The Amulet Saga, Volume Three
The Silver Shores
We return now to The Silver Shores, to find out what has become of Reith and the other prisoners. Join me!
Reith woke to the sound of someone whimpering softly. Darkness shrouded the cavernous building and the scent of sweat and filth, though less pronounced than in the bottom of the ship, still permeated the air.
Reith’s own breaths echoed the halting gasps coming from the cell next to his.
The boy was even younger than Reith. Scarcely a trace of fuzzy hair decorated his jaw, even after weeks of not shaving. Reith’s own facial hair had grown into an almost respectable beard. Both barely more than children, and this was their fate.
Reith wanted to tell Eavon it would all work out. That someday soon he’d be back home, eating his mother’s fish stew and listening to his father play his lute before the fire in the evening.
But it wouldn’t. The great silver wall separated them from any hope of escape or rescue. They were to be sold as slaves. For all Reith knew, this cell would be a comfort to look back on later, when things got worse.
He gulped, willing himself to hold in a sob of his own.
A soft sound, like two pieces of silk being rubbed together, whispered across the room, slowly drawing closer until the swish morphed into footfalls on the hard floor. One of the other slaves? The ones left to guard them?
“It’s not so bad,” a male voice so quiet it was almost imperceptible in the still air spoke next to Eavon’s cell. “Tomorrow, you’ll get to bathe, and you’ll get good food.”
Reith inched closer to listen.
“Over the next few days, you’ll be given a number of tests to see what your skills are.”
Eavon stopped whimpering long enough to ask, “Why?”
“Master Tique can charge more if you have special abilities.”
“What kinds of abilities?”
“Anything, really. That’s what the testing is for.”
“How—what do I have to do?”
“It’s not something I can explain. You’ll understand when the time comes. But if you’re lucky, you won’t even need skills. Focus on your grooming and your appearance. Do the exercises and the baths. If you’re very, very lucky, you can catch the eye of a noblewoman. Being sold as a plaything will afford you luxuries few other positions receive.”
A plaything for a noblewoman? Reith’s stomach churned at the thought. What kind of barbaric people did such things?
The sound of the slave returning to his own corner of the room faded and Reith sat quietly against the wall, thinking.
He would have to concentrate very hard on the tests. Prove he had some special skills that would make him valuable. But what? What were they looking for? He could use a sword and fight with his hands. Perhaps he could end up a bodyguard. That would certainly beat working in a field or any number of other things.
He was also educated. Did they have need of scribes or mathematicians here? If only the slave had given Eavon more information on the tests. How to prepare. What they were testing for. Some way to achieve the results they were aiming at.
He sighed and curled up in a ball on the floor. One thing he wouldn’t do was focus on his looks. Anything but that.
The sun dripped in through high, narrow windows near the ceiling, softening the harsh interior of the warehouse with pale yellow light. Reith sat up and stretched. The others in the cells around him were beginning to stir, as well.
Reith looked at Eavon. Dirt stained his face where he’d been crying, but he looked otherwise peaceful, dozing in the corner. Would he survive? Would any of them?
The door slammed open, awakening Eavon and any others who weren’t yet upright.
Master Tique stalked in and stood in the center of the room. He nodded to the bare-chested slaves by the door, and they scurried over to unlock the cells.
“This way,” Master Tique said.
Reith joined the line of slaves that followed Master Tique outside and into a wide, triangular courtyard between three long warehouses. Strange contraptions were scattered around—things that looked like the beginnings of buildings, just the frames, but different heights and widths, some of them with metal bars joining them together or sticking out at odd angles.
Master Tique continued on to another building on the other side of the courtyard. Inside was hallway, lined on both sides by stalls, like horse stalls in a stable, but clean and hard and much smaller.
Master Tique indicated that each of the slaves were to enter one of the stalls. When they were all in, he said, “Remove your clothing and throw it in the hallway. On the shelf you’ll find soap. Wash your whole body and your hair.”
Reith obeyed. He found a small cake of soap on the shelf. But wash? How was he supposed to wash without—
A torrent of icy water flooded down on him from a tube that stuck out of the wall near above his head.
