Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Untitled Story, 1st installment

       It had begun with the best of intentions. A small village with only the most rudimentary government and a major road running through it; they needed protection, and no one would do it but themselves. So, they organized a civilian’s militia whose job it was to protect the village and the people in it.
       Of course, "village" refers not just to the village proper with the inn and the tavern and the village square, but the outlying farms as well—which meant that the job of protection was a full-time job. Unsubsidized, the men of the militia depended on the generosity of the people they protected for food for themselves and money for their families, who themselves were farmers or tradesmen of the village, left without the man of the house who was, traditionally, the primary workhorse. These men were vigilantes and their only objective was the safety of the persons and prosperity of the village, and regrettably had to take extreme measures from time to time to ensure that safety.
       This was all well and good, and was actually quite effective in keeping the village safe for about 40 years.
       That was when things began to change.
       The streets were no longer pounded dirt but cobblestone, which was beautiful when it was new but had since become chipped and broken after years of neglect. Mud oozed up from the spaces between the stones and the sharp edges proved hazardous to the village children, who regrettably had few other places to play since the green had dried up. No one lit the lamps after dark; in fact, when an enterprising citizen scrambled up and lit the lamp himself, the wind soon snuffed it out since the glass funnel had long since been broken. Those who prowled the streets at night preferred the dark, and they kept it that way.
       The typical youth of the village chafed against the stifling curfew of violence. As one might imagine, there was little for the youth to do, but they still wanted to be out from under their parents’ eyes for their trysts and romances. On occasion, a brave couple would venture out after dark, assuming more than hoping that the Enforcers would be elsewhere while they kissed and groped and attempted some level of intimacy; a bright light in the darkness of the oppression that hung over the village like a cloud.
       The couples who were found by the Enforcers never ventured out after dark again.
       A pair of feet cruelly pinned her wrists to the cobblestones. A dirty handkerchief was stuffed in her mouth. The boy she'd stepped out with, Thomas, was nowhere to be seen, but she kept hearing disturbing, meaty sounds and muffled cries. However upsetting that was, she couldn't spare room in her brain to think about that, as the men who were pushing up her skirts and wrenching her legs apart were a bit more pressing on her mind. She knew what was coming, she had heard the stories, but she had never really believed that it could happen to her. Tears streamed down her face, running into her ears and hair, blurring her vision. She was unmercifully sealed into a world where the primary sensory input was pain and violation. Their hands were rough where she was delicate and they furthered this indignity by being disgusting pigs of men: clearing their throats and spitting on the cobblestones by her head, laughing at comments unheard, rubbing their saliva on her. She kept her jaws clenched as tightly as the handkerchief allowed. If she could just keep her anguish inside, she would have one small victory over these thugs.
       However strong her resolve, though, when the first of the men shoved his way into her, she released a low, tortured moan. She wasn't sure if she was relieved or further humiliated that no one seemed to care that she had lost her last bit of control. It was only the most minor of concerns, though, compared to the feeling of her body seeming to tear and rend apart under the influence of this man’s exertions. She sobbed and tried to fill her head with something to drown out the pain.
       The first man finished with her. There were three others.
       An hour or more later, they left her in the alleyway, her dress torn and muddy, hair matted, blood on her thighs. They told her that she should tell her parents to upgrade their protection package. She couldn't stand. Thomas was never the same. His thoughts were slightly slower, and he was more likely to laugh at inappropriate times.
       They walked the streets, looking for supple young flesh or vulnerable purses. The Enforcers were now the village council's subsidized police force. They were still effective at protecting the village from bandits, though they rarely made rounds out to the outlying farms anymore; which, if you asked the farmers, wasn't necessarily a bad thing. They also kept the crime rate down; mainly by declaring their own activities not crime. The council lived in fear of the Enforcers as much as any of the other villagers. This system was what had grown out of the vigilante citizen's militia passed down from father to son two or three generations ago, degenerating into thugs as the need for their services had decreased and their personal loyalty to the people had disappeared. It had become "just a job," and a poorly paying job at that, and the Enforcers had decided to take all they could get, whenever they could get it. And, following that, the job they were supposed to be performing fell to the wayside, all pretenses of legitimacy disappeared, and they were predators, rabid animals with no higher power in the village to keep them in check.
       The villagers despaired; peaceful people by nature, craftsmen and farmers, with no training in personal defense beside the inevitable brute force of people who reap wheat and slaughter animals by the power of their own two hands. They couldn't leave their homes, their farms, and their trades; they couldn't feel safe here in the village. They were mistrustful of any organized effort to oust the Enforcers, because vigilantism is what had gotten them into this situation to begin with. So, they huddled in their homes, trembling at the thought of not being able to pay their protection money, nervous when their children were unaccounted for for even a few minutes, and praying to the ever-more-vengeful gods that the world would become a better place.
       Who knows? Maybe the gods even heard.
       Of course, during the day the village was not such a dire place. It had an active monthly marketplace with thriving trade. Apple brandy, fresh-baked honeybuns and farm-fresh vegetables and fruits were the perfect refreshments for those who attended the market looking for shoes, clothing, and other goods. Children ran and played together, underfoot in the most welcome way, and more distant neighbors took the opportunity to catch up on family news. Village state of affairs was staunchly avoided as a conversation topic as some of the tavern owners did their best to redistribute the wealth that the Enforcers bestowed upon them through their libations each and every night. The more socially conscious of them quietly overpaid for their purchases; the others simply bought everything they thought they might have any chance of needing over the next month or so. Through this crowd, a farmer's son wandered.
       This farmer's son was no longer a boy to play with the others underfoot, but not yet a man with his own family and land. Still sheltered from the realities of the village law enforcement and living far enough from the village to have suffered few ill effects from the Enforcers, he had dreams of justice, law, and standing up for the underdogs. His older brother was looking forward to inheriting the farm and would be an excellent farmer to follow his father; he himself had grander dreams.
       "Duncan! Duncan, come play!" screamed his little sister, Elsie. Still young enough to wear her hair loose and run with the other little boys and girls, Elsie was a gorgeous girl. Unlike other younger sisters, she was pleasant to be around, always cheerful and friendly, oddly insightful for a girl her age but not so mature as to be unsettling. Duncan did not pick up on the way the adults regarded her with apprehension and protectiveness. He didn't know, yet, what dangers could threaten her sweet innocence.