Episode 24 - "Stirring Trouble"
by Camille LaGuire
Cooper wasn't sure; it might have been just that everyone looked on him differently. It seemed, though, that something had come together in him. As though before that he had just been biding his time.
Thus it was another warm and tiring evening, not a week later, that Jack sat down next to where Cooper and Tim were talking. He listened silently for a while, chewing on a bit of lemon grass, which was about the only way a man could clean his teeth in this place. He'd been in the workshop since the incident -- and not in the fields -- doing smithwork and repairs.
Rocken had just been through for the evening rounds, and Tim watched until he was out of the pit.
"So I wonder, how do they decide which murderers to hang, and which to send here?" said Tim.
"It's luck," said Cooper. "Rocken had a witness that said it was self-defense."
"Then they should have let him go."
"He murdered a nobleman. They'd have hung him for that regardless of whether it was self-defense. But the witness was a nobleman too. I suppose it was easier to transport than to sort out who was more important."
Jack sat up and tossed away the bit of lemon grass he'd been chewing on.
"So how many murderers do thay have in this camp, then?"
Cooper thought about it.
"The only one I've seen is Rocken."
"So it's a lie, what they say."
"What's a lie?"
"That transportation is a mercy, because it saves us all from hanging."
"It saved you from hanging."
"It was an odd circumstance, though. They had no intention of transporting me. It was clear enough they were determined to hang me. But I was saved ...."
He paused, and a puzzled looked came across his face as he thought about it.
"By what?" prodded Cooper.
"Just like Rocken, I had an important witness who couldn't be ignored."
"And what did he say?"
"She," said Jack, as if the fact still surprised him.
"So you have an important lady friend?"
"No! I'd never seen her before in my life."
"And still she testified for you?"
"What did she say?"
"That I was a literary light. And a philosopher for the coming age to boot."
Cooper laughed as Jack shook his head and shrugged.
"And that went over with the court?"
"Not in the least. It just pointed up why they wanted to hang me, actually. But she also pointed up that they were breaking the queen's laws all over the place just in charging me. A lot of faces in that court got red at that."
"I can imagine. A woman telling them about the law."
"But it was a woman's laws," protested Jack. "Still they called her a silly woman and shut her up as quick as they could. I suppose they let her speak because they thought a fine noblewoman would say something against me. But she did speak, and they couldn't pretend they hadn't heard, so they sentenced me to transportation, in case that other silly woman with the crown ever got to hear of it."
Jack winced as he raised his arms up and put his hands behind his head. He paused for a long time and glanced calculatingly at Cooper.
"And what do you think they sent you here for?" he asked. It was a funny way of putting it.
"I don't think," said Cooper. "I know. They sent me here for burglary."
Jack shook his head and leaned in a little closer. "What did you steal?"
"How much do you think that silver was worth?"
"Couple of crowns."
"And did you do damage getting in?"
"Broke a window."
"Worth another crown to repair it, would you say?"
"And how much did Clement pay for you?"
"Eighty-five crowns," said Cooper. "I was younger and stronger then."
"And would you say that Clement expects to make a considerable amount more from your labor than what he spent on you?"
"Already has, I'd say."
"So your labor's worth quite a lot."
"And all that gold that's passed over your head, did any of it go to the people you stole from?"
"I don't believe so," said Cooper, grinning a bit as he realized where Jack was headed.
"You can be sure it didn't," said Jack.
"And even their silver was a bit dented when they got it back."
"So it would have served justice better if they'd given you a good beating and made you work for a bit right at home to pay back the damage you'd done, and maybe a bit more for the expense to the court."
"So tell me again what they sent you here for?"
"Aye. And what about young Tim? What did they send him here for?"
"He's young, so they probably paid more."
"One hundred, even," said Tim.
"They got more than that from you, Tim," said Jack.
Cooper looked at Tim, who looked miserable.
"The house. My father's house. They took it to pay my debts."
"And how did you get into those debts?" asked Jack. "Did you spend and gamble?"
"You know I didn't," said Tim, shortly.
The boy swallowed and looked at Cooper. "My father died in the war, fighting on the free side. They taxed us for war damages. I couldn't make enough to pay it."
"They taxed you because they wanted the house," said Jack. "And they got money from you trying to pay the tax, and money from selling you. I'm confused. Who's the criminal again?"
"They're bastards," said Tim.
"No," said Jack. "They're the enemy in a war. It's those with power against the rest of us. They keep winning as long as they have us convinced we're fighting them each alone. There are a hell of a lot more of us than them."
"I wouldn't say that too loud, Jack," said Cooper.
"No, but it needs to be said all the same." He lowered his voice and leaned in closer. "It doesn't matter that you're a theif, and he's a debtor and I'm a traitor. We're all the same. Even the slaves."
"They were never free. They were born to it," said Cooper. "And they're savages."
"Did they choose to be slaves?"
"Then they're the same as us, too."
"I wouldn't say that too loud either."
Jack sighed and looked at him sidelong, annoyed. But he knew what Cooper was telling him. He chewed his lip.
"They can help us. They get sent on more errands than you do, and longer ones. And sometimes the girl spends the night in the house."
"Help us what, Jack?"
Jack simply shrugged. Cooper had the feeling he wasn't just talking about an escape now. At least he was smart enough not to say the word rebellion aloud yet.
"This isn't Tantaline," said Cooper.
"No," he said. "Not yet."
"Not by a long shot."
"I know," said Jack, with another shrug. "You have to be half free before you can be all free. But do you know what we started out with in Acton?"
"No, and I don't want to know."
Jack paused and then looked up at the wild jungle where it was said that some had escaped and lived bandit lives. Then he looked back at Cooper, his blue eyes clear and shining.
"We started with bandits."
Stay Tuned For Episode 25 - "Talk of Escape"
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