She Who Speaks
Tarja awoke unpleasantly—to the horrid sound of wrenching screams and ear-splitting cries. She looked around, and found only the bleak burden of solitude that the dark gray walls of Place of Death offered.
She had long since given up on calling it “Mur’tombi’kaam”. The language of the Dassinthi people confused her, with all of its click sounds in the most inconvenient of places. Tarja looked out of the small barred window, and saw the mighty flow of the Evanescent River. Its dark raging waters surged forward, faster and faster into the oceans of the world. All the time, she wished she could escape onto its rushing banks and swim into the ocean to catch the return tide back to her farm on the Tullamatti.
But that never happened, and she sat in the darkness of the prison for hours.
And in the two years or so she’d been kidnapped since that night on the Caspedile road was a whole two years wasted watching Garril grow into the man he probably is now.
“What would he be?” Tarja said to herself the next day while outside on the banks of the Evanescent River. She was still chained by the ankle to a post—as if she were a dog.
“What would who be?” Elinan asked her, scratching at her wiry hair.
“My nephew, Garril,” she replied. “I think he’s seventeen now.” Elinan’s eyes widened.
“Garril?” she blurted; “as in, Prince Garril?”
“He doesn’t like to be called that,” Tarja replied, screwing her brow in the middle.
“Why not? He’s the brother of Letorry, and son of Syrami.”
“I don’t quite know,” Tarja admitted. “When I found him, and called him that, he seemed to become rather shamefaced and low.”
“Shamefaced?” Elinan echoed her friend. “You say he’s afraid of being nobility?”
“I believe so. But perhaps he is just ashamed he has Syrregain for a brother.”
Elinan laughed hoarsely; “Yes, that Syrregain is…” Tarja raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, he’s an idiot. A headstrong, violent idiot.”
That made the other woman laugh—her chest danced against the black of her leather shirt. Her deep violet coat was now far beyond ruined, but she seemed to pay no mind—and merely sewed it into a skirt for herself. Her sorcery was simply not working in the prison. Perhaps there was a counter-sorcerer at work here, tampering with the flow of Tarja’s will.
“I missed his seventeenth birthday,” she said now sadly. Elinan reached over and put her bone-thin hand on Tarja’s shoulder.
“Don’t lament,” she said firmly. “If Garril knew you’d be depressed, he probably would not like it.” The sorceress gave her an odd look.
“How would you know that?” she asked the skeletal woman. Elinan laughed heartily, her seemingly ancient bones jutting from below her shoulders.
“I knew Letorry,” she said, probably unaware of the forlorn undertone her voice took on when she uttered that name. “He told me much about Garril—how he acted and such.” As Tarja nodded, Elinan’s head sunk down lower a little—she was probably unaware of it. Then she added hurriedly; “When he was still alive.”
“You know,” Tarja mused airily; “nobody ever told me—or Garril—when Letorry died.” Even as that final world lilted from her mouth on her breathy voice, Elinan stayed in her sunken, head-low state—nodding only briefly. Tarja, unabashed, raised an eyebrow, and added; “You do know that questions need to be answered.”
And it was then that Elinan looked at her with her eyes wide; fearful. As if she had just been hit in the face with a morbid fear. Her lips pursed a little tightly, and she uttered a low response.
“He died last year ago. When Garril would have been about sixteen, perhaps.”
“Oh? And how?” Elinan could not believe her ears! She had not seen this side of Tarja—and they had known each other for two years now. Two years since Tarja was imprisoned without cause. Anyhow, she did not like this nosy Tarja.
"Nobody knows,” she replied dryly. “They say…he was killed. A lot of fingers are pointing to the Karsysizia family.”
“Ah,” came an aloof sigh; “the Karsysizias always were rather hateful of the Peryszavias.” An agreeing nod came from Elinan, and she lay down onto her back again on the soft, mossy earth. It offered the bittersweet warmth a river bank could provide, and the two women gladly accepted its offer. After all, it was better than sitting in the stone cold bitterness of the prison, just twelve feet behind them.
Then a horrible noise cracked the air—the sound of a chain-whip lashing. That sound had made Tarja fear for her life many times in the two long years she was there. She could hear it now; the sound of its metal links dragging slowly, grudgingly, against the grainy stone and dirt floor. Next would come the sound of its anger crashing over someone’s back. Pained cries of endurance—and silence.
