Sunday, 15 June 2014

Forever Fog - Tears of Stone

Fia prayed for death several times during the first few hours in that stinking hut. The miners of Croom were a feral breed and she felt the weight of many. At one stage, a woman entered the hut and Fia cried out for mercy. The woman turned hateful eyes on her, as if she were less than human.

In the days that followed she learned that the men, although hard and savage, were not the ones to fear, it was the spite of the women that held most danger. The huge hairy chieftain took more than his fair share of turns on her, satisfying himself until her body was raw. Vaddon, they called him and eventually it was he who dragged her, half naked, across the rubble of the valley floor.

The same crone that had turned a deaf ear to her pleas for mercy, crouched near a cooking fire, belching smoke around the blackened pot suspended above it. As she neared the woman her spite filled eyes narrowed with unbridled hate. She could only wonder what she'd ever done to rouse such ill-will. She quickened her pace but the woman was far quicker, her arm shot forward as fast as a viper strike, threading her stirring stick between Fia's bare ankles. She went crashing on the razor sharp rubble. The skin of her knees and hands opened in bloody ribbons, staining the grey stone with blood. The woman became a whirlwind of fury, beating her on the head and back. Fia was amazed any woman’s tongue could be as vile and skilled in curse words. She scrambled to her feet and dashed away from the mad old wench, Vaddon followed along, laughing with abandon.

"Get moving you pox ridden whore," screamed the woman, landing a stinging blow on Fia's ear. She covered her head with her bleeding hands, fending off further blows.

"Careful woman! You'll have her dead before she’s drawn one creel of ore from the ground," laughed Vaddon. His warning only added to the ferocity of the woman's arm. Fia was driven towards the head of the valley where a gate of stout oak barred the entrance to the mine. It was only when she got closer that she could see eyes floating in the darkness beyond. A guard lay beside the gate, curled in his cloak.

Vaddon kicked the man awake and Fia thought of fleeing, but her limbs were leaden with shock and abuse. The hag’s fingers gripped her hair as if she could read the thoughts running through her mind. As the gate opened the woman shoved her into the huddled mass of slaves inside. Fia watched with terrified eyes as the gate was secured. Vaddon was still roaring with laughter as he walked away with the furious woman trailing in his wake, giving his heedless back dogs abuse.

In the darkness, figures moved. Soon she began to pick out bodies, so covered in grime, they became one with the darkness. As her eyes adjusted she picked out women and men, clothed in rags or completely naked. They were incredibly thin, flesh stuck on bone. The floating eyes regarded her with neither pity, nor fear, they were broken people, only a heartbeat away from death. This is what lay ahead of her, a life of never ending toil until blessed darkness would finally take her. Fia felt her way deeper into the mine, running her shaking hands over the weeping walls of rock. Soon, tears flowed just as freely from her eyes. She made a pillow of her arms and cried herself to sleep on a bed of stone.

As the days passed, she toiled from dawn till dusk, only to remain caged in the mine at the end of it all. She was only dragged out for the amusement of the chieftain and that happened several times in the first weeks. He doused her with buckets of freezing water, sloshing some of the stinking muck from her skin. Then he fell her, like a man starving for the touch of a woman. The old crone, who must have been Vaddon's wife, was forced to watch. Vaddon added insult to injury by telling his wife to return Fia to the mine after he was saited. It was a source of great amusement to the miners who witnessed the jealous wife whipping her husbands naked consort across the village, while Vaddon stood aroused in the door of his hut.

Morning is just as dark as night in the tin mines of Croom. The sound of the gate being dragged open shocked Fia awake each day. They alll started the same, slaves charging toward the opening, the stronger throwing the weaker behind them. A bucket of watery slop dumped into a trough where the slaves ate with the finesse of a heard of swine. Fia watched the retched specters squabble over the scraps and vowed she'd never sink so low. Then the miners appeared. They dispensed metal-tipped digging tools and lit the way into the mine with burning torches.

All day she worked, digging ore and dragging it to the mouth of the mine. The air was a mixture of smoke and human stink. The miners themselves stayed outside the mine, rarely venturing deep inside. They only time she saw Vaddon in the mine was after a cave in buried several slaves. The Chief and his miners rushed to the landslide, digging with vigour. They worked until they'd retrieved the digging spikes, leaving the slave’s buried where they fell.

Overtime, she saw how one slave always bullied his way to the food before everyone else. Food was life, and life was all she longed for. She decided that the only way to survive this test was to become more savage than any other slave in the mine. That night Fia worked deep in the mine fashioning a sharp sliver of flint, as thin and deadly as a dagger. The next morning she positioned herself near her intended victim, beating him to the food when it arrived. With a savage blow the slave sent Fia reeling but she recovered quickly and drove her flinty weapon into the man's neck. The man spasmed, the small incision invisible and the rest of the slaves backed away. Fia chanted a complicated curse, damming the man as he died before everyone's eyes. The gathered slaves were mesmerized by the power of this new woman. Fia knelt at the food container and ate her fill while the dying man pawed at the ground. When she had finished eating, she moved and let the rest of the slaves fall on the food.

