Outside the chill wind blew as the morning sun peeked out from the horizon. The slum was located on the eastern side of the village, just outside the wooden walls. The village allowed it because it served as fodder and early warning for a bandit raid or demon beast attack from the forest. Hence its strategic location between the village and forest.
The slum was around fifty or so huts like Chu’s that were clumped around that area. Don’t get it wrong as being neighborly under ‘we are all in the same boat’ kind of mentality. It was really ‘if beast or bandits attack, if I go down, so will you’
The population of these houses were kept steady, never increasing. Old people here would die out from the cold winters, strong youths would be taken back by villagers or bandits and young girls who survived the winter would be sold as slaves. Discarded people were used as the normal people saw fit. In a world where strong survives weak dies, this was an undisputed law.
Blame the gods for not allowing you to be born with a silver spoon. The mindset of the villagers were close to those from the middle ages. It would be no problem for a family to send their elderly off with a smile once they became a burden with a ‘hey thanks for your services until now, take this piece of hard bread and we wish you well in future endeavors’. Of course future endeavors meant ‘hope you rally through or freeze to death during winter’.
Chu’s first view of this world was …..
He came out and took a deep breath. Big mistake. Although his shack was one of the later ones built and located near the outskirts of slum central, it was still in the slums. Since toilets were free for all the stench was high. In places like this no one ventured too far from their houses to conduct business. He may have been used to the smell but that act of trying to take in the air of the new world nearly sent him gagging.
The hut was among those closest to the forest. They were clumped haphazardly about fifty feet apart on relatively flat land. The forest was to the east not to far but not near. Maybe around five miles? Made sense since it gave some time to prepare if raids came from it. It was wearing a multi colored coat of oranges yellows and green with lots of brown showing.
The grasslands that bordered it stretched around with small hills popping up every now and again. To the west the wooden walls of the village made of tree trunks rose up about six feet from the ground. The spaces between them were just enough to stab a spear through it. Seems it was really built to defend against animal attacks.
His first impression after this sight was as if he had ventured back in time to the middle ages. It was not a good feeling.
Use the backing of family to start developing? Reason I left was to prevent all of us from sharing this magnificent scene.
Go to Guild and get some easy herb picking quest? This place deals with demon beast fur and meat. WTF am I in a game?
Chop firewood? How? with my teeth? An axe is a tool used by those with certain skill. Iron is scarce as can be noted that the most popular item is a spear made of entirely wood.
Cultivate? The kid can’t even read or write, you feel mana drops from the sky when you want?
Invent start business? Look around fool, you’re in the %$# wilderness. People here are lucky if they hold a silver coin during their short lives.
Travel to the nearest city? On what? A belly full of bitter water?
Yes yes yes, truly SCREWED.
“hey, you lost your mind?”
A slap on his head jolted Chu back to reality. The person talking was a burly kid around fifteen. Maybe he should say out of the ten kids present, he was the largest among the malnourished. Everyone was dressed in shabby attire, some had shoes with more holes while others made up such deficiency with torn clothes. Felt good to be among equals.
The big kid was named Ming. He was the self-proclaimed leader of the children in the slums. This was given to him since he was the eldest and largest. It was a title only job, everybody still had to fend for themselves. Since all of them worked as loaders for carrying firewood from the forest, they gathered and left the slum together.
This group was formed out of necessity instead of brotherly bonds. Think of them as individual birds who feed in a flock to escape predators. Last week as they were leaving the forest a lone wolf attacked the group. The girl who got caught served as bait as the others made a hasty escape. In these discarded children the law of the jungle was already imprinted.
The group consisted of six girls and five boys. The boys were around twelve while the girls were younger at about eight or nine. There was about five more girls who were younger that remained in the camp. They remained alive due to the compassion of the few old people in the slums. During winter these older girls may be ‘lucky’ to warm the beds of some bastard in the village rallying through. Survival of a girl in the slums inevitably leads to some form of slavery.
The routine was the same as any day. They walked along a wagon trail for about an hour until reaching the forest. Here at the forest edge the trail split into others leading to the places where the trees were being cut. The woodsmen would cut trees and prepare them for transport by cart. The children were scavengers. The remaining branches and small twigs were gathered, broken and bundled. This was sold to the Trading post as firewood to be sent to the villages and towns in the interior.
During the day this place was bustling with villagers. Firewood was the chief income of the village along with hunting. While the men would venture deeper to hunt, the women would secure firewood and forage for roots within the forest. After the first month of winter the forest would be dead until spring. Snow made the trail impassable for the carts and wolves and other beast became more daring making the forest dangerous. Everyone was hoarding to rally the long winter.
As the group scattered and began to hustle, Chu made his way to some fallen branches and began gathering his load. It took time to make a load and carry it back to the village. During the day Chu realized how hard this work was. In the end they managed to leave the forest before sunset with their last load to the village. Two loads for the day at a price of two coppers.
All firewood was collected at the Trading post located outside the village. Opposite it was the entrance and wooden walls that surrounded the village.
He collected the money and then went into the village to give it to his mother. After that he returned exhausted to his shack for a dinner of bitter water. Removing his clothes and hanging them up to dry he draped the rag bedding over himself as he sat down.
With a day like this it was no wonder the past Chu kicked the bucket. A life like this guarantees a swift death. It was like spinning a roulette with the only options being how to die. Starvation, freezing, or the choice of being eaten by an animal.
Sitting and thinking he found the previous tenant of this body had gradually dug a hole for himself. Unfortunately the present owner had to bear this damage.
Winter was on the doorstep and now was a crucial time for the family to earn money. This money was to buy food and clothing to survive the four months of winter. The saying ‘copper can’t keep you fed and warm during winter was true’. His money was to prevent starvation of his family. An extra mouth would compound this problem during winter.
His condition was even worse. When winter begins in full swing, he was lacking food, clothes and a secure shelter. Foraging for food in the forest was out of the question, not to mention there would be nobody sane to venture there. He needed more money for food and time to repair his shack. Both of which he was sorely lacking.
Wolves were starting to appear along the forest borders and attacks were starting to be more frequent. As winter moves into full swing these and other wild beast would become more daring and start venturing out into the grasslands. Then the slums would be even more dangerous.
No matter how he racked his brain, there was no easy answer. There was only one option but it depended on the will to survive. While thinking he cleared away the space in the middle of the hut. He moved the stones that served as the stove to this position. Using an old flint he asked from his mother, he struggled until he had a fire going. Setting it to smoke, so it would make coals he dressed and left the shack.
The night was already biting cold as he stumbled in the darkness to another shack near the center. He had to make sure he didn’t encroach into another’s toilet. Reaching his destination he banged on the side and hollered. After a minute the door slid open and a face peered out.
“Hey Ming, do you want to earn extra coppers?”