Not Really a Slave

by Rod Hunsicker
copyright 1/22/2003

Tampin stumbled over a woman’s outstretched arm.  He would have fallen had not his daughter held him up.   He smiled at her with wooden gratitude and steered her around the woman who was lying on her back staring at the stone ceiling with hollow eyes.   The poor woman had been beaten into submission by one of the roving slave masters.

“Come, Diza, we must go over to the wall.   At least there will be something solid at our backs, there,” Tampin whispered to the girl.   Tugging on her arm, he led her to a bare spot along the wall.   Several of the male slaves stared at father and daughter with predatory interest.  Their eyes lingered on the naked girl’s budding feminine form, and the expression on their faces left no uncertainty about their lustful thoughts.   Tampin swallowed nervously.  He doubted his ability to defend his daughter against some of these surly brutes.   He was not a man of violence, if such a thing was possible on Kregen where violence was as commonplace as apples and oranges.   He was a scrawny man, of less than average height.   Naked, he has no pockets to carry money, and if he had no money he couldn’t hire mercenaries to protect him.   It was very disorientating to be without money… and protection.

Surely, this was all some mistake.   How did a reputable merchant and usurer like Tampin the Honest find himself and his daughter thrown into slavery?   One moment walking down the street and the next moment, taken, stripped and thrown into this cavernous slave pen.  Tampin rubbed his nose with the back of his hand as if to banish the stench of human body odor and waste that permeated the gloomy, humid air.   Normally, the merchant was a very clean man.  He indulged in bathing with typical Kregish frequency.  Now, he was naked, smudged with grime and scrambling to find some safety among apims and diffs he didn’t know and could never trust.

“Oh, father,” murmured Diza, “how could this happen?”

“I am so sorry, Diza.  I shouldn’t have brought you on this last trip.   How could I know those ruffians would waylay me?   How could I know?” Tampin moaned as he pressed himself and his daughter against the wet rock wall.

The truth was that Diza had a good mind for numbers, and Tampin had thought it was time that she began to understand the nature of his business.   He was a moneylender, and often traveled to distant places to service his many clients.   Many people knew Tampin the Honest, and the little man thought himself a valuable asset to all those people.

“The sting of slavery is everywhere.   Woe is us that we are stung with its venomous barb,” the young girl whispered.   All around her were smelly, naked people.   Never in her life had she thought that she would be in such a place.   She wished she were back in her father’s large house protected by trusty guards.

Tampin and his daughter hugged a bare spot along the wall.   Pressing his shoulders against the damp rock, he squeezed his aching head with his thin hands.   “There must be a way out of this predicament.   There must be,” he said.

All around them apim and diff bodies milled about.   Some of them were confused, and Tampin thought that they were relative newcomers like he was.  Some of them seemed adapted to their confinement.  These people must have been here for some time.   He scanned the faces for a friend.  Tampin the Honest knew many people.  There was a chance that one of these slaves was someone he knew.    

“Diza, look for someone you know,” he said in a low voice to his daughter.

“Why, father?” she replied.

“If we find people we know then we might build some kind of security in this miserable place.   Alone, we are too vulnerable to victimization,” he told her.

“Of course, father,” she said.  “Very practical.”    She was proud of her father.  Even though he wasn’t a fighter, he was never a man to give up.   She lifted her eyes and scanned the chamber to comply with his request.   Diza was accustomed to seeing slaves.  Usually, they went about their work in silence or with a grumble or groan beneath their breath.   She was so accustomed to slaves that she rarely took any special notice of them.  Now, that she was a slave herself, she viewed the people in the rock chamber with a new perspective.    Dirty, miserable, frightened people milled around the dimly lit room.   Some of them grouped together, and some of them walked alone and avoided the eyes of the others.   There were loud people and silent people.   Some people kept their heads together and spoke in whispers.  Yet, with all the people she saw there were none that she knew.   They were just a lot of people without clothing.

“I don’t see anyone I know, father,” she told Tampin.

“I don’t either, my dear, and that can’t be good,” replied her father.   “And who are those big fellows walking over here.”  Tampin stooped down and picked up a palm-sized stone.   Since everyone was naked, stones were the only possible weapons.   He stepped in front of his daughter and waited for the three men to arrive.

