OOC: Well to clear things up I have Tim (Tetsanosuke) and Corey(Faro Domisai) as Co-Gm and this is where you all introduce your characters
BIC: FOR almost as long as she could remember, Maerad had been imprisoned behind walls. She was a slave in Gilman's Cot, and hers was the barest of existences: an endless cycle of drudgery and exhaustion and dull fear.
Gilman's Cot was a small mountain hamlet beyond the borders of the wide lands of the Inner Kingdom of Annar. It nestled at the nape of a bleak valley on the East side of the mountains of Annova, where the range split briefly and ran out, like two claws, from near the Northern end. Its virtue, as far as the Thane Gilman was concerned, was its isolation: here he could be tyrant of his domain, with nothing to check him.
It was a well-defended fortress, though no one came to attack. At the cot's back was the stone cliff of the Outwall, the precipice cutting sheer some thousand feet from the Landrost, the highest peak in that part of the range. Around the cot were walls of roughly dressed stone, rising to a height of thirty feet from a base twenty feet wide. They tapered to four feet at the top, enough room for two men to walk abreast. At the front were stout wooden gates which eight men or a wagon could enter with ease. The gates were barred at night and most days, except for hunts and when the hillmen came in their big wagons to trade goods, salted meat and cheeses and dried apples for swords and arrows and buckets and nails.
About a hundred and fifty souls lived there: the Thane Gilman and his wife, beaten to a shadow after bearing him twelve children, of which five still lived, and his henchmen and their women and bastards. The rest were slaves like Maerad, captured in raids in Gilman's youth, or bargained for at the gate, or simply born there. They lived in dormitories, long huts at the side of the cots, under the shadows of the walls.
The buildings were ancient, older even than Gilman guessed, the walls raised in forgotten times by grim Northern men to keep out wolves, and worse. Under Gilman, the walls were mostly used to keep people in. The small enclosed meadows were tilled and harvested by slave labour, his tables and cloths and cheeses and sour drinks were all made by slaves, and Gilman wanted none running away. His many guards served to reinforce his tyranny, and, not inconsequentially, gratified his own opinion of his authority. Like many who ruled far vaster territories, Gilman was not above the pettiness of vanity.
If anyone did escape, there was nowhere to run to; their most likely fate was to be hunted down by untamed beasts in the forests that stretched below the mountains. And even to this isolated cot came rumours of stirrings in the outside world: whispers of unnamed shadows which haunted the forest deeps, or of forgotten evils which now woke and walked in the daylit world. Grim though Gilman's Cot was, these vague stories of horror worked as well as any wall, gainsaying any attempt to leave.
Maerad was still too young to have given up hope of escape, although as she approached adulthood, and began better to understand her own limitations, she understood it to be a childish dream. Freedom was a fantasy she gnawed obsessively in her few moments of leisure, like an old bone with just a trace of meat; and like all illusions, it left her hungrier than before, only more keenly aware of how her soul starved within her, its wings wasting with the despair of disuse.
The Springturn began like every other day of Maerad's life, with the iron clang of the dawn bell wrenching her from sleep. It dumped her on the rim of consciousness, sore and heavy and blind, and her dreams sank into the darkness of her mind, as if they had never been.
Yawning, she staggered out of the slaves' quarters to the courtyard well, her skin wincing at the icy air. She hunched her cloak around her shoulders, and, scarcely glancing at the dim shapes of the buildings around her, pumped some water and splashed it over her head. Gasping, she shook the water off her heavy hair, and her breath plumed in white swirls out of her nostrils and through her chattering teeth. Her limbs still felt like lead, her face was numb as a brick, but at least she was awake.
She was drying herself with her cloak when she heard a heavy step behind her. Maerad turned quick as a wild dog, her hackles bristling: but it was only Lothar, the huge, doltish man in charge of the buttery.
"Late night?" asked Lothar, sniggering.