That night, after the miners had locked them in, Fia gathered the slaves to her. She told them she was a powerful witch sold into slavery by an evil druid. She promised them she would set them all free when her powers were recovered enough. From that day on the slaves had a new high priestess. Fia took to sleeping alone deep in the mine, away from the stinking mass who crowded close to the refreshing air at the entrance. She would make her way to the entrance shortly before dawn each day. Now there was order to the eating. The slaves waited eagerly until she had her fill before gorging themselves on what remained.

During the days she worked and stayed out of the hands of Vaddon or his wife. One day, while loading ore into her creel a piece of rock fell from Fia's hand. When she picked it up she saw a glimmer of yellow inside the stone. Fia worked the crack open and gloried at the thick vein of gold that ran through the middle of the rock. Fia placed the rock on top of the creel and began trudging the long dark climb towards the mouth of the mine. In a quiet spot she stopped and hid the rock in a crevice. Fia knew that this could be a key to her future, she might be able to bribe a guard but she knew she could not act rashly.

All the following day, Fia played out different plans in her mind. No matter how she moved things around she could only see the miners taking the gold for themselves and doing nothing to make her freedom any more eminent. She went to sleep that night lying across her hiding place, making sure no one stumbled on her treasure. Fia was woken by something, but she knew not what and lay staring into the dark trying to figure out what she felt. She concentrated on the sound and pressed her hand against the wall of the mine, through her fingers she could feel the water rushing past. With her bare hands she began loosening rock, digging towards the sound. The hours passes as she lost nail after nail from her fingers. She was exhausted but happy when she made her way towards the gate at dawn. She left behind a tiny trickle of fresh water seeping from the wall of the mine.Night after night she continued to weaken the wall, something Fia was sure would bring the whole mine crashing down.

One day, Fia decided it was then or never. Vaddon appeared, inspecting the quality of the ore being delivered on the backs of near dead slaves. Fia dropped her creel of ore and dug out her hidden treasure. She dropped the rock several times, cracking it in half. The seam of gold glowed bright for all to see. Fia ran as fast as she could toward the entrance: nothing could stop her now.

"Look, look," she called, burst past the guard.

All the miners turned to see the commotion. Fia made sure they all got a good look of the gold as she ran to the chieftain.

"See what I have found," said Fia. Vaddon grabbed the ore from her hands. She could see yellow fever take hold.

"Where did you get this?" he demanded.

"The mine. Did I do well?"

"Yes, very," and he panted harder than he ever had when he lay on top of her.

"Good enough to set me free?"

Vaddon sneered before striding towards the mine. It only took seconds for the news of gold to spread among the miners. Fia watched them crowd into the shaft and when they were all ahead of her, she followed.

When Fia reached the weakened portion of the wall she began to dig. Within minutes the tiny trickle of water was a spray. The stone cracked under the pressure of an underground river. Boulders as big as a man flew inwards. A torrent of water rushed into the mine, extinguishing torches as it filled the tiny space. Fia ran for the gate as the water flooded the deepest part of the mine.

Body after body floated up on the rising water and Fia attacked each as if they were Vaddon himself. Not one slave, or miner, survived the flood. Eventually the water stopped rising and Fia scrubbed off the filth as best she could. When her body was as pale as morning mist she smoothed her hair and walked into the light. She was a woman reborn.

A handful of villagers waited near the entrance, not daring to go any closer. At first they ran from the deathly white figure that emerged from the mouth of the mine. When Vaddon's wife recognized Fia, she charged at the stick thin, naked woman. Fia stood her ground, one hand beside her side, the other behind her back. The old crone let loose a manic howl as she closed the last few feet, Fia shrank to her knees as the woman closed in on her. Fia used all her power to launch herself upwards, putting her hatred behind the pointed digging stick. The metal point tasted blood at the nape of Vaddon's wife's neck. The pole pinned the woman like a scarecrow. 

The remaining women took to flight. Fia searched the crude huts which lay abandoned. She dressed herself in a rough black cloak and armed herself with a dagger. Fia gathered the few items of value she could find and mounted a skinny pony. On the way Fia found a skinned rabbit and took it with her.

From the bushes the remaining women watched in terror. They would later tell how the demon that had killed all the men left riding astride a pony, its evil body hidden beneath a black magical cloak, its hood pulled low over a grotesque head.  The most shocking part of the story came next, they said it was holding the still beating heart of Vaddon, eating it one bite at time.

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