‘’It appears the worms have left the mud and crept back to the surface,’’ murmured Rhys as he watched Trevor and Ellis emerge to the upper storey, tongs in one hand, an oil bell at the other–its golden light a reminder of Trevor’s folly and irreversible doom. Barely hushed murmurs broke from the miners’ lips as the pair walked amongst them to resume work.
Maddox nodded, a thundering look constricting his pupils. ‘’I hope they’ve learnt their lesson. For all our sakes. One more misstep and their lives are forfeit.’’
‘’At least their allies seem wise enough to keep their distance.’’ Rhys jerked his head to the once stalwart companions of Trevor and Ellis who now avoided all contact with them as if they carried a cursed disease.
‘’I see such portents as ambiguous.’’ Maddox’s fierce frown darkened even further his swarthy face. ‘’Wolves isolated from the pack often turn even more vicious.’’
Rhys heaved up a sigh, then brought up the hem of his soot-streaked apron to sweep the sweat from his forehead. ‘’The prospect of rebellion makes your blood run cold, doesn’t it?’’
‘’Whatever your flaws, dull-witted you’re not. In a hive where the dregs of society are all cramped together, that is always a possibility. It’s a strife between savagery and civilization, everything hanging by a thread. One easily snapped when the lawless band together.’’
‘’And if push comes to shove, have you prepared yourself to impose order once more?’’
Maddox brought himself flash against Rhys, his words tumbling out in a low pitch. ‘’Perhaps it’s not a matter of imposing order. Perhaps it’s a matter of survival or, better yet, a chance at rebirth. If a collapse is in store, I’m determined not to see myself buried beneath the rubble. And if I’m not mistaken, you’re of a like mind.’’
Rhys stilled for a moment, the thread of understanding unwinding from one man to the other, each piercing the other’s gaze. ‘’Let earth mix with fire then. We both have much to live for.’’ Rhys put out his arm and the men clasped one another at the elbow.
The buzz of everyone’s remarks grew louder. Maddox broke away, the crack of his whip reverberating off the rocky walls. ‘’This isn’t a performance on stage. Stop gawking and chattering and complete your tasks. You’re not here to laze around.’’
The palaver soon died as the miners scrambled back into the tunnels. Except for Trevor and Ellis, the latter bending his head to whisper to his companion. The pair regarded Rhys for interminable moments, their stare as venomous as a viper’s bite, Trevor’s even more so despite his incapacitated sight. Rhys remained silent. Keeping them both in his field of vision, he opened his mouth and blew out a cloud of fire, burning down the hardest of the silver-pregnant matrix, the jutting rock smashing down with a deafening boom that made the pair flinch and slowly withdraw.
From that moment, there started mounting some unidentifiable strain of both muscle and mind to which all fell prey. A quickening that birthed some terrible anticipation crying out for release. It was evident in the ever-alert glances of the miners who tracked every movement and every gesture of Rhys as well as of Trevor and Ellis. It was tangible in the way they always took care not to render themselves vulnerable or caught unawares by having their backs turned or the way they always kept themselves armed by not parting with their gads and pickaxes even during their brief pause from work.
Even when they retired to bed, sleep was ever fitful which further soured everyone’s mood, scuffles erupting out of the blue.
‘’Fear’s making them lose their bleeding wits.’’ Maddox ground his teeth, then spat on the ground. ‘’It’s been a wythnos and I’ll I’m doing is jumping around, trying to break everyone apart. I’m sick and tired of it. If I raise my fist against them, they’ll grow even more irrational.’’
Rhys let out a sigh, his hands rubbing his bleary eyes. ‘’We need to ensure that everyone enjoys proper rest. Well, as much as that is possible given these tumbledown driftwoods we have for beds. A decent slumber will surely relieve some of the anxiety.’’
An excerpt from my mythic fantasy novel currently titled The Fruit of Passion.
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