Before The Storm

Someone was approaching up the road. Alcott could make out a small dust cloud rising in still air of the morning. He picked up his hoe and started walking back to the farm house.

“Rider’s coming,” he called as he neared the building.

Amrean appeared at the door of the stone cottage, wisps of thatch coloured hair hanging from the lose braid. “Who is it?” She glanced towards the road searching for confirmation.

Alcott placed the hoe against the house and turned to stand next to his wife. “He was coming along the East road at a fair pace.”

As if in answer to the farmer’s comments the rider came into sight. He slowed as he reached the turning off the main road, and then swung his mount and headed towards them. The couple waited in silence. When the man finally came to a halt a way in front of them Alcott stepped forward.

“Hey, there,” the farmer raised his voice as he spoke to the rider. “You look as though the High King is chasing you.”

The man dropped down from his saddle and wiped away the sweat from his brow. He was covered in dust; black leather boots turned light brown by the covering. Blue eyes flicked from Alcott to Amrean and back again.

“You could say it was the Lord who was chasing me, if he still lived.” He paused to clear his throat. “I have travelled through five villages since dawn with grave news from the capital. Northern hordes have invaded and the royal family are dead.”

Amrean let out a gasp, and Alcott took a step away from the newcomer.

“How can this be?” the farmer finally managed to ask. “We had heard of the war last year, but nothing more.”

The rider rubbed the seat of his trousers and rested one hand on his saddle. “It is said that the war went bad with the onset of winter. I come from Pava. Four days ago we had news that the capital was burning. Two days later a large force of Northerners arrived. We feared for our lives, some fled into the hills, but they did not lay waste to the town. Their captain carried a letter. He spoke to our mayor who announced that the war had been lost.”

“Will these barbaric North men be at our gate soon?” Alcott asked. “Do they follow in your wake?”

“No,” the man replied. “They said will leave the local Barons in control.”

Alcott gave a grimace. “That is good, at least.”

The rider glanced down at his boots. “I do have other news that none have been pleased to hear.” He let his gaze pass over the couple, but he would not meet there stares. “The invaders have ruled that all the coin of the crown is now worthless. Only their own will be legal.”

A shocked silence hung in the air.

Finally Alcott asked, “You are saying that the money we have is worthless?”

“They have made this law. Taxes will be accepted in nothing else. When the Baron’s men coming knocking this new coin is what you will have to give them.”

Alcott turned to his wife. Her face echoed the fear that was inching through him. All these years they had worked hard to save whatever they could. They had no children and so the money had become the thing they cared for the most. To start again now could be the ruin of them.

The anger that had been rising up in Alcott stilled as an idea came to him. He forced his expression to lighten before facing the stranger.

“You must feel the burden of such grave news, my friend. Let us get you a drink to help you on the hard dry road.”

Without waiting for a response he turned again, caught his wife by the arm and walked with her into their small home. The rider was left to hobble his horse and follow.

Alcott gave Amrean a stare that stilled any questions and gestured to one of the two chairs at their little table. From a bottle he filled two tankards with ale. As the rider entered Alcott slid one onto the table in front of the other chair.

“Quench your thirst,” he said as he took a long swallow from his own mug.

The other man pulled out the rough wooden chair and sat down. For a moment the room was quiet and then Amrean gave in.

“We still have all the coins we have been saving.” She looked between the stranger and her husband. There was desperation in her voice. “We must get to Riseborn as soon as possible and spend it all.”

The rider looked over the rim of his tankard; there was pity in his eyes. “I am sorry to say that it will make no difference. Once people know of the change your money will be worthless. It has been the same in all the villages I have visited.”

Alcott paced around the small room stopping at the fire behind the rider.

Amrean appealed to her husband with anxious eyes. “It can’t be. We’ve worked so hard for it. How can it be worth nothing? They can’t do that to us.”

The rider did not meet her gaze. “They can and they will and the people will follow, for who wants to stand in the way of their swords.”

Alcott bent to the hearth. One callused hand grasped a log from the fire basket. His knuckles turned white as he gripped it hefting it over his head. A crack echoed around the room and the rider slumped forward.

Before his wife could say anything Alcott reached under the rider’s arms and lifted him from the chair. “I’ll go to Waybridge, you head for Riseborn. I reckon we’ll have another two days before the news reaches either. We can buy what we want in that time.”

—————

13 December 2009
North Korea redenominated its currency. Citizens were told they could only change a, small, amount of the cash they held into the new notes. Independent markets across the country have closed because traders could not accept the old currency and citizens had very little of the new available to spend.

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