The sound of the people’s chatter covered the place, permeating the quiet, calm and monotonous life of the Flock with its agitated spirit, bringing life in its cacophony. As he walked, it overwhelmed his ears, and the different smells came to him. To his right, a woman presented to someone else her linen fabric which she had carefully crafted with all of her ability and care; to the left a man showed to some other guy the bread he had either baked or found in the pillar. From somewhere else, came the sound of two men bickering over something, and the most different smells were present in the air.
Amidst the sea of people present, he searched for the only guy who would usually trade with him: John.
Everyone can pass through difficult times, and it’s impossible to know when they will come, so more than anything, in the Flock, giving favours and reciprocating other long lasting ones are what keeps people afloat. In other words, in most cases, no one would want to trade with someone they don’t know directly or indirectly, for how could it be guaranteed that they would be of trust? How could one make sure their favours would be repaid? Of course, they could just trade their goods in whatever they thought was a fair price to them, but this would be missing out—both in terms of having someone who could help you later, and in possibly getting something at a cheaper price.
Of course, reputation was also a very important factor.
Everyone would want to trade with someone regarded as reliable and kind as his father Theo.
No one would want to trade with someone who is bad mouthed like him.
After bumping through thousands of unknowns and odd looks, he finally found John sitting alone on the ground alone, his back on a large sack where he always kept everything that he had.
“Alone as always, aren’t you?” John greeted him.
“You’re not one to say.”
He was a short man around his thirties, whose back was slightly hunched and who had already lost most of his hair. No wife, parents or kids, he had no family at all.
“Well, whatever. What have you got in there? I’m needing something to fix my tent.”
“It’s full of holes and a few portions of the canvas are starting to rot. Have you ever tried sleeping with the wind blowing on you?”
Imagining it for a moment, Nico could already feel chills going down his spine. Not only the noise would be a great bother, but the cold sensation of the wind against your skin would also make anyone stay awake all night.
“So, can you get me anything to help with this?”
“Uh, I have flax,” Nico said.
“Flax?! Is that really the best you’ve got? Don’t you have at least some fabric? Turning this into linen will take me forever…”
“Not much I can do,” he shrugged.
“Uh…” John sighed. “I guess that’s it then… What do you want in exchange?”
“Can’t you be more specific?”
“Not without knowing what you have.”
“…I guess so,” John sighed once more, and proceeded to unpack whatever he had on that sack.
First, he took out a few loaves of bread, then two or three apples and quite a number of vegetables, succeeded by the most varied selection.
“That’s… quite a lot you’re willing to sell.”
“One mouth eats much less than three. So, what do you want?”
“That bread will be enough, and those apples too.”
“Now show me how much flax you got there.”
Nico put his back basket on the ground and took out the flax. Soon, the two started discussing the specific amounts, until both reached an agreement.
“Well, now I have to turn this into linen as fast as I can. I don’t want my tent to collapse in minutes once a windstorm happens—not that this will do much against one.”
“Why don’t you try to get an entirely new one?” asked Nico. “This sack of yours seems pretty heavy.”
“Hey, why do you think it looks like that? I’m saving so I can try to get one with Marco.”
“I mean, he’s my only option to get something like this. He’s one of the few guys who will trade with anyone independently of who they are, even if he’ll probably try to take advantage of me and charge me a lot.”
“...I see,” he sighed.
That was right, John also didn’t have anyone else to turn to, just like him.
“You know, if you’re the son of a murderer and an ex—focus in ex, please—pickpocket, you have to accept what you get or society will get rid of you. Beggars can’t be choosers after all.”
“...I guess so,” he muttered. “That’s why you trade with me, isn’t it?”
“You could say so,” John shrugged. “But Gray helped me before, even if I was regarded by most as nothing more than trash, so it’s only fair I also gave you a chance.”
Most weren’t willing to give him one, but even then, this guy who supposedly was nothing more than scum, was.
He questioned for a moment if what people had judged of him really was valid at all. But he soon stopped himself.
He wouldn’t continue to avoid the responsibility and blame. If he failed to do something, the fault was his, if he did something wrong, the fault was his, and if he wished to achieve something, he responsibility was his too. Even in the possibility that they were wrong, it was his misdeeds who caused this, and now it was his responsibility to pay for them.
He had already decided this, he shouldn’t question this anymore.
When and if he finally does this, would his parents be proud of him?
The dust quietly blew at the height of his feet, without answering his question at all.
“Hm?” John, who was putting the flax on his sack, turned his head towards him. “What?”
