Patricka left her home for the capital city of Sodorrah. She was truly excited about her new life, but the fact that she would be able to start it with her brother meant everything. She did not know what she was losing. Her childhood was cut short. She would not spend another morning playing tag or wishing for a present. From this point on she was an adult.
She tried her best to be grown up. She, Ash, and the three guards wandered out in the desert. They walked with a purpose. They walked to a beat. Except Patricka, she tried, but shortly after they started out she skipped alongside of the others unable to repress her young age.
“What’s it like?” Her voice was nothing but childish fascination. Her eyes glittered with anticipation as she looked to the guard leading the way.
“What was that?” Obviously caught off guard by the question he looked back at her as he walked through the loose sand.
“Sodorrah. The city, the life, the job…” She hesitated as a goofy grin smeared across her face. “The king.”
Ash groaned at the immaturity of his sister as the sun beat down on his pale grey face.
The guard laughed to himself. “You will see what it is like, but what you should be concerned with is your calling.” He brushed some of the stray sand out of his facial hair as he looked to the horizon for the transportation depot.
“You will be an information bearer, a defensive information bearer to be specific. You are charged with all the knowledge that the king needs in regards to our defenses. That would include past, present and future. That is more important than what it is like to live in Sodorrah.”
She sensed the condescension in his voice and out of youthful pride she tried to up-sell herself. “I am well aware of the history of mankind and all the defensive knowledge that goes along with it. I am aware of the heathens from millennia ago who defiled God with their electricity, gluttony, modified biology, and massively destructive weapons. I know everything there is to know about how God adorned his own heritage through the five kings! The black king, the yellow, the red king, the white king, and the fat king are the people of God and we are their servants in worship of the one true God, damn it!” She cringed as she cursed, but she felt she was in the right, she was an adult now.
The guard stopped in his tracks kicking up dirt from the abrupt end to his motion. “That is all peasant bullshit. You have a lot to learn and there is no time for errors now. You are in your calling. This is the work the king has put upon you as he heard from the lips of God himself.” He turned back to his trek and muttered, “As you would put it.”, and marched on.
The diatribe had put Patricka in her place. She may be technically a woman now, but the guard had just shown her that she had a lot to learn before she would be respected. She spent the rest of the journey in silence, sulking in her ten year old way. She let her mind grasp at the humiliation of the guard’s words while her lungs warmed through with the searing desert heat.
After a couple hours of testing the stamina of their calves in the sinking sand of the desert dunes, they came over a hill and set their eyes upon the depot. It was a sight that was talked about among children and reminisced between adults. Anyone born outside of a main city never saw a transportation depot except for when they left for their calling.
The area was an ancient city with the remnants of square brick buildings, lines of flat concrete, and random wires sticking out from everywhere. There were lines of horses ready to take people to the east. There were guides prepared to walk people to their callings in the south and steel rails that would take Patricka and her brother north, to the city of Sodorrah where they would begin their adult lives.
They did a sideways walk down the final dune to the broken concrete grounds below. As they got closer they eyed the odd writings etched into the buildings. Strange symbols adorned small concrete squares set into the remaining bits of the bricked structures.
The entire thing felt like a portal into a past that they were trained to despise. It was a world they never knew and would never understand. Just seeing the writings of the lost past felt like blasphemy.
They sat down on a small patch of grass near the rails and waited for their train. It was time they should have spent together, reminiscing, as they would not live together when they got to Sodorrah, but there was too much going through their heads. Everything was new and anything that was old was no longer of interest.
After a few minutes the train came with an ear itching squeal. The sound of the metal on metal brakes and the steel wheels grinding against the track was something that was not heard in their former town.
Patricka was ushered into the second car on the train while Ash tagged along with the other guards to be sure that everyone was sent to the right car. The first car was for those who would be celebrated by the king. The second was for those who would have a professional or personal relationship with him. The third was for the leaders of towns who would be leaving Sodorrah for their own smaller kingdoms in a sense. The fourth through fifteenth cars were for almost everyone else, anyone who would not be dealing with the king on any level other than hearing his decree through the criers. And the last car was for the guards.
