“It’s unbelievable, like some sort of conspiracy!” Jean exclaimed, “How can this be justified, if what you say is true!?!”
“I don’t understand... My father told me of your country, but I never expected any of this... no offence.” Niko’s voice trailed off as he returned his attention to the task at hand.
“No, no; it’s quite alright. I know what is spoken of my people outside our borders. I even agree with more than some of it.” Jean smiled grimly at his friend.
“How do you think your parents are getting by?” Niko inquired in a slight attempt to change the subject. Jean had told the lad of his parents troubles and how he and his brother sent them what was left of their wages after the hefty taxes and fees placed upon them by the king. Jean responded by saying that the King’s tax was far too high and it only continued to rise with the passage of time. The Lion Hornets were a growing problem in East Legion and they were getting worse every year. Their only natural predator was the Golden Sparrow, but it was dying off because of the pollution from their factories. Jean apologised to Niko for his brief rant and the lad shrugged it off with a grin.
“I am the King’s prisoner after all; you aren’t the only one who thinks he’s a kanker hoerenzoon*.” Niko laughed bitterly.
“What is that?” Jean inquired, unlearned in the language of the North.
“It is the worst of insults in my country. It means one who is less than nothing.” Niko answered and returned to sweeping the cobblestone high street.
A patrol passed them by and Jean shouted some abuse at Niko. The guards laughed and spat upon the youth even as he laboured there in the streets before continuing down the line to beat and observe the others. Jean dropped the boy a handkerchief to wipe the spittle from off his neck; they had shaved his head bald upon his imprisonment, as well as those of all the other inmates. Niko thanked his companion and quickly wiped his back before throwing the scrap of fabric away, feigning it to be rubbish so as to avoid arousing suspicion in the other guards.
*Ahglorian; roughly translates to “cancerous son of a whore”. Extremely offensive.
After a while the sun began to set and the watch captain rounded up the guards and their charges. Jean escorted Niko back to the castle and wished him a good day. The Legionnaires dropped the inmates off in the main hall of the dungeon where their jailors returned them to their cells for the night. Niko enjoyed his meal of mystery meat and cabbage soup. He guessed it to be horse meat because it reminded him of the caribou in the North, though it definitely wasn’t any meat he’d ever eaten before. After all the long weeks of being stuck in that cell without any real food he no longer cared what he was eating, so long as it was edible.
While Niko devoured his mysterious meal in the King’s dungeons, Jean made his way to the post office to check for any mail from his brother. He’d received a letter just that morning, so the postmaster said. The imperial soldier paid the post-tax for receiving post and using the postal service and spent three silver pieces accordingly. Afterwards, he took a stroll down the fresh-swept high street and went shopping for his own dinner that night. He went to the butcher’s corner shop and bought a half kilo of caribou from the North. Even though the price had gone up due to the border conflict and increased importation fees, it was still cheaper than their own domestic meats.
Industrialisation was killing off the Golden Sparrow and with nothing to keep the Lion Hornets in check their population was booming. Their swarms could take down a full-grown cow and humans were no match against the winged insects. They couldn’t use insecticides either because it would poison their livestock as well and getting to the nest was nigh on impossible. It was estimated that the Lion Hornet was responsible for killing off over 60% of the total livestock that inhabited the farmlands of East Legion since the problem had begun several years ago. Jean hoped his parents were faring well with the money he and Pierre set aside.
He went into his kitchen and prepared the meat; he cooked himself a steak and served it with a side of chips and gravy. He sautéed some onions in some Itanian olive oil and threw it into the mix on his plate. Once he was finished cooking the meal he dished it out on his plate and threw the dirty cookware into the sink to soak in a washbasin. Jean opened the letter from his brother and read its contents. It spoke of a cease in the Northern attacks on their position in Avon town, though Pierre told his brother that it was not good news. He and his company feared that it was a bad omen; they foreboded the Ahglorian tribesmen to be convening amongst themselves for a greater assault than any they’d yet experienced. War was being whispered amongst the townsfolk and the imperial frontline saw it to be a very likely possibility.
Jean pondered the upcoming events of the future and wondered how he and his brother would fare in the long run. Meanwhile, he munched thoughtfully on his meal and savoured every last bite of it before it was gone. After his dinner was finished he threw the dish and silverware into the wash bowl and retired to his bedroom for the night. Both he and Niko slept fitfully that night after a long day of work duty and around sunrise the next morning they both awoke for the next days duties.
About the author
Kelson Hayes is a British-American author and philosopher, born on 19 October 1994 in Bedford, England. His books include Can You Hear The Awful Singing, The Art of Not Thinking, and The Aerbon Series.