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The Three Kings

by Slawomir Rapala

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Chapter VII. Darkness Before Dawn

part 1 of 3

Iskald, son of a powerful duke of a Northern Realm, is mentored by an aging General Aezubah. The duke is murdered, and Aezubah cannot rescue the boy from the clutches of the Tha-kian slave traders. Years pass before a princess, Laela, saves him from his masters’ whips.

Iskald is then torn between love for his home and the passions stirred by the princess. On the deserts of the Southern Realms he seeks to bury his life as a slave and soothe his tormented soul. In the process, he becomes a warrior.

Two powerful Viking Kingdoms vie to conquer Iskald’s homeland. His people, led by Aezubah, have mounted an impossible resistance. Iskald’s life is henceforth shaped by the swirling challenges of love and duty.

The Nekryans returned to the mines the following day, leading the young Duke on a chain. Iskald was bruised, dirty and covered with dried blood. Most of all though, he was tired, so tired that he could barely stand.

The trip back was not a pleasant one for the young slave and the sadistic guards did everything to make it even more miserable. Yanking and pulling the chain fixed to his neck, they urged their mounts into a gallop and forced the already exhausted Iskald to run behind them. When he could not keep up and fell to the ground, they dragged him for a while more, laughing and whipping his broken body.

Every now and then one of them rode up and kicked him to the ground or slapped him across the face, finding sick pleasure in Iskald’s inability to respond. He was not allowed to sleep and soon after he regained consciousness after being pushed from the tree, the Nekryans beat him and burnt the soles of his feet so as to make the trip back even more painful. They gave him no water or food, and so, the only way Iskald survived the trip was by the grace of gods.

Isla could not hide his content at seeing the young slave led by his men into the mines. The threat of exposure was gone, his operation was safe, and Isla could again sleep soundly. In an outpouring of good-natured feelings, he even rewarded the men generously for bringing the slave back.

Upon hearing of Tetoy’s and Cisil’s death, however, he shuddered. They were, after all, his best two keepers, and Iskald had killed them as easily as if they had been two helpless boys. It occurred to Isla that perhaps he had thus far underestimated the young slave, and this thought infuriated him and plunged him back into a furious binge.

His first impulse was to kill the troublesome slave and spare himself any further problems, but thinking back to all he had told Cisil before the head guard set out in pursuit, Isla soon abandoned the thought. Iskald was valuable, and if the Nekryan wanted to rid himself of the problem, the slave could fetch a good price at the market. Isla, therefore, resolved to only punish the young slave.

It was a judgment day for Iskald. That he walked away from it with his body intact and that he managed to live through the horrendous ordeal he owed not only to the remarkable strength and resilience of his body, but also to the power of the belief that his suffering was the suffering of an innocent human being. He owed it to the strength of his belief that gods would punish the wicked.

With that thought in mind, the only thought he could hang on to, Iskald endured the torment in silence and even the most horrible pain could not force a groan even to escape his mouth. He was tough and cold as ice, and nothing that Isla did to him on that day broke his spirit. Finally, realizing that all of his efforts were in vain, the Nekryan gave up and left the young slave.

Having learned the details of the pursuit, aside from blind hatred and fury, Isla felt a certain amount of respect towards Iskald. The audacity and mammoth strength that he had demonstrated caused even Isla to feel something new and strange, something that almost bordered on fear. Never before had he owned a slave who had caused this many problems and headaches.

In a Kingdom where slave trade was punishable by death, a man like Iskald was dangerous to have around. It would be easy enough to kill him, Isla grit his teeth. But his greed was stronger than fear or hate even, and after a few days of reflecting on the matter, the Nekryan decided to rid himself of the precarious possession while making a profit on the transaction at the same time.

He smiled when he thought about how he had paid a handful of gold pieces for Iskald two years ago, and how he would now make a bundle on him. He looked forward to the next market which was to come in a few short days.

* * *

Nekryan slave-trade was much less grand and complex than that of Tha-kians simply because Diovinius, the King of Nekrya, was its leading opponent and he relentlessly drove the traders off his land. Nekryans were therefore forced to hold the transactions in hiding and only a few times a year.

Private arrangements between individuals were the common practice as opposed to public sales, which were much more difficult to organize and manage. They did occur, however, and Isla was recently informed that the next sale was to be held soon in the small village of Ayoove, a day or so away from Arrosah.

The slave-traders took great care in choosing the spots where they were to occur because Diovinius’ threatening shadow continuously hung over their heads. They chose this particular time and place because they were told by their spies lurking around the King’s Court that the Monarch was planning a trip to the northern borders of his Kingdom. Ayoove was located at safe distance from the King, one which would only increase as Diovinius would travel further north.

* * *

Iskald, in the meantime, was thrown into a cellar where a slave girl cared for him for the next couple of days and tended to his wounds, bruises, and broken bones. All ten finger of his left hand were smashed with a steel hammer, two of his ribs broken by the savage kicks, his feet still burnt from the fire. His face was distorted by the beatings, his shoulders and joints dislocated from the stretching, and his back was a mesh of old and new wounds.

