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Inhuman Chapter 12
Aprot the Slave
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“Kirel’s involvement with the anarchists remains uncertain. Given their ideology against nobles, if I was on the other side, I would want to damage all centers of power, no matter who was in control. The Great Hall is a symbol of local control.”
Erdem remained quiet as he considered his position. While it was true such an opportunity might await him, he never really considered the idea of danger. To that point, the prince thought only in terms of luxury and idleness while awaiting the throne when his father died. Even the constant fear that Nazalath instilled upon his court of advisors and retainers seldom came close to Erdem’s world.
“I see,” the prince finally replied. “Then, once you identify and eliminate the threat, my role remains nothing more than a decoy.”
“Explain to me more about Greac’s work. Political problems with Ikarus Signoria and its supporters were a priority.”
“It is a separate but very related topic. I’m certainly surprised you picked up on this so quickly.”
Erdem hated the fact that Filko treated him like a child, but he remained quiet as the man continued.
“As you are probably aware, a significant amount of the grain for us comes from the Balrica Kingdom. The trail of wagons goes through the lands influenced by the House of Raragel. Well, more specifically, Dyst merchants who control the trade routes. The emperor changed the terms of existing rules for the territory leaders in Malka to collect the taxes before sending the grain to the capital.”
“I’m not sure I follow why that matters,” Erdem admitted.
Filko signaled to a servant standing by the door for more tea. He waited until the servant went to the doorway again.
“The territory must send the same revenue in taxes to the emperor. But now the territories can collect more at their discretion to fund the troops for the empire and their protection. Remember, we have another war coming soon.”
The prince leaned back in his chair, thinking about the concept. Then he smiled to himself.
“The goal focuses upon limiting anger against the empire with the increase in taxes on merchants. While making it appear my father is giving the locals more authority, he’s simply putting the target on them when the people see less of their money.”
Filko finished a sip of his tea and nodded.
“It appears the prince understands where he can increase his value to your father, along with the rest of the court, on this trip. We don’t want the local magistrates to abuse this new power. Partially, it’s up to you to ensure this happens.”
Erdem placed his chin on his fist as he thought about the coming days. For the first time, the prince felt the opportunity to shine. Even if his father placed it in front of him on a silver platter. It was his for the taking. Then he frowned at something he forgot.
That lecherous old man will mate with my wives on his way back to the capital!
A strange couple jumped from the last car of a slowly moving train coming into Wrse. The sky started turning a dull red as the sun rose, giving them enough light to avoid the trees and brush as they tumbled down the embankment. Quickly gathering his bags, Grym came back to Valary and helped her to stand.
“I’m amazed that my legs held out,” she panted. “It’s almost impossible to stop rolling with no arms.”
“Yeah, save your surprise. We have a long walk ahead. I want to avoid farmers along the way.”
He immediately started across the ditch and headed across the muddy road. She gave him a long glare, then followed.
The sun reached its zenith when the odd couple came upon a small shack nestled in an apple grove. Grym went directly to the entrance, but before he reached the door, it opened, and a woman appeared.
“Master, you’ve returned.”
The petite woman looked at Valary as she moved aside for Grym to enter. As Valary stepped past the woman, she immediately noticed the strange eyes of the slave.
Valary almost ran into Grym as she stared at the other woman. The delicate pale skin and pale blue eyes with double eyelids gave the Arok an uncanny appearance.
“Over there,” Grym growled at Valary, pointing to a chair. He turned to the woman.
“Aprot, you need food for her, and you’ll need to feed her until I put arms on her.”
The slave nodded and went to a primitive fireplace at the corner of the small building.
A rickety table with two chairs sat in the middle of the shack where Valary sat. She looked along the dirt floor to the other side where a stack of hay and a dirty blanket made up the bed. Open cutouts through sides of the walls made up the windows, and they were open to the weather. Through the back window, she noticed a wooden shack for the latrine.
“You’ll find all the comforts of home,” Grym told her after he observed her expressions.
“It’s better than where I was,” she stated. “You have two slaves, and one is an Arok. Obviously, it makes travel difficult.”
His expressionless mask nodded.
“I’m glad you’re thinking now. Yes, we’ll travel at night until we reach the Plarel forest. From there, we’ll ride in the day since only hunters and bandits travel the forest.” He nodded toward his other slave.
“As you’ve discovered, Aprot carries the strong genetics of the Arok. However, she’s of mixed race. You’ll find her a pleasant companion for our coming work. Not only is she adept in healing like you, but she carries a great hatred of nobles. She’ll happily cut their throats. A quite suitable replacement for someone you’ll meet soon.”
Valary looked at the Arok, who stood by a bench where she cut roots and put them into a kettle of water. The healer believed she understood the hatred. Nobles hunted the Arok tribes for sport when they took over the tribal lands several generations before.
Forced from their lands, those who survived became slaves. The tribes that still survive remain in the mountains inside Ikarus Signoria. Those Arok of mixed blood who remain in the empire are usually slaves. They sold most of the women to brothels as prized commodities because of their small stature and blue eyes.
“You kept her a slave so she could remain in the empire. Doesn’t she hate you for that?”
“Why? She knows my plans. Once you learn the proper spells, her aether will become something extremely useful to you. But, until then, treat her as your mentor. She’ll show you much in the coming days.”
Valary frowned at his continued vagueness.
“What are the next steps? I’d like some arms so I can at least feed myself.”
“You’ll have them tomorrow,” Grym announced, to Valary’s surprise. “We’ll ride for another couple of days and Aprot will help you learn what you need to survive.”
“I thought you would teach me?”
“You must still pass your first test. You’ll learn from me once you have your body.”
“You don’t trust anyone.”
“Trust turned me into an inhuman,” he stated as he went out the front door.
The next morning, after a breakfast of cheese and apple slices from the orchard, Aprot left after talking to Grym. Valary did not hear their conversation. She rolled over to her belly to get to her feet. As she waited for her master to finish, the woman kept going over the dream she had overnight. In it, Valary strolled along a familiar path. She recognized it immediately, for it was the place where she first met him.
The emperor stood before her, his ugly face and cruel eyes looking at her with such a lecherous expression. As she felt her growing rage, the fat man ran his hand through his graying beard, then nodding in approval. Suddenly, the feelings of anger stopped, and she discovered a soothing warmth covering her body. Valary looked around and saw the dozens of mutilated bodies at her feet inside the Emperor’s courtyard. Then, she discovered the warmth came from the blood of those around her.
The woman continued to walk through the garden, finding herself growing happy at the carnage. She looked at the faces of the dead, recognizing those who raped and tortured her over so many days. Valary noticed a removed head laying on its side and she stopped to pick up the grisly trophy. When she saw the face of the emperor in her hand, she smiled. Yet, a doubt remained.
I’ve never enjoyed death!
“What’s next for me?” She asked Grym after Aprot left the building.
The inhuman waved her to the door and pointed outside. Kneeling next to a bucket, Aprot rolled branches around in a patch of thick mud.
“We’ll give your arms today,” he explained.
“Thanks, that’s helpful.” Her appreciative tone brought a confused expression to his face.
“You don’t think I’m going to carry the bags from now on? Now that I have Aprot to watch over you, I don’t have to worry about you trying to do something stupid.”
He stepped to the table and pulled a scroll from his bag. Valary stood at the door, then followed him to the table as resentment filled her. Her feelings immediately changed.
“That’s…no...” She came close to inspecting the circles of ancient writing.
A bitter smile came to his face.
“Many a human died for this parchment, even a few by my hand.”