Hard Times

Grzhegorzh and the monks were kept in captivity for many days while the raiders took them to their camp. At first the monks tried to talk among themselves. They would say prayers and sing hymns, but that did not last long. A few minutes after they started talking, one would be pulled off of the cart and beaten. It took three times for the message to get across. Not that Grzhegorzh could speak anyway, his jaw was severely fractured. The raiders mentioned selling them while sitting around their fires at night, meanwhile the captives were kept in the cart. It was the worst when it rained. Their captors had some form of shelter that they used when they made camp. This kept them dry, warm, and off the ground, meanwhile the captives were tied to a cart and left under the sky. They huddled together in silence as they awaited their fate. During the journey, they were only given one brick of hardtack and one canteen of brackish, muddy water per day, so it was no wonder that they eventually left two of the weaker and older monks in unmarked graves on the side of the road. Yet another injustice that Grzhegorzh would want vengeance for. He could not eat for the same reason he could not talk, and that left him a lot weaker than the others. By the time they reached their destination five days later, Grzhegorzh was weak with delirium and hunger. He was half-dragged, half-carried out of the cart by the other monks, but once on the ground he fell on all fours and could not find his feet. Worried, the monks pulled him to his feet again and led him where they were led. One by one they were sold off, except for a pair of twin brothers, who were sold together. Grzhegorzh was taken by a group of metalworkers to act as a scrap hauler. He still did not know what was happening even as he was dragged off to another cart. He was given more bread and water, but again, he could not eat due to the fracture in his jaw. It was during this time that he dreamed again, but not of a feast or a warm bed, this time, he was flying. He was among the clouds, the cold wind whipping his face as he watched the ground rush past beneath him. It was beautiful from up here, the forests and rivers blended together in a mural of green and blue. He looked up, there was the sun, clearer than ever before, and despite the cold wind in his face, he let it warm his back as he flew closer and closer. It kept warming him and he heard the rush of wind in his ears. It was now warmer than the wind, too warm. The wind rushing past him was deafening now, and the heat was so intense he felt as though the form that allowed him flight was melting away like wax. “I SAID WAKE UP!” Came a shout from his left. It wasn’t the sun, but a roaring fire of hot coals. Grzhegorzh tried to respond, but he could only groan, his body felt weak and numb. He managed to drag himself to his feet by leaning against a wall. “Name” his captor demanded. Grzhegorzh shook his head and pointed to the bruised spot on the side of his face where the hammer had left it’s mark. “Right, you’re mute.” the captor said to himself. Grzhegorzh nodded and slumped over, falling into a squat, before sitting against the wall once he could no longer stand. “Oh no, I paid a good amount for you, so you aren’t dying until I get my money’s worth.” The man said. Was it a man or a woman? Grzhegorzh could not tell. His vision was blurry from a week without any food, a concussion, and the searing pain of a broken jaw on the verge of infection. Whoever it was pulled Grzhegorzh to his feet and just about carried him to a tent. He was placed on a cot and held down. Someone pressed a bottle to his lips and commanded “drink”. He did, taking a gulp and gagging on the taste of the liquid. It burned, but the more he drank the less he felt, until at last he just passed out again. When he woke up, something was holding his mouth shut, and someone was sitting next to the cot where he was placed. They offered him a bottle that looked like it was made out of clay. He shook his head, but his visitor seemed to have other ideas. “You look like you haven’t eaten in a while, so take it on faith that this is what you need. This is basically liquid bread, with a decent amount of alcohol. Not as much as the stuff you chugged before they reset your jaw, but enough to make you forget how hard your day was. Trust me when I say that will be a welcome comfort, and one of the few you will receive here.” Grzhegorzh understood and took the bottle then. He parted his lips, despite his teeth not being able to separate, and took a gulp. This time he spit it out. “Takes some getting used to. My name is Victor.” He said, with a laugh. Grzhegorzh nodded and took another gulp. This time he managed to hold it down. It felt like a punch in the gut, but he figured that was just his stomach getting used to having something to digest in it again. Three long weeks he was kept there while he recovered, then, as soon as he could walk, he was dragged back to the forge. There a woman, with the same voice as the person who had berated him on his arrival. She was giving orders to several people. “You there, mute, get over here.” She demanded. Grzhegorzh couldn’t think of anything better to do, so he did as he was told. “There is a place nearby where we collect scrap metal. You and these guys will be sent there to collect scrap so I can forge armor and weapons for our soldiers, understand?” Grzhegorzh nodded and lined up with the others. There were five or six men in scrap armor carrying weapons that seemed sharp enough to cut a stone, and only ten prisoners including himself. There weren’t enough of them to overpower the guards, even if they were all in peak health. Grzhegorzh simply followed the others. He missed his knife, and his cloak even more so. It had cooled significantly since he had set out. His limbs were a bit numb still, and he was dragging his feet. One of the guards smacked him in the head for dawdling, and he just collapsed. He clutched his ears and shut his eyes, the concussion he still had was playing merry havoc with his senses now that he had taken another whack to the skull. The woman cautioned the guard to back off and dragged Grzhegorzh back into the forge. “I don’t know why the fuck they sent you out to work, you aren’t right in the head and your mouth is still healing. Until you can actually do what they bought you to do, I’m gonna have you doing some work here in order for you to recover.” Grzhegorzh still had his eyes shut, and he was rubbing his temples as his head throbbed. “Come on” she said “Let’s get you to work”.

Leave a comment