“You can come willingly, or we will drag you.” The taller of the two stared down at me. A malicious smile on his face.
“I can walk.” I replied.
“Can you? Will you?”
The shorter man appeared behind me as I stood. He kicked me just as I started to stand. A sharp pain in my right knee caused me to stumble and fall. He kicked me again. This time in my side, making me grab my ribs and roll over into a ball. The punishing blows continued. Both men pummelled and kicked me until I could barely breathe.
“How about now? Can you walk now?” Both me circled me as I clutched myself tighter and tighter.
One grabbed me by my hair and gave a sharp pull. I screamed as my body was twisted and choked as dust from the ground was sucked into my mouth.
“”Get up! Stand now or we will drag you up those stairs.” The leader’s voice was harsh and cruel sounding.
I brought my knee up under me. Carefully I pulled myself up on one knee only to be pushed over by the other man.
“Get up!” Both men yelled at me now.
Closing my eyes I said a prayer to the Gods of my father. I would not be weak. Remembering my promise to father, I tried to not be the rabbit. My ribs chose that moment to remind me of their pain. I groaned as I raised one knee and then another. Staggering I stood up. Both arms clutched around me as injuries to my ribs and belly made me cry out in pain.
“It can stand. Excellent. What sport.” The shorter man smiled and licked his lips.
“Come along.” The taller leader pushed me forward toward the stairs.
Stumbling I fell across the first couple of flights. My hands caught my weight as i tried to brace myself. I could feel the smoothness of the rock. Smoothness brought on by the tread of thousands of feet.
“Get up. Or we will drag you up!” Hands grabbed me from behind pushing my body forward.
I pulled myself up and stumbled forward again. Bracing myself, I balanced when the push came again. This dance was repeated numerous times. Each impact with the stairs ripping and shredding the palms and fingers on my hands.
By the time we reached the final steps, I was crawling on the ground like an animal. All the while, the two men laughed. Kicking me with their feet they nudged me into the dark portal.
Blackness. Unlike outside there wasn’t any light at all. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I could see the faint outline of the entrance behind me but both men were standing in the middle of it.
“What have you brought us?” The words were just a whisper, but they echoed inside my mind.
The men behind me spoke. “A new slave, Majesty. Payment for services rendered.”
“We don’t normally deal in slaves. Explain yourself.” These words were out loud and close.
Both men hit the floor and were on their knees. “Master Alukah, she is payment from the Roman Demetrius. He said you knew and gave approval!”
“Never assume anything. Is he here to make payment?” The voice came from beside me. I craned my head looking around, but didn’t see anyone.
“No. We… We let him go.”
“Interesting. And yet you bring this to me. Who is the girl?” Master Alukah’s voice once again echoed inside my head.
I tried to answer. “My name is ....” Suddenly I was unable to speak a single word. All that came out was grunts.
“Answer my question. Who is the girl?”
One of the men completely prostrated himself before the mysterious Alukah. “We weren’t told, Majesty. Demetrius just told us she was payment for his debt and that the deal was already made. We didn’t know. We didn’t know!”
“You didn’t know and you didn’t care did you. The rules are there for a reason.”
“We didn’t know!”
Hearing one of the men wail set my teeth on edge. Having one of them hurt pleased me after they beating they gave me, but I worried for myself and my fate.
“Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.”
There was a murmuring not unlike some of the sounds from the hippodrome that father took me to. It was the sounds that people in large numbers made. How many others were here in the darkness with us?
“What is the verdict of the court?” The voice was but a whisper in my mind. I opened my mouth to speak and still nothing came out.
“Death.” The word seemed to not just echo, but reverberate through the very air. Death was all around me. It was inside of me and part of me.
I could feel tendrils like wisps of hair drift over my body. Both men started screaming and writhing on the ground behind me. As I turned I could see another shadow in the doorway. This one snakelike and covered in long hair. The men convulsed on the ground and then lay still. The snake swayed back and forth catching the eye as it moved over the men's bodies on the ground. Its head slipped forward and loud crunching sounds could be heard. They were sickly and moist as the creature began to eat the men in the doorway.
No stranger to death, still I felt sick to my stomach and turned away. Suddenly there were fingers on my head. They held my face level. Looking forward I saw nothingness until a man’s face slowly, ever so slowly came into view.
“What shall we do with you now?” The face spoke as it gazed into my eyes.
Concentrating I tried to speak. Almost willing my vocal cords to say a single word. “Who.”
The face smiled at me. “Interesting.”
I could hear the word inside my head. This person was the source of the whispers.
“What is your name?” The voice asked.
Suddenly my voice worked again. “Aeliana. Daughter of Apollodorus of Damascus. Architect of the Emperor.”
“So daughter of the architect. What brings you to our domain?” The voice asked.
Stuttering I answered, “My tutor Demetrius sold me to you.”