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煤 ま み れ の 騎 士
Chapter 1 – Part 9
Whither the waggons whisked the little girl was a city of stone.
From the idyll of the fields and forests, and into the metropolitan maw of Man; there in the fangs of the fiefburgh was she caught, her fate it was to be made a slave.
But not immediately so, no. Deals had to be done. Prices had to be promised. Not yet was she set and sold.
In the meantime, she was instead shackled and sent to the cages of a concentration camp. A cold and unkind place where her kin and kind were kept, to await whatever ill reckoning may come—whether it be death by cruel treatment, or a life of enslavement.
Meagre scraps of food were afforded to her. But it was beyond the girl’s broken will to muster up any sort of appetite. Yet ate she tried, for fear of being served a meal of a different sort. One of fury, of foul affronts.
Certainly, the soldiers there were loath to keep even one Nafíl alive. Only, their pay coursed from margrave’s coffers, which filled all the more fully as he cashed out the captives to the slavers.
Thus was the girl not a cur to be culled, but a commodity to be kept intact—to the barest adequacy, that is. With their wages on the line, the soldiers spared this “product” of her early death whensoever they had a mind to punish her. In times when she ill-stomached her meal, they would whet her appetite with the whip, livid lashings sent to slash her back.
It was not long before they found her to be attuned to the covenantal magicks. The discovery threw the soldiers into a flying fit of rage, for to be so ungainly gifted was injurious indeed: her prospective price was now but a pittance.
As punishment, fists and feet were driven into her belly, till she collapsed onto the cold stone floor, vomiting what little sustenance she had ably swallowed.
But to do so was alike to not having eaten it at all. Thus another punishment was in order. The Men, with their wrath unravelled, thrust torches onto her thighs.
There, she writhed.
A sight most sorry—ostensibly enough to soften the soldiers’ veins, for they soon quit the cell.
In it, she was then all alone, left to weep the days away. A gaol most dark, where echoed the girl’s grief forevermore.
But there was a soul within the soldiery who acted not like the others. One of many turnkeys keeping the peace in the prisons, the guardsman seemed the sort to sympathise with the girl’s plight.
“Well, er… Yer sis be alive still, yea?” he revealed quietly, “…‘ang in there, if not fer the lass, at least.”
With that, he went about his way. The Man, forty in his years, perhaps, apparently kept the girl’s elder sister, too, under his watch. Hence any occasion where he crossed the girl’s cell was also an opportunity to glean from his yet lukewarm heart the condition of her sister—of the sole vestige of her dear family.
By his words, the sister was haggard and unhale, a young woman wasting away. Only, she yet had the will to partake of her meals, and that was hope enough.
The moment the girls first entered the concentration camp was the moment they were torn from each other, to be locked up in separate cells. By then, the little girl had lost all strength to raise even a whisper of protest. So it was that she could do naught but shed tears, watching on as the soldiers sent her sister away.
The days since then were a long and enduring darkness, empty of aught but pain and punishment.
And of worry.
Indeed, much of the girl’s waking hours were spent deep in thought for her sister. In the mire of such uncertain circumstance, what could she do but worry? And so worry she did, on and on, of what might befall upon her dear sibling.
This was always so for any member of her family. In each of them was instilled a selfless sympathy for the other. Perhaps truest for the girl, ever a child who thought more of her family than of herself.
More than once did such compassion compel her to speak to the soldiers, but their answers were always of cold violence.
The sole exception being the foresaid guardsman.
In him, she sensed some possibility of discourse. Thus she mustered up what meagre courage remained in her heart, and enquired him of what fate awaited her sister.
And sure enough, what moved were not his fists, but his lips, quietly.
“Same as ye, methinks. A war-slave, she’ll be, made t’do ‘er master’s biddin’.”
A thoughtful silence followed, in which was found the Man with his eyes cast wistfully.
“I’ve got a lass o’ me own, I do. Weren’t more than ten ‘fore she went t’serve a lord,” he spoke again. “Mm… ‘ow many years it’s been, eh…? I’ve not seen ‘er since. She be doin’ all right, I wonder…?”
And with those words, the girl was left alone once more.