“Listen all you!” the fat guard with the marred face shouted; “line up in single file right now in front of the prison!”
The jingling rattles of the metal rings against metal spikes made sure nobody disagreed. Everyone lined up in two perfectly straight lines about the doors. Tarja and Elinan were behind maybe four others, and they were near the front. The man in front of them—a clamoring, fanatic old Dassinthi man—had his eyes darting in between the guard’s blemished face and the blood-tarnished golden metal of the chain-whip.
He seemed to vehemently fear the thing—as anyone would. Again, his nervous eyes danced over the glimmering gold; sparkling death. And the day was anything but relaxed now, as the people, lined and organized like sheep about to be slaughtered, rattled idly in their lines. They all held their breath, waiting for the guard’s next command. His pinprick black leer was all that they received.
“Listen, you rats,” he growled gruffly, taunting them with the gold whip. “There’s a new batch of prisoners coming in, and there’s just no more room in Mur’tombi’kaam.”
The guard started to pace slowly, threateningly between the two lines. His dark beady eyes shot a venomous, hateful dagger into the eyes of everybody’s eyes he met with.
“We’re selling you to Gerodathian nobles,” he said finally.
A horrified gasp of fear—of confusion—made its way throughout the people. Old men and woman started to shiver, while the younger girls began to whimper and shake. Younger men started to curse and gasp in disbelief—and Tarja and Elinan clasped each others’ hands tightly.
The Gerodathian nobles were very hard people to gain affection from, unless one was a Gerodathian themselves. More so than anybody else in the world, noble Gerodathians hated outsiders. They would most likely put the prisoners to work in the flooded rice fields, or the forests. Tarja hated the prospect of it.
“You can’t do this to us!” she exclaimed without thinking. Oh, holy Goddess, she thought idly to herself.
“What did you say?” the guard said sharply, jingling his whip. It was too late now to take back what she had said.
“I said,” Tarja started, gulping hard; “you can’t do this to us.” He went over and stood right in front of her. The gold of his metal whip shimmered dangerously in front of her face. But she kept a hard expression and glared at him darkly. “You are not selling me to a nobleman in Gerodathia,” she continued. “I won’t allow it.”
The guard’s greasy face crossed by a cruel smile slowly, menacingly faded into an angry grimace. Before anybody could blink, his chain whip met suddenly with Tarja’s shoulder.
And she felt it. Each of the individual chains, ripping against her exposed skin. She was not expecting it—it hurt more that way. The brutal stinging sensation ripped through her body; wave after wave of numbing pain rippled around her shoulder. It left an angry red stripe, a bitter reminder of this horrible prison.
She could see the guard, raising his arm again. He was about to lash another one on her; she knew it. Tarja’s eyes widened in pure fear as the glinting gold stained with the red of her blood came into view once more.
“Ek’hara,” came a placating yet cold voice. “Enough of this.” Tarja’s fearful eyes turned to where that voice came from.
It came from a man who looked to be about in his forties—but was still rather spry. His dark brown skin was only wrinkled in some places, and it had already been through the wear-and-tear of the world. His pale gray eyes were jaded, wise. Most of all, they were tired. As if he tired of having to live with hate-driven suffering all around him. His somber dark yellow coat, decorated with threads of black made him seem rather important.
“Warden,” the guard said lowly, bowing his head.
The warden looked at him, the whip and then Tarja. A fearful feeling jumped through her when her eyes met his.
“That’s enough, Ek’hara,” the warden said in a cool, warning tone. “Duke La Kai will not accept crippled workers. Leave this woman be.”
The warden turned to look at Tarja. He examined her wound briefly.
“I hope this idiot hasn’t given you too much trouble.”
He nodded in a stifled polite manner, and walked away. He took Ek’hara’s whip from his hand—the guard grumbled in disapproving when he did.
“You’re not to injure anyone else,” the warden said without turning. “As I said, the nobles are not going to need injured slaves.”
He then gestured toward the front gates of the prison—on the borders of Dassinth and Sycracia. The mighty Evanescent River rushed right on it, under a large stone bridge.
“Tomorrow, the caravans arrive,” the warden said loudly. “Until then, that is all.”
And the warden disappeared behind the doors of the prison. Tarja watched as the last of his dark yellow coat disappeared behind the dark metal.