Fiction Tuesday – Gateway

As they approached the opposite side of the bridge, a uniformed man emerged from a near by guardhouse and indicated for the party to halt.

“State your business.”

Ama responded first, “Healer Ama, from Water Gap. I’m traveling to the Ravine on a matter of some urgency.”

The man nodded. Then glanced at Walter and Jeremy with a general sneer. Addressing Ama he spoke, “And… these?”

Ignoring the snub, Walter responded. “My name is Walter, a trader from the Coast. Here to ply my wares.” He moved behind Jeremy and placed his hands on the youth’s shoulders. “This is my apprentice, Jeremy.”

Not knowing how he was supposed to respond, Jeremy gave the guard a weak smile and said, “Hello.”

The guard acknowledged neither Jeremy nor Walter’s words, except to say, “All goods entering through the tunnel as subject to inspection, please step aside.”

Walter, however, didn’t move. “I know of no such regulation. My goods have never been subject to inspection.” He turned to Ama, “Ama, did you know about this?”

Ama shook her head and made to respond, but the guard cut in front of her before she could speak. “Where do you get off addressing a healer in that familiar manner, Coastlander? You’ve got a lot of nerve, talking to her like a friend and contradicting me! If I say your goods are subject to inspection, they are subject to inspection. Now move aside, or I’ll take your goods and toss you and your worthless apprentice into a holding cell!”

Walter’s face boiled with rage, but he stepped aside as the guard tossed open his containers and roughly tossed through the stored goods. He muttered to himself angrily as he move through, setting down several pieces of pottery so roughly they chipped on the stone pavement. Walter looked as though he would bite through is lip in rage, while Ama’s eyes were wide with indignation. Jeremy, who up to this point had found the people of The Valleys to be gracious and hospitable, was greatly afraid of what the guard might do.

“Oh ho, deepness! Now where did you get this?” The guard turned and held up a fist-sized chunk of rock. It had a deep color, like coal, but sparkled both brilliantly and independent of the sunlight. “This is evercoal. No way someone like you are trading this. It’s way above your status, old man. I’m afraid I’ll have to seize this as contraband.”

“Now see here!”

“No you see. You little Coastlanders think you can come in here to the Inner Valleys and make yourselves right at home, setting up shop and selling ill-gotten wares anywhere you please. Well, sorry old man, but that time’s over. I’ll let you keep your other junk, just so you can earn enough money to leave.” He held up the rock before Walter’s face, “I’ll keep this, just to remind the likes of you not to forget your place.”

“Gellen!” Another guard called from the gatehouse. “What are you doing?”

“Just teaching this Coastlander his place, sir.” He pointed to Ama and waved her on, “Sorry you had to witness that, healer. You’re free to go, these people won’t bother you any more.”

Ama again move to speak, but was cut off by the second guard. He was older than the first and, as he made is way over to their position, did not look pleased with his subordinate. “And who in the darkest woods of The Valleys told you this was part of the job description? Your job is to help travelers, all travelers. Besides, do you have any idea who your ‘showing his place?’”

Gellan sneered, “What? This vagabond?”

“That ‘vagabond,’ happens to be the Old Fox of the Ravine!”

Gellan turned and looked at Walter, appearing to see him for the first time. As Walter matched his stare in unhidden fury the color drained from Gellan’s face. He lowered the chunk of evercoal from Walter’s face and said, quietly, “Sorry, sir, I didn’t know.”

Walter was not feeling gracious. Snatching the rock from the man’s grasp he shouted as loudly as he could, “So what if you didn’t know! What, in all The Valleys, makes you think you have the right to do what you just did! I don’t care if a traveler is from the Coast, Woodhall, or some midget jungle homestead. You treat them with respect!”

Gellan lowered his eyes, “Sorry sir, we have orders.”

“Orders from whom? Your officer doesn’t think you have any orders which give you the right to harass travelers, so where do you think you got them?”

“Sir, the Senate passed an ordinance for the training school about inspecting travelers before entry…”

“Well you can stuff your ordinance down your gullet and choke. Get out of my sight!” Walter’s shout still echoed from the nearby buildings as Gellan hurried back to the guardhouse.

“I’m sorry, sir, a number of the newer recruits seem to think their uniform gives them a lot of power.” The second guard held out his hand to Walter, who took it. “My name is Michael, sir. You spoke at my school graduation back when I was a child. It is an honor to meet you, sir, please don’t let Gellan’s behavior lead you to think ill of us all?”

“Well, Michael, I am grateful for your intervention. A couple of more minutes with Gellan and he might have ended up needing my healer friend, here.” Michael turned to Ama, and gave a respectful nod.

Michael motioned to Gellan to raise the gate. After helping Walter repack his goods, he led the party through the guard post, from which the younger guard glared with resentment at the group. Ama paid special attention to the hostility. “Surely, officer, Gellan is a rarity among the guards.”

The guard sighed, “Sadly, healer, he is not uncommon enough. The newer recruits seem to share a genuine disdain and distrust for people from outside the Inner Valleys. Last week I had to stop a new guard from beating a traveler from Plantation, and even people from Water Gap are being detained for the most inane reasons.”

Ama looked genuine stunned, “When has this started? The council has heard nothing about this sort of treatment!”

“Not more than week or so ago. It started with these new recruits. They came with their bad attitudes, but some new directives on ‘public well-being’ got passed down and it seems they feel these new orders give them the right to be monsters.”

Walter grunted. “And the Senate is going along with this nonsense from public safety?”

“Sir, the Senate passed the ordinance for public safety.”

Walter rubbed his temples, “They’ve gone out of their minds. I mean, the Inner Valleys have always been snobbish, but treating people like this? That’s unthinkable!”

“Yes, sir. The officers are keeping these younger guards in check, but we can’t be everywhere.” He leaned in and whispered to Walter, “A lot of folks are getting angry, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“I can understand why! Am I to assume, then, that we can expect more of this treatment along the road.”

Michael nodded. “Normally, yes. Outsiders get stopped at random and sometimes get roughed up. I’ll pass word to the patrol officers that you’re on your way to The Ravine, though. They’ll make sure you get left alone.”

“That’s good for me, but what of everyone else? If people get treated like this much longer trade is going to dry up. Why bring goods to the Inner Valleys if you’ll only be treated with hostility?”

“Yes sir. That’s why I’m glad.”

“Glad for what?”

“That you’re back. Maybe you can bring folks back to their senses.”

One Comment

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  1. Jeremy just witness hostility and intercession in one experience. A soft word turns away rath.

    Sent from my iPad

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