The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 3

The Theban Trilogy Cover
The Theban Trilogy Cover

The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 3

By Tony DeLorger © 2011

CHAPTER THREE

‘THE SLAVE CAMPS’

In the darkness of the cells, little could be seen, with a few fire torches high up on the stone walls bringing only a dim light to the vast cave area. The disturbing sounds of coughing and groaning from the sick and exhausted workers were all that could be heard, and in the holding cells life itself hung on precariously by a thread. The beginning of each day was marred by the Morlon guards who removed the bodies of those who had not survived the rest period, and there were always many. The slaves were mostly Undines of various kinds and they relied on water more than any other creatures. Deprived of it, they became weak and less able to endure the heavy work and treatment that they were receiving.

Work gangs of ten or twelve were chained together with heavy iron shackles placed around both ankles. The conditions in the large open cells were horrendous with hundreds of souls in each of them, with little food or water and no hygiene at all. The odd bucket here and there was to facilitate their toiletry needs, but without bathing or without any consideration for hygiene, the stench in the cells was almost unbearable and the dank, cold stone floors didn’t help.

Seated uncomfortably against a small stone ledge sat Sinnor, a young nymph that had been captured a few days earlier. Next to her an older male sat hunched over, his hands cupped limply over his face. His name was Ellor. As exhausted as they were, it was almost impossible to sleep on the icy cold stone. With their stomachs empty and cramping and their muscles aching, they tried desperately to find a comfortable position. There simply wasn’t one, and here they were again about to face another day in the mines and neither of them could muster the strength to even speak.

Suddenly the cell door swung open and as several Morlon guards entered the sharp clanging sound of the metal door resonated in the vast open space.

‘Get up!’ one bellowed, as he moved through the cave kicking and shoving the poor creatures and forcing them to stand. They painstakingly connected each of the gangs into continuous chains, ready for the long march into the mines. Several nymphs lay motionless on the cave floor, either dead or too sick to move. The Morlons poked at them contemptuously then getting no response, they removed the shackles and rolled them aside. One of the guards cracked a long leather whip and the sad procession began.

From the cells the slave labour marched through the encampment, past the stone walls of Mangarna’s chambers and on to the main entrance of the mine, two hundred feet away. Slowly and without heart or energy, they trudged down a steep incline that lead them deep into the heart of the mine. As the light disappeared behind them, you could see the tops of their heads, bobbing up and down in the dim torchlight. The sound of their coughing echoed through the tunnels as the dust and lack of fresh air began to take affect. The rhythmic clinking of the chains and the shuffle of their feet were almost mesmerising, only broken by the occasional cracking of whips to keep them moving. Then three hundred feet inside the tunnel, a voice echoed from further up the line.

‘Holt!’ it snapped, and the lines stopped in their tracks. Sinnor hung her head, waiting for the guard. Some moments later he approached, crouched down and unlocked the chains.

‘This way!’ he demanded, pulling her and the other ten souls on her gang toward their working area. The Morlon, holding a torch, dragged them roughly through into a new tunnel that opened out into a chamber about fifteen feet across. He placed the torch in a hook on the chamber wall and began to give out the picks that they would use.

‘Get to work!’ The workers moved drowsily forward.

‘Get to work!’ he repeated emphatically, pushing Ellor off his feet and into the wall. The workers nervously crouched down and began chipping away at the rocks. The guard with arms folded, watched their work for a moment, and then satisfied with their progress left the chamber. When they were sure he was gone, they fell back against the cold stone wall and rested, occasionally striking a rock to keep the guard happy.

‘Are you all right Ellor?’ whispered Sinnor, her voice shaking.

‘I’m all right,’ he replied with anger in his voice, slowly pulling himself to his feet.

‘I’ve heard they’ve captured an Artec,’ she said in a quiet voice, the others turning their attention to her.

‘An Artec, you say?’ enquired one of the males.

‘Yes they have her in the cells, in Mangarna’s chambers; that’s what I’ve been told.’

Ellor turned to Sinnor with a deeply serious expression. ‘The Artecs will come for her, I know them. We may have a chance- they are close to the Diva himself.’

Ellor’s face lit up with this news. He knew the Artecs were not fierce creatures, but they protected their own. He felt something would happen. He didn’t know what, but there now seemed a glimmer of hope somehow. ‘It’s an omen,’ he muttered.

