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Chapter One —The chains of Rukker the Kataki and Fazhan ti Rozilloi
The lash curved high in the air, hard, etched black. I, Gadak the Renegade, grasped the harsh iron chains that bound me so savagely to this coffle of slaves, and which made of us one miserable body. We stumbled down the dusty streets under the lash toward the harbor.
The people of this evil city of Magdag barely noticed us, did not even bother to spit at us or revile us, for we were but one small coffle among many. The iron ring about my neck chafed the skin raw and driblets of blood ran down onto my chest and back.
"By Zair!" the man on my left, for we were chained two and two, gasped, his face a scarlet mask of effort. "I swear the cramph won't be happy until he's had my head off."
"He will not do that. We are needed to pull at the oars."
The overseer, careless in his authority, slashed his thonged whip and my companion yelped and stumbled. I let go of my own chain to help him up. The fellow in front, a giant of a man with the black body-bristle of a Brokelsh, surged forward. The length of chain between us straightened and, by Krun, it felt as though my own head were the one being wrenched off.
"Thank you, dom," the Zairian I had assisted was saying.
Ignoring him, I lurched forward and made a grab at the chain so as to ease the ring about my neck. A voice at my back bellowed in vicious temper.
"Rast! Keep steady, you zigging cramph!"
There was no point in turning about and chastising the fellow. We were all slaves together and I might have yelled as he had done if my own pains had not been caused by myself. The uneven lurching carried back like awave along the coffle. The air was rent with blasphemies. Listening, I used this occurrence to learn about my fellow slaves, for we had merely been hauled out willy-nilly and chained up together for the walk from the bagnio to the harbor and the galleys.
The stones of Magdag under our feet and rising in wall and terrace and archway all about us held no more pity for our plight than the hearts of the Magdaggians. From the curses and prayers that went up, I knew we were a mixed bunch: Zairian prisoners, Grodnim criminals. And, in truth, I the renegade —who had once been of Zair and who said he was now of Grodno —hardly knew to which of these gods to cleave for the injuries that had been done me.
We were being whipped down to be taken aboard a galley and there enter upon hell on earth.
The glorious mingled suns-light poured down in radiance about us, the streaming mingled lights of Zim and Genodras, the red and green suns of Antares. We stumbled along with our twin shadows mocking us, forever chained to us as we would be chained to our rowing benches.
"If I get my hands on that rast . . ." The Zairian at my left side, with his red face and perfectly bald head, showed a spirit to be expected of a Zairian. I wondered if he would be broken by the torments ahead of him, of all of us. All our heads had been shaved as smooth as loloo's eggs. We wore the gray slave breechclouts, which would be taken from us once we were shackled to our benches. All this I had endured before. This time, I vowed, I would make a positive effort very early on and escape.
The enormity of the death of my daughter Velia still had a stinging power to wring my heart. I had known she was my daughter for so pitifully short a time. I had known her as my Lady of the Stars for a short space before that, and we had talked. But I had found her and then, it seemed in the same heartbeat, she had been taken from me.
This mad king, this genius, this king Genod, who ruled in vile Magdag, had thrown her from the back of his fluttrell as the saddle-bird, winged, had fluttered to the ground. Genod had been in fear of his life then, and had thrown a girl for whom he had planned an abduction out to her death. If there was one thing I intended to do upon Kregen under the Suns of Scorpio, forgetting anything else, that thing would be to bring King Genod Gannius to justice.
We passed beneath the high archway leading through the wall of the inner harbor, that harbor called the King's Haven. The cothon, the artificially scooped-out inner harbor, presented a grand and, indeed, in any other city, a noble aspect.
Like all building in Magdag of the Megaliths, the architecture was on the grandest scale. Enormous blocks of stone had been manhandled down to raise these walls and fortifications, to erect the warehouses and ship sheds. Every surface blazed with brilliantly colored ceramics. The tiles depicted stories and legends from the fabled past of Kregen. They exalted the power of Grodno and of Magdag. And, of course, the predominant color was green.
Nowhere was a speck of red visible.
The overseer with the lash bellowed at us, using the hateful word I so detest. "Grak!" he shouted, snapping his whip, laying into the backs of the slaves. "Grak, you Zairian cramphs!"
Copyright © 1977, Kenneth Bulmer.