“Yesterday, I sold a clock to a certain guy. He paid me enough to fill around a fifth of that sack of yours with salt. Do you think it was a fair price?”
“Only a fifth?” he tried to check, seemingly shocked.
“Did you sell it to Marco? Because that seems like something he would do to someone like you and me. Most would pay a lot more.”
“It wasn’t him. It was just a random guy.”
That too, was his fault.
“Honey, today is the day. Today is the day when this all changes.”
Gian murmured to his ill wife, his hand over her burning forehead and his gaze at her eyes, whose shallowness brought him the bitter aftertaste of his journey until here. Besides his best efforts though, what had been reduced to just a fever-ridden, coughing corpse with a beating heart couldn’t listen to him anymore.
He liked to think that at least what made that heart still beat was love for him.
“You have nothing to worry about,” he said, closing these eyes he couldn’t stand looking at for not even another second with his hands. “Once I get this done, everything will be alright for us.”
He couldn’t stand looking at these plain eyes devoid of life anymore.
According to the Shepherd, at moments like these, she’s probably having a hallucination, so from the bottom of his heart, he wished she dreamt of good things.
He, though, should face what was in front of him right now. Not turn his eyes somewhere else. It was only accepting this that he had come to this decision after all.
At a corner he could see his son holding a small wooden figure in his hand, showing and waving it in front of his sister, telling a story for her entertainment.
It was about a hero who unbeknownst to all protected the people, fighting threats unimaginable to them to save the day. Sometimes, these were great, malefic villains, other times, terrifying monsters, but no matter what they were, the hero always defeated them.
But as he told this story, Rocco assumed a dark semblance, and at the end, shocked Maria.
A heartless monster appeared once, shrouded in darkness and different from everything the hero had seen before, and when the two fought, the hero came out defeated. The people were terrified, and chaos and destruction ensued.
“He did come back and defeat the monster though, right?” she asked.
He didn’t know.
Be it Rocco or Gian, they didn’t know how the story ended, so Maria was answered with a made up ending.
“Of course he did.”
But a story can be whatever one makes it to be, right?
Small and weak, thin and hungry, Gian wondered if these two could resist if the hero didn’t save the day.
Once he managed to set things right, he would tell everything to them and together they would all live a better, happier life, he thought.
He sighed—why hadn't he made that decision before? Through his delay, nothing was gained but misery, and what he now contemplated was probably nothing less than his last chance.
He was forever indebted to Carlo for pushing him to finally act, but even then, he continued to help him, just like he had also done for a long time before—Gian didn’t even know anymore how to describe him as anything but a good friend and man.
“Hey Carlo,” he called, receiving a slight head tilt in reply, “how do you think things will go?”
“Well,” he said, wringing a wet cloth as he talked, “it’s all up to you and your luck, isn’t it?”
“Unfortunately my luck isn’t the best, as you can see” he anxiously chuckled.
“There are two types of people, those who wait for opportunities and those who chase them no matter the cost. As long as you’re the second type, at some point things will end up well.”
“And what type do you think I am?”
“Who decides that isn’t me.”
Once he finished changing the cloth on Gray’s forehead, with a deep breath Carlo brought a somber look to his downward gaze at the man.
“I warn you though, some people really dislike those types.”
Before Gian could properly process the meaning of those words, a knock on the door told him Nico had come back.
He welcomed him, and quickly he was leaving with Gray. Soon, the two were leaving, but before he was gone, Nico reminded himself of giving a certain warning.
“Oh, and take care. Today they discovered a man had been murdered yesterday.”
And then he left.
“So, you’re going now? You were waiting for him to take Gray, right?” asked Carlo.
“I guess so.”
With a smile, he stepped out and closed the door behind it. The time had come.
With each step, he was reminded of something different. His parents, his brother. Blood all around, spread on the ground. The wish to simply hide it all under the hood and ignore its existence, and the price he had to pay to do so.
From the distant chatter of a large congregation, memory came to him of what Carlo told him that day.
‘Problems only go away when you solve them, Gian.’
He was thankful he managed to tell everything to Carlo and Gray, and he was happy they confronted him. Otherwise, he didn’t know what he would do.
Amidst that crowd, he started to distinguish the Shepherd, with his white dress and refined manners, from the others, to whom he barely paid any attention at all.
That’s the moment, he thought as he joined the mob, finding his way to the Shepherd until he was himself just in front of him, as the people oddly but luckily gave way to him.
“Mister Shepherd! I beg you perdon, but—”
Powerful hands held his arms against his back and put him on his knee. Before he could make sense of what was happening, his face lay against the ground.