He gasped and tried to catch his breath. What manner of sorcery was this? How was such a thing possible?
He ducked under the spray and examined the tube from which the water flowed, but he couldn’t figure out what made it work.
After the shock wore off, the cold water actually felt nice. Refreshing. He let the water run over him for a few minutes before retrieving the soap and scrubbing. Dark streams of caked-on filth ran off him and joined the streams from the other men in a tiny river down the hall and disappearing.
He scrubbed until the water ran clean, then scrubbed some more.
“Rinse!” Master Tique’s voice echoed down the hallway.
Reith set the soap back on the shelf and stood under the flow of water until it stopped a few moments later. The bare-chested slaves trotted in then, each carrying a pile of cloth. One of them handed Reith a towel, and when he was dry, traded it for a pair of breeches.
They fit snugly. Too snugly for Reith’s comfort, but it was marginally better than being naked. The slave didn’t give him a shirt.
“Come,” Master Tique said.
Reith lined up and followed Master Tique back out the way they had come and into the courtyard. He was placed in a chair, and a slave proceeded to give him a shave and a haircut, including removing all the lice that infested his hair.
The third building surrounding the courtyard was a huge room with tables and chairs. He inhaled. Food. Rich food. The kind of food he hadn’t eaten since leaving home. His stomach rumbled, begging to be fed, and Reith hurried to get in the line that led to the front of the room where another slave served a heaping portion of stew into a bowl.
For the first time, Reith realized that he and the men who had come with him on the boat were not the only ones being prepared for auction. At least four other groups were clustered around the room, eating.
The slave who served the food gave him a hearty bowl and a thick slice of fragrant bread. Reith followed the others in his group to a table near the back and dug into the food. The meat was unlike anything he’d ever tasted. Heartier, somehow. As much richer than venison as venison was richer than beef. It was flavored with some sort of spice that burned his tongue, but had a distinct and somehow intriguing flavor despite the fire it left behind.
After he finished eating, he and the others were led outside by one of the slaves, who demonstrated how to use the various structures around the courtyard for exercising. Pulling up on the bars, balancing on the high, narrow boards, lifting heavy weights with arms and legs—everything in the courtyard was designed to strengthen various muscles.
Reith considered what the slave had told Eavon the night before. Perhaps if he didn’t work to improve his body, no one would want to purchase him.
He stood near one of the structures, touching it but not really using it, moving just enough to not draw attention to himself.
The cuff around his ankle started to itch. He tried to scratch underneath it, but the itching only got worse, growing into burning that began to spread up his leg.
His heart started racing as he recalled the demonstration of the day before, with the foaming and twitching. He shook his leg, but the burning only seemed to spread faster, reaching his gut now and making him feel ill.
“The longer you stand still the worse it gets,” one of the slaves informed him. The same one who had talked to Eavon the night before? Reith couldn’t tell for sure. “As long as you are working, it will feel fine. But when you stop to rest for more than a few moments, it will start again, worse than before.”
Reith grabbed onto the bar that hung above his head and pulled himself up. At least, he tried. He’d never been of superior strength, and a month locked in the bottom of a boat had done him no favors, but he pulled as hard as he could.
The burning subsided a little, draining from his stomach back into his leg. He pulled up again, this time a little farther than before, and the burning eased again.
He and the others spent the next couple of hours rotating around the courtyard, working their bodies. A few of the others tested the limits of the cuff and ended up writhing and vomiting, which was compounded by the fact that they could hardly move in that state, so the burning got worse until they forced themselves up.
When they finished, they were led back to the bathing stalls where a quick burst of cold water rinsed the sweat off Reith and numbed his sore muscles. From there, they were led into another room, this one with beds lining the walls all around instead of cells.
“You may rest until time to eat,” the slave informed them before disappearing back down the hallway toward the courtyard.
“Aren’t they afraid to leave us alone?” one of the others asked.
Reith glanced down at the silver cuff on his ankle. The memory of its burning caused nausea without the cuff having to work at all. “I don’t think they’re worried. I imagine if we tried to escape we’d learn very quickly not to.”