18. Slaves are People Too
I ground my teeth in frustration. I couldn’t believe they had caught me. By now, I had figured out who was who within the group. I thought Luke was Aurora’s twin. He had the same shape to his face, eyes, nose, mouth, etc. They were approximately the same size, height and had the same build. The only difference between them was that his eyes were bright blue and Aurora’s were vibrant green. There was also something in the way he carried himself that reminded me of Aurora too.
I sighed. And knowing this helps me how? I asked myself. They’d bundled me into the back of a covered wagon when they departed the city. Rowan had posted a guard to make sure I didn’t try anything but they weren’t taking any chances. My hands were tied and witch-weed was braided into my hair. The lethargy that accompanied the witch-weed’s enchantment muddied my thoughts as well. I wasn’t in any position to escape and I wouldn’t be until the witch-weed wore off – that was if they forgot to renew the binding.
I shifted uncomfortably on the hard wooden bench in the wagon. While I’m in this situation, I might as well use it to my advantage, I thought. They might take me somewhere key to the Liberation’s operations giving me something to take home. My eyes searched the forest on either side of the wagon, memorizing the route we were taking. If nothing else I could remain alert and watchful – any information on the Liberation could help.
As the sky dimmed and it grew dark the wagon rolled to a halt at the edge of a clearing. Around the wagon everyone began to dismount and pull saddle bags off their mounts. Clearly, we were stopping for the night. I stared stiffly ahead as Rowan started talking to Luke and moved behind me with a handful of witch-weed. I growled under my breath.
“I think it’s time you had a talk with Rory,” he announced. I perked up immediately. What did he mean have a talk with Rory? I thought he’d said he didn’t know Rory! Intrigued, I gazed at Luke with interest as he asked Rowan a question and Rowan asked him whether he remembered the other night. Their conversation continued for a moment longer with Luke asking a last question. “You’ll be fine, but be careful,” Rowan said finally.
I didn't understand what he was telling Luke. From my understanding, we were nowhere near our destination. I watched with interest as Luke carefully approached the wagon and knelt down next to it. I felt a whoosh as something fluttered past my consciousness. He was contacting Aurora using Mind-Speak, I realized. I watched for several minutes as his breathing slowed and his face grew paler. I knew that if he didn’t return to his body quickly he would die – at least his body would die. His spirit would still live but not long without a body to inhabit.
As fifteen minutes elapsed, everyone moved around the camp, readying tents and such to keep busy. Suddenly his body shuddered as he regained possession of it. He rose to his feet unsteadily and collapsed as his knees gave out beneath him. Immediately everyone rushed over and helped him to his feet.
“Wha’ ‘happened?” Reynold asked anxiously.
“I don’t know,” the boy replied almost incoherently. I could have answered for him but I bit my tongue. I saw no reason to help my captors.
“Okay people, give him room!” Rowan ordered loudly, feeling Luke’s forehead. The others gathered behind him babbling anxiously. “He’s fine,” Rowan answered the jumble of questions loudly, “He’s just overexerted himself.”
Luke glanced at Rowan with bloodshot eyes, and grabbed his hand roughly. Abruptly I felt him transfer the rest of his stamina to Rowan. Peculiar, I thought wondering what had passed between them. Rowan stiffened unexpectedly and reached out to stop Luke from collapsing to the ground as he lost consciousness. Jesse was by my side in an instant, roughly grabbing my arm and pulling me from the wagon. David and Reynold passed us carrying Luke and they carefully placed him in a mattress that dominated one corner of the wagon.
White-faced Rowan descended from the wagon a few minutes later. “David’s with him,” he said to answer everyone’s inquiring looks, “Don’t worry. He just overexerted himself. He’ll be fine tomorrow.” The entire circle released a sigh of relief. I scowled. Rowan looked directly at me and then turned away. “Post a guard,” he ordered, “And make sure she doesn’t escape.”
