The face looked ashen, with a bandage slanted, giving a view of a single eye. What little teeth remained in the all but lipless mouth were broken. No ridge just below the eyes, bespoke of a face devoid of a nose.
Gaping, the pirate took in the other faces. Grotesque mockeries of humanity stood before him. Faces sagged lopsidedly. Broken teeth showed in drooping mouths. Some of them had opaque eyes. Every one lacked at least one finger. All held clubs or knives.
The pirate gaped but a moment. A moment proved his undoing. One of the tribe swatted the back of his head. He sank to his knees. Another shoulder charged him onto his back. The pirate locked his hands around the leper’s throat. More of the tribe delivered blows to his head, clubbing him into submission.
They then dragged him off to the alley’s dead end. An open square hole awaited them. Two of the tribe vaulted into the hole. More of the hunting pack shoved the pirate irreverently in after them. Taking a last look around the lane, they too vaulted down.
Haphazardly bandaged hands reached out of the hole. They gripped the edge of a huge iron grate and dragged it, sealing the opening.
Dollifer did not go on the raid. He only saw the delirious pirate dragged through the tunnel’s muddy floor. In his native tongue, the Nezlander muttered all the way to the side of the fire pit. Horrid faces ringed him, looking down. His semi opened eyes widened with his scream, cut short at the edge of a weapon. Cheers from the lepers echoed throughout the tunnels.
Now Dollifer sat at the rear, well away from the fire, avoiding eye contact.
At the other end of the long room, he could see the king. Tall and heavy of frame, he too wore the marks of his leprosy. Two things set him apart from the tribe. He did not wear ragged clothing and he wore a crown. Atop his brow rested a gold hoop. His throne was nothing more than an oversized chair his people stole during one of their raids. Clutched in his right hand, the butt of his sceptre rested on the floor by his feet. His left hand held Dollifer’s mother’s hand on a neighbouring, but smaller throne.
She too bore the stigma of horrid lesions. Still, the tribe considered her a beauty. Her affections for the king were all that kept Dollifer alive. Often he had heard the tribe say so in surly tones. They constantly reminded him that he was born in the tunnels. That he was even more hideous than the others. For this reason, they insisted that he bind himself more neatly. That not a single trace of his flesh be seen at all times.
Something struck his back and clattered on the bricked floor. A rib gently rocked on its curve. Rats appeared from nowhere, dragging it aside.
“He makes my skin crawl; that one,” a woman said in a hoarse voice.