There were no guards to be seen.  The stone chambers that made up the slave pens were connected with dark tunnels but there were no guards posted inside.   Tampin knew that he and his daughter were on their own.

The brute in the front had shaggy black hair.   He was huge, well muscled, and his black eyes mocked the stone in Tampin’s hand.    Behind him came two slightly smaller men.  One was bald and the sweat glistened on the top of his head.   The other was thin and looked like a cousin to a Rapa.

“Well, what do we have here?   A new girl!   Good, I need something to forget my run tomorrow,” said the big man boldly.

The thin man snickered.   “Are we running tomorrow, Snoug?”

“Ain’t we, you skinny onker?  Sure we are.  But before we go, I’m gonna have me some fun with this little pretty,” boasted the big man.

“Go away,” warned Tampin.   “She is only a young girl.”

The bald man laughed.  “Snoug likes them young, you nilsh.   Stand back or get your head broke.”

Diza cringed against the hard, stone wall.    She closed her legs tightly together as if that might hide her nakedness.   Yet, though she was frightened, her eyes were clear and angry too.

The big man stepped forward.  Tampin swung his stone toward his head.   Snoug blocked the blow easily and punched Tampin in the face.  The moneylender crumpled like water in a wine sack and fell to the floor.

“Well, that didn’t take long, did it?” said the rapalike man.

Snoug grabbed Diza by the arm.  “Come with me girl.   There is a hidey place just around the corner.”

“Please,” she pleased, “don’t do this.  My father is rich.  He can pay you to help us, not hurt us.”

“What good is money in here?” snorted Snoug.  “We are all going to die.   That’s why we are here.  To run and die so the rich can have fun.   Money doesn’t mean anything to the slaves in this chamber.”

He tugged her away from the wall and forced her to accompany him.   His two friends trailed behind them as Snoug led her to the semi hidden place he had told her about.   She didn’t whimper or fight.   Her situation seemed hopeless so she resolved to shut her mind to it and give these brutes no satisfaction other than the physical rape that was about to occur.

Snoug shoved her into a corner and pushed her down on her hands and knees.   

“Now, make it a good one, girl.  It might be my last one,” he growled.   He seized her with one meaty hand.

“Hey, what are you doing with my girl!”

Snoug turned, his ugly face flushed with excitement.   His friends turned too and stared at the man standing behind them.   He was a tall man with golden tan skin.  Naked, his muscular body gleamed hard in the light provided by fireglass embedded in the stone ceiling.   His arms were long and unusually powerful.   His mouth was a thin slit across a broad masculine face.   His lips were curled in a slight sneer.

“What do you want, Tarks?   Get out of here, you rast.  This is a private party!” growled Snoug.   He kept his hand on the girl’s head.

“I just invited myself, Snoug.   That girl ain’t your property.  Take your hand off her,” said Tarks in an even voice.

“She’s mine, you onker.  Mine.   Go find your own bitch!”  roared Snoug.

“I won’t tell you again,” said Tarks.

Snoug’s two companions moved on either side of Tarks.  They glared at the golden skinned man and looked to Snoug for word to strike.

“Kick this nilsh’s ass,” ordered Snoug.   His two men inched forward, but before they got far the rock in Tarks hand smashed into the bald man’s head.  On a backward swing, Tarks flung the rock at the rapalike man and caught him full in the face.   Both men fell to the floor.

“You’re next, Snoug,” said Tarks with a smile.

Snoug laughed and reached into his mane of shaggy hair.  He pulled out a long sliver of stone.  With this home made knife in his hand he lunged for Tarks.   Tarks hurled the rock he had held in his other hand and caught Snoug in the knee.   The big man shrieked and stumbled as his kneecap broke.   In that moment of confusion, Tarks stepped inside and hit him as hard as he could in the throat.   Snoug dropped his knife and fell to the floor clutching his neck.   Tarks kicked him in the face to finish the fight.

Diza rose, trembling.   She took a deep breath and forced a hard smile.  “Thank you, Tarks.”

“Welcome, Diza.”

Diza looked up at her savior.  Tears welled in her eyes.   “Oh, Tarks, how did you get here?”

