Contributed by TEC player who wishes to remain anonymous.
"It started with a kidney, but before the kidney there was a rock. Actually, before the rock there was a rainstorm where Aban helped me knock off the first mate. But after that there was collecting all that driftwood in the rain."
The guy started telling the story, and if I hadn't known him, I would've thought he was drunk. He wasn't drunk, though- just really weird, like almost crazy-weird, but not quite. Listening to his story would've been hell, too, except that other Windward guy leaned forward with all his weight and punched the crazy guy hard in the back, and all the air whooshed out of the crazy guy's lungs, and he, I mean the crazy guy, he just sort of started gasping, because he couldn't breathe, and it probably hurt a lot, too.
"You tell 'im dat story right if you're gonna tell 'im at all," complained the first guy. I expected the crazy guy to get all angry, but he didn't. He just shook his head.
"Dere ain't no reason to go fakin' like dat. I diddin hit you dat hard."
"Go on. Tell dat man de story."
Gasp. "... can't..."
The little guy clenched his fist and made like he was gonna hit the crazy guy again. The crazy guy immediately sat up straight, grinned, and started talking in a completely normal voice.
* * *
All of us have our separate stories. We all came from different places and different backgrounds, and none of us really had anything much in common with the others, except by chance. I guess if you want me to tell 'our' story instead of 'my' story, the place to start is in Iridine.
Why I came to Iridine and what I was doing down by the docks at that time of night definitely fall into the category of 'my' story rather than 'our' story, so I'll save that tale for another time. Suffice it to say that I was stupid enough to be walking alone and naive enough to think that a cry for help in the dark was a chance for me to be a hero and deaf enough that I didn't hear them sneaking up behind me until the last second and slow enough that by then, I couldn't do anything about it. I managed to turn most of the way around before the club hit me on the temple. It was heavy and the guy swung it hard, so I should've gone out right away, but I didn't. I keeled over, twisting around as I fell just long enough for me to glimpse the dizzily spinning image of a man giving a kid a silver coin. My face hit the cobblestones, chin first, and I groaned. I lifted myself up on my elbows, blood streaming down into my eyes, just long enough to see the kid screaming, "Please, somebody please help me!" again before an explosion of stars collided with the back of my head and transported me to hell.
* * *
"A silver coin is all that stands between you and a lifetime of slavery. Don't forget that, Octavio."
The little guy muttered, "Dat's gotta be da stupidest thing you ever said."
"No it's not. What about the time I said, 'It's just a darned rock!'"
"Rock?" I asked, confused.
"You had to be there," said the crazy guy by way of explanation.
"Just get on wit da story," scowled the little guy. The first guy's jaw worked a couple of times like he was just dying to say something else, but finally he just shook his head and continued talking while the little guy muttered under his breath about idiots.
* * *
I woke up chained to a wooden bench, rusty iron manacles binding my wrists and ankles to the wall. I was naked except for a loincloth, and Aban was chained up right beside me. There were some other guys chained up behind some big crates, but we couldn't really see them except to see that they were in no better a predicament than we.
Aban immediately began trying to work his manacles free from the wall. I started whimpering. I just sort of sat there and whined for a while, and then, after a couple of hours, I decided to cry for variety, silent sobs shaking my body and tears streaming down my dirty cheeks.
It didn't take us long to realize that we were in a slave ship. The sailors were more than happy to tell us of our predicament and taunt us with food and water. After a while they came down and started looking for women, but there weren't any around, so they used Aban to satisfy themselves. * * *
The little guy thwapped the crazy guy on the back of the head.
"Well, they almost did."
"A couple of them were looking at your butt."
"Lookin' ain't touchin'."
* * *
Anyway, we were in the hold of that slave ship for several days, me pretty much whining the whole time and Aban trying to get free. They never let us loose, not even to piss, but luckily for us they gave us so little to eat and drink that we didn't have to do that very often anyway. Let's just say that the hold of that slave ship was dirty and crowded and it stank.
Even though I spent my time just sitting there and Aban spent the whole time struggling to get free, we both made pretty much the same progress- that is to say, none. These were Cinerians, and, as everyone knows by now, the Cinerians know their slaving. Those manacles were locked closed tight and there was no way Aban was gonna get them loose by tugging on them any more than I was by crying on them. Every once in a while the sailors would come by and whip us for a while, just for kicks, and Aban would try to kill them, just for kicks, and they would kick him, just for- for fun. It would've probably gone on that way forever if it hadn't been for the storm.
We knew it was coming as soon as the captain did, pretty much. The captain was a bully, coming down into the hold frequently to torment us and throw water on the floor so he could watch us lap it up. He liked the whip and he liked to kick, and Aban and I both got our share of each. But when the storm came, he just got all crazy. At first he started screaming about killing all the slaves because they were the reason the sea gods were going to kill him. Aban got all panicky then and started trying to explain that there aren't any sea gods, but the captain wasn't hearing it. His crew restrained him and dragged him back to the deck, because, after all, sorry as we were by then, we were their salary.
We couldn't see the lightning down in the hold, but we could hear the thunder. Every time it went off it sent echoes of that club on the docks dancing through my head again. The whole ship shook, and it started swinging wildly to one side, wind and water making it list over to the leeward until I was certain that it would capsize. For hours the ship tossed and turned, and I was so sick that if I'd had anything to eat for the past three days, I would've lost it then.