An injury to his left eye would never quite heal, and just as he would have a slight limp in his right foot for the rest of his life from the flogging he received at the hands of Tetoy, Iskald would never regain full vision in that eye.

The slave girl tended to his wounds and to his other needs as well, instructed by Isla to tend to his manly needs just the same. Iskald could not care any less about what she did to him, simply because for a long time he could not quite come about. The beatings had left him with a concussion, and only later did he come to slowly recognize people and the surroundings.

To say then that Iskald’s first sexual experiences were memorable would be an overstatement. Isla insisted on this special treatment, however, because he wanted Iskald to be full of life and vigor when he put him up for sale in Ayoove. But the day of the market was approaching and Iskald was still not recovering.

Soon Isla realized that he would have to sell the young slave before he was completely healthy again. This would, of course, lower the price considerably, and the thought angered Isla, but his mind was already made up. He was willing to take a small cut as long as someone took Iskald off his hands.

There came a time then that was to finally bring the long-awaited change in the young Duke’s life. He was still quite ill and weak when two Nekryan keepers came by the cellar, tore away from him the slave girl who had taken a liking to the young man, grabbed Iskald by the arms and led him outside. There they put him into a covered farm cart along with several other slaves, also destined for Ayoove.

Iskald did not realize what was happening or where he was being taken. The fever had returned and overwhelmed him again, causing him to drift in and out of consciousness. How long they were on the road, he did not know. He thought it was perhaps a day or so because when the coach finally stopped it was pitch dark outside. Isla left the slaves in the care of his two Nekryan guards while he himself spent the night in the only available inn in Ayoove.

Only now did Iskald begin to show interest in what was taking place. After questioning his companions, the young Duke at first could not believe his ears. Was he victim to an ill mind that had succumbed to the fever and placed such wishful images before his eyes? After all that he had gone through to free himself from Isla, it was to be this simple? He was to be simply traded at a market?

Finally he would be free off Isla’s reign of terror; finally the nightmare would end. It did not matter where he would end up, nothing and no one could be as evil and wicked as Isla, he thought. Whatever turn his life was about to take it had to be a turn for the better.

The sale started early morning on the following day. Iskald was bound in shackles and led away from the cart. Along with his fellow slaves he was taken to the main square of the village. He looked around disbelievingly, unable to comprehend that an event like this was even possible in Nekrya, under the watchful eye of King Diovinius, of whom he heard many stories. Some of these stories he heard not only from the guards and slaves in the mines, but also earlier on, from his father and Aezubah.

The legend of King Diovinius, the Nekryan Lion, had grown over the years and reached the point where all of his enemies feared and trembled upon hearing his name. The audacity of the slave-traders, who had the nerve to organize such an event under the very nose of the Nekryan Lion, was something Iskald could not understand.

Only later did he realize that the sale had been carefully planned, set at a time when Diovinius was far away, and in a village whose inhabitants were largely advocates of slavery. Those who were not were either bribed or threatened into silence. The event was planned to the last possible detail, and unless something unexpected happened, nothing would interrupt it.

It lasted for three days because of the larger than usual number of slaves who were to be sold or traded. For Iskald, those three days were the longest he ever had to endure because of the lingering but continuously unfulfilled hope that he would finally leave the hands of Isla.

In addition, his Nekryan master had a few ill-humored days and took his anger out on Iskald. Although he did sell most of the slaves he brought with him, he either gambled the money away or spent it on wine and whores.

His anger was further heightened by the fact that Iskald, the prize possession that he had hoped to sell for a large sum of gold, was not attracting any attention at all. Isla received some offers, but none of them matched his expectations so he dismissed them all with an impatient wave and waited for someone to give him the bundle of gold that he dreamt of on the way to Ayoove.

The reason for Iskald not fetching the price he would normally have was simple: he was still ill and weak after the tortuous ordeal that Isla himself put him through. To add to his already miserable state, even now he was still beaten and whipped by Isla who looked for any excuse to torment his young slave.

For most of the days, Iskald lay either unconscious or in a state of delusion almost. It was hardly surprising that no one was willing to risk a high bid for a slave that could collapse and die at any moment. No one trusted Isla and that was another reason; his maltreatment of slaves was a well known fact, so whenever he put them up for sale, people examined them very carefully. They feared that the only ones Isla would part with were the ones that were simply unable to work anymore, the ones who were maimed or ill.

For the most part they were right, and Isla had only himself to blame. He would not admit this though, not even to himself. Most of his blame, anger and hatred were instead directed at the person he perceived as focal of all his problems and he unleashed them on Iskald often and without provocation.

On the third day Isla scrambled out of bed in an even more dismal mood, if that were at all possible. The night before he had gambled away the rest of his money and was empty-handed, something he was not accustomed to and something he resented.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala

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