Sometimes, when the day was lagging, I found myself thinking about what it would be like to live in Ewel. Imagine having the same person leading for fifty years, I bet the power goes to their head, especially the one who’s chosen to work with the Continent. He said it’s been awhile since he was last home, it sounded like he was looking back at everything with nostalgia. Still, it made it difficult to talk to people I didn’t normally have a problem dealing with. I rushed in and out of Warren’s home, only making it in time to pick up what he’d baked. True, we didn’t really talk but we exchanged a few words and I didn’t want them to be a lie. If he noticed anything different then he didn’t let on.
Whenever a Heben came to the stall I was never sure how to act. I’d still prefer not to serve them but my eyes were opening and whenever they approached I saw the gaunt faces from lack of food, the fevered eyes as they suffered through illness they couldn’t get treatment for and, above all else, the defeated look they carried with them like their biggest burden. Every single time they approached someone they expected the worst, especially now after the attack when public opinion was firmly set against them.
Four guards marched into the square. Three of them had their hands on their swords, always prepared to defend themselves, the fourth was holding a scroll. It was sealed with deep red was and no doubt branded with the Regent’s seal. We all stopped and watched as they walked past, none of them particularly bothered by all the people watching. The Hebens disappeared quickly.
The fourth guard broke the seal on the scroll and unfurled it grandly, the others stood behind him as he addressed the square.
“In light of recent events the Regent of Solo mourns with the people of Greystone. He wishes to inform the citizens of his most illustrious city that on the fourth day of this coming week he will join them for a day of mourning in this very Hearthsquare,” he spoke clearly and slowly as he read through the short message. He straightened the scroll out and held it up to a decorative wooden post, set a safe distance away from the ever-burning fire. That post was probably the most valuable thing in the whole of the Third and Fourth Quadrants. Another guard took nails from his pocket from his government issued pouch, soon followed by a hammer. The silence was broken while they dutifully pinned each corner down. No one started talking again until the guards had left.
Everyone who wasn’t stuck behind a stall took it in turns to read the note and with each person who read it the noise grew louder. The conversation contorted until you couldn’t hear a single word because they were all rushing together in their excitement.
“Is that really -“
“- that’s his signature-“
“Never seen anything written by him before. I wonder -“
“- gonna see him for real now. He’s -“
“- years since -“
There were even a couple of guards joining in the conversation, drawn by the appearance of the four before them. It was as rare for them to see guards from the First Quadrant as it was for an address from the Regent. All in all it was safe to say everyone was in an excitable mood. Even Warren knew about it when I stopped by on my way home to let him know.
The only person who wasn’t keen was Elswick. As soon as I mentioned the Regent’s name he paled and turned away to grab hold of a chair.
“He’s coming down here? He’s never been to the Fourth Quadrant for as long as I’ve been here,” he was almost whispering.
“And how long is that?”
He started pacing and ignored my question, I was pretty certain he’d heard it. I ate my dinner while he wore a hole in my floor. I’d only known him a couple of days but it was enough to realise there was no point in trying to talk to him when he was so focused on something.
Having finished my food I cleared the scraps off the table then cleaned the it and the kitchen top. I was about to climb the stairs and head to bed for the night when he finally came back to the real world.
“He’s planning something. There’s something going on here,” he was frantic.
“An’ how would you know that? It’s not like you’ve ever met him,” for once I thought I had him, but it’s stupid to think you could be more logical than a Heben.
“Not like this, no. And it was a very long time ago,” he paused a second as if considering something. “I had hoped I’d never have to deal with them again, but I can’t ignore this.”
“You do realise you’re talking to yourself, don’t you?”
“Not if you’re here to listen.”
“What can’t you ignore?”
“Nothing you need to worry about?”
“Do you never stop asking questions?” He snapped. “You don’t need to worry about it because this neither concerns nor affects you. I might be welcome in your home now but you’ve made it clear where you stand on everything else,” again he paused as if he was having trouble catching up with his thoughts, a side effect of a long life I suppose, “just be happy knowing I won’t be bothering you for much longer.”
Once again I found myself going to bed with mixed feelings. It was nice not to be alone in this depressing house, but at least I wouldn’t be risking myself by having him here anymore. I kept repeating it to myself but there was no chance of ever believing that was the only reason I felt odd. I wanted to know more about it, I wanted to know why he was so afraid of the Regent and who he wanted to talk to and what he thought was happening. He might have told me a lot of things over the past couple of days but never actually what I wanted to know.
Over the next few days I expected him to leave, instead he was there every morning and every evening deep in thought and planning every last detail of his secret plan. There were pieces of paper surrounding him, marked with symbols I couldn’t understand.
“What’s that?” I pointed at the nearest page scribbled with scraggily handwriting.
For some reason I never even thought they spoke a different language. Never, in all my life, had I heard a Heben speak anything other than something I understood. He seemed to guess what my small reply meant.
“When we come to your country we’re stripped of everything. It’s illegal for us to speak our language,” he didn’t look up to see if he was right about the hesitation. I think he was just used to being right.
“Doesn’t that make writing it illegal?”
“Funnily enough, no,” he did look up now, “your Regent was arrogant enough to believe we were an uneducated race and it never once occurred to him that we might be able to read and write. The law specifically states that it’s illegal to speak our language. There’s nothing there about writing it.”
I smiled. It was our longest conversation since he’d decided there was something wrong and it was insulting the Regent. But having been in his company for a week I couldn’t help but think; ‘Of course the Regent overlooked that.’