He slammed his fist into the ground. It was so unfair. Why did they get to disregard the law just because they were aristocratic children? Why could they beat anyone on the streets without fear for punishment? Why did their identities let them get away, when there were others were penalized for half their crimes?
Why? Why? Why? Tears streamed his face, and fell onto the dirt beneath him, mixing with the blood. Why couldn’t the government officials listen to his pleas? Why did his suffering have to go in silence just because that he was a farmer’s child?
What made it acceptable for them to bully those that struggled so hard to get by? Even if the government turned a blind eye, why could they get away with such acts without weighing down their conscience? Why could they act without guilt when they had the luxury of regularly eating and resting well, in contrast? Even if aristocratic families earned their power and wealth from contributions to war and to the state, that shouldn’t give them the right to oppress others.
While he and his family barely made enough money to survive each year, they’d earned it by toiling day-in and day-out on the field, out in the hot sun and out in the blistering cold. Their hard efforts contributed to the nation’s food supply. What did they do to deserve living their lives under rich folk’s condescending eye? Why did those who never touched a plow in their lives, get to look down on those who they depended on for survival? It wasn’t fair.
Why did the king consider farmers lowly peasants when they worked harder than anyone else? When they provided for even the king’s survival? Why did their contributions go unseen and their work go unappreciated? Why did the children of aristocrats, children who have done nothing for the country they live in, get to live a life of luxury and get away with doing whatever they wanted? Why did money and status speak louder than anything else? What kind of world – what kind of justice was this?
He felt the world sway around him, the droplets of blood smearing into the brown beneath him, and everything went black.
He woke to muffled whispers. A conversation coming from a distance. He gasped as pain rippled through his torso with his effort to sit up. In the darkness, his hands reached for the closest thing to stabilize himself. His eyes shot open, grogginess gone in an instant. Something was off. The thing he sat on was too soft to be the ground.
Feeling it, he quickly realized it was a bed. But this was definitely not home. His family didn’t have the money to waste on such a plush mattress. If they were lucky, they’d sleep on excess hay bales covered in sheets. On unlucky years, they simply slept over a patch of straw over the ground. Where was he? Suddenly, the room lit up from something above. He squinted at the sharp transition in lighting.
“Thank goodness you’re awake!” A blond hair boy, not much older than himself, exclaimed with a smile as he set a tray to the table. “I’d been beginning to lose hope.”
“You are?” He asked, studying the boy. He couldn’t have been older than fifteen. Dressed in a black shirt and trousers,adorned by black vest a shining brooch, it was clear that the boy was from the upper class.
“Call me Kar.” The boy answered, still smiling. “And you?”
“The others just call me farm boy.” He responded, squinting. What was this aristocratic kid planning? As far as he knew, they never associated with the classes that they considered beneath them without a reason. And those reasons were usually never good.
“And you prefer to go by that?” Kar asked with a frown.
“Of course.” He answered. There was no reason to give his name to an aristocrat-spawn. Names were powerful. Not only could they be used in conversation, but they were also important identification information used in the court. Giving an stranger, an aristocrat no less, such a valuable bargaining chip would do him no favors. Blackmail,…lies…there were too many ways that the information could be used against him. His word against a rich man’s words would never turn out well for himself.
“Okay then, farm boy it is.” Kar responded, before taking his wrist. “Hold still, I need to assess your condition.”
What kind of game was this? It was the aristocratic children that injured him. What was this one doing? Trying to win his forgiveness? His trust? His loyalty? He wasn’t planning to give up any.
“Your pulse is stable.” Kar declared. “But you should still refrain from excess movement in these upcoming months, ideally by getting more rest. At least, until your fractures recover.”
As he spoke, another man entered the room with a tray of food. Like Kar, new arrival was dressed in a white dress shirt adorned with a black vest, paired with black dress pants. As the man approached, it became clear that he was much older than Kar, with greying hair at the temples. Probably Kar’s father. Apart from a missing brooch and a reduced number of ruffles, the man’s attire was identical to Kar’s.
“Young Lord.” The new arrival addressed as he set his tray onto the table beside the one Kar brought in. “The food you requested is ready.”
“Thank you, Linus.” Kar answered, before turning back. “Farm boy, this is Linus. He’s my family butler. You seek him out if you have any questions in your time here.”
Linus bowed before him. The first time in his life that someone, dressed in such fancy attire, bowed to him. The first time that anyone has ever bowed to him. He knew it was a greeting among the upper class, but it still caught him off-guard, almost distracting him from what Kar said.
