Salvation: Chapter 2
Gadreel awoke, curled up on the hard wooden surface. Someone had placed spare clothes over in him the cold of the night. His body shook nonetheless.
When he had arrived, he was without any covering. The people of this land, he spied from far away, covered themselves at all times. On the edge of that town, near a sole dwelling, were clothes hung up for him, devoid of an owner. He took them as his own before attempting to fit in and speak the words he had been ordained to share.
The young but weathered stranger from the night previous shook him to attention. “Best get up before the constable decide that you’re late.”
Gadreel rolled over and sat up. It was daylight. His fatigue had taken him and transported him to morning once more. He was able to stand and readjust his clothing to a state similar to the others.
He blinked at the man, awaiting him by the door of the shared dwelling. The others had departed. “We work first. Then we get food.”
The man nodded. “It will get your appetite going, at least. Warm you up, too. I’m Piers, by the way.”
“Like I said, before they decide to punish you for being late.”
Gadreel nodded, standing, unaware of what he was going to work for. The clinking of metal tools broke the silence of the morning. The walled yard contained the men he had seen the night before. They worked with heavy tools, taking large rocks and pounding away at them to turn them into slightly smaller ones.
Piers made several glances back to assure Gadreel was following. The tiny building built off the larger one held tools for them. “You know how to swing one of these, Gad?”
“Gad?” He asked, taking the shaft of the heavy hammer passed his way.
“It’s easier to say.”
Gadreel glanced back at the other workers. “It is not a hard task, I can see. Why do we do it?”
“Because it’s what they want us to do,” Piers shrugged, dragging the long-handled hammer behind him. “Sometimes some people go out and replace the missing cobbles from the road with these. Most times they just get piled up elsewhere. We do that too.”
“Why?” Gadreel asked, following.
“Because if we didn’t… I suppose we would be doing nothing. And they don’t want that. Us criminals to be able to relax.”
Gadreel dragged his palms across the rough fibers of the handle, finding the most natural place to rest his hands. He hefted it like the others, found a rock that had yet to be bludgeoned, and swung. His body shook as it made contact. The handle splintered and tore at his skin. He glanced at his palms but found no immediate sign of injury. The others swung apathetically, allowing the weight of the metal head to create the force needed to make the sounds to appease the guards. Then it was time for the re-centering of their breaths before another swing was attempted.
Gadreel swung again, allowing the hammer to do the work. His hands hurt again. The face of the rock was marred with white marks, but it remained intact. The soggy dirt and moss of the ground had deformed under the force. He went again, this time feeling less than before.
The chosen rock had shed a sharp fragment of its skin, leaving behind a rough surface beneath, but no more cracks had been divulged from the remaining mass. The bell rang from the corner of the yard, near the building where Gadreel had been inducted. The workers straightened their backs up, setting down hammers and rubbing hands against their clothing. As if they had been trained to do so, they began to march away from the field of work and towards the sound of the ringing.
In two lines, the men washed their hands and faces in a long basin of frigid water, two at a time. Then they wandered to the window to pick up the rations. At the end of the line, Gadreel found his chance to clean himself. He found upon his palm a bubble of flesh, swelling with liquid.
There was yet another below the finger of his other hand, he noticed while in the second line. “Your hands will grow accustomed to it,” Piers said, glancing back at him. He held out his own hands, showing off the thickened skin and circular calluses, ridges stained with dirt despite the recent watching. “Your skin is yet too pure and soft. What exactly have you been doing before this?”
“Move forward,” the gruff voice from the window called their way. “Get your food now or you won’t eat.”
The rations were old bread, a bowl of soggy porridge with a handful of mysterious additions for flavoring, and a mug of sour ale that had been just slightly warmed. They ate sitting on the ground at the edge of the building. Gadreel forced his teeth around the crusty bread, working his jaw to separate the dry mouthful from the rest of the loaf.
“Dip it in the ale,” Piers nodded, chewing down a softened piece of his own portion. “They give us whatever didn’t sell at the market yesterday. Probably because it’s loaded down with chalk. But it’s better than nothing.”
Before Gadreel could do so, the bread was yanked from his hand by a large man standing over him. “And why does he need any at’ll?” said the man, tossing the loaf around in his wide hand. “The man wouldn’t care for it, can’t ya see? He has the head and the hands of someone who eats cake, not bread.”
“He’s here with us now, so what’s the difference, Arthur?” Piers said with a shake of his head.
Gadreel stood and offered the bowl of porridge to the man as well. “No, this man is of a larger stature, he must need more food. Take it, with my blessing.”
Arther squinted at the new member before knocking the bowl to the ground with a wide swipe of the back of his hand. “Don’t pity me, straw-hair.”
A few of the others snickered as the big man retreated. Piers shuffled and attempted to save the remaining food in the bowl from dribbling into the mud. “Don’t pay attention to him, Gad. You need to eat. To keep your strength up. It’ll be worse if you aren’t able to work.”