“Caught the same as you, Diza.  You have grown in the last three years.   You are like a young woman now,” said Tarks.   He stepped over Snoug’s still body and helped the girl to her feet.  “Stick with me.  There are lots of rough characters in this hell hole.”

Diza smiled.  She refrained from hugging this old friend.  Once, Tarks had worked for her father as a personal bodyguard.   Somehow, she and this violent man had developed a friendly relationship.    It had started with a conversation about flowers.   She remembered their common interest with a curious frown and wondered about the way things work out.

“I saw what you did with those rocks.   I wouldn’t have thought it possible to down three men with just two rocks,” Diza said incredulously.

“When I was a kid a good heavy rock was the only weapon I had sometimes.   You learn to make do.   I could hit most things I threw at.   An old skill that came in handy today,” Tarks said with a warm smile.   There were few people he would speak to with such friendliness.

“They hurt my father,” Diza remembered suddenly.   “He’s around the corner.”

“Let’s get over there, then.”   He led her to where he father still lay unconscious.   She knelt down and cradled his head on her lap.   Tarks looked him over briefly

“He will be all right, Diza.  Just a broken nose, I think.”

Tarks looked around to see if the fight had stirred the attention of the guards.   Fights were not welcome in the slave chambers.   Each slave was needed for the hunt.   If a slave were to be killed or crippled, the masters like to do those themselves for their own entertainment.

“Where are we, Tarks?” asked the girl.

He squatted down on his heels next to her.   He hadn’t had a bath in a long time, but she didn’t let this bother her.

“We are on the island of Faol.   Captives of the kov.   Here we wait until we run for our lives.”

“Run for our lives?”

“Prey, for the rich.   They hunt slaves.   They use manhounds as dogs.   Not a pleasant fate for a young girl.”

“This has to be a mistake, Tarks.   We have done nothing wrong.   We are decent, respectable people.”

“So what,” replied Tarks.   “These jailors don’t care.”

”My father is a rich man.  Can’t we buy our way out of here?” gasped the girl.

Tarks looked at her solemnly.   “I wonder.   I doubt it.   These onkers hunt slaves, and they like the idea that they are hunting rich, royal or famous people.  It makes the hunt that much more enjoyable.”

Diza looked at him with wide, frightened eyes.  “We are lost, aren’t we?”

Tarks barked a short, brutal laugh.   “We are lost from the moment we are born.   Few of us find our way.  Most just think they do.”

“That’s not exactly what she meant, Tarks,” said Tampin as he opened his eyes and lifted his head off his daughter’s lap.

“No it wasn’t what she meant.   We ain’t dead yet, Notor Tampin, so let’s keep trying to stay alive,” replied Tarks.   He sneered toward the men who had just entered the slave chambers.   These were Trazen Como and his Khamorro henchman, Volu.   Despite the fact that there were only two of them, none of the slaves dared to threaten them in any way.   All of them feared Volu who could quickly kill a man with his bare hands.   The headband around Volu’s head boasted that he was a great kham, which meant he was a master of deadly unarmed combat.    Trazen Como was full of confidence in his enormously muscular bodyguard/servant.

“Who is that?” whispered Tampin.   The moneylender was quick to recognize a man of relative importance.

“The slave master.   He is in charge of this pig pen,” replied Tarks sullenly.

“Why is he here?” asked the moneylender.

Tarks shrugged.  “I don’t know.  To look around.   Maybe he heard that a few of his choice candidates for the hunt were put down.   They don’t encourage fatal fights around here.   They want these slaves to be killed out there…. on the hunting grounds.

“That’s the way it goes here, Notor Tampin.   Either you stay in the slave pens or you try to run.  If you run, the nobles and rich men that pay the kov of Faol hunt you down.  They have all the advantages.  You have none.   The way I understand it, you die.  They are happy; the kov of Faol gets paid.  Simple, ain’t it.”

“That’s barbaric,” gasped Tampin.   “I am a law abiding citizen of Hamal.  I do not deserve to be treated like this.”

“Notor, the world is a brutal barbaric place,” laughed Tarks.  “I come from the Hostile Territories, one of the most savage places on Kregen, but I have encountered slavery, brutality and murder wherever I have gone.   These nilsh are no different.”

