"I'm just sayin'," the man in front of Jakob prattled, "A trial of sledgein' is trial-an'-a-half." Jakob remained focused as he drove home another blow against the hand-steel held in place by his co-worker. As per the norm, Jakob found himself on sledge-crew. He had heard some words from the higher-ups, whispered among the workers as if it was some precious secret. They stated that the extra hands were a rush to meet some big expectations. One boss helping out another for favorable contracts or backroom deals. Stacks of nel, most of which the prospectors would never see, swapping hands in the warm halls of the Videnese Bank. He drove another blow, driving the hand-steel ever so further into the cold rock. Sledge-crew is often tedious and always tiring. Not so much for Jakob, however. If he kept his thirst quenched and his back straight, he could sledge for hours. Just as good- no, better than those press-ganged Lotharro. Another blow.
This operation wasn't as uniform as some of the other ones Jakob was involved in. If he had to gauge it, he guessed that a quarter of the prospectors in Viden were out here. He felt sorry for those that were assigned on load-crew; knee deep snow and vicious winds. Too much ore and stone to be loaded into a never-ending wagon train. A platoon of goons to make sure nothing gets stolen. That sard could be done by the slaves, he'd prefer nonstop sledge-crew; just his luck, it was what he got. Instead of one sledge-crew maneuvering around the mine and expanding or clearing, there were two sledge-crews working trial-in-trial-out; one on the west, and one on the east - which is the crew he was on. Another blow.
In front of Jakob was Moorn, a stubby man with a fiery-red beard going down to his chest. He messed up his arm on trial four of the excavation, so now he's holding the hand-steel; an over-sized chisel, held over the shoulder of a man to keep in place to create a fist sized hole into rock. It takes the average worker about thirty-four strikes to get a hand-steel down to the base. Only takes Jakob about twenty-six on an off-trial.. Once the hand-steel has been driven in to its base, it is pried out, where a flammable mixture is poured in and set ablaze. Once the rock is heated, sledge-crew douses it with water, causing tough stone to crack, which can then be broken down by sledgehammers; that is a process called fire-setting, and Jakob finds it rather rewarding. Another blow.
This trial, there were eight prospectors on the eastern sledge-crew, and they were broken up into duos. Jakob with the sledgehammer, Moorn with the hand-steel and pry bar. Out of the four duos, three of them were doing the exact same process as Jakob and Moorn, while the last duo was dedicated at breaking down the cracked stone left over from fire-setting. Moorn was in a conversation with the duo that was roughly ten paces to their right. Another blow. The man with the sledgehammer in the duo next to them was called Bors, a monster of a man missing his nose and a chunk of his lips from some animal attack. He spoke like a dragging bag of gravel. Another blow.
"Aye, it fekin' better be." Bors drove his hammer down into the hand-steel like it owed him money. "I just hope bossman has the coffers for dis. I've been on this skich for three trials!" Another blow.
His complaint elicited a chortle from Moorn. "Whine some more. Daud and I've been on it since the start." Another blow.
Jakob cleared his throat, and stated plainly; "I didn't realize it was a contest." Another blow.
"Bunch of show-offs," said the man holding the hand-steel for Bors - Jakob never caught his name.
"Aye!" shouted Bors as he set his hammer down head-first to get a look at Jakob and Moorn. Bors spoke in a mocking tone as he said "You'll never see that day-an'-a-half for it," his tone returned to normal as he continued, "Bossman doesn't got the nel for a farkin' army of miners, yet alone two full-time sledge-crews. You're getting the same pay as the rest of them."
"We won't if we got any say in it," Jakob responded coldly.
"He innit wrong," Moorn spoke up, "How far you think you could toss that rookid bastard if don't pay us, Bors?"
The unknown member of the duo spoke up "I give him eight paces if Bors can get a running start."
"Ten." Jakob spoke up, "After we take our pounds of flesh, that is." The four of them chuckled.
The work continued, and eventually the process of fire-setting began. While the fires heated up the rocks, sledge-crew is given an impromptu break, overseen by the hired goons. Doesn't matter how nice they are to the prospectors, they're all goons; Jakob knew and admittedly liked these ones, however. The four men were propped up against the wall, and one of the goons, a male Biqaj called Ryn, was talking with them about the whole operation. Jakob stood on the outside of the group and was sizing up Ryn the whole time. Ryn stood shorter than Jakob, but was wearing some cheap chainmail and had a sword on his hip, his hand resting on the hilt. Standard goon attire. Soon after his appraisal, a dozen or so slaves that were pressed into the pick-crew shuffled past them. He focused on some of the slaves, and lost track of the conversation.
Moments passed, and Jakob carelessly interrupted whatever topic was on the table. "Ryn."
Mid-sentence, Ryn showed slight surprise, "He speaks! What?"
"How much you getting for this?"
Ryn blinked and shifted his head, his eyes changing color. No matter how many time he sees it, Jakob couldn't get used to that. "I don't think that's a question I should be-"
"Don't be a wago, 'Bicky'," Bors said impatiently.
"Not like it matters. Two silver nels a trial." Ryn stated.
"When's the last time you got paid?" Jakob probed.
"About two trials ago, why?"
"That doesn't seem good."
Moorn interjected, "Don't fret, Daud. You do this every fekin' time. Give it some bits."
"Look, I wouldn't always do this if it wasn't fo-" Jakob was interrupted by sudden pain.
In a second, Jakob looked down to his foot and saw that a pickaxe had found its way into his right boot. He reflexively threw a right straight at the person he deemed responsible for this. Turns out, he deemed correctly, as the slave in front rose his recently-emptied hands, but failed to stop Jakob's fist from flying past his guard and square into his face. In a spray of blood, the slave went down hard, and Jakob suddenly became aware of the pain in his foot. He also became aware of the fact that he just clocked somebody. Ryn had adopted some semblance of a fighters stance and was inhaling to raise his voice when Jakob spoke out.
"Sorry." he stated, extending a hand to pick-up the target of his misplaced aggression. The slave didn't offer a hand back.
"He's out." Moorn punctuated with a chuckle. "Take him to the Chirugeon's tent."
Jakob took a deep sigh. "Can one of you carry him?" He asked sincerely.
"You laid him out. You pick 'em up."
Jakob positioned himself to shoulder the slave when he stumbled forward. Bors chuckled at that. Turns out that pickaxe went deeper than he thought. This wasn't going to be fun. He scrunched his face and shouldered the slave and started limping towards the tent.
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