At the end of many sunless days, it was at last decided where the girl was to be handed off. Not more than a week now till a slaver would come to collect her.
News of unknown portent, most certainly. On-duty during the night it was given was none other than the pitying turnkey himself.
“Not sure if this’ll brighten yer day or wot, but…” he broached, before relating to the girl of further news: that she and her sister were to be reunited and sold off together.
A light, then, the girl felt.
A light within all the dark.
Faint, yes, but one lit at last.
No day was without pain. No day was without suffering. No day was without sorrow. But her sister was still alive, and that was reason enough to endure them. To keep the family’s memory. To breathe the life given to her.
For her one and only remaining bond.
For her warm and loving family. So dear. So dear.
She had lost enough. No more could she bear.
Whispers within the dark. Tears within the solitude.
Ones different from before.
Oh, to be together again.
Only two now, but together nevertheless.
“…Well. Good on ye, eh?”
From beyond the iron bars, a warm smile.
“Oi, alga! Out with ye!”
An epithet earned from the peculiarity of her captivity. A soot-steeped girl, hiding in the earthen hearth of her home, only to be dragged out by the hands of Man.
The air still rang from its utterance as Men dragged her out yet again, this time from her sunless cell and out to the sunlit grounds. A morning scene to herald her purchase.
The girl wended the way barefoot, with shackles at her ankles and wrists, and naught but rat-eaten rags as her raiments. To the camp’s service gates was she led, pulled along by chains at the hands of the soldiers. There, she would have to wait. The slavers had yet to arrive.
Restless was her gaze as it glanced about.
Her sister was nowhere to be found.
In the midst of the confusion, she spotted the Man of pity. Their eyes met, and so she thought to speak to him.
“Shut yer trap, runt!” howled her chain-handler.
“Now now, brother, s’all right. We talk’d ‘bout this,” soothed the gentle guardsman.
“Ah? Wot, she the one, then?”
Knowing looks. Knowing nods. The Man then turned to the girl.
“Worry’d ‘bout yer sis, yea?”
The Man thrust forth his thumb, pointing to a corner of the concentration camp.
A hollow was dug there.
At its edge was something set to be thrown into its depths.
“A grave pit, that is,” the Man explained. “Jailbirds that’ve ‘broken their wings’—well, that be where they fall, the lot o’ them.”
No eye could mistake it for aught else.
A mass grave, with not a gravestone to mark it. And the “thing” to be thrown into it—naught but a corpse.
The corpse of her sister.
“Burial’s a mite lateーperish’d a long while ‘go, she did. The pneumonia got ‘er right good. Never got better, ‘course.”
The girl trembled.
“Wot? Not that nither’d out ‘ere, is it? Oh—yer sis? Hah. Yea, ‘er bein’ well ‘nough, an’ gettin’ sent off with ye—a funny lil’ lie, is all it were.”
She stood. All but stood.
“Can’t ‘elp meself, ey,” the mummer of a Man smiled. “Gaol-watchin’s bugger’d an’ borin’ work, it is. Gots t’do somethin’ t’pass the time, yea? Thass why me an’ the lads, we like t’prank ye prisoners sometimes, heheh.”
“Hah! Hahah! Oh, always the cruel one, ain’t ye, brother!”
“That some mighty fine mumm’ry it were, man! If I were more a fool, why, I’d say ye was quite the lonely pa! Wot with all that ‘daughter’ rubbish!”
“Yea, me: a bastard bachelor o’ a ‘pa’! Hah!”
Their japery. Their jeers. All but a faraway fuss to the girl as she stared at what was once her sister.
Just a single glance.
A single one.
And she knew then and there the immovable truth.
That the body no longer harboured within it a wisp of life.
Her sister was ever fair, with her complexion of pastel tawn, and a warm smile ready at a moment’s notice to brighten the girl’s day.
Always had she given time for talk and play.
Always had she listened with a gracious grin.
Always was she a loving sister.
Until that moment, where she was but a limp and lifeless figure, blackened by a ruthless blight, silenced by dreamless sleep.
Until that moment, when she was tossed into the dim of the pit.
The world was then shadowed.
The girl’s heart was then broken.
Thanks for the chapter.