Throughout my entire life, I would hear people say that the most amazing thing about our land is that it has many different kinds of people living together in a small space, each having their own government, and getting on peacefully. At first, this seemed amazing to me, as well, but as I got on in years and learned to listen more and especially to understand, I began to realize that it was not so. By the time I was ten years old, I was of the opinion that the only reason the different peoples hadn't had a war in centuries was a sorcerer by the name of Edekli. I had never met him, but I had heard people talk about the things he had done, and it seemed to me that he was more of a peacekeeper than any other leader to my limited knowledge.
I told everyone who would listen my opinion about Edekli, how if it weren't for him we most likely would have a very different lifestyle. Very few people listened. No one considered the fact that I lived on the land of the single most powerful noble in Syliira, besides the king. They just thought, what would a slave know of politics?
Year by year, my position changed. That's how I knew there was something different about me, something that set me apart from the others. To begin with, I did not work until I was six, whereas most slave children start work at the age of four. When I did begin, my assignment was simple: dish washing. I hated it, for the soap was made with too much lye and burned my hands, but I had no choice.
When I was seven and a half years old, they--my masters--switched my position to being the cook's assistant. I reckon just about every person on the entire property who wasn't of noble blood had been the cook's assistant at one time; he was highly selective and known for brutality. I made it six months under his tutelage, but then he threatened me with a butcher knife. This frightened me, for I truly believed he would hurt me. I ran outside, and ran until I could run no longer. No one said anything when I returned, and I went back to my usual work. I never told anyone, but the next day I was moved.
Eight years old and on my third position, I was a serving girl. This job was just about as easy as it sounds. There were six of us, servers that is, all less than thirteen years old. Our task was to bring food into the dining room for meals, then to stand in the corner of the room and wait for a cup or plate to need to be taken away. We also brought in refreshments at political gathering, our masters being highly involved in politics. This job required being places on time, knowing how to stand quietly in a corner, and being able to carry trays of food without spilling.
At first I hated serving for political gatherings; I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life. Then I learned to listen. It is truly amazing what one can learn, being overlooked in a corner. Political matters began to make sense to me, and often I found solutions to critical problems before the others--not that I dared say them out loud, of course. This was also how I got my grounding in numeric matters, hearing these important men discuss large sums of money.
Two more important events in my life took place in my time as a serving girl. The first was that I met a boy. His name was Tere, which is pronounced "tear", as in the salty droplets of water. He was one year younger than I was, and the second son of my master. Tere saw me at supper one night, and he could not stop staring at me. I stole glances back at him, careful not to get caught. Why did he stare like that?
The next day, Tere summoned me. Immediately word got around that I was in great trouble with the master's youngest son. Trembling, I found my way to his quarters. As it turns out, Tere was only interested in me. "I never knew slaves could be so young," he said.
"With all due respect, my lord, I'm not young for a slave," I said. He seemed surprised at my grammar. It was just the way I talked, picked up by all my time around higher-born men and women. After that day, Tere and I became friends. There was no separation of rank between us; being only seven years old I doubt if he knew anything about rank.
The second important event was my discovery of the library. I began to wonder, at the age of ten, what was in all of those leather-bound volumes that lined the shelves. One day, after breakfast, I managed to slip away for an hour. Sneaking into the library, a long list of excuses ready, I found it empty. Taking down the very first volume of note, I opened to the first page.
Slaves are not permitted knowledge of reading and writing. I did not have any such knowledge, but looking at a book is as good as saying otherwise. My first day in the library I was caught, beaten, and reassigned.
Things were worse in the fields. Living conditions were worse, rough wooden cabins shared by far too many people. The food was moldy at best, crawling at worst, but a field slave is about being so hungry that you are glad for the fresh meat provided by the maggots in old bread. Syliirans are by no stretch of the imagination sadistic by culture, they simply believe slaves of a lower order of life. The conditions I lived in for that year and a half certainly made me feel lower.
I began to get sick. It was just a cough at first, and I thought it would go away, but it became chronic. Some days I would wake up seeing spots, but those usually disappeared by the end of the morning. My stomach began to reject food and water; anything I managed to choke down was just thrown up, later. Fainting spells came upon me, and every so often I would simply crumple to the ground. A few minutes later, either someone would pour water on me or I would awaken on my own.
Then one day, I did not awaken within a few minutes. An overseer-- that's a slave who makes sure the others slaves exhaust themselves, basically-- noticed me, and when prodding me with a boot failed to awaken me, sent for medical attention. I awoke on crisp linen sheets, and I heard voices. "She could have died out there." It was a voice I knew, and yet I did not know.
"And she would have. Had you not requested she be brought here, she would have been left to die. In this heat, perhaps six hours."
It was then that I realized I had to get away. Before I had been more of a servant, for that was what I did, I served people. Out in the fields things were different. The slaves are bred field workers, and I hadn't been bred. Out in the fields, I would indeed die. For no reason I can imagine, a great will to survive swelled up in my chest, and that day I made a pact that I would live to be free.
"She's coming to!" someone exclaimed. Opening my eyes, I saw that it was Tere. He had grown from the runt of a boy I first met, and was now eleven years old. He was becoming a man, and from his face I could tell that he would be a good person; courteous and brave. There was something new in his eyes as he gazed at me; they were the same muddy brown as always, yet they contained something unidentifiable. "Are you all right, Chandra?"
"I am.getting better," I said. "Where am I, my lord? What happened?"
"You passed out of consciousness in the fields. I brought you to a house of healing, they were.things would not have gone well for you otherwise. And please, call me Tere."
"They would let me die," I stated calmly.
"Yes," he admitted. "What happened? Why haven't I seen you in so long? I sent someone down to the kitchens at least ten times to get you, I've missed you."
"They reassigned me, to the fields. That's where I got so sick. They caught me trying to read." Suddenly I was very tired, and I wanted to go to sleep right away, but I contented myself with resting my eyes.
"I'm sorry, Dara," he said. Only Tere has ever had a nickname for me that was not derogatory. "Rest now, you must be tired. Rest," he urged. I was more than happy to oblige.