He stalked to his tent. Carla pushed after him and spoke quietly. “No!” he thundered. “I need to be alone!”
Everyone looked at each other nervously for a second and then a babble of words broke out among them. Jesse still gripping my arm thrust me into another tent. “Stay there,” he growled and then turned around to yell at Reynold. “Ray! Do you want the first shift? Shift changes in an hour – and you’ll get more uninterrupted sleep!” he joked.
Reynold smiled and nodded. “And more company too, no doubt,” he laughed. I glared at them as they bantered with each other and stood unsteadily. They glanced at me, keeping a cautious eye on my movements. I growled under my breath. Escaping was out of the question – they were too observant.
I was stupid for getting myself in this mess in the first place. Sure, I was comfortable enough and they kept me well fed but they were runaways. They were outcasts, escapees running from the law. They represented everything I was against. Surely there was something I could do to get out of here!
My thoughts turned back to Rowan. Why was he so white and anxious to be alone when he came out of the wagon after Luke fainted? And what had happened when Luke contacted Aurora? A simple Mind Speak didn’t usually drain all your energy at once like that – especially for a magic-user who had so much raw power.
A fact dawned on me; they were looking for Aurora and so was I. They had a means to find her; I didn’t. If I tagged along with them then they would take me right to her.
“Hello? Francesca?” Cathy’s voice broke into my thoughts. “Do you want any dinner dear?”
I looked up into her face from my sitting position on the ground of the tent. “Sure,” I responded lifelessly realizing how hopeless this was. I felt myself wallowing in my own misery and felt disgusted with my own attitude.
Cathy passed me a bowl of stew and I muttered a thanks. “I know how you feel Francesca,” Cathy sympathized.
“No you don’t,” I snarled.
“Of course I do!” she exclaimed, “You feel upset because you let yourself down. You felt pressured by your mother to be more than you wanted to be and eager to surpass her to prove her wrong. I should know. I feel like I let myself down when I let Rory run away.” She smiled sadly at me. “I’d do anything to be at home right now, but guilt works on you. If you have to do something, you do it. You don’t let it come back to bite you later.”
I stared at her in shock, amazed and upset that she knew so much about me. She laughed seeing my face. “Rory tells me things,” she chuckled, “And other things aren’t hard to figure out if you’re observant.” Her voice grew more serious again, “If you were at the camp headquarters you’d understand our situation better, but what you call slaves aren’t just tools to be used; they’re people too. They have thoughts, feelings, wants, dislikes – just like anyone else. We don’t help them escape. We give them a chance to be free to make their own choices.”
I pondered what she said for a minute. I’d never thought about what slaves might feel - what they might want to do with their lives. I’d always thought and treated them like animals. “There’s no proof that they’re people,” I replied coolly.
“Of course not!” Cathy snapped, “Just because everyone treats them like animals does not mean they’re not intelligent beings! They are people with feelings as acute as yours are. They look like people, don’t they? Then treat them like what they are. Pay them! Give them decent living conditions and choices. You’ve been enslaving them too long Francesca. Eventually they’ll break free.”
“I still don’t see what you mean,” I snapped stiffly, my heart racing. She was trying to turn me against my people. If anyone ever found out I’d had this conversation the Conclave would charge me with treason.
“Of course you do!” Cathy fumed. “You know exactly what I mean. Just look at us. We were all slaves. Do we act like animals? Do we not have rational thoughts and feelings?” She threw her hands in the air. “You know what I mean. You’re just afraid what the consequence will be if you change the way you think. You’re afraid of what will happen if anyone finds out you decided to stand with your ‘enemies’. I can only tell you that, yes, it is dangerous – but it’s worth it.”
“But you had nothing to lose,” I cut in icily.
“We did,” she whispered softly, “We lost our chance at a life without Magician interference when we joined the Liberation.” Then she turned and left me sitting there, confused and disoriented.ns 188.8.131.52da2