"The Court of the Kingdom of Loria
is now in session. Bring forth the presumed traitor."
The court looks on as the door to the cells opens with a slight creak. The crowd has heard whispers and rumours of the horrible criminal responsible for the bloody uprising in the southern Lorian Plain
these past few months, but now they were going to able to put a face and a name to the rebellion.
"Maybe he's a grizzled veteran of the De'arian wars," one older man in the crowd wonders aloud, turning to his wife, "all covered in scars and lacking any basic sense of kindness."
"I bet it's one of those short and bearded weddelar
." a pale moon elf
gentleman whispers to his manservant, spitting on the ground. "The dwarves have always been causing trouble."
The older woman that steps out of the door surprises everyone. She appears to be a simple human
of local origin, and she wears plain clothes and a masked expression. Her simple brown hair is tied in a bun behind her, and her tanned skin marks her as a farmer.
A bark-skinned forest elf
in the crowd yells out, "Who is this woman, and what is she doing here instead of the traitor?" His autumn-coloured hair shakes violently like a tree in a storm. A small chorus of like cries rise up around him, but they all eventually calm down as no one seems to pay attention over the scattered conversation.
The woman is unfazed by any of the jeering thrown at her. She takes her seat carefully, shifting her simple clothing as she gets comfortable for what could be a gruelling day or two of questioning. Despite the gravity of what is to come, her face seems to barely move.
Then the judge enters. A stocky and curmudgeonly gnome
of advanced age, he waddles across the raised platform, a small lawyer's sack attached to his belt. The moon elves didn't tend to trust the law of the land to any but their own, and the gnomes were mostly known for their inventions, so the sight of a distrusted smeloplar
is rather surprising. After a few moments, he climbs up to his raised podium and looks out at the crowd.
His gaze rests on the woman for a moment, studying her a little. He then scratches his head and brings out a wax-sealed scroll from his lawyer's sack. He breaks the purple seal, unfurls it, frowns visibly, and begins:
, you are hereby accused of theft, arson, aristocide, conspiracy against the King, conspiracy against the city of Paqueli
and rebellion." His eyes return to the woman. "Are you indeed the accused?"
A hush falls across the room as this woman, Émli, nods and says in a clear voice, "Yes, I am."
A couple of people yell obscenities at her from the gathered crowd, calling for her head right away, but they quiet down as the judge yells out for silence. Émli seems unaffected.
At this point, the darukhasi
lawyer representing the Kingdom of Loria steps up onto the platform. He is wearing the traditional white and black robes of his profession, which only accentuates the fiery red lines and coal-black colour of his race. He harrumphs audibly, then ties up his race's flame-like hair in a small bun so that it stays out of his face. An instant later, a smirk appears on his coal-black face as he comes right up to her.
"Hello, how are you today, Émli." the lawyer monotones. A formality, nothing more.
"I am doing very well, actually." Her face breaks out into a smile for the first time. The darukhasi lawyer smiles right back.
"Émli, you have quite the list of charges there. What do you have to say to that?" Ears perk up in the gathered mass of people, twenty-five thousand of various walks of life packed into this large room.
"I have a great many things to say." she replies. "Would you like that list chronologically or in order of importance?" Her smile widens, and the smirk on the lawyer's face twists slightly. The judge chuckles before regaining his composure.
"Hmm, how about chronologically?" He motions to the court scribe, and the thin young man immediately begins a new ream of parchment as Émli begins to tell the story of how she had ended up in this place.
* * *
I come from a small village just south of Paqueli
. It is called Viron
, and we have been blessed to be far from conflict. We have a small creek, a large castle owned by the Viróna family on the hill, and a tight-knit community. Besides the occasional squabble, nothing really goes amiss there.
It all began not long after my marriage. I was, contrary to the rumours, happily married; I had been married to my beloved Vankos Wafora
these last seventeen years without major issue, and we had gotten along very well. He is handsome and kind and very trustworthy. I wouldn't change him for the grace of all the Free Ones
. But this was when cracks began to form in our relationship, ones i doubt will ever truly heal.
It all started when newcomers came to town. A group of vidashlar
, er, halflings, had recently settled near the edge of our village earlier, just before the spring. I have nothing against them, and we invited them to our town meetings and plaid them visits. They were farmers as well, and their lands bordered our own. We had our own special visits every once in a while, and they were some of the kindest hosts that we had ever had the pleasure of meeting.
