Salty sweat dripped endlessly down LLasher’s forehead and into his eyes. The bandana wrapped around his head was thoroughly soaked. His legs clenched beneath, doing the majority of the work, as he hauled himself up one knot at a time along his rough, hemp rope.
A silhouette peered over the cliffside lip. “You are almost there!” Lyndasia called down.
“I know, I know. I lost my arm, not my eyes!” he snapped back at her. “The things I am asked to do. Being a criminal was so much easier!”
Only her laughter in response drifted down to him.
Finally he crawled up and over the edge, rolled and laid on his back, his sides heaving. Lyndasia laughed and punched his shoulder good-naturedly. She rolled up to her knees, stood then offered him a hand to get to his own feet. “I bet you sat like a fat slug in your cabin on the ship. Just ordered all your crew to do your dirty work. And do you know what that is called, my friend?”
“What?” he snapped at her. She was beautiful, but her humor was as usual mocking. Her long black dreadlocks banded together with green metal rings cascaded down over her right shoulder. She had tan and black studded leather and a pair of short swords scabbarded at her sides. Her brown eyes sparkled with mirth and energy.
“That is what they call Koyo’rah.”
He stared at her, not understanding her words and lost to her meaning.
“Koyo’rah. Another word for what you call karma.”
LLasher had to chuckle at the unexpected answer. She had him dead to rights. It was the standard practice for a slaver captain to remain on board while the Hunting Crews went out and brought back their quarries.
A flash of memory came to him. Faces of young men, barely past their first ten years of life, looking at him with wet cheeks and snot dripping from their noses. They were captured and stripped from their families. Young, strong and still at an age that they could be broken into fine, obedient slaves.
LLasher’s good humor dried up. Sudden shame over the ugliness of what he had brought upon the world. How many families did he split up? How many lives was he responsible for? Koyo’rah indeed.
Lyndasia must have seen the passing emotions and expressions across his face. “Sorry. Are you alright? Did I stir something up?”
“Let us just see what good we can do here today.”
She eyed him but decided to not continue the subject.
Changing the topic, she pointed down in the valley below. Today’s mission was due to a bit of the limited information found in the messenger bag LLasher and Rivyen had retrieved at Adventdawn. Letandra had opened mines. Their true purpose was not clear. “There are roughly four guard towers, manned with minimal men. On the ground floor and in the mines themselves I found they are heavily guarded but there is a window of time when they switch out that we could take advantage of.”
“Who are these guards?”
“Most appear to be hired mercenaries or Dovvish Clan Barbarians. No one that seemed beyond my men’s abilities to overcome. Inside the mines are the majority of the slaves. They work all day and into part of the night. Seems the Queen has stiff penalties for failure to meet her quantity demands.”
Lyndasia plucked out his spyglass from his belt and pointed at a ridge on the western side of the valley. He brought the wood and metal tube up to see a construct with a row of fashioned nooses. Some were occupied and the bodies were being cleaned by flocks of crows.
“Some of them are slaves, some of them are guards,” Lyndasia stated. “I understand your reasoning to be here, but you have to understand why Rivyen also vetoed the idea.”
“He does not like to take risks or chances. That is not my style and, honestly, we are running out of time. She is gaining too much power and resources. I am not even sure we can take Letandra on at this point.”
LLasher tugged at his bandoleer of throwing hatchets and made sure they were secure across his chest.
“He sees that. But what he sees and you do not is that we have a long struggle here. He is in it for the long haul and when you are short-handed, it is not wise to bet against the odds working in your favor.”
He faced her, anger in his eyes. “If this is how you feel, then why are you here? I do not need babysitting and it is sure damn too late to try and talk me out of this.”
She stepped back a step, surprised by his sudden temper. “No. I am not here to talk you out of it, I am here to back you up. Look, you and I are more similar than you would think. Tal and Rivyen plan, organize and analyze every detail, but on the actual battlefield, those plans are often thrown out. The littlest items throw everything off. I agree with you on this — stopping the mines. We know whatever she is doing behind the Wall, she somehow needs this mine. She does not know yet we know about it.”
“Exactly! If we take away the key parts of her plans, then we can make progress in other areas. All we have been doing is playing catch-up. We are the outlaws now. We are trapped off the coast and we have no inkling of her actions behind those stupid storms. We are losing. And…I am losing Letandra.”
Lyndasia reached out and placed her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Today, we are here and we are not being idle, alright?”
He coughed into his hand, trying to hide how emotional he was getting. Changing directions, he said, “How many do we have and what are we up against?”
She answered, “There are a dozen men along the perimeter, patrolling and looking for any trouble inside and outside the quarry. In the pit with the slave miners, there are at least two armed foremen with each cluster. Clusters vary based on the area they are working. The most accounted for by my spies in a cluster was two dozen which had double the foremen.”
She paused and pulled him close to lean to the right then pointed her finger to show him rows of wooden cages. “The pens have hyenas. They are not fed for days. This is another facet to stop slave uprisings. If the hyenas are freed, they would swarm and shred anyone unlucky enough to be near.”
“We have fourteen archers and two teams of dagger-monks. Beross upon my request graced us with several potions that will put to sleep the animals. We will release–“
“–Why not just have your archers shoot them in the cages?”
She frowned, disapproval registered on her face. “They are not to blame for their treatment. Once we destroy this place, they are going to be fed then released in the wild. The Order believes every life has meaning. You have not learned this yet?”
