“Thank you… *Ah*… I
“I can see…” He joked at first, but continued in a puzzled tone. “What on earth were you doing in the middle of nowhere by yourself? Were you mugged? Separated from your friends maybe?”
“No… I’m by myself.” I answered while still struggling to breath properly.
“Really?” He was surprised. “A small fox like yourself just waltzing around in this heat?”
I pulled my charcoal stained sleeves a bit lower and sunk a bit more inside the coat as he called me a fox. “Yeah… I’ve never been too good with people.”
He turned his head quizzically, then recollected himself. “Ah! Where are my manners? I’m Corporal Alex Smith of the seventh brigade of Zoja, you are?”
“Ah… Vernon… Just that.”
“No last name then? Not even a city of origin?” He questioned.
“My mother never had a last name, and I never knew my father… I used to live in Nihil, way up north… It’s one of the free city-states ruled by Nweila, so I doubt you’ve heard of it.” I was telling the truth… Just in case you’re curious, but I’ll leave the ‘who’s’ and ‘where’s’ for later.
“A black fox from the north, really?” I nervously assented with my head… The word fox still biting my ear and sending an unpleasant chill down my spine. “WOW! You’re really far from home little one… What brought you here?”
“No real reason.” And there truly wasn’t any… Can’t recollect why I started moving again, probably something bad scared me away.
“Really? You can be honest with me.” He doubted, yet I had nothing that could prove I was telling the truth other than my word, so I just shrugged. “I can’t believe that… You just went all this way with no real goal? You’re not going anywhere, you’re not trying to find anyone and you have no friends or companions?”
Those questions bothered me as I’m sure they’d bother anyone in my situation. ‘It’s not like it was my fault’ I thought, I was lost like that, it brought a heavy weight on my heart to have someone question me about it so I just dodged his eyes as to not show any expression.
“I see…” He seemed empathetic for a second before once again shooting a question. “How old are you?”
“I’m not a runaway kid, if that’s what you’re asking.” That question annoyed me to no end… Albeit, me saying that wasn’t exactly good for proof.
“I’m not…” He scratched behind his ear trying to figure me out. “… Aaand you’re not answering my question.”
“I’m twenty-seven.” I answered… Knowing exactly what he was going to say next.
“You don’t look like you’re twenty-seven.” He answered so sure of it, it was almost like an accusation.
“I’m just small…” All of these questions along with the headache started to take their toll on me, I was angsty enough as is, but having all of my faults being reminded was a pain in the ass. “I’m sorry, for causing problem to you guys, but I should get going.” I started to raise myself even though I was sore, and I finally managed to get a proper look outside.
There were around thirty or so other soldiers like him, all outfitted with proper armor, rifles, pistols and sword, the whole package really. It was clearly some sort escort, there were at least 4 other wagons that I could see, two ahead of us and one behind, but from where I was it was hard to properly tell what was being escorted.
It was also then that I noticed I was missing a few things, namely my backpack with all of my stuff in it and my googles who weren’t around my neck, Alex seemed to notice my concern as I searched for it and was quick to chime in. “The captain had someone check those, they will be returned to you once this is all done.”
The more I lingered there the less this felt like some soldiers helping a citizen in need and the more it felt like a shakedown. “And when will that be?” I asked anxiously.
“In a hurry to get somewhere?” He asked with a hint of sarcasm, it became clear that I had become suspicious in his eyes.
“No… I’m just…” I fell silent,
there was nothing to complete that sentence with, I wasn’t in a hurry, I wasn’t
looking for anything… I just didn’t want any trouble and the longer I stayed
the more chance there was of it happening.
At the very least I tried to make a point not to alarm anyone. “I just don’t want to cause any trouble sir.”
“Tssh… You’re twenty-seven alright.” He mocked, which stung me particularly hard because I really am.
Were I in a better state of mind earlier I could have concocted a proper lie, but now I just had to play it cool… “Am I under arrest?”