One day around harvest time, however, my husband returned from the fields. He is a gossip at heart; he wants to know all that happens in our little patch of earth. So it was no surprise to me that he came back in a strange mood. I could feel it in the air like a storm that begins to gather and starts to roll in.
"It's our neighbours." he says as he lays down his straw hat and his hoe with a bit of force. He rarely greets me properly, and I don't usually mind. "They've gone ahead and sold off their wheat today like I did."
"Good for them." I replied. They weren't expecting to sell their wheat for another few days, last I heard, so it was surprising to me. But my husband was, how to say it, less enthused.
"They sold their wheat for so much more than ours. I barely scraped a few copper stars per bushel, but they were selling theirs for a silver moon each!" I was a little taken aback by his sudden outburst. "Whatever they got, I want it. A friend of mine borrowed lots of their stalks when they weren't lookin', and I gave him some of ours. We'll see if their wheat is worth the talk!"
It took me a moment to realize why I found that unfair. That isn't to say that I was slow to understand, but rather that the entire mechanism was unfamiliar. I had never seen my husband so furious about another farmer before. But I wanted to make sure that I was correct before I started levelling accusations.
"Why were they selling it for more?" I said. "Did they use a special grain or sell it for more because they weren't sure how much to ask or...?"
"I'm not sure." Any smile that he had was quickly disappearing from Vankos's face. "They
said that it was because their grain was brought with them from their old village and that it was a hardier winter variety, but that doesn't add up to me. If it tastes the same once it's been made into bread, we'll know." He chuckled to himself. "That'll show them for trying to show us up on the most important day of the season."
"But if that's true, then it would be naturally worth more, dear. It's not that important."
"But what if everyone just buys their grain because it's a 'hardier winter variety' and we don't get our wheat sold with the next caravan? Or the next? What then?" When I didn't reply immediately, he repeated loudly, "WHAT THEN?"
I know exactly what he meant. The bane of the existence of every farmer who relies on the land for their livelihood is the worry of starvation. Of not having enough to pay the yearly taxes, to keep the young ones fed through the winter. One always heard stories of people getting so desperate for food that they would eat next year's seed, dooming their farm. Or even worse stories of creatures that devour those who wander too far into the forests, and how some people would wander in there so their family would have enough food to survive the winter.
So I naturally wanted to reassure my husband that we would not be treated in that way. "I understand, dear. But I don't believe you're going to find anything. Nothing helpful anyway. Unless you buy their grain and start selling it yourself..."
"It's not just the grain I'm worried about." he replied with a tense note in his voice. "I could care less about the grain. It's what it means for our reputation."
I scoffed, but thankfully he didn't hear me. "Our reputation as what, farmers? That's already established."
"No, our reputation as members of the community." He nearly knocked over a chair as he began to pace our small cottage. "As people who have worked this land for ages. We've wrung all of the love and life from the soil and put it all back year after year after year. And then some friendly halflings from another town nearby just get to come in and insert themselves in that and get their own land without having to even pay for it? And then make people pay more, not less, for grain that they brought with them? How is that fair?"
"They've worked just as hard-"
"They've worked here for less time than any of us! Why are they suddenly so special?"
"Because they are halflings who brought in a new type of wheat which may help us in the times to come? There is nothing wrong with that. If they need to make a few more silver coins to ensure a comfortable life for themselves-"
"Then why can't we? Why can't we all just raise our prices to meet them?" He looked astonished, as though the light of the Parchment-Bearer
had lit him up. "If we sell our wheat at a silver moon a bushel as well-"
"We'll promptly have no one to buy it because there is no clear reason for us to change the price." I was beginning to sense something in him that I hadn't seen in my husband up until that point.
At that, he stormed off, his hat thrown carelessly onto the floor. I don't know what I did to get him angry, as I don't recall doing anything specifically. I now understand the source of his vendetta, and I will get to that in time. But I distinctly recall the strange amount of suspicion that he had for our vidashlar neighbours. Why would he get so worked up over nothing?
Eventually, the halflings did make a good profit from their wheat, but they didn't get to celebrate long. Sure enough, Vankos's friend discovered that the halflings used the exact same kind of wheat that we had been using, or at least it tasted the same. My husband's friends were a bunch of hotheads and always have been, and they made the poor folks feel unwelcome. By the time spring rolled around again, they had left town, and we went about our lives.
