by Chip Dunning
Saumil had never had a good life. Plucked from his house at a young age he was handed over to the merchant Sakula to pay for the debts owed by his family. In the service of Sakula he hauled water, brushed the horses, and collected the droppings for use in the fires next week. They were the disgusting jobs that nobody else wanted and he could do nothing else.
Saumil’s parents could afford to send only three of their sons to the temple of lessons in reading and numbers. Since Saumil was the youngest he was the one left behind. Even now as the taskmaster beat him for hs rough handling of a horse, Saumil knew his parents did not miss him anymore than one missed a mangy dog that finally left. At first Saumil tried to run away, but with the merchant’s brand upon his forehead he would find no solace for the punishment for harboring an escaped slave was death in Turan. Each time he was recaptured he was beaten severely and twice they removed one of his fingers. Now, only jumped with the others shouted orders and kept his head looking only at the ground.
It was after everyone else went to bed that Saumil always stood outside of camp and stared into the stars. He had been told that Uhl lived up there and looked down upon his people at all times. If that was so, then what sin had Saumil commited that was so great to leave him lower than the master’s dogs. It must surely have been a sin so great that Saumil was destined to pay for the rest of his life.
For three weeks the caravan wound its way over the iron road towards the barbarian kingdoms of the west. Saumil had heard all of the tales of men sleeping with beasts, eating children, and worshipping the evils of the world. Saumil was sure that the master would never stop one of those barbarians from eating him whole if offered a fair enough price — and that price seemed to drop in the master’s mind each time Saumil faltered. He could feel the eyes of the other members of the caravan as if each knew that he would be sacrificed to the monsters so that they may trade in peace.
Saumil never understood the need to trade with the barbarians. If they were indeed evil, the why would uhl permit his people to trade with the enemy. Didn’t you burn the crops of your enemy instead of selling him seed to grow new crops? Saumil knew he could never hope to understand the whys, but in his own way he was glad that the suffering of his life would soon be over. In the cook pot of a westerner or as a snack for their evil masters it didn’t matter for Saumil would finally have peace.
It would have been a morning like any other for Saumil as he cleaned the animal and slopped the sewage, but on the horizon he could see the faint outline of buildings. He knew his life would finally end when the caravan reached the city later that afternoon. He silently said a few prayers to Uhl in the hopes of a quick death while he made his breakfast from the last of the bones left behind by the master’s dogs and a chunk of bread he found in the dirt where the horses were tied.
As the caravan walked towards that city, each step seemed like the hammering of the steel drum leading the condemed to their deaths. Still, Saumil found his eyes constantly drawn to the city with its imposing walls of gray stone and squat towers at the corners. It was not the flowing beauty of his own city with its sweeping gardens and hanging vines, but it didn’t appear as evil as he heard. It wasn’t until he got to the base of the wall while the caravan was waiting to enter that he saw the light-skinned men encased in metal that he began to believe they must dance with evil.
Once inside the great wooden gate he saw that all of his fears were true. These light-skinned people walked alongside the darkskins that plagued his people. There also seemed to be demons with pointed ears, almost eyes, and hair the color of the rainbow walking with an air of command amoung their lessers. Following behind were squat trolls that must be their henchmen familiars as often employed by his people’s own fortune tellers. Every Saumil looked was a violent cascade of colors and the jumbled speech of the damned.
Saumil was scared to move another step until a short demonwoman stepped in front of him and smiled what seemed a very hungry smile. Now that he was face to face with pure evil his race raced as he lost control of his bladder and collapsed to the group in a heap. He tried to call out to Uhl, but he knew it was too late to save his soul. For the first time in years he wished that his mother would just once more hold him and sing him to sleep. He saw her reach down to drink his soul when one of the guards came between them and pushed the demonwoman back with the true words of Uhl. When she had finally retreated the guard kicked Saumil three times in the ribs before he could muster the strength to drag himself back towards the caravan.
Compared to the morning, the rest of the day was far easier on Saumil. He cleaned the horses, drug boxes, and helped the guards assemble the wooden platform where the master would sell his wares. He knew that this was the time when he was to be sold for the master was very angry that he soiled his clothes and made such a fool of himself in front of the devils. This weakness, if repeated, would open the camp up to the evil of their magic and only their faith in Uhl could hope to stand against such trickery.
When the night came, the colored torches were lit and the master’s hawkers began to uncrate the boxes. A large crowd of all kinds of people gathered to buy what his master was selling. However, many seemed to hold back their money for the expensive silks and slaves.
As the moon continued to track along the sky the crowd finally got a taste of what they were really after. All of the girls that come with the merchant were brought out on stage and the crowd’s words grew into a frenzied pitch. As the winners exchanged their strange coins they were handed the leash to their girls. A few of the girls tried to resist, but most walked off the stage with the same resignation as Saumil faced every day. It was their lot in life to end up the playthings of devils.
When the last of the girls and bolts of silk were sold the crowd began to thin and the master’s slaves started to take down the stage. Saumil couldn’t believe his luck that he was not being sold for some devil’s breakfast. Just as he was sending praises to Uhl a familiar voice spoke from the doorway of a nearby house.
“Good master of the Caravan, I would trade with you.”
Saumil turned and saw the young devilwoman that tortured him earlier with her evil magics approach his master. When she repeatedly gestured towards Saumil he knew his life was over. His fate was sealed when just a few moments later the devilwoman handed over some coins to his master.
As the devilwoman approached he again felt her power and lost control of his bladder. He crawled through the dirt and cried at the feet of his master, begging him to spare his soul and not give him to the devil. As he licked the dirt from his masters best slippers two guards grabbed his arms and threw him away. The young devilwoman spoke to the guards then walked towards Saumil.
In the instant before she reached him, Saumil has resigned his life and the last of his spirit was crushed. He knew the role of lower than the dogs was his lot in life and now even that was coming to an end. With more strength that he knew he had, Saumil stood up as his new master approached. Although his knees were wobbling and he stank from his soiled pants the devilwoman lifted his head and once again stared into his eyes.
Saumil didn’t know what evil she worked on him, but the next thing he remembered was walking down a narrow alley between houses following the devilwoman. Thoughts of fleeing of running from this evil in mortal guise, but a simply worded “Don’t” slipped all thoughts of freedom from his mind.
Finally, after what seemed hours of walking, she stopped in front of a brightly painted wooden door. The door opened to her touch and she had a brief conversation with someone on the other side; although Saumil could neither see this person or hear their words. However, the devilwoman appeared to be happy with the outcome because her face once again broke into that hungry smile as she laughed out loud.
With the conversation ended the devilwoman once again faced Saumil, ” You listen to Lady Sakula and do exactly as she says or I will hear of it.” With those last words she grasped Saumil on the shoulder and turned back the way they came. Saumil first thoughts were of following his devilwoman master, until a old Turanian woman stepped from the still open doorway.
“I am Sakula and Lady Aringal has just freed you from slavery to any master,” the woman said although Saumil could hardly believe the words. “Come inside, we have some hot soup and fresh lamb for dinner.”
Over the next several hours Lady Sakula explained that the person he thought was a devilwoman had been buying slaves and freeing them. Lady Sakula herself was the first and while many had returned home there were still ten other people living in this house. When his strength had returned he would be found a job that paid coin so that he could help maintain the house and buy the food. Her warm face and compassionate smile soon caused Saumil, lower than the dogs, to drift off into a soothing sleep.
And finally Saumil knew peace.
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