MoboReader> Sci-fi > The Taàr (Dystopia #01)

   Chapter 5 A GIFT FOR THE BARON

The Taàr (Dystopia #01) By John A. Bonello Characters: 18630

Updated: 2018-02-08 12:02


Loud knocking woke him up. Scrambling to his feet, he hurried to the door and unbolted it. Jim and Pat had come to replace him. Ben walked out in the early light of dawn and headed straight towards the temple to find Sal. He found him standing near the map, giving a few last orders to a group of ten men. The previous day's rage seemed to have gone from the old man's face. Ben waited patiently until Sal dismissed the group, then stepped forward. He told him he needed to speak to him.

The old man turned to face the map and calmly started fixing small flags on it. After a little while he looked at the boy, but did not say anything. It was an invitation to speak.

Clearing his throat, Ben told him about the conversation with the two men. Their names were Nel and Karl, he said. But at that Sal's face grew dark with anger, almost like the day before. Ben noticed this, but hurried on before the old man could interrupt him. They were good people, with good intentions he explained, and they had sought them out to offer them help.

His voice hard and low, the Taàr asked the boy if he had been poisoned by those other fools in his group. What was this help they offered? He was curious now, what was it they promised?

Ben felt confident enough to go on. He answered that Nel and Karl told him they could offer them a better life inside the Nimbus Tower. They had fresh food and water, enough for everyone. No one would die of sickness.

The Taàr laughed bitterly. And the boy believed them? Everyone died of sickness in the end. Death is sickness. Life is sickness. All are infected.

But Ben could not accept this. Or perhaps he did not understand it. Maybe he did not believe a single word they said. Maybe it was all a lie. But he yearned for their words to be true, he hoped that all of them together could find a way to live a better life, a life similar to the one their ancestors had lived, the life before the events that Sal recalled so vividly.

The anger seemed to seep out of the old man's face. He grabbed his chair, turned it around, and sat astride it with his chest against the back of the chair. When he spoke, there wasn't any anger in his words, but a sweet sadness.

The episodes he liked to recall, the tales about a better time, were just that–tales, he told the boy. That age was gone forever. Nothing and no one could bring back the things swept away by the bombs.

There was only one truth in the world where they lived–to survive, they needed to face reality day after day. It was a sad truth, a gift from those that came before them, the same ones that lived in an earthly paradise but never appreciated anything they had. He insisted that they should never permit themselves to repeat the same mistake, never again. They could not afford to be lured into the same trap as their ancestors. A better life, comforts, luxuries, were exactly that–a trap, a catalyst for power, envy, hate. It is the nature of mankind, Sal preached, that a man always wants more than he has.

He stopped for breath. Than lowering his voice to a barely inaudible whisper, he said that only hardship and suffering could make them keep both legs firmly on the ground. Through suffering, a man keeps a check on reality and doesn't get lost in illusions. He knows what Ben is going through, he can understand him. But he would like Ben to understand him. Dreaming of a better life could only bring more pain.

What would they offer them, he asked again. Did they have something they really needed? Good food? Purified water? Was there a perfect world inside the tower, like the one that people like them created then annihilated?

No, he was wrong to think they could live a better life. Those were dangerous thoughts. Thoughts that imprisoned the mind and incarcerated the soul. The people of Tartarys, in their misery and suffering, were free. They lived day by day, suffering, struggling together, sharing the sadness that gripped them all–but free. And freedom was priceless.

Go back to work, he told him. Ben should continue from where he left the day before. Sal would decide the fate of the prisoners. Go back, and forget everything they said.

This last order was not delivered with the usual gruffness. Instead, for the first time, Sal had shown Ben a feeling he was not used to receive. Perhaps it was affection, the kind a father would perhaps show his son. But how should he know? He never knew his father, never experienced tenderness. And instead of feeling good about it, Sal's attitude had the opposite effect on him. He felt himself fill with a blind rage, anger towards that old man who wouldn't accept anyone's opinion but his own.

He turned on his heels without a word and walked out of the temple without even taking his water ration. He took the same road of the previous day and walked alone to the place where he had met Karl and Nel. He didn't need anybody. He wanted only to stay by himself.

Ben hurried on, stamping hard as if the land was to blame for everything. He located the mound he was working on, went up, and threw at it all the anger and resentment he had boiling inside, smashing and throwing things blindly, trying to get rid of that uncontrollable rage.

Those two people were offering them a chance to a better life, a chance to stop losing lives of friends in absurd ways. And what did Sal do? The hard headed old fool went preaching about freedom, righteousness and how helpful and logical it was to suffer all your life.

But he couldn't accept that reasoning. Not now, not ever. If there was the s

those areas or about their leader, other than hearsay. It was said that Burak, known to everyone as the Baron, was a giant, strong and fierce. His people ate rats, and dogs, and sometimes humans. Even their own dead. That was what Sal and the older ones said. Ben didn't care to find out.

Rorik had met Burak the Baron only once. He had described him as being younger than Sal, perhaps ten years his junior, and he used to say his look scared the shit out of him. That one time, the Baron was accompanied by a dozen armed guards. The boy had heard from many sources that once Sal and Burak were close friends, until something happened that got them separated.

When the Younglings reached the centre of the open space, Ben placed his hands on the cloth covering his mouth. Without getting up, he started shouting in a loud voice to stop where they were. Thanks to the cloth, his voice came out distorted–muffled and strong, much different from his normal voice.

The six people in the plaza froze in their tracks. Ben continued to shout. He asked them to state their business, to give a valid reason for their presence on the Baron's land. He stopped speaking and his voice echoed for a while, then a dead silence followed.

After a long moment Dalin's reply filled the silence. He could not see the boy, but Ben could see him very clearly, looking this way and that, trying to spot the speaker.

They had been sent by Sal the Taàr, Dalin shouted back. They brought two men from the white tower with them, as captives. A gift to the Baron from his friend the Taàr.

Ben did not reply immediately. He let a few quiet moments go by until he saw his friends fidgeting nervously, moving from one foot to the other. When he thought he had waited long enough, he told Dalin to leave the captives there, in the middle of the plaza, and go back. After a moment's hesitation, he saw Edgar order Pat, Dalin and Alex do as bidden.

Nel and Karl were left there, standing alone, hands tied, looking around them, seeming lost. Again Ben waited. Then he ordered the two men to advance towards a side street to their right. They obliged.

He had done this to avoid being seen by his friends should they have stayed hidden somewhere close by to watch. Slowly, the two men advanced, until they were directly below him. He ran down the mound, took out a pen knife, and cut the rope. Then he removed the cloth covering half his face. If they were surprised at seeing him, they didn't show it.

He asked them to hurry, to follow him quickly as time was against them, then started moving south east, deeper into Baron's territory. He looked back, and noticed Nel and Karl were not following him. They just stood there, baffled. Come on, he urged them again. Follow me.

They moved, reaching him with a few quick strides. Nel put a hand on Ben's shoulder and thanked him for what he had done. But it was enough. He should go now, leave them to their own devices. Otherwise he would be missed by his own people, and when he got back he would have a lot of explaining to do.

I'm not going back, Ben replied. And they should better hurry up unless they wanted to be found by the Baron's people for real. They were not as sweet with their captives as the Taàr's people. They might even end up in a cook pot.

But Nel seemed not to comprehend. Or perhaps he did not want to. He looked back at Ben and asked him where he intended to go if not back to his clan. Where would he live?

With them, in the tower, Ben replied, and it was not a request.

Nel and Karl looked at each other and seemed to speak without words. Then Nel turned back to the boy and moved his head in an affirmative way. Very well, he said. Let's go.

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