Song: The Writing on the Wall
Artist: Long John Teev’Rah
Album: Cobblestone Crossroads, B.U. 6
Genre: Fae Protest
From the north to the south and from sea to sea
Come hearken your ears, children, listen to me
Take heed of the signs that are plain there to see
The dark days are coming, there’s been a decree
Posted on ev’ry door that you’re no longer free
And if you’ve got no home, that won’t change your fate
The writing’s there on the wall
A nation that’s forged in blood and in smoke
With fields once ploughed by good honest folk
Now enslaved and hated, burdened by the yoke
Of chains and bonds long ago invoked
Well don’t laugh too hard at that cruel joke
For war makes us all slaves, just ask Captain Dan
His name is there on the wall
Across that old ocean a horse gallops fast
Been running since days that have long since been past
Long is the shadow that big steed does cast
And he’s lookin’ to leap over waters so vast
To knock down our masters’ big white holdfast
If he tells you he’ll save you, well don’t you believe
Remember, remember the wall
Well, some bow to coppers, and some bow to cash
Some bow because they do not want to be rash
And some only bow when they’re under the lash
And those who will not bow get burned into ash
Or rise against their masters in a brutal clash
And take up the place of those they made fall
And quickly build a new wall
Well some say that freedom is having a say
And some say that freedom is getting your way
Some want to be safe at the end of the day
Some only find it when they kneel down and pray
But take it from one of the downtrodden Fae
No matter your master, you’ll always have one
Unless you tear down all the walls
Sometimes it is scrawled as a threat or a curse
Sometimes things are written that try and coerce
Sometimes it’s a portent that times will get worse
Or there to tell you to converse or disperse
But please pay attention to every verse
For no good can come from just watching your feet
The writing’s there on the wall
It’s written there on the wall
Yeah the writing’s there on the wall
She walks the same patrol every day.
Each morning begins just as the last one. Even on her days off, she gets up well before dawn. She doesn’t sleep naked, no decent woman sleeps naked. She gets up and throws on her sweats. Out the door she goes, not even locking it behind her. In The Empire, every home is safe.
She runs down Shung-Lee Street, formerly called the Zenterstrassa, past rows of apartments and goods outlets. The oldest buildings are mortared stone, but few of those have survived the Second Great War of Titania. Many buildings are made of sturdy brown brick, but those were built before the Parsu expansion. The Empire builds with concrete. The slanted, overhanging tile roofs cast deeper shadows over the smaller buildings, reminding the dwellers that they have been taken under The Empire’s wing.
She runs through Mah Plaza, where the big marble fountain proudly boasts General Varu Yrah upon a horse, arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome as he liberates Beberg. She runs up the hill to the big estates where the rich used to live before The Empire came. She runs to the highway, and takes it all the way to the edge of the city. There at the four corners, where the mountains meet the valley and the city meets the open road, the rising sun glimmers as it climbs up over the Shu mountains. The millions of tiny eyes that watch over the earth at night give way to the great big life-giving sentinel of the world, the sun that rises at the beginning of The Empire’s borders and sets at its edge, there in Beberg.
Up on the hill, looking down upon the valley, she can see the wall.
It stretches to the north and south as far as the eye can see, like a long dragon of ash-grey, dividing The Empire from the decadent West. It is a barrier between true freedom and the world of those enslaved by money and made-up gods and cruel, corrupt robber-barons. It is there for the protection of The People, and she knows that it must be respected. Without it, greed and corruption could seep into The Empire.
The wall is never marred or tarnished; those who have no other task in Beberg are sent to wash it. It is a symbol of the endless diligence of The People, kept pure by their efforts alone. On the hill, she pictures the other side sometimes – a filthy, pitiful stretch of concrete, covered in soot, graffiti and hate.
She runs back to her one-room apartment, sweating and panting. Some of her comrades mock her for the time she spends running when she is on her feet walking the wall all day, but she in turn disdains their diffidence. A slovenly guard is not an effective guard, and every cog is a part of the machine.
When she was young, she wanted to be an Honour Guard to the High Council. Her parents tried to dissuade her, telling her she didn’t have the fortitude. She wouldn’t listen, and trained every day until her muscles were like jelly and she was dizzy from burning all her energy. She learned the Twelve Sacred Dances and memorized the Three Sacred Books. It made her strong and wise, but she failed the written portion of the entrance exam.
She never became an Honour Guard, but she remains determined to be the best Guardian of the Wall that The Empire has ever seen. Her Captain often berates her, telling her that she is not defending The Empire from Hama barbarians who can be bested in single combat. Their enemies are men with guns. She can’t dodge bullets, and the Hama long ago became a part of The Empire. However, she knows that he is merely testing her resolve, just as the other guards are when they tell her that she’d be better off serving The Empire by marrying and bearing children. She knows that it is her Captain’s secret given task to test her.
Every citizen is given secret tasks by The Empire. Hers is to practice her Twelve Sacred Dances. Worship and religion are forbidden within The Empire, but by performing the dances she honours her ancestors, and prepares for whatever task her superiors might have for her in the future.
She showers and changes into her uniform, which she had ironed the night before. It is red and brown, the colours of the dragon and the horse. They are the oldest and most revered symbols of The Empire. Donning her uniform always fills her with a sense of pride. Without it, she is just a citizen, a member of The People. Inside that brown and red canvas, under her flat-topped cap, she is a Guardian, a bastion of The Empire that raised her. She is a defender of The People.
The wall is not far from where she lives. She leaves her apartment and strolls briskly through the street, breathing deeply of the crisp spring air and nodding to passers-by. Citizens are always polite to a woman in uniform. One old man smiles with his gums and offers her a small green apple. She accepts it; her parents had always taught her that it was rude to refuse a gift. She breaks her fast on the tart, under-ripe fruit as she reaches her local barracks entrance. It is a long one-storey building built right into the wall itself.
Something out of the corner of her eye catches her attention. It is a gathering crowd. She thinks about ignoring it, but she is early for work, as always, and a guard takes care to protect The People, even when off-duty. She walks toward the crowd to see what the commotion is about.
The crowd is clustered around an alleyway. When the wall was built, not too many houses were disturbed, but in some areas a few had to be torn down, and others remain in the wall’s shadow, creating small alleyways. Some are only wide enough for a rat to fit through, but others make good hiding places for Westerners seeking to scale the wall. If any survive the Death Trench that lies between the Eastern and Western walls, they are unlikely to climb the wall and best the guards in time to leap onto a roof or down into an alley, but the narrow passageways are patrolled nevertheless. Diligence is one of the Five Sacred Virtues of The Empire.
City guards push members of the crowd out of the alley and order them to disperse, but curiosity persists. There are murmurs and whispers about graffiti and vandalism as she pushes her way to the throng. The gawkers part for her; nobody wants to get in the way of a uniform.
The alleyway is very narrow; she has to shuffle sideways to slip between the wall and the house. Within, three guards lean against the house. One is smoking, one is taking a photograph of the colourful mural, which is at least three bù squared in size and must have taken hours to paint. The third guard is her Captain. He leads her closer to the painting and gestures for her to have a good long look.
It is a painting of the wall itself, a caricature drawn by an amateur. In the middle, a large section of stone has crumbled away and people with all shades of skin and colourful clothing are holding hands across the gap. One of them is wearing an Imperial uniform. Another is wearing a t-shirt that looks like the flag of the United Provinces.
“Jun,” her Captain says. “Tell nobody about what you’ve seen here. Nobody. The Empire has a task for you.”
“My duty is my honour, Captain.”
“Find out who did this, and arrest them.”