FEED THE MACHINE - CHAPTER 9
summary : the other villagers are astounded to find that you’re still alive while on an errand. along with your brother, you see a familiar face.
word count: 2.9k
author’s note: was replaying village again and i literally got so hot and bothered by karl talking over the tv i had to take a break and get a drink
No longer did Lord Moreau leave you on your own for very long, even to deliver messages across the village or to tend to your chores around the mines. After the incident in which you fell from the windmill - which you again lied about and said you had a tumble feeding the pigs - he was always just a few steps behind you, never giving you enough space to breathe for long. He had practically thrown himself upon you when you had returned from the factory that night, and had sworn he wouldn’t let you out of his sight again. You were unsure just how you felt about his promise.
He accompanied you everywhere - even into the village a week later to purchase new fabrics from the Duke when word came that he had returned from his travels.
You found yourself rather giddy to see your old home again as you and Lord Moreau shuffled through the thin blanket of fresh snow that covered the path to town. You were going to see your friends again, see your brother, walk the same roads you had your entire life. You could pretend for just a while that this hadn’t all happened to you, that someone else had been chosen, that everything was going according to the plan you had set for yourself by the time you were left in charge.
For a moment, you allowed yourself to reflect on what could could have been. Your parents could have still been around, could have protected you from the inevitability of the fate that had befallen you. They could have looked after Anthony while you were away serving Lord Moreau, could have comforted you and wiped away your tears in your final moments of being home. You could have remembered their embraces, their voices. Except when you pulled yourself from your thoughts, you found that had all just been the results of a too-wild imagination. You were here, walking with the outcast son of Mother Miranda herself, your brother with a neighbor and your hopes of having a normal life dashed.
“What… what’s wrong?” said Moreau, his eyes willed with worry when you turned to face him. “Something’s the matter?”
Blinking a few times to rid your lashes of the snowflakes that had gathered there, you gave him a small smile and shook your head. “Nothing’s the matter, my Lord,” you answered. “I’m only… remembering my childhood. Being back so reminds me of it.”
He seemed to consider this for a moment, then lifted his head. His fish tail slapped joyfully against the ground as you both went along. “I don’t… don’t r-recall much from before Mother. All, all blurry.”
You stared at the toes of your boots for a long second, a bit too wrapped up in your own thoughts to process what he had said. Then, it hit you. Your head snapped up so that you could face him, the wicker basket in your hand nearly slipping from your grasp. “Before Mother Miranda?” you said, almost hesitantly, as if he was going to clam up and realize that he perhaps should not have said that. “I thought she was your real mother. That your brother and sisters were all blood.”
No answer had the chance to come, however, because you had reached the village then, and a startled shriek drew your attention to the side. Gathered by a tractor set off to the side of the square, no doubt gossiping as they so enjoyed to do, were the group of girls you and Paulina had been conversing with the night of the festival last month. They caught sight of you and it seemed as though their expressions had been wiped clean of anything but shock; their eyes were wide and their mouths agape, gazes flickering between you and Moreau.
“Y/N,” said a man that had been passing by with a sack of grain over his shoulder, “by god, you’re back!”
From there, a small swarm of villagers were gathering on their porch steps and in the nooks and crannies between houses to see what the commotion was about. They whispered, or even talked aloud unabashedly; no one had ever come back from the Lords’ territories before. And in such perfect shape - what had happened? Why were you here? A few women came up and hugged you, men touched your shoulders. A few children even skittered about your legs, giggling and pleading with you for new gloves, to repair their shoes.
Your heart swelled with joy and you found yourself smiling wider than you had in weeks, shaking hands, assuring people you were alright. You were so wrapped up in your excitement you failed to see Moreau’s lips turn downwards in a scowl as he backed into the shadows.
“Y/N, you must go to Luiza’s and see your brother,” said one of the elder children, a girl of around sixteen or so. “He went on a hunt with the men last week and brought back half a dozen rabbits!”
Your smile faltered slightly as you disentangled yourself from the crowd and began to make your way through the village to the fields, where Louisa’s house was located. Anthony had gone on a hunt with the men? He was only seven years old; what were they thinking, taking him out like that? Surely that must have traumatized him something awful. You were already thinking of ways to make it up to him by the time you were stepping up the front steps to the porch, the floorboards creaking in protest beneath your weight. Your hand had just raised to knock against the door when a voice called out to you.
“If you’re looking for them, they’ve taken Anthony from the south end to the church.”
Turning, you found a boy your own age emerging from the yellow fields, an axe across one shoulder and a strap of chopped wood in his other grasp. You recognized him instantly; it was Thomas from the north end, the boy you had caught staring at you during the festival. His confident stride faltered when he seemed to place you, as well, before a smile broke across his face and graced you with the rather charming sight. “Y/N from the south end! Everyone assumed you would never be coming back here after being chosen by Lord Moreau.”
