After a week on the ship with only limited exercise, Rahlen’s whole body ached. When they’d marched the ‘cargo’ above decks and onto the docks, Rahlen’s bad leg had flared in such a knot that he’d nearly fallen onto Hanin. He hadn’t been the only one struggling, the prince had realised.
One of the Avaar men fainted in the heat mid-march through the city. His tribesmen were made to carry the unconscious man until the lot of them arrived at the main city square. A wooden platform was erected along one side of the square, while stalls selling food, clothing and more filled much of the remainder. A crowd of well dressed Tevinter men and women waited by the platform, many with servants fanning them to keep cool in the oppressive heat.
Rahlen found himself wishing that his education on Tevinter went beyond the First Enchanter’s contempt for magisters, and included geographical study so he could figure out where the hell he was. Rahlen squinted up at the bright-stone buildings around him, but something deep in his gut kept pulling his attention to the wooden platform the slavers were leading them towards.
It was a permanent fixture. In Ferelden, Orlais, this might have been a stage for travelling plays, or musicians come to entertain for solstice. Here…
It was a slave market, and the platform where slaves were auctioned off… was permanent. Rahlen felt a little ill at the realisation. There were elves in the crowd, but each wore a collar. Some gilded, some battered and heavy, but every elf in the Square was a slave.
“Take the Princeling elf and the Ferelden giant off the line,” the Templar slaver said. Favus, the man’s name was Favus. Rahlen had listened and learned quite a bit on the travel to here. Wherever here was. “Master Polonius has a special buyer for those two. Sell the rest as usual.”
Surprised, but wary, Rahlen glanced over at the ‘princeling elf’. Hanin had grown quiet over the last week, but it was a seething sort of quiet. Anger was good, it would keep the elf from giving up. And who knew, maybe the Inquisition was already riding north on Tevinter to find the heir. Maybe the Hero of Ferelden was calling on Grey Warden allies to find where her own son had disappeared to.
That sick feeling returned as Rahlen watched a guard undo Rahlen’s shackles from the line of chain. Who was riding to Fenlin’s rescue? Was she just gone? Disappeared into Tevinter like any of the Imperium’s countless elven slaves? That wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair, that she’d saved his life, brought him somewhere that was supposed to be safe, and now because of him, she was somewhere in this Maker-forsaken place. Who knew if he’d be able to find her again?
But he had to. She’d saved him, he wasn’t about to abandon her when she needed help in return.
“Follow me,” one of the guards said. The other stood behind them, sword drawn. Rahlen nodded. He glanced at Hanin, trying to warn the elf not to try anything. As much as Rahlen wanted to break free of the Maker damned shackles and make a run for it, his leg would hardly let him do so. Better to wait, find a more opportune-
“Magister Bastards,” Hanin leapt at the nearest guard, fingers glowing with the start of a spell. Rahlen winced as a clap of thunder and flash of bright light lit up Hanin’s Collar. The elf fell to the cobblestone ground, his entire body flexed tight as the collar delivered it’s painful shock.
“Had enough, slave?” the guard Hanin had leapt at sneered. “Get on your feet, if you can’t walk, Master Polonius sees no reason to keep you and you’ll get sold to the cheap fleshhouses.”
The collar spat a last few sparks before it returned to it’s dormant state. Rahlen held his palms up to the guard when the Tevinter man’s gaze swung to him. They’d enchanted the collars then, to discharge an electric shock when the wearer tried to cast a spell. Good information to know, even if it was at Hanin’s expense.
“Fuck you,” Hanin spat, voice hoarse. The crowd glanced over, but already some were back to bidding on the Avaar. As though this scene was routine, not even worth a second glance.
“C’mon, let’s just go see what this Polonius wants. Hopefully it’s to apologize and give us access to a bath and a razor.” Rahlen held out a hand to Hanin, trying not to think about how itchy his chin was. He had a week’s worth of growth on his face. It was… itchy.
“Listen to your friend, elf,” the guard said. “This is better than you deserve.”
Rahlen helped Hanin back to his feet, and brushed off some pebbles that had stuck to his shoulder.
“Maybe we should do what they say?” Rahlen said, the look he gave the elf was pointed. Later, they could figure a way to undo the collars, and get away. But Right now, neither of them was in shape to put up a fight.
Fenlin doubled over, resting her fists against her thighs. In each hand was a dagger, blades weighted wood to build up strength. Across from her, the trainer Polonius had brought her to, sneered down at her. Tall, muscular, the Tevene woman stood at least half a foot taller than the elf did.
“What do you think, Cresca?” Polonius asked, standing in the shade, sipping on a glass of wine.
“I think your fondness for knife ears is showing,” the woman said. “But this one does know how to fight,” she added reluctantly. “Though it is clear she has not had to for some time. Not successfully, at any rate.” The woman looked pointedly at the scar along Fen’s side, bared in the… excuse of an outfit that Polonius had given her. Mostly straps and cloth, it bared her entire torso, offering only ‘strategic’ hardened leather as bracers and greaves. They’d also stuck one of those damn orlesian masques on her. It only covered the top half of her face, but it made the heat worse.