“Are you saying that I’m your prisoner?” He asked, feeling rage grow within his chest. He wasn’t going to let some aristocrat keep him around as a pet. Besides, his family would be waiting for him back at home. They needed him. One hand short on a farm puts a significantly heavier burden on the rest of the family.
“No. Not at all.” Kar denied, waving his hand. A motion that he couldn’t help but find suspicious. “You’re just free to stay with us until you recover. In your current condition, long distance travel would be nigh impossible.”
“I would like to go home.” He answered, adamant. “We can’t be far enough away for it to be qualified as ‘long distance travel.’”
“If you’d prefer to recover at home, that’s not a problem.” Kar answered. “We’ll drop you off. But you’ll still need to stay with us for a few days, until you regain some strength.”
“Fine.” He answered sulkily. He’d stay until he recovered enough to walk and not a moment longer. Whether the aristocrat-spawn liked it or not, he was going to leave as soon as he had the ability to. Ideally without the brat knowing. He knew better than to hold one of their kind to their words.
It’s been several days, and he was now able to sit up without any assistance. The rich boy hadn’t shown any interest in him, over the past few days, beyond matters of health. Linus would unfailingly serve him food, extravagant meals that differed sharply from what was commonplace back at home. While Linus would check up on him occasionally to see if there was anything that he needed, they mostly left him alone. The only time he’d see Kar was when the boy would come in to briefly grab his wrist, verify the state of his fractures, and change his bandages. Even those visits came at relatively predictable times, either soon after lunch or right before bed.
The entire experience dumbfounded him. Why were these people maintaining the act for so long? What was their purpose in keeping him in the dark? What was their agenda? The only thing that could come to mind was human trafficking.
But they’ve shown him nothing but kindness and courtesy in each of their interactions. An unnecessary gesture. He couldn’t leave their watch anyways. Not for a while anyways. Not in his current state. Not even if he wanted to.
The door creaked open. It was Kar, carrying the usual tray of bandages and ointments, and implements that he still didn’t understand the purposes of.
“So, going home, as you previously mentioned…” Kar began. “Where exactly do you live?”
“Should be a few minutes East of where you found me.” He answered, immediately. “At one of the farms.” Were they finally going to let him go?
“There are no farms in this area.” Kar replied, shaking his head. “Are you mistaken?”
“You’re lying to me.” He argued. There was no doubt about it. He’d traveled the entire distance, before he was attacked, by foot in a matter of hours. “I definitely passed out a few miles out from the farm, on the way to the city.”
“There is no city around here.” Kar answered.
“I don’t believe you.” He responded. There was no way that he could. Even if he mentioned the wrong direction, there were farms located within the entire mile’s radius from where he fell. Then it occurred to him. How could a city boy aristocrat possibly know the difference between the cities and the countryside? For all he knew, the boy probably didn’t know what a city was and couldn’t identify a farm, even if his eyes landed directly over it. He shook his head in pity. “You don’t know what a farm is, do you?”
“Of course I do.” Kar replied. “It’s just that there really aren’t any nearby.” Without waiting for a response, he turned toward the door and shouted. “Linus! Can you fetch the wheel chair?”
A few moments later, Linus entered the room with an interesting contraption. Like its name, it was a chair on wheels. A set of four wheels in total, in place of chair legs. A smaller pair in the front and a larger pair in the back.
“Shall I assist you in moving him?” The elderly man inquired.
Move him? So had he been right the entire time? Were they going to reveal their true motives? Were they going to sell him into slavery at last? He struggled as Kar tried to wrap his arms around him. He may be poor, but he was a free man. A citizen. They couldn’t do this to him.
He clenched his hand into a fist. Why did aristocrat families get to disregard any and every law? Whether it was a small and insignificant law or a major one such as those against human trafficking and slavery, their wealth, status, and power allowed them to ignore every single one without batting an eye. He was tired of it. Sick and tired of all of it. All the injustice. All the inequality. He threw his fist directly at Kar’s face.
He wasn’t going to endure it anymore. Not a moment longer. He turned his attention to Linus, as Kar recoiled from the impact and pain. Blood dripped down his nose.
“You!” The butler shouted, angry. “Young Lord has done nothing but help you over the past few days, how could you hurt him?”
“I have no regrets.” He answered smugly. “If you have a strong opinion about the matter, then come at me yourself!”
“Then maybe I will!” Linus answered, folding his sleeves.
He clenched his fingers together into another fist, prepared to throw it the very moment that the old man closed the distance between them. It didn’t matter that he was only employed by the rich. A henchman that did whatever his employer requested, was as equally deserving of a beating as the man that gave him orders. Without warning, he flinched as a sharp pain ran through him. His ribs. All the activity was straining his injured body more than he intended.
