The Weeds, Chapter 2
50 years after Brexit, London stands isolated in a totalitarian state
Chapter 2: Heritage
The air tastes of iron and cold rust. The frost had long splintered the window panes, and ivy sprawled into the room. Annis rose and made gruel over the fireplace. No one could afford coal in the cordon, so the children sold bundles of newspaper and nettles in exchange for coins and pretty buttons.
Everyone dressed the same way, here. Woollen tights in grey or ochre, thick linen skirts wrapped firmly against the cold, thick rough shawls and blue kerchiefs over the women’s foreheads. A sign of begrudging allegiance to The High Protector. It wasn’t worth the hassle of explaining why you weren’t wearing one to an over zealous officer.
Higher purity women, from the west cordon, would wear dresses or less practical skirts. Their rations of coal and bread allowed for less pragmatic dressing. The state ensured survival always overrode any misplaced sense of independence. This sharp pragmatism served the dual purpose of ensuring the low purity women would not seduce the men of better standing and pollute their bloodline.
Annis cared little for such appearances. In the cold mud slopes of the Thames, she had little desire for the thin dresses of the west cordon. Every morning she dressed, drank the flour paste ascribed to her status, and headed out into the ice and sleet to collect the washing of the wealthier women. Today was no exception.
The houses of the west cordon were great Victorian heaps of brick, marked with the blue flags of The Protector and guarded by stiff border men. To go to the west cordon, you needed a stamp on your documents. Annis had hers marked with a (W) for washerwoman. She had forty minutes to collect the clothes from the vats and return to the east. Failure to return would result in a whipping.
Today, a Thursday, she left just before daylight. The Protectors would not rise for another hour, leaving her free from the endless demands for documents or, worse still, assault. The streets were almost bare, save for a few sweepers and homeless children. They played in the gutters, pretending to be The Others and The Protector, vigilantly defending the nation against barbarous outsiders. They played at shooting each other, falling to the ground and moaning in a mock foreign tongue.
“The Others have a wicked faith,” Her teacher had told her, years ago. “They worship a dark skinned war god who demands the death of all Saxons.” The class had listened, enthralled. “If you hear a grown up speak of their unchristian god, you must inform on them! For the good of the nation! For the good of our race!”
The children had clapped and sworn to protect each other from the wicked god and the unbelievers. Annis had sat in silence, remembering her old aunt praying in foreign words as she died by the fireplace. Her mother had made her swear to secrecy, shaking her until she cried.
As Annis walked to the cordon, she became aware that the guard at the border point was not the usual man, half asleep and lit by a cigarette. This man was tall, gun in hand, blue collared. A man who was proud of his rank was never a good omen. This was another high ranking official. It seemed strange to see his uniform on so rough a cordon.
“Gute dey, Protector.” She said warmly, hoping to appease his warlike demeanour. “I am a laundry woman, for the west cordon border-”
“Papers.” The Protector said shortly, gun loaded. Annis pulled them out as fast as she could, pointing to the (W). He grabbed them, studying them carefully. “Didn’t they teach you our language, girl?” He muttered, running a finger down the booklet. “It’s wesherwomyn, not laundry woman.” Annis stood silent. It was a foolish mistake to argue. He blinked up at her, then paused.
“You’re the girl from the river!” He said, turning to reveal his sharp, aged Saxon features. “I didn’t recognise you with your coverings.” Annis nodded, hoping he would be done quickly. “Wenters, Annis. Good Saxon name. Unity.”
“Annis.” He mused, looking over her papers. “How old are you?”
“20 summere, Protector.”
“And still not married?”
“No, Protector.” She paused, hesitantly. “The menfolk want lighter wives. Blonde, I mean.”
He nodded, still holding her papers. “Your colouring is unfortunate. Other parts of you could almost be Saxon.”
“Yes, Protector. Can I please have my papers now? I have only forty minutes until-” He stared at her, releasing his hand from the gun. Slowly, he passed her the papers.
“You look so familiar,” He said, opening the gate. “I have seen your face before, and I do not know where. That bothers me.”
She moved through quickly, almost tripping in the snow. The guard watched her until she was out of sight, turning his head up to the posters of the leader.
She looked like The High Protector. She had his mouth, the same high bones. How could this be? The High Protector was Saxon to the very bone. His family could be traced back to the five hundreds. The girl was dark, big southern eyes and thick wild hair. It was impossible.