Each car filled up with newly appointed callings and one instructor. They were there to give a brief overview of their calling and explain to them what the next steps would be when they arrived in Sodorrah. Many of them would be faced with feasts and parties, some with nothing more than schooling, training, and boarding, and even more would be assigned to a representative of Sodorrah and given not much more than a finger in the right direction.
Ash sat in the final car watching the last couple guards scan the area for any stragglers. He was shocked at the comfort of the train, metal walls, wooden chairs and woven coverings on everything. There were faded oranges and yellows that gave him a slight queasy feeling as he looked out his window.
One of the last two guards boarded the final car, but the other had his arms around a woman and was rushing her up to the front of the train. Her curly hair and tattered dress reminded him of his mother, but he assumed it was nothing more than the homesick feeling he was told accompanied the trip away from your first home.
He watched as the last guard made his way back to the guard car, hopping up on the stairs just as the whistle blew and the train began its slow but powerful pull away from the transportation depot. Even fifteen cars back he could hear the steam pouring out from the stack in the engine and the amazing strength it displayed in moving such a large payload.
The first movements jerked Ash back and forth a couple times, but quickly fell into a rhythm that was so subtle he did not even notice.
“Welcome newcomers.” A guard adorned in gold said grasping everyone’s attention with his thick controlled voice. “I would like to congratulate you all on receiving your calling and being so lucky as to commit your lives to the safety of our king!” There was a cheer in the cabin as the new boys felt a rush of importance enter their psyches.
“There will be some surprises and some mind blowing moments as you learn what you need to know to protect our lord, our king, but be assured you are where you are supposed to be and will be among the few whose lives are the most needed in the kingdom.” He paused for a cheer that did not come.
“Enjoy the trip. What you need to know before we get there is simple and can be summed up thusly. Pair up with someone who knows what they are doing! Follow them as if you will be lost forever if you lose them, because you just might. You will get your barracks, personal assignment and training after the dinner. Enjoy the trip boys.”
Ash moved his gaze from the golden guard to the window. He watched his past world pass him by.
Wyndsoria felt her world fall down around her. Her bed was the only comfort she had left. There was never any connection between her and Moshe, at least not that she felt, but after they acquired their children she finally felt like she did when she was growing up, a part of a family. She even wondered from time to time if the children Moshe chose happened to be her actual birth children. It was always something that was discouraged from thinking, sometimes they even claimed no children from their birth city were available to be chosen, but she felt some kind of connection with her children that was not normal, at least in her eyes.
There was a hole that had opened up within her and nothing could fill it. Her children were gone forever and all that she had left in her life was her hated mission of assuring the water for the town made its way through the pipes laid from the river and her detestable duty of satisfying her husband.
If there was anything she despised more than her calling it was her responsibility to making her husband happy. She would console him and hold him, but there was never anything behind it. There was only the requirement as a wife which she had burned into her mind ever since she was a toddler attending church.
It did not help that Moshe was a priest who always held God’s word over her head. She wanted nothing more than to pick her own fate, but as a woman that choice was not her own. She wondered from time to time if the world would have been different if Adam ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Would women have run the world while men became servants and bore pain monthly?
She shook in her bed. She wanted the thoughts to pass, she did not hold God responsible, it was not his fault that her husband was a man she would rather live without. The shaking did not stop, it ventured from a tremble of disgust to a quake of sorrow. Her heart had been ripped from her.
She thought about what life had left for her and nothing came to mind. She had lost her children and nothing would ever replace them.
Dark thoughts teased her morality as visions of poisonous fruit crept into her mind. The evil considerations were fleeting to the point that she was unsure if she wanted to kill herself or her husband.
She heard a clanking sound of a guard enter her house and she shot up in her bed. Her head swirled as she focused her vision on the room she had confined herself in.
She had no idea the time or why there would be a guard in her house. Maybe she had cried herself through a week and her son was back to greet her. That could not be. No one returned home.
She thought back to her calling and realized she had ignored the water since she went to bed. She probably was being arrested for endangering the town. It was fine. She had no use for freedom anymore.
The clanging of the armor came closer. She heard each step of the guard’s boot as he approached her bedroom.
