Chapter 18

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Chapter Eighteen

First Prison Break

Limivo had a firm hold of David’s chain, and was walking far slower then David would have liked. However taut David kept the chain between them, Limivo would not be hurried. David had the impression of someone who got more out of being a servant than he put in. How else could he be so strong, despite his skinny frame? Either he had not been with Creophas long, or he had found a way to survive that most of his fellow captives had not.

He pulled a little harder.  

‘Have you any idea where we’re going?’ Limivo said.

‘Satyris’s place.’

‘I know that. But do you have any idea where it is?’

‘Do you?’

‘Just keep walking. You’re doing OK for now.’

The rain began to fall again, a swirling blur of drizzle at first, but very soon a steady splash of cold droplets.

What David had not told his new captor was that he was not completely clueless as to where they were going. He knew Fulgar had sent a message to Satyris, who had then got to the restaurant in the time he and Sarah were standing outside, give or take. That meant he had to be in one of the contiguous districts. He also picked up some fresh footprints when he and Limivo first left Creophas’s place. The girl’s path had soon been obscured as the rain fell harder, but it was enough to set him off in the right direction. It just suited his needs right now to let Limivo think that he, David, was more clueless than he actually was.

David knew he was being tested, assessed, and it was important for the success of his mission that he passed muster, so he kept just enough tension in the chain to let Limivo know he was nobody’s fool. An uneasy compromise was reached as they splashed down the muddy road that joined Creophas’s compound with the district beyond. David was doing a little assessing of his own, and he could feel Limivo growing more tense as they walked.

‘What did you say to Creophas before we left?’ David said when he could stand the silence no longer.

‘None of your business. But I got a question for you. What’s your interest in Satyris? He don’t like males on his patch, and you sure ain’t going there just to please the fat man.’

‘That’s none one of your business.’

‘Fair enough. It’s only a matter of time.’

He was being walked like a dog again, which he supposed was the idea. But as they left Creophas’s district and crossed the barren land towards the next David felt something more than that transmitting itself along the taught chain.

‘I hate this place,’ Limivo said. David fancied that his guide’s voice was more hesitant, quieter, than before, and not just because of the sudden increase in the strength of the wind.

‘You hate it more than Creophas’s?’ David said.

‘Creophas is an idiot. He lets his servant’s die, sure, but that’s all. You can fight it. You can stay alive if you know how, but Satyris is different. Death’s not natural here.’

David did feel something unnatural in the air. There was a brooding, heavy atmosphere, something intangible just beneath the surface.

‘OK, which one?’ David asked, letting out some of the tension in the chain so Limivo would catch him up.

‘You got no idea, have you? Where you from anyway?’

‘That’s not important. Just show me which is Satyris’s. We don’t have much time.’

‘OK, don’t panic. It’s the big one, over there. You could say he needs the space.’ He pointed at a sprawling concrete structure a few blocks away. It had the look of an official building or a hospital. Regular, though  mostly glassless, windows circled all six stories, divided by clean grey concrete slabs. The windows of the lower two stories had bars or mesh over them. He shuddered at the sight of it.  

‘What is this place?’ David said.

‘He keeps his wives on the top two floors. Most of the rest’s for training and conditioning. Servants live outside mostly.’

‘Wives? How many has he got?’

‘Hundreds. Who knows? He’s got at least a thousand children.’

‘Why?’

Limivo grinned mischievously at David, revealing for the first time a set of perfectly straight but golden-brown teeth. He did not answer the question, but pulled on the chain as he began to lead down a street of shanty houses towards the tower.

‘How you planning to get in? Or are you just going to wing it like you’ve winged everything else?’

‘I’ve got money. I just need to buy food. But it’s best if I don’t deal directly with Satyris. I’ve met him before, and he might remember me. I need to see one of his servants.’

‘Don’t worry about that. Satyris don’t put much store in males. You talk to him one minute, and I doubt he’d know you the next. Anyway, dealing with his staff won’t help you much. They’re all very loyal. Most of them are his own children.’

‘He keeps his own children as servants?’

‘Of course. Satyris’s real interest is in his wives, if you get my meaning, but since children are an inevitable by-product, he has to do something with them. He breaks them for a life of service, keeps some, sells the rest. You’d be surprised who can trace his family back to that one!’

‘How do you know so much about him?’

‘Like I say, you’d be amazed who can trace his family back here.’

‘You mean…?’

‘Sure. Mother was human, but I’ve got the blood from the Barons flowing in my veins. Not that that counts for much. Creophas bought me mainly because all his servants keep dying of starvation. Too much work, too little food, so he was down on numbers. I guess it can’t have done him any harm to have one of Satyris’s kids at his table though. The Barons are very tribal – trading in people like me helps to strengthen alliances.’

