Sunday, 15 June 2014

Forever Fog - Tears of Stone

Fia prayed for death several times during that first few hours in that stinking hut. The miners of Croom were a feral breed and she had felt the weight of many men. At one stage a woman entered the hut, Fia cried out to her for mercy. The woman turned hateful eyes on her, as if she were less than human. In the days that followed Fia learned that the men, although hard and savage were not the ones to fear, it was the spite of the women which held the most danger. The huge hairy chieftain took more than his fair share of turns, satisfying himself with Fia's body. Vaddon, they called him and it was he who dragged Fia, half naked, across the rubble of the valley floor when his lust was quenched. The same crone that had turned a deaf ear to her pleas for mercy rested on her haunches near a cooking fire. Smoke belched around the blackened pot suspended above it. Fia was forced to walk near the woman, her spite filled eyes narrowed with unbridled hate. Fia could only wonder what she had ever done to rouse such ill will from a woman, she didn't even know. Vaddon shoved Fia with a work hardened hand which felt like a cat skin filled with rocks. Fia 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. Fia went crashing into the razor sharp rubble littering the ground.  The skin of her knees and hands opened in ribbons, staining the grey stone with blood. The woman became and whirlwind of fury, beating Fia on the head and bare back. Fia was amazed any woman’s tongue could be as vile and skilled in curse words. Fia made it to her feet. The woman drove her forwards with stinging blows while Vaddon followed along, braying with laughter. 
"Get moving you pox ridden whore," screamed the woman, landing a stinging blow on Fia's ear. Fia covered her head with her bleeding hands, fending off further blows.
"Careful woman, you will have her dead before she’s even 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, and a low dark hole visible in a solid slab of grey rock. A gate of stout oak beams, pinned together with whittled dowels, barred the entrance to the mine. It was only when she got closer that Fia could see eyes floating in the darkness. A guard lay nearby, curled in his cloak. Vaddon kicked the man awake as it took them both to move the heavy grate aside. Fia thought of trying to flee but her limbs were leaden with shock and abuse. The hag’s fingers gripped Fia’s hair. As a gap appeared between the hewn rock and the gate, the woman ran towards it dragging Fia by the head. She yanked her fist painfully side to side. Fia felt the skin of her scalp rip, just as she fell into the darkness of the hole. The woman threw the bloody mess of hair and skin after her before the gate was slammed shut. Fia watched with terrified eyes as the props were replaced outside the gate sealing her in. 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, black figures moved. Soon Fia began to pick out bodies, so covered in grime they became one with the blackness around them. As her eyes adjusted she picked out women and men, clothed in rags or completely naked. They were incredibly thin with flesh literally stuck to their bones. They regarded Fia with neither pity, nor fear, they were broken people only a heartbeat away from death. This is what lay ahead of Fia. Life of never ending toil until one night a blessed darkness would take her into the underworld. 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 in a bed of stone.

The morning is just as dark as night in the tin mines of Croom. The sound of the heavy gate being dragged away from the mouth of the mine shocked Fia awake. She balled herself as small as she could while all around her slaves burst into life, charging towards the opening, the stronger throwing the weaker behind them. A bucket of watery slop was dumped into a trough which the slaves ate out of with all the finesse of a heard of swine. Fia watched the retched spectres squabble over the few scraps and vowed she would never sink so low. Within moments the miners began to appear, they dispensed metal tipped digging tools and creels to the slaves before lighting torches of bound reed and twigs to light the way. All day the slaves worked, digging ore and dragging it to the mouth of the mine. They were up to their knees in oozing muck, the air was a mixture of smoke and human stink. It wasn't long before Fia was as filthy as the rest of the slaves. Fia could see why the miners fell on newly arriving women with such relish, no mortal man would dream of touching her in the state she found herself in. The miners themselves stayed outside the mine, rarely venturing far inside. They only time Fia saw the chieftain himself in the mine was after a cave in buried several of the slaves. The Chief and his miners rushed to the sight of the landslide, digging with vigour. They worked until they had retrieved the valuable digging spikes, the slave’s remained buried where they fell. They toiled from dawn to dusk, only to be caged in the mine at the end of it all. Fia was dragged out for the amusement of the chieftain several times in the first weeks. He doused her with buckets of freezing water that bubbled from a spring near the mouth of the valley, sloshing some of the stinking muck from her skin. He fell upon her each time like a man starving for the touch of a woman. Each time the hatred his wife felt towards Fia grew more intense. Vaddon added insult to injury by telling his wife to return Fia to the mine. It was a great source of amusement to the miners watching a jealous woman whipping and beating the naked slave across the village while Vaddon stood naked and aroused in the door of his hut, laughing even louder than his men.

A few days after she had arrived Fia had seen how one larger slave always bullied his way to the food before everyone else. 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 he sent Fia reeling. In the chaos no one noticed her position her flinty weapon above the bony knots of the man's spine. In the frenzy Fia drove the razor sharp flint all the way home, snapping the delicate handle off when it was firmly lodged in the man's spine. Trean had shown her how do such a thing to a deer, to keep it alive but unable to run. This allowed the old Druid to travel for many days without having to make fresh kills. The man spasmmed the small incision invisible among the thousand other rents in his skin. The rest of the slaves backed away from the man, believing him possessed by a demon. Fia chanted complicated curses, damming the man and his denying him his feet so he may never lay a hand on her again. The gathered slaves were mesmerized by the power of this new woman. Fia knelt at the food container and ate her fill while the paralyzed man pawed at the ground close by. When she had eaten only then did the rest of the slaves fall on the food. That night after the miners had locked them in, Fia gathered the slaves to her out of ear shot of the guard. 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 rest of the slaves waited eagerly until she had her fill before gorging themselves on what remained.

