|The Marketplace of Eillumaeia|
Previously: <Prologue> <Chapter 1> <Chapter 2>
Carsius paused a moment to gaze around at the gathering slowly filling Lady Miligred’s dining hall: Augustus, Barmier, and Atis, fast becoming inseparable friends; Gorrmunsa, who was becoming less reserved, particularly in the presence of the young woman, Renata; Deej, the sage Ewok who kept a wary eye on their newest and youngest member, Scander Hokron, who just stared around at everyone with a keen glint in his eye. Sverana could not be persuaded to leave her master, but perched upon the back of the chair, right above his head.
And then there was Laurel. Carsius glanced to his right and studied the puzzling, complicated Elvish woman. Her face was drawn and pale already, as if she had aged several djenu in the past few days. She sat, silent and blank, as if any attempt at engaging the company would bring the Elitinati to their doorstep.
“All right, everyone,” he addressed the group, and they quieted their chatter and turned their attention to him. “We have our target: Economy.” He made eye contact of each person in turn, “Who among us can think of the best way to combat it?”
Everyone devoted several moments of serious thought to the question, then a whispered voice was heard.
“I must have the pink gingham, because all the women are wearing it; I must have the white lawn chairs, because all lawns have the white chairs. It cannot be blue or red, it must be white! I must have the wooden table settings, because everyone who is anyone uses the wooden table settings!”
Carsius gazed in horror at Laurel, who stared into space and babbled on like a subliminal audio recording.
“I must have the complete collection of Hanover’s Treatises because—“
“Laurel!” Carsius grabbed her hand.
Immediately, she burst into tears. “I can’t do it!” She sobbed, “I can’t! It’s too much!”
“Laurel,” Carsius repeated firmly, “Look at me!”
She did not turn.
“Look at me!”
Finally, Laurel met the man’s gaze. Carsius kept his voice calm and even.
“Laurel, believe me when I say that, did the whole of the resistance rest upon your shoulders, it would verily be impossible for anyone to succeed as far as we have—even a Kytarr,” he caught Gorrmunsa’s gesture of objection. “It is because each of us has brought our individual skills to the mission that we have made it this far, and I believe if we continue to remain strong and rely on the strength of each other, we will complete the mission.”
He said it with such certainty that no one disbelieved him. They all gave their full attention, sitting in silence and waiting for him to continue.
“Now,” Carsius began, “In order to bring down the Elitinati hold over the government and the economy, we first need to figure out their centers.”
“That’s easy,” Scander piped up, “I noticed a theme in Laurel’s words when she was under the trance: everything she talked about is sold at the Marketplace.”
“And just how in the name of the Brotherhood do you expect us to be able to infiltrate that?” Atis demanded.
Augustus glanced at his commanding officer. “It’s not like there is going to be a crowd just standing in there, like the last two locations,” he noted warily.
“Besides,” Gorrmunsa cut in, “even if we were able to infiltrate the Marketplace, that won’t stop the Factories from continuing to make things—and they could still force the people to have them in their homes; they might even add some kind of enchantment that no amount of analthraxine can break!"
Barmier smiled darkly. “Then I guess we’ll just have to break into the Factories, too.” He could feel the excitement over the prospect of an even broader conflict coursing through his body.
Carsius recognized the gleam in the burly man’s eye. “Steady, my friend,” he warned Barmier. “We must figure out how we can best infiltrate the locations, and what influence Laurel must use, from which point, and many other things before we begin the fighting.”
Sverana squawked, and Scander nodded. “Sverana says that there is a stack on the factory that is cold and dry; it has not put out smoke for a very long time. She flew there this morning, and she could see the marketplace from that point.”
Carisius nodded, “That would work well for a location that covers both the Factories and the Marketplace,” he agreed, “but how are we going to get inside? The last two locations worked in our favor, because Laurel could just impersonate Lady Miligred. I doubt she would have as much success in a factory.”
Renata sighed, “Not to mention that it’s not going to be easy to convince people to stop buying things!”
“No,” Augustus shook his head, “that’s not the right angle for the challenge. We need to get at the motivation behind the pillar, what drives people to still keep themselves under it.”
“Umm—status?” Atis guessed. “We could challenge that with equality.”
“I do not think equality would be much of a remedy in this culture,” Deej objected. “I have seen its people fight for equal status, buying all the same products in an effort to appear exactly the same as their neighbor, whether they can afford it or not. The Factories are mass-producing merchandise with little variation in color, size or weight, because equality is more than likely the reigning trap for them.”
“So if sameness is the core of the pillar,” Augustus mused, “then to combat it, we would need a firm advocacy of—“
“Individuality,” Carsius finished for him. He smiled. “These people are being pushed into uniformity, and we must combat it with thoughts of innovation and entrepreneurship!”
Laurel—who had till now remained silent and let the others discuss—snorted. “Hmph! We must, must we?” she echoed bitterly. “It sounds so easy when you say it! How am I supposed to survive another one of these?”
Carsius dismissed everyone else with a nod and turned his chair to face the fearful Elf-maiden.
“Laurel,” he said, “I know you’re scared, and you have every right to be.” He grasped her quivering, weak hands, “Hear me when I say that you are not alone! We are with you in this! Would that any one of us could do what you have done in the last few days! Would that every Syndicate operative displayed the same fortitude you have shown! If there were another way that would not put you at such risk, I swear I would not hesitate to take it.” He tipped his head to catch her eye, holding her gaze tenderly. “But take heart, Laurel, that every time you fight and push, it brings these people closer to freedom, and then we will need to fight no longer. Were it in my power I would destroy every last wyrt in existence.”
Laurel pressed her lips ruefully. “If we do this right,” she remarked, “you just might get your wish.”
Carsius gently patted her shoulder. “Rest well for today, Laurel. Deej and Renata must make more analthraxine. We will depart for the Factories at first light tomorrow.”
Laurel nodded and withdrew. Carsius remained alone at the table, pondering what the next day would bring.