* * *
"Point of order!" the darukhasi says as Émli finishes this part of her tale. "I don't see how this is relevant to the case. You have been accused of-"
"I am aware of what I am accused, good sir." Émli replies, cutting him off. "But I want to explain why I did what I did."
"So you admit that you committed all of the crimes that-"
"I will get to that." she interrupted. "Please let me continue and you will get something akin to a response."
At that, the lawyer sat back down in his chair and Émli continued her tale.
* * *
My husband returned to that anger a second night. This was about six years after the business with the halflings. It was going to be winter soon, and we were interested in getting the remaining winter wheat prepared and harvested before the snow came and buried everything. He had been busy all day collecting the remaining wheat, so he was tired and I had just started preparing our supper.
He then said, out of the blue, "Lord Viróna is planning on increasing our taxes again."
"Oh really, to how much?" It wasn't unusual, but we needed to be prepared regardless.
"Five silver moons a year."
I'm pretty sure I dropped my spoon into my soup when he said that. I remember the splash of hot liquid against my cheek, which only cooled as our conversation went on. I continued to ask about the reason for raises, but he couldn't answer. He got angrier and angrier, his ranting more and more incomprehensible.
"Why do we have to suffer as the lord increases our taxes? It's getting ridiculous now. And five silver moons is a rather large sum. We could make it as long as we sold off our excess wheat every season, but if the taxes went up again..."
But it was one thing he said that got me incredibly angry:
"It's almost like he doesn't live well enough, so he needs an excuse to make us pay. He'll say anything, the thief. 'Your lands have become incredibly valuable', 'Someone tried to attack my family this last spring and I need money to better train the guards.' Eventually he'll just be some other hoity-toity rich man who keeps asking us for money. As if he doesn't have enough already."
I don't remember my response to that, but he was right. I only began to understand how much later.
We were a little hungry that winter, as you can expect, but we evidently survived. Such is the life of a farmer; sometimes you do well and sometimes you do not. The Raging
brings his storms to wipe out your crop with hail, or there is a war that year and the excess wheat is needed to feed the soldiers, or a series of rainstorms make it so your wheat doesn't grow as tall. You are at the mercy of the elements.
But we had heard stories of those who do magic, those who wouldn't be so dependent on good weather. I had never encountered any magic, beyond that small happy surge that you feel when you are blessed by a priest. In our village, it was more like folklore. Obviously, for those of you living near the Air Train
tracks and in a city filled with potion shops, that does sound hard to believe.
One day, not long after the incident with the raised taxes, the village got wind of a druid deep within the forest who could help us with our crops. Or rather, my husband did. Again, he was the real gossiper between the two of us. We didn't really believe the tale at first, but we did believe the ones saying a colony of flesh-eating creatures lived in those woods. Obviously, we didn't want to take our chances in the forest, so we simply directed our efforts into the land.
But it wasn't long before one of our neighbours took the trek to see if it was true, but returned empty-handed. Then another went and did the same, then another. We were having a harsh year, and some of the farm folk were getting desperate. When tales of something that can erase your current woes comes to you, you cling to them like a rock. And many did.
That summer, we found out that one of our neighbours went and actually did find this druid. They were a plains elf
, to my recollection, all golden skin and pointed ears, and the neighbour brought him to their fields and told him to "fix" the damaged wheat.
We actually got to watch. News travels fast out there, and my husband is even faster. Before I even heard the words come out of his mouth, I was following him towards the hedge at the edge of our fields to where they bordered with this neighbour.
We watched as the druid came. He wore no clothes, or rather, he was all covered in vines, grass and tree branches to look like clothes. He seemed old, even for the incredibly slow-aging elves. As we gaped at him, he sat down in the centre of the field. He put out a few small items that we couldn't make out, and then he began meditating.
Then a large wave of force hit the plants and us, and before our very eyes, the snapped stalks and crushed kernels began to knit themselves back together, a small energy travelling through the ground and repairing every plant in sight. We couldn't believe it, and we just watched in awe as every single plant that was damaged was fixed. A few of the wheat plants on our side of the small hedge also were repaired.
That night, we went down to the centre of town along with a few others. It was the festival of Storm's Light
, and we were drinking and carousing with our friends and neighbours. Vankos was there, and he decided to drink the local beer quite heavily. Normally, I would be the voice of caution here, knowing that he was very angry whenever he got drunk. That night, however, I was silent as he got up and left us at the main tables.
