In the city of Eastdelle there was unrest. Disease snuffed out many lives of the lower classes, so much that the upper classes began to feel the effects. Rats flowed down the streets like water. Each step would bring you into growing puddles of human waste as the sewers began to overflow. Food supplies dropped and what little there was was spoiled or burnt. With the crops failing, many sought refuge in the lower city and the influx of people meant disease spread faster than it could be cured, if there even was a cure.
What could the people do? The Lord remained shut up in his castle, fearful that he and his family might catch the sickness. He only dealt with those immediately around him. From there his orders passed down to the peasants. Some said he raised the taxes to cure his ill son, others say he was looking for a cure for everyone. But what everyone knew was that his steward lined his pockets with half of the money coming in.
People came to the city to find a new life, but there was only death there.
Jeph took a drink from the bar and gulped it down. Despite taking swigs from his flask all day, he still craved the taste. It helped him settle the sour taste in his mouth that came whenever he felt the band of his wedding ring.
Shutting his eyes, he flinched and swore before he took another drink, downing it in one shaky motion.
Stumbling, he swore softly as the drinks began to affect him. It took longer and longer each day, but he was determined to dull his senses enough to forget.
An upstart man came to the woman's rescue, not that she needed it. The sting was the slap was strong enough to make his eyes water.
"Leave her alone, man. She's not that kind of woman," he said, placing a hand on Jeph's shoulder.
"Don't touch me." Jeph shoved the man away, glaring at him. He balled his fists, readying to fight. He was strong, he was a guard of the city (despite not making it into work for the past weeks). The beer pushed him to lean into a wobbly fighting stance.
He stumbled as bile forced its way up from his stomach. Landing on his hands and knees he retched and cleared his stomach.
Sick splattered over the defender's shoes but he chuckled. "Learn to hold your drink, old man," he sneered. "The ladies don't want a slosh."
Jeph struggled up, his hand clenching into a fist to beat the smarmy grin off his face, but another wave of sick over came him and he fell down again, emptying his stomach.
The skirts of girl before swished past him, stepping lightly around his sick. She said nothing, but he felt her eyes watching him, judging him.
His throat burned as his pride shriveled into nothing.
When he was well enough, he stood and took another drink from the bar. He threw a few extra coins down for the bartender when he eyed the sick on the floor. Drink after drink passed through his hands. It burned when it hit his stomach but he forced himself not to vomit. The last thing he could remember was tapping another man's shoulder and wondering what bruises he would find in the morning.
Frederick watched Tobe turn this over in his mind. He hoped he would agree, that he would say it was the right thing, because Frederick didn't know.
"The countryside is nice," Tobe said, slowly.
Frederick exhaled slowly and tried to calm his shaky hands.
The idea was crazy, but Tobe thought it was good. He thought he could do it. He though-
"But it's safer in the city," Tobe finished.
"She'll only get worse here. This place, it's tainted. Everyone is getting sick, and then they die," Frederick said desperately. Tobe shook his head as Frederick started again. "Listen to me, people die from this-"
The drunk ignored him. "So, so I heard you saying," he began. "You're leaving? Leaving the city?"
Tobe eyed him nervously as he tried to diverge the drunk away from their conversation, but he was relentless until Tobe finally admitted the subject. "This place, this shitstain! Fuckin' hellhole," he slurred. "Get out while you can. It'll kill... kill..." His words trailed off, and he looked pensive. "...you."
Tobe and Frederick exchanged glances. "Thank you for the advice," Frederick finally said. "We're not sure what were doing but-"
"I can help," the drunk said suddenly. "In fact, I'll come with you!" Beer sloshed out of his cup as he gestured.
"It's not necessary-" Frederick tried to say, but the man would have none of that. He started talking about camping materials and what foods to bring. His droopy face began to light up at the idea. They tried to quiet him but it was no use. "Stop, please. People are staring-"
"There is nothing going on here," Frederick said tiredly. "This man is just confused."
"So, you're not planning on leaving the city?" the man asked. "I'm surprised, what with the plague coming, and the new taxes." Frederick groaned, as he had forgotten about that. His family could hardly afford the hovel they had moved into, since they sold the farm. Crops had been disappointing for the past years, so much that their debts were just paid off by the sale. Medicine had eaten up the rest of their savings.
He eyed the man carefully. His clothes were once somewhat fine, judging by the stitching and fabric, but time had worn it down. He had a scar on his face and had a slightly scruffy look to him, like he hadn't found a bed in some time. Frederick frowned, unable to get a read on him.
"How're you going to survive if you're alone?" a voice asked quietly. Frederick stooped. He hadn't thought that far. He had two elderly parents leaning on him. They couldn't work a farm anymore, but they couldn't stay in this city anymore either. The thought of losing them made his stomach churn. Could he really support three people by himself? The amount of food they would need to survive was...
"So, you're going alone?" the man asked. Frederick looked up from the stained tabletop. The scarred man met his gaze when he turned to look at him. Two strong looking, hardy men? Would he turn away help?
Well, the drunk not so much, Frederick pondered as he turned to him. Would it be worth it to bring him, someone who could get so angry and irrational...
The shine from a wedding ring on his hand made his thoughts falter. This man had a family, or a wife who wanted to start a family. How would children survive in this place. Would rats crawl into their cribs at night and bite them 'til they bled?
"Do you have a family?" Frederick asked the drunk quietly. The drunk dropped his gaze and nodded quietly. Frederick shut his eyes, wondering what he was really going to do.
Just as he began to nod to the men and speak, his father burst through the bar's doors. He jumped from his seat, realizing that the worst was about to come.