Last Week: The Bronkos, a team of slaves working for local Rival Grell defeated their opposition, securing new dominions for Grell to rule. How did such a previously poor team make such a good showing? The secret might be their new Theyn, a mysterious figure known only as “The Sabre”…
Part Two (of Five)
Jared pushed at the tiny button on the side of the digital watch his father had given him but his fingers were too stubby and soft to get it to switch modes. Rather than fight with it more, Jared just looked at the date the watch showed (10-04-13) and subtracted the day he was first brought to The Contested Lands (05-25-13) to figure out just how long (four months, nine days) he had been in this awful place.
He was forced to admit that things were worse when he first arrived. At least under the “protection” of Rival Grell, he wasn’t being attacked by lizard-hounds in the jungle or being attacked by nomadic bandits intent on stealing everything he and his sister had with them. It was also better than the second week, when they had first been captured by Grell and put into the general population of slaves, Jared chained to a line of men hauling one of the giant challenge arena posts and nearly dying of heatstroke under their weird twin-sun.
Now Jared Sabor, late of William Howard Taft High School in University Park, Denver, Colorado, was the most important slave in all of Rival Grell’s retinue, and treated accordingly. He didn’t get whipped any more, nor was he forced to labor or to spend time outside during the doublelight. He was brought all the food he asked for, though he would have traded all the fruits and strange cheeses for a single bowl of his mom’s Hamburger Helper. The size of his tent was three times that of his bedroom at home and Grell had assigned him a young slave to act as his “personal assistant.” Keyvessa was maybe a year younger than Jared, but she had been a slave all her life and Jared was sure that she had directions from Grell that neither had told him. He had read enough novels to know not to trust the servants your enemies give you.
And despite Jared’s current position, Grell was indeed his enemy.
As if sensing suspect thoughts and moving in to soothe them away, Keyvessa entered Jared’s tent with a subservient curtsey.
“My Theyn, is there anything that you need?” she asked. Jared bit his lip. She always made a little extra eye contact when she asked that and did this cute thing with her lip.
“Can I see my Fingers?” Jared asked.
Keyvessa smiled. “The… what did you call them? The Bronkles?”
Keyvessa giggled at her own flightiness. “Of course! The Bronkos are at their Feast of Celebration. You know that is forbidden to any under the age of manhood.”
“What about my sister? Can I see Josie?”
This time Keyvessa frowned. “You know Master Grell will not allow such a thing. Why do you ask this every night? You know what I must say.” She almost looked honestly disappointed, too.
As soon as Rival Grell had discovered Jared’s skill, his sister Josephine had been taken from him and kept under guard as a hostage. Jared was probably smart enough to find a way to get himself out of the Rival’s camp, but Grell knew he would never leave his sister behind.
Jared finally asked the first question that he actually thought he might get a yes to. It was the same method he used with his dad to get him to buy stuff. Ask twice for things that you know you won’t get and maybe he’ll feel bad enough when you ask for the third thing that you’ll get it.
“Can I at least go see Konor? The, uh, Finger who was injured today on the field. I’m sure he’s still with the healers, right?”
Keyvessa nodded. “Yes, his injuries were very great, but Master Grell gives him much honor in continuing to prolong his life.”
“It was part of the deal,” Jared muttered to himself. Section Two, in fact, of the Five Codes of Victory that Jared had presented as non-negotiable laws Grell would have to live with if he wanted Jared coaching his team of challenge players. “Train and Protect. Don’t Replace.” Before Jared had come along, if a slave failed in any way during a challenge he was carted off and killed. He’d then be replaced with the strongest and most impressive looking new slave Grell could find. His team was the shiniest and most imposing gang of useless rookies ever put together, and they lost every challenge they were in. Jared saw that he could not only improve Grell’s team by changing this tactic, he could save lives while he did it.
“Much honor,” Keyvessa repeated. “Would my Theyn like to change into something before going amongst the lowest of his men?” She hooked one dark finger into the chewed collar of the 3XL Denver Broncos t-shirt and tugged at it suggestively.
“No,” Jared swallowed. “This is… uh… ceremonial.”
He certainly wasn’t going to change in front of Keyvessa even if he didn’t suspect that as soon as the t-shirt was out of his sight it would be stolen and destroyed; another way to cut him off from his old life.
“Then let us go to the failures and weaklings,” Keyvessa sighed.
Once out of Jared’s tent, the sound of celebration was everywhere. Nightfires had been set, their black smoke obscuring the dominant sun. Vik had explained to Jared that this was meant to shield the pure and noble eye of the sun from the debaucheries of celebration, but Jared was fairly certain it was just an excuse to get enough shade to commit said debaucheries without anyone getting caught.
Keyvessa led the chubby boy by the hand past several feasts and around the guarded wooden storage structure where the galya were kept when not being used. They walked beyond the stockade of menial slaves, whose celebrations were limited to not being lashed by the overseers who had the night off. Finally, past the scraps gulley where the offal was dumped to be purified when the next rain would sweep it all into the Great Round River Hubaba, they found the open tents of the wounded.
Health care in the Contested Lands came in one basic universal plan: care about your own health, because no one else was going to. Jared knew that he didn’t have much ability to change things, but at least he could keep his Broncos from being put to death for being wounded.
“S-sabre?” came a voice from one of the unsheltered cots. Konor lay there, part of his uniform padded into the bloody wound in his upper right chest.
“Konor!” Jared smiled at the sound of the grizzled man’s voice.
“They were… what do you call those who act without honor?”
“The Dallas Cowboys.”
“Then they were indeed Dal-Es-Kow-Boiz.”
“So are they taking good care of you here, man?” Jared looked around. There were two other wounded slaves, but no one else in sight. “Is anyone even here to take care of you?”
“Lord Sabre… the wound I have… it is too great. It goes beyond your… your second law. I will not be able to challenge again.”
“So?” Jared said, fists clenching. “That still doesn’t mean they don’t have to get you better! We had a deal!” He turned to Keyvessa. “We had a deal!”
“Honorable Konor,” Keyvessa said, leaning over the challenge player. “You know that Rival Grell will honor your great works always…”
There was a loud blast from the direction of the camp. Jared turned, looking for the source. An attack? But there supposedly weren’t any attacks any more… everything was decided with…
Jared turned back to the horrifying sight of blood running down Keyvessa’s back where the end of her own dagger protruded. Jared ran over as she fell to the ground, the blade sliding out of her belly and remaining gripped tight by its handle… in Konor’s bloody hand.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.