He gradually awoke to the sensation of swaying movement, and found himself in a large cart with others. The cart became a cage with wheels, hauled by two oxen and accompanied by a company of fifty mounted soldiers. He moved and this time everything swayed inside his head without additional external help. He groaned slightly. He was on the floor of the cage while four other men, obviously Ma’apone were seated on a crude bench above him. Tethered to the cart, Blade was meekly following. As he became more aware of his surroundings, he saw other cages ahead and behind with their burden of slaves, accompanied by riders.
“Where are they taking us?” he asked his nearest neighbour.
Before an answer could form on his neighbour’s lips, a harsh voice from outside the cage responded for him. “Oh, you’re awake, Owa’en! Well, you might say that we are taking you to a place where you’re going to make a fortune in silver.” He paused then added, “‘Course you’re not going to be able to spend it…”
A wheezy laugh came from another of the riders.
“…then again we thought that we’d spend it for you…” More laughter
His neighbour then said quietly what Owa’en already knew, “We’re going to the Silver Mines, the graveyard of the Bladowrete.”
Owa’en surmised that Malengus must have made double preparations for him: the escort to the outskirts of the city, and then the reception of other guards to make sure he made it to the Silver Mines. The Northern Silver Mines, to cite its full name, had its own mythology. Its reputation was well known even beyond Davarensrod as the place where slaves and undesirables came to experience a living death. If slavery itself was frightful, existence in the Silver Mines stretched fear, twisted and distended to a superlative of horrors. Life there even for the Davarenge guards was dangerous. They themselves were the very slime of Aedistamen. Assigned there because of poor conduct in the regular army, these guards eked out a miserable existence in the mines, a life made tolerable by one thing only; the conviction that others, the slaves, were under their absolute control.
“We need to make sure to introduce Owa’en to the Lady of the Deeps…Taymachan,” continued the wag who had mocked him earlier. His evil chuckle came in a wheezy staccato. “She’s always looking for a lover, isn’t she Radnus?”
Radnus gave a serpent-like imitation of slithery movement, accompanied by rolling, staring eyes and teeth parted in a mirthless grin, all the time managing to stay seated on his horse. Laughter rose up again from the riders. Radnus turned to his companion, Janus the wag, “Do you remember that last time we saw her eat that slave alive?”
Janus nodded and shivered in spite of himself.
The mines themselves were at least two hundred Seasons old. They were the only silver mines between the Western and the Tamenian seas, and the Davarenges enjoyed the monopoly. They were located about forty Marches north west of Davarenspay in the Coastal Range Mountains. In ancient times they had begun with horizontal tunnels that followed silver veins running through Hermit Mountain. Later Seasons brought deeper tunnels and vertical shafts extending to other mountains in a tortuous maze of lost caverns and deep halls. Near the ore-bearing mountains was the compound/stockade, which housed the guards and the slaves that were lucky enough to sleep outside the actual mines. Most spent their entire time in the darkness trying to fill the impossible quotas levied by the Warden. Even without the terror of Taymachan, they were constantly at risk: to sickness and disease because of the dust, and to injury because of frequent cave-ins in the poorly constructed tunnels and galleries.
They spent the night just off the main road north. No food or water was given them. The cage was their dormitory, their lavatory, and for one of the prisoners at least, a tomb. During the night he had managed to hang himself with a leather belt from the roof of the cage, his feet barely half a thumb’s length from the floor. It was the prisoner who had talked to Owa’en. Obviously, reflected Owa’en, he thought suicide was preferable to what awaited them all at the mines. In the early morning, the prisoners had alerted the guards and the dead man was removed.
“Maybe we can let you have some wine, Owa’en,” said Janus, laughing, who sounded as if he had finished any wine there was to be had. He continued to cackle and stagger around to the merriment of the other guards. In sharp contrast, Owa’en sensed a bubble of despair in the cage. The suicide was affecting them all.
Owa’en turned to his companions almost desperately, “What’s your names?”
“What does it matter now?” said one of them.
“It matters!” said Owa’en passionately.
“Do you know where you are going?” said the other with matching but despairing zeal. “Bancaden did the right thing taking his life.”
“No he didn’t,” countered Owa’en. “I don’t care where I’m going or how bad it gets, but I’m not going willingly. If death wants to find me; well and good. But I’m not going to go looking for it…”
Their debate was interrupted by a deluge of water splashing over them all.
“The water you requested, Sir,” said Janus, still laughing.
Janus’ jollity faded just a little to a drunken sneer. “Temper, temper little Lord!”
“What did you do to get sent here, Soldier?” said Owa’en. “Did you turn tail and run when the enemy charged? Or was it desertion?”
“What do you care, you Ma’apone scum!” spat Janus, his good spirits now thoroughly vanished.
“Ma’apone, yes,” said Owa’en in a loud voice. “I’m only here because of my race. You had to earn it. You’re the scum! Taymachan would probably spit you out of its jaws.”
Janus let out something between a roar and scream, seized a spear and tried to impale Owa’en through the bars of the wooden cage. The other prisoners cowered at the bottom of the cage trying to stay away from the business end of the weapon. Meanwhile, Owa’en danced this way and that, avoiding the drunken stabs of the guard. Finally, the latter thrust very close to him, catching him lightly on the side. Owa’en flinched but grabbed the staff of the spear, tore it back from Janus’ hands, then rammed the butt into the guard’s stomach. He doubled over, falling to his knees, retching into the sand. Owa’en then contemptuously threw the spear out of the cage on top of him.
By this time, the rest of the guards had surrounded the cage, including the commander who dismounted and ordered Owa’en out. Two other guards stripped him, dragged him to a tree, and tied him to it so that his feet were barely on the ground. Owa’en had seen the lash used often enough on the ordinary soldiers. It was not pretty to watch. Nothing could have prepared him for the experience of it. The pain was unbearable. As each stroke hit him, it drew screams of agony from his lungs. Instinctively, he started to count the strokes. Then, he lost count, each blow bringing greater agony than the last.
Even in the midst of his agony he heard Janus bellow, “Commander! Let me at him.”
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