“HA!!” He laughed really loud. “Don’t worry so much kid… Were just checking, but you’re likely fine. You don’t have a bounty, do you? Captain is checking in with HQ on radio right now, he will be done shortly.”
“No… I don’t have bounty.” Not in this region at least.
“Then relax, worst comes to pass well just send you to your dad and you will have to talk to him about what happened.” He patronized.
It was infuriating, but I kept
calm… just not calm enough to ignore his comment as he did stir a personal
storm inside me. “That’s going to a problem since he is dead…”
For a moment there his joking tone was broken as he tried to figure out whether I was telling the truth or not. Memories of my father tend to bring the worst in me so I don’t think I could lie about it even if I wanted to.
He clearly understood what I meant now, and I noticed he was going for another question so I went ahead of him. “When I was five…”
“Oh… Mother then?” He tried to stir his boat out of the storm, but crashed it right into a harder and much pointier rock of buried feelings.
I answered in the driest tone I had. “Killed herself.”
“Good lord Kid… Now I feel like an ass… My condolences.” He nervously adjusted armor and dodged my deathly gaze.
In my defense, I should have been less honest as to not call further attention, but bringing up father and my mother would often lead me to not think as straight as I wanted to… Still I didn’t want him to feel bad, just wanted him to stop interrogating me. “It was a long time ago, and you’re just doing your job.”
“Suddenly you being here by yourself makes an awful lot of sense.” He attempted to conciliate.
“Anything else you need to know officer?” I tried to shake off the thoughts that crept up my mind, but it still made me awfully blunt.
“I think we have enough information… I’ll talk to the captain and see if he will let you off the hook.” He then started to stand up, but stopped halfway. “Do you want to tag along with us? Just until the next city, it will be safer for you not to go out on your own again.”
“You guys seem to have your hands full, I don’t want to slow you down.” I shot down that invitation as It was bound to end in disaster.
“Well, I’ll at least try to get you some supplies.” I tried to say no but he stopped me. “I insist! Now sit here and rest…”
He ducked over and eventually
leapt out leaving me alone in there, I’m sure this broke a few military
protocols, but I wasn’t going to complain.
I had the wagon mostly to myself now, there were a lot of stuff laying around the place, a couple of boxes and locked chests next to some bedrolls and other camping material. At the front there was the driver who was too busy humming a song and adjusting the engine for when they’d finally get moving.
As I tried to look around the back I noticed most of the soldiers were spread around and relaxed, this was likely a break for them and I’m sure I was the one to blame as finding a unconscious person in the middle of the road is likely meant to be investigated.
I tried not to make myself too visible as I didn’t want too much attention on me, I was specifically looking for my things as I wanted to make sure of where they were in case I needed to book it… There was nothing on sight, so for now I was going to have to stay put.
I felt for a moment this was
going to be it, that I got lucky today and Alex was just going to come back,
give me my stuff, pat me on the head and send me on my merry way. However, this
wouldn’t be the main point of the story if that was the case now would it?
Unfortunately, younger me didn’t realize that, I was disarmed by the shepherds kind and understanding words and to top it off I was feeling particularly sick so I didn’t want him to be wrong either… I needed a little rest, my mind demanded it from me and I wasn’t listening so it detracted my attention from the signs of trouble.
I stood there and allowed myself to relax for only three or four minutes, that was long enough for it to go south.
The herald of bad news was Alex himself who had his previous kind and optimistic face replaced with a grim expression as he pulled himself back up, like he had just taken a bite of something sour. “I’m gonna need you to come out with me.” He said with no joy or energy.
I understood almost immediately… I was used to it even… Deep inside a voice wanted me to scream and fight, but I resigned to lower my head and follow him with no questions asked. “Lead the way.”
He was kind enough to help me
up, but that is far as he went, he motioned me to get down from the wagon and I
did, with him following close by.
