Originally posted on Reddit, ~October 2014.
A brief sample of work started prior to ‘Barricade’. Some minor edits (names, etc) have taken place in this version.
Of all the damn things, it was very nearly the tea cups.
Covered in ash that seemed to creep up my nose with every silent breath, I fought the urge to sneeze. My knees were cricked in such a way I couldn’t shift and make a noise even had I wanted to, but the sneeze… The dust tickled so badly that I had squeezed my eyes shut and was only barely aware of the Noble Guard towering over my father.
“Sirs.” Once again I admired my father’s strength – his voice steady, his demeanor sufficiently humbled with only the allowable sliver of dignity preserved.
They came into our house – or perhaps ‘shack’ would be a more apt description – regularly. No more regularly than anyone else here, I suppose, but when you’re hiding something from the Noble Guard, it is impossible to not feel a target.
Then again, father wasn’t exactly hiding something from the Guard…
“Anything to declare?” The Captain was here this evening. Unusual, but no cause for alarm. Yet.
“No, Captain, absolutely not.” That slight dignity my father always possessed seemed to wither under the Captain’s silent scrutiny. “I am certain that the Guard is not concerned with our farming troubles.”
The Captain remained silent, but I could see his shiny black boots crunch on the hard packed floor from my vantage point. Father was right – the Guard had no interest in farmers like us. But the inspection was part of the game. The patrols were little more than a power play to the Guards, a chance to remind the peons of their place.
A chance to remind us that their very whim was law, and even a display of slight rebellion or dislike was more of a crime than they needed to order an execution.
“And what of her?”
No! My breath hitched in my throat, with an unfortunate wisp of dusty ash. I silently choked a cough, craning my neck to try and see father, willing him to control his temper, contain his misery.
Father was silent. I could not see him from here, but I could feel his sorrow, his tension.
The Commander’s voice was a disgusted snarl. “Answer the Captain, you boor! What of her?”
For the Commander to have to repeat the Captain’s question, even once, was treacherous ground. To keep him waiting, to remain silent, was near suicide.
Please. Please. Please. I was chanting the prayer under my breath, willing father to cooperate. To succumb to their power play.
“She is deceased. We – I – have reported this to the State, Sir. I – I can present the documents.”
His mistake went unnoticed. The Commander turned on his heel, away from Father from what I could tell, and scoffed. “Is that why this house is so filthy? Your wench is only slightly more useless dead than she was alive.”
“Yes, Sir.” The control in father’s voice. For I, who knew him so well, it was the wavering voice of a man who could not endure much more. But it was controlled and steady to an unfamiliar ear. Subdued, just enough to be mistakenly considered respectful.
The Captain’s boots turned and marched out of sight from the furnace, and a moment later the walls rattled as he slammed the door with brute force.
“Get this damn place cleaned up. This land is not yours, rat. Should the King ever decide to want this forsaken hole – it shall be handed to him in a better condition than the sty of a pig! You will – ” The Commander’s voice trailed off, the crunch of his boots coming to a sudden stop as his pacing froze – “what is this?”