“You are a bitter man, Notor Tarks,” remarked Tampin.

“Realistic.   Since you’re here, I got an idea.  The talk is no one can bribe his or her way out of this shit hole.   I heard that it has been done if enough money is offered and the person is not so big to be missed by the kov and his assistants.   You got a lot of money, don’t you?” asked Tarks.

Tampin narrowed his eyes and waved at the other slaves in the cave compound.  “These people have nothing.  Naked, dirty men and women.   How could they buy their way out of anywhere?   Promises are thin currency, Tarks.   That might be why no one buys their way out of this place.”

“You might be right,” began Tarks, “but hold that thought.  Here comes Como.   He looks pissed.”

The slave master walked directly over to the man from the Hostile Territories.   As he came toward him he pointed to Tarks with a brown accusing finger.

“You, Tarks!   You have stole from me.   Two men dead, and a third crippled.   Money stolen out of my pocket,” bellowed Trazen Como.   “I should have Volu break your neck!”

Tarks, a naked man in the captivity of a merciless host, kept his tongue silent under the slave master’s accusations

“Have you nothing to say, you filthy rast?” demanded the slave master.  “Must I let Volu loosen your tongue?”

“My tongue is loose, master Como.   What can I tell you about fools that fall down and hurt themselves,” said Tarks with a slight shrug of his shoulders.

Trazen Como leaned forward and nearly spit his disdain on the bigger man’s face.  “All of these people are valuable.   They are all going to run.   When are you going to run for your freedom, Hostile-man?”

“I’m looking for another way out, master Como.”

Trazen Como stared at Tarks with a smirk on his face.  “There isn’t any other way out, fool.   You run in the hunt.   Everyone runs.   Those are the rules.”

“So I have heard,” agreed Tarks.  He stepped closer to Como and looked intently into his eyes, “But I have heard other things as well in the back streets of this island’s capital.   Things that suggest that there might be a better way to get out.”

“Your way out will be the same as all the others,” laughed Como.  “You have been noticed.”


“Yeah, one of the customers noticed you in the yard a week ago.   She wants to see you again, personally.  Why do you think I haven’t had you staked out in the yard and flogged to death for maiming and killing those other runners?   Or I should make an example of you right here and now by having Volu break your arms and legs.   Then these other filthy rasts would understand that I want no killings in here.”

Involuntarily, Tarks sucked in a sharp breath at the possibility of Volu attacking him.  Tarks’ hand lifted toward his hair, stopped and dropped to his side again.  Then, he shrugged.   “I guess it’s my lucky day, but it isn’t yours?”

“What does that mean?” Como snarled.

“Perhaps, we can both make a profit.  If I go out on a hunt I have a chance to survive.   A lot more than most of these other fools you have penned up here.   If you don’t listen to my offer then you lose a chance to get a lot richer,” Tarks explained in a tightly controlled voice.

“Really, “ drawled Como, “a lot richer.   How much richer?”


“Don’t waste my time with foolish questions.”

Tarks nodded.   “You have in this slave pen a man who is fabulously wealthy.   It would be a shame to have him run down and speared without making some kind of profit for yourself.”

“That is against the kov’s rules.  All run.  It doesn’t matter how rich, famous or royal they are.   That’s what makes it fun for the hunters.”

“Yeah, I know, but that ain’t gonna make you rich,” replied Tarks with a twinkle in his eye.

“Why tell me this, now?  I already told you that you have been noticed.  I couldn’t let you go for all the gold in Hamal.”

“The man is my friend.  I do it for friendship, and perhaps a reward after I elude your hunters,” replied Tarks with a smile.

“You are too confident,” said Volu.   “None have ever escaped the hunters.  Not even men from the Hostile Territories.”

“None that are known.   I trust in my own abilities, Master Kham.”

“None of your abilities will help you if I find you, hostile-man,” warned Volu.

Wisely, Tarks gave no reply.  Instead he looked back at Como to see how the slave-master was reacting to his offer.  Como noticed Tarks' inquiring look and laughed.

