The Amulet Saga, Volume Three
The Silver Shores
Now, the time has come for Testing.
Reith stood straight, lined up with the others from his group, along with the other groups housed in other parts of the complex. He’d spent the last week working his body harder than he ever had in his life, strengthening muscles he didn’t know he had on the equipment in the courtyard. The cuff around his ankle started to burn if he was idle too long, but he had not been mistreated.
After exercising, he was led to the stalls where cool water poured over him, and after that a slave massaged his sore muscles with fragrant oils. He was fed twice a day with generous portions—plain food, but hearty. Stews with meat and vegetables, thick brown bread, poultry and greens. Nothing sweet or rich, but all of it filling and tasty.
Now, he looked and felt better than he had in months. Possibly even better than ever in his life. Eavon had transformed from a scrawny, shuddering boy into a healthy, confident young man. Reith had never seen such a change so quickly. Was it the food? The exercise? The magic? Whatever the cause, he would fetch a high price at the slave auction.
The thought sickened Reith.
And what of himself? Would he, too, fetch a high price?
Master Tique paced slowly in front of them, his hands behind his back. He’d hardly been by except for a few minutes to check progress since the first day, but now he inspected each slave closely, as a man would a horse. At long last, he stopped and faced them. “Today you will be tested. When we find your aptitudes, you will begin training in those areas specifically. The more aptitudes you have, the better your chances of a comfortable position. Testing is most efficient if you are calm and relaxed. Take deep breaths and do exactly as you are told.”
With that, he waved toward the door to the building where meals were served. A row of men in dark red hooded cloaks glided out of a side door. Priests of some kind? Mages?
Reith suspected the latter.
They dispersed among the slaves. There were fewer mages than slaves, so Reith stood still against the wall, waiting.
A few moments later, a mage came up to him and put a red gemstone into a little notch in the ankle cuff. He stood and pressed his hand against Reith’s forehead and closed his eyes.
Reith’s heart began to speed up. What was he testing for? What would he tell Master Tique? Would Reith be destined for a life of hard labor in a field? Or, worse, as the plaything of a rich noblewoman? What other options were there? Cooking? Building? Or things he couldn’t even fathom in this strange, exotic land?
The mage hummed softly, and a warm tingle spread through Reith’s body from the mage’s fingertips down to the cuff on his ankle.
Hard labor would be most preferable. At least then he’d be outside, working with his hands and body. He hoped fervently he had no aptitude for any of the other skills or functions that the inhabitants of the Silver Shores might find useful.
After several minutes, the mage silently removed the red gem from the ankle cuff and walked on to another slave. A second mage approached and performed the same ritual, this time with a green gem. The third used an amber stone, the fourth a blue. The fifth was a purple stone, strikingly similar to the brilliant amethysts that were the national gem of Legerdemain.
A pang of homesickness shot through him. The purple gem glowed faintly for just an instant before fading back to its natural gleam.
The mage frowned and repeated the process.
Reith tamped down all thoughts of home. He had no idea whether the mage could read his thoughts, but he would not let them know how much he missed his home, his family. He clenched his teeth and stared straight ahead, forcing his mind back to thoughts of fields of golden wheat and his muscles hardening, his skin turning bronze in the sun.
The mage touched his forehead and sent the tingle through him three more times before finally removing the purple gem and walking away.
At last, the mages all lined up a little way across the courtyard and Master Tique walked up and down the line, examining them.
That was when Reith noticed the others all had gems still in their cuffs, each of them emitting a glow, some brighter than others but all more than could be attributed to the reflection of the sun.
Every other slave had at least one gem in his cuff, and some had several.
All of them except Reith. No gems adorned his cuff.
Master Tique stopped in front of him and gestured toward the cuff. “What is this?”
“He showed no aptitudes,” one of the mages said.
“None at all?”
“None that could be tested for.”
“Is that even possible?”
“It has been seen on rare occasions.”
Master Tique turned to Reith. “More’s the pity for you.”
Over the next week, when he wasn’t exercising, Reith was put to work doing base chores. Scrubbing the chamber pots—which wasn’t too bad since all the filth was washed down a drain—scrubbing bathing stalls and floors, washing laundry, cleaning out the holding cells where he and the others had been put upon their arrival, and more. Others from his group were assigned to different chores. Eavon was learning the art of massage, a few were in the kitchen helping cook, and several were around the courtyard learning woodworking or metalworking or other crafts.
Being a chambermaid or field hand was hardly the most glamorous of futures, but it was solid, honest work, and most importantly, none of his skills or education would go toward helping those who had kidnapped and enslaved him.
He might die a slave, but he would still be free.