“Linus, don’t!” Kar shouted, holding up one hand as he held his nose with the other. “I’m fine.”
Linus nodded, acknowledging his employer’s words, but continued forward, looking like he had no intention of stopping.
If he’d known that throwing a punch would take so much out of him, he wouldn’t have taunted the man. At least, not while he still had limited ability to physically fight back. The man was coming to fast. In face of the pain within him, his arms lost strength. Closing his eyes and raising his arms over his head in defense, with the limited energy that the pain failed to take, he braced himself for impact.
It wasn’t an attack that hit him. Instead warm arms wrapped around him and lifted him into the air. He opened his eyes to find the Linus’s face above him. What? The gentleness of the butler’s actions startled him. Just as gently as the servant lifted him, the man placed him down into the wheel chair.
“Thank you Linus.” Kar said, clearly relieved. Straightening and waving Linus to follow, he pushed the chair, via the handles behind it, toward the door.
“Where are you taking me?” He asked.
“To give you a better picture of where we found you.” Kar answered. “The place should be visible from the front of the house.”
He clenched his fist in his lap as they pushed him through the halls. He hated how his condition left himself entirely under their control. He hated how he couldn’t just go home, to the family waiting for him. He hated how aristocrats had so much power in his life. He hated how he had to depend on such people for survival now.
Despite his distaste, he couldn’t help but find his gaze lingering at every passing sight. Kar’s home didn’t fit his expectations for an aristocratic mansion. Far from extravagant, it was mostly bare. Furniture and decor were sparse. With the exception of the interspersed lamps hanging on the walls that lit the pathway, the length could be said to be empty. Furthermore, besides Linus, there was hardly anyone else in open sight. No guards. No maids. If he hadn’t known better, he would’ve thought that the place was just a large public building.
After rounding several corners, they finally arrived outside. He felt his mood lift instantly. Stretching his arms out into the empty space, he sucked in a deep breath. Since waking at Kar’s place, it was his first time outdoors. The first time outside of the confines of the building. The first time he was free to breathe fresh air and free to feel the warmth of sunlight on his skin.
Satisfied, he turned his attention back toward his surroundings. Scanning the landscape, he saw nothing but sand. Kar wasn’t kidding when he said there weren’t any farms. In fact, there was nothing at all. Though the flat terrain allowed him to see a distance of what might’ve been several miles, there was no detectable house or person in the sight. Even in the absence of wind currents, the entire area looked dead. No trees and no plants, beyond the occasional cacti.
“Where did you say you found me?” He asked, feeling a sense of panic rise within him.
“Linus found you and brought you back.” Kar answered. “He can probably take you to the exact location.”
“Just tell me.” He demanded, suddenly unsure of what was true. He couldn’t trust them. But at the same time, he wanted to know what they had to say. They were his only source of information in such a secluded place. “I’ll be able to see from here.”
“About twenty minutes off that way.” Linus answered, pointing into the distance. “Laying by the road.”
“Is that so?” He replied, voice barely audible. He had indeed passed out alongside a road. But it wasn’t that one. In fact, the place that he last saw looked nothing like anything that he could see. Hundreds of unanswered questions swarmed his head. How did he get here? Were they the ones that brought him over? Or was it the other aristocrat children? Where is this place? How far away was he from home? Questions that he didn’t have the answer to. Questions that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get answers for.
He paused. Contemplating his situation. There was too little he knew about Kar and Linus. He couldn’t be sure whether he could trust them. Furthermore, never in all of his life had he ever seen such a flat plain. Never in his life had he seen so much emptiness. So much nothingness. It was as if the entire region was devoid of life. Devoid of anything but sand. Could he really trust people that lived in a place like this? Could he really trust an aristocratic boy and his manservant?
“Why do you live in a place like this?” He heard himself ask aloud, before reflexively clamping a hand over his mouth at the slip. No response. He turned to see if anyone heard him, and screamed.
“Linus! Fetch me the medical kit!” Kar shouted, kneeling before a man coated in red.
All sounds faded out, as he watched Linus run into the building. He was right. They were involved in some kind of human trafficking or experimentation. How else could such a mess of a man appear on their doorstep? He needed to get out of here. He needed to get out of here now. Now that they were distracted.
Pain shot up his body as he moved his legs. In his haste, he’d forgotten that he was on a chair. A chair that he didn’t know how to operate. He felt panic rise in his chest as he caught Linus emerging from the house. No. Not yet.
