The diamond moment was gone, the girl had passed, and under the driver’s whip I staggered to my feet and trudged after the slave in front of me, trying to keep the bitterness out of my head. If I could conjure up a golem out of nowhere and have it relieve me of just one chore, it would be the carrying. I hated it.
Oh, the physical part of it was bad, yes. The poles were cheap and slender, and they gnawed steadily into my shoulders with every step. Occasionally they’d break with an earsplitting crack and snap down on either side of my neck so fast that I had no way of stopping them until they’d slap into my flesh. I didn’t even know you could get blisters the size of the ones I permanently had on my hands and shoulders; callouses didn’t come naturally to my pale skin. The pull of the pole on the back of my neck left my whole body aching permanently and I knew that I’d already lost my upright bearing. I stooped like an old man, and I was barely more than a boy.
No, not more than a boy, not anymore. In the eyes of all the free men, I was a beast of burden.
Careful not to slow down, I shifted the pole slightly across my shoulders. My load was unforgiving, and unmercifully heavy, and it was the worst part. The two buckets of coal were filled to the brim and spilling any meant a sure lash across the bare back or calves, and soot blew into my face in the slightest wind. But that wasn’t why I hated this endless daily chore. Shaking my sweaty hair out of my eyes, I squinted upwards as far as the pole would allow, past the bent and broken head of the man in front of me, past the grime and sweat and toil of the slave line, past even the glittering citadel on the hilltop, and to the factory that brooded behind. Smoke poured from its ugly squat smokestacks, casting a shadow day and night across the city and across the country. And someday, I knew, that shadow would reach as far as my home country.
I didn’t know what the smoke and coal had to do with it, but I knew that other slaves – some of them mules – dragged load after load of glittering weapons out of that factory. All uniform, and all deadly; pikes, maces, battleaxes, ugly shortswords, and sometimes the massive siege weapons that could wipe out a battalion in a second. Those weapons were all going home – my home Kerrapydra, to finally overrun the last tiny kingdom that dared to take a stand against the mighty Veran Empire that had been built on the trade of human beings.
That was the worst part of slavery, worse than any of the little things my body had to endure. Every glance at my fellow slaves wrenched my heart a little harder, made my soul bleed a little more. This is what the Empire wanted with my people, with all people.
And I was going to stop them.
* * *
To Be Continued…
Inspired by the Daily Prompt.