Taking a step down, you watched him as he placed his wood and axe down before he extended a hand and offered to help you the rest of the way off the steps. Up close, you were able to take him in much better; his chestnut-colored hair was pulled back in a short, neat ponytail, and you realized the scar from the tractor accident he’d had years ago was actually shaped like a letter ‘L’. He was no doubt, as Paulina had said, the most handsome man this end of the village.
“Yes, well,” you said and allowed yourself to smile slightly, “I have to say they weren’t the only ones.” It was so pleasant to be in the company of the locals again, to not have to watch what you said and consider your tone of voice before you said it. “You said they took Anthony to the church? I was hoping to pay him a visit before I went back to the Reservoir.”
Thomas wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, then stuffed it back into his pocket and said, “Please, allow me to walk you. I would be a sorry excuse for a gentleman if I let you go by yourself when you’ve only just gotten back.” He offered you his arm, perfectly folded at the elbow and inviting your hand to hold it. You simply couldn’t leave him waiting.
The pair of you made your way back through the fields and through the end of the village, snow crunching softly underfoot and a few stray flakes catching your hair. “How have things been since I’ve been gone?” you asked him. “I’m afraid I don’t get much news all the way over at the lakes.”
He emitted a hum that gave the implication he was thinking. “Well,” he said, free hand coming up to thumb at his scar, “Elise from the west end had her baby; it’s a girl, thank heavens. Lord knows that poor women has enough boys tramping through her home.” You shared a laugh, and you couldn’t help but notice the pair of dimples that showed when he smiled. “Let’s see, now. Lord Heisenberg sent down a new shipment of metals and tools so that we could repair a few of the houses that took a beating during that blizzard that came through. Oh! And Mother Miranda gathered us all last week to hold a prayer vigil. I thought it rather strange, so close to the festival, but she claimed it was only because she missed us all so much.”
You gave him another smile, knowing full well that Mother Miranda had arranged that vigil to distract the villagers from the gunshots and violence happening outside the gates.
Thomas steered you around a pair of hunting dogs that were wrestling “But, if I may, what is like serving one of the great Lords? A life of luxury, no doubt, just as Mother Miranda says.”
Your smile faltered slightly as you went along. You thought of your little shack that threatened to collapse in on you every day, the dank-smelling caves, the sitting water of the swamps that surrounded the rotting windmills. You swallowed thick, your grip around his arm tightening. “Yes,” you said finally. “Amazing.”
By the time you had reached the church near the center of the village, nearly everyone, it seemed, knew of your sudden reappearance. They called out to you and hesitantly said hello, although their children were not at all as shy. They crowded around your and Thomas’ legs, pulling on your skirts and attempting to place their things into your basket; torn dolls, gloves with holes in the fingers, and more that moved so quickly you didn’t even get a chance to see what they were. Thomas swooped a few of them into his arms, motioning to you that he would hold them off until you got a chance to make it to the church.
You knocked your boots against the first step to rid your soles of the snow, the wood warped and chipped where others had done the same thing time and time again. The small string of bells attached to the front door jingled merrily as you stepped inside.
Luiza and her husband looked up from tending to the offering table at the front of the small room, and they both gave quiet gasps of shock. At their waists, the small figure that filled your heart with a tidal wave of joy looked up before turning to follow their gazes. Anthony’s eyes widened as they met yours, a few flower stems that were in his small grasp dropping to the floor. “Y/N?” he squeaked.
Wordlessly, too overcome with the tears in your eyes and the lump in your throat to say anything in return, you rushed forward and dropped to your knees to envelop him in a hug. He wrapped his small arms around your neck, fingers tangling in your hair, as he buried his face into the place just below your throat. You stayed like that for what felt an eternity before finally pulling back to cup his small face and smile gently. “They must be feeding you well, because I think you’ve gotten bigger.”
Anthony gave a little giggle before standing up again to show you the dark green coat he wore; you didn’t remember him having that before. “Look,” he said proudly. “Miss Luiza bought it for me last week.”
Sending Luiza a grateful grin, you reached a hand out to run your fingers over the pale buttons that lined one side of the coat. It was far nicer than anything you had ever been able to afford. Perhaps he really was doing better with someone else than with you. “Well, it looks rather handsome,” you said finally. “I hope it’s capable of keeping you warm for a while, because I was hoping to take you to see the Duke while he’s in town.” You gave his hair a few pets before sending him outside to wait for you, then turned to the shell-shocked couple before the alter. “I must thank you again for taking care of him while I’m away.”
“Y/N,” breathed Luiza, twisting a string of beads between her hands. “My god, we all thought… we all thought you were dead.”