Luckily, the man didn’t seem to notice him. Handing a box to Kar, Linus disappeared, once more, from sight. But not for long. Barking a series of orders, the man returned with another group of men. A group of men that he had never seen, despite the days that he spent at Kar’s place. And in their arms, they carried a stretcher. Further proof of their business.
He turned away. He needed to get out of here before any of them noticed. He needed to get out of here while they dealt with that bloody man. He needed to get out of here before he became one of their possessions. Before he became the next bloody man.
He reached his hands down to the wheels attached to the chair. But, pushing at them was no use. He looked back at the scene, he was still at the same position. He pushed again, keeping his eyes on Kar and Linus. But nothing charged. He was stuck.
Fear washed over him, as he watched them load the wounded man onto the stretcher. It was his turn next. As if on cue, Linus turned to face him then.
His eyes darted side to side, searching for a possible escape route. Every option seemed to leave him exposed. Suddenly, he realized why they chose this place. Why they chose this place, of a places, as their place of dwelling.
He turned. Linus was gone. So was Kar. He let out a breath. They must’ve forgotten about him.
“I’m sorry you had to see that.” A voice said behind him, startling him, before his chair began moving toward the place he dreaded the most. Kar’s mansion. “This is a common occurrence in His Lordship’s life.” There was no doubt about the identity of the speaker then. Linus.
It’s been a couple hours since Linus deposited him back at his room. For the first few hours, escape was the only thought on his mind. But with their long absence, he calmed himself. If they wanted to sell him, he at least needed to be in good shape. They wouldn’t be able to make much from a sick man. If they wanted to experiment on him, they would’ve long started, if they weren’t waiting for his recovery.
Furthermore, there was no chance for successful escape while he remained injured. Even if he knew the landscape. Even if he knew a viable route. In a place like this, where hiding places were limited, he was doomed to fail, unless he had a plan to start.
At this point, there were only two options open to him. Either he let himself recover and try for an escape, or keep himself so sick so that he couldn’t be sold or worked on. Ideally, something of both. But faking sickness wouldn’t work. If the past few days told him anything about Kar, it was that the boy knew enough to determine his body’s health.
Suddenly, the door to his room burst open. Spending so much time in his thoughts, he hadn’t realized that it was already Kar’s regular visiting time. He sucked in a breath. Though the logical side of his mind told him there was nothing to fear, he still dreaded the idea of interacting with the boy. He felt nothing but disgust and anger for the aristocrat-spawn, now that he knew his suspicions were true.
“I’m sorry about this afternoon.” Kar began, taking a seat beside the bed as he usually did. “I know that most people aren’t used to seeing blood. The scene in the afternoon probably made you feel sick.” He paused, hesitating. Then in a softer voice, “But by now, you’ve probably figured out what I am, right?”
“Of course.” He spat, unintentionally letting too much venom seep into his tone.
“Our family has been doing this for generations.” Kar said with a sigh. “It might be dirty work, but it’s a profession I can’t turn down.”
“And why’s that?” He asked.
“Though others might turn away in disgust, there’s a sort of pride and contentment that comes with saving a person.” Kar answered. “And with our country’s recent state of conflict, there’s so many people that need help out there. I can’t bring myself to abandon them all.”
“So you ‘save’ them only to push them into hell? He inquired.
“I can only save them.” Kar replied with a sigh. “I can’t control what the country wants to do with them thereafter.”
“Do you have a sense of conscience?” He demanded.
“If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t have chosen the profession.” Kar answered.
“Then you have a sick sense of conscience.” He answered.
“Perhaps you’re right.” Kar responded with another sigh.
“Young Lord!” Linus called, as he opened the door. “One of the patients woke,and needs you to assessment.”
“I understand, I’ll be over in a moment.” Kar answered, standing.
“Wait.” He shouted. He had to know. ‘Patient’, what did Linus mean? “You’re not a slaver?”
“Of course not.” Kar answered with sad eyes, as he left the room.
Had he misunderstood this entire time? He thought back to the conversation. It all became clear to him then. It was so obvious. He should’ve seen it long ago.
He should’ve known. Kar had an obvious talent for healing. The boy wasn’t some slaver, nor was he some illegal experimenter. He saved people for the country. Kar was a doctor. What other profession demanded healing talent while subjecting that very talent to shame and the society’s disgust? What other profession would be in high demand during times of war, but didn’t require its members to be located in direct line of combat?
Despite Kar’s apparent wealth, as proven by the sheer size of the mansion, and the fact that he could hire a butler, the boy wasn’t that much different from himself. He also worked an underappreciated job. While it was clear from the boy’s property that the state recognized his value, he also knew from experience how much the average citizen disliked doctors. He knew how quickly others would flinch in disgust upon learning that another worked for the profession.
