"Mother, why does he have to go? Tell them he needs to stay here with us, that we need him!” I latched onto my mother’s apron as tears rolled down my face. I knew my father had been chosen for some type of game they were playing in the uptown area where the rich people lived, but I didn’t know he had to go away until it was over.
Mother patted my head and her voice was strained as her lip trembled, “I’m sorry son, but in Evanyl that’s how things work. People like us don’t get to decide the rules. Only those with money get to run things, that’s the only real power here, their greed. You father was chosen, so he must go, if not then we will have something very bad happen to us.”
Sweat covered my body as I woke with a start. There’s that dream again, the last time I ever saw my father alive. He told me to stay strong and take care of my mother. Yeah I did that real well didn’t I?
My mother grieved herself to death and there was nothing I could do to stop it. That was ten years ago, but I beat myself up so much over it that it feels like it happened yesterday.
Sighing loudly, I threw my covers off of me and stood up, stretching my arms to the ceiling. Today was going to be another long, back-breaking day I could already tell. Just then there was a knock at the door. I threw my shirt on and went to open it thinking it would be my cousin, but instead it was that pompous jerk of a landlord, Jessuvi.
He was thrilled when my mother died, thinking I wouldn’t have any money to pay him and be forced to move out, which is considered a death sentence here, but I surprised him by taking over father’s work in the fields continuing to have his rent payment in hand. That’s what he’s here for now.
“Zakyrik, good to see you about. I assume you know why I’m here?” I didn’t even bother to fake a friendly greeting. I just turned around and pulled the money from my jacket pocket that was hanging up on the coat rack next to the front door. “Here. I was going to bring it by later, but thanks for saving me the trip. I’m closing the door now.”
Jessuvi frowned and said, “You know boy, that smart mouth is going to get you in trouble one day like it did your father. Keep on though. I will love seeing your face when you get what’s coming to you here soon.” Then Jessuvi trudged down the dirt path that led out to the main road.
What an ass. What did he mean by get what’s coming to me soon? He better not make me lose my job.
Cursing Jessuvi for putting me in a foul mood so early, I set off toward the fields. Before I made it completely out the entryway, a blonde headed girl a few years younger than me comes bounding up the road. It’s my cousin, Zytriana. She smiles warmly and runs up to walk next to me, “So you have to work today?” I nodded, “I work everyday, remember?”
She huffed, “But it’s not fair! I never get to see you anymore.” Her father died in the last tournament five years ago, leaving a note behind asking me to please look after Zytriana if he was to not make it.
Though I don’t know why he asked me. I was supposed to look after my mother and look how good of a job I did there.
“Aren’t you supposed to be picking apples in Jessuvi’s orchard with those women next door?” Zytriana stays in between my house and the neighbor’s house. Next door are two sisters who moved in together after both of their husbands were killed in the tournament twenty years ago.
They raised her and taught her things that I had no clue how to do. I was very fortunate they offered to help me care for her because I was barely able to look after myself, much less a child. She was ten years old back then and her fifteenth birthday is coming up next month.
She shook her head, “They told me to take the day off because there were only two trees ready to be picked. So now I’m bored and was hoping maybe you were off.”
I wish. Rain, shine or snow I’m forced to plow, pick and pull up weeds in the fields of The Ranswits. They owned the land that stretched all the way beside the dirt lane into town. After that, everything as far as the eye could see was owned by The Tamminalins.
I’d rather work for The Ranswits any day over The Tamminalins. They were a cruel, bloodthirsty family that tolerated no one they considered to be beneath them. They only were cordial to those with money and treated everyone else as if they were mangy dogs fit to be beaten. There are rumors that they have personal slaves that live in the underground dungeon of Tamminalin Estate.
“I’ll tell you what, when I get home I’ll cook. I think I still have some meat left in the cellar. I’ll roast it over the fire and we’ll have that and some bread for supper, alright?”
That seems to satisfy her, “I am going to hold you to it then! I will just go back to the neighbor’s house and finish up my quilt I started making yesterday. I’ve gotten really good at stitching.”
Smiling, I waved goodbye to her, thankful yet again for the ladies next door because there is no way I could have ever taught her to sew.
As I neared the three-level platform where we keep our equipment, I noticed that there were men standing around surveying those who were already in the fields working and next to them was none other than Jessuvi himself.
The men’s clothes were neat, trimmed and not a speck of dirt on them. They must be from town. This year is when the competition is held. Every five years we see men from the rich part come down here to the poor land and handpick who they want their champion to be.
They bet money on us winning, and we have no choice, but to compete or else us and our whole family dies. The rich make the rules around here. It’s like this is their world and we are just the entertainment that lives here with them. We aren’t
treated like residents though, we are treated like prisoners.
The rich men were pointing to the workers and talking amongst themselves. Behind them, a younger boy that just started working with us was on the top level putting the hoes and shovels into a cart to be brought down into the field for us to use. That was my cue to leave. I escaped their gaze five years ago, and I’ll hide again this time until they are gone.
As quick as I could manage I turned to walk away, but out of the corner of my eye I watched the younger boy lose his footing and start to fall off of the platform. It was over three stories high and if he were to hit the bottom he would die without a doubt in my mind. I ran forward, catching him before he touched the ground. He thoroughly thanked me, granting me the attention of the rich men above us.
Nodding my head, I then spun around and tried to get away, but was stopped by one of the men calling out to me, “Hey, you there! What’s your name?” I turned back around to spout off a fake name, but Jessuvi beat me to it, “His name is Zakyrik, good sir. That is the one I was telling you about.”
Damn! I knew I wasn’t getting a shiny medal for being a hero, I was getting a death sentence. Jessuvi smiled menacingly, while the man pointed at me and said, “Well Zakyrik, congratulations! You’ve been chosen to compete at the behest of Lord Tamminalin.”