Wyndsoria got to her feet and pulled her robe closed preparing herself for incarceration. She held out her wrists for the cuffs as the door to the room opened slowly.
“Wyndsoria?” The guard questioned with curiosity rather than authority.
“Yes?” She heard the tone of his voice and was taken aback.
“The king has sent for you. Your calling has been altered.” He reached out with a small piece of parchment.
She took the paper, trembling from confusion and exhaustion. She could see the kind smile of the guard from underneath his helmet as she slowly unfolded the note.
You, Wyndsoria Wyndhaven, have completed your calling to guard the water source of Listerbourne. You are no longer a Water Bearer. In celebration of your achievement you have been asked by the White King to do him the pleasure of attending a calling completion feast in Sodorrah where you will be given the opportunity to choose from a list of callings that went unfulfilled. Congratulations Wyndsoria.
She looked up at the guard in confusion. She had never heard of someone moving on from a calling before. “The king wants me in Sodorrah?” Tears were invading her eyes.
“For the feast. Yes, ma’am.” He averted his eyes and steadied his breathing.
“Will I come back here, to my house and husband?”
“From the feasts I’ve seen for those who have completed their callings there is usually a choice.”
More tears came, now drenching her cheeks, but this time it was accompanied by a huge grin. “You mean I can never come back here? What will I do with my life? Can I stay in Sodorrah? Can I see my children?”
“Ma’am.” The guard cleared his throat as he reached a hand out to the emotional woman. “I can’t say anything. I just know others have stayed in the capital mansion.”
Wyndsoria gave the man a hug. Her arms tingled with the chill of the armor while her chest warmed through the thin robe from the parts of the armor which had been heated by the sun.
She slipped her shoes on and walked out the door.
She laughed at her absentmindedness and threw on the first ratty dress she grabbed. She showed no modesty by changing in front of the guard, but her mind was elsewhere. Her mind was focused on the children, hours before, she thought she had lost forever.
Their journey to the depot started immediately as they strode through the town leaving all citizens to question what was happening to her family.
There was no stopping Wyndsoria. She nearly jogged across the desert to reach the depot. Her excitement was unstoppable, making the guard look weak in his attempt to march through the heat and sand.
She knew that it was his armor that held him down, but anytime she had a chance to look better than one of the king’s specially trained men, she took it. Of course her living in Listerbourne her entire adult life had given her the advantage of being used to the extreme heat.
With sweat pouring down the young guard’s face, making his helmet slip from its correct position, he called out, “You know, they will hold the train for us.” It was no use Wyndsoria would not slow.
The trek was long and hard, but she never let her mind leave the thought that her kids were close. She would see them again, she knew it.
When she finally came over the hill to see the train she leapt over the edge falling twenty or more feet just to land thigh deep in the soft scorching sand of the final dune. She struggled to free herself as the guard who escorted her caught up to her.
She ignored the remnants of the buildings, the wires, and even the signs as she made her way to the train. There was no one left getting on, she was late.
She made her way from the last car all the way to the first where another guard helped her aboard. When she got inside the cabin she found herself among one man in rags, two women in stained house clothes and another woman in the most lavish dress she had ever seen. It was four times wider than the small woman wearing it and was adorned with sparkling stones from the hem at her foot all the way to the swooping neckline. Her arms were covered from the shoulder to her first set of knuckles, all with a grayish sheen that matched both her hair and her skin.
This was nothing like the train ride she experienced when she became a Water Bearer. Back then she was crammed into a cabin with hundreds of other teens who were quickly told the basics of securing a water line then stop by stop, practically kicked off the train to fend for themselves.
This time they were given perfume to cover their horrid body odors. They had plates of never before seen gourmet food in front of them and the beautiful woman in the front welcomed them with great appreciation.
“Thank you all for coming.” She pursed her lips as she paused. “You have all accomplished your callings and are being rewarded with a celebration the likes none you have seen before.” Her silver hair sparkled as she stiffly turned to smile and nod at each of the four people in the car. “There will be great surprises and you will each meet the king as he will offer you choices of how to proceed with your life from here on out.”
The woman let out a small forced chuckle as she took her attention away from the passengers and took her seat. Wyndsoria stared into nothingness completely missing the announcement that she would meet the king. Instead she just let her stomach flutter while anticipating seeing her kids again.
