Bruer takes Meah away from the work and sits her down on a boulder next to the canyon wall so she can lean back. She heals her arm quickly. The hole disappears and she tries moving her arm around. The pain is gone. She wipes her arm with the cloth. But most of the blood is dried and flakes as she moves the cloth over it. She finishes cleaning as much of the blood as she can and looks at Jaxon.
He’s walking through the caravan double-checking the slaves. He orders four men to take the broken carriage apart. Broken parts are thrown to the side while usable parts are kept.
Jaxon orders two more of his men to move the dead slaves’ bodies away and bury them. They are buried in the hard, dry earth close to the wall of the canyon.
Five others dispose of the bandits’ bodies. They move the bodies into a large pile far from the caravan, then set fire to the pile. Black smoke fills the sky, but wind blowing through the canyon sends the smoke—and the smell—away from the caravan.
“He hates that name,” Bruer says. “The Black Caravan.”
Meah looks at him. “Who does?”
He nods his head at Jaxon.
“The name refers to the black armor you wear, doesn’t it?” she asks.
Bruer shakes his head. “We got that name because people in this land believe Jaxon’s blood is black, not red.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It comes from an ancient story. Morda, the Mother God, created the universe. From her tears came the stars and from her heart came the sun. From her right eye came the moon and from her left came the earth. Her blood created the seas, the land, and plants. Morda and Velan, the God of Death, created the brother Gods. Ogrin of the red-blood was peaceful by nature, but his temper could become ferocious. Kellot of the black-blood was weaker than Ogrin, but made a great sport of playing tricks and angering Ogrin.
“One day, the two brothers were walking trough the barren lands of the earth, their favorite playground. Kellot decided to make Ogrin angry, so he would fight him. Ogrin was not in a fighting mood and no matter how hard Kellot tried he could not make his brother angry. Kellot, in his own fit of rage took Ogrin’s blade and cut off his own hand. His black blood fell to the earth and created the beasts of this world. Ogrin, furious at his brother for his rash act spilled his own blood to create mankind to control the beasts. Jealous of his brother’s creation, Kellot spilled his blood a second time to bring night to the earth. Mankind became fearful of the dark and its ability to hide the beasts of the world. They cried out for Ogrin’s help. Ogrin spilled his blood and gave man the gift of fire, from his rage at his brother’s cruel trickery.”
Meah looks at Jaxon as Bruer continues his story.
“Kellot, becoming furiously jealous of his brother’s blood, decided to trick him. While Ogrin slept, Kellot stole some of his blood. He mixed his black blood with the red blood of his brother and poured the mixture onto the earth. From the blood came the first magic users. Kellot, excited to show off his new creation, awoke Ogrin and claimed the magic users came from his blood. Ogrin refused to believe such beings could come from his brother’s black blood. To prove it, Kellot cut his creation, but only pure red blood flowed forth. In Kellot’s shocked rage over the red-blooded magic users he spilled his blood a fourth and final time. From this blood came a new breed of mankind, a gifted, cruel breed that cannot be killed. Mankind became fearful of this new breed they called Brüdel, which means black-blooded, and imprisoned them. Magic users used their power bury the Brüdel deep in the earth, sink them to the bottom of the seas, or throw them into the very fires of the earth itself. Brüdel who survived the imprisonment went into hiding, but stories of men who could not be killed or even injured in battles spread across the land and they were thought to be those born purely from Kellot’s black blood.
“Discovering what her sons had done to the earth, Morda called them both back into the stars and left man in charge of the land, forbidding the brothers from ever returning.”
Jaxon stops in front of Bruer. “Don’t tell me you are boring her with that horrible story.”
Meah notices the cut on Jaxon’s arm. “You’re bleeding.”
Jaxon looks at his arm. “Ah, yes. I forgot one of those bastards got me.” He presses the wound. Red blood rolls down his arm and he wipes it with his hand. He holds it up. “Looks like the rumors aren’t true. Since we’ve lost your carriage, you’re going to have to make due with riding with the others in the second carriage.”
Meah nods. She is filled with a new understanding of how powerful Jaxon truly is. She looks at his sheathed sword and remembers how he hadn’t drawn it once during the attack on her village. He could have killed all of them alone, could have invaded the village by himself if he wanted.
She looks from the buried slaves to the still burning pile of bandits. He made sure to keep them separate. She is seeing something in him she hadn’t expected to find. He has a strong sense of honor and a hidden kindness, even for those he claimed as slaves.
It takes a whole day for the canyon to be cleared. Slaves are prepared for the rest of the journey, with water and food passed around generously. Meah climbs into the second carriage. In a space so cramped she can barely sit down, the others in the carriage make room for her, but have little energy to speak at great length.
The caravan moves through the canyon more slowly than before. Jaxon and Bruer stay at the front of the caravan to make sure no more bandits are hiding in wait for them.
The silence throughout the caravan is different than before. The men in black armor who hadn’t see Jaxon fight before are more fearful of him. Slaves who may have still thought there was a chance of escape have given the idea up.
Two days pass in the newfound silence and the heat is fierce. It doesn’t reach the same intensity as the sand dunes, but still bears down on the caravan mercilessly. Meah tries to wet her tongue, but no moisture remains in her mouth. She needs water. She looks at those walking behind and her heart cries out. They barely resemble the vital humans they once were.
The final days of the journey are brutal. There is no water passed down the caravan, no food handed out, and no resting. Slaves fall to the earth and the men in armor yell at them to stand. If the slaves do not stand fast enough they are beaten. If the slaves cannot stand at all the men in armor pull out knives and cut the slave’s hands free from the carriage. They are left behind to die in the intense heat and provide food to any creatures that dare call the land home.
Meah stops noticing those that disappear behind the carriage and even the screams of pain and thirst from those around her. She feels only numbness.
She wonders if this is what it feels like to die.