‘And if he bought Sarah…’

‘Who?’

‘The girl I came here with.’

‘Now we get to it! I knew there was more than the fat man’s dinner here. And I thought you were just trying to escape!’

‘Well that’s part of it. Fulgar was supposed to be taking us to the City. Together.’

‘Looks like he changed his mind on that one. Strengthened some alliances of his own. And Satyris got himself another wife. So what…? You think you can just wander in there for a visit before you do a runner?’

‘No. We’re going to get her out of there.’

‘We’re what?’

‘Going to get her out.’

‘Just hold on.’ Limivo stopped David in his tracks. ‘I didn’t come here to go marching into Satyris’s compound to nick one of his wives.’

‘She’s not one of his wives. She’s… well never mind what she is. She’s not staying here.’

‘That wasn’t part of the plan.’ Limivo hustled David into the shelter of a doorway. ‘Escape, well, maybe I’d be in on that for a laugh, though I don’t know where we could go. Food, OK, we can do that too – Satyris trades. Bit of imagination, we could maybe even visit this Sarah, but break her out? You’re insane.’

‘Then let me go. I don’t care what he does. I’ve got to get her out. Now.’

Limivo considered for a moment.

‘You’d go up against one of the nastiest Barons in Exdis just for a girl?’

‘A friend. Yes. Wouldn’t you?’

‘For a friend? No. Life’s cheap here, Dave. The only person I’d go to war for is me.’

‘Then give me the chain. Let me try. You can go and trade with Satyris, keep him busy while I go in – here, take the money.’

David reached into his pocket but Limivo stopped him.

‘Forget it. No Baron would believe a servant could just turn up unannounced with a pile of money.’

‘That girl did.’

‘She was a messenger. She wasn’t using the money to make her own trade, was she? No, the Barons don’t work like that.’

‘Why?’

‘Because the servants are scum. We’re filthier than gutter dirt and even more worthless. That’s why you were able to persuade Creophas so easy. He knows you’re different. He knows Satyris’d take you seriously.’

‘So what do we do? I’m not leaving here without her.’

Limivo looked at his captive for a moment before a grin spread across his face.

‘I’ll do you a deal, Dave,’ he said. ‘I’ll help you get to your friend, but you’ve got to do something for me. Even if we don’t get her out, you owe me, OK?’

‘OK. What do you want?’ David asked.

‘I’ll tell you later. Don’t worry, you can put your money away. It won’t cost you a thing and it won’t stop you escaping. We’ve just got to survive this bit first.’  

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Whatever. Can we just get on with it?’

‘Sure. The main entrance is round here,’ Limivo said. They walked into the shadow of the tower, side by side now. Rain lashed down, splattering against the concrete walls on the driving wind. A tall, broad canopy, supported on steel legs came into view around the corner of the building.

Too late, David saw the guard standing against the closed door beneath the canopy, and the guard saw them.

‘Gamma Two Three Eight!’ he said, grinning at Limivo, ‘I though you’d left us already.’

‘Still around, bro’,’ Limivo replied, striding towards the entrance with David in tow. ‘Got an Outlander here, wants to do business with the Boss. Know where we can find him?’

‘He was up in New Arrivals on the top floor. Just brought a new one in, but I don’t know if he’s still up there.’

‘Can we go see?’

The guard looked doubtful, but only for a moment.

‘Sure, why not,’ he said. He stood aside and let his visitors pass.

‘You know him?’ David whispered as they walked along the corridor leading from the main entrance.

‘He’s my brother. Well, they all are really. Same father, anyway. But we were close in training.’

‘But he called you something else.’

‘Gamma Two Three Eight was my name here. We only get what you might call a proper name after we’ve been sold. Makes sense really: can you imagine having to name a thousand children?’

They entered a maze of corridors with small rooms on either side.

‘So what’s the plan? You’re just going to ask Satyris if you can buy this Sarah back?’

‘I don’t know yet. I guess I’ll do whatever it takes. I can’t go home without her.’

‘And where is home?’

‘You wouldn’t believe me. Beyond the Outlands. If you can get us out of here, I’ll tell you all about it.’

‘I believe you will, Dave, I believe you will.’

By now they had found their way to the central lobby of the building. Sounds of children echoed softly around the walls, but they were unable to see into any of the numerous rooms along the corridor. Limivo led David by the chain to a platform at the centre of the lobby.

Limivo slipped a mesh door closed and began to wind a handle, cranking the lift upwards. The top floor was just coming into view when he slowed them to a silent stop. He pressed his fingers to his lips (as if David needed to be told to keep his mouth shut) and nodded his head towards the lip of the floor that was almost at eye level. He peered along the corridor.