For some reason, my husband got it into his head to go and see this neighbour who had hired the druid. I still don't understand why he felt the need to go see him at a celebratory festival, of all times. There were village meetings for a reason.
Despite any misgivings that I had, though, I watched as my husband, my beloved husband, went over to this dear neighbour and punched him in the face. Our neighbour, whose name is Jéralt as I've just remembered, staggered backward, falling against a table. The crowd of people who had gathered for the festival looked on in pity as Vankos began to shout things at him. They were such horrible things that I wouldn't dare repeat them even in a court of law. It was like he was possessed, and the priest of Zégol
for our town went to check for that very thing once his rant was over.
Once again, I heard my husband say something that has ingrained itself into my brain for all eternity. When I die and am sent to the White Halls
, the gods will find it tattooed on my skull, I'm sure.
He said, "Why do you get to have all of the good luck? Why do us hard-working and respectable farmers do our jobs and put our hands into the soil to make ends meet, and you get to go to a knackin' druid and get your problems magically solved? How much did you pay him?" When Jéralt didn't immediately reply, my husband yelled it again mere thumbwidths from his face.
I didn't catch what Jéralt said in response exactly, but whatever it was was enough to get my husband to let go of him, spit on the ground in front of him, and then walk away. He was nearly immediately seized by the local guard, and he spent a night in the lord's dungeon for his conduct.
But it was never about luck. I went to talk to Jéralt the following morning (without my husband's knowledge) and saw him once again talking to the druid. I didn't see what had happened, but Jéralt was clearly unhappy about something.
I carefully stepped over the hedge to chat with him, and he saw me coming. I could see him eyeing the door of his house. I reassured him, "I want to apologize for my husband's actions last night." I could see him relax. "He was very drunk and you definitely don't deserve that kind of treatment."
"Of course not." he replied curtly. "But it was worth it for these repaired fields. Bruises heal, but starvation won't." While I had heard that phrase invoked before, never had I heard it referring to a physical attack instead of a cut thumb from a tool while gardening.
"So, the druid-" at which point Jéralt quickly began to turn away. "No! I simply wanted to know if there was a deal involved or something. Did you pay him or...?!" He began to walk away very quickly, and I kept raising my voice so that he could hear me.
"No!" he yelled over his shoulder as he went inside his cottage and slammed the door shut behind him.
No? There wasn't a deal? The druid had simply done it out of the kindness of his heart? Why? These questions followed me for the rest of the summer. I couldn't believe it, simply put. Why would someone do something for free? Especially something so crucial for the life of a farmer? Why not do it for everyone then? I couldn't wrap my head around it.
Eventually, I forgot about Jéralt and the druid, and my husband didn't remember a thing from that night anyways.
* * *
"Please, can we get to the lord?" the lawyer says, stifling a yawn. "He's dead, you know. That's why you're here, among a great many other things. Why did you try to kill your lord?"
"I'm getting there!" Émli says, jumping to her feet and pointing at him accusatorially. "I will tell my story without your snide commentary, even if I am here all day!"
In that moment, everyone understands why she had decided to lead this rebellion, if it even is her in charge. Whispers had already run through the crowd that her husband must be to blame, and that he had let her be captured to stand trial in his place. But as the last word left her mouth, they understand.
The entire time she has been telling her story, the crowd had seen the farmer's wife, dutifully doing what she was told. Now they see the rebel. And it's not a scary person with scars or a helpless minority or a whole swath of other things. It's just a simple woman.
She goes on. The lawyer is now very upright in his chair, the hair on his head doing a menacing and fiery dance.
* * *
You want to hear about the lord? I will get to him in due time. His part of this story is soon. But, first, there was the problem with the lord's daughter.
I didn't see the lord's daughter very often. She would stand by her father on major holidays or in parades. But otherwise she tended to stay to the castle and very rarely went out. The only other time that I had seen her before this incident was when I bumped into her at the local tavern when she was talking to a couple of local guards. I doubted that she even knew my name; I mean, I only barely remembered hers.
