Coercion

About two sisters who left their country just before war broke out.

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4. Crime and Punishment

Despite having only been in Driskova for a short amount of time I already had a long list of things I didn’t like about it. Number one was that Driskovians were way too liberal in their use of drugs to paralyse or put young women to sleep.  Or maybe I was just a special case.

There must have been sleeping pills in my wine because when I woke it was nearly midday. I was still in my cocktail dress but someone had covered me with a blanket. That someone must have been Ida because she was sat beside me on the bed, running a wrinkled hand through my hair.

“You slept late, dearie,” she said smiling. “Did you enjoy the dinner?” Ida was wearing the scarf I had given her.

“Where’s Amelinda?” I cried scrambling to my feet now wide awake. “What have you done to her?”

Ida arched an eyebrow in surprise. “She’s fine, Briar. She’s at school.”

“I want to see her now.”

“Maybe later; school doesn’t finish until four o’clock.”

Struggling to remain calm I said, “Why can’t she live with me? We’re not going to be here long. Our parents will come for us.” Tears filled my eyes and I sank to the floor. They wouldn’t be coming if they were dead.

“Hush.” Ida stroked my hair. “You want Amelinda to be happy, don’t you? Going to school will take her mind off things. She’ll be with people her own age. She’ll make friends.”

Tears slid down my face. Amelinda was my little sister. I was meant to be the one looking after her but she was living with strangers.

“Can I . . . can I meet the family Amelinda is staying with?” I said, wiping my cheeks.

“I will ask Marshall later, dearie. You should go and have a shower. Marshall will be back soon.”

 

 

Marshall and Ida were waiting in the living room when I emerged from the bathroom. Their brown eyes were immediately drawn to my green jeans.

“Briar.” Marshall smiled once he had torn his gaze from my brightly coloured legs. “I trust you slept well?”

Nodding I replied, “Yes thank you.” Not that I had any choice in the matter. “It’s very kind of you to let me stay here.” I had decided that it would not be a good idea to shout at or hit Marshall, which was what I felt like doing, seeing as he was the President. Also I had thought that being nice to him would make Marshall more likely to want to do nice things for me, like letting me see Amelinda.

“Are you ready for lunch?” he asked. “Afterwards I will take you into the city.”

I hadn’t even had breakfast yet but I smiled saying that I was looking forward to seeing the sights.

 

 

I probably wouldn’t have been so eager to leave the mansion if I had known what I was going to see.

Ida didn’t come with us, so it was just me and Marshall in the back of the nondescript, shiny black car. Marshall was dressed in a thick coat and dark jeans. He had advised me to wear my warmest clothes as it was a cold day, so I had pulled on my thickest jumper and jacket. Unfortunately Mum hadn’t packed me a coat.

“Where are we going?” I asked peering out of the tinted windows.

Marshall smiled. “I thought you might like to see the sights, not that there is much to see.”

The driver took us down the hill into the city. We drove through the drab area that was crammed with tall buildings and stopped at what was obviously the posh part of the city. Marshall helped me out of the car and held out his elbow for me to take. Slipping my arm through his, I gazed around at my surroundings. The structures here were a more pleasant shade of grey, if such a thing was possible. Some of them were even a dark cream colour. They were more spread out as well and I could even see some trees. It looked like Marshall wanted to make a good impression.

“Shall we walk around?” he asked.

“Don’t you have any security?” I wondered, glancing around to find that apart from the driver who was still in the car, we were all alone. It appeared that everyone was at work.

Marshall raised his eyebrows in surprise. “I don’t need any. The police will protect us.”

Police? But I couldn’t see anyone.

“Come on,” said Marshall leading me down the street.

Most of the buildings we passed seemed to be offices of some kind but there were a few shops. A harsh wind battered us, sending my long hair flying and making me shake with cold. Marshall noticed and took me into a shop where he bought me a thick, black fur coat. It was expensive but Marshall didn’t bat an eyelid.

After a thanked him for the hundredth time, he laughed. “I can’t have you freezing to death, can I?”

Marshall showed me a fountain after that, though the water had frozen so it wasn’t working. There were some statues as well of famous Driskovians that I had never heard of. Marshall spent nearly an hour telling me about them.

“Are you hungry?” he asked when he had finished.

“I would love a warm drink.”

There were some very posh restaurants nearby and as we approached them a little boy appeared out of nowhere and crashed into me.

“Hey,” I said once I had recovered from the shock. “Are you okay?”

The boy was young and only came up to my thighs. His face was dirty as were in clothes and in his hand he was clutching an apple. The boy’s eyes widened when he saw my blonde hair and green eyes and jeans.

Marshall pulled me away from the boy, a look of disgust on his face, but I tugged my arm free.

Crouching down beside the boy I said, “Do you want to touch it?”

The boy reached out a bony hand to my hair his face full of wonder. Then all of a sudden we were surrounded by the police. One of the uniformed police officers grabbed the little boy who yelled out and tried to escape.

“Please excuse us, Mr. President,” an officer said.

The police saluted before turning to walk away with the boy.

“Wait!” I cried confused. “What’s happening? What did that boy do?”

The officer restraining the boy glanced at Marshall who nodded. “This child stole an apple from a restaurant. He is being taken to the House of Justice where he will pay for his crime.”

“His crime? He’s just a kid. What are you going to do to him?”

The officer frowned at me from beneath his grey cap. “The punishment for stealing is ten lashes.”

Gaping at him in horror I said, “Lashes? You’re going to whip him?”

Marshall placed a hand on my shoulder. “The rules apply to everyone. We can’t make exceptions, Briar.”

“This is disgusting. He’s just a child!” To the little boy I said, “Do you have a family?”

His brown eyes were filled with fear as he shook his head.

Turning to Marshall I pleaded, “He probably hasn’t had a decent meal in weeks. Please don’t let them do this.”

“I told you, Briar, there are no special cases. You can go officers.”

The policemen saluted and strode away, the little boy in tow.

“Marshall.” Tears were welling in my eyes. How could they do that to a child? “Please you can’t let them whip him.”

Shaking his head, he tried to take me into a restaurant but I shoved him away and ran after the police officers. My breath billowed in front of me as I sprinted down the road. The men turned right and I did the same when I reached the corner. I froze when I saw where they had taken the little boy. It was a village of makeshift homes made from wood and cloth. The boy was being marched up some steps in front of a stone building that I assumed was the House of Justice, to a whipping post. A crowd of poorly clothed people was starting to gather and I pushed through them, covering my mouth with a hand at the stink. I went to go up the steps but an officer stopped me. Pushing past him I rushed up the steps only to be manhandled away by more policemen.

“Let him go!” I yelled as they tied to boy to the whipping post. “You can’t do this!”

“Calm down, miss,” said someone.

I ignored them. Instead I head butted the officer in front of me and kicked another. I saw the little boy receive his first lash just as I was knocked unconscious.

Drugging young women can go to number two on my Driskova hate list. Whipping young children is definitely the worst thing about this barbaric country.     

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