Before David had even heard the shuffling footsteps, Limivo gently pushed him back against the wall of the lift. A long shadow crept along the polished floor outside the lift, followed by a rotund woman, dressed in robes made of black sacking. In her right hand she clutched a bundle of bloody towels; in her left a baby, held by the feet and swung back and forth like a haunch of ham. The baby was silent, its arms swinging limply beside its head. The nurse whistled softly as she shuffled by.

Limivo held them there until a door closed in the distance then checked the corridor once more. All was now silent. He wound the lift up to floor level and, with agonising slowness, slid the mesh door open. Limivo pointed down the corridor.

‘New arrivals are kept down there until they’ve been sorted and processed,’ he whispered. ‘Then they’re assigned a dorm. Hopefully your friend’ll still be in Processing or there’s no chance of finding her before they find us.’

They set off along the corridor. Doors with windows made of thick polythene stretched off along both sides. Behind these translucent windows, David caught glimpses of shadowy human figures. No sound accompanied the ghostly movements.

At the end of the corridor was a wide galleried room looking out over the cluster of mud-brick buildings below. An odd assortment of tables hugged one wall, strewn with rolls of parchment and, most chillingly, chains and manacles. Propped against one wall was a pair of blacksmith’s tongs, spattered with a dried dark brown crust. Crouched in the shadows beneath one of the tables, David saw a familiar boot.

‘Sarah,’ he whispered.

The boot stirred, and Sarah’s tear-stained face peered out from behind the table. She caught sight of David and scrambled out from her hiding place and ran towards him. She hugged him hard for a moment, then looked him in the face, her eyes wide and glassy with shock.

‘Sarah, we’ve got to go,’ David whispered. She pulled away from him and noticed Limivo, seemingly for the first time.

‘Who’s…?’ she whispered.

‘It’s OK, he’s with me. I’ll explain everything later. You’re going to be OK.’

Through the window of an adjoining room a dark shadow moved. Before David even had time to react, the shadow solidified into the towering shape of Satyris and the door swung open.

‘What have we here?’ Satyris said. He sniffed. There was no sign of recognition. The two girls cowering behind him shrank further into themselves. They recognised David. One looked into his eyes and opened her mouth as if to speak, but her tongue-less mouth merely gaped and her dying eyes could convey not meaningful message.

‘Satyris, we were just looking for you,’ Limivo said. ‘The Outlander wants to make a deal with you. Wants some food for Creophas.’

Satyris turned his head towards Limivo.

‘Then why are you up here?’

‘The guard said you’d be in Processing, so I was accompanying him from the entrance to make sure he didn’t get lost. Then he caught sight of this one and just had to stop. You know what Outlanders’re like. So primitive. Their bonds are hard to break.’

Satyris examined Limivo. He seemed satisfied that the youngster was one of his own.

‘Very well,’ Satyris said.

‘Tell you what,’ Limivo said. ‘I’ll stay here with the female, make sure she don’t try to escape while you go to the kitchens with this one. He’s got money. Lots of it.’

‘Then we can talk. Come. Your offer had better be a good one, or I’ll see to it that Creophas takes the necessary measures to ensure you don’t disturb me again.’

David shot Sarah a nervous glance over his shoulder as he followed Satyris back towards the lift. They squeezed in and one of the giant’s girls began to crank the handle in the crook of her elbow.

‘What’s your deal, boy?’ Satyris said him as they stepped from the lift on the ground floor.

‘I want to buy something special, something for Creophas. I’ve plenty of money. Nearly four hundred.’

Satyris’s expression did not change. He stared at David, unblinking, for several seconds.

‘And the fat man trusted you to come here alone?’

David was about to insist that he was not alone when it realised that as far as Satyris was concerned, Limivo had met him here quite by chance.   

‘Of course,’ David said. ‘He was very insistent that I get him some of your best food.’

Satyris seemed satisfied with this. He led David into a large room near the entrance.

He pushed aside a plastic sheet to reveal a huge store room.

‘It’ll cost you one hundred a crate,’ Satyris said as they surveyed the neatly stacked boxes of supplies. After giving David time to be impressed by his wares (and maybe even try to haggle the price down), Satyris spoke again. ‘My man here will help you. Take whatever you want, but no more than four crates. Come again if the fat man is willing to pay that much to fill his table!’

Satyris gave him an evil, wide-eyed grin as David carefully removed the coins from Fulgar’s leather purse and handed them over. Satyris threw them onto a table without even looking at them.