We were cleaning up some remaining chaff in the fields one day. Me and my husband were chatting amicably that morning about the weather. I remember that there had been a significant rain storm the night before which caused the ground to squelch beneath our boots. My husband was cut off mid-sentence when we heard a horrible sound coming from the nearby forest. It was a cross between a growl, a howl and a laugh. It chilled me and my husband to the bone. But it wasn't nearly as frightening as what came out of the forest as we turned towards the noise's source...
As we watched with horror, a group of horrid creatures broke from the forest's edge, scrambling towards us. They looked to be a mix between a dog and a person, with large slobbering mouths filled with pointed teeth. They were wearing random hides and carrying clubs that looked to be made of bones tied together with string. They took one look at us with their bright red eyes, and then they howled their blood-curdling howl another time.
We ran as fast as we could, but the creatures were much faster. I tripped over a stone near the entrance to our farms, and fell hard on my arm, snapping the bone and causing me to yelp in pain. Within a few moments, I could hear the creatures beginning to catch up to us, and my husband tried to drag me to my feet by my bad arm, which only made it worse.
I covered my body as best as I could, hoping that the creatures would kill me quickly. I didn't have hope of rescue.
A shadow passed in front of my closed eyes. I opened them to see a strange sight; the lord's daughter had immediately jumped between the two of us and the approaching monsters, wearing gleaming gold-inlay armour that must have cost a fortune. She stood there, her shield out and her longsword prepared to strike down any enemy who got too close. "Don't worry, my people, I will keep you safe!" One particularly quick monster got all the way to her side before she quickly tripped it up with her shield and cleanly sheared its head off.
As she looked behind her, I turned my head and saw two others running up the road towards our farm. One was a forest elf
of very young age, his flowers still uncut and his skin a vibrant green. Over his bark-like skin he wore a thin leather hide, and his speed was uncanny as he whipped past us. His weapon was a short bow, and a series of arrows magically appeared in front of him, fire lighting them up as he shot arrow after arrow.
They found their mark, but they didn't seem to slow down the horde. At least two dozen of the creatures were still running towards us, gleefully setting our home on fire. Spittle dribbled from their mouths, and the stench of rotten meat came from them like the smell of a midden.
Then the third member of their group ran forward. She was much shorter than average, a smile plastered to her lips. I recall she was dressed in regalia that reminded me of the monks that live in the hills north of Lorina
; bright reds and oranges with a thin lining of gold. She had no weapon in her hands, but as I watched, she jumped several strides into the air, then landed on one of them, her fists glowing like hot coals as she pummelled the creature.
Between the three of them, they quickly did in the remaining creatures, with a couple of them whimpering and running back into the forest. While the robed woman looked like she was about to run in after them, I watched as the lord's daughter - Sora was her name, Sora Viróna - ran out and grabbed the woman's fist, wincing a little as the bright light dimmed and went out.
The elf immediately sat down next to me. "I am very sorry for the destruction caused to your land. Can I help you with that?" He pointed to my arm. Without even waiting for a response, he passed his hand over the wound. I felt a jolt and there was a horrid sucking sound as the bone went back into place. He chanted lightly to himself and the wound healed over, then disappeared entirely. My husband helped me to my feet again, this time with more success.
Sora and the robed woman talked briefly before returning to the three of us by the farm gate. "Gnolls
!" Sora sighed as she got within talking range. "Oh how I hate them! Peasants, how do you fare?" I wasn't sure what she meant at first, as I was still getting over the fact my arm injury disappeared in an instant.
"We would be doing a lot better if our house were not in flames." my husband replied coolly. His eyes were trained on the burning wreckage of our home, and I felt my eyes glide over the trampled chaff all over the fields. Thankfully the creatures hadn't sliced open a bushel or stolen anything, but the sight was still devastating.
"Just be thankful that you're still alive." the robed woman said in a foreign accent. "There's a lot of people in the region who weren't even that lucky." She wiped a little blood from her mouth and played with the fabric of her robe.
"Talk to my father." Sora said as she turned her eyes to the woods. "He'll make sure that you're taken care of. I'm sorry that they came through here and not through other, less damaging corridors."
That made me pause. "There was a plan?" I asked, with a quiver in my voice. After all, she was still the lord's daughter. I couldn't just curse her out like a drunkard. "You didn't think they would go for a farm?"
The robed woman interrupted. "Yeah, the f-" She cut herself off when the elf gave her a stern look. She sighed and continued, "-the gnolls were supposed to go along the old bridge at the edge of town. That's where the rest of the guard are, but they must have crossed the river at another point, throwing our entire strategy to the winds." She then looked a little forlornly at the cottage.