“I will think about your offer even though it cannot be done.   The price would be enormous to offset my personal risk.   At least 100,000 gold pieces.   Is your man rich enough for that?” asked Como.

“Indeed, I believe he is,” remarked Tarks dryly.

Como gasped incredulously.  “100,000 gold pieces?   Are you sure?”

“What price does a wealthy man put on his own life?   I am sure.”

“Point this man out to me!” demanded Como.

“Do we have a deal?”

“Point him out to me, or I’ll have Volu break your neck.”

“Do we have a deal?  It’s all for your benefit in the end, Como.   Think what you can do with a 100,000 gold pieces.”

Como folded his arms on his chest and glared at Tarks.   The man from the Hostile Territories would not have pushed his bargain so strongly had Como not told him that he had been noticed.  With that assurance of life and limb, Tarks felt that now was the best time to ensure the safety of his friends.

“I will talk to you later.  After the Lady Varnela sees you.   Do not speak of this again to anyone,” warned Como.

“I will not,” Tarks promised.   Como grunted and motioned for Tarks to walk toward the entrance of the slave compound.   Outside of the stone caverns, Tarks squinted against the sunlight.   He was taken to a wooden platform where he stood and was shown to a group of finely dressed people sitting in comfortable chairs in a small stadium setting.   Like all slaves, Tarks ignored the fact that he was naked.   It was beyond his control, and hence, nothing that should concern him.

“This is the slave, my lady,” said Como in a respectful tone.   Tarks kept his gaze centered ahead of him and resisted the urge to look at the woman Como was talking to.

“Tell him to turn around…. slowly,” said the lady in a deep, passionate voice.

Tarks didn’t wait for Como to tell him.   He turned around with slow aloofness.

“Yes, this is the one.   You say he is from the Hostile Territories?”

“Yes, my lady.   His name is Tarks.”

“Did I ask his name, slave master?”

“No, my lady, you did not.   I apologize,” said Como under lowered eyes.

“Tell him to look at me.”

Again, Tarks did not wait to be commanded.  He drifted his gaze toward the woman with cool indifference.   She stood among her fellow hunters, rich men and women, although more men than women.   Her raiment was not as fine as theirs was.   She wore leather and brass, stretched over a muscular feminine frame.   Her breasts were like small pears, and her legs were long and lean.   Her tan hair was pushed back severely and tied into a ponytail.  A long thin nose ran down her face like an unsheathed knife.   Her mouth was small, thin and cruel.  Her eyes were ruthless brown.

A cool breeze sailed down from the clear Kregen sky and jostled Tarks’ long hair.   His calloused feet planted his muscular weight securely on the wooden planks of the platform.  He remained solid and calm before her hawkish appraisal.

The other people behind and beside her murmured and laughed, but she said nothing.  She just stared at the man from the Hostile Territories.   Tarks allowed his gaze to meet hers and for a moment some sort of surreal imbalance upset both of them.   The woman stepped back, drawing in a short breath.  Tarks frowned, confused by the odd emotional connection between them.   He took a breath, his muscular chest expanding deeply.

One of the brilliantly dressed men beside the woman laughed and said,” What is the matter Varnela, my dear.   Something about this big brute catch your eye?”

She lifted one hand as if to dismiss the dandy.   Wordlessly, she made her way down to the platform and stood before Tarks.  His tall body towered above her as she looked up at the slave on the platform.

“Make him kneel,” she commanded.

“You heard the lady, Tarks.   Kneel,” growled Como.

Without a smile or frown, Tarks bent down to one knee.   He continued to meet the woman’s gaze.

“You have temerity, slave.   Perhaps, you will not die quickly in the hunt,” she said to him.

Tarks did not reply.  He was a slave.

“I have killed seventy men in the hunt.  Tomorrow I will kill you.   What do you think about that?” asked Varnela with a soft sneer.

He had been asked to speak.  “I think I would prefer a different conclusion to the day.”

“It is a foregone conclusion.  I have never failed to slay my prey,” the woman bragged.

“You have never hunted Tarks before, my lady,” replied the man from the Hostile Territories.

Her anger flared at his boldness, then died as a softer look spread across her face.  “No, I haven’t.  I wonder…” she said, leaving the question dangling.    Her hand rose and caressed her chin.

