The horn blew loud and shrill in the mine shafts, informing the miners that their shift had ended. The first batch of men put away their shovels and pick axes in the boxes by the main elevator shaft and filed onto the wooden elevator platform while the others waited for the elevator to return. Javid and most of Thort’s work buddies shoved their way onto the platform, leaving Thort and the miners from the other shafts to wait for the next elevator. The wired doors closed flimsily and the platform started to rise, creaking and groaning under the weight of the miners. Every man in the elevator said a little prayer that this would not be the night the elevator fell in the shaft.
After a maddeningly long time, the elevator returned to the waiting miners. Thort pushed his way onto the platform. He was pressed tightly against the other miners. He looked forward to drowning his pain and his troubles in some good brew with his buddies at the local tavern. He’d try to smooth things over with Javid. Thort didn’t want any trouble with his neighbors or co-workers.
Evanor knew Thort would stop at the tavern on his way home. He needed to unwind with his friends at least once a week. Thort saw the welcome lights streaming out of the windows of the tavern at the end of the road and could hear the raucous music and manly laughter spurt out every time the doors opened. Finally he arrived. Thort walked through the doors and looked around the crowded room for his buddies. He saw them sitting at the long table by the far wall. They already had their tankards of brew in front of them. They were laughing and talking and poking each other. Thort walked toward them with a wide open smile on his face, which soon disappeared. His friends had spotted him and stopped talking and laughing for a moment, but nobody moved aside to make room for him. They turned back to their laughing and talking and poking.
Thort found a small table nearby with a single chair nobody had taken yet. He sat down and made a drinking sign to the mistress of the tavern to bring him a tankard of the usual. When it eventually arrived, Thort slaked his tremendous thirst and dulled his pains, but his heart wasn’t in it. There wasn’t much point to it if he wasn’t drinking with his buddies, was there?
Thort could see Javid drinking with his buddies at the long table and hear him telling everybody his side of events at the mine that day. Javid was telling his buddies that if Thort were to show his ugly Rat-loving face at work tomorrow, he had better keep out of Javid’s way or Javid would give him another blue eye. Thort heard Javid’s threats and his buddies’ jeers.
Thort stood up unsteadily, upsetting his table. His tankard of brew crashed and spilled on the floor by his feet. He picked up the small table and threw it at Javid, hitting him hard and knocking him over in his chair. Thort was standing over Javid, legs planted on either side of Javid’s capsized chair. The buddies pulled Thort away from Javid and held his arms while Javid got up and hit Thort hard in the face and stomach. Several buddies took turns punching Thort wherever they found an opening, with a few carefully placed kicks to the groin just to make sure Thort couldn’t sire any more blue babies. Thort doubled over vomiting on the floor. Javid swung his knee up hard into Thort’s face breaking his nose and two teeth. Thort’s head flew back almost breaking the nose of the man who held Thort’s arms. Javid’s thick fist punched deep into Thort’s solar plexus and he slumped heavily to the ground barely breathing.
After Thort lost consciousness, the buddies dragged him out of the tavern and threw him into the road. The tavern owner followed the men out and stuffed a bill for brew and damages into Thort’s shirt pocket.
Javid and his friends went back into the tavern, picked up the chair, setting it right again, and ordered another round of brew.
When Thort regained consciousness the tavern windows were dark and silence issued from the padlocked doors. He pulled himself up on one knee to determine whether he could stop the world from spinning around him. Everything hurt and he had the taste of dirt and blood in his mouth. He tried to stand up but the pain in his groin made him double over. He tried again more slowly this time. He took a step and a sharp pain shot through groin. He took another step and another.
Thort hobbled up the road slowly until he reached the gate to his house. He opened the gate and nearly passed out before reaching the steps. He dragged his right leg up the three steps until he stood in front of the front door. Evanor opened the front door in her nightgown and gasped. Lem stood behind his mother horrified in the rawest silence at what he saw.
She tried to support his tremendous weight, maneuvering him to the sofa. He fell backwards onto the sofa and laid his head back. She went to the kitchen to bring strips of cloth and a bucket of water. “What have they done to you,” she asked him over and over, not waiting for or expecting an answer. She dabbed his gashes and bruises with water-soaked cloth strips. She had to go back to the kitchen to change the water in the bucket many times.
Thort fell asleep on the sofa. She didn’t have the heart to wake him and try to get him up the stairs into their bed. She went upstairs to get the quilt blanket and bring it down to cover him. She slipped inside the quilt blanket and pressed her warm body against his. She couldn’t sleep.
There were only two hours left before first dawn. He couldn’t miss a day of work.