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Sloan's Story part 11 - Journey's End


jfraser

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Despite Kra’aft’s concerns, the next two days of travel were pleasant. Kra’aft and Holo had supplied her with plenty of food for the trip, the weather was lovely and, aside from her aching feet, Sloan had no complaints.

 

Which was not to say there were not unpleasantries. Near the end of the first day’s travel, she came across what had clearly been a battle. There were no bodies along the road but there was still plenty of spilled blood and bits of broken armor and weapons strewn about. A row of fresh graves sat just off the road, marked by weapons and Stormcloak helmets, so it was clear who had won the fight. A little further up the hill was the remains of a campsite with several cold campfire circles and, slumped in the grass along one edge of the clearing, a dead naked woman who stared with empty eyes at the sky. Her body was bruised and battered but the clean slash across her throat told the tale of her demise. Sloan grimaced and decided to find a different place to camp for the night.

 

She reached Shor’s Stone as the sun began to set on the next day and she spent that night on a cot in the corner of the miners' bunkhouse. There were plenty of them available because, as she was told many times by many people – it seemed the number one topic of conversation in the town - the mine was too dangerous to enter thanks to a proliferation of giant spiders that had decided to make it their home.

 

Perhaps, she later reflected, if the spiders hadn’t so dominated their thoughts, they might have thought to let her know that the fort that straddled the road to Riften was not currently in the hands of the military. Either of the militaries. In their defense, there was plenty of evidence leading up to the fort, from the lack of patrols or sentries to the crumbled stone of the walls, and even the way the trees had not been cleared from the surrounding area, for anyone with even a little understanding of how militaries were usually run to realize something was not quite right.

 

Alas, she had no such understanding. She followed the road until it broke through the trees and the fort stood before her. The road went right through the middle of the fort and she was just beginning to wonder why – maybe some sort of forced checkpoint for merchant wagons? – when four soldiers stepped through the gate and came toward her. It was her first, far too late, indication that things were not as she had assumed – she had been with enough soldiers to know that they wore uniforms that, though there were always minor differences, largely looked the same. The men who came toward her wore very different outfits. Two had leather armor, but of the standard non-military type. The other two wore no armor at all, just regular shirts and breeches. It was one of these who spoke first.

 

“Well hello! It’s not every day that our wares come to us.”

 

“Truth. Which means this is likely a trap.” This from one of the armored men. He watched the trees behind Sloan with narrowed eyes as he gripped the pommel of his sword.

 

“Trap? Why would anyone set a trap for us?”

 

A snort. “I’ll get you a list.”

 

They continued forward as they spoke and Sloan began backing up. That only quickened their paces.

 

“Oh, no. Too late to change your mind now, girl. You’re coming with us.”

 

“I don’t think so.” Sloan turned and began to run but, as the man had said, it was much too late. She heard quickened footsteps; three heartbeats later, strong hands gripped her arms and yanked her to a stop. She struggled against them as the first man strolled around to face her. He placed a gentle hand on her cheek.

 

"Now you're going to come with us. If you don't give us any trouble, you will be well cared for. If you do cause trouble...well, there will be pain.” He slapped her, bringing spots to her eyes and a ringing to her ears. “Do you understand?"

 

Sloan lifted her head as she blinked away tears and mustered what dignity she could. “It doesn’t appear that I have a choice in the matter.”

 

“Oh, but you do! Fight and feel pain or be a good girl and don’t feel pain. Those are your choices. Tell me you understand.”

 

She took a deep breath and then nodded. “I understand.”

 

“Very good. Let’s see how well you understand.” He gestured and the men holding her arms let go.

 

The trees seemed to beckon to her, and she fought down a wild impulse to flee. Their promise of safety was an illusion – even if she made it into the woods, they would have no difficulties catching her again. She forced herself to stand still.

 

“Good girl. Now take off your clothes.”

 

Of course that was where this was going. She sighed internally – men were all the same. At least they were on grass, so her knees wouldn’t hurt so much. She tugged off her dress and her underthings, folding them together into a neat package that she set on the ground before standing and facing him again. She made no attempt to cover herself – she had long since become used to being naked in front of strange men, after all.

 

“Good girl! I am impressed. Finally one who really does understand! Now come with us.”

 

He took her arm and led her away, toward the fort. She walked with him without struggling, though she felt a little saddened that they had chosen to do this indoors. The stone floors of the keep would not be comfortable. Still…

 

The train of thought ended as, instead of entering one of the buildings that made up the interior of the fort, they unexpectedly proceeded through the decrepit courtyard and passed straight through the gateway on the other side. Sloan frowned as she glanced back at the edifice, but the cold stone walls revealed nothing new. It was only when she had turned back around that the whole truth came apparent.

 

They had come to a camp. There were several more armed people milling about doing camp-like things but most of those spared them only a cursory glance as they passed. There were more people huddled in a rough circle in the center of the camp. They were not armed. Indeed, they wore nothing at all except chains. Realization dawned in Sloan's head, and she began futile attempts to pull away.

 

"Now, now.” The man gripped her arm hard enough to cause a moment of pain. "Remember what we said about no trouble?"

 

“You can’t do this!” Sloan fought back tears as they dragged her forward. One of the men stooped and picked up an iron collar. “I’m not a war criminal!”

 

“That’s a common misconception.” Two men held her by her arms as the one with the collar approached. “The law doesn’t say only war criminals can be slaves.”

 

“But…”

 

“Enough. You’re a slave now. Which means you don’t talk unless your master says you can. And I don’t.”

 

“But…” She shied back as the collar approached her neck. Rough hands dug into her hair and she yelped as her head was dragged forward. A moment later, she felt the cold metal slide over her skin and heard the lock click.

 

The first man – her master, apparently – leaned in and whispered, “One last time. No trouble. I’d hate to ruin your lovely smooth back with a whip.” She felt his fingers stroke the skin of her back and shuddered. “Don’t make me resort to that.”

 

He pointed to the ground within the circle of other captives and she lowered herself as tears began to stream down her face. The men attached her collar to the end of a chain that led to her neighbor's collar, then stood and walked away without another word. The despair from the captives cast a palpable shadow that tugged Sloan in and refused to let go. She wept until her eyes went dry and at some point must have passed out because the next thing she knew, rough hands dragged her to her feet.

 

"Hurry up, slut." A small dirty man shoved a crust of bread and a small cup in her hands. "Eat quick. It's time to go."

 

She did as she was told though she had no appetite. As soon as she finished the tepid water, the man snatched the cup away and stalked off. A moment later the chain around Sloan's neck jerked her into motion - she hadn't noticed the rest of the line begin to walk - and she stumbled after the person to whom she was linked.

 

In the way of fortune and finding the proverbial silver lining in dark clouds, Sloan felt a relative sense of pleasure when they reached Riften later that day, having taken some straighter route than she had known existed. As they entered the city through the back gate, a place she had seen only once in her previous life, when she and a couple of the other girls had taken a daring, giggling trip to the seedier part of town to peek at the slave pens (and then fled, still giggling, when a grinning guard shooed them away in an act of mock sternness), she felt a sense of relief at the familiar sounds and smells of the city. If she had to be a slave, at least it was somewhere she knew.

Edited by jfraser

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