Then she hardened and turned to Como, “Make sure he runs tomorrow.”

“Yes, my lady,” said the slave-master.

Varnela turned and returned to her friends.  Como directed Tarks back to the slave cavern.   As they walked, Como spoke softly to Tarks.  

“Tell you friend we have a deal.   If he has that much money I will let him out.”

“He does have the money,” replied Tarks.   He paused, wondering if he should mention the girl.   “He is here with his daughter.   They would both have to go.”

“His daughter?   Two of them?   That is a bit riskier,” moaned Como.  He glanced around the compound surreptitiously.  

“Naturally, the rich man will want to take his daughter out too.   Neither of them should have been swept into this situation,” remarked Tarks.

“Not so,” said Como.   “It is the slavers’ job to capture people the hunters might find interesting to kill, but if they are newly arrive it may be done.  You, however, will not be set free.  Lady Varnela expects you to run tomorrow.”

“What if I refuse to run?”

“Then I will be expected to encourage you,” replied Como with a crafty smile.

Tarks laughed silently.   “Freeing my friends will be good enough.   I will find my own way to freedom.”

Como laughed loudly.  “So you say.”

Later, Tarks drew Tampin and Diza to one side and told them about the deal he had made.   Como would send someone to lead them through a secret passage in the cavern complex that lead to the outside.   There a voller would be available to send them home where Tampin would pay Como for his services.   The usurer winced at the price tag, but resolved to pay it to be free.

“Do you trust this man?” asked Tampin.

Tarks shrugged.   “It’s the best I could do.   I trust his greed.”

“I wish you were going along,” whispered Diza.   She laid her slender fingers on Tarks’ brawny forearm.

“I will have to make my own way out.   There is no way that Como can let me escape.  It would bring the wrath of the kov down on him.   You can pay me my fee when I escape these “noble” hunters.”

Tampin nodded.  He had dealt with men like Como before and understood how things stood.  

Diza waved her hand around the filthy gray stone chamber.   “There are no pretty flowers here, are there, Tarks?”

Tarks grimaced.   “No, Diza.   No flowers.    Nothing but sweat, filth, fear and desperation.”

“And heroics?” she asked softly.   Tarks frowned and shrugged his broad shoulders.

As they were talking, a diff garbed in the traditional gray loincloth came close pushing a cart ahead of him.  “Out of the way, out of the way,” he shouted.   Tarks and the other two quickly moved aside so no attention would be brought to them.   The slave glanced at Tarks with a knowing eye.   The man from the Hostile Territories nodded grimly.

Inside the cavern the slaves didn’t know what time it was outside, but it was nighttime when Como came for Tampin and his daughter to lead them to freedom through a tunnel system only he knew.   The five of them walked briskly and softly to through a weaving complex of tunnels until Como stopped and turned to Tarks.

“This is where you stop, hostile-man.”

“You are certain Notor Tampin and his daughter will be exited safely?”

“Yeah, don’t sweat it.   I checked up on Tampin.  He’s as rich as you said.  It’s a good thing that I have his daughter.  I will let him go get the money while I hold the girl.  When he returns with the gold, I will release her.  It all will work out fine,” said Como quickly.   “We gotta get going.  Not a lot of time for chit chat.”

Tarks nodded and spoke to Tampin, “This is the best I can do for you, Notor Tampin.”

“It is more than enough, Tarks.   I thank you.   Will you be all right?  I have heard that there are voluntary guides that help people escape.”

“I have always depended on myself.  The Lady Varnela has her eye on me, but I think I shall do well.   Do not worry.   Flee to safety with Diza, and remember not to get caught again,” advised Tarks.

“I won’t,” Tampin said.

Diza stepped forward as if she intended to hug the Tarks, but then thought better of it and gave him a soft smile of farewell.

“Let’s go!  Quickly!” admonished Como as he led the way into the tunnel.   “Get your ass back to the slave pens, Tarks.   I can’t take a chance of the Lady Varnela noticing you are gone tomorrow.”

Tarks smiled and watched them disappear into the darkness of the tunnel.   He waited for several minutes, and then pulled a stone knife out of his hair.   Armed with this weapon, he followed the escaping party into the darkness.

