This week’s offering is a short story by fantasy author Jeff Baker. Toward the Marogas Hills is one of a number of stories he’s written set on an unnamed World of Three Moons, populated by descendants of Middle Eastern mystics who traveled there by magical means around our Middle Ages and Earth space travelers from our near future. It’s an intriguing mix, as I’m sure you’ll agree! And if you want to see more from Jeff, head for his website here.
“Keep running!” Zayas said, gasping.
“Can’t!” Zinack managed between breaths. “Gotta slow down, can’t keep this up.”
“Hang on,” Zayas said, slowing and listening in the warm night air. “I don’t hear anybody behind us.”
“They usually don’t check the barracks until dawn,” Zinack said. He rubbed his bicep where it was sore. “How far have we gone, anyway?”
“Probably not far enough,” Zayas said, crouching down and breathing hard.
Zinack had been sold to Master Torras’ farm three years earlier. Zayas had noticed Zinack the first day; tall, tan, muscular, rounded shoulders, dark hair down to his shoulders. Zayas was shorter, blonde hair he kept close cut and muscles toned from a lifetime of forced labor.
Both young men wore the bands of servitude tattooed around their right biceps, identifying them as property. Within two weeks the young men were laying together while holding each other in the straw of the slave quarters at night. Zinack had been sold into servitude eight years earlier. Zayas had been born on Master Torras’ farm and never known any family.
Zinack had been sold by his family.
The two of them were both barely twenty-six summers apiece in age.
They dreamed of freedom. Of being free together. The dreams filled their days as they labored on the farm, hauling wood for the kitchen, clearing the quick-growing bramble bush and removing rocks from the fields of their Master’s expansive farmlands.
The bands of servitude kept them there. If they disobeyed, defied their Master or tried to run the ensorcellment in the bands would convulse them in agony. There was no way out until Zinack found one.
The salve had smelled very bad and the jar it came in had looked very old, the writing engraved on the front in characters which were written at odd angles. They had rubbed it on the bands on their biceps and within an hour, their bands of servitude had vanished from their arms, and with it, any way their Master had of summoning them if they ran.
They had crept out of the barracks and off the property as soon as they could. It felt like they had been running for hours before they took this long break, catching their breath on the flat plain a ways away from the property where they had been property.
Zinack reached over and felt Zayas’ sweaty tunic, then his shoulder. Zayas rubbed the arm and moved close, kissing Zinack and rubbing his body with his hands. They stood there like that for a few moments in the quiet night. Zayas sniffed the air, he could still smell the salve.
“Zinack,” Zayas said when they pulled apart. “Where did you get that stuff? The stuff that worked on our tattoos?”
“The Master had me go to the BuanHaeii Farm for something a few days ago. There was a water cave on the way, and an old monk living by it. He offered me the salve, and our freedom…” He looked down at the ground. “But I’ll pay a price. Later.”
“Price?” Zayas said. “What do you mean?”
“Dal Lords.” Zinack said flatly. “The monk said the salve came from the Dal Lords.”
“You traded one slavery for another!” Zayas said.
“Not yet,” Zinack said. “And we have to worry about getting away from the Master’s tracking dogs. The caves should do it.”
“Look!” Zinack said, pointing at the horizon. There was an oblong golden moon rising in the dark sky. The other two moons were in their new phase. The young slaves had picked as dark a night as they could for their escape.
“It’s beautiful,” Zayas breathed.
“We could use a little more light,” Zinack said. “There!”
He pointed to one side of the moonrise. There was a dark bulk in the golden glow.
“The Marogas Hills,” Zinack said. “Caves, wind-holes. Too dangerous for anybody who doesn’t know where they’re going.”
“And you do?” Zayas asked.
He nodded in the near dark. “Part of what I paid for. Directions through the hills. Supposedly to a lost city, but really just the caves.”
Zinack shifted on his feet. The ancient Hoochoo Plain was firm and they would not leave footprints.
“Are you ready?” Zayas asked.
Zinack grinned and nodded.
The two men ran towards the hills, briefly holding hands.