The metal building named SS/E contained many rows of cages of sad-looking animals, many of which did not raise their heads or notice my entrance. What would animals be doing in cages in a mine? I hear faint voices and a whiny from further in the building, so I crept closer.
Peaking around an edge of a cage, I saw a short man with mustache so long it could have been tied behind his ears, wearing a long white coat. He stood before a metal framework that seemed to be adjustable. A female Dvergr, also in a white coat, stood at a long table that held many bottles and jars and a brazier with glowing coals. Another man held the horse, whose eyes showed white it its panic. It was the same horse I’d been given, and considering that it’d been in Torgood’s bandits’ hands, had outrun a fire, and then carried me to Trommel, it had amazing stamina and resiliency. The man holding its head none too gently was Bartol the bully miner. A wave of rage made my hands shake. If he’d just left me alone…
“We have another specimen to go first, then we’ll take that one,” the man at the framework said.
“But you’ll pay me, right? The bounty is for healthy horses and this here horse is healthy,” Bartol said.
“Yes, yes. You’ll be paid. Tie it there. Mrgaaarntheadaal, give him some coin.” The man said that to the female Dvergr, whose name I wouldn’t be able to repeat because it sounded so strange. She put down the clear glass container she’d just picked up with a thump and shot her coworker a look of disgust. She stomped over to a cabinet and pulled out a small strongbox, producing a key out of her coat’s pocket. She handed Bartol a shiny gold coin, locked the box and the cabinet again, and stomped back to her table. Bartol grinned, slipped the coin into his pocket, and left.
A gold coin for a healthy horse? No wonder horses were rare.
The man came toward me and I ducked back out of sight. He passed me unnoticed and went around a corner. He returned a moment later leading a skinny pack animal, called a yamamule. I hadn’t seen one before. He attached it to the framework, its front facing my hiding space so I could see its dull eyes. The Dvergr held up her hand for the man to wait while she finished mixing whatever it was she mixed with her jars. He pet the yamamule’s head and tussled its mane while he waited. The Dvergr finished her task and then grabbed some canvas tarps from the cabinet, spreading them under the yamamule and framework. She handed the man a dark-colored hood and put one on herself. The man gave the yamamule one last pat, put on his hood, which covered his entire face except for the eyes, and pulled a lever. The framework tightened on the animal, making it flinch.
The Dvergr started to chant and the yamamule brayed in fear, and then in pain as the man used a wicked skinning knife on its flank. Blood spattered everywhere. Shock froze me in place, and I watched as the man flayed the animal, switched knives and then detached natural parts and reattached gears and metal parts to the bones and muscles of the animal. He finished up by pouring one of the potions from the Dvergr’s table all over the animal, which I assume had died early on – or at least I hoped so – and then placing the skin back on the animal.
I wanted to be sick. I was sick, I realized, and pulled the masque from my face and vomited into a convenient drain in the floor. With my masque off, I could smell the excrement of the animals, the sweaty fear, the acrid stench of the potion, and the tang of blood. I wiped my mouth and looked back to see the man releasing the animal from the framework. It stood on its own, its dull eyes now reflective and showing a faint glow.