"Just see my father. He'll make sure that you're compensated for this." Sora then took another look at the woods. "There are more of them in there, I'm sure of it."
By this point, I was getting tired of their talk about strategy, and my husband was beginning to cry as he saw the roof finally collapse on what remained of our home. So we dryly bid the three of them good day and went to see Lord Viróna in town.
By the time we got there, we found a few others milling about. The gnolls hadn't apparently stopped with just our farm; a couple of other nearby farms had been set aflame as they retreated back into the village. We all were trying to get into the manor to talk with Lord Viróna, but the guards simply blocked our way.
After nearly an hour of impatient waiting, the lord finally arrived. He was dressed in his armour and had his family sword belted to his side. He looked as though he was planning to go and fight himself, which wasn't his usual attitude. At this point, we began to make up a large number, as more and more onlookers saw us in front of the lord's house. By the time the lord actually reached the gates, there were two dozen of us standing around them.
He seemed surprised, although that didn't make sense considering his military regalia. The guards moved to open the gates to let him through, but he held up a hand to halt them.
"My people, what on the green surface of Orkanis brings you to my manor on this day?"
I immediately shouted back, "My farm got burned down by gnolls, sire! It was terrible, and Sora-"
At that, the lord swivelled his head with almost unnatural speed to look me straight in the eye. "Sora is no longer my daughter. She does not speak for me."
This was a shock, as she had been by his side for a village wedding not even a fortnight ago. "But she-"
"She does not speak for me!" His face was becoming redder by the second. "If she has mentioned receiving compensation, she was mistaken! While I might be open to the idea, any promises she gave-"
This caused an uproar in the crowd, which was still swelling in size. A couple of loud voices were able to drown my own out, and eventually I rattled my fist on the gates to get their attention. But this only caused the guards to lower their spears in my direction and cause the voices to get even louder.
"I will not tolerate being bullied for giving compensation like some lowly sellsword! If you do not get away from my gates this instant, I will throw you all in jail!" And the guards began to point their spears with more determination.
So we all began to climb down the hill, our heads held low and muttering to ourselves. With a quick glance over my shoulder, I could see the lord return to his home and the guards begin to resume their watch as if nothing had happened.
It was another few moments before I realized that the lord hadn't prepared for the battle with the gnolls. He had prepared for battle with us.
* * *
"So you're saying that you didn't attack the lord?" The lawyer got up from his chair, taking a quick glance outside at the twilight sun. "Instead, it was his wayward daughter, or another disgruntled villager? Maybe even your husband?" He laughed. "How original. Pinning the blame on someone else."
Émli didn't say a word, and instead gave a long glare.
"Well? Answer the question." The lawyer grinned, as if to say Aha!
"It was not another villager or my husband. I will get there shortly, dear." She glanced at the late day sun as well. "Our time in the court today is drawing to an end."
"Well? Don't wait for me." The darukhasi lawyer sat back down in a huff. "Please finish, Émli. I'm dying to find out how it ends."
* * *
That night, me and my husband went home completely frustrated. It seemed like the lord had jumped on the first excuse he could get to force us to leave. And what he had said got us so confused we went back to our farm before we remembered that it had just burned down earlier that day. Thankfully, Jéralt's family was able to take us in for the night at least.
We slept fitfully, and I eventually gave up on trying to rest once daybreak reached the horizon. I decided to scavenge in the ruins of our farm. The morning dew made it look like the scorched wood had also frozen overnight. The chaff was still trampled into the ground, and I noticed that one of the bushels near the farm gate had disappeared overnight.
There was a reason for all of this misery. If I were more religious, I would say that the Trickster
had played his greatest joke on me and my husband, or that I hadn't given the Sword-Swinger
enough praise and so war had come to my door. If I were as learned as I am now, I would likely not have stayed there, as the pre-dawn darkness was not the safest time to be outside in the current conflict. If I had thought hard enough of the good things in my life, I might have even have been able to distract myself long enough to no longer care about what was now in front of my eyes. In short, I had a lot of ways out of my current worries.
But something deep inside kept egging me on. Maybe it was any or all of those things, but then I came across a few small scattered boxes in the ruins that were undamaged. I nearly cried; something had survived after all.I opened them, and they were flour, salted meats, and a couple of vegetables. Enough for a couple of days, but only barely.
