The slaves marched into the great common area before the Mount Cthonique mines, under the watchful eyes and ready lashes of the guards. As he saw them lining up there, Nycetus mused how so many men could be guarded by so few. But then, we have the weapons, and the soldiers to use them, he considered. And these men have seen us use both to crush them when they were in a better situation.
As soon as he was sure they were all before him, Lord Nycetus began to speak. “I will not waste words,” he declared grandly. “You are now the property of these mines, and you will work in them until you die. Serve us well, and that may cover a long run of years, spent in reasonable comfort. Serve us poorly and it will be brief and painful. Rebel against us and it will end instantly and in agony you cannot imagine.”
The slaves’ expressions were mute, with some crossing over to blank--while Nycetus was certain that in some cases this was because some of them didn’t know the Dark Tongue, in most he imagined it was a certain shock stealing over them, as they became truly aware of just in what bad straits they were in. While that was at least partially what you wanted, it couldn’t be allowed to go too far, or you’d lose half of them to suicides in a week. It was time to give them just a pinch of hope. Something to make them willing to go on.
“And yet, I would not have you imagine that life here is only pain and suffering,” he stated. “We have a time and a place for pleasure.” He clapped his hands together. “Ursula! Bring them out! Show these men what we offer in our palace of pleasure!”
The door of the little stone building that stood on the outskirts of the mines open, and Ursula emerged. He suspected that for a moment some of the men assembled below were doubtless tempted by the woman--but then they got a good look at her face. Ursula bore on her face the signs of the displeasure of her previous owner--a nose that had been cut off, and a long jagged scar that trailed down the right side of her face. While this doubtless made her of limited use as a whore, it was part of what made her an excellent bawd. Men left her alone, and she could tell when one was getting violent. That had proven to be a very useful gift indeed. He’d had to replace far fewer of the women thanks to her.
Ursula stepped to her side, and the women of the House of Pleasure walked out. They were, for the most part, a passably pretty lot, but still hardly ravishing beauties. But that didn’t matter to the men below. Starving men at a banquet don’t tend to notice if they’re eating scraps. Just that there’s food before them.
“Visits to the House of Pleasure are among the many rewards available to those who serve the mines well, and behave properly,” continued Nycetus. “That is the sort of man I am, slaves. If you treat me fairly, I will treat you fairly. Otherwise, pain and the lash.” He gave a nod. “Go down below. Food will be distributed to you shortly. Then tomorrow--you will begin to work.”
Nycetus watched as the slaves shuffled off in the direction the guards indicated, disappearing into the outer chambers of the mines. As the last of them vanished, he turned to Abgar, his legate. “See that the guards are on watch,” Lord Nycetus noted. “I suspect there will be a few acts of violence in the night. Now, a certain level of this is to be expected, but I do promise you, if more than three men are killed down below there will be consequences. I’ve not lost money on these mines for all the years I’ve run them, and I don’t plan to start now.”
Abgar bowed and left the room. Nycetus took a seat, and after some thought, ordered a pomegranate brought to him.