I grimaced in pain as the jolting of the cart grew more intense. The road, if it could be even called a road, had slowly grown rougher and rougher until it seemed that we were just driving over gravel.Looking back, I could see the faint tracks of the wagons that had gone before us. I was in a cart, the driver in front steadily looking at the horse in front of his box.
It seemed he was immune to the suffering of the poor, innocent people behind him, his mind fixed on the few coppers he could gain from this despicable job. I knew that even the poorest person in our town would never…
I sighed. Of course they would, they would leap at the chance to have a good solid meal for at least once, since the famine came and there were no jobs. I couldn’t blame this man for staring straight ahead and trying to forget that we were people.
I felt a small touch on my knee, drawing me out of my memories, and looked up slowly, my mind already knowing what I was about to see.
I already knew that it was my captor, tired of my whimpering and fear, ready to kill me like he had everyone I had known. I couldn’t help remembering the bloodstained cobbles, the dull thud as the bodies slowly crumpled to the ground. The slavers not caring who they killed, be it grown men or babies still clasped in their mother’s arms. The shrill screams of the children discovering that their whole lives were ending on this night.
The memory of the smell made me retch, the stink of blood and the fumes of the fire mingling together to become what I would describe as the stench of terror.
I slowly forced myself to open my eyes and saw a child. He was sleeping on the roughly cut floor, his hand pressing against the side of my knee. His golden hair, like mine, gleamed in the sunlight. As I looked down, he whimpered in his sleep and rolled away from me.
I sighed, and leaned back against the side of the cart, the bars pressing uncomfortably into my back. “Don’t be dumb, Laela.” I reminded myself, “No one’s going to be in front of you with a knife, if they wanted to kill you they would have done that already." Probably.
But still, I was a worthless slave now, I was less than a dog on the side of the road, at least it could be trained to hunt.
Sure people bought slaves, for various reasons. But in the eyes of every person around me, I wasn’t even human anymore. No one cared if you killed a slave, or beat them half to death. No one cared.
The words swam in my head, making my eyes water and I squeezed them shut, and dug my nails into the palms of my hands, the pain keeping grounded, from floating away, from letting go.
The earliest thing I could remember was the time the boys that haunted the market everyday had dared me to climb the statue of Kion that every town had to put up. The first time I tried to climb it, I got a sound beating for even daring to touch it. The guard’s sticks taught me that I should pretend to respect authority, and do whatever I could to survive, but I learned to keep little bits of myself tucked away so deep that they could never touch them. They wanted me to die and submit. I would not, I would stay alive and keep my true self buried deep inside, so when I finally managed to escape, they would not have succeeded. They would not have crushed my soul.
The hours wore on, each one filled with the rattle of the cart’s wheels, and the hot sun burning through my raggedy shirt and trousers. Most girls wore dresses, but I had never had a new one and my mother had just given me the neighbor boy’s old hand-me-downs. They were useful, I suppose, for what I had to do, but I had longed to look like the other girls when I was younger.
I reached down and touched the manacle that chained me to the cart floor as well as the numerous others who also sat around me in the cart. For the first day or so that I had been in here, I had examined each person carefully, for lack of anything else to do and to take my mind off of the scenes that played before me every time I closed my eyes. I soon stopped for no reason other than my attention had been captured by the manacle that attached my chain to the bottom of the cart.
I slowly had begun to try to work it free, stopping every time I saw someone glancing at me, but the manacle was firmly attached to the wood. Now it was a habit, whenever the gripping pains of hunger in my stomach got too much for me, or the hot sun, or the dull ache in my ribs, I would reach down and play with the manacle, hoping against hope that it would break, and I would be free.