The Fifth Path (13/30)

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Aru 11th

Dear diary, we finally left the capital city on the morning of the ninth. It was interesting being back on the road again after spending so long in the city. As different as the unpronounceable land was from the true land, living in the capital had started to bring back memories of living back in Bel’s city. Servants and guards and people everywhere were suddenly once again absent when we hit the road. We returned to the small world of just the four of us, with other people being few and far between. We returned to the world of tents and self cooked food. Once again my Baal and I shared a tent.

It was a bit awkward at first. He suggested partitioning the tent, but that seemed to negate the point of us having the same tent, namely my ability to protect him when he slept. If we were going to partition it, then instead I should just swap with one of the others. He was still obviously uncomfortable, not trusting one or both of not to start something but we talked about it, and decided that we really needed to be comfortable around each other without this feeling if we were going to get along for another ten and a half months under any number of situations. Of course the actual conversation was much more drawn and vague then that, with a lot of references and awkward pauses. I wish my Baal was less weird about it, but I suppose his behavior would be considered more embarrassing than mine out of context. Anyways, we decided we just kinda needed to learn to live with each other, and accept that maybe we would feel a certain way sometimes, but we wouldn’t act on it. And so we went to sleep, or rather, dear diary, he went to sleep, and I stayed up for watch duty.

I don’t think there is much more to say about the city itself. After we discovered the plot, and thwarted it, my Baal was able to get the agreement signed the very next day, then we were able to spend a few days exploring the city and generally resting before we moved on to the next place. We likely would not have done this, as our pale skinned ship captain was waiting for us back at port, but because of the reasoning which led to the assassination attempts, it was deemed wise to stick around for a few days and let Nabua hang out with the kid king for a little bit. I felt like giving someone what they want as a response to them trying to assassinate you was not the right message to send, but considering the power of the kid in question it was kinda reasonable. So, Nabua spent most of his time with the kid, while the rest of us wandered the city, getting a bit of a tour by our guide, who had apparently been something of an important person in several parts of this city several decades ago. We found this out after we found ourselves greeted by a small parade and an organized militia of children all chanting for the old man when we visited one section of town to the far north. After a lot of celebrations, introductions, and being shown around, we finally got a moment alone with the old guide and he explained one small part of his life, something I had begun to realize was likely something of an epic saga.

As it turned out, about thirty years ago, the city had been in the middle of a crisis of leadership. An elderly king was on the throne, but his failing health meant he had no real power. The council of eight was not empowered to run the kingdom however, as that was their mandate only for king’s too young, not too old. As such, the one truly in charge was the king’s adviser, a former member of the royal navy, famous for his ruthlessness in the destruction of pirates who occasionally raided the shores of the unpronounceable land. While this ruthlessness had allowed him to purge the pirates to the point that they were basically gone from the seas surrounding the kingdom, it was less welcome within the great walls of the capital city. This former captain had taken it upon himself to impose discipline upon a society which he had decided was corrupt. Imposing hundreds of restrictions and regulations, he used the incredible bureaucracy of the kingdom to snuff out anything that resembled dissent. If that had been the only problem, that would perhaps have been problem enough, but these harsh rules and restrictions created sufficient anger and resentment towards the palace and the guard that another leader was able to ascend to oppose the captain.

This leader had no official title, being a former leader of a large farming collective far from the capital. Her power was in her ability to influence the people with her words. She stirred up resentment towards the tyrannical captain, but even more than that, she stirred up resentment towards all people like him. I had not known this until the story began, but apparently this land had not always been united. In the past, their had been four different groups that each controlled one part of the large island. They had been united more than five hundred years ago, but there were still cultural differences remained. And, because the initial uniting had occurred through the military supremacy of one of the four groups, that group had retained political power in the country ever since. The king, and almost all of the powerful leaders in the capital were from that group. This woman, from a region still thick with the culture of another group, still somehow, resentful, after half a millennium, was harnessing that resentment and anger towards the quarter of the population that controlled the fates of the rest. The king, and the captain, and more than half of the council of eight were members of that group. So too were about forty percent of the population of the capital city.