“You all are beginning to sound like echoes,” you laughed. “No, my Lord Moreau is very generous. Though, I’m not here to stay. I came to see Anthony and purchase a few items from the merchant before he left.”
Luiza smiled good-naturedly, then turned to string the strand of beads across the portrait of Donna Beneviento above the offering table before brushing her hand and ushering you towards the door. “Well, then you best hurry. Goodness knows when he comes and goes. Go along with him; we’ll be home when you’re ready.”
Outside, you found Anthony talking rather animatedly with Thomas, who had somehow managed to get rid of the pack of children. You joined them, reaching down to hold your brother’s hand, and the three of you began to cross to the south end, where the Duke usually set up his shop. Even from what felt like a mile away, you were able to see the bright red wagon and the pure white horse that pulled the load without any struggle. The merchant himself was sitting at the head, smoking a cigar and reading a book that looked miniature-sized in his large palm. He looked up when you approached, a warm smile settling over his features.
The Duke was, quite literally, the largest man you had ever seen in your life. Practically everyone in the village was thin, thanks to the unstable crops each year and wavering hunt numbers, but he was not from the village. The buttons on his shirt and vest seemed to be the strongest ever created, and he never wore shoes, most likely because none came in his size. He coughed constantly and laughed so hard his belly shook like pudding, and yet, he was possibly the sweetest man you’d met.
“If it isn’t Miss Y/N, all the way from the Reservoir,” he rumbled, placing his book away deep in his cart. “I hadn’t suspected you’d be back so early. But, as they say, early is on time, no?”
“Hello, Duke,” you said, your eye on Anthony, who was already nosing through the chest of children’s toys that were sitting on the ground. “You’re not surprised I’m still even here at all?”
He hummed and took a drag of his cigar, which smelled distinctly like the kind that Heisenberg smoked. “Not at all, my dear girl. One who has so much spirit would not soon go down without spitting up a whirlwind of a fight, don’t you think?”
You weren’t quite sure what to make of his words, so let them alone for now. “Forgive me for being so eager, but would you happen to have any more of those fabrics I often purchase? The silky type? Oh, and perhaps-“
Before you could finish, the Duke had rummaged around in the back of his cart for a moment before turning around - with a great amount of effort - and extended a large stack of fabrics, within which were silks, wools, threads and other delicacies only worthy of your seamstressing talents and which only your skills could craft into something marvelous. “I’ve been accumulating quite the collection, as you can see,” he said when you reached out to accept his offering. He stopped you when you reached into your skirts for the Lei pouch you had stored there. “No payment this time, my dear. All I ask is to see your creations around town soon.”
You stood, fabrics in hand, rather flabbergasted. The lump in your throat threatened to bob back up, but you forced it down and rapidly nodded your head. “Thank you so much,” you managed through your grin. You cast a glance to Anthony, who had picked out a painted wooden cow from the toy box. “At least let me pay for t-“
“Allow me,” said Thomas, suddenly reminding you he was there. He quickly fetched a few coins from his own pockets before extending them to the merchant. He gave you only a smile in explanation, letting you hang onto his arm again as you turned and began to head back to the square.
“You truly didn’t have to,” you murmured quietly to him as Anthony skipped forward to show his new toy to the other children ahead.
Thomas shrugged a shoulder. “I did not have to,” he replied. “But I wanted to. Is that not reason enough?”
Just a while later, when you had bid Thomas goodbye and then dropped Anthony back off at Luiza’s house, you found yourself heading through the south end back towards where you had last seen Moreau. You wondered just where he had gotten off to. Perhaps he had gone back home. You were pulled from your thoughts when you turned a corner that connected to your old shack, which was supposed to be empty, abandoned. Instead, you saw a short, hunched figure closing your gate and slowly turning to head down the path. As you stepped closer, you realized it was the old village hag, the elderly woman that walked with a staff dangling with bones and bells and charms. Her long silver hair hung like curtains across her weathered face, expression unreadable as she turned to face you when you came to a stop beside her.
“Pardon me, ma’am,” you said, recalling the odd words she had given you last month at the festival. “Are you living in that house now?”
The woman breathed slowly, as if each breath took her effort, and she leaned heavily against her walking stick. “Walking through that storm, I see,” she said in a voice that sounded like gravel that had once been honey. “And so gracefully you were. Such a shame you’ve decided to forge your own path.”
You blinked a few times in confusion, the cold beginning to get to your bones and seep into them like water into the ground. “I… I’m sorry?”
She smacked her lips a few times before facing ahead again, leaving you gaping after her as she said, “You’ll see. Machines fail. Gears rust. And heed my word - you will tumble in time with the final push against this village.”
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