They each turned back towards the rock face and resumed their work. No more than an hour had passed when Sinnor moved to a new position on the wall and drove her pick into a small crevice. A large chunk of rock fell from the wall and as it did, the workers stepped back out of its way and watched it roll across the chamber and finally come to rest. To their surprise a yellow vein within the rock glistened in the dim torchlight. Sinnor excitedly knelt down to take a closer look. A smile slowly crept across her face; it was gold. She quickly moved back to the wall and struck it again with her pick. Another chunk of rock fell off, this time revealing a thick vein of solid gold almost an inch thick. The others couldn’t believe their eyes and rushed over to corroborate the find.

‘Guard!’ screamed Sinnor, excitedly. ‘Come quickly!’

The guard rushed back into the chamber, immediately realising why she’d called. His eyes widened and he scrambled back out into the tunnel screaming at the top of his voice to the other guards.

‘A find!’ he shouted. ‘It’s gold, in my chamber!’

Sinnor settled back, with a pained smile on her face. This would mean more water for the gang, perhaps even more food as well. When a gang discovered a new vein or crystal cluster, they would receive extra rations. This could often mean the difference between life-and-death, and Sinnor’s gang was pleased with the discovery. Within minutes another gang arrived in the chamber to hasten clearing the vein. Twenty or so workers were all picking away over one another, working with renewed vigour and pleased with their good fortune.

At the end of the shift, all black faced and exhausted, the gangs were led back to the main tunnel. With their chains rejoined, the hard march back to the surface began. Often workers fell, not being able to take another step. They would then have to be carried back by their gang mates, or be killed on the spot and removed from the shackles.

Each venture into the mines took lives and for those who lived, it took a further piece of their life and their hearts, further lessening what hope remained. Life here had little purpose; it progressed like clockwork, until there was life no more.

As the line appeared through the mine entrance, the workers cringed in the brighter twilight, having been so long in the dim light of the mine. They struggled back, dragging their feet past the stone walls of Mangarna’s chambers, heading toward the holding cells. As they passed the entrance to the stone building they saw in the centre of the encampment, a slender figure bound to a stake in the ground. Her hands were tied behind her and a leather strap straddled her delicate neck, holding her head upright.

‘It’s the Artec,’ someone whispered.

Sinnor looked over and saw the poor creature, pale and nearly unconscious, trying desperately not to black out and choke on the strap.

‘My God it is,’ said Sinnor, feeling pity for the poor creature.

Desta drowsily opened her eyes to see the long line of slaves struggling to keep themselves upright and trying to make it back to the holding cells. Amid the haze of her semi-consciousness state, she caught sight of a kind and caring face through all this madness. It was Sinnor, staring at her with such compassion in her eyes, that it give her strength somehow. She could feel the sorrow in Sinnor’s eyes, but also a silent determination that she would survive this at any cost. They both made some sort of connection with each other, a fleeting glimpse of each soul, together suffering the pains of bondage.

Mangarna surveyed the encampment from a window high up in a tower. He watched the gangs trudge past, then focused on Desta, who had spent the waking hours, staked in this merciless way. He then looked up beyond the gully toward the great mountain.

‘Where are you, my little heroes?’ He then leaned out of the window and signalled to one of the guards at the entrance to his chamber. The Morlon immediately went to Desta and cut her loose. She collapsed limply into the brute’s arms and he threw her over his broad shoulder and took her back to her cell.

Desta was barely conscious, hardly able to move, her wrists swollen and bleeding. The cell door slammed shut and she flinched at the harsh sound of it. Realising where she was momentarily, she tried to sit up but without the necessary strength fell helplessly back into a pile of rags and slipped gently into oblivion. There she remained, in a numb blackness.

Eventually, as Desta slowly became conscious, she heard the sound of approaching footsteps. She prayed that it was not the following day and she would have to face that stake again. The footsteps abruptly stopped and she listened to the ominous rattle of the iron keys trying to find their mark to unlock her cage door. Finally the heavy iron door swung open and a guard entered. Desta looked helplessly up at him as he dragged her to her feet.

‘It appears you’re of no further use to the master,’ he said coldly, as he shoved her out into the corridor. She fell against the wall, hardly able to stand.

‘Wait!’ he bellowed, tying her swollen hands behind her with a piece of leather thong. It was unnecessary, considering that she could hardly stand, let alone fly or try to escape.

‘Let’s go!’

As Desta limped slowly down the corridor, it suddenly struck her that if she was of no further use she may well be walking to her own execution. But she was weak and exhausted, and it was almost impossible for her to react to the thought. Luckily she was wrong. The guard led her out of the stone prison into the twilight and on to the holding cells.

