“Yeah, we better or else..” Joulan began.
CRACK. Stone debris scattered to the floor as the cudgel made a solid connection in front of them. Both boys froze. “Who the hell do you think you are?” The man wielding the weapon said. “Do you think this is all fun and games? That you can prattle while others work?” He smashed the club down once more as he finished his tirade. Joulan lowered his head and tried to shuffle away whilst Zephyr jumped to his feet.
“I’m.. I’m sorry. I really needed to pass, badly sir” Zephyr said, meeting the man’s gaze as he brought his knees together.
Zephyr was on his knees before he knew it. He never even saw the blow. In fact he had trouble seeing anything. At that point the world spun. His cheek felt hot, the skin pulsed as if he’d just been stung by a craterbug. Zephyr looked up at the man. He was tall and slim yet his arms still had power behind them despite his lack of bulk. A pair of dark eyes looked down back at him. “Do you take me for a fool boy?” The man said. Speaking more through his narrow nose than his mouth.
“No..s” Zephyr began but was cut off by a swift kick to the rips.
“Pass? I’ll beat you so bad that blood is the only thing you’ll pass for the next month you heathenous little gobshite.” The man said with a hint of glee on his voice.
In agony Zephyr tried to plea but as he opened his mouth pain racked his stomach causing him to lean forward and retch. As he did he felt something slide from underneath his shirt. His tormentor wrapped his slender fingers around the necklace and used it to yank the boy to his feet. Surprisingly the lace held until the wiry brute ripped it from his neck. “Well, well. What’s a pretty thing like this doing with a gutter rat like you? Who’d you steal it from, boy?” Said the man as he lifted the boy’s chin with his weapon.
“Please, Overseer, it was my mothers. She gave… ” Zephyr tried to beg but was cut off once again with a punch to the gut causing him to double over.
“Lying little gutter filth, I’ll have you…” before the Overseer could finish he himself was cut off with a bell and a whistle. He made a face of distaste as he spat on Zephyr. “I’ll be taking this, it’s too good for the likes of you.” He pocketed the piece of jewelry into his jacket and looked at Zephyr’s two friends. “Pick him up.” The Overseer headed down the line and shouted out “Line up you little miscreants, Lola’s not had her fill yet, plenty more go around for scum like you.”
Hands clasped around his arms and he was helped to his feet. Zephyr gave his friends a grateful smile. “That bastard,” Mitzy said, not quite under her breath. “Quiet, Mitz, or he’ll dish some out upon you too” Joulan intervened before he turned to Zephyr. “You alright, you bloody fool?” Zephyr gave a half nod in reply.
The trio joined the rest of the breaker boys in line to leave the mine. Each and every one of them had their fair share of sweat and dust. Zephyr had to lean upon Joulan until the wind returned to his lungs but he wasn’t the only one limping. Others would be stiff from the day’s work. As they followed the queue into the next room they remained silent. Light shone from two exits. One in which the Overseer and his goons stood guard and ushered out the boys. A second where larger men, the miners, made up less orderly lines and larger still Overseers guided. The men were older and covered in much more grime than the boys. Sweat and dust was the least to cover their brow as scapes, scars and the dried blood that accompanied such was plain to see. Zephyr shivered at that sight despite the humidity from the mine.