What Your Father Told You

Human City Slave

Michael Cugley

From the POV of a city-dwelling human slave, fairly resigned to their fate.

What is the world like?

The world is a terrible place. Most of it is barren desert, apart from the cities, where there is almost enough food and water to feed the people. In the desert, there are horrible monsters that will try and kill you. In the cities there are people who will kill you, beat you, and enslave you.

What peoples are there in the world?

You will meet many strange peoples working beside you. Humans like us, for the most part. There are more of us than of any of the other races, so it makes sense most slaves will be humans too.

There are all sorts of others, but I don't suppose it matters that much. Slaves are slaves.

The short ones are Dwarves. Hard workers, they set themselves a task and then work day in and day out until they achieve it. They hardly think of anything else. You might think it's because they're trying to impress the overseer, but it's for themselves. I asked one once why they work so hard, and he said it was because a Dwarf who dies without finishing their task has to come back from the dead. I can't imagine anything worse - denied even the escape of death.

Sometimes the masters make a Dwarf mate with a human - I don't know much about it, but the Dwarves never seem to want to talk about it. The children are those huge hairless types you see - I don't know how a human and a Dwarf make someone bigger than both. Mostly they end up as Gladiators, but they are hard workers too - incredibly strong, and they can keep going for days on end. I suppose it's good that they're difficult to make, or there'd be no one else doing labouring work.

Even bigger are the Half-Giants. They say the Sorcerer-Kings used their powers to make them thousands of years ago. They are twice as big as a man - and much, much stronger. I've never worked with one myself, but from what I've heard they're not very clever - mostly they just copy. I think the Sorcerer-King has most of them working for him.

You've seen one or two Elves by now, I'm sure. They're the tall thin ones. Not many of them as slaves - some say they'd rather die before slavery. I've seen some working the fields, but I heard they'd all tried to run away. Don't know if they made it or not. You'll see their half-Elven children more - they're a little bit taller than most humans, and you can see the points on their ears, if you look careful. They're a little strange - stand-offish, but they try hard to belong, too. Not sure I trust 'em much.

There are other peoples, too, but you'll probably only see them as you pass by the gladiator stables, or if your master takes you along to the Games.

What sort of people are there?

There are only really two types - slaves and free. We're slaves, and will be until we die. We have to spend our lives doing what we're told, or we die. Everyone else is free.

Slaves do all the work - we build, make, sow, harvest, cook, clean, mend, and look after whatever the overseers tell us to. Our children are slaves too. When they're old enough to work, they'll be taken away, to be put wherever the master thinks best, or sold.

The best types of slaves are the body-slaves who look after the masters personally. They're fed and dressed well, pampered, and they live as good as the masters, near enough. Look at their hands sometime - no hard skin there. If you're really lucky, maybe you'll be chosen to be one of them. The artists are the same - no hard work, but lots of soft living.

Next best are the Gladiators, maybe. They get all the food and rest they want, and even body-slaves of their own to look after them. I've seen them being rubbed down with oil just like the masters get. But they have to fight for their lives in the Arena whenever the masters say. It's strange, but sometimes, when I'm carrying things through the streets, I can see pictures of gladiators drawn on walls - people all over the city know their names! How strange it must be, to be a slave, yet have everyone love you like that...

If you can't manage that, then soldier-slaves are pretty good. Lots of food, proper barracks, and they teach you how to fight. I heard once of a soldier-slave who saved the life of his master's son, and got freed and adopted into his master's family!

Labourers do all the hard work - lifting, and building. Hard, back-breaking work. Some work is better than others - I've heard real horrible stories about the Tyr iron mines or the obsidian works in Urik.

Worst of all are the farm slaves. If you can't do anything else, they put you in the fields. No-one cares about field slaves. If you even touch your mouth without permission they'll cut your hand off, and if you do it again, they'll cut your other one off - and then kill you. Who needs a field slave with no hands?

Everyone who isn't a slave is free. They get to decide when to work, what do to, and how to do it. If they don't want to work, they don't have to. If they want to live in another city, they do. I can't imagine what that must be like.

What are the most valuable things in life?

Sleep and rest are the most valuable things you'll ever have. Treasure every moment you're not working. They'll be few enough.

After that, food and water. When the sun is high, you'll think the thirst will burn you up completely. They never give us enough water - every drop is precious. Without water, you can't work, and who will keep a slave who can't work? You'll be sold, or worse, killed. Same with food.

Who are the Sorcerer-Kings?

They're the highest of the free. Everyone has to do what they want, so even the free are slaves, in the end. They are incredibly powerful - they can kill with a glance, or turn people to stone, or blast green land into desert. They've lived forever, so long that they remember when the city wasn't even built yet.

Who are the Templars?

They are the Sorcerer-King's overseers. Just like the masters use overseers when they couldn't be bothered looking after something themselves, the Templars do things for the Sorcerer-King. I've seen Templars come here and tell the masters what to do! They have powers too, powers that the Sorcerer-King gives them.

What are the Cities like?

Cities are where people live. The rest of the world is desert, with no water, and with lots of horrible monsters, so people have to live in cities. Some of the slaves were bought from other cities, far away. They say things are just the same there as here, only a little bit different.

Where else do people live?

Well, I hear the free Elves live in the Desert, but I can't see how. There are villages - tiny cities - out there too, but I don't know what they do there. One woman I talked to once said there were little people who lived beyond the western mountains.

What is magic?

I've heard that some people can take the very life from a body and twist it to destroy, or make things change. I once saw a patch of ashes on the ground in the city square, and a slave from another house told me a wizard had been found, and when she tried to escape, she used magic, and that's what turned the ground to ash. She was burned to death by the crowd. They must be terrible, if people hate them so much.

What is the Unseen Way?

That's the power that comes from your body and mind. I've seen people lift rocks without touching, and I know the overseer can tell if someone's lying, always. I've heard that some people can use the Way to kill from a long way away, or do all sorts of other things. Quite a lot of people can do little things. If you can do something powerful, the masters might have you taught how to use it, and make you one of their favoured slaves.

Who are the Priests?

They are strange people. I don't know much about them. I heard one, once, when I was near one of the fields. He was saying how they were using the land was all wrong. One of the field slaves told me after he made a bush flower, to show he knew what he was talking about, and cured a man's twisted leg. Then the overseer ran him off.

Where do we come from? Why are we here?

Don't ask such stupid questions. We come from our fathers and our mothers, and we are here to work for the masters until we die, or they kill us.

What happens after we die?

Death is our escape from our lives. When we die we are at last free from the constant work, and we can rest and sleep forever.

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