But my eyes really glowed when I opened the last one. It was filled with copper stars. At least a few dozen, with a couple of silver moons for good measure.
That was when it finally dawned on me. The reason I had suffered so much, had seen so little good luck in my life.
When my husband chased out those poor halfling farmers, what had he initially worried about? That they would have made more money than us for the same or less work. Chasing them out hadn't helped our fortunes one bit.
When the lord raised our taxes that one winter, why had he done it? That question I did not have the answer to, but he was certainly motivated by wealth. And the cost to keep the farm going had only gotten higher and higher, with no end in sight.
When the druid had come to Jéralt's farm, he had performed a miracle without needing to be paid. He had even refused to be paid, I'm fairly sure. And my husband decided to pay back the druid's kindness to our neighbour by hurting Jéralt and preventing the druid from ever wanting to come back.
When we went to the lord to get recompense for the destruction of our farmland, he was quick to disown his own daughter so that he could keep his money and estate intact. In addition, he went so far as to threaten us so that we wouldn't want to go against him again.
When we went to visit the vidashlar, did we ever talk about money? No, we talked about good cheer and happy times and the good that the community had done for us.
When Lord Viróna raised our taxes, we worked a little harder, and helped out those who needed a little extra money to get by.
When the druid saw the sad state of Jéralt's fields, he must have decided that making this man pay more was simply an expense he couldn't afford. Any self-respecting druid would have been interested in repairing fields and farmland regardless of payment, in my opinion.
In addition, despite all the horrid things my husband had said to Jéralt, our neighbour welcomed us with open arms.
When our farm burned down the previous day, what was the first thing my husband worried about? Me. Not this cache of money that he had slowly accumulated over the years that we had been together.
Family and community.
They had gotten us through worse times in the past, and they would likely help us in our current need.
It must have been hours of randomly searching in vain. I didn't find much that was salvageable while all this swirled in my mind.
It was a few moments before I saw my husband had sat down next to me. "I was thinking, we could always move somewhere else-" he began, but then I put my finger to my lips.
"No more talking, please. Talking hasn't done much for us."
"Talking's all we've got, my love. We don't have magic arrows or glowing fists or shiny armour to use against our enemies."
"And why do you think that it is? What's stopping us from going and taking what we need? There's how many people in the village and how many of them are guards? Lord Viróna is our enemy now, whether we realize it or not. He always has been."
"But that's treason, love." He seemed genuinely worried. "People have been hanged or thrown off of cliffs for less."
"I know. But what other choices do we have? We have almost nothing!" I showed him the box with the coins inside and emptied it onto the ground. "And for what?! So that he can live in his mansion without having to care about us?!"
* * *
"Don't you see?" At this, Émli jumps up from her chair for the second time, and the lawyer is so startled that his chair falls back with a clatter. Fifty thousand eyes look to her in that moment, desperately trying to see what she is seeing. Without even trying to stop her, one can see the guards hop from foot to foot uncertainly as she stands up and walks right to the edge of the platform. The judge's stoic frown breaks into a smile of relief.
Up until this point, her voice had been a clear one, and there was a strength in it. She has played her part as the farmer's wife, for better or worse. But as she strides forward and addresses the crowded thousands that have come to see her trial. She raises her arms and exclaims as loud as she can:
"For millennia, we have been silently protecting a horrible disease at the heart of our world. It eats at our table, and it gets fatter and fatter, bigger and bigger until it takes up the entire room and we all suffocate to death. It devours our bread and weighs down our backs and clouds our minds. We get cut and we bleed; we cut this creature and coins spill out. But touch a single shiny copper star and you will have the very same corruption as it. It will eat away at your family, your friends, your communities. And once it has consumed your entire village, it will move on to the next, and the next, and the next!
"The day I said 'no more' was the day that I lost my dear husband." A single tear goes down her cheek, but she loses none of her fire. "He couldn't see what was right in front of him, and when I didn't recant my notions of a better world, he sold me out to the lord for money. The irony that the very thing that I had fought against was the thing that consumed him too. I haven't seen him since.
"Lord Viróna wouldn't see me that day, so I came back the next morning to find a warrant for my arrest and two guards quick to cash it in. But my community that I had relied on came to my aid. They stormed the lord's castle before I could even be brought before the lord, and they freed me then as they always will. Because community is stronger than the weak threads of debt and ownership.