A profession that dealt with the human body. A profession that tainted god’s gift. A profession that tarnished the state of the body as the Lord intended it. A job that shouldn’t exist. But a job that saved and improved lives, even so.
Despite all the show that Kar had for the King’s recognition, unlike the farmers back at home, there was a constant hint of sadness that boy’s eyes. A hint that only he only made more prominent with his words in the afternoon. A look that contrasted so sharply from the happiness that he’d been used to seeing back at home.
A thought hit him then. Both were underappreciated jobs. But even as the doctor profession granted wealth, it also granted public disgust. At least people didn’t flinch back in revulsion from farmers. At least, farmers were seen as doing the God granted task, whether they were appreciated by the populace or not. At least, farmers weren’t ostracized. He realized then that, in all his wealth and recognition, Kar wasn’t truly happy.
Did recognition and wealth mean anything if it put that kind of expression on someone’s face? Did the privilege of living life above the law mean anything if it brought sadness? Come to think of it, since his arrival at Kar’s mansion, he’d never seen the boy’s parents. He’d never seen any of the boy’s family members. He’d never heard the sound of laughter or the liveliness of children running about. Besides the butler, the apparent servants, and the patients, it didn’t seem like anyone else occupied the large building. What a lonely life Kar must’ve been living.
Did the other aristocratic children suffer a similar loneliness? Was that the reason behind their sadistic natures? In that instant, all the envy he felt toward the aristocratic children dispersed into nothingness. He wouldn’t trade the happiness that he shared with his family for anything else. Even if others could occasionally bully them, even if others couldn’t recognize the value of their contributions, even if they had to work harder than others, at least they had each other. At least, they were happy.
Kar silently reentered the room after dinner. Long after everyone should’ve been asleep. In the darkness, he sat on the bed. Though it was dark, the visit wasn’t unexpected. Under his constant accusations earlier in the day, the other boy hadn’t had the chance to give him the daily assessment before Linus called.
He sat in the darkness, having long expected Kar’s arrival. Under the faint glimmer of moonlight that snuck in from the window near the ceiling, he stared into Kar’s eyes. Eyes that he realized didn’t belong to a boy in his teenage years. He watched as Kar reached toward him, as he usually did as a part of the assessment, and hesitated. Likely remembering their afternoon conversation.
Biting back tears from the stinging pain, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around the other boy. He had misunderstood Kar. The boy didn’t deserve to be looked down upon. For his job or otherwise. Doctors were just as important as farmers, whether the world realized it or not. Both were critical pillars of society, regardless of how others felt. Regardless of the amount of appreciation they received. Kar didn’t deserve the reception he got this afternoon, and he hoped to make that clear.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered.
“No, there was nothing wrong with what you said.” Kar answered quietly. “You’ve merely echoed the sentiment of thousands out there. You have nothing to apologize for.”
“No, but I mean it.” He insisted, wincing as he withdrew from the hug to look Kar in the eye. The hug was probably a bad idea, at least to his recovery. But Kar needed it. And he owed it to him. “Doctors are valuable. I only said those words under the impression that you were a slave trader or someone that experimented on human beings for the fun of it. Someone who intentionally ruins the life of another solely to benefit himself.”
He paused, watching Kar, to let that message sink in. But Kar didn’t respond, beyond turning his attention down to the blanket.
“Look at me.” He said. “Even if others see you as dirty, you will never be as disgusting as those that step on and steal from others to survive. You’re living off of your own hard work, and by helping others no less. There is nothing that you have to be ashamed of.”
“Thank you.” Kar whispered, tears falling from his eyes. “Thank you for understanding, farm boy.”
“Call me, Kitin.” He said. “Kitin from District A, Plot 3, Farm 37.”
“Thank you, Kitin.” Kar whispered again, wrapping him into another hug.
No. It is I that should be thanking you. A thought blazed through his mind. For through you, I have learned an invaluable truth. Gained an invaluable insight.
Wealth. Reputation. The privilege to bypass the law. Power. None of it mattered if it came at the cost of happiness. Perhaps fairness was never meant to be measured on power and appreciation. Perhaps, it wasn’t something that could be accurately judged by external opinion, but instead, a matter of internal perception. Regardless of what it was, the question no longer bothered him.
Fairness was a strange thing. Not too long ago, he felt that the world was against him. Now, he couldn’t ask for anything more. While he didn’t have the most power, nor the most wealth, he had the most happiness. The thing that mattered most of them all.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Promptly Written” Publication.
Is life fair, unfair, or is the answer irrelevant?