The red door creaked open with a light push. Jermiaani canvassed the deserted street and its somber silence before casting his eyes back to the house. It was dark inside, covered in shades of brown, with light streaming in through a single musty window, making vain attempts at illumination. He pushed the door further and stepped in.
There was nothing odd about the contents of the house. It was all commonplace, all too familiar for Jermiaani – a house of poverty. “I have been expecting you” the voice said from behind. Jermiaani turned to witness the terror of the Burnt Market, the person who had led so many lives astray. His eyes fell upon a frail, elderly person, worn down by time, yet with a face full of sanguineness and optimism. Fjor Manar looked nothing like his reputation made him out to be. But Jermiaani knew better than to get deceived by appearances. He smiled back and sat in the chair Fjor had been pointing to. “Really? Expecting me for…?” he trailed off.
Fjor himself sat before answering. His old frame took time to land itself onto the chair. Jermiaani didn’t bother to help. Fjor sighed, once seated, and uttered: “This is regarding the investigation I assume.”
Jermiaani nodded. This was going to be a slow game of chess. “The death in the Burnt Market the other day. During the procession”
Fjor shook his head. “Most unfortunate. I am always shocked when the Gods take away someone so soon in their lives.” Jermiaani found rage boiling inside of him. It wasn’t the Gods that took her. It was you.
“She was young, wasn’t she?” Fjor continued when he got no answer. Jermiaani nodded.
“Such a shame” Fjor shook his head. “I hope she did not suffer. I am so sick of suffering myself. It’s my age. My bones. I am weak. The Gods of time have defeated me. Unfortunately, I have no other option but to bear the suffering. My only hope for the world is that no one else suffers the way I do.”
Jermiaani said nothing. The shot was ringing in his mind, the scampering of people, the chaos. He knew that Fjor had been involved. Restraining his anger to his inner self, Jermiaani asked. “What can you tell me about that day?”
“I was there in the market myself. The procession was unlike anything we had ever seen. So many nobility, all at once – and that too in the Burnt Market?” Fjor smiled. “Now that is a sight you don’t often get to see.” He paused. “In fact, in my eighty-three years of existence, I have probably interacted with the nobility twice.” He smiled now. “Do they not like the dirty streets of Carane?”
Jermiaani sensed the pain behind the sanguine face. The inferiority, the desire for attention, the jealousy. He was wary of the game that they were playing. Kerii was the one skilled at verbal negotiations. The Sovereign should have probably sent her.
“I am a lowly person myself” Jermiaani said. “I am not the nobility to know their likes or dislikes”
“But you do work for them” Fjor said immediately, his eyes glinting with a shrewdness that had been absent thus far. “You are – what is the right word – the Sovereign’s hatchet man. You are not part of his established government, and you are sent for handling the more disagreeable tasks, that his government isn’t equipped to handle. I have heard other names for you – pet dog, traitor, murderer…”
Jermiaani sneered but turned it into a smile just in time. He couldn’t afford to lose his cool.
“So tell me something” Fjor continued “Why do you continue to work for people who continue to think they are superior to you?” He leaned back in his chair. “These people don’t understand poverty. They don’t understand you. To them, you are just another puppet. They will cut the strings off your back the moment they are done with you.”
Fjor had paused, expecting to elicit the reaction out of Jermiaani. Jermiaani was genuinely smiling now. Fjor’s vehemence was so misplaced, that Jermiaani couldn’t help but notice his own underlying frustration beneath. “The nobility of Carane has taken care of this country for ages” Jermiaani now answered. “They have been working to improve the lives and the livelihoods of the entire nation. And they have succeeded to a large extent. The country’s welfare is always taken care of – the poor are always ensured food and shelter, a place to learn, a place to pray. Labor is granted to them when needed, they are given umpteen opportunities to earn the living that they would want for themselves. I was poor too, when they found me” Jermiaani continued. “But they have not made me feel it.” He paused. Something tells me you have felt it though.
“Shall we get back to the investigation?” Jermiaani asked. “You were describing the day of the death.”
The door opened and another person stepped in. “This is Gaspare” Fjor introduced the young man to Jermiaani. “He is a carpenter by profession. He works with me.” He pointed to the room beyond. “We make the furniture back there” Jermiaani turned around and nodded. “So, the day of the procession -”
Fjor continued to stare at the room beyond though. “I have always believed in carpentry” He smiled. “It’s the perfect way to earn an honest living. I am over eighty now, I have stood the time of three empires. Armyan the III, Averrincin’s and now your Sovereign’s. You know what I have realized? They all have something very much in common. You know what that is?” he asked Jermiaani, madness in his eyes.
He didn’t wait for an answer though. “In each of the empires, there has always been a working class society and an elite society. Now – the elite have always put forth promises that working class may be able to join them in the ranks through hard work.” He paused. “I am old, about to die any day now. And still here. What does that tell you?”
“That you are a failure. And you are pinning it on the society because you see no hope for any change of fortune. And you are amassing the poor of the Market, filling their head with delusions of your own. Attempting to be victorious at least once in your life” Jermiaani paused. “Who would want a vain death after all”
Fjor laughed; a mad, rabid laugh. “I will not deny that. Although you have no proof to tie me with any of it. I would be rotting in Carsanion prison otherwise.” He said. He continued to nod at Jermiaani for several more seconds, without saying anything. Jermiaani had noticed too many of his kind to get perturbed.
“Do you know what I want?” Fjor said finally, his eyes wide, his frail body trembling with purpose.
Jermiaani had had enough. “You want an empire where the weak and the desperate like you don’t have to work, where opportunities are brought to you on a silver platter, where you get to become nobility without having either the intelligence or the grit for becoming one…” It was Jermiaani’s turn to laugh now. “No empire can accommodate this. Because what you’re asking for isn’t equality – you want a preferred status without having to earn it. This can never happen.”
Fjor looked at Jermiaani with the wide, frail eyes, unblinking. “Fine then – be a good dog and go tell your Sovereign that the nobility will continue to suffer their current fate. The death in the procession was the first one – until the poor of Carane become more powerful than the elite, I shall not rest. Let me see how long it takes for the Sovereign to wash their blood off his hands”
Jermiaani knew better than to kill him then. Even though he truly wanted to. He is just a pawn. We need answers. “The poor of Carane don’t share your vision” Jermiaani then said. “It’s a handful of desperate, miserable people – like yourself, that you have managed to amass. And a handful of naïve others. If you think that together, you can bring down an empire – you are mistaken”
Fjor smiled, still unblinking. “I might be. But I have nothing to lose”
Jermiaani rose from his chair. “Enjoy your time in this house Fjor. I shall be paying you a visit even if I hear rumors of another death.” He looked at the far end, the other room where the youth had started to work. “For your sake, I hope it doesn’t happen. Because proof or not – I will make you pay” And then he added as he was leaving. “Everyone has something to lose.”
Fjor considered the statement, and then burst into long, hysterical laughs, his fragile form quivering with excitement.