He gaped out into the blizzard, her face reeling in his mind. Impossible. Perhaps it was a trick of the light. He was tired. Yes. That’s what it was. An illusion brought on by exhaustion. But still, that face-
Far away, beyond the crumbling slums of the east cordon, beyond the decaying mansions of the east, was the centre of the citadel. Here, Parliament had sat for a thousand years, through kings, queens, warlords and tyrants. And now, the High Protector sat in the ancient halls, watching an official whimper at his feet.
The man was weeping, like a woman. Tears fell so fast that his chest heaved, his voice catching in a half scream as he begged for his life. The Protector looked down at him, unmoved. Mercy was the premise of weakness. This was nothing more than the final soliloquy of a deceased traitor, long condemned by the author of fate.
“I have a pureblood wife, Protector,” the man begged, his fists shaking on the floor. “Meredith. She’s young, twenty six, I married late. We’re expecting a son, in two months. I have two little girls already. Good christian girls. Don’t condemn us. They need me, protector, my wife does too. I’m an innocent man. Look at me, protector, how could I be an Other-”
“You hid papers that state your great grandmother was a Muslim,” the High Protector interrupted unfeelingly. The man whimpered, burying his head in his hands. “Your great grandmother was an Iranian Muslim. She arrived here in 1990 and practiced her faith until the glorious revolution. Do you deny this?”
“My glorious Protector, please, I have always been a good protestant, I never knew that-”
“You knew enough to hide these records in your basement,” The High Protector answered. “And to try to burn them when you were investigated.”
The man screamed. “Please don’t kill my girls, Protector. They aren’t impure. My wife didn’t know when she married me. Send us to the east cordon, I beg you. Have mercy-”
“You will all be burnt after Evensong,” The Protector announced, disinterestedly. “For treachery to our great race. I always thought you were an odd looking man, Aegred.”
He stood up, waving a hand for the condemned to be dragged away. The cruelty of the act had long since lost its impact on him. He was a great believer in the pure strategy. He alone could stop the tide of racial degradation sweeping the country.
He arrived at his office, slumping in his chair. He was not as young as he had been, and age gnawed at his back and neck. The condemned man was still screaming down below. In his youth, he would have been kind enough to have the fool shot. But he needed to make an example against race mixing. After his mistake.
He saw her image flutter in his memory. It had been a hot June day, the grass growing high over the bomb sites, the dandelions and thistles bending in the heave of the elms. She stood over the wreckage of a pram, grinning at him with brilliant white teeth. And black, black eyes.
“Aren’t these stunning?” She had said, running her hand over a poppy.
“They are weeds.”
“Then why are they beautiful?”
He had taken her palm, and grazed it against a nettle. “They will harm you. So they are weeds!”
She had grinned, and his heart had ached. “Then is a rose with thorns a weed?”
He sat back in his chair, remembering the warmth of her mouth, the youthful swell of her body, the rough eroticism of her ankles entwined with his. He savoured the smallness of her waist, the musk of her skin, the heat of her arms. She was the only woman who had broken him.
The only woman to have laughed as he had overpowered her. Other women had begged, pleaded for their lives, but not her. She had stared up at him with black, hating eyes, until the light was gone. Even as he wept over her body, she looked on, eyes still mocking him.
No more. His mistake, his weakness. No one would ever know, he was not so foolish as Aefred. He had burnt any recollection of her, any document, executed any official who would be his undoing. Her body was disposed of with rock and concrete by the borderwall, far away from the capitol. And the child, her child-
There was a knock on his door. He resettled himself, and nodded to the official. The man looked worried, pale with a lack of sleep. “Protector, the south cordon are restless. Their rations have not arrived for three weeks. The men are close to rioting.”
The protector sat back, silent. “Tell them that I have ensured that they will have their rations by St Margaret’s feast day. ” The official looked confused.
“Protector, there will be no food until the summer. The camps in the north are barren until the ground thaws.”
The high protector stared at him. “Cut other cordon’s ration to cover the shortfall. And hang the rebels.”
“Yes Protector.” The official looked almost as malnourished as the south cordon. He turned to leave, terrified to stand in front of the leader for more time than necessary. “There is a rumour going around, protector, that I feel I must tell you about.”
“A girl was spotted by a cordon border yesterday morning. They are saying; well sir, this is awkward — that she strongly resembles you.”
The protector sniffed. “And what of it? Many Saxons share my heritage.”
“Yes Protector, quite. But this girl, she was in the east cordon.”
The Protector felt his blood run cold.
“And they say, Protector, that she was a level 5.”
What will happen next? Find out in the next chapter.