Mud. That's the worst part of my job. Many people would disagree and I could see why. Not many people survive long doing what I do. But for me, the worst part was the mud.
It was not fun, cute, rainy day mud that people like to play in. No, it was the wet, clay that you could barely walk through. That's why I hated it when the noble talked of how pleasant spring was, even if there some mud on the ground. SOME mud.
But then, I was slightly biased. I wasn't fond of the nobility. In the Eastern Kingdom, existed the nobility and their slaves. And as one of the slaves, I can safely say we didn't tend to live long. Especially the stable hands.
I awoke to the sounds of the other slaves going to bed. The slaves that guard the estate at night were often just coming into our quarters as cooks and stable hands were leaving in the early hours of the morning. I swung my feet over the edge of my little straw cot among the rows, ran my fingers through my dirty hair and quickly braided it, tucking it into a bun.
My hair was one of the things I'd managed to keep, which was impressive in and of itself, because if my master could see my blonde curls under the dirt, they'd be cut off and sold.
I pulled on my soft leather boots. Boots were the only thing that masters splurged on for their slaves, after bacteria and infections killed off a few too many of us.
I quietly padded out of the room, nodding to a few stragglers still shuffling in. I climbed the stairs quickly, feeling a weight lift off my chest as I ascended out of the basement.
I was a bit early; it would still be dark for a while yet. I suppose that's why I was so shocked when someone grabbed my wrist, yanking me into a side hallway. A body much larger than mine pinned me against the wall. I struggled but I knew there was no use. This was not the first time, and certainly wouldn't be the last.
The smell of mead rolled off him. He must've been out drinking until just recently, or there would be no way he could be awake. Slowly I forced myself to look up and meet his gaze. I could make out his jaw line and straight nose, but in the dim light I couldn't see his dull brown eyes or sleazy smile. "Good morning Kitten," he purred in my ear, stroking my cheek.
It took everything I had not to slap his hand away. He kissed my neck once, then twice, slowly sliding his hand up my leg. His grip tightened around my wrist, "Come to my chambers."
"I have to go to the stables."
"I excuse you from your duties. Let's go," He began to pull my further up the stairs, but I resisted.
"Your father would not be pleased about that."
That made him pause. His grip loosened just slightly before he pushed me up against the wall, crushing my small frame under the weight of his. "Tonight," he growled, "you will come to my chambers. Understand?"
I paused for a second, fear and anger churning in me like a scream that I would never be allowed to release. Finally I muttered, "Yes."
"Yes what?" He tilted my chin up so I had to look at him.
He released his grip, baring his teeth in a smile, "There's a good kitten."
I ran down the hill to the stable as fast as I possibly could, trying to repress the tears of anger. It was not uncommon for masters to…pleasure themselves with slave girls, but there were girls bred and bought specifically for that, breath-taking girls, whose beauty was well maintained! I glanced into one of the mud puddles as I splashed through it, and well maintained would not have been the word. I was pretty enough, with round features for a slave, a short nose, full lips and deep green eyes. My father's eyes.
My boot got stuck in the mud only once on my way down the hill, so that was something at least. I pushed open the door to the stables, taking a deep breath. Compared to the dungeons where we slept, it felt like fresh air.
People bustled past in the huge building carrying straw and feed to the different beasts. Horses, cows, pigs. I stopped briefly to say hello to my favourite stallion, who nibbled at my palm.
I jumped and turned at the sound of my name. The stable master was pushing people out of the way to get over to me, his face a deep shade of red that meant either he was really angry or someone had been eaten.
"What the hell do you think your doing? Fredric tried to feed the Crown-tail and do you have ANY idea what happened?"
"He got too close?"
"Of course he got too close! Everybody but YOU gets too close!" I suppose it was my fault I didn't realize it was coming, but before I realized what happened he had me by the arm and yanked me a step closer to him and growled, "Don't. Ever. Be late again."
He pushed me down the hall, stomping away. I hurried away down a hall, and suddenly there were no more people bustling. No sounds. Thick stonewalls ran from ground to ceiling. I reached the end of the hall and stopped at a thick stone door.
I held my ear up to it. Nothing. Very slowly I pushed the door open a crack. "Crow?"
Still nothing. I pushed it open a little more, peaking around the door. Scorch marks and bone covered the walls and floor but I still couldn't see him. I opened the door enough I could step through. A black mass huddled in one of the dark corners, quietly crunching. I took a deep breath. Fredric.
I stood tall and called, "Crow?."
He heard me that time. Slowly, glowing green slitted eyes turned to look at me, and he began slinking across the cell. He wouldn't normally be prowling toward me, but he has tasted human flesh and would still be craving it.
Very calmly, as though I were talking to an injured animal I said, "That's far enough." He paused, considering. "I'm sorry I wasn't here on time this morning, but you get to go outside today. You just have to let me put the chains on." He curled his lip, revealing rows of razor fangs. "I know, it's not fair," I took a step closer to him, "I would hate to wear them too," another step, "but you still get to fly."
I picked up the harness made of chains and turned to him, holding it out, "Would you like to fly?"
He growled for a minute, then seemed to sigh and lower his haunches, meaning I could put the harness on. I smiled, "There's my good boy. One day," I ran a hand over his onyx scales, "we'll get out of here. Fly away, no more chains."
I took him to the far wall and began to push, slowly it creaked open, revealing the sunrise over the mountains. I hooked up all the chains before opening the door enough he could fit through. He burst out, and leapt into the air, unfurling his huge leathery wings. It only took a few flaps for him to reach the end of his chains, where he had to glide on the wind. He roared, releasing a pillar of fire into the sky. I admired him for a few moments, a black stain against the orange sky.
There was nothing in the world more beautiful than a flying dragon.