“So… the Northern League has suffered another defeat,” said Striker quietly.
Aethelstan and the Graharz looked at each other worriedly. “What would make you say…?” began Aethelstan.
“Even in the Cthonique mines we hear of the wars,” noted the handsome slave. “And… well, one can tell quite a lot about the slaves they send us. When a lot of Milesians come…” Striker shrugged. “Well… the conclusion is obvious.”
The Graharz glanced away. “It has not gone well, no. But unlike some, I do not think all is lost. The League will fight on until it is no more. And when it passes, something else will take up the fight. Sutekh cannot rule forever. No matter what he imagines.”
Striker gestured to a guard walking out of the tunnel, escorting a Goblin and an Erl. “I would be very careful saying such things here. They can… provoke reaction…”
“You there!” shouted the guard, pointing at a short young Erl. “Up! Now!” The Erl rose, revealing himself to be little more than a boy. The guard gestured with his lash. “What was that in your hands, slave? Was that a weapon?”
The boy shivered. “No… no, sir. It… it wasn’t anything…”
“Are you saying that I am a liar, slave?” snapped the guard. “Or perhaps that my wits are imperfect?”
“No--no, sir!” said the boy, shaking his head. “Of course not.”
The guard prodded him with the lash. “So what was in your hands?”
“I… it… it was a stick, sir,” said the boy.
The guard nodded. “A stick. That’s a far cry from nothing…”
“It was… it was just a little stick,” continued the boy.
“But not nothing,” said the guard, fiddling idly with his lash “Now… why did you have a stick?” Aethelstan glanced over at his brother, who he noted had picked up a stone.
“I… I was playing with it, sir,” said the boy.
The guard’s eyes went wide in fury. “Playing with it? Playing with it? You tell me such nonsense, and expect me to believe it? Playing with it?”
“I was bored, sir,” peeped the boy.
The Goblin coughed. “I’ve known children to do such things when…”
“You do not speak on this,” snapped the guard, glaring at the man. He turned back to the child. “And you do NOT lie to me,” he snarled, raising his lash. “I will show you what happens when you do! Oh, I will sh--”
And then the hunchback bumped into him, spilling his stew onto the man‘s uniform.
“Oh, sorry, great sir, so sorry!” babbled the hunchback. “Sorry! A thousand apologies! So sorry for my clumsiness! So sorry!” He began to nervously, try to clean the guard. “Apologies! So sorry!”
The guard sputtered for a moment, and then began to rain blows down on the hunchback. “Toad! Worm! Whoreson! You miserable… creeping… whoreson!”
“Sorry, sorry, so so sorry, great sir!” continued the hunchback, as the lash struck him again and again.
“Be more careful next time,” snapped the guard, recovering himself and returning to lead the other two slaves out of the tunnel.
Striker took a relieved breath. “And that was a fairly mild case,” he noted.
“Thank goodness,” said the Graharz, releasing the stone from his grip.