"Remember when we are told by the priests when we are little that Getranus
is the god of trade, not the god of money? This is what they meant. Our world has been corrupted by the pursuit of wealth. Coins, jewels, favours and anything else that the lords and ladies of the world can hold just out of our reach while saying that if jump a little higher, we might get there some day.
"We have spent so long gathering grain and laying bricks. Doing the work of keeping the world running and keeping the lords in power. We toil day in and day out. We can't get sick, as we need to work to survive. We are expected to keep everything running smoothly, not put so much as a fingernail out of line.
"Have you ever stopped to wonder about the lives of those who have more? They live in their fancy mansions, or their rich apartments, or travelling the roads and sea routes of the world. They eat from silver plates while we eat with our bare hands. They get to travel the world while we are forced to stay at home to work. They get to have the armour and weapons and profit from their use, while we simply make them and are killed by them!"
A low murmur begins in the crowd, and some people begin making their way to the exit. "They're just afraid of what comes next." one says. "Bunch of sympathizers." another contradicts. But everyone can still hear Émli regardless of the murmurs of these people.
"Do they deserve to not have to lift a finger while we have almost nothing?" A few scattered no's go through the crowd.
"To satisfy your curiosity, sir lawyer," she says, turning to the stunned darukhasi on the ground near his fallen chair, "I did in fact kill my lord." He gasps audibly. "I did it with pleasure. But how can you say that I was wrong? How many hundreds of others have died or have been murdered so that he could keep his bloodied money? How many others have never gotten the opportunities that I have had, or the abilities that those so-called 'heroes' have, because they were simply too poor?
"He doesn't even need the vast majority of it! He wouldn't even notice its absence. He cannot pave his way to the White Halls with gold, as all people of religion know. But instead of giving his money away, he hoards it like a jealous dragon. He wars with his neighbours so that he can get more land or more fame."
A few small shouts in the crowd get louder. They agree with her, and they support her. A few gathered guards swarm the crowd trying to arrest them, but instead of hiding, they get louder and louder. A few them start chanting her name, but then they suddenly duck down and begin to weave through the crowd.
"You work your entire life just to be thrown to the side the second you want to be treated like a person! And you are willing to take that punishment, that torture? You want to uphold the slavery that keeps you trapped in your slums and tied to your fields? If you decide that licking the boots of your masters is a better way to live, what does that make you?"
"Cowards!" A few voices yell in the crowd, and they are quickly shoved to the ground by a small contingent of guards. At this point, this group of guards begins to push and punch through the crowd to get to the stage. The entire time that she has been standing on the stage, the two guards that had followed her in have not budged from their posts on either side. The second the guards in the crowd look like they might make it, the two guards draw their swords and block their path.
"They would sell your souls to the devils if it made them even the slightest bit richer! If you protect them, you only make it even easier for them to kill you! You need to stand up and fight! It's the only way to keep yourself from joining the hundreds of skulls they will crush under their feet when they next do war!"
She then jumped on top of her chair, balancing as the poorly made wooden seat wobbled back and forth. She then reached out her hand and pointed at the doors to the courtroom.Her two defenders allow her a moment's reprieve before the guards begin to swarm the stage. Before they cut her down, Émli Wafora yells out one last battle cry:
"Your real fight is out there, people of Loria! Go forth, for freedom!" Then, her two guards are cut down and the guards swarm the stage. No one sees her fall, but no one is in doubt that she has.
As a twenty-five thousand heads turn to look at the doors, following her last wish, they notice they are open. They have been expressly closed for the duration of the trial, in accordance with custom. Despite this, looking out into the early evening light, it is brighter than they had expected. That is because the skies outside of the city of Lerdelore are alight with the lights of thousands of torches. While Émli might have been there for her trial, her followers haven't been idle in her absence.
And the night went alive with the sounds of hundreds, thousands of cheers.
Note: This fictionalized account of the Farmer's Rebellion of 4E 338 is expressly banned in the Kingdom of Loria, and anyone caught carrying a copy of this story will be expressly sent to the stockade. The book will be burned and any references to its contents will be met with force. Anyone caught reading it publicly will meet the same grisly end as Émli Wafora and her traitorous followers. Blessed as he is by the light of the Star Mother, all people who oppose the King are against Her as well.