Year 1, Spring, Second Month, First Week.
‘-- For an Assistant (first level Alchemist), the most important material is the magic ink. The ink will conduct magic energy through the drawings. Basically, the ink can be made from any material capable of conducting magic. However, the most common and effective conductive material is blood. --’
Karl was paying special attention to Master AI’s teachings and couldn’t help but be shocked when he heard about the blood.
‘-- Like blood, the sap from plants is also a good conductive material. Since plants do not absorb many different things, their sap is easier to process than blood. --’
When he heard that plants’ sap was also an option, Karl sighed in relief.
‘-- Be aware that, like blood, the inks from different plants have different performances for different tasks and different processing methods. For now, you should focus on a simple LQ (low quality) white grass magic ink. The grass grows in abundance everywhere and the processing is simple. --’
Karl continued to plow and prepare the earth while listing to Master AI’s teachings.
In Caiset, each family was given a patch of soil to grow crops, but they also had to help in the public plantation, which would be used to feed the orphans, elders without a family, sick villagers, and the village chief’s family.
Karl was the only child of his family, so it was his job to take care of his family’s fields and represent his family working in the public field every five days.
The annual tribute paid to the cities was always set to be very high, so all the village adults had to work hard to meet the demand, while the village fields could only be left in the care of the younger villagers.
The food consumed by the nobles was specially infused with magic properties. So, the resource fields had to be built using a special technique, which made them expensive and their harvest limited. While the food available to the commoners had to be planted in a regular field.
Around noon, a big commotion started to form at the village entrance.
Elder Said was checking on a villager that had a fever during the night and couldn’t get up to work this morning. The villager’s house was very close to the village entrance, so she easily heard the small children’s commotion.
She went out to check the disturbance, picking up a small frightened girl that had fallen on the hut’s entrance. The trembling girl pointed to the three mounted Guards cursing in the village entrance. The Captain saw that an elder was here and thus said with clear disgust:
“Since you saw that I’m here, quickly send one of these small beasts to call the Chief. If you delay my business, don’t blame me for ending your miserable life right here.”
Said didn’t dare to respond, only lowering her head to acknowledge the order and sending the children to call the Chief.
The sick villager heard the commotion and dragged his body outside, concerned for his young daughter who was crying earlier. When Horacios saw the adult villager, he was filled with rage and disgust, thinking that he was skipping his work at the magic fields.
“Your filth slave, hiding from work in the middle of the day... Let me teach you a lesson!”
The enraged Captain kicked the fallen villager several times, while he pleaded for mercy. Elder Said also bagged him to stop, while most of the children cried and hid.
The villager coughed blood and stoped pleading.
Knowing the villager was dying, Elder Said tried to stop the assault by holding the Captain’s shoulder and reason with him. Horacios was outraged to be touched by a lowly villager. He stopped the kicking and moved to teach the elder woman a lesson, completely disregarding her age.
He was planning to give her a good slap, so he placed some strength on his attacking hand.
Chief Omero had just arrived to receive the Guards and saw the captain moving to attack the elder. Moving faster than it was expected from an elder, he brought his hands around Said and pulled her out of attacking range by position himself to receive the attack instead. The slap/punch hit his back and he fell to the ground crying with pain.
Horacios was confused at how his attack ended up hitting another person. He didn’t saw the Chief before and couldn’t understand how he had moved so fast and precisely.
Chief Omero didn’t waste this lapse and got up explaining:
“Oh, great one! This lowly servant begs your forgiveness. Elder Said is our healer, if she dies the village would meet trouble in preparing the tributes. Please punish this old criminal in her place.”
Horacios sneered but remembered he would be punished if the tributes didn’t meet the minimum quota. Although the nobles wanted the villagers to achieve a little less than the established quota, if the tribute was a lot less he would be held accountable. Soon, his rage decreased and he couldn’t care about them.
“Since you know your place, I’ll not dirt my self with your filth blood. The Royal Mages passed an edict… From this year forth, the village tributes have to increase by 30 percent.”
Seeing the Chief’s despair expression, Captain Horacios smile triumphantly and added:
“The Royal Mages are truly magnanimous. If the village can’t complete the tribute, the difference can be paid with other resources…”
They didn’t wait for an answer and quickly left. Elder Said checked and confirmed the death of the sick villager. The mood was dark, with this edict, more would follow him.
Considering the villagers’ harsh life, after 50 one was already considered an elder. Even so, not a lot of villagers would survive until this age, and the ones that survived would not live much longer. The oldest person in Caiset was 74 years old and was probably gonna die in the next few years. Presently, Caiset only had 40 elders.
The villagers’ life was very miserable, so the elders would have to help with some tasks. They would do all sorts of odd jobs around the village, like taking care of babies and young children, fixing things, cooking, looking after the sick, crafting tools, making straw cloths. Although they weren’t very knowledgeable, some crafts were passed down to the younger, like healing, cooking, and crafting.
“... not possible! We’re already starving and we have delayed the marriages because we don’t have time and materials to build new huts. How can we work more?” An old elder said in a grave tone.
“We know, but if we don’t give them enough, they’ll take children as compensation. Don’t forget about what happened to Rose’s daughter…”
“Chief, we have to think of a solution, this increase is too much… Maybe the elders should start working again, even if we get sick...”
“No... That’s impossible Marlen! Even if we could work, our help wouldn’t be enough and who would care for the children and prepare the food?”
Omero observed in silence while the elders continued to complain and throw in solutions. Some plausible ideas were brought up, but their current predicament wasn’t good. He looked at Marlen and Bill with a heavy heart.
The wrinkles on his face hid his worried expression. He had just been attacked, but his thin old bruised body held well against the mistreatment. To the villagers, he was like a strong foundation stone, and if he had openly shown fragility or despair, things would become really chaotic.
‘It’s happening again... First, they corner us with unbearable orders. Soon, when people start dying and the children are taken... ’
Omero pushed his worries to the back of his mind and decided to finish today’s meeting. He stood e signaled with his right hand, making everyone quiet.
“Let’s finish the meeting… I’ll inform the workers this evening at the village entrance, later you can talk with your families and think of other solutions. That’s no use to give in to despair. ”
The Elders stood up and left, some still complaining. They continued to be afraid, but the Chief’s actions calm them a little.
Two elders stayed, their old faces also hid their expressions. Like Omero, besides concern, they also felt anxious. Something they expected for a long time was now happening.
“So, in the end, it’s happening... Do you think it’s a war again? With which country?”
“It shouldn’t be the Democracy... Maybe it’s the Sandines pushing the borders again”
“Hmm... We made a decision, but we have to protect the children, Katlyn finally recovered...”
“We know Marlen! I lost more than anyone… But this time we’ll do something before it’s too late...”
“I agree, but I’ll not just calm them down and help the Serions suck the villagers’ lives”
“No one is asking you to. We just need to be careful, even the Guards in the Tower are enough to finish the village...”
Later, when the workers returned from the magic fields, Chief Omero was waiting for them at the village entrance. The sun was setting and there was a strange silence on the scene.
The villagers realized that something was wrong, but they didn’t dare to guess what. Chief Omero started by talking about the dead villager.
First, a woman cried and other villagers helped to console her, but soon, everyone held sad and helpless expressions on their faces.
Omero would disperse any spark of breaking down by being firm and reassuring, but he wouldn’t lie saying that they would be ok.