After his quiet, reflective walk, Moshe did not notice anything was amiss when he passed by the threshold of the church. His mind was too preoccupied for him to notice the removal of his picture in the entryway. He was too deep in thought to see the new green drapes signifying a first year priest leading that particular parish. It was not until he reached his office atop the stairs when he realized the men just like the ones who had come for his children were in his church to apprehend him as well.
There was no fight, there was none left. The toll of the previous night had drained anything from him that he could wish to have in the current situation.
His blank eyes rose to the gaze of one of the king’s men. He let his voice ease out of his throat, “What will happen to Wyndsoria?”
The four men stood at attention while one spoke from beneath his helmet. “As is the law, the White King has sold you to the Fat King. In honor of your former representative and in submission to your new representative, please present your wrists for easy transfer to your new home.”
“I understand, but what of Wyndsoria?” Moshe’s breathe steadied while his demeanor became static, but ominous.
“The use of the White King’s currency is not of your concern, especially when you are pledged to the Fat King.” The words came as the men advanced on Moshe. Two of the men had their hands on their swords while the others were ready with the shackles.
The world went dark in the eyes of Moshe as he heard a calming voice reach his ears, “You will live. Do not be scared as I will protect your life as if it was my own. Follow my guidance and your bloodline will reign.”
As the first man reached for Moshe’s wrists there was a white glow coming from the guard’s abdomen. Moshe reacted to the vision with a swift punch to the man’s stomach where the armor had an opening for abdominal movement.
No one was prepared for attack. Moshe felt his fist delve into the muscle until it contacted the spine. His hand did not retract, it was held to the body by the engulfing armor. He quickly leaned back pulling the man off balance and whipped him around crashing him into another of the guards.
The next man drew his sword and charged, but Moshe drove his non-anchored foot into the man’s shin, bending the armor and breaking the bone. Moshe fell to the ground from the weight of the man whose armor held his hand. The fourth man walked over with a dagger in hand prepared to slice into some part of Moshe’s body.
“Submit or I will use severe force!” Moshe could see a smile shimmering in the light from beneath the silver helmet.
He looked up at his captor with one question, “What of Wyndsoria?”
The guard thrust his knife towards the arm of Moshe, but all that could be seen was a white glow that shone from the man’s hand to his shoulder. Moshe used his free hand with the momentum of the thrust to bend the guard’s elbow moving the blade to his shoulder leaving the armored man’s dagger in his own flesh and his hand trapped within the small gap in the joint of the armor.
Moshe lay on top of the two men while the others cowered in pain away from the pile. “What of Wyndsoria?”
The man at the bottom of the pile slid out from the carnage and replied, “She has completed her calling, will be allowed entrance to Sodorrah if she accepts it.” He raised his boot to stomp the trapped arm of the priest when Moshe passed out.
The first sight he saw when he came to was the dripping sewage in his holding cell. The air was thick with rot from the sewer and salt from the ocean affirming that he was being held near the seaport.
He had movement in his arm, it had not been broken, but there was an overall throbbing that he could not shake. There was also a sting on the back of his hand from a recent burn mark scarring a mark upon him. He did not remember the punishment he received for resisting, but he remembered what was said of his wife. That was all he had wanted, there would have been no fight if they just would have told him up front. Regardless of how sickened he felt from his own bleak situation at least he knew Wyndsoria was safe. He felt a relief about his wife, but he also knew that it was a passion for his past more than the woman herself.
He let his fingers crawl along the cold stone floor pushing his senses back to reality. He pushed himself up to his elbows to survey the cell. It was full with people who were beaten and battered during their confiscation from their homes. There was no discrimination in the room, all ages were represented within those being readied for the journey.
The moans and dry heaves of the room became discernible to Moshe. The room was nothing more than the full onslaught of the forfeiture of happiness. “Do we know how many are going?” Moshe let his voice crack out past the rawness it developed breathing the murky air.
Nothing but groans replied. Looking at the numbers that surrounded him he realized they must have gathered the majority of those being sold. There was very little space left to house more than those waiting to be transferred.
