The night passed, as nights are wont to do. The sun rose, the milksellers sold their milk, the beersellers sold their beer, and Dragoneyes woke up, his clothes still wet from the previous night's storm. "Did you know that rainwater is actually water from streams, that turns into gas and enters the sky?"
"No, I didn't." It seemed slightly implausible, but I decided not to argue with him.
"Sorry. You stare at rain long enough, you start to see things." He stood up. He closed his eyes for an instant. When he opened them, his clothes were dry and clean. "By the way, I have decided not be become a herbologist when I grow up. I must have scoured the whole forest without finding anything useful."
At this point, Quadi joined the conversation. "Most disinfectants need to be imported. Usually from the Commonwealth."
"I wish I had known that."
"How did Quadi know that," I asked. "I still don't understand how a slave imported from the Etoran Empire became an expert in medicine."
"To avoid working in the mines," Quadi explained. "When I first came here, I worked in the salt mines."
Well, that was a partial explanation. But it explained the 'why' more than the 'how'.
Dragoneyes anticipated my question. And he anticipated Quadi's answer. He spoke quickly. "As you can imagine, the slaves were frequently sick. They were left to die. But when one of them was pregnant, the mine owners would usually call a midwife of some sort. The prospect of another worker in a few years was enough to wring a few pennies from their hearts. Quadi did his best to observe these visits. He asked questions. In time, he began to prescribe remedies for some of the myriad infections that were rampant among the slaves of this city. He grewed skilled. Lack of formal training was made up for by copious experience. When the mines changed ownership, Quadi was sold to the local apothecary."
Dragoneyes took in what he had said. "That is horrible."
Quadi didn't say anything.
"Terrible. They treat you like animals." The mage began to pace around the room. "What, fifty, a hundred of you? And none of you can expect to live past what for us is middle age. You are fed gruel, you are given no rest, no respite." Flames danced around his fingers. "How is this allowed to happen?"
Quadi backed away from Dragoneyes. He glanced towards the door. He didn't fully understand what was going on, but he knew something about him was angering a powerful sorcerer.
He decided to leave.
Dran and I found that we agreed on something. That Dragoneyes was being irrational. "Listen," I said, as he stormed down the streets of Salous, "this could take days. Doing it properly would probably take years."
"Yeah. Amniel snaps at me every time I take a piss. Imagine how he must be feeling now that you're taking a stroll down the town square in order to pay a visit to some salt mines."
"Thank you, Dran."
Dragoneyes didn't stop. If anything. He sped up. Dran, Cassinder and I struggled to keep up. "You two will soon agree with me. Once we reach the mines. When you see how they are forced to live."
"Alright," I said, trying to reason with him. "What do you plan to do."
"I can pull gold out of the air. I'm sure we can reach some arrangement."
"Gold cannot buy everything," Cassinder cautioned.
"Besides," I added, "that would need to be a significant amount of gold. Thousands of coins, most likely. You would essentially need to buy the mines."
"I could do it."
"Perhaps," Dran said. "But then what. Where would they go? Who would feed them?"
"I'm trying to end slavery. Why are you focusing on this logistical trivia?" I noticed Dragoneyes was transforming. Making himself more formidable. His eyes were glowing an eerie orange. On his left hand were rings of fire, water, and stone. In his right was a staff. Not an oaken staff of a student of the Green Tower, but a staff of what looked to be glowing hot iron. I understood that he could hold it without burning his hand. He knew the metal's True Name, and it couldn't hurt him. I was more curious about what would happen if someone else brushed against it. Finally, I noticed that Dragoneyes was wearing not two, not three, but four swords around his belt. Presumably in case he needed to duel four people at once after growing two more hands.
Dragoneyes concentrated as we approached the mines. As the stench of salt grew in the air, bags materialized in his hands. I began to hear the clinking of what I assumed was gold coins.
Dragoneyes reached the entrance to the mine. Two guards stood in front of it. Presumably to stop any laborers who attempted an escape.
They could tell that Dragoneyes was not the sort of person you wanted entering your mine. But they could also tell that Dragoneyes was not the sort of person you wanted to block from entering your mine. They weren't sure whether it would be worse to try to stop this clearly magical man or not. Fortunately he stopped on his own. He stood there, with maybe seven or eight people looking on. "I'm here to buy slaves," he shouted, as the gold erupted from his sacks. "I will pay whatever price is necessary."
It took a surprisingly small amount of time for the mine's owners to assemble. There were three of them. Alic. He came from an old Irinian family. His principal interest was the acquisition of money at the expense of human dignity. Loiran. An Etoran. His principal interest was the acquisition of money at the expense of human dignity. And Ror. He hailed from the Commonwealth. His principal interests were the acquisition of money at the expense of human dignity and drinking.
Alic began the conversation. "I understand you want to buy some labor." He knew to fear this strange sorcerer. But he was not above making a deal with a demon if the demon paid upfront.
"I want to buy all the labor you have. For this, I can offer you seven thousand gold pieces."
The three misers took a moment to consider. Before they could make their decision, Cassinder ran up to the negotiating mage. Their conversation didn't make any sense to me at the time, but later I got them to explain it to me. It referenced things that only they could see.
"They will sell for more," the said. She meant that the three owners would sell their slaves for more than Dragoneyes offered.
"But they will also buy." She meant that they would simply use the money to buy more forced labor for their living hell. In fact, slavers would come to town in about a week. And as soon of news of the demand began to spread, even more would arise. The owners of the mine would simply start again.
Dragoneyes looked at them. "Even if I threaten." He could threaten kill the three of them. To grind their bones and boil their blood. He could strike fear into their hearts. He could force them to agree never to trade in human flesh again. But eventually, he would have to leave, and they would revert to their old ways. There was a greed in their hearts that could not be denied.
"Even if you kill." She meant that even if Dragoneyes killed the three of them, the mine would pass into new hands, and those knew hands would be just as cruel as the old ones.
"So what to do?"
"What to do?"