(continuation from last Friday)
Each of the men held a short whip with several tails, knotted at the ends. They walked with deliberate steps closer to him, patting their whips on their hands. One after another, each took a turn striking him on every available surface—his face, his shoulders, his back, his arms, his legs, anywhere and everywhere. Hamath sank to the ground and curled into a ball, crying out as knots cut into his flesh.
When he woke, Hamath lay in the large barn-like slave shed he’d seen the previous night.
One of the other slaves, a small, dark-skinned man with one withered arm, dressed Hamath’s wounds. The other slave rubbed salve into his wounds. Hamath tried to draw him into a whispered conversation, but the man shook his head, his eyes wide and rolling toward where the whip master stood.
The slave held a smelly brew to his lips. Hamath gritted his teeth at the pain radiating from every part of his frame and pushed the cup away. The slave held it again to Hamath’s mouth, glancing sideways at the whip master. Hamath noticed the glance. He swallowed the fowl-tasting liquid. His first “meal” since being captured. They’d fed him nothing the day before. He didn’t care—every inch of his body hurt too much to feel like eating. He pulled a dirty, itchy piece of old linen around him and tried to sleep on the straw. He hoped Bildad didn’t want him to work this day.
Hamath felt well enough to eat some of the thin gruel provided to the slaves the next morning. He even sat up as he ate it. He suspected he had better get well fast or be prepared to suffer further under the whip. He didn’t know what his back looked like, but the pieces of skin that hung off his arms reminded him of a shedding camel. Scabs had formed and looked only a little red. He guessed Bildad didn’t want to kill him, just terrorize him.
People came and went at the slave encampment, sometimes bringing a slave in, sometimes taking one out. Hamath wasn’t sure what was going on, but from the snatches of conversation he heard between Chilead and the strangers, he understood Bildad’s slaves were rented out.
Hamath noted that a method of communication had developed between the slaves, a shrug or a wave of a certain number of fingers when the whip master wasn’t watching. A gaze might be cast this way or that, a nod or a shake of the head, and even an occasional toe in the dust, wiped out if the whip master should look in their direction. Hamath wished he could learn the language—maybe if he paid close attention...
Over the next weeks, Hamath went hungry a lot, beaten if he didn’t respond the way they wanted, and worked every day. He learned a little of the slaves’ hidden language, too, enough to learn some of them had been there a long time—many years—and that most of them had been kidnapped. There were enough of them there that if they would unite, they could break free. However, most of them held a deep fear of the whip master. He discovered several of the men had also been treated to the “sport” of the men with the whips.
Not the women, though. While the men’s value wouldn’t be reduced by whip marks, the women were expected to be spotless, at least the pretty ones--and almost all of the women in the camp fell into that category. A few weeks before, Hamath would have been all too willing to rent one of these women for a few days, now instead he felt sympathy for any women who had no choice but to submit to whomever had the money to pay Bildad for her time. Several of the women had small children, and Hamath assumed they’d been born in the camp.
The children didn’t play. Their mothers kept them quiet, or tried to. If the mothers didn’t, Chilead or one of the others would slap both mothers and children until they were silent, often knocked unconscious by the man’s heavy hand.
Hamath seethed. This must be why all the men were chained.