The lanterns glowered, red eyes burning, staring. They cast long shadows across the landing, like flickering phantom-twins, stepping in haphazard lockstep and trailing behind us. Acrid, burnt-incense and the warmth of roast ducklings rose, mingling with the smell of stale water and the rotting remains of vegetables, the compost-nests of the city’s feral capybara population. The broken sounds of the market-streets below was like an embrace, slowly fading.
The clank of shackles and my ragged breath. The dragging chains, the shuffle of my feet.
Her face swam around me, and steel bangles bit into my wrists as she dragged me onward, through the veil of my tears. The walls seemed to push in toward us, leaning down, menacing. She pulled my leash tighter and I fell, choking on the tide of vomit and curses that threatened to overwhelm me.
She only pulled tighter.
“Come now, slave,” she muttered into my ear, “you ran, and you were caught. And now your master owes me twelve shekels.”
“My family…” I wheezed past the leather strap, “they can pay double that – triple that!”
She laughed, and yanked me to my feet.
“Your family cannot help you, boy. They are far from here, where your ivory skin would pass unnoticed. Here you are property.”
Up the final set of cracked stone stairs she dragged me, and the heavy steel door rolled aside at her knock.
I saw his gruff, bearded face, bedecked with scars.
I heard the clunk of his purse hit the ground between us, and she pushed me forward, into the blackness.
I didn’t see the whip, or hear its cracking approach.
I felt its kiss, though.