For many generations the dwarves of the Tolek Kingdom have awaited the return of their king. None actually expected him to return, but they waited nonetheless. They kept to themselves, mainly, crafting their fine goods in the mountain fastnesses. When they had to, they would trade with men, and with even elves, if the need was great enough to drive them to it. However, they were mostly self-sufficient. They idolized tradition above all else, and one of those traditions was slavery.
Slavery to the dwarves was not this cruel institution that many human cultures turned it into, it was a system, and like all systems that work, it had rules. Slaves had to be paid a wage commiserate with their value as workers, and that wage was accounted against their cost as a slave. When they had worked long enough, they were freed. This process could take from one to twenty years, but it almost always resulted in the slaves becoming free men eventually.
The slaves, themselves, were not captives of war, nor the victims of kidnapping. They sold themselves into it. For many dwarves, whose debts had threatened to shame their clan, it was a way to pay those off and save face ultimately. A skilled worker could expect to make quite a large sum of money on their sale into indentured servitude, and even pay back most of it if their debt was small, thereby shortening their slavery period.
The rules for treatment of slaves were complicated and comprehensive. As most laws and rules around dwarven activities were. They could not be beaten except after proof of need, which required the assent of two elders, not of the same clan. Even then, the method of the beating and even the type of material the cane should be made of were clearly and concisely delineated. Dwarven slaves had to be fed well, and the dietary needs were listed on complex tables and charts that made sure there was no ambiguity in the interpretation of them. It was all very civilized and very well laid out. The dwarves, of course, loved it; it was tradition.
Non-dwarves dwelling within the borders of the Tolek Kingdom could, of course, partake of this fine and time-honored system if they felt their debts had become too much for them to bear.
Amelae felt just this way. She had come to the Tolek Kingdom from Windir. An elven lass, she had been overzealous in her wanderlust and wound up in these faraway mountains. Unfortunate circumstance and a few bouts of bad luck forced her to accrue debts. Not large ones, but sufficient, that she would have to spend many long years paying them back if she could not come into over five hundred marks in silver. The dwarves were hospitable toward her, if a bit distant. Elves and dwarves had never gotten along terribly well, and she did better than most elves at interacting with the 'second born' race. She was a journeyman smith, and had come to the Tolek Kingdom to learn the more advanced smithing techniques of the dwarves.
She quickly discovered that they were loath to teach their techniques to outsiders, especially elves. Not that they were really 'secrets' per se, but the general idea was rather upsetting to the stout, short men. Often they would stroke their beards and say, "I cannot fathom why an elven lass would wish to learn this, let me show you something more suited to the elven temperament." This condescension infuriated Amelae to no end. She was a damn smith, and a fine one, at that.
Her bad luck, however, started when she had run across some goblins in the mountains and been injured fighting the foul little things off. Her wounds were tended and then the bill for the services tendered by the friendly healers of the holding she had managed to get to before collapsing from blood loss. They, of course, had extended credit due to her current circumstances. Then there had been the bellows incident. She had finally convinced a lesser-known dwarven master smith to let her work for him a while. As she did so, one of the other apprentice dwarves, angry at her intrusion in his personal career path, had sabotaged the bellows she had been pumping, causing it to work backwards, and suck hot coals into it, destroying the finely wrought bellows. She had no proof, so was liable under dwarven law for the damages. Again, credit had gladly been extended to her, but the smith had been forced to let her go from his service.
She, sadly, came to the conclusion that there were two choices before her. Send word home and let her clan bail her out, by sending the money to her, something that would prove her unworthiness as an adult and professional. Or she could sell herself into slavery and gain back the money, and probably a bit more, she had been told repeatedly. The dwarves would happily employ her in their smithies as a slave, even if they would not hire her as an employee. This caused her to shake her head, but it was their way, and she could not really hope to change their minds on the matter.
Her decision made, she went to the Registrar of Slave Admissions in the holding she was at, a larger settlement called Duman's Holding. He looked at her oddly for but a moment before he pulled forth a pre-printed form and started filling in the blanks upon it with a metal quill.
She provided all the necessary information for the transaction, and it was registered, witnessed, then stamped with the Duman's Holding seal, and the crest of the Tolek Kingdom. "You will be auctioned off tomorrow at the third bell, please do not be late." He told her solemnly. Her being late would result in massive bureaucratic fallout. It would take weeks to get her refiled and ready to be sold again. She left with the traditional ten marks of silver that slaves earned simply for registering, a goodwill gesture that also helped truly desperate people at least eat and sleep in a warm bed their last night of freedom.
She did need it and used it to rent a room for the night and a large supper with a bottle of very nice wine, imported from Costa Roja. She did not get drunk that night, but she did get pleasantly tipsy, even to the point where she danced for the bar patrons. As an inn that catered to humans and other 'big folk' her dance had been well received. Upon completion, she had received no less than ten invitations to share a bed that night, both veiled and quite bold. Amelae was no virgin, most elven lass' weren't by the age of majority, but she was also not terribly experienced, and the idea of bedding with a human, even one of the several quite handsome and charming ones she had met while she had been inebriated, frightened her.
Her friends had told her humans were larger than elven lads, in pretty much every way. They further added that elven lasses should be careful, as well, with humans, for their semen was more potent than that of elves, and a girl could get pregnant quite handily sleeping with one.
She awoke at the sound of the innkeeper pounding upon her door. "Miss Amelae, you asked to be awakened by the second bell." His gruff voice said. "It will be then soon, good morning." She heard his heavy footsteps down the hall. Then she heard him pounding on another door. "Mister Teldan, you asked to be awakened by the second bell." He repeated the routine. She dressed slowly, a certain sense of dread settling into her heart, as happens to most people about to undergo a major change in their lives. She was going to be owned by another person soon. The ignobility of it settled into her chest and she hung her head as she went out into the hall.
A door slamming from the adjacent room forced her to look that way. It was a young human man. She saw he was blue eyed; something that often brings a smile to many elven folk's faces. Her own were silver, and shone like disks of molten steel in her sockets, with hardly any white showing. Their eyes met for a moment, and she recognized the expression her own eyes wore. He was going to the slave auction today, as well. She gave him a tiny smile, and a very fleeting one. He returned it, and added a small nod of his head.
Amelae headed down the stairs, and as she crossed the common room toward the front door, she heard the young human coming down behind her.
A few minutes later she was standing in a queue with many other people, with the young man standing behind her. Most of the folk in the line were dwarves, grousing and cursing their rotten luck to have to be sold into slavery. There were two other humans, one male and one female, holding hands. Slaves who were wed could arrange to be sold together, and it looked like this pair was going to do just that. She watched them for a long moment, they were not young humans, but neither were they old. As she gazed upon them they looked at one another, and she saw a powerful locking of spirits in that look. They loved so strongly, her elven eyes could almost see it, she could definitely see the other effects it had upon them. The display of affection caused her heart to warm and almost made her weep. Those two people alone of the slaves to be sold were happy.
The auction began at the third bell, sharp. By the time the echoes of the tolling died down, the first slave was already being bid upon. A young, strong dwarf lad, who fetched six hundreds for six years service. The auction was not like she had heard humans tell of in Abia or on the Crystern Isles. Those were raucous things that degraded the people sold and the buyers alike. This was strictly business. The buyers were investing in a worker, and little else mattered.
The auction proceeded apace, twenty dwarves and the human couple were gone, and it was her turn. She mounted the steps and the auctioneer ran through her attributes and skills quickly. Many dwarves perked up their ears at the sound of 'journeyman smith.' She had committed to two years servitude.
.... There is more of this story ...