During the days she kept working and tried to stay out of the hands of Vaddon and his wife. One day while loading ore into her creel, a large piece of rock fell from her hand, a crack appeared in the rock which glimmered a deep yellow. Fia worked the crack open a little more with her finger. Her eyes opened wide with delight at the thick vein of gold that ran through the middle of the rock. Fia placed it carefully 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 the guard into releaseing her, but Fia knew that she needed to think things out, not act rashly.

All that day she 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 Fia's freedom any more eminent. She went to sleep that night across her hiding place, making sure no one stumbled upon her treasure. She felt sure the gold must have been whispering to her because every time Fia tried to sleep a low rumble crept across her consciousness. It was such a strange sound, more of a feeling. Fia realised it was not her mind as she lay completely awake against the hard rock wall and could still feel and hear the low rumble. As she concentrated on the sound it became clear that water was running close by on the far side of the rock. She pressed her hand flat 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 entrance for her daily ration of food. She left behind a tiny trickle of fresh water seeping from the wall where she had been working. Night after night she continued weakening the wall to the point Fia was sure one good blow would bring the whole thing crashing down.

When dawn approached, Fia assessed her work and decided it was then or never. The working day was well underway when Vaddon appeared at the head of the mine, inspecting the quality of the tin 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 the rock in to. 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 once she was at the entrance and burst past the guard. All the miners watched to see what the commotion was about. Fia made sure they all got a good gimps of the gold as she ran to the chieftain. "See what I have found for you," said Fia. Vaddon grabbed the ore from Fia's hands. She could see the yellow fever take hold of him.
"Where did you get this?" Vaddon demanded of her.
"It came in a creel of ore from the new diggings at the head of the mine. Did I do good?"
"Yes, very."
"Good enough to set me free?" Vaddon sneered at her before striding away towards the mine. It only took seconds for the news of gold to spread among the miners. Fia watched them crowd into the shaft blocking the way with their eagerness to see this promise of a king’s ransom. Fia waited for the miners to push past her as she slowly made her way back to her work. None of the miners noticed that this time she carried one of the metal tipped digging poles not a creel. When Fia reached the weakened portion of the wall the mine ahead was crammed with bodies all searching for the source of this golden nugget. With all her strength Fia began to dig. Within minutes the tiny trickle of water was a spray. The stone cracked under the pressure of the underground river, boulders as big as a man flew inwards. If Fia had been hit by any of them she would have been killed outright. A torrent of water like she never experienced before, rushed into the mine, extinguishing all the torches as it filled the tiny space. Fia struggled away from the pull of the water, which rushed downhill to the deepest part of the mine, where all the searchers had gathered.

Fia backed away from the rising water which rose with alarming speed. She saw a white shape float up towards her, she charged into the water, stabbing wildly with her digging spear, Body after body floated up. Fia attacked each as if they were Vaddon himself. Not one slave or miner walked out of the mine. Eventually the water stopped rising, Fia bathed herself, scrubbing off the filth as best she could. When her body was as pale as morning mist, Fia slicked her long hair with water and smoothed it to her scalp. Hefting the digging stick in her right hand she straightened her shoulders and walked as naked as the day she was born toward the mouth of the mine.

When Fia emerged into the air, she was like a woman reborn. A handful of villagers waited near the entrance, not daring to go any closer after hearing the terrible roar that had come from the earth. They believed some creature’s lair had been breached deep under ground, releasing the beast. There was not a man among them, every able bodied man had been searching for gold at the face of the mine with the water broke through. At first the women ran from the deathly white figure that emerged from the mouth of the mine. When Vaddon's wife recognised Fia, she charged at the stick thin, naked woman. Fia stood her ground, one hand beside her side, the other behind her back. She didn't shy away or try to run. Vaddon's wife let loose a manic howl as she closed the last few feet which seemed to knock the resolve from Fia as she shrank to her knees, the arm behind her back swung in a low arc, Fia used all the power in her knees to launch herself upwards, putting her hatred behind the pointed digging stick. The metal point first tasted skin at the nape of Vaddon's wife's neck. The combined force of the women colliding drove the stake deep into the woman's brain, killing her instantly. The full weight of the woman fell forward driving the base of the pole into a crevice in the rocky ground, pinning her lifeless corpse like a scarecrow. 

The sight of this drove the remaining women to flight. Fia searched the crude huts which lay abandoned. She dressed herself in a rough black cloak that she found and armed herself with a dagger. When she found a brace of un-skinned rabbits Fia tore at them with her bare teeth.  Her stomach was so shrunken from months of starvation she retched up the meat after only a couple of moments. Fia had to force herself to take only small bites, chewing the bloody meat well before swallowing. She let her body consume each piece before taking another bite. Fia gathered the few items of value she could find and mounted a skinny pony, keeping the bloody half eaten rabbit in her hand, not willing to be parted from the food for even a minute.

From the bushes the remaining women watched in terror. They would later tell how the demon that had killed everyone left the village 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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