and when necessary administer.”
She’ll pay for this. If I have to start paying for women she’ll start paying as well. Ngano returned to his quarters and started thinking of ways to keep Gygr in her place.
Emilie was doing better. She’d gained weight and strength and although she spent the nights in the infirmary she was assigned to the less strenuous job of carrying waterskins for slaves to drink from. Emilie enjoyed the job. It allowed her to visit with old friends from Nicopolis and every once in a while with Gygr inside the tunnels.
“How are you doing?” She watched the warrior nearly empty the skin.
“Fine. How ‘bout you?” Gygr began digging again under the watchful eye of several guards.
“Much better.” She lowered her voice, “Stamos told me what happened.” The young woman dropped her head and a tear fell to the dirt at her feet, “I’m so sorry Gygr.”
“Hey,” the warrior turned and emptied her hands of dirt into the basket beside her as she glanced at her friend. “Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself.”
“Yeah.” Emilie chuckled, “so I hear.”
Gygr stopped a moment, “what’s that supposed to mean?”
“No . . nothing.” She turned, “I have to go now,” and slowly walked away offering water to others on her way out of the long tunnel.
Bris, Tang Te and Quella sat in their room at the inn and discussed the plan. “All we have to make sure of is we have enough food and we have enough time.”
“How many are there?”
“Seventy to a hundred depending on if there are patrols out or men on leave.” Bris took a long swallow of the cider and shivered. Gods what I would give for a cold mug of ale. When this is over. “I suggested to Lumor we give a dinner for his officers and some of his men for the official opening.” He wiped his hand across his lips.
“Last time I saw her she was in the tunnel digging. She’s lost weight and strength but I can’t tell what’s going on in her head.”
“No one can tell what’s going on in that head,” Tang popped a piece of cheese into his mouth.
“Emilie is better.” Bris turned to the young former gladiator and smiled, “she asked about you.”
“She’s afraid Gygr will kill you next time she sees you.” Bris smiled then laughed, “I assured her that would not happen. And she said she forgave you as well.”
“So when is it set for?” Quella emptied his mug and refilled it from the pitcher on the table.
“Six days from now. We should have everything ready by then.”
Ngano stood and watched the woman dig and fill the basket with dirt. She never seemed to slow down. Once a basket was filled a slave would remove it while his mate placed an empty one in its place. She filled more than two for every one any other slave filled. He watched as she drank from the waterskin brought by a slave and was disappointed that she failed to ask where her friend was. The lieutenant had made sure Emilie no longer went into the tunnels to offer water to those slaves. He’d hoped the warrior would ask about her, but she took the waterskin, drank and returned to work without saying a word.
“One-seven-three-four,” Ngano jerked his head when she turned, “follow me,” and led her from the tunnel outside. The sun had set and Gygr shivered from the sudden cold. The tunnels were stifling and the change in temperature made her lightheaded. It had been drizzling all day, but the warrior followed the man to the newest reservoir which now contained some water. “See the sides,” he pointed to the banks where dirt slowly slid into the interior, “build them up again.”
He watched the woman climb the bank and step into the water, which reached just above her ankles, and began to scoop mud and pat it against the banks. It was a never ending battle. As the rain came down harder the banks loosened and more dirt tumbled into the reservoir. “Make sure she keeps at it,” Ngano ordered a guard, “I don’t want those banks crumbling into the water any more than it already is.” The guard nodded and the lieutenant strode toward his quarters where he could be comfortable watching Gygr while he sat dry on his porch.
The rain came down harder with each passing hour and it wasn’t long before Gygr was chest deep in it trying to bring mud from the bottom and tossing it on the top of the bank. It was a loosing battle and the warrior knew it for what it was. Punishment. She knew the plan was to keep her there all night in freezing rising water. Anything. Anything. Anything. It became her mantra. The guards changed and the moon rose and still the woman worked, bending, scooping, patting, bending, scooping, patting.
It was only by accident Lumor happened by and asked the guard why this slave was performing this ridiculous task. “Get out of there,” he finally ordered. Gygr was near exhaustion and tried to climb out of the reservoir but the sides kept falling in. Finally the guard was ordered to help pull the woman out. The bank was so loose and wet the man slipped and fell into the pond. He was pulled under when his heavy boots got stuck in the mud and he flailed his arms trying to extricate himself. “Gygr, he’s drowning,” Lumor yelled.
Gygr turned and looked for the man. The rain was coming down so hard it was becoming difficult to see very far. She waved her arms and moved her legs under the water until she felt the man then took a breath and disappeared underwater. Lumor watched as guards came running at his orders. “Get something to wrap them in when they get out,” one man immediately ran to obey the order. “You." He grabbed a young soldier, "tell Stamos what’s happening and make sure to be ready for them,” then pushed the man toward the infimary.
Ngano seeing the commotion from his porch donned a cloak and strolled to the scene. “Where is the bitch? She’s supposed to be rebuilding the walls.” Ngano’s fury was evident.
“She’s underwater trying to save a guard.” Lumor looked at the lieutenant with disgust. “Consider yourself relieved of duty.”
Just then Gygr sprang to the surface holding the guard under his arms.
One man tossed a rope to the woman who wrapped it quickly around her forearm
while she lifted and settled the unconscious man more comfortably in her
other arm. She was pulled to the top of the bank where the guard was taken
from her arms and both hurried to the infirmary, skins hastily thrown over
Copyright 1999 by Frances
All Rights Reserved.