Broken feet again. But they seemed worse than eight years ago.
The Northern Highway led to a small settlement named Acres. Arthen had been to this town once years ago when the Farmer had taken the family there to meet a merchant for Reflynn’s illness. Back then the town was lively with trade and heavily influenced by The Renewal as the town was a hub for missionaries traveling to and from. The priest from their own village had recommended Acres for a cure.
But what Arthen could see now in the nearby distance was a dying grey heap of a town, nothing like he remembered, even from afar. From the many burning coal fires rose large gray smoke into the sky and it lingered a nasty cloud over the town. There was an ill feeling in the air and it gave an unwelcome stink to Arthen’s senses. Maybe this wasn’t his best option, but he had no food and was too weak to journey to another town. So surviving the gray muck of Acres was his only choice.
At the gate of the broken crude wall surrounding the town sat a piked guard leaning against his post, obviously asleep. But Arthen noticed this guard was not of the Golden sort that he remembered that stood the last time he was there. There was nothing regal or proud about him, dirty and boarish with a collection of different stains of vomit, wine, and others that Arthen decided not to wonder about caked into the guard’s clothes. Despite the lack of cleanliness, the fraying cloak the guard wore seemed out of place in his wardrobe. It was dark green and clearly made of some finer materials. Other than that, the man was definitely not the usual kind of guard that would excel in keeping enemies out. But Arthen thanked Enoch for avoiding the trouble of being interrogated and to not have to migrate to another place for the night.
The town was dreary and decapitated. Filth and numerous kinds of debris littered the street from rock, house and clay. Roofs hung by their last rafters and many foundations stood on their last supporting brick. No friendly life roamed anywhere in the streets, just dirty faces looking solemnly out of focus to the sky and into the smoke.
As Arthen walked further he noticed many disgruntled faces of men looking back at him. These men also wore the same fine green cloak the sleeping guard wore, but in a better condition. Like the guard, these men also were just as drunk and Arthen could tell by their unfocused eyes that they could not comprehend clearly Arthen’s appearance and shrugged him off. Arthen thought it best not to ask these kinds of men for a job.
He found the butcher’s shop. The shop owner seemed friendly enough, but when Arthen asked for a job he seemed frightened as if it were a danger for his life and the lives of his family. Arthen was shooed out the door.
It was no different everywhere else. Many of the people he asked jobs for had very similar reactions to the butcher and Arthen was seen scurrying off from dozens of dilapidated buildings, downtrodden.
It was reaching nightfall and Arthen was nowhere nearer to finding a meal and was weaker than when he started. But then a rain front had moved in and started to trickle a depressing pour upon Arthen’s already agonizing trial.
He found himself a little spot to avoid the rain under an awning in a broken down building that was clear of puddles and cold mud. He scavenged a dirty blanket and wrapped himself up, praying for no fleas. As he struggled to sleep his discomfort away he was approached by the soothing song of angels. Three lovely voices swayed with the mild wind.
“Will you drown or will you drink?”
Arthen looked up and saw the source of the voices coming from three ladies walking down the road and he admitted to himself that they were not as beautiful as their singing. The sirens were very stretched looking women with thin, dirty, gray dresses that flapped violently in the wind along with their stringy hair. “What’s wrong Our Brother?” one of them said.
Arthen strained through his memory. These women had to be the local chapter of the Gray Ladies, the three holy priestesses For the Protectors. But these women were nowhere near as beautiful as the Gray Ladies Arthen had met in the past. They were strung out and wild-eyed with toothless smiles. On their faces was black eye coloring that ran down in tears on their cheeks. Their eyes were not red but clear white without a speck of vein on them. And upon closer look Arthen could tell the color in their hair was cleansed to white from an unreasonable amount of ritualistic Washings.
But despite their appearances, they were still women of Enoch, models of the Eves, and Arthen had to respect their holiness. And if they really were true Gray Ladies, they would help Arthen in his time of need if he asked for it.
“Please My Sisters. I’m in need. I have not eaten in–I don’t know how long and I can’t carry on. Please! Do you have anything I can eat to survive?”
Then the three of them did something that disturbed Arthen. They cackled.
“Our Brother!” they all said in unison.
“You’re tired and broken.”
“In pleas you’ve spoken.”
“But your manhood has yet–”
“To be awoken!” they all finished together.
Arthen looked at them. “I don’t understand,” he said weakly.
They all laughed again.
“Our Brother, you peasant.”
“We have no food for you.”
“But our company is yours, and our bodies are too.”
“No, no, no!” Arthen said immediately. “No I don’t want–I was just hoping for you charity in sustenance! I have no desire–”
And they laughed once again.
“This one is fresh.”
“And innocent too.”
“But we’ll quell your pains, and please your senses too.”
Suddenly one of the Sisters smacked the last singer across the side of her face causing the afflicted woman to fall in the mud with claw marks of red on her face.
“You can’t rhyme the same word with itself, you twat!”
“What does it matter?” came in the third Sister. “The words are the allure, not the actual rhyme!” Their voices had become uncharacteristically harsh and deep.
“Of course it’s the rhyme!” said the assailant Sister.
“I’ve had it with your rhyme-mongering, you bottom-feeder!”
The assailant Sister cackled a final time before her hurt Sister jumped on top of her and pulled her down by her hair. The third Sister started to punch the assailant Sister as they all scuffled in the mud, screaming high-pitched squeals. Arthen picked himself up and ran down the street cautiously to a new awning to sleep under.
Another day passed with no food. He made a small camp for himself in another dilapidated roof after a couple of the other homeless fellows scared Arthen away for staying in their shelter. His entire body ached and felt like crumpled paper. Even though his right arm seemed to be doing fine and caused no more pain, his roaring hunger grounded him. He lay in whatever dry patch of dirt he could find with the dirty blanket wrapped around as much of his body as it could cover. The lack of hair all over his body made him have to endure and even more bitter cold. He looked for scraps in whatever trash receptacle he could find, but it seemed that there was not any uneaten food. There was a small pumpkin farmer whose patch was soon ripening, so Arthen asked if the farmer would be kind enough to donate his smallest pumpkin to Arthen to eat. The farmer said all of his pumpkins had already been sold to the town to give one out to everyone and no outsiders could come in and take any. On his way out from the farm back to the town, Arthen thought about taking one of the pumpkins laying there. But he knew Enoch wouldn’t approve of it. He grabbed onto the pendant around his neck for strength. Surely his mother wouldn’t think too kindly of it either.
He looked down at his mother’s pendant lying in the palm of his hand. The intricate carvings in the smooth shiny wood made the whole thing look like a swirling droplet of water resting on his skin, holding its shape and tension. This pendant was the one thing he took with him when he was ten, and it was the only thing he took with him again after Drywood fell. It was the one thing that had remained a constant with him throughout his life, in each stage.
Don’t give in, he thought to himself.