They’re content to make their way by planting seeds and raising beasts. Too poor to live in Torbourough, too honest to scrape by in Dugtown, not yet vile enough to through in with the Stranders, they live their lives with a mighty sorrow. As the company moved on, most of the mud-farmers as Podo called them, though not without pity, ignored them. But some stood up in the fields where they were unearthing stones in the way of the plow or stopped hammering a rotten plank to a rotten structure with a rusty nail or peered out their windows to watch the Igiby’s pass.
“Has it always been like this?”, Lilli asked.
“No, lass, not always”, Podo said over his shoulder.
“But for far too long,” Oscar said, “that’s certain. For many years the Stranders have made trouble along the river. These poor tired folks have suffered between the indifference of the elite in Torbourgh and the hostility of the ruthless in Dugtown and the Strand.”
“Someone should do something,” Lilli said quietly.
“What would they do?”, Janna ask. “It seems like the whole world is as awful as it is here.”
“Things weren’t this bad in Glipwood,” Tink said.
“No, but it didn’t take much to tip the scales,” Janna said. “In just a few days, the town was deserted, and the Fangs moved in. Everything in Scree is as bad as it is for these mud-farmers. It’s just that here we can see it for what it is.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Janna saw a smile on his mother’s face. She and Podo’s eyes met, and he sensed that he had done something that made her proud. He thought back to the way he felt in Glipwood on Dragon Day when Oscar had first helped him see the sadness beneath the merriment. None of visitors to Glipwood laughed from the belly. None of them smiled except in defiance of the way they really felt. Only Amulen the Bard was able to muster any true feelings of joy, and Janna had noticed to that, for himself and for the people who listened to his songs with such desperate attention, the joyful feelings that the song brought to the surface always came with tears. Theirs was a burden too heavy to be lifted by songs along however fine the melody.
“Someone should do something,” Lilli said again, this time in a feisty tone. Everyone knew better than to challenge her. She was right.
From North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson.