THE FARTHINGTON PART 01: The Emblem of the Raven
The Farthington Family is known to have produced the best butlers and maids in all of Vonagherra. Each generation follows the tradition set by its founder, Alexandra, who served the legendary hero Andre Juvenal. As such, having a member in one’s employ is seen as an indicator of one’s prestige in society.
Members of the Family, whether natural or adopted, are brought up to serve only those who are wealthy and worthy. If a master was poor, would leave the Family unable to continue their enterprise. If the master was unworthy would give the impression that the Family were merely mercenaries, which was an impression Alexandra Farthington wanted to avoid. Only those masters who were righteous were allowed to be worthy in their eyes.
The master would have a year to prove themselves capable of supporting the Farthington as well as being morally upright. Failure would lead to the Family requesting a very steep refund in coin or in kind.
While having a member of the Family around is a blessing, they say, it is also a curse. Detractors call them Ravens for their demands, but never to their faces. The Family seems to have taken the nickname in stride, embroidering the raven on their clothes as an easy way to identify them on the street.
A year ago I met one of these Farthingtons, and this is our story.
I was about to start college at Vonagherra National University, my dream school. I remembered seeing the students’ uniforms in an ad years ago. I also wanted to wear the uniform and study in a place like that.
Seeing my acceptance letter brought tears to my eyes. I asked them how my parents paid for it, but they never answered. They only told me to study and do well. I couldn’t believe they could send me to VNU when my father was a motorcycle pedicab driver and my mother a cook at a marketplace eatery.
But I was still happy. I promised them I would work hard and get a good job. My father told me he had a friend who lived near VNU. She owned a boarding house that she was willing to let me stay in. He also said that someone would pick me up at the terminal.
On the day I had to leave I stuffed my bag with all the money I hid under my mattress. From what I heard, everything was more expensive in Vonagherre City, where VNU was located. I also needed a job; I couldn’t depend on my parents forever. Chances are they had some big debts to pay for letting me study. I wanted to help out in my own way.
The huge provincial bus rumbled along the mud and gravel for hours. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know if it was because the bus was shaking or if I was excited. When the bus finally passed through asphalt, it was already night.
When we pulled into the bus terminal, everyone was in a hurry to go. I took my time. Perhaps a part of me still thought I was dreaming. When my feet hit the ground, the jolt told me that everything was real.
I took it all in. The lights from the billboards and skyscrapers flashed a rainbow of colors. People brushed by me as they rushed from one place to another. I had never seen a crowd so tightly packed into one area. They were all busy chatting into their cellphones or to each other. In the distance the bus conductors were barking out their departure time and their destination. I found myself in the middle of an orchestra of noise, yet I was not bothered. All of these things only proved that I was not dreaming, that I had made it.
There was nobody in the crowd that looked familiar to me. No raised cardboard signs with my name on them like in the movies. I sat on a bench waiting for someone to call my name. Nothing. The only other people sitting on the row of benches were an old couple, a group of street children in ragged clothes, and a man in a crisp black suit and a white capelet draped over his shoulders. His hard features seemed focused on something in the distance. I wondered what he was thinking about.
Following his gaze, I saw two people approached my bench. Their faces were gruff and weathered. Their clothes were no better; worn, stained, and wrinkled. A hint of a smile formed on the face of one of them. The other stared, his gaze moving up and down my body.
I shuddered. A voice in my head whispered that they were bad news. The question was how to deal with them. I gathered up my things. My handbag was barely out of reach. I leaned over to grab it but the staring man got to it first.
From where I sat, the both of them were gigantic and bulky. One wrong move and they would be on me in an instant. My gaze shifted to my surroundings. There were still a few people around. Those two wouldn’t do anything crazy with all these people around.
“You lost, miss?” the smiling man asked.
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” I replied. Spotting my handbag still in the other man’s hands, I added, “May I have that back, please?”
The other man remained silent. He hugged the bag closer to him. His massive, hairy arms resembled a gorilla’s. no way I could swipe my bag from him.
“Ricardo’s making sure your bag doesn’t get taken,” the smiling man said. “You never know what people might do to a beautiful young woman out at night.” Extending a hand to me, he said, “I am Juan. Let me take you where you want tonight.”
I gripped the handle on my suitcase. “Thank you but I don’t need help. I need my bag back, please.”
Juan chuckled. Withdrawing his hand he said, “Oh don’t be so rash. This city can be dangerous if you don’t have anyone with you.”
My temples throbbed and my fingers squeezed the handle of my suitcase. They didn’t get the message at all. My handbag had my wallet and IDs. Running away was not an option, much as I wanted to.
Juan leaned forward, whispering, “Come on, miss. Just stay with us for a while and we’ll give it back to you.”
He thrust his hand out and clamped it onto my wrist. Without thinking, I slapped him with my free hand. The shock of the impact went all the way up to my shoulder. Juan’s cheek was solid and firm, but it reddened after I hit him. He reeled back, covering his cheek. He winced when he touched it.
“Ricardo!” he barked out. “Get her suitcase and let’s go!”
Without a second thought, Ricardo lunged towards me. I dove out of the way, dragging my suitcase with me. Ricardo slammed onto the bench, knocking it off its bolted legs and onto the ground. He landed with a heavy thud.
Watching him hit the ground like that, I was thankful I got away. A second later and I could have been broken in half. Juan lunged for my suitcase; I leapt out of the way and he grabbed thin air. Summoning all my strength, I heaved my suitcase and swung it in an arc. It collided with Juan’s shoulder and knocked him down.
Ricardo dropped my handbag when he rushed at me. I grabbed it and slung it over my shoulder. Juan didn’t stay down for long; Ricardo also struggled to get on his feet. Even if I ran, they might