‘If you will excuse me, I have business to attend to. The Outlander? The brat fights like a bear. A little quietening down is required.’ He selected a long-bladed meat cleaver from a rack on the wall and eyed its shining blade. He ran the blade down the arm of the girl nearest to him, leaving a perfect straight cut which immediately began to bead with blood. He smiled at her and, with the cleaver swinging from his free hand, dragged the girls back out of the storeroom.

David turned back to the piles of food, shaking uncontrollably.

‘What do you want, then?’ An insolent-looking old man, with a voice to match, sat on a pile of boxes looking coldly at David.

‘Oh, anything. I don’t care.’

‘Please yourself,’ the servant said. He walked heavily over to a neat stack of food boxes in the darkest corner of the store and began to toss vegetables into an empty crate.

David peered out through the plastic sheet into the entrance hall. Suddenly he became aware of movement to his left, and Limivo came running along the corridor towards him.

‘Has he gone?’ he whispered.

‘Yes. Have you got her?’

Limivo turned and whistled softly. Very cautiously, Sarah’s face appeared around the door of a room some way further along the corridor. David waved her forward and she darted out towards him.

‘Are you OK?’ he asked.

She nodded but said nothing.

‘I got the food. Limivo, help he carry the crates. Satyris won’t take long to realise she’s missing.’

‘No,’ Limivo said, ‘we’d never get past the guard on the door. Create a diversion and I’ll get her out. Meet us round the other side. Go!’

David returned to the storeroom and picked up two of the crates that the servant had piled with supplies.

Balancing two together, he pushed through the plastic sheeting and staggered across the entrance lobby and out of the main door. With only the slightest hint of over-acting to make sure that guard noticed him, he dropped both boxes.

‘Careful there lad. Food don’t grow on trees, ya know!’ The guard darted forward and began to pick up the vegetables from the mud. David could now see, with the benefit of proper light, that what he had bought was hardly worth picking up.

He looked back into the corridor and caught Limivo’s eye as he peered round the edge of a door in the gloom. Limivo made a waving gesture with his hand then pointed back along the corridor and mimed Satyris coming towards them.

David stooped to pick up vegetables, and spoke to the guard.

‘Sorry. I’ve got two more in the store. Could you just gather this lot up while I go and get them?’

‘You came in with Gamma Two Three Eight, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. He’s gone to see if he can find a cart.’

‘OK. Tell him I’d like to see him before he goes. Doubt I’ll get another chance. They don’t come back too often from Creophas. Don’t know what he does with them!’

‘Eats them, probably.’

The guard looked at David for a moment, then laughed. ‘Eats them! Yeah, like it!’

Still chuckling to himself, he scurried around picking up the provisions, some of which had rolled a good distance. David returned to the store for the other two boxes. As he re-emerged, he paused with the door open. The moment the guard’s back was turned, he waved Limivo and Sarah forward. They darted out behind him and away round the corner of the building.

‘How you going to manage four boxes on you own, lad?’ the guard said.

‘These two are much lighter. I’ll take them round to the other side, then come back for those two. I’ll be OK.’

‘Mind you don’t leave them unattended too long. There’s all sorts around here. Steal anything they will.’

David smiled to himself as he carried the crates around the building. The guard was right: people will steal anything.

He left the first two crates out of sight round the corner, and returned for the others. By the time he got back to the stash again, Sarah and Limivo were waiting for him. They distributed the crates amongst themselves and vanished into the huddle of houses around the tower.

                           *  *  *

Creophas held the part-eaten corpse of a small dog in his hands as David entered the oppressive red dining room. He looked at the new arrival blankly for a moment before he recognised him.

‘Welcome to the feast!’ he spat. ‘You brought the food?’

‘Yes, the crates are outside. Do you want them in here?’

‘Of course. We will prepare a banquet for Fulgar. Bring them in. I will just finish my lunch if you don’t mind.’ He returned to tearing hunks of meat from the dog, relishing every mouthful with a dribbling lick of his lips.

David brought in one of the crates, followed by Limivo with two others. They laid them on the end of the table, sliding piles of unwashed plates out of the way.

Back outside, Limivo began to fill his pockets with food from the final crate.

‘Take all you can carry. We’re going to need it.’

‘We’re still going to find Toby?’ Sarah said.

‘Hopefully he’s only been taken as far as the gates of Dis,’ David replied. ‘We’ll get him and then get out of here. Fulgar’s coming back here to collect me at nightfall, so we’ll have to be careful.’

They took as much food as they could, eating some and filling their pockets with the rest.

‘We’ll leave the last box here,’ Limivo said. ‘It’ll be ages before Creophas sends anyone out to look for us. As long as he’s got food on the table, he’s not interested in much of the rest of the world.’

They had managed to regain a fragile freedom, and with luck it would be a couple of hours yet before Fulgar realised they had given him the slip. All they had to do now was find Toby.

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