When they had reached the opening to the complex, Desta had fallen unconscious again, the guard having placed her lifeless body under his massive hairy arm, like a rag doll. He entered and scoured the cell for an open space in one of the gangs. After finding one he simply dropped Desta to the hard, cold floor and shackled both her ankles to the chain. Leaving her motionless on her side, the guard looked down with contempt then left the cell.

Sinnor couldn’t believe it, it was the Artec and on her line. She took a piece of cloth from her tunic and wet it with a small quantity of water from her cup. Gently she wiped Desta’s forehead and face; she appeared so pale and delicate. Sinnor studied the line of her face, her slender neck and realised what a beautiful creature she was. She could not even think about what this poor young creature might have already endured.

Nearly everybody was now asleep. Without sleep no creature could survive a day in the mines.

‘We must leave her be,’ whispered Sinnor, ‘How will she ever make it through the mine?’

Ellor placed a soft piece of rag under Desta’s head and covered her with his own thin blanket.

‘She’ll need this.’

Sinnor smiled in response to his kindness, then rolled over and went to sleep.

The rest period was over in a blink. Sleep was no luxury here, but a grave necessity that always took place with total conscious abandon. It seemed that just as they shut their eyes, the guards were already connecting the lines ready for another day in hell.

They all woke with a start as always, trying to collect themselves and deal with this reality. Desta opened her eyes, not knowing where she was and having no memory of how she’d got there. She rose to her elbows and looked around the cell, realising she was with the other workers.

‘Get up quickly,’ whispered Sinnor as the Morlon guard approached their gang. Desta scrambled to her feet, disoriented, with Sinnor holding firmly on to her arm to steady her.

‘You’ll be all right. Just follow my lead.’

The guard connected the end of the chain to the next gang and then they heard the sound of the whip. The line began to move and the shuffling and familiar clanking of the chains created a rhythm, mesmerising and endless. Desta, after all her suffering in the master’s cells, would now face the mines. The monotonous toil in the filth and heat of the mines, with little oxygen, was a true test of life-and-death. It wasn’t so much a question of survival, but how long one could last.

Meanwhile Mangarna grew more and more impatient over reduced quotas. Too many times the Terras had attacked the Morlon bands, freeing their newly captured slaves. Numbers were decreasing and fewer of the mineworker’s were surviving the workload and treatment. Norbit had wisely avoided Mangarna whose temper began to fray.

Mangarna sat back on his throne in his chambers, seething with anger and ready to attack anything that moved. His knuckles were white, his long slender fingers clenching the carved arms of the throne.

‘Norbit!’ he screamed in a fury.

‘Where are you, Norbit?’

Impatiently Mangarna leapt down from the throne and with anger in his eyes hurled a fireball of energy into the chamber. It ricocheted several times off the stone walls and struck a large clay urn in the corner, smashing it into a thousand pieces and sending fragments all over the floor. Mangarna tilted his head back and bearing his teeth, snarled like a caged animal. Then from the corridor behind him came a familiar shuffle.

‘Coming Master,’ echoed an apprehensive voice, as Norbit rushed to answer the enraged Mangarna. He eventually entered the chamber wide-eyed and panic-stricken.

‘I am here Master,’ he said half-cowering and shuffling forward.

Mangarna took a deep breath tried to calm down, then turned and casually pointed to the unfinished weapon.

‘What do you see, Norbit?’ he said in a controlled but sarcastic voice.

‘Err, Err.... a weapon, master?’

‘A weapon?’

Beads of sweat began to break out over Norbit’s brow.

‘What does it do, Norbit?’ asked Mangarna, now gritting his teeth.

‘It....It.....’ stammered Norbit.

‘It does NOTHING! You cockeyed fool. Because it doesn’t work, it’s not finished! And WHY is it not finished? Can you tell me that?’ screamed Mangarna.

Norbit reeled in fear and nervously tried to defend himself. ‘It’s the workers, sir. They keep dying.’

Mangarna interrupted, not able to listen.

‘Can I trust anyone, to do the simplest task? Get out! I want results not excuses!’

Norbit quickly escaped the chamber, unscathed but still shaking from the ferocity of his master. Time was running out and so was Mangarna’s patience.

