You were roused from your cell at dawn, the guards prodding you to wakefulness, demanding immediate movement from tired muscles. Sleep was the only refuge you had from the cries of despair, the reek of excrement and unwashed bodies down here in the Verstaad Dungeon, and now it is gone. Reality comes crashing in, as it has for dozens of mornings now, made all the ruder by the cruel guards.
The guards heap scorn as they push you down the hall. "Move, you motherless piece of goblinshit. I'd cut yer worthless throat right now if the Boss would let me!" "See you in Hell," another inmate in another cell cackles. Your bare feet shuffle down the worn stone floor as you approach and then climb the stairs. There is the clanking and rattle of the chains around your ankles...always the chains, the rattle of chains...
Sunlight knifes into your brain as you emerge into the open air for the first time in...weeks? Months? Any thoughts of escape you have are quelled by the fact your ankles are shackled, you are flanked by two armed guards, and three crossbowmen atop a tower have you in their view, weapons at the ready. The walk across the courtyard is brief, but the fresh air is almost heavenly, actually hurting your lungs.
Most likely you are in gaol for a heinous offense, such as brigandage, rape, robbery, or other such high crimes. You are probably evil, or at the very least "morally flexible." Your offenses merited death. Imperial justice is swift and heavy handed...however, it is also imperfect, and there is always the chance that you are here simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time...or for earning the enmity of the wrong person.
But regardless, you know full well it is the headsman that awaits you at the end of this march. For death was the sentence pronounced when you stood before the black-robed panel of three Inquisitors, and death is what awaits you now. The Block, as the execution platform on the roof of the guard-house is called, is just a short march up the stairs ahead...
...except that the guards hustle you toward a door at the southern wall of the compound, overlooking the harbor. Emerging through the door, you find yourself on a narrow path overlooking the sea and harbor.
"Not what you were expecting, eh?" One of the guards clouts you on the shoulder to spin you round to face him. "The Boss decided death's too good for the likes of you. No," the man said, a wicked grin spanning his face, "you're going off to Kelsak. To work in the mines. Salt and iron. Iron and salt. You'll work...and then you'll die. Usually takes about six months. Maybe only three or four, if you're a weakling. Maybe even a year, if you go in good and strong." The guard laughed, turning to his comrade. "Or is it 14 months? You know, that big half-ogre that shipped out a couple years back."
"No, I think he lasted only the year."
"Be that as it may," the guard told you, "we are not without pity. Sometimes, when we march someone down this path to the boat, their legs just aren't quite up to the challenge, after sitting in the dungeon so long. Accidents do happen." The guard looked down the cliff...about a hundred feet below were rocks. "So, how are your legs there? Eh?"
- - - - - - -
After that, you are poked and prodded into a waiting boat...there to be chained once again in another cell. Once again, semidarkness alternates with night...once again, you wait. Then, one day, the boat rocks and sways. A storm! A guard comes down the stairs...then a wave tosses the ship, and the guard is caught unawares, hurled against the iron bars of your cage. He is knocked unconscious...the keys to your cell hang on his belt, in easy reach!