Carpe Diem, Page 7

“Damn you, man!” you say. “Can’t you see I’m not from around here? I was just passing by. I have no quarrel with you! Have you no heart?”

The man lowers his fist and quickly loses his frown, though it’s clear frustration still fills him up. He starts searching your belongings to find anything that may implicate you, rummaging through your rucksack and throwing everything in it onto the ground. He then checks your pockets but finds nothing of note. He even pats you down but only manages to find a hidden blade in your boot. Disappointed, he scowls at another of his men and hands him your knife. Growling over the whole ordeal, he stomps off, followed closely by his goons.

Now, at least you aren’t blindfolded or gagged anymore, but you still can’t make out anything in the dark: only a few hushed voices here and there. This is a camp, all right, but it’s strange that it isn’t lit up. Usually, any sort of encampment would be well-lit and guarded. This just seems like a ramshackle collective of tents and storage crates.

A few minutes later, the same man that was beating you comes back with a skin of water. He’s alone this time. He puts the waterskin up to your mouth and lets you take a small sip. You use this to flush the blood from your mouth. For a moment, you think of spitting it back into his face, but it probably wouldn’t be the smartest idea, considering your circumstances, so you direct it to the ground instead.

After you spit out the blood, he brings the waterskin back to your mouth again. This time, he lets you take as many sips as you desire.

“I’m sorry for what I did earlier,” he says. “I know this isn’t enough to have my rough treatment of you be forgiven, but we must be extra cautious.”

He’s right: his offering of water is hardly enough to have him forgiven.

“What’s going on?” you ask. “Why am I being treated like this?”

“I don’t know if I can trust you yet, but at least I’ll tell you about our situation. We’re what those philosophers down in the city of His like to call ‘Mutar’si’, or freedom fighters.  The new baron of the uplands, one of the Mogul’s Favored, has been vicious with his tax demands. He wants a tenth of our annual produce every harvest. It’s absurd! So, me and the rest of the lads rose up and killed the tax collector and his guardsmen. There was no going back after that, so we looted their corpses and came here to hide away from the baron’s wrath. We were such fools. We thought he’d send his guard to look for us, but instead, he sent his thugs to burn our village to the ground. It was the punishment for our impunity. It wasn’t enough for him to simply hunt us down; he decided to go for all our loved ones as well!”

“What happened after that?”

“In the beginning, we were just a small bunch, so we were powerless to get any sort of vengeance. The news spread fast, though. Soon, other villages and tribesman rose up and rebelled against the baron. They heard we were hiding out in the jungle, so they packed whatever supplies they had and came to us. What they couldn’t carry with them, the baron confiscated in their absence.

“Now, both sides are in a stalemate. Without us working the farms, our lands will suffer from famine within the year. The baron’s granaries are fully stocked, but that won’t last forever. Unfortunately, neither will our supplies.

“So, now you’re aware of our situation. That’s why we needed to be extra careful with you. Whenever an unknown face enters our forest, it’s usually one of the baron’s scouts. We can’t have one of them discovering our whereabouts.”

“I see. Well, I’m not a servant of the baron,” you say. “Can I go now?”

“I’m afraid we can’t just let you go. Now that you know about us, you’re a liability if you escape. You’ll be our captive until I decide what to do with you.” Following this exchange, he gags and blindfolds you again. Great.

You spend the night tied up to the tree. Eventually, exhaustion takes hold of you, and you fall asleep while standing up.

In the morning, great hunger pangs wake you as your stomach churns. Seeing as the rebels are barely getting by, your fate will most likely be that you’ll starve to death, too. What an adventure!

Unexpectedly though, someone walks up to you and removes your gag. You then hear the scraping of a wooden bowl with a wooden spoon. After a moment, they place the spoon up to your mouth.

It’s the tastiest gruel you’ve ever tried! It even has a few boiled roots and herbs that you’ve never tasted before. You’re as hungry as a dog, and you eat like one.

Eventually, the spoons of gruel stop. A female voice says, “That’s it. You’ve eaten the entire bowl.”

“More, please!”

“We have no more. I’m sorry.” She then gags you again and goes away. What a precarious situation to be in — dependent on the charity of these rebels. They have just enough of a heart to not let you starve to death, but not enough to free you…