Maerad turned contemptuously back to the well.
"You could hear the lords until cockcrow," he said. "And who took you last night?"
"Shut your muddy mouth, peabrain," she said shortly. "Or I'll put the evil eye on you." She turned to face him, glaring, and began to raise her arms.
Lothar went pale and crossed his hands before his eyes. "Ward! Ward!" he cried. "I meant no harm, Maerad."[/FONT]
"Then keep your mouth from evil gossip," she hissed. "Get! Go!"
Lothar scuttled off, and Maerad permitted herself a grim smile before she savoured a precious minute to herself. The cot was only just stirring; it was before cockcrow, and there were a still a few moments to the summons bell. Most of the slaves huddled greedily into their little patches of sleep-warmth, reluctant to leave until the very last second.
Maerad leaned back and breathed in hard, gazing up at the distant stars, tiny points of frosty fire high over the mountains. She searched as she always did for the dawn star Ilion, burning brightly over the Eastern horizon, and sniffed a new freshness in the early air. It's the beginning of spring, she thought. Despite her tiredness, her spirits lifted. Then she looked down at her callused hands and sighed. But not for me; I'm already withering. What will become of me?
She stared at the miserable dwellings around her with a dull hatred. Apart from the Thane's quarters and the Great Hall, which were better maintained than most, the cot consisted of dirt-floored stone hovels, roofed with rotting wooden shingles. Many were crumbling under their age and had been badly patched with clay and straw poultices, giving them an odd, diseased appearance. They stank of rotting middens and human filth and despair. From inside the dormitory Maerad could hear the high, thin cry of a sick child, and someone else shouting angrily, and then the dry sob of a woman. What will become of me? she asked herself again, uselessly; and then the clang of the summons bell broke into her thoughts and she shook herself and tramped to the commonroom for her meagre breakfast of thin grey porridge, and to be assigned her tasks for the day.
That morning Maerad was sent to the milchyard, Lothar's section. She grimaced at her bad luck. She would have to deal with him all day after she had slighted him, and today she was especially tired. Last night had been one of the Thane Gilman's riots, a special gathering to mark the first spring hunt, and his men had come back hungry, wild haired, spattered with blood, quarrelsome, shouting for beer and voka and roast meats and music. For Gilman it was one of the high points of the year, and the work of all the slaves was doubled for the day. Maerad had worked an extra shift in the kitchen, turning and basting the deer carcasses on the iron spits. Then, because she was the only musician in the cot, she had sat in the Great Hall all night playing the ballads she found so tedious: tales of the slaughter of deer and the valour of men and dogs; and later, drinking songs, and the bawdies, which Maerad hated most of all.
The Great Hall was a grand name for what was really a large barn roughly crossbeamed, with a blackened hole in the roof to let out the smoke from the great fire that always burned in the middle of the floor. Maerad sat with her lyre in a corner, blank-faced to hide her contempt, while twenty men seated at a long, roughly hewn wooden table set against the wall tore meat from bones with their bare hands and drank themselves insensible on the voka, a harsh, eye-stinging spirit distilled from turnips and swedes. They hadn't bothered to wash, and their acrid smell and the woodsmoke made her eyes water. No one tried to paw her, to her infinite relief; but even so, the hot red eyes of the men made her feel filthy. As the night wore on the hall grew hotter and stuffier, and Maerad felt dizzy with the reek and her tiredness. She played badly, something she seldom did even in such circumstances, but nobody noticed.
The riot finished shortly before dawn, when the last drunken thug crashed face down on the long table and snored among the rest, who lay dribbling on their hands or fallen in their own vomit. Then at last, trembling with weariness, Maerad picked up her lyre and left the hall, stumbling between sleeping dogs, tossed bones and filth, spilt voka and snoring bodies to the sweet air outside. She stank, but she was so exhausted she had simply made her way to the women slave quarters and slipped onto her meagre straw pallet for a bare hour of sleep.