Tensions were flaring. The guards had been empowered to act aggressively towards those who violated the captain’s strict orders, modeling the guards more after the military force he was used to running then was entirely appropriate for a group that was supposed to be protecting civilians. Meanwhile, the woman from the farmlands, called Kindle by her people, had, through speeches and manifestos brought a large number of men and women together in opposition to the guards, and to all of the people who supported, or even looked like, the leadership. It was not a safe place, with fights between the groups common, many buildings being burned, and innocent citizens being harassed or raided by one or both sides due to a belief they were helping the other. Now, initially the northern part of the city, the section which had thrown our guide a parade upon his arrival, had been able to stay out of the conflict. It was a part of town largely filled with houses and families, few businesses and little in the way of things of things to be policed. Unfortunately, it also had I high concentration of people from the captain’s racial group. And one night, after a particularly aggressive speech by Kindle, a large mob formed, deciding that if their families were going to be harassed and hurt by the guard, then they were going to do the same to the families of the guard, which, according to someone with a loud voice in said mob, happened to mostly live in the north part of town.

So it was that a group of Kindle’s men, carrying simple tools as weapons, and filled with anger towards the group which oppressed them, stormed through the previously calm streets of north town. Once they arrived, they stopped, and began to argue among themselves as what exactly to destroy or attack. North town was a pretty big part of town, and almost everyone knew someone in the area, so they didn’t want to burn the whole place down. Eventually however, they settled on a small section of town, a set of nicer houses, together with a large building that held many families. It was known to be almost exclusively populated by the hated race, and worse, rich members of said race. They moved slowly through the streets, shouting and knocking things over, and generally making a ruckus. But, no one came out to stop them. Hundreds and even thousands of people had been awoken by their moving about, their loud shouting, and their argument. Everyone knew where they were going, but each said, at least it is not us. Though the mob was barely more than sixty or so men and women, none opposed it, each family watching it pass by through there window. At last, they stood before their target, preparing to burn the place down, and catch anyone that tried to escape from the fire. That was when finally, someone opposed them.

It was an old man, still old, even thirty years ago, who had come out from a small building across the street from the targeted block. He was a bureaucrat then, a man who’s job was to make sure that all of the local services, such as street cleaning, firefighting, school teaching, etc, all got done, and all got done within budget. He had been working late, checking the attendance records of local teachers, making sure that everyone was being paid, but also that everyone was actually doing their jobs. He had heard the noise, heard the shouts and the promises of vengeance. So, seeing as he was in charge of making sure the buildings were maintained, and that being burned down was not very good for the long term maintenance of the area, he set out to make sure that that did not happen.

It must have been a sight to see, the mob of dozens of men, all angry, all ready to burn the place to the ground. And then, before them stands one lone elderly gentleman, wearing the clothes of an ordinary bureaucrat. And yet, they stopped somehow, they did not simply rush past the man, brush him aside. Something about his slow plodding steps, his warm, but unyielding stare managed to halt the group, at least for a moment. One of the mob stepped forward, speaking for them. He shouted for the elderly man to get out of the way, told him that he had no business here right now, that he had best move along if he didn’t want to get burned with the rest. The old man calmly explained that it was in fact literally his business to make sure the buildings did not get burned down. He said that there was only a small budget for rebuilding houses in this district and that it would only cover a couple of houses, not the dozens that would be burning if these folks had there way. He suggested an abandoned building a few blocks away if they really wanted to do some burning, it was apparently condemned anyways, and it would save him a bit of money if they didn’t have to pay someone to tear it down. All of this stunned the group for a bit, taking some of the bluster out of their sails. This was not the appropriate response to the demands of an armed mob at all.

Perhaps, if the mob had been less motivated, if the hatred that drove it had been a bit less justified, then that right there would have been enough to calm and disperse the group. Unfortunately, they rallied, the leader man telling the old man exactly how much he cared about the local finances. The people in the house were the enemy, they were the cause of the trouble tearing this city apart, and they were going to pay that night, regardless of the costs to the local government. The man nodded at this, seeming to accept this as a rational argument. He started to turn to leave, but then seemed to hesitate, turning back to the mob, asking them to wait just a moment longer. Again flustered, the mob leader asked what he wanted now. The old man explained that while he was all for the destruction of those causing this awful situation, and he understood that people had to pay for everything that had been done, he wanted to know if perhaps an exception could be made for one little girl in the block of houses. He told them that she was not even a part of the targeted racial group, that she was barely six years old, and that she hoped to grow up to be a dancer. The mob seemed uncomfortable burning the little girl to death. They were not here to kill one of their own, especially a child. Maybe this was not such a good idea. The mob leader united them again however, telling the old man that he could go in and retrieve the girl, but that they were burning the rest.

