by Earl Grey
Unable to make ends meet at her farm, Laesra tries to make a desperate deal.
| The numbers didn’t lie and no matter how much she tried, they wouldn’t fib either.. Laesra had been struggling to find some way to make ends meet for months now and neither she, nor her beau Karius, but nothing seemed to work. He put in 14 hour days in the fields, tending not only to his own crops, but those of neighboring farms. His pittance of a share of their crops brought much needed milk and preserves into their home, but their real payment wouldn’t come until harvest. If there was a harvest.
Laesra had been doing her part by working similarly long days at a textile mill in the city. Normally they didn’t employ people her age, nearly into her thirties, but her small hands and upper body strength made her a choice applicant. The only problem was that that she worked nights while Karius toiled during the day.
Despite all of this work, the numbers simply didn’t add up. They were running low on food reserves, with no where near enough to last through the winter and the bills were just barely getting paid. They owed the Bank of Elfhaven almost 10 years worth of gold already for the start up costs of establishing their farm, with interest it would be 20 or thirty before it was all paid off.
Technically that wasn’t exactly true, if they managed to make the monthly payments the bank initially established then the loans could be paid off in ten years, but that was impossible. They were at the bare minimum the bank would allow and barely paying that off, to say nothing of larger payments, the money simply wasn’t there. Nor was there money for the heating oil bill, food for themselves, or even basic clothing.
That was why Laesra had arranged a meeting with her loan officer. She had to leave two hours early, losing ½ a gold piece, but if the meeting went well then it was worth the price. That was a big “if” however.
The bank had gotten more skittish about lending ever since the economy turned sour over the last few years. She had friends and neighbors who were denied loans and even ledger accounts and it had only gotten worse since. She could see it in all the couples who went childless, or how patrons in the market places and even the workers seemed older and older.
That could have to do with the wars though. Were they still at war with Yamoh, or had that one ended? It had been going on for so long she didn’t remember, but they were at war with Ponton, that she did remember.
Karius would have re-enlisted if he hadn’t lost his leg during his last toru. The most that the government did was patch him up with a few stitches and some rags before sending him home. While the military had been an option for Laesra too, after seeing how they easily Karius was discarded she resolutely refused.
When he returned home they needed to find some form of replacement for his gangrenous stump. The alchemists could have restored his leg, but the cost was too great for magic of that caliber. Instead, the Smithies crafted him a replacement, which they were still making payments on.
The King said he was trying to fix things, but his words and deeds were vastly different. People were disappearing from their homes, families that lived there for generations were suddenly missing all but their oldest members. There were rumors that those disappeared were either debtors or their relatives, although they were just rumors.
Besides, it could be worse, at least there were jobs. Coworkers claimed that the islands deep in the south used zombies, skeletons and other undead for their labor. If that started here then almost everyone would be unemployed.
The steps of the Elfhaven office always gave her a shiver. The steps were made of solid marble and must have numbered in the hundreds. Professional elves donned in the refinery of their class were coming and going, taking the stairs effortlessly. There were even elementals, elves with the power of the elements, whose hair and flesh were fire,water or even gold.
Once at the top, but before going in she gazed out towards the town. Their farmhouse was there in the very outskirts of the city, blowing small plumes of smoke. Laesra took a deep breath and went inside.
After speaking with the receptionist she waited on one of the chairs provided and tried to ignore the looks. Laesra was one of the few humans in the office, in fact one of the few in the entire city. Which meant that there were always going to be stares whenever she left the human parts of the town.
She tried to take them in good natured stride, but it was difficult not to feel unwelcome here, even though almost everyone owed some money to Elfhaven. Where did they expect her to go, to some loan claticons? No, they didn’t even expect her to have money, much less plans or goals.
It was difficult to keep from returning their stares, or sneering, but she managed. They were expecting a response, for her to be the type or human they had heard about and seen in the streets, well she wasn’t going to let that happen. While she couldn't bring herself to smile, the situation was just too anxious, too degrading, Laesra remained poised and collected while waiting.
Finally it was her turn and she was led down a corridor. There were smokeless lamps hovering that shone brighter than any candle she’d ever seen. Not even a torch could hold a candle to these lights.
She chuckled, even in these stressful times, she found it helped to find humor. That became much harder when the door opened and there was Mr. Sorar already waiting. Did she catch him on the way to the bathroom? Did elves even do that?
“Mrs. Jura good to see you again, come in, how has everything been?”
“Actually it’s Miss Sjo we haven’t been able to have our wedding yet,” couldn’t afford it was more accurate, but that was not the thing to say to your banker.
“Oh, my apologies, you two have been here for years, so I figured it already happened. Now what can I do for you?”
At first it was hard to say anything. His elvish features were blinding close up, high cheek bones, golden hair, perfect skin, the elves were a picture of beauty. This only made her more aware of her flaws, the split ends, prematurely graying hair, thickening waistline and crows feet which seemed to be more plentiful every day. Normally she didn’t think about this sort of thing, there simply wasn’t time in the day, but faced with their intense beauty, it was hard not to focus on every imperfection.
“I’d like to take out a new loan for the farm,” she explained. Sorar pulled out her file and examined everything.
“You’ve already borrowed against all the collateral your farmland and stipends are worth,” he stated. “Your recent payments have freed up a little credit, but it would only be about ten or fifteen gold pieces. I can start the paperwork if you’d like, but we try to avoid small loans.”
“Yes, I know,” she sighed. “I didn’t mean a new loan against the farm. What I mean is I’d like to sell the rights to my first born.”