Thursday, October 10, 2019

Gahal's Tale: First Day of Freedom

The slave wagon rumbled down the road to Silver Spring. They had left Urik in the predawn hours of the day. Gahal sat in the slave wagon, held his knees and stared at his feet.
As long as Gahal could remember he'd been a labor slave. Forced to do whatever menial tasks his master had demanded of him. He'd never left the lands around Urik, but now his master had apparently decided to sell him. He didn't know where the wagon was going, but it didn't matter. He'd given up hope of ever being free.
When the guards started yelling and rushing around, Gahal barely noticed. When he heard a guard fall to an arrow and the other slaves in his wagon start shouting, he raised his head to look. He couldn't see what was going on, but he knew the small slave caravan was under attack. Gahal curled up into a ball, trying to avoid any wayward arrows. He didn't much care about the attack. Whoever captured the caravan would simply keep him as a slave, so he didn't care who won the fight.
A guard died near the wagon and a human slave with more initiative reached through the bone bars and grabbed the guards obsidian knife. The slaves became excited as they sawed at the giant hair holding the door closed. Gahal didn't participate. It wouldn't work, Gahal knew, they wouldn't escape. He had no hope.
The wagon's door opened and the slaves began rushing out. Some of the slaves foolishly fled into the fray and were quickly cut down. Now alone in the cage, Gahal stared at the open door for a few moments. He crawled toward it and looked outside. The sun was still low in the sky as Gahal climbed out the wagon. He felt hope rise in his chest, a feeling he had abandoned long ago.

Gahal realized he was dazed and came to his senses. A stray arrow narrowly missed his left ear and he ran toward the open desert. The sounds of battle faded behind him as Gahal ran over the stony ground. He couldn't believe it and part of him doubted it would last. But for now, he was free.
He was slowing, the mad flight from the caravan and noise of battle no longer enough to spur him on. Even though being a slave was horrible, it did build up his endurance and strength. On he ran, but even his endurance couldn't last forever and Gahal finally slowed.
He jogged on, until his jog slowed to a walk. Only then did he dare to look behind him. He had no idea where he was. All around him were rocky mounds and barbed shrubs. He could no longer hear the sounds of battle, only the dry wind as it blew past his exposed body.
Stony Barrens
Gahal was wearing a simple loincloth. His body was exposed to the burning sun and his feet were exposed to the rocks beneath his feet. His unshod feet were cut and bleeding.. The rocks were getting hot from the blazing crimson sun and he could feel his feet being burned.
Quickly moving into the shade, Gahal at last had time to think about what had just happen. Why did he run? He now had no one, no food, no water, and no shelter. When he was a slave, he at least he wouldn't die of dehydration. Well, until one of his masters decided he wasn't worth the water he was drinking. No, Gahal decided. As a slave he could die or be killed at any time for any reason. Being free he might die, but at least it wouldn't be at the whim of a cruel master.
Thinking about water made Gahal realize how dry his mouth was. He'd gone without water before, as a punishment for various infractions. However, back then he had doubted his masters would have let him die. In a day or two, he would get water. But now, there was no guarantee of water in a day or two. Or even three.
"I will probably be dead soon." He thought.
 Gahal hid himself in a rocky overhang that provided some shade from the blazing sun overhead. He was cramped, his shoulder resting very uncomfortably against a slightly jagged stone, and his feet were sore. Dried blood and dirt were caked on the soles of his feet and he decided not to clean them off. Maybe the muck would help protect his feet from more damage.
He caught his breath and waited for the hottest part of the day to pass.
Gahal closed his eyes and tried to ignore the pain in his feet and shoulder. He waited for the brutal sun to pass overhead and begin moving toward the horizon. As Gahal waited, he thought about all that he had done that day. In the morning, he was resigned to his fate as a slave. Then, with a stroke of luck, he was free. He had run for seemingly hours, desperate to get away from the slavers. Now, here he was, hiding from the sun. He was free. Never again would he be subject to a lash. Hope flickered alive inside of him once more and the flame felt much brighter.
"I will not die out here." He told himself, "I must live. I must be free."
The sun began descending and Gahal squeezed out of his hiding spot. The rocks below his feet were hot and stung his feet. Gahal had no choice, but to ignore the pain. He began walking toward the direction of the sun's rise. He had no idea if there was a village this way, or if a village would allow a stranger to enter, but he had little choice.
After a while, Gahal heard a noise close to him, it sounded like something had moved some rocks. He started to move toward the sound, but stopped himself. It could be a vicious animal, something that could harm him.
Gahal crouched and began moving slowly, trying to keep his footfalls from disturbing the rocks he moved over. He peeked over the rocks slowly and was disappointed. He was hoping to find something to kill and eat, but what he saw was the dried out carapace of a long dead kank. The dry wind must have shifted it and caused the noise. He turned to go, but the carapace shifted again.
Gahal froze. Fear churned in the pit of his stomach. He slowly turned, looking back at the carapace. Gahal had no weapons and no training, he had little idea how to fight.
The carapace shifted again. Something moved underneath it. It had to be something small to completely fit underneath it. Gahal saw hints of the thing under it. The thing had small legs with two clawed toes. Gahal slowly and quietly reached down to grab a large stone in two hands.
The thing finally appeared from under the carapace and, much to Gahal's great relief, it was a wild baazrag. The two foot long creature was sniffing around, its nose near the ground. The baazrag was an ugly little beast, with a large spiked shell on its back. Gahal had seen them being herded around Urik and some of its client villages for food. If Gahal had any moisture in his mouth, it would have watered.
Gahal took a quiet step forward. Then another. If he missed this throw, he wouldn't get another chance. Gahal took another step and the baazrag froze. Gahal knew that the beast had heard him. With a slight panic in his breast, Gahal threw the stone with all of his might.
The stone landed with a loud thump, a foot shy of the creature. The baazrag fled with incredible speed and was quickly lost among the rocks. Gahal sighed with disappointment and continued his weary trek.
During the hours Gahal walked, he checked some stunted bushes he found for signs of food or water, but found none. He had no idea how to survive in the desert. His best hope was to find a village or traveling group. He could offer to work, this time for pay. He was strong and could use that to his advantage. Some water and food everyday, like when he was a slave, but he'd also get paid. He wasn't sure how much, because he'd always been forced to work for free. But any amount of money, even a bit a week would be better than nothing.
The sun sank to the horizon and the night emerged. Gahal had seen no sign of civilization. The night air was growing cold. Gahal walked until it was too dark to safely see his surroundings. Ral and Guthay were not very bright tonight. He knew predators prowled the night, he'd heard of escaped slaves being eaten. He found a cleft in a rock and squeezed himself inside.
It was cold and Gahal had nothing to cover himself. He was uncomfortable, but, he hoped, safe. His stomach rumbled and his mouth was very dry. His feet throbbed with pain and his whole body ached. He knew his skin was burned from the harsh rays of the sun. But, he didn't care. He was free.
Gahal smiled. His lips were very dry and the gesture hurt, but Gahal had never been this happy in his life. Freedom felt good, it felt natural. Although he faced hardship and death, Gahal felt this was how every man should feel. Freedom was worth anything, even his life. With these thoughts swirling in his head and hope burning strong in his chest, Gahal feel into a deep sleep.

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