Eight slaves had been taken for plotting to escape. Seven had been taken peaceably and so were only hung, left to tangle from the tall gallows they themselves had had to build. But the Graharz had killed a man, and so he was to be broken by the wheel. So had said the young Cheimarrhus, and so it was being done, in the great courtyard that lay before the mines. Lord Nycetus had ordered the labor stopped, for half a day, so that as many slaves as possible would be there, and learn that simple, dread, inexorable lesson--to dream of freedom meant to seek death, the mines of Cthonique.
Eleazar shuddered to himself, as he watched the guards tie the Milesian to the wheel, as Cheimarrhus watched the spectacle with a horrible, grisly satisfaction. "Tie the bonds tight!" he snapped. "If they bloody and chafe the wrist, well good! That is the point! This is not merely punishment--it is agony! He must suffer--and suffer for he has struck his betters, and killed one!" The Erl nobleman turned and regarded the crowd. "This is to be his fate! Suffering and horrible death! As it will be yours, if you do as he did!"
"Which is get caught," muttered Barrant quietly, hand gripping the hammer he’d brought with him a rather frightening glare.
Eleazar motioned for the smith to be quiet. "I wouldn’t think this is the best time to say such things," he said quietly.
"It’s the best time," replied Barrant. "All eyes are on those poor souls being executed. You and I are just details on the sidelines." The Goblin shook his head. "Affairs such as these focus a mind on murder, I find." He smiled at the former monk. "I bet even you are considering it right now."
Eleazar glanced away, awkward. "My faith in the Lady, strong as it is," he said, "could not keep me from trying to make justice for Her, here on earth. Which is why even as my brothers labor for the Faith even with our abbey seized, I am here. So, friend--I am the wrong measuring stick to judge by."
Cheimarrhus gave the great horse that the hunchback had brought out a lash that made every slave there wince. Especially the hunchback, whose misshapen face seemed to be struggling to hold back tears. The horse began to run in a circle, turning the wheel. The Graharz screamed as his limbs broke, and his sides strained. Cheimarrhus watched with glee, chuckling to himself and occasionally letting the lash fly once again. And then suddenly the horse reared, and when it dropped back to its feet, refused to move.
Cheimarrhus glared at the animal. "Stupid brute!" He brought the lash down again. "Move! Move, Lady damn you!" But the horse did not move, merely sit there, breaths coming hard. Cheimarrhus grumbled to himself, then glanced at the hunchback. "Get this beast to move again, Toad!" he said, gesturing with the whip.
The hunchback nodded grimly, and moved forward shackles clanking. He reached the horse, and began to stroke its sides gently, whispering quietly as he did so. Cheimarrhus watched him impatiently. "Well, hurry, you creeping whoreson. Do as your bidden." The hunchback merely nodded to that, and gave the horse a pat. With a whinny, it began to move.
And lightly cantered away from the wheel, the restraints that kept it there loosed.
Cheimarrhus gave a scream. "You... you crippled wretch! You creeping, miserable worm! I shall lash you, Toad, I shall…"
"That is not my name," said the hunchback as he turned to face Cheimarrhus with a force and a dignity that Eleazar had never imagined the man to possess. He shook his head. "That is not my name."
"Your name is what I choose to call you, you crooked-limbed freak!" howled Cheimarrhus, bringing the lash down on the defiant slave.
"My name is Marduk," he said, as he caught the whip with his bare hand, and then, with one astounding, miraculous wrench, shattered the chains that shackled his wrists. And then with a yank, he pulled Cheimarrhus off-balance, and grabbed him by the shoulders as he tumbled towards him.
"Kill him!" shrieked Cheimarrhus. "Kill him! Kill--" And then his shriek became a wordless wail, as Marduk pulled his arms back and, with a tug, snapped them.
Most of the guards seemed to be watching in dull shock, but one began to ready his crossbow. And then received a vicious blow from Ursula’s truncheon that sent him sprawling to the ground. "You will not have him, you will not have him, you will not have him," she shouted as she laid men out, her girls following her into battle.
Cheimarrhus had fallen to the ground, his arms limp and useless as Marduk hammered blows on him. "Mercy! Mercy!" squealed the guard.
"You call for mercy," snapped Marduk. His blows fell only harder. "You. Call. For. Mercy!"
"In the Lady’s name," sobbed Cheimarrhus.
Marduk’s face, already a mask of rage, became flushed with indignation. "In Her name!" he growled, and struck Cheimarrhus on the face with a blow that turned into a mass of blood, and bone, and gore.
"You there! Smith!" said Isengrim, approaching Barrant and Eleazar. "I… this…" He gestured to the chaos that was engulfing the courtyard, as the slaves overwhelmed the guards. "This is madness! It must be stopped!" He looked at the smith hopefully. "You--you have not been treated so bad, no? Well, that will be done if this revolt continues. You--you must help us to contain it. You must help…"
Barrant listened for a moment, nodding dully, and turned to regard the Ogre. "Fuck you," he declared, smashing Isengrim with his hammer. Eleazar darted forward and seized the guard’s sword, and quickly plunged it into the Ogre’s throat.
In the courtyard, men had cut down the hanged men, while Marduk had lifted the Graharz from the wheel. "Graharz…" he whispered softly. "Graharz. You are free…" He bit his lip. "We are both free."
The Milesian smiled at the misshapen Nightfolk. "Free. And… do you not see, Marduk… how wonderful… it is to be free…?"
"I do," said Marduk, tears in his eyes. "I do."
The Graharz looked around. "Where… where is my brother…?"
Aethelstan made his way out of the crowd to the pair’s side. "I’m here, Aedmun." He grasped the dying man’s hand.
The Graharz gave a nod. "By blood… and battle and sacred… oath, you… are the Graharz."
"I am the Graharz," answered Aethelstan with a nod.
Aedmun smiled gently. "We will meet again… in the Great Hall… set aside for the Revered Band… my brother…" And then he died.
Ursula rushed towards Marduk. "More guards coming…" she said.
Marduk gently set the Milesians body down. "I… are people arming themselves with what they can seize?"
Marduk smiled, as he shuffled ahead. "Then we will meet them." There was a quiet whinny, as the horse approached. Marduk smiled at it. "Yes, Monoceros. Yes, you will meet them as well…" He walked awkwardly to the horse.
Ursula rushed to his side, and helped him there. "Here…," she said, as she helped him onto the horse.
"Sir!" shouted Barrant, walking forwards. "Take this." He handed Marduk a spear. "A great weapon, on horseback," noted the Goblin. "And easy to use."
Marduk nodded, readying the spear with his left hand, while placing his right gently on Monoceros’ neck. The horse began to move forward at a steady, even trot. His fellows began to cheer as they saw him. "Marduk! Marduk! Marduk!" Marduk smiled, and waited for the shouting to stop.
When it did, he raised his spear menacingly in the air. "Lash the lashers! Kill the killers! Follow me through blood, to freedom!" A great cheer rang out through the air, and the great force of Cthonique charged forward into battle.