20 Time #4 – A Tale of Two Societies

For background, see Twin Worlds.

The Princess: The king spared no expense. Every painting, every banister, every surface was dusted and polished until it gleamed. Flowered garlands were hung across every door frame, dripping with hanging diamonds and jewels between the emerald leaves.

The ballroom was soon awash in swirling dresses and tailored jackets, gloves and jewelry and heeled slippers and glitter and pomp. Light from hundreds of white, tapered candles on dozens of golden candelabras danced off of anything shiny. The musicians in their alcove sawed up a pleasing tune.

On the tables edging the titanic room was the feast. Whole cattle, roasted to sizzling perfection, surrounded by glazed goose and a hog crusted in spices. Potatoes with butter and chives, stews loaded thick with tender meat and vegetables, loaves upon loaves of the finest bread with oil and chutney spreads to slather on. There was all manner of pastries, desserts, and delicacies on one table – chocolate-dipped fruit, diminutive chocolate cakes, fluffy pastries dusted in sugar. Another table was covered in the king’s best wines, sparkling and shining in their wide assortment of colorful glass bottles under the candlelight.

There were old barons and their ladywives, but also a fair smattering of younger generations – young men being groomed to take their fathers’ places and young women ready to be married off, some of them already having been – but all were making a statement, coming out and presenting themselves at the event of the year.

It was a who’s-who of the richest peacocks in all of the kingdom.

The Pauper: My family lived in one room, under a rattling roof, on the burned crust of the city slums. We didn’t have a stove – in fact, no one in our community of huddled shacks owned a stove. We all shared the hearth built against the town wall. Everyone pitched in to find firewood to keep the thing going during the cold winters, but food was a different matter.

In the slums, if you caught it, found it, or it was given to you, it was yours. Food was too precious to share with the community if your family was starving, as most people’s often were. Food thieves weren’t a problem where I lived, because anything edible was usually eaten up before word got around that you had it.

I grabbed my hunting bow and arrows, and ducked under the low door frame to make the walk down to the city limits.

Some people were out on the street. The men had left for the fishing lake long ago, hoping to bring home dinner. Their wives now scraped their laundry over washboards and hung it on twine in the cracks between the houses to dry. The sun had leached everything of color – the clothes, the streets, and the shacks were the same empty, arid gray and brown.

The penniless slum citizens seemed leached of color, as well.

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