The children were crying, wrapped in chains and manacles, covered in scars from when they’d first resisted.
They didn’t resist now. They couldn’t if they wanted to; they were hungry and tired from their long journey.
The slavers let them sleep, but didn’t feed them for a few nights, though they kept them in drugged water. In days they were gaunt, bedraggled, and dejected.
After five days, they gave them scraps, and watched them pummel, kick, and bite each other for an extra piece, laughing and betting.
After ten days, when they began nearing the city, they fattened the kids who survived the fighting up with full meals to make a decent presentation at auction, and peace reigned in the camp once more, for a time.
A day’s ride out from the city gates, the slavers woke to find their sentries dead, and the children gone. A dark figure in a broad brimmed hat stood among them as they approached him in a circle, their leader stepping forward, his own knife drawn, to confront the silent intruder, who had his head down inside the hood that hid his face.
“You have until a minute ago to bring those brats back, or tell me where they are.”
The figure, his eyes hidden by the brim, gave an enigmatic smile, and then he lifted his eyes, and looked at the slaver.
The slaver’s skin sloughed off his body in a red, wet heap, and his flesh and bones sagged like sludge, collapsing in red, gory mound, spreading out in a pool of meat and guts and bone.
He heard the sound of men crying out, vomiting, shouting, cursing, praying, and finally, running.
In less than a minute the camp stood abandoned.
The figure turned to go, when the curtain on the leader’s tent parted, and a dark-haired young girl of some twelve or fourteen summers emerged. She looked at the pile of flesh that had only last night claimed her maidenhead, and left her crying and bruised, then she looked at the figure.
“Who are you, mister?”
“My name,” he said, as he removed his hat and bowed to her, “is Cane. Come with me, and I’ll take you to the others.”
Having nowhere to go now, she put out the last of the campfire, and walked toward him, stopping to spit on the red, stinking rubble of her rapist, gave her hand to Cane, and the two of them left the camp without looking back.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.