When I saw the sky open, I suspected they would make their attempt there. What I expected was a bumbling mass of men, noise and frenzy, cowed by the glint of steel. At worst, some would die. Nevertheless, I would give them what aid I could; I always took a perverse pleasure in seeing some new disaster or atrocity break the monotony of everyday life.
The sky is always gray for weeks at a time. Even when the sky opens, there is nothing to shield you from its light. There are no rocks or mountains nearby — they have all been mined and collapsed. I expected the light alone would break up what ever plans they had.
So I sat atop a small ridge overlooking the deep crack in the earth where the mines ran down. I had a clear view of what would become the open field of battle for all of an hour. I began to take notes, expecting a brief report for the Overseer. I didn't expect to write a novella. Nevertheless, I intended to write as much as possible, to amuse my readers further.
How it began was with a guttural blast of noise. To call it a trumpet blast would imply the miners had any metal of their own to fashion for such amenities. I expected men, dirty men in dirty clothes. I saw them; I saw women and children. Some had wrapped blocks of wood or rock to their forearms and torsos, makeshift armor. The mass of humanity had to be in the thousands. I fully expected the numbers, but I had not conceived of just how massive such a number would actually look drawn out upon an open space.
I do them ill justice to call them a mere "mass", but all proper reports on the incident must include such a term. In fact there was a surprising level of discipline among them. They began a chant; it was elaborate, if indistinct, like a paean to a god of homicide. Beautiful to behold, on such a massive scale. You could hardly muster enough interest in such ceremony amongst professional knights. It was exquisite, but efficient; they were ready to break and move at a moment's notice. When the guards took up a phalanx of shield and club and sword, the ranks of miners broke and charged.
Some had their pickaxes or shovels to use as weapons. This was soon determined to be folly, as many did harm to their own comrades long before they could emerge before the actual enemy. I do not know what was anticipated by the ringleaders, but the ground was utterly impracticable for the sort of grand and glorious man-to-man combat you read in tales. The guards refused to let the miners' numbers exploit the open land, and deployed themselves upon the spiraling stairwell coming up to the cusp, near where I now sat.
This exquisite army of rebellious miners devolved into a mass out of necessity. What else could a man or woman do? The men in front were meat, to be slaughtered by the guards. Whether they knew this or not, I could not tell, for there was no sign of any relent or attempt to break and run. Perhaps there simply was not enough time, or perhaps none in the front ranks noticed just how quickly they died.
Again, tales do combat no justice; it is impossible for a man, no matter his strength, to cleave through other men with a blade as if hacking through linens and fabrics. Blades stuck in flesh, in muscle, and in bone. Once the miners realized this, they understood that steel was not as strong as flesh, and the one weapon they had in abundance was flesh.
Nothing was said to any of the miners, or at least no cry that could be discerned as intelligible by myself. As one, they seemed to understand that their sole advantage over the enemy was themselves. "Meat", the guards had disparagingly called the miners for so long. Now they truly were meat. The bodies dropped, and more followed. One by one, guards lost hold of their weapons as they stuck in the viscera of the masses. Miners tore at the shields, losing nail and digit as they sought simply to give their lives to one purpose or another; "lower this shield", "bash this helmet", "gouge this eye". A singular task, to be fulfilled in the brief moments allowed to their miserable lives, before dying.
Here is where the term "mass" can be applied; less than a full hour in, the miners began to walk atop the guards. I mean that literally! The bodies stacked high enough that the living could walk over the dead, and walk atop the guards, kicking at helmets, screaming, becoming impaled or eviscerated by the enemies yet to see the front lines. That is how they lost their weapons. They brought their shields up, attempting to keep the miners off of their heads. A sensible tactic, if not for the fact that the mass of miners continued to move over the shields. Now they trapped the guards completely, from front, rear, and top.
There was no more "battle" then; I could make out the figured of men and women both grabbing and scratching with bare hands and teeth. They tore away pieces of armor in their enemy, or simply punched and kicked defiantly, breaking their bones in the hopes of simply denting the enemy's breastplate or gorget. Some of the dead began to petrify; those with the strength to do so broke off fingers or entire arms to use as bludgeons.
As they continued to advance, more and more people fell from the elevated walkways. At some point, the guards broke, but retained enough sense to recognize the folly of leaping from such a height. With what little they had left, they began to push forward, pressing the mob back down. They only sought to get closer to the ground, so they could stand a better chance of limping free once they had struck the bottom. It would have been a glorious sight if it had succeeded. At some point, I imagine, it became as if the guards had hit a wall. They began to fall away, in twos and threes, until none were left. The miners continued to bodily swarm upon each other for long moments after, until finally a coherent enough cry rose up to cease the animal panic.
All at once, they were human again. Men kissed women, men kissed men, women kissed women, everyone was in ecstasy. A few fell and died afterwards, or dropped from the exhaustion. Few got back up. The crowd came out of the mine, and spread across the landscape. I did not fear them; I had nothing worth taking, and I dressed as modestly as they. I did fear they would confiscate my notes, and prevent my report from reaching the Overseer's eyes. But they easily took me for one of them — I imagine more than a few of the miners were previously literate men and women, as the fact that I continued to write did not arouse the suspicion as I would have anticipated of a mob of uneducated peasants.
I can tell you now why they succeeded. Not there in the mines; that was sheer numbers alone, but why they succeeded in breaking out of the Lowlands and destroying the border guard so soundly. The guards hired by the mine owners were foreign men, unaccustomed to one another. They ate and slept in the same barracks, but they did not truly live the same lives. Some could not speak the same language. They were ex-knights, men-at-arms, sellswords, or soldiers of fortune. They learned to fight individually, for duels or contests of money and valor.
The miners had endured decades of hardship together. The deprivations they endured were endurable solely because of the shared effort of them all to extricate themselves from certain death. They had done more than eaten and slept together; some did not even eat, but gave their meager rations to others. Childless women offered their breast to motherless infants, elder men were given more time to rest, while complete strangers broke their bodies to fulfill the old men's quotas. They had established a community in the rocky depths, and they were driven not by money or glory or valor. They were not driven even by fear.
They loved one another. All of them together acknowledged one another as friend and family. The only fear they felt was fear that they would all suffer if any individual failed at any point in their journey for freedom.
I tell you this, Overseer; such a force as that is the most dangerous and deadly you will ever find anywhere. Many would see this mob of vagabonds and peasants and fear them. I suggest you look upon them, if and when they arrive, and greet them with love. They are a nation unto themselves. All they will need is a hand such as yours to claim them. An entire under-class, subject to your will.
Eternally your servant,
The Overseer — not the intended reader of the report — set down the sheaf of parchment, and smiled up at the short woman kneeling before her. She looked young enough to be the Overseer's daughter, in another time.
"An entire 'under-class'?" The Eighth Overseer knelt down, placing a finger beneath the short woman's chin and tilting her head back. The woman shuddered. The Eighth Overseer had lost much of the left side of her jaw, too much for panacea to recover. She had been almost beautiful in her youth. She still saw herself as such now… as much of her original body was left.
"Truly these people are not strong or educated enough to be considered citizens proper."
"According to whom?"
The woman squirmed and tried not to look at the gaping hole in the side of the Overseer's face, "To all good and noble persons of the Third Overseer's Empire."
She patted the woman on the cheek, "You are now a good and noble person of the Eighth Overseer's Empire. Do you understand?"
The woman nodded hesitantly.
"And these miners… the 'under-class', are now subjects of my new Empire. Do you understand?"
Again, she nodded.
"Go find them, and direct them here to Whore's End. Make sure to avoid the artists, and don't drink from the river."