I immediately felt this dissonant aura as the eyes of every single soldier locked onto me, to most people being looked at felt natural or great even, to me it felt like tiny daggers were suddenly stabbing me from every direction, I sunk myself deeper into the coat as to avoid it but my heart started pounding harder and harder, I breathed anxiously and my body felt uncomfortable and twitchy.
We continued until a few meters ahead when a small circle had been formed, around six or so guards positioned in a way as to prevent me from evading or running, It felt like walking into a cage, I couldn’t breath and I dared not to look at any of them in the eye as to not elicit any strong feelings.
In front of them there was a
particularly mean looking racoon, with scar that looked like a bite on his
One would be forgiven for thinking he was just a normal person but he made a point to show a slightly pointier ear covered in grey scales and a scaly arm that quickly denounced he was a half-bred, a draconian, his blood was shallow but he was clearly proud of it.
Alex stopped as to close the circle behind me and the racoon stepped forward. “Vernon, right?” His voice sounded malicious, it sent shivers down my spine.
“Y-yes sir…” My voice trembled in response.
“Scared?” He snarled.
“I… I…” I couldn’t answer, I felt something was wrong… This wasn’t just some shakedown… This theatrical cage was not there for just another interrogation.
“Cat got your tongue?” He turned around and sighed exasperated, I dared not look but I could tell he was given something by one of the other soldiers. “Well then… Let me ask you a question and be sure to answer this time…” He started carefully picking things and tossed them on the ground. “What is all this junk in your bag? Metal pieces, screws, wood chips, cloth bits, strings, a piece of rope, seeds… It’s just junk, why do you carry all this?”
“I-I thought it m-might be useful later.” I tried answering but my voice kept cracking, ‘did they find it?’ I thought.
“And didn’t think this could be filled with food or water? You just happen to be the kind of idiot who would run out and collapse in the middle of the road?” His voice was filled with a sadistic pleasure, he knew something…
“I… don’t know what to say sir…” I gulped and grit my teeth to stop myself from shaking so much.
“Don’t know hu? Not even about these.” He held in front of me a pot filled with pills, my medication… “You don’t look like a smuggler, you’re not smart enough.”
“That’s my medication…” I answered as quickly as I could. “I have seizures sometimes, it... It helps keep them stable.”
“Ah… Seizures… *Unhum*, got it.” He then tossed the pot on the ground… I couldn’t let those go to waste so I dove for the ground to catch it and with luck I was able to hold onto it before it smashed.
I didn’t bother getting up… I tried to conceal myself from all that was happening, I was terrified. “I know what this looks like… But I’m not a druggie, please just let me go!” I pleaded.
“Oh… no, no, no, we need a few more clarifications…” He squatted next to me and dangled a vial with a lid covered in green paste. “This?”
“It’s aloe, it’s for cuts and burns.” I was almost whispering from how frightened I was.
“Medication again hu?” I wasn’t looking but I could tell he was smiling to himself. “What about this one?” Once again, another vial, this one with a bunch of yellow mushed and dried plants compressed into small balls.
“They are a mixture of herbs…” Opioids and herbs. “… It’s to help sleep.”
“You know, for a random traveler you got quite an extensive medical knowledge mister Vernon, and you carry around some interesting things. One might easily say you are an alchemist… or a doctor… I’m surprised we haven’t found a miracle tonic here.”
“It’s just for me, I don’t have enough to sell… I don’t sell! I’m just a wanderer, can you please let me go?” I pleaded once again, but it fell on deaf ears.
“You do make a good point… But there is something else here, something I’m quite curious about…” He approached me from behind sending a chill down my spine then reached an arm on top of my shoulder, stretching it so we both could see what he was holding… A small piece of charcoal, he did find it. “What is this for Vernon? Medication again?”
I couldn’t say anything, he knew something was up and I knew what came next, I began to tear up. “J-just… Let me go… I’m not what you think I am, I swear.”