“Meloria, it is dinner time, my child.” Her mother’s voice floated on the cool ocean breeze.
Meloria looked up from her sand castles. Her mother was stood at the back of the house, high above the beach on the large rocks that Meloria had always imagined spilled down from the mountains behind them.
Meloria smiled and returned her mother’s wave. The young girl’s stomach growled loudly and then her father and sister were there too. They were all smiling, laughing and waving. They called out to Meloria, teasing her to make haste for the dinner table or else go hungry.
The ocean breeze swept her along as she skipped past the crashing waves to the path that wound upwards through the rocks, away from the beach and toward the outstretched arms of her loving parents. But something was not right. The pathway was too long. Meloria began to run all the faster, winding her way between the mighty boulders, her sense of unease growing with each turn. She should have reached the back garden by now, the pathway was simply never this long.
The ascending twists and turns were never ending. Dark, moody clouds had appeared in a sky that only moments before had been an idyllic cloudless blue. Meloria could no longer see her family, from the path the house was obscured by the boulder field, but she could still hear them calling for her. Her father’s voice rang out the loudest, his voice made barely recognizable by fear, “Meloria!”
Panic finally conquered Meloria. The sand sucked at her feet, dragged at her, pulling her to her knees. Meloria didn’t scream, not yet at least, but she redoubled her efforts to drag her feet free of the sand and run toward the sound of her parent’s shouting. The storm clouds broke with an explosion of thunder and a sudden deluge of rain. The young girl slipped, her bare feet disappearing into the mud as a torrent of water fell from the sky. Meloria was soaked to the skin in moments, and floundering. Splashing, slipping and sliding she couldn’t get up, “Mother! Father! Help me!”
Now Meloria screamed.
And screamed and screamed…
…and screamed. Meloria’s head snapped up, she had screamed herself awake, the nightmare was already fading, forced away by the horror of a reality so many times worse. The shackles that bound Meloria seemed to bite her neck and wrists with even the slightest movement. Her fur had been rubbed almost bare beneath the shackles and her skin stung as if stung by a thousand thousand insects. She was soaking wet but it wasn’t just her sweat that covered her.
Meloria looked around the dark box she was now captive in trying to deduce the situation. There were some thirty men and women, mostly, or completed naked, equally desperate shackled alongside her. They were sibeccai for the most part, but a giant was hunched over in the far corner his head pressed down by the confines of ceiling and an elven woman was shackled directly beside her. From somewhere outside came shouting voices, a driver arguing with hired guards about arriving on time. A wheel was broken a wheel and they were now scrambling to fix it.
Horror welled up within Meloria when she realized that what dripped from her hair and tattered clothing was spillage from the communal waster bucket. It had been liberated from the shared bucket when the wagon threw it’s wheel and tossed right on her. Because of her shackles she could do nothing more than wipe the waste from her face.
Meloria wanted to scream but she knew that would only bring further beatings at the hands of the guards who had imprisoned her in this rolling hell hole. She wept silently as all hope ran from her heart. Her mind returned to the dream she had just had and she longed for the simplicity of her childhood once again.
She was jarred out of her daydream when she felt the wagon beneath her rise and jerk upwards at the hands of the guards as they changed the wheel and fixed the disabled wagon.
Meloria had never before considered taking her own life, but now it had become a daily meditation for her. Death almost seemed comforting and it couldn’t be worse than this, she thought.
But those thoughts soon dissipated as her mind returned to the time she had shared with Alriak. It wasn’t a great life they’d had together but she’d never had better. They had to work hard, but they were treated well by the Merchant-Captain of the caravan they’d tended too.
The Merchant-Captain would consult them daily for their wisdom. Alriak’s visions and his ability to predict the weather, and Meloria for her acute sense of the natural world around them. Together they made a good team and the Merchant-Captain rewarded them well for their consultations. He would make sure that they were awarded free time together, and often they would lie in the sand looking up to the night skies. Side by side, laughing and forming imaginary lines to connect the stars into all sorts of wonderful things. Meloria felt a strong connection with this young cub. One that she had never felt before and she encouraged him to see his gifts as something positive and as some dire curse.
On the day the pirates had attacked attacked their caravan they took everyone by surprise. The pirate’s airship was so fast that no one had time to react.
Many were killed outright at the hands of the evil brood. Others were taken against their will and enslaved by the pirates, forced to load the caravan’s goods on board the airship.
In the chaos of the attack, Meloria was able to escape into the desert that surrounded them. She had made what she thought was a clean get-away. Poor Alriak had not been so fortunate, shackled and forced aboard the pirate vessel along with Jamila, Sara and Ali.
The desert was foreboding for Meloria and in only a few days she was lost, hungry and dehydrated to the point of death. It was then that she spied the caravan in the near distance. At last she thought to herself, deliverance. Meloria used the last vestiges of her energy to yell and wave her arms at the wagons as they approached. But quickly, and too late, she realized her means of salvation had turned to a nightmare of slavery.
The guards of the caravan seized her and tossed her around to each other like a doll made of rags. They beat her and took sexual liberties with her as she screamed in and out of consciousness. Her screaming only fueled their frenzy as they abused her. She was then shackled and thrown into the box she now found herself a prisoner in.