The man thanked them, and turned to go into the building, but he stopped a moment, turning back to them with another quizzical look. The leader shouted, asking what he could possibly want now. The old man, again expressing his general acceptance of the need to burn the place to the ground, wondered if he might also save one more child, a friend of the first. And while this child was indeed of the hated race, surely he hadn’t done anything yet, at the tender age of six, to deserve burning to death, and besides, the girl he was going in to save would be very sad without him. More grumbling in the ranks. They didn’t really want to kill kids right? Even the guard hadn’t actually killed any kids yet. They’d roughed some up certainly, but to burn down some kids seemed extreme. Somehow however, the mob leader still managed to get his people organized again, this time asking how many kids were in the building, and if the old man could get them all out. The old man thought for a moment, listed off a dozen or so names, explaining these were all the ones under eight. There another dozen older than that, but still kids. The arguing started up again. Before it could really get going, though, the old man interjected again, seeming to have just thought of something. He asked, ever so politely, if he might be able to save a few of the parents as well? For you see, without the parents, the kids would go to the orphanage, and he had just done the budget on that, and there was no room for another two dozen kids. Maybe ten would fit if he could get a little extra money, but he definitely needed enough guardians still alive to take care of the other fifteen odd kids.

And that, as they say, was that. The mob lost all of its motivation. The leader tried to get a few people back into the zone, tried to get people to go and maybe burn down a different part of town, with slightly less sympathetic characters. But the heart had gone out of it. The people had seen their targets as people, and with them seen that way, it was hard to unsee. And so it was, that our guide, in his role as municipal bureaucrat, saved a few hundred lives, and became a hero to the local people. And if, a few other districts seemed to have similar municipal minsters, and the heart went out of a few more mobs in the following weeks, then that was an awfully strange coincidence wasn’t it. And if all the people that lost there will to mob those nights seemed to lose the drive to mob another night, and the drive to mob itself seemed to flicker and fade, that was just good luck, certainly. And if, without a clear enemy or instigators of opposition, the captain was able to less and less justify his heightened security, until at last he was forced out of the job by a united council of eight, well that’s just the way history works. Lets just say, that after a couple days wandering around with our guide, and hearing little bits of the parts he played in the ending of a very dangerous situation, I found myself with an incredible amount of respect for the inscrutable old man. And how the man managed to learn so many languages was still a mystery as well.

In any event, that was the main thing we did for the last few days in the city, traveling around with our guide, going to various parties in his honor, and learning something of the history of this place. The only other somewhat odd event was that a number of individuals kept trying to give me large sums of money for some reason. I was very suspicious, and they never seemed to do it while the old man was around, so they couldn’t explain why they were doing it, so I turned each one down. I was wary of accidentally walking into some sort of deal I did not fully understand. I also said a tearful goodbye to my servant turned assassin turned servant friend, who I had grown quite fond of while we were here, and had, based on her tears when she understood we were leading, and various attempts to come along, also grown attached to me. This somewhat surprised me, for I had been rather harsh with the girl in the first few days of our acquaintance, seeing as how she was an assassin and all, but I suppose one comes to appreciate people, even if they tie bells to you and lock you in closets, as long as they are nice the rest of the time. I did my best to comfort her, but with zero ways to communicate, with the guide missing, and Nabua with the king, this largely amounted to a long hug, and several awkward pats on the head. I would definitely miss having my hair styled. It was an interesting experience, and it felt nice to have another do it.

But, as they say, dear diary, all things come to an end, both good and bad, and we at last departed the city. We got a chance to speak with Nabua again, as he had basically been absent entirely for the last couple days in the city, and he said that his language skills had much improved, and he had learned a lot about the country. He also seemed interested in getting horses or something to speed up the journey home, but the old man just laughed, and said that all true traveling in this land was done on foot. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but no one was willing to admit that, so we didn’t bring up the idea again.

As such, we walked, back the way we had come, up the mountain, and then down the other side. We encountered some of the same troubles on the mountain, like the large cat creature, but we also finally ran into some bandits as well. We were worried about them, until they got a good look at our guide, at which point they turned from hostile attackers to inviting friends. It seemed that the old man had once been a part of their bandit troupe, or a much larger one that had fractured or something. The old man was hesitant to elaborate about that part of his past, so my info mostly came from stuff Nabua was able to both overhear and understand. In any event, we ended up eating a large meal of freshly killed meat together with a troupe of bandits, and the night was quite enjoyable. That was the first night, up near the peak of the mountain. They showed us a shortcut on the way down, and we encountered no trouble at all. We managed to get within a days journey of the port city that second day, though it took a fair bit of walking, and all of our feet were sore indeed that night. My Baal had the first watch, and I the second that night, so I took the opportunity to speak with you, dear diary.

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