“Do you think she’ll be ready in time for the festival next week? I would love to have something unique to show the crowd, and perhaps impress the visiting Houses.”
Fenlin listened, but kept her eyes on the woman, in case she came at her again with that damn sword and shield.
“That’s in less than a week,” Cresca said, turning to look at Polonius with a frown.
“It is, but I have some motivation arriving shortly,” Polonius said. “Her friends. One needs healing before we can begin training and the other might not be suited for anything other than dying, but if she fails to impress at the festival, I’ll sell both to the Seheron front.”
Fenlin finally looked directly at Polonius, eyes widening. Even she knew what Seheron was. The main battleground between the Qun and Tevinter. Although smaller fronts had opened over the years, the main force, and the main bloodshed was on that blasted island.
Fenlin shook her head firmly. She straightened and tapped her fist against her chest. She would do everything she could to keep the prince and heir alive. She had somehow risked Rahlen again, failed in stopping them from being caught. It was her fault they were here, and she would find a way to get them all out. She just needed to keep them, and herself, alive.
“Fine,” Cresca said, scowling. “Come at me again girl, and see if you can’t actually score a hit this time.”
Athim sat among the other gladiators in the shaded mess area, watching two humans argue about which had a better chance of fighting as the headliner in the coming festival against Athim. If he had to pick, it would have been the lighter one, slightly smaller, faster, but the crowd liked the larger one’s showmanship. It would be up to Polonius and the trainers to decide.
Speaking of training, Athim sighed and leaned back against the cool limestone wall, peering at the hedge that hid his view of the main practice yard. He’d much rather be out there, practicing, but Polonius had kicked them out for the newest arrival’s assessment and initial training.
“I bet it’s a Qunari, one of them Tal Vashoth,” a Rivani corsair said between bites of bread. Mute, don’t speak to no one.“
Rumours had started running wild when the gladiators realised that the only voices heard were Cresca’s and Polonius’s. The new slave, whoever they were, hadn’t made a single sound. No shouting, no arguing, no grunts of pain.
“Nah, it’s a golem. Control rods keep the things from talking,” one of the dwarves said. The other one glared at the first, then shook her head.
“You’d have felt the golem coming you idiot,” she said. “They shake the ground when they walk.”
The iron door to the barracks opened with a clang. Two guards dragged a struggling elf through the doorway and threw him to the ground. he’d been dressed in the same linen trousers they all wore, though his hair had been left longer than the other gladiators’.
Athim watched as the elf shoved himself up to his feet, and tried to jump towards the guards. He received the butt of a spear to his abdomen for his attempt, and the clang of the door as the guards retreated behind it, back into the barracks.
“Not a Qunari,” the Rivani said sadly. “Damnit.”
Athim stood, brushing sand from his hands, and walked over to greet the new comer who was now pounding a fist on the door.
“You’ll get bored of that pretty quick,” Athim said, crossing his arms and leaning one shoulder against the doorjamb. “There’s not much point.”
The white haired elf, skin pink and angry from Tevinter’s harsh sun, looked at him, blue eyes swollen and red.
“They don’t know who I am!” he said, teeth bared. “They’re treating me like some kind of-”
“Slave?” Athim said with a wink. “Because you are mate, we all are.” He gestured at the rest of the gladiators in the mess. “But we’re a bit luckier than the run of the mill slaves, I guess.“
“I’m not a slave,” Hanin said, scowling. “I’m the son of the Inquisitor.”
“I’m the hero of Ferelden!” piped up one of the dwarves.
“Aye, I’m th’ prince of Starkhaven himself,” the Rivani added, and the gladiators burst into laughter.
“They don’t care,” Athim said, patting the elf on the shoulder kindly. “I’m Athim. Do you have an actual name? Or just go by ‘the son of the inquisitor’?”
“Hanin,” the man said with a wince as Athim patted his sunburn. “Just… Hanin. I came here with another man, Rahlen, but he’s hurt. They are’nt going to…” he trailed off.
Aw, Athim thought. He’d come with his lover. That was sweet.
“No, Polonius patches us up pretty well, he prefers to have us in fighting form. If your man was hurt, the Master’s probably patching him up before he starts training.”
Hanin looked around at the others, possibly for the first time.
“Training for what?” He asked.
“Fighting,” Athim said with a grin. “You’re at a Gladiator school. Of course, you don’t get to graduate, you either win enough to earn freedom or you die, but,” he shrugged.
“A-” Hanin said, staring at Athim. “You die?”
“Not him,” the Rivani said, walking over and clapping a hand on Athim’s shoulder. “He’s the star. Vints love them some elf. You, if you can fight, maybe you’ll be the one to kill him, yeah?” the corsair grinned, showing off a few ‘golden’ teeth.
“I know how to fight,” Hanin said, squaring his shoulders.
“Which is why you lost a fight against two guards just now, right?” Athim said with a dry laugh. “Come on, you should eat, and drink. Training’s going to start this evening. Maybe your friend will be healed by then.”