Just then a shout was heard from across the other side of the compound as al-Khawalanis mountain men entered the fray. They had herded the escapees into the stables and placed them under guard. When the sensation returned to their bloodied and torn feet, they wouldnt be wanting to go very far. Freed of their burdensome task, they now joined in the main fight, catching the Black Scorpions in a pincer movement.
Seeing the battle swing in favour of the royals, more miners began to join the fight against the Black Scorpions. Soon the few remaining Scorpions were encircled. al-Khawalani called a halt to the slaughter and offered them surrender. They accepted and were duly imprisoned with the others in the stables.
During the post-battle site inspection, a miner led Malik Shah and al-Khawalani to a door that was never opened in the presence of mine staff, but which he knew al-Mahrani and other Black Scorpions used with great frequency, especially at night. Not able to find a latch, al-Khawalani ordered al-Mahrani be brought from the stables. On his arrival he said, His Highness would like to inspect your, ah, private quarters. That is, the quarters behind this door.
No. Please dont make meplease!
Ahem. You dont seem to understand. You are in the presence of royalty. This is not a request, THIS IS AN ORDER! al-Khawalani barked at him.
No, please. They will kill me.
Well, thenits either them or us who are going to kill you. If you open the door, we wont kill you.
I cant, I cant, al-Mahrani wailed.
Alright then, as youre of no more use to me or His Highness your life is forfeit. Guards, get this snivelling piece of shit out of here and behead him.
NO! screamed al-Mahrani. Ill open it, Ill open it.
Good, thats better. Well, what are you waiting for? Get to it!
The door swung silently open and a stench wafted out from a passage cut into the rock. Dim light flickered from wall-mounted torches. Malik Shah, preceded by al-Khawalani, entered the tunnel. al-Mahrani followed behind, secured between four soldiers. They descended into the mountain. The passage, originally a mineshaft, took a number of twists and turns and terminated in a great underground cavern.
The party was shocked to discover twelve iron cages, each holding six prisoners of many origins. There were Sindese, Kushans, Arabs, Uighirs and the remainders of Ulfs Scandinavian crew. Extensive machinery dedicated to the art of torture lined the other side of the cavern with cubby holes cut into the rock containing hand-held torture devices. Along the back wall a row of smaller cages hung from the ceiling. Each held a body in various states of decay, with the left-most containing but a skeleton. In front of the cages stood a large iron cauldron. An altar had been built along the fourth side of the cavern and a large polished bronze flame was attached to the wall behind it. A circular plinth was centrally placed in front of the altar. A fire burned in the plinth, the flames tinged with an eerie blue-green glow. The cave had an overpowering and oppressive feel of evil and reeked of death and decay.
Three of the cages held women, all naked, some pregnant. On seeing the party enter, the prisoners became agitated and cowered as best they could in the rear of their cages. Then a few realised that al-Mahrani was himself being held prisoner and their demeanour swiftly changed to one of aggression. al-Khawalani recognised a few of Uspaksons crew and ordered two of the soldiers to get the cages open and another to get clothing to cover the women.
All the while al-Mahrani kept his head bowed. As the prisoners were let free and led out of their living hell, more than a few had to be restrained from attacking him. al-Khawalami selected the most lucid of the prisoners and questioned them.
Allah be praised, one said. At last He has heard our prayers. You have captured the devil himself. It was he who tortured and starved us.
Another said, He boiled some of usalways alive. He put us in those cages, he said, pointing to the back of the cavern. And then immersed us in boiling water; others had the heat increased slowly, just to see how we would die.
One of Ulfs crew informed him, The women were raped for their pleasure. Their babies were sacrificed to the fire god on the altar and they, the Scorpions, drank their blood. Others were tortured on the racks by him and his men, he said, pointing to al-Mahrani.
Another said, Sometimes it went on all day, sometimes all night. The moaning and screaming never stopped. If he wasnt boiling he was stretching. If he wasnt stretching he was cutting. If he wasnt cutting he was raping. It went on and on.
Where are you from? Malik Shah asked.
I am from Kaxgar, the oasis town of the Taklamakan Desert, at the base of the Tien Shan, the Celestial Mountains.
How did you come to be here?
I was on my annual trade circuit from Kaxgar to Maracanda to Bactra. I stopped for the night just short of Bactra, at the usual traders camp. Then I woke up here, in this cavern.
Were you travelling alone?
What happened to your companions?
They were brought here as well. That is one in the third cage along, he said, pointing to a decomposing corpse. The others were murdered in this hell hole a while ago now.
Well, youre safe now. al-Khawalani, check that there are no other exits from this cavern. If there are, seal them. Then put all the prisoners in here. Prepare the cauldron. Be sure to have sufficient wood. We dont want to give him just a hot bath, do we?
Understood, sire, said al-Khawalani, his face beaming.
Malik Shah then turned to al-Mahrani and said, You, Ill deal with later, and walked out of the cavern, leaving a wide-eyed al-Mahrani to consider his fate.
After the captives were transferred to the dungeon and locked in the cages, Malik Shah returned to the cavern. He had had a chair placed in front of the altar and had al-Mahrani brought before him in chains.
You have been found guilty of crimes against Sultan Alp Arslan, against humankind and, above all, against Allah.
I dont believe in your god, retorted al-Mahrani. What sort of god is He that requires people to pray on command at a set time every day? Where is the meaning, the passion? Where is the feeling? And what crime have I committed against the Sultan?
A good try, but youre still guilty, said Malik Shah. Do you remember my brother? The one you had entombed, in the tunnel and made out it was an accident?
How al-Mahrani began. He then realised that what he thought was impossible had occurred.
Yes thats right. He escaped. As did all the others you entombed. That is the crime against the Sultan. You tried to kill one of his sonsand failed. Then you tried to kill another of his sons, and more importantly, the heir to the throneme! And failed again. How does it feel to be such a failure?
The crime against humanity is the depravity you have practised in here and the entombment of guests of this country. My guests.
For the first time al-Mahrani could see how limited his future was and began to tremble.
Looking him in the eyes, Malik Shah said, Now you know just how those you killed felt. The one part of your experiments you could never understand. But now you do. You are going to suffer the same fate as those poor men in the cages at the rear.
NO, NO, NO! al-Mahrani screamed as he was dragged to a cage. Not that, not that, any other, but not that!
And why not? How many did you kill this way? Lock him in a cage and immerse him in the water.
al-Khawalanis men dragged a kicking and screaming al-Mahrani to a cage and forced him in, watched in silence by the imprisoned Black Scorpions. The cage was then raised, swung over the cauldron and lowered into the water. Malik Shah lit the fire. He watched while it took. When it was burning brightly, he walked from the dungeon, followed by his troops.
On his orders the tunnel was collapsed, but even that did not purge the death screams of al-Mahrani from their ears. With all hope of salvation extinguished, Malik Shah gave the order that the door was to be sealed and the mine was to be closed, never to be reopened.