Prejudice and Refuges
Those members of the Petala militia devoted to Womb struck at darknail. They killed the rightful Baron, then turned on his court and those militia members who were loyal to the Crown. Womb arrived and inspected the bodies being piled in the stronghold’s courtyard. He nodded his head, went to the audience hall and sat in the high chair he had once occupied. His senior officers accompanied him.
He cast his gaze among the men. “A new order rises. The weak will be crushed. Only the strong will survive to build a Carandir that will regain its place in the world. The foreigners who suck upon the teat of our nation will be cast out along with the New Nobility, the usurping shopkeepers. Only pure Carandirians will live among us. Our race will expunge the filth. Form bands of men loyal to our cause. They are authorized to take any action necessary. I must send messages to Baroness Luja and Baron Gilyon. We now secure Petala, Eel and Shenan, but there are many in the other western baronies who share our vision and await the signal for war to begin.”
In the early hours of morning, gangs of men with torches, clubs, swords and knives broke down the doors of shops owned by those deemed contaminated by parentage, origin or beliefs. The owners and their families, who often lived above their businesses, were driven into the streets. Homes were invaded and torched. Many were beaten and killed while the official militia stood by. People fled to the countryside, the hills, the forest, anywhere out of the melee.
Marawee woke to someone pounding on his door. He opened it to find his son-in-law’s father, Len Gento, with a lantern in his hand. Len stared down the road, then turned to Marawee. “Quickly. Gather your belongings. Hebra is bringing a wagon with Keetala and the baby.”
The light from the lantern reflected off of Marawee’s dark skin. “What is wrong? Why are your son and my daughter coming with a wagon?”
“Villagers and outsiders are raiding the homes of everyone not born in the barony. “
“Doesn’t the militia stop them?”
“They stand and watch. One declared that Womb is baron again and has ordered the expulsion of all easterners and foreigners. Hurry. They will be here in moments.”
Marawee spread his hands to indicate his property. “This is our home, our land, given to us by the Crown.”
“Womb is in revolt against the Crown.”
A mob ran up the street carrying torches, pitch forks and scythes. “Get them,” cried voices. “The maggots.”
They reached the doorstep. One of Marawee’s neighbors, a man whose barn he had helped to rebuild after a storm, said, “By order of Baron Womb, the lands and property of all easterners and foreigners are confiscated. You must leave at once.”
Marawee looked around to the faces of men he had worked beside and drank with at the tavern. “What are you doing Entar? We have all shared a life here. Many of us fought the Barasha together. Why do you come to my house with threats?”
Another said, “This land is for Carandirians.”
Marawee took a step forward. “I am Carandirian. I swore an oath to this monarchy. I chose to be here.”
“Well, now you can choose to leave quietly or be burned out.”
Umera joined her husband. “You have no right to do this.”
A man in the back of the mob shouted, “Silence. Women have no voice in this barony. Men will decide who has rights and you have none.”
Marawee stood tall. “My wife and all other women have the same rights as any man. What are you saying? There are only twelve of you. Where are the rest of the villagers? You do not speak for them.”
Entar held his torch like a mace. “They stay in their houses and let those with the courage to act cleanse the land of scum. They know their duty to the baron and the consequences for those who speak out against him.”
A voice came from behind Entar. “Len, you and your son can stay. We have no quarrel with you for befriending this immigrant. You are true Carandirians. But Hebra’s black wife and the abomination she bore must leave.”
Entar looked behind him with a scowl, then turned to Marawee while averting his eyes. “Because you have been a good man, we will allow you to take a wagon with your personal belongings and any coins you have, but your lands are forfeit to Baron Womb. Head east and find passage back to Huron where you came from. Return to your own kind.”
Marawee slowly shook his head. “I fought the sorcerers and freed all of you. I can still fight.”
“Tell him, Len. Tell him that the militia are just down the road with a bigger mob. Tell him to get out. We can hold them back for a span, no more. Tell him!” Entar turned and led the mob away.
Marawee stared after them with his fists clenched. Umera stepped out into the road. “What are we to do?”
“I don’t know. I can’t believe this. We have lived with these people for nearly two decades. Everyone welcomed us. We laughed and ate together. How could this be happening?”
Len said, “We must flee, all of us. We are family. I have already decided to leave. Hebra and Keetala will have finished loading our belongings and will be here any moment. We must travel east or they will kill you. I will stand with you and they will kill me.”
Hebra pulled a long wagon up to the house. Two lanterns were attached to the front. Keetala sat beside her husband on the driver’s bench with Marshala in her arms.
When the wagon stopped, Keetala handed Marshala to Hebra, jumped down and ran to her father. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed her dark cheeks against his. “They surrounded the house and said they were going to burn us out.”
Marawee hugged her tightly.