The flash memory of young men lined up in chains, fresh whip marks on their naked backs, crossed behind LLasher’s eyes.
“We can use the archers to take down the guards — they chose to be here. The monks can sneak into the tunnel works and free the clusters as they come upon them.”
He turned away from her and held up his hand to block the light from his eyes as he rescanned the valley quarry below. “Seems a bit haphazard and prone to have slaves killed. I think we would have better luck at sunset. The majority of the slaves will be back in the dormitories and not spread throughout the mine tunnels. The archers and the dagger-monks can use the fading light to mask their positions.”
As the Khestal Ezan Spymistress she was not involved in battle tactics often. She shrugged. “As you wish. This is your operation. I can divide one team of dagger-monks and have a few secure the slaves used during the late evening in the mines.”
As LLasher detailed, the quarry mine had ceased most of their operations as the sun set. Four to five dozen slaves were being guided roughly to dinner in a circular clearing. Two fire pits blazing. On the pits were twin cooking pots filled with a watery brown stew. Water pouches were handed down the line.
The slaves were mostly prisoners from Wyvernshield and even some of the former pirates that had sacked the city before The Bleeding Crown took over. There were all ages; the Ebon Queen did not discriminate between men, women, old and young. All were hands that could lift a pick or dig with a shovel.
“How do you plan on finding her? She will not look the same as we remember her.” Lyndasia whispered to LLasher as they were back upon the clifftop spying on the quarry.
“That is a great question. My hope is that Jereyna will reveal herself to us once we gain possession of the mine.”
“Jereyna was his woman?”
LLasher nodded. “Aye. She and a friend of mine were leading citizens out through the sewer tunnels during the siege. I do not know what happened or how they were captured but neither of them returned that day.”
“You are sure she survived?”
He winced. “My friend, First-mate Humphreys, learned that she had been taken prisoner. Later she was sent here with most of the prisoners. Since then I have not heard anything else about her or my other friend, Ka Shayla.”
“You…you feel guilty. You feel guilty over King Taihven’s death. That is why you are risking all this — to free his woman in an attempt to ease–“
“–No. She is a side benefit to sacking the mine. If she was the only reason, I would have come here on my own and snuck her out. The mine has to be destroyed as you stated earlier. It is a part of her plans and we have to find any way to delay or prevent her goals from being carried out.”
Lyndasia did not look convinced, but she did not press the issue further.
“Signal the archers. It is time to shut down this disgusting operation,” LLasher ordered.
Six of the perimeter guards walked along the top walls of the quarry. Three walked within the encampment below and three more were at the mouth to the only road entrance to the mines.
LLasher and Lyndasia slipped quietly down the cliffside. Two of the dagger-monks went with them and the other team set off in the opposite direction toward the guard and foremen barracks.
Using the shadows and the occasional boulders stacked on the grounds, they made their way close enough to the hyena pens for Lyndasia to throw chunks of raw meat. The growls of the creatures quieted quickly as they succumbed to the magical properties tainting the food.
LLasher hand signalled to her that they should hit the group by the fire pits. Mischief brought out a radiant smile upon her face, she nodded anxiously.
As they crept closer to the fire pits, one of the foremen could be heard berating a slave.
“She is not asking much of you, scum.” He kicked a young woman in the ribs as she curled up on the ground. “Yet every day we have to tell Queen Letandra that we are even further behind!” He used his thick hide boot on her once again and followed it with a glob of spit that matted her hair.
Another foremen chimed in, “I think they do this on purpose. They think all this is unfair.”
The first laughed at that. He spun around with his arms wide and addressed the throng before the fire. “What? You think because you were born in the city, you were beneath manual labor? You lot need something to motivate you, perhaps?”
He looked down at his boots. “Is that it, whore?” He grabbed her by the long tresses of brown hair and hauled her to her feet. “What should I tell the queen next time? You are sorry, you were not made for–“
He blinked as a flash of fire light reflected off the metal of LLasher’s hatchet. It sailed end over end through the air and embedded itself easily into his thick forehead. His body dropped like a potato sack beneath one of the cooking pots.
The second foreman stuttered in alarm, then went for his own sword but Lyndasia’s short sword slit his neck from ear to ear.
A louder raucous and more shouts were heard coming from the confines of the barrack shacks.
The beaten slave woman shrank back from the strange pair in front of her and scrambled over to the other clusters of slaves.
LLasher held his hands high and empty. “I have others here that are working to free you. Remain calm and quiet — we will have you freed shortly.”
He knelt down next to the first foreman, a man with a receding hairline and long, graying beard. After yanking free his hatchet, he found a ring of keys on the man’s belt. He tossed them to Lyndasia.
Lyndasia called out softly as she approached the suffering prisoners. “Let me unlock your leg chains.”
LLasher asked, “Do any of you know a woman by the name Jereyna?”
At first none dared to speak, but after he repeated the name, a lanky man walked free of the cluster.
“She was sick last week. They took her to the infirmary. We have not seen her since.”
“Do they actually Mend here or…” Lyndasia asked but could not dare finish the question.
LLasher paled at the idea of getting sick in the hands of these monstrous men.
“Sometimes. It depends on the degree of illness or the value of that person. They liked her, she could read and that made her valued. They would give her directions on a map of the mine. She could help the other slaves get things done.” He finished embarrassed and stepped back among the others.
“Where is this infirmary?” LLasher asked, his voice raspy.