"How old are you?" I asked.
"Thirteen," he said.
Even younger than Tamar, then.
"Have you been a mine slave your whole life?"
"I was sold there a year ago, I guess. Last summer." He shuddered. "Are they going to send me back there?"
"No," I said gently. "They're not going to send you anywhere. Tamar grabbed you in order to free you."
"Both of us used to be slaves of the Greeks," Tamar said. "Lauria even has a Greek name, like you do.
We escaped this spring."
"The Alas.h.i.+ don't usually free people. They welcome slaves to escape, but they don't take steps to help them get out. But they won't send you back or sell you. Unless you'd be happier with a new master than as a free man. It's your choice."
"Are all the Alas.h.i.+ women?" Zosimos asked.
Tamar giggled. "How do you think the Alas.h.i.+ make babies? Of course there are Alas.h.i.+ men. And children, and old people. We're one of the fighting sisterhoods. Each summer the childless men and women spend their time training to be warriors, stomping out bandits, and raiding Greek outposts. We're separated by s.e.x because, well, I think it's rather obvious, don't you?"
"We're heading back to a clan camp to pick up most of our livestock," I said. "I expect we'll leave you there. They'll either send you to spend the rest of the summer with a sword brotherhood, or you can just spend the summer with the children. Thirteen is kind of young for a sword brother anyway." And he seemed so young. Years younger than Tamar, who apparently had been born fighting.
"Would you like to learn how to fight?" Tamar asked.
He laughed under his breath, in an oddly unguarded moment; the first flash I thought I'd seen of who he really was. "Oh yes," he said a moment later. "I'd love to learn how to fight." A moment later the frightened slave boy was back. "Just don't send me back to the mine."
"We're not going to," I said. "No one's going to." Thinking of Ruan, I added, "And if anyone says they're going to, they're lying to upset you."
A pained smile flickered across his face, very different from the harsh laugh of a moment before.
"Was the mine very bad?" Tamar asked.
He looked away from her for a moment and his face hardened slightly. "They were about to kill me when your women attacked."
" Kill you?" Tamar shook her head. "For what?"
"I attacked one of the guards. He was..." Zosimos shrugged a little. "They think it's funny to make us dishonor Arachne. One of the guards caught a spider; he doused it in oil and told me to light it on fire.
Always before when this happened I just did it, but today..." His voice shook. "I kicked him in the nuts and knocked out one of his teeth." He showed us his hand; there was a cut on his knuckle. "I don't know why
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