And then, like a miracle, out of nowhere, there was a sickening thud as the ship hit something. Aban and I were thrown back against our chains, and if we hadn't been attached to the wall by iron, we would've cracked our skulls on the inside of the hold. As it was, my right wrist was nearly jerked out of the socket and my shoulder got dislocated. I pushed it back in, though. I can do that. So could you, really. All you have to do is hold it like this, and then slam...
* * *
Aban growled at the crazy guy and the crazy guy rolled his eyes and went back to the story.
* * *
Anyway, a huge rock... huh? Oh, reef. Whatever. A huge something tore right through the bottom part of the ship, and the ship slammed down hard onto it. Water started gushing into the hold like crazy, and in seconds we were ankle-deep in icy water. Thunder clapped again, and the wind rose and the water heaved and in a moment we were over the rock. Reef. We were floating again. Sort of. With all the water that was gushing into the hold, the ship wasn't responding very well, wobbling sluggishly back and forth. About two minutes later, the captain came down, all crazy and wild-eyed again. I swear he couldn't see us. I don't know why he even came down into the hold. I started blubbering again that he should free us before we all drowned, but the captain didn't pay any attention to me. Then Aban said something about letting us loose so we could bail the ship out and sail it in for repairs, and that got the captain's attention. I don't know how the captain could be so crazy as to think this ship was going to sail anywhere. It was going down fast, and any idiot could see that, but the captain was so desperate that he was crazy, and so he let me free. I climbed up the ladder onto the deck of the ship, and in a minute the captain let some other guy free. The other guy skewered the captain dead with his own dagger and then took the keys to the manacles away from him and let Aban free.
There were around fifty of us crammed into that little hold. I didn't know most of them, and most of their names I never learned, because most of them died in the next few minutes. I ran wildly around the ship, basically just trying not to get swept off the deck by the wind and the water. To tell you the truth, I still don't know why I didn't get tossed into the sea sooner. After about five minutes I saw an eerie orange glow coming from across the deck of the ship. I dragged myself over there, using the tatters of the sails and fallen rigging to keep from getting swept overboard. When I finally got to the doorway, what seemed like hours later, there was Aban, locked in mortal combat with the first mate. They were going back and forth, Aban holding his gladius like an old pro and the first mate darting in and out with a fighting-dirk.
The orange light, it turned out, was coming from a fallen lantern which had spilled burning oil out all over the captain's cabin. I had to wonder, though, why in this time of trouble the first mate had run for the captain's cabin instead of saving himself. At first it was just a passing curiosity, but then, considering, I looked around, and, spying a fallen dagger, I seized my opportunity and used the dagger to pry the lock off of the captain's chest.
The mate was furious, suddenly ignoring Aban and lunging at me. I opened the chest, pulling a wooden box and a couple of sacks out of it. Aban saved my life then, but he took the knife meant for my back in the meat of his fighting arm, and he nearly dropped the gladius. Nearly, but not quite. Aban will drop his head before his gladius, and I swear that's the gods' honest truth.
Well, the captain was dead, the first mate wanted my head, and the ship was sinking. What was there to do but grab a whole bunch of heavy boxes and sacks and drag them back out onto the deck, Aban covering me by driving the first mate back?
And when I got out onto the deck the wind nearly knocked
me overboard, so I clung to the heavy box just so I didn't get swept away, and then the
first mate and Aban came out of the cabin, locked in combat to the death, and I could only
watch as a wave swept them both into the sea and then knocked me into the sea and I
remembered no more.
* * *
"But you lived," I said to the crazy man, and he laughed.
"Yeah, we lived, or we wouldn't be here."
"Well what happened? How did you survive?"
"That, my friend, is a long story, and it requires another drink." I ran off to pour a drink for him, and at the same time I asked, "So what was in the box, anyway?"
"Some dried meat. Letters to be delivered in Cinera. Parchment and some seals. A few weapons. Trousers. A belt. Bandages, thread, and needles for surgery."
"Oh," I said, carrying the ale over to the table. "You see, I would've thought there would be some money and a few jewels in that pouch. Ship's captains generally need money to pay the sailors when they get to shore. I'm surprised you didn't find anything like that in there."
The crazy man looked uncomfortable. "Just the beef," he argued lamely, but a dark look was growing in Aban's eye.
Aban said nothing, but I could tell that he would.
"Bennett, we gotta talk."
"I'm not done with the story?"
"You drunk enough. Let's you and me go outside. We can finish this story another time."
"Hey," I interrupted, "you can't leave me hanging like that. How did you survive the shipwreck?"
"He'll tell you another time. Right now dere's some business him an' me's gotta discuss."
"But at least tell me about the kidney," I begged.
"Later. Bennett here's had enough to drink already for one day. Oh. Don't tell anyone what we told you."
"We don't want anyone to know."
"If you don't want anyone to know, why did you tell me?"
"Because you won't blab."
"How can you know that?"
"Because we know you. Don't tell anyone. Not even your wife. Promise."
"Okay, okay," I said. "I promise. Geez. It's not that interesting."
"It will be," promised Bennett, but right around then Aban dragged him out the ear by his door, and that was the end of that.
I was tempted to talk, but I didn't, because I'd promised, but I couldn't help wondering how they knew that I wouldn't break that promise. I found out later, but that's a different part of the story.