By Ethan Mitchell
It is a clear day in early summer, and the sun shines down upon a village through a cloudless sky. The village is small; its wooden houses are clustered around a town square with a slight hill in its centre. At the edge of the village, there are old animal enclosures mostly containing cattle. A villager reclines against a tree, facing the enclosures. He lazily surveys the land in front of him, enjoying the day.
The man’s eye is suddenly caught by movement near one of the larger cattle pens. He notices a lone figure walking briskly up the path to the gate. He covers his eyes with his hand and squints, attempting to discern the identity of the stranger. Recognizing the figure’s coat as the one habitually worn by the Town Crier, the Villager settles back into his comfortable reverie, watching as the other man glances around. The Crier continues toward the gate, eventually moving out of the Villager’s sight.
A few minutes pass quietly, before the Villager’s eye is again caught by movement. This time, however, there is a great deal more motion, and the Villager notices with alarm that the cattle are streaming out of their pen. He starts towards them when he hears a voice calling to him. He turns to see the Crier running towards him, his oversized coat flapping in the air behind him and his stringy dark hair plastered to his face. “Hey,” the Crier calls, “did you see what just happened?”
“No,” the Villager cautiously replies.
The Crier stops in front of the Villager and bends to catch his breath. Recovered, he gestures toward the cattle running into the forest. “Some men came by and opened the gate. I think they were from across the river. They sounded like they were, at least.”
“I didn’t see anyone.”
“Well, you probably just missed them then.”
“I’ve been here a while.”
The Crier looked taken aback. “A while?”
“How long do you think?”
“Maybe an hour or less.”
“And… and you said that you didn’t see anyone walk up to the gate.”
“No, not after you did.”
“Well, they got there before me.”
“I didn’t see anyone before you got here either.”
“Hmm…” the Crier appears to consider this. He nods his head and chews his lip. “Maybe you just didn’t notice them.”
“I would have noticed a group of men walking up the path.”
“It’s a long distance. You probably just didn’t see them,” the Crier says hurriedly.
“I would have. I saw you clearly enough.”
“It makes sense you know. That those people from across the river would steal our cattle, I mean. I hear they’ve been having troubles with their farms and animals and such and I bet they just couldn’t stand the sight of us doing better than them.” The Crier waves his hand energetically toward the forest. “I’ll bet you anything that they’re out there waiting to… to round up all of the animals that run away.”
The Villager says nothing. The Crier shakes his head frantically. “Typical this is… just typical of them.”
The Villager takes a deep breath. “I’m going to go see if I can get any of them back into the pen.”
The Crier begins to walk backwards, still shaking his head. “I have to tell the others. This… we can’t let this stand.”
The Villager watches him hasten back to the village. Shrugging, he turns to the area of the enclosure, and goes to work.
By the time he had managed to recover a small portion of the cattle, the sky had become overcast. The Villager decides that he cannot recover the rest of the herd and starts walking back to the village. The loss of those cattle would be a disaster for the village, and his thoughts are already occupied with the rationing needed to stockpile for the lean winter months. As he approaches the town square, he begins to hear a clamour. Remembering the Crier’s earlier behaviour, the Villager moves faster. When he finally emerges into the heart of the village, he is met with the sight of all of the villagers crowded around the hill in the centre, yelling angrily. The Crier stands atop the incline, waving his hands to quiet the throng. “Friends,” he calls, as the noise dies down, “outrage by itself will achieve nothing!”
He seems a completely different man from the one who appeared before the Villager earlier in the day. His skittishness and nervous twitching has been replaced with confidence and grandiose gesturing. He is an imposing figure, an impression that is augmented by his bulky coat.
The small mob had now gone almost completely silent. The Crier surveyed the crowd. “I cannot speak for any of you, but I will not allow myself or those close to me to be preyed upon! I will not allow those men from beyond the river to destroy what we’ve built!”
The crowd roars in agreement. The Villager pushes his way through the throng. If only he were able to speak, he thinks, everyone would understand that they are being deceived. Emerging in front of the Crier’s hill, the Villager exclaims, “There weren’t any men!”
His voice is drowned out by the angry shouting of his fellow citizens. Seeing him, the Crier raises his hand for silence. “This man!” he bellows, sweeping his arm toward the Villager, “has taken the side of the thieves!”
Every face in the crowd turns sharply toward the Villager. “There weren’t any thieves!”
The throng begins to yell again. Over the din, the Crier shouts. “Those who attempt to justify the actions of thieves are no better than thieves themselves!”
The outraged cacophony grows even louder, and his fellow townsmen begin to shove the Villager. His tries to protest, but is unable to break through the wall of noise that surrounds him. Only the Crier, atop his hill, can be heard. “And those who scheme to betray their own people are even worse than the most rapacious of thieves!”
The Villager struggles to break free from the hostile, seething mass that surrounds him. In the struggle, he is struck multiple times, and when he finally emerges, he is disoriented. Somewhere above him, he hears the Crier. “We cannot tolerate such a despicable creature in our village! I say that this man must be banished immediately! What say the people?”
The frenzied villagers roar their support. The Villager stumbles away and collapses on the edge of the town square. He hears the Crier call for the mob to march across the river to revenge themselves upon those who have wronged them. As the men walk past him, the Villager looks up at the overcast sky. “It looks like rain,” he says dazedly.
One of the followers stops in front of him. His eyes flicker briefly toward the sky. “Looks clear enough to me.”