The rabble outstretched their hands feebly as I trudged through the layer of filth coating main street. A hooded figure stood atop a stack of crates, illuminated by the torchlight of the gathering crowd. He preached solidarity and glory to those who followed the ‘righteous path’. A path whose first step is a donation to the Brothers of Raya. Rounding the corner, I nearly collided with a troop of city guard. Formed up and ready to break up the gathering.
A lone streetlamp enlivened the filthy cobblestone leading up Monroe Street. Beneath, a woman rubbed against the pole seductively. Her red hair cast a shadow over her face. I shot her a winning grin.
“Fancy meeting you here Eliza, I was just on my way home”
She chuckled and tossed her hair, revealing a stunning freckled face. She licked her lips.
“Food’s on the table.” Her eyes darted to the ground. “I was hoping we could have dessert before dinner.”
I walked to her till our faces nearly touched. Her breath was warm and smelled of mint. She quivered as my shadow began to envelop her slender figure.
“My darling, how could I refuse?”
I embraced my wife. We joined hands and giggled amongst ourselves, nearly running with anticipation. When we reached the end of the street we stopped in our tracks. I shook my hand free Eliza’s. Her body was taken by fear and could not move an inch. Three scrappy migrant men stood outside the doorway to our home. The skinniest of the three caught us in the corner of his eye and nodded his head. The men sprang to life, catching me off guard with their blinding speed. One clocked me with his right hand, sending me spiraling onto the cobblestone. He positioned himself over my body and mercilessly beat into my face. With each blow came a flash of white, until it suddenly went black.
I woke on a rickety wooden table surrounded by concerned faces looking down. The smell of vomit and ale wafted through the air.
The crowd thrust their mugs into the air and cheered “Glory, glory Brigdania!”.
“Wh-what happened?” I whimpered. The pain was coming back to me.
The group quieted and averted their gaze. A cheery man with a stout red beard pushed his way to the head of the table. Obviously drunk.
“A right shame mate. Gang of migrants jumped you an the missus. Seems they got you down easy. Your lady struggled, I’m sure that’s why they cut her throat.”
The men of the inn beat him away from the table. Then looked back down at me, pity plastered their blank faces. Though sadness did not once cross my mind. It was a smoldering rage that swelled in my chest.
“Fuck the migrants. Fuck ‘em all!” I spat.
I jumped to my feet and from the squeaking table, commanded attention from the concerned people below. My pain had subsided, absorbed by sheer fury.
“Fellow Estuarians! This is our city! There was a time when we felt safe, but it seems so long ago! They dared to attack me and my wife in front of our own home! When does it stop?!”
A blonde woman behind the bar raised her dish rag defiantly.
“When we fight back!”
Others joined in from around the bar.
“What gives ‘em the right to push us around!”
“We are Estuarians!”
“This is OUR land!”
“Glory, glory Estuaria!”
The entire inn had come together in resistance. The room erupted into cheer. With white-knuckled fists and drink-fueled hatred. I landed off the table with a heavy thump. I grabbed the lantern from the doorway as made my exit. My kinsmen were quick to follow me with whatever weapons they could muster. The reality of the situation did not set in until we had reached the city commons.
“There are thousands of them.”
The mob that had seconds ago been so full of life now cowered away. The commons, once an empty field in the center of the market district was now little more than one amorphous dump of wood beams and canvas. The refugees packed into hastily constructed shelters. In the dead of night the bustle and chatter of merchants emanated from the miniature city. There were just too many of them. The once cheery red-bearded man slapped his hand against my back.
“Ya gave it a try mate.”
He paused for a moment, as if lost in thought before catching up with the rest of the drunks. This is not the end. I swung the lantern in circles around my shoulder a few times before releasing it into the air. As it flew I felt no remorse. Their screams had intensified by the time I had returned. This time, with more lanterns.