All his life Tarks had survived in the wilderness.   He was an excellent scout.  Moving with smooth stealth in the darkness was a skill he had mastered when he was very young.   He could track by faint sounds like an animal.   He followed the party at a discrete distance, grimly, like a merciless cat on the trail of a plump mouse.  The journey out of the cavern was surprisingly short.  In less than an hour Como lead Tampin and his daughter outside.   Outside, Volu was waiting with a small voller that would take Tampin to the predetermined place where the money would be given to Como.   The slave-master’s eyes glittered greedily as the voller settled on a pad of crushed grass.

“You are sure the money will be available immediately?” he pressed the usurer.

“Oh yes, Notor Como.  You will be paid.”

“Excellent,” laughed Como as he rubbed his hands together.  “Let’s get into the voller.”

“Not so fast, Como,” rang out a harsh masculine voice.   Como whipped around and saw a large party of the kov’s soldiers walking out of the nearby brush.   The man who spoke was Spanto Temer, head of the kov’s security forces.

Como’s face fell as armed men neatly surrounded him.   His dreams of wealth drained away with the blood in his whitening face.   He glanced over at his henchman and saw that men with bows also surrounded Volu.   

“Cleanly caught, Como, disobeying the kov’s order that all slaves shall run,” said Temer harshly.   “Your punishment will be death.   Take him and his kham thug into custody.”

Temer’s men obeyed their commander with brisk efficiency.   Como and Volu were escorted to a special containment voller in chains.

When they were gone, Tarks stepped out of the tunnel and walked over to Temer.   The kov’s security chief sneered pleasantly as the big man approached.

“Good job, Tarks.   You proved that Como was taking bribes.   He will be severely punished.”

“And I will be fully paid now that the job is done,” continued Tarks with a contented smile.

“Yes, of course,” Temer said crustily.   To hint that Temer would not keep his business arrangement with Tarks was a borderline insult.   Temer’s reputation for faithfulness to agreement was based on more than just reputation; it was based on his own personal concept of honor.    He motioned to one of his men.   The soldier retreated into the brush and came back out with a large duffle bag, which he laid at Tarks’ feet.

“Your clothing and weapons as we agreed,” said Temer flatly.

Tarks opened the bag and drew out a dark green loincloth to cover his nakedness.   Silently he armed himself, as any sensible Kregan would do.   He put the stone knife inside the bag and pulled the bag onto his shoulder.

They walked apart from the others.  Tampin and his daughter were loaded into a military voller and would be transported back to Hamal.   Tarks pointed to them and said, “ Were they swept on purpose?”

Temer looked at Tarks sharply.   “Certainly.   You gave us a list of possibles from which to choose.  Rich people you would possibly recognize and use to tempt Como into blatant bribery.  Tampin wasn’t on that list, but my operatives knew you had a personal relationship with him.  My intelligence sources told me that you have some affection for the girl.   Like a brother.   I thought that relationship would inspire you to work harder to achieve our goals.”  Temer tossed Tarks a large sack of gold.

Tarks regarded Temer with quiet admiration.   “You were correct.  It did.   They will be returned to their homes safely?”

“Yes.  Since they are part of this covert operation, albeit an unwilling and unknowing part, they are not properly slaves to be hunted.   They will be returned to their home.   You are free to go where you please, Tarks.  Perhaps, I will offer you employment again.”

Tarks nodded.   “What about the Lady Varnela?”

“What about her?   She will be informed that you were an agent in one of the kov’s covert operations.   That must satisfy her.    I advise you not to fall into her hands in the future, though,” said Temer with a crafty smile.

“I do not intend to, Notor Temer, but I have a feeling I will anyway.   How about a lift out here?”

Temer laughed and lead Tarks to his personal voller.   As they lifted into the air, Tarks looked down at the mountain’s rock wall with a grimace.   

“Don’t tell Tampin that he was part of the scheme.   Then he will pay me without argument for the service of getting him out of there.   Regardless, of the complications of my job for you, I did perform that service,” Tarks said grimly.

“Sure, Tarks, I understand,” replied Temer.

Tarks laughed and looked ahead to a richer future.

The End