Umera said, “I don’t understand why everyone turned against us. The world has gone mad.”
Keetala sobbed. “They called Marshala the most horrible names.”
Hebra held tightly to his daughter. “I looked back and saw people looting the house as we drove off. People I know.” He closed his eye and shook his head.
“We can’t stop to think of that now,” said Len. “Quickly. Take everything that can fit in the wagon.”
They loaded clothes, coins, lanterns, food and Marawee’s sword from the war. Eight tespans later, they were riding quickly down a road leading east.
It took over a span for them to reach the foothills of a mountain range and leave the vineyards behind. Marawee looked back for a final glance at the home he had lived in, where his daughter had grown up, where his granddaughter had been born, where he had known the greatest joy. Then, they entered the trees of a forest and the valley was cut off from sight.
The road rose steeply. There were many switchbacks. Hebra slowed the horse to navigate a road that sometimes became so narrow there was just enough space to keep the sides of the wagon from brushing against trees. Keetala crawled into the wagon bed and slept with her daughter in her arms. Len fell asleep next to Umera.
Marawee took the reins from Hebra, who stretched his legs. The young man said, “I have never been out of the valley. Do you know how far Meth is?”
Marawee urged the horse forward. “Many long weeks travel. I’m not even certain this road reaches the city. We will take it as far as possible. Hopefully, it leads to a barony that is still loyal to the Crown.”
They continued in silence. After a while, Hebra said, “Do you think we have gone far enough to make camp safely?”
“I’d like to get a little farther away. Dawn will come soon and we should find a place to hide. I don’t know how far Womb’s power reaches.”
“He joined the Barasha, didn’t he?”
Marawee turned his head toward the young man. “Yes.”
“Was it terrible, this war?”
The former solider looked back to the road. “All wars are terrible. Some are necessary. Neither of us would be here if the Barasha had won. Baras would have destroyed everything.”
“Do you mind talking about it?”
“There’s not much to say. I spent most of my time marching behind our prince, Udalla. He is a great leader in my homeland. We all loved him. When we were not marching, we were waiting. The battle was quick. Not a one of us would be ashamed to say we experienced terror. Many did not return from that field, many friends. All of us pledged our lives to defeat the Barasha. It was necessary, but there was no glory. Only fools find glory in war.”
“Have you taken up arms since?”
Marawee gave a short laugh. “You are a man of many questions, Hebra.”
“I’m sorry. I will be quiet.”
“Don’t be. It is because people in our village were quiet tonight that we are here. I don’t know if it was from fear or a deep-rooted hatred of those who are different that they have hidden all these years.”
“I feel ashamed for their hatred.”
“It is not your fault. You are my son as much as you are Len’s.”
“I feel ashamed because I think I understand. My father once told me about talk of pure Carandirians, long before the Barasha arrived. The strange thing is, all Carandirians are immigrants. Our ancestors came from the North Continent as explorers and were given the land by the Laran as a gift to Avar the Great for subduing Baras.”
“I didn’t know that. Where did the Laran go?”
“No one knows for certain. Some believe they went west and settled by the Great Ocean.”
“The ship I sailed on from Huron passed the western coast. I saw no sign of settlements.”
“They are a mysterious people, or so it is said, one of the original tribes who were taught by the dragons before Baras turned to evil. The Laran might have concealed themselves.”
As the sun rose, Marawee urged the horse off the main road and into a gap in the trees. Everyone was bounced around as the wagon moved over rough terrain. When they were concealed from the road, Marawee brought the wagon to a stop.
Len got down and stretched his legs. “This is hard on old bones. We should reach a summit soon. Do you think it’s safe to travel by day?”
Umera said, “Perhaps we should rest here and travel by dark tomorrow night. We can see where that takes us. Do you have any idea where we are?”
Len shook his head. “Not really. I’ve traveled the main roads to sell wine, but these secondary paths sometimes run at a crisscross over the mountains. It could even take us to a dead end.”
“We have no choice,” said Hebra. “We’ll just have to trust that we’ll reach safety.”
Keetala walked around with Marshala in her arms as she tried to comfort the baby who was crying. “Where will we go, Father?”
Marawee said, “Womb’s reach can’t extend beyond Petala. I don’t know how he intends to stay in power. The Crown and the other baronies will send troops to quell the rebellion. The road we’re on runs more north than east. I’m not certain if we will reach Lena or Tesar. Either way, we have to notify the authorities quickly. They can send terecs to the palace to alert the army.”
Umera placed her hand gently on Marawee’s arm. “Will you go to war again?”
He looked into her eyes. “We will all do what we must. I am no longer young. The militia of whatever barony we reach will protect us. They and the Carandir army will launch an attack against the traitor. They won’t want an old man in their way.”