Norbit hobbled back to his quarters, shut the door and breathed a sigh of relief. It was a small, damp room containing only the barest of essentials. It was far less than you would expect for the right-hand of the wizard himself, but Norbit knew it as home. It contained an area to sleep, a table and chair and most importantly, a large gilt-edged mirror. When life became difficult for Norbit, he needed only to see his splendid self in the mirror, to allay his fears and to settle him down. It was difficult for him to pass the mirror without first admiring himself. The mere sight of his image made everything seem worthwhile.

Norbit struggled to the table, sat down and began to thumb through the parchments that recorded the work output. He shook his head in disbelief; it was all going backwards. The more slaves they captured, the more died and ultimately the lower was the output. These creatures were not able to do this work they were simply not strong enough. Having taken them from their precious water world had not only weakened them but also created a wasteland of their home. Clean water was becoming scarce, and so much of the waterways had now turned to putrid cesspools.

Norbit had thought long and hard about this problem. The only creatures able to undertake the work in the mines were the Morlons themselves. They had the brawn, but as warriors, the notion of them doing manual labour was simply ridiculous, as far as they were concerned. Norbit knew that he would have to come up with some great promise of reward to entice them to work, but it would be Mangarna’s reaction that was the more pressing concern. However, Norbit was running out of choices and he had to do something.

He left his chambers and once outside the stone building, followed the pathway to the northern end of the Morlon camp. Only a few of them were milling about, most were in the mines guarding the work gangs. Norbit shuffled over to a large nearby hut; it was the sleeping quarters of Karn, the Morlon leader.

‘Are you there, Karn?’ he enquired, hesitantly. There was no reply, so Norbit gingerly moved forward and opened the fabric curtain that hung over the entrance. He peered inside and saw, under a pile of bed covers, Karn struggling with a young nymph. Responding to the disturbance Karn threw back the covers angrily, revealing the frightened and trembling nymph.

‘What do you want?’ bellowed the Morlon. Norbit shocked at what he saw, exited the hut quickly, not knowing what to do next. A moment later Karn burst out of the hut, adjusting his clothing. He was furious with the interruption.

‘What?’

‘I’m sorry Karn I need to talk to you. It’s urgent,’ he said, pointing to a log seat near the fire. Karn begrudgingly moved over to the log, making his disapproval glaringly obvious. He had no time for Elloks, but Norbit being Mangarna’s assistant meant that he would listen.

The Morlons were not bright and Norbit knew that he would have to be careful explaining the situation to his advantage. He drew a deep breath and began.

‘Mangarna is upset. The mining is not progressing as planned. These slaves, they are not strong like Morlons, they are weak. Every day they are dying, more and more of them. The work is not being done!’

Karn rose to his feet. ‘This is our fault?’

‘No, of course not.’

‘Please sit down Karn, I have a proposition for you,’ he added, trying to defuse the creature’s disposition.

With a suspicious look on his face, Karn resumed his seat. ‘I’m listening.’

‘Well, these creatures… the slaves can’t do the work that we need. Mangarna’s great weapon will not be completed, at least at this rate. Without this weapon, Mangarna will not control Thebos. What will your people gain if Mangarna fails?’

Norbit paused while Karn rubbed his stubbly chin, trying desperately to understand what he said, but still looking a little vacant. Norbit tried again.

‘If Mangarna does not rule Thebos, nor will the Morlons. Karn, your people will have no power. There will be no spoils of war, nothing!’

A dim light slowly turned on in Karn’s brain.

‘The weapon must be completed,’ he decided.

‘But how?’

Norbit tried not to smile at his adversary’s quick wit. ‘The Morlons are the only creatures that could possibly finish this important work. Our entire future depends on the strength of your people.’

Karn, deep in thought, began to smile.

‘Mangarna, when he rules, will reward you and your people with wealth and power far beyond your wildest dreams,’ Norbit added.

Karn’s smile broadened even further and he quickly rose to his feet with a look of resolve on his ruddy face.

‘There will be a meeting this twilight. It will be put to a vote,’ replied Karn. ‘You will have your answer then.’

Karn left Norbit by the fire and returned to his evil ways. Norbit felt confident he had got through to the oaf, but there were no guarantees with Morlons. At least he felt he had tried and pleased with his effort, returned to his chamber.

As Norbit closed his door behind him, he realised that he would have to explain all of this to Mangarna and that wouldn’t be so easy. Even if it were a good idea, it wouldn’t be his, so Norbit began to mentally plan the discussion, trying to allow for and to overcome all of Mangarna’s possible objections, and there would be many!

Dealing with evil wizards was never an easy task and Norbit always needed to be on his toes.

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