He looked to his shoulder which had been torn out of his shirt. The purple of his bruised skin mixed with the red of his blood was the last thing he saw until feeding time.
When he awoke again it was to a steel boot kicking his shoulder. The jutting sting created an instinctual cry of agony.
“Eat!” Said a voice from above the spot where he was laying. A steel dish clanged against the stone as the food splattered on Moshe’s face from the impact.
He reached over and sunk his fingers into a cold green sludge that was still in scoop form on his plate. As he brought it to his lips he noticed a resemblance the food had to the sewage that dripped down the walls of the cell. Hoping it was the lack of lighting that made the two appear as one in the same, he shoveled the slop into his mouth knowing how much he needed nourishment.
“How long until we leave?” Moshe asked his question through the thick mashed concoction he was trying to get down his throat.
As the food and spittle splattered on the man’s armor he looked down at Moshe in complete disgust. “It isn’t of your concern.”
He reached out with his green covered hand, smearing the thickness on the armor, “I need out of here, when do we leave?”
The man who stood above him raised his foot, but before he could come down on the priest’s skull another man shouted from the corner, “Hey! Don’t kill him! They don’t count until they are on the boat!”
With that the man returned his foot to the floor and took a deep breath as he continued to drop food plates near the sickened prisoners.
As the food hit Moshe’s stomach the satiation allowed sleep to return.
The next thing Moshe knew he was being lifted to his feet and set in a line.
The long line of bloodied grey men looked like a line to a battlefield infirmary, but the sight of men leaving the cell to walk out into the light was nothing short of pure hope to those within the walls of the cell. They all knew what was going to happen in the long run, but none of them knew the process.
Although some of the people had done work with imports they only knew what happened once they arrived. A young woman near the back of the line began to prattle off the process for those arriving in the White King’s land. “Arrive. Check health. Receive new calling. Receive new home town. Receive sustenance. Go to new home. Pick or receive new spouse.” She repeated it nonstop in an attempt to remind herself that once they got to their new home she would be ok.
A man half way through the line fell over motionless onto the wet stone. An injury in his hairline was slowly dripping blood into the sludge on the ground. Two guards jogged over to him and lifted him up.
The first checked for a pulse and then quickly motioned the other to take him to the front of the line. As they went up the stairs to the outside world they could be heard, “Get him to the captain before he stops breathing.”
It was a slow torturous wait. Step after step, Moshe was not convinced he could live long enough to see the sun again, but the calm powerful voice returned to him, “Keep calm, you will live through this. You will once again stand tall. Look to your front and your back and see your fellow man. These are my people. This is what is left. Know them, love them, and accept them for they will help you rise.”
He pushed through trying to focus on the uplifting ideas behind the voice. Step by step he focused on the inches he moved towards the light.
The painful wait was hardly worth it. Countless men were rushed past him to accommodate their quickening expiration date. The sick smell of the dying and the sewage laden cell crept into his mouth assaulting his taste buds.
After a few hours and few hundred foot walk he reached the front of the line. The sun, now creeping down to the horizon he made it out of the cell before the light of day gave into the long darkness of night.
At the top of the stairs he was confronted by the captain of the ship. He jabbed at Moshe with his index finger and pulled at his skin. He checked his teeth, his groin, his arms and legs. Finally, he was shoved forward with the declaration of, “alive and healthy”.
Then he shuffled forward and followed the line that lead to the ship. It was a massive vessel that shimmered in the falling sun. The powerful and dark wood showed no portholes just a towering three hundred foot ship that sat dead still in the port. It held massive sails that could have covered most of his former town.
A man walked along side of those being sold reading off the terms and conditions for their sale. “You have been sold as payment to the Fat King. You are one of three thousand making the journey. Your subjugation to the White King ends once you are on the ship and are then property of the Fat King. Your life, health, and safety, once you are off the White King’s land, is in the hands of the captain of this vessel. Any attempt to resist orders will be dealt with as he sees fit.”
With that the man jogged back to a later portion of the line where he repeated himself to another group of people.
Moshe stepped foot on the ramp to the boat and looked back at the line. Everyone was walking to what felt like certain doom, but it was for a chance to move on, for the tiny bit of hope that lay within their new home.