As the camels followed the wagon ahead of them, I sat, half-conscious on the wagon seat. How did this happen to me? I’d asked around over the years, humans staring at the slave brand on my hand. Elves were never slaves, it seemed, but me. What was wrong with me that the elves left me with these slavers? Were elf children so plentiful that one could be snatched away and no one cared?
I’d seen elves in the caravan’s travels. Aloof, regal, I longed to shout out to them but Master Corpet, and his father and grandfather, made sure I was chained in my wagon when elves were about. I didn’t even really know anything about elves. Their culture, who they worshipped, favorite foods. The darkness came over me, as had for years. Snippets of memories surfaced of me as a toddler, my parents, laughing, singing, making music. I could almost hear it.
The snap of a quirt on my thigh brought me out of my dream. Tears flowed unbidden at the sudden pain. When I blinked, Emil was on horseback beside the wagon, laughing. An evil laugh that reminded me he didn’t care if I hurt or not.
“Master Corpet bids you read this and write a response.” He handed me the paper. He didn’t want to throw it in case it blew away. He’d be the one chasing it down.
I took it and nodded. “Right away.”
Emil snorted then wheeled his horse around and galloped off to the rear of the caravan where the horses were being herded.
I opened the paper and read.
Greetings and well met. Lord Verden passed away last winter. A great loss to his family, friends, and the city, Katzin, as well. As his nephew and heir, I will greet you at the palace at your earliest convenience. Send word on your arrival and an audience will be arranged.
As to your business, Uncle left clear direction. I will continue to support you in your endeavors. We will speak of it in person.
Nothing unusual. Much of Master Corpet’s work was done in person, so I wasn’t concerned about that part of the letter. That the old Lord was dead, again, humans have so short a life, I wasn’t surprised by that either. I’d never met the man. I puzzled a bit over …your endeavors. As the master’s book-keeper I was sure I knew all the master’s business. Some of it less than legal, but there seemed nothing Lord Trayford could help with, unless it was protecting the caravan routes from competitors. I folded the letter and tucked it in my sleeve pocket. No response could be written until the wagons stopped and we neared Katzin.
After we camped and I had fetched water for my wagon, I went to see Master Corpet. I stood silently at the back of his wagon as he gave direction to the camel drover leader, the slave minder, and Emil. Emil spit in the sand at my feet as he left the master to take care of his tasks.
Corpet grinned at me. “And you, little Delia. What do you have?”
I swallowed my gall at the diminutive. I was forty years older than he was. “Other than announcement of our arrival in Katzin, do you want anything else included in the letter to Lord Trayford?”
He shook his head; his turban ends swinging gently. “No. That will be all. We will arrive tomorrow. Give me the letter in the morning and I’ll send it from the gate. The lord won’t be ready for me until well after we get to the caravanserai and I have a chance to bathe and refresh myself.”
“Yes, master.” I bowed and turned to go.
I turned back to him. “Master.”
He studied me a long moment. I could feel myself begin to tremble. What was he thinking?
“When did you come to us?”
I bit my tongue at his choice of words. Come to us? As though it were my idea and I was an honored guest? “I was six, Master. Sixty-three years, eight months, eleven days.”
He nodded. “My grandfather. Papa told me. That’s a long time to be a slave.”
I shivered, clasping my hands so that he couldn’t see them shake. “I think so, Master. That’s three human generations. A whole human lifetime.” I lifted my chin as I spoke then fearing I’d gone too far, ducked my head and shifted my gaze to the sand.
He grunted. “Indeed. That’s all.” He turned and went into his wagon, calling for his personal slave, Sam, to bring him wine.
That’s it? I thought. That’s all he wanted? Still trembling I hurried back to my wagon. I put the kettle on for tea and sat at my table, waiting for it to boil. What was that about? What is Corpet thinking? One more day until we arrived at Katzin. We went there every year, twice a year. Out and back on the Corpet trade route. The far end being Midton, the end we just came from, Kitgate. Over a thousand miles, back and forth for the last sixty-three years. Sandstorms, raiders, famine, drought, I’d seen it all, over and over. The water boiled. Half I poured into my mug and dropped in a few tea leaves. The rest I poured into the basin and added cold water.
I washed away the dust of the day as best I could and tossed the dirty water out the back of the wagon. I watched it disappear into the sand. Like me, I thought. I was tossed into the mass of humanity, never to be seen again. My chest grew tight at the thought. Lost. Lost.
Thank You! Come back next week for Part 3.