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Chapter 10: In Which Rat's Value Skyrockets

It was a huge cellar, illuminated by several oil laps, the ceiling supported by stone beams. It stretched on as far as my eyes could see, probably running underneath several buildings. A tall man at the door inspected all three of us and then jerked his thumb at me. "This your merchandise?"

"Yes," replied the magician. "Boy is twelve, quiet, learns fast."

I tried not to snort at the obvious lie, no one would mistake me for a twelve year old. Years of malnutrition made me even smaller for my age. "Any talents?"

"None."

"Take him to Danter, all the way to the back."

The magician nodded and instructed Tark, "Danter is a tall fellow with a thick black moustache. He'll examine the boy. Take whatever price he gives you and leave. I must attend to some urgent business. I have no more time to waste on this brat."

Tark opened his mouth to argue, then thought better of it and shrugged. He grabbed my arm and led me across the large cellar.

There were a lot of people there. The ones being sold were sorted into clusters, chained by their arms and legs to rings that lined the walls. They were divided by gender, and age, by physical build and race. There were only a few women and girls. I was led to the back where the man, apparently Danter, sat on an overturned barrel. "That's what you've got?" he asked Tark unceremoniously.

Tark shoved me forward in reply.

"Why didn't you tie him?" Danter asked.

"Too dumb to run."

"Dumb can be good in a slave. Let's have a look." He put on a pair of spectacles that he took out of his shirt pocket and firmly clutched my chin. He looked into each of my ears, grabbed a clump of my hair and tugged it. I locked my teeth tightly together, trapping the iron bead on my tongue; he parted my lips with his thumb and finger, "Open your mouth." He told me.

I jerked away, clasping my lips together as tightly as I could; Tark anticipated my movement and held me from behind. I began struggling. Danter narrowed his eyes and nonchalantly slapped me across the face so hard that my teeth shook and my eyes watered. The bead danced in my mouth.

"What do you have in your mouth?" he demanded.

I shook my head, implying that I had nothing – one of the most unconvincing lies I've told in my life. But suddenly it didn't matter because he then looked at the chain on my neck, and his fingers moved to it. He moved it up and saw the burn underneath it. "What is this?" This time, he glared at Tark. "What have you brought here? We don't deal in Wielders."

Tark shrugged. "He's just a street kid. No Wielder," he said, keeping it simple. They both scowled at each other.

"Well now, why don't you take your 'just a street kid' and stick him up your – "

"Danter!" another man came trotting up. "That one good? Man from Kir-Moot needs another for the mines. He needs him urgent because he's leaving now." 

Greed replaced anger on Danter's face so fast that for a short moment his eyebrows went into a frenzy; he turned to look at Tark. "I'll give you one silver for him."

One silver, that was what I was worth? Not bad, I mused, I wouldn't even pay ten coppers for myself. Tark took the offer without blinking and was gone before I could count to two. "Sell him for no less than three silvers and twenty coppers." Danter instructed the other man once Tark was out of earshot.

I was then shackled like the rest of them, – these shackles, unlike those from the previous night, sitting tightly on my wrists and ankles, the iron making my head even clearer, and was led to stand with a group of other unfortunates. I scrutinised them as well I could, wondering if they were all street people like me. But they didn't look familiar and there was no knowing where they had come from. They were all different in their dress and their colouring. The only thing they had in common, except being male, was the look of fear and despair on their faces. I guess that's what told me they weren't street people. Being a slave wasn't such a bad fate compared to living on the streets. Who then were these people? City people kidnapped and sold? Foreigners? I didn't know anything about slaves, where they came from, or where they went. I never knew that there was a slave market in Auran City to begin with. I didn't know such well-kept secrets existed.

Slave-trade and slavery were illegal in Auranora, punishable by life imprisonment.

The man from Kir-Moot did not look at us. He conversed with the traders and passed a purse filled with coins to them. Then there was much activity as all the slaves were chained to one another into a long procession with me at the end. I wasn't particularly scared; I had a good chance of escaping once someone removed the chain from around my neck. That would happen, I hoped, in Kir-Moot, or on the way there, and then I'd be well out of this Gods-forsaken city.

And away from its streets, my only home.

We were led out through a different door, up a flight of steps and into a walled yard. There the Kir-Moot man examined us, passing over us one after the other. I had never seen anyone from Kir-Moot before and couldn't help but stare. He was by far the tallest man I had ever encountered; with shoulders so broad you could have balanced four kids like me on each one. He had long black hair, deep and watery green eyes, olive skin and a squared-off chin, like a brick. He paused longer in front of me, and a look that was frighteningly hungry and intrusive spread across his face.

At that moment I began feeling scared.

He caught my arm, squeezed it and whistled. "How boy so thin?" he asked with a thick accent. "Auran boy look like girl. No food in city, ah? Not good for mines."

"He don't like to eat." said the trader, "You can return him. We got plenty of people looking for boys."

"Nah, leave him," the Kir-Mootian laughed. "Boy look like girl has other uses not in mines." He nudged one of the traders. Shivers ran up my spine, my eyes darting about in search of a way out of this situation. Forget Kir-Moot, forget escaping the city, I needed to get away from this man as fast as I could.

We were ushered out of the courtyard and into an alley where we were loaded onto a large closed wagon that could handle the bumpy country roads,; a team of oxen was hitched to it. I was the last one to climb on and then the door was closed and locked.

There was only a small, barred window in the door. I had no room left for me to sit on the benches along the walls; so I was left to stand with my back against the door. By the time the wagon jerked to life, I felt ill and my head was swimming. I turned around and pressed my face between the bars of the window, staring at the city as I was carted away from it.

Headed to Kir-Moot.

A/N: I noticed that this chapter is rather short so I put it up a day early and will be updating on Sunday as well!

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