NaNoWriMo – Cracks and Cruelty

Throughout November I’ll be concentrating my posts on Welcome to the Valleys in honor of NaNoWriMo. If you’d like to catch up on this story, the first post of this story can be found at this link

Welcome to the Valleys Cover“All right son, let’s get you up.” Michael carefully lifted Jeremy up from the pavement and set him on his feet. He then walked over to one of the pack horses and retrieved a water bottle, which he offered to the youth, which Jeremy gratefully accepted.

“Thanks.”

“It’s the very least I can do.”

“I don’t see why you’d say something like that. It seems all I see around The Valleys is doom.”

“And yet you seem determined to help us avoid that doom, even though you don’t seem to know this place at all.”

“What else can I do?”

Michael chuckled as the party began moving once more. “There is much else you could do! In the Inner Valleys most youths your age are barely settling in to apprenticeships. Many have no concern for the well-being of our society at all. And yet you, who knows nothing of our people, weigh yourself down with our plight. It is a special burden you carry, Jeremy, and I am honored to assist you as you carry it.”

“I… I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

“As I said, the honor is mine.”

The continued on in silence for a time after this conversation. Walter didn’t seem to want to speak after his declaration about running out of time, and Ama appeared to be lost in her own thoughts. Jeremy, who’s head was still throbbing from his violent experience of the colors, didn’t have the energy to speak much. Michael seemed content to watch the road, both ahead and behind the party, as if searching for potential trouble. Jeremy wasn’t sure what trouble might put the old guard on the lookout, but he was certain he didn’t want to find out. As they travelled in silence and the minutes began to add up, the guard’s vigilance began to make Jeremy uneasy.

“Michael?”

“Yes, Jeremy?”

“What are you looking for on the road?”

Michael smiled. “Nothing specific. As an old guard, though, I tend to watch for trouble when I travel. There’s not much between here and Meadow Run and sometimes people like to take advantage of the seclusion to help themselves to some quickly attained wealth.”

Jeremy had said he though the Inner Valleys were rotten, but the prospect of bandits on the road seemed almost impossible. The Inner Valleys were so crowded, and it’s guards were everywhere. He couldn’t imagine such an endeavor managing to work in such an environment.

How would people be able to get away with something like that here? There’s so many people, and it seems like every bit of space in the whole of the Inner Valley has been claimed!”

Michael chuckled softly, which caused Jeremy to frown slightly.

“Oh no, please, I do not mean to make light of your words. It just that you’ve seen so little of the Inner Valleys, and almost all of it along The Boulevard. There are still many places which have not been cultivated like the fields and orchards through which we are passing.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. The mountains through which The Boulevard flows aren’t very far way and have a long reach into the Inner Valleys. The ground is too rocky for farming, and too wooded to bother clearing for animals. There are a few small settlements dotting that area, away from the roadways and the reach of the guards. Many who live there turn to banditry when times are rough.”

“And beyond Meadow Run, lad, is a swampy jungle, through which only a narrow path travels. Some folks hide in the dry patches in there, far away from the Senate and their guards.”

“Why would people want to live like that?”

“Well, lad, you’ve seen what the Inner Valleys can be like. For a lot of people, most people in fact, it’s not a bad place to live. But if your family gets into debt, or you get on the wrong side of a senatorial lineage, or if you’re a child whose parents can’t arrange a suitable apprenticeship on your behalf – well, things can get a bit rough.”

“What happens to them?”

Michael frowned. “They become non-persons.”

“What?”

“Non-persons, lad. People who aren’t part of the ‘great civilization of The Valleys’ and therefor can’t really be people. Mostly they’re tolerated, but occasionally you get some folks who think they need to be brought into line. At least, it used to be that way. Out where I’ve been living by The Coast everyone is technically a non-person, and no one’s ever bothered us.”

“Sadly, Walter, it has not changed much since your departure. If anything, Senators like Merkot have made life worse for non-persons all over the Inner Valleys.”

“And let me guess, the more he’s tried to push them out, the worse banditry has gotten?”

Michael grunted. “It’s not information that is widely shared, but that is the case. Despite what young Jeremy may have concluded from his experiences here, there are not many guards in the Inner Valleys. When a Run is given orders to push out non-persons from their settlements there is often a response which we are not able to prevent.”

“I figured.”

“You show remarkable insight, Walter.”

Ama laughed. “Don’t be too impressed, Michael. I am privy to the guard reports sent to the council of Water Gap, which I have been passing on to Walter for years.”

Something about this didn’t sit well with Jeremy, “Walter, I thought you didn’t know what was happening in the Inner Valleys? If Ama’s been sending you reports, how come you didn’t know what Senator Merkot was doing with the guards?”

“The reports sent out to the various councils are very narrow in focus, Jeremy. They merely contain action reports and reports of incidents, as these are enough to show councils what trends there are in criminal activity.”

“Michael’s right. I’m not proud to say it, lad, but Merkot going after non-persons didn’t strike me as odd. It’s wrong, but not odd. It’s what he’s always done.”

“But…”

“Lad, I’m sorry, but even though there was a bit more of a push against non-persons lately it wasn’t unexpected. Merkot goes through seasons where he gets it in his mind to push non-persons completely out of the Inner Valleys. He spends a few months chasing them around, the non-persons hide for a while, and then they push back in their own way. He doesn’t kill them, and usually even leaves their settlements in tact. He changed neither his practice nor his intensity, just his frequency.”

“I just can’t believe someone would treat people like that.”

“People can be cruel, lad. And people in power, even if they are truly well-intentioned, can be more cruel than most.”

Jeremy shrugged, but otherwise didn’t respond to Walter’s comment. Ama, noticing his distress, attempted to spur him to speak his heart. “Jeremy this is bothering you deeply, I can tell. Can you say why?”

Jeremy shrugged again, but managed to speak. “I guess it’s because I’m pretty much a non-person.”

“Jeremy, lad, you’re about the most un-non-person currently in The Valleys! You make the stone glow, you see the colors, you recognize the touch of healers. You’re about the most “Valley” of all the people living here!”

“And what if it wasn’t you who met me along the road, Walter? What if someone else showed up and turned me over to a guard who didn’t bring me to Ama? Would I have ever seen a set of stones, much less caused them to grow? Would I have ever been around a healer who took such an interest in me so my ‘gifts’ could be spotted? Or would I have just been another non-person? I can’t remember anything except my name, I’m the definition of someone who isn’t part of, how did you put it? ‘The great civilization of The Valleys.”

Walter closed his eyes as he walked and slowly shook his head. “Lad, I’m sorry. I should have realized.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“No Jeremy, it does. You are right in that you are not part of The Valleys. Not even in the tentative way non-persons themselves are part of our society. They may live on the fringes, but they are our fringes and will always remain connected to the whole. You, however, truly come from outside, and you see the cracks and cruelty of our society in a way we who have lived here do not. We are accustomed to them, after all. For you, they are all new.”

Michael squeezed Jeremy’s shoulder. “I told you, you carry a special burden. Ama has unmasked that burden in a way my clumsy words could never achieve.”

Ama raised her eyebrows. “A special burden? I think that is a beautiful way to describe young Jeremy’s plight.”

“Yah, well, if you all look forward I’m afraid Jeremy’s ‘special burden’ is coming up at us along the road, at speed.”

Walter pointed forward along the road, where they could see two uniformed individuals riding up the road toward their party. They were some distance away, but it was already clear the guards were not pleased.

“Cracks and cruelty. Why did I ever come back?”

2 Comments

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  1. Walter, you know you couldn’t do any other thing but come back. It’s your calling,

    Sent from my iPad

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