A Slave's Recollection
How do people think of slavery!? Hah! What a question!
Well, mister, I can tell you right now I don't regard slavery in this world very highly at all, and I am unanimous in that! And it's so unfair! I mean look: my pal and me were hauled up before the judges for the same crime: petty theft they called it. Old bat only had four dalers in that fancy purse of hers. Ought to have been more, but anyway, she gets sentenced to a turn of debt slavery to pay back the four dalers plus fees to the Court.
Debt slavery is so cush, man, and that's a fact, let me tell you! I did a stint a few yeas back. Sure they put this fused bronze collar on your neck, and sure it's got a tag with your name and crime and owner on it, but they let you keep your own property and they give you a new sarong & sandals, a cot in the dorm, two whole meals a day -- and good food at that! -- and you get to talk while you're paying back your debt doing some mindless work. City workhouses are kind of mucky, but the Imperial houses are well kept.
So long as you follow their rules, you can work off your debt in a comfortable place. Beats sleeping under a loading dock, or trying to keep the private slavers off your back. Almost like a holiday for girls like us. And what's more, there are ways an enterprising and intelligent girl like me can come out on top with a tidy purse full of coin! They don't lock you in, but they somehow keep track of where you are and how much time you've put in towards your debt. My "friend" will probably be out in a couple months tops if she's smart at it. Heh! Her, maybe give her six months!
But nooo! I was the "master mind" the witless Adversary said. Like it takes a criminal genius to cosh some old hag and nick her cash! Anyway, how was I supposed to know the old witch was a fuckin Member of fuckin Parliament! And the wickedest old prick slicer that ever warmed the Red benches! No! She had to go and make me into an object lesson for all the young women of the Empire.
They took everything I had on me, ripped the rings out of my ears, stripped me naked -- oh, that didn't bother me, but I did love that sarong! My little sister made it for me... They clipped my wings, the tips of my ears, shaved my head and sent me into four years of dirty jobs. There's no new clothes or a cot; no light and airy workhouse; no freedom. The heavy brass collar makes it hard for me to turn my head, and it's thaumically fused. I could feel the power of the magic, and there's no way it'll come off until my time is up. Or unless I die first. They won't waste the brass in it by burying me with it. They'll just chop off my head and throw the bits to the pigs and melt down the collar for some other Imperial slave.
My first year, speaking of pigs, was shit raking in the Great Fraontham Slaughterhouse. Cows, pigs, oliphants, sheep, deer. You name it, if it's four, or sometimes six hooves and has got meat, the butchers'll whack, hack & pack. And what you get in the slaughterhouse besides meat is shit. Pig shit, oliphant shit, cow shit, horse shit. And me and a couple other slaves to push it, scoop it, load it in the carts and try not to slip and fall in the stuff more than twenty or forty times a day! Oh, I hated that place! The smell of blood and fresh meat in my nose was pure bliss! They fed us all a bowl of rice and beans in the morning and a biscuit after shift. I kept telling them I need to eat MEAT! I got so weak I thought I was going to die. Mostly the butchers ignored the slaves, especially us Daine. One kindly soul must have thought I was a pitiable wreck. Every now and again as I was sweeping the cuttings floor, he would make a flourish with his knife. A neat little slice of meat would fly through the air and land in the feathers of my wing! I gobbled it like a savage Herrwen, but I didn't care for that or that it was raw. All I knew was that he could land himself in trouble for feeding a slave; but he didn't seem to care. He never looked at me, never spoke to me, and I didn't pass by him too often. If I survive the ordeal, I'll find him and bow before him who saved me!
My second year, speaking of shit, was spent working for Dantham's Dunnies. They're the ones as have the contract mucking out all the public latrines. Uck. How primitive! Sewers and water taps are not difficult concepts to grasp! And yet the City insist on time honoured tradition! And that means dirty work for us slaves, hauling buckets of piss to the tanker cart and other buckets of shit to the nightsoil cart. But at least Dantham's gave us meat once a week and let me bathe every afternoon. But they kept us in close quarters, in the stables with their oxen and horses. Sometimes at night, some of the crew would come down to the stables and do things to us slaves. I never thought a girl would do those kinds of things to another girl. There was nothing to do but suffer and bear it with such grace as I had in me. Pleading only got rougher treatment; screaming for help only got a sever beating. Patience seems to have been the best weapon, in the end. Most of the crew's women gave up on me. Only one kept at me, trying to get more than a peep out of me.
My third year, thankfully, is now up! As you can see, I've been in the mines up in Carrowdale. Dwarrows are bastards and buggers of the first rate. They've no regard for Dainekind at all, and only tolerate Men because because of trade. Working in the mines at least is a clean kind of dirty if you take my meaning. Minelords usually don't go in for Daine girls, happily. But at least even the slaves eat well! As far as I can tell, we didn't eat anything different than our masters, and often as not, they worked along side us. Kind of odd. I really felt out of place. They never said it directly, but I got the sense they only tolerated us slaves there when either there weren't enough Dwarrows to do the work or else because the lord had signed a Contract requiring our labour. They couldn't let us not work, because that would be dishonourable and they couldn't let us work harder than them because that would injure their pride.
Though the work was hard, they at least respected me. They taught me much about stone and metal and wood. Ways of looking at materials I'd never thought of. I always thought only Daine could love the natural world so deeply, but it may be we have competition from the Dwarrows, at least when it comes to those three! They don't care for bird or beast, garden or forest unless it can provide something of worth.
And now I am in dread of the fourth year of my servitude! Before leaving Carrowdale, they scrubbed me every inch, combed out my tangled hair and trimmed my wing feathers. I guess they think I might try and fly away or something! They took off the brass collar and replaced it with a delicate silver bangle. Normally I'd love to wear a silver neck ring! But this I know is just another kind of slave collar. They said I'm due for a year in the House of Hamidge -- the same old bat I'd nicked four dalers from these three years ago! If the rumours are only half true, I think I'll be truly lucky to survive much more than a month there... I’m pretty sure she'll make me one of her Painted Girls, dolled up and perfumed and oiled and rented out to her friends, associates and government sycophants alike. What they'll do to me, what they do it with and how long they'll toy with me, I don't even want to think about.
And I shudder most knowing that high Dame Hamidge, MP herself will watch her friends inflect their torture on me. And she'll smile her wicked, parsimonious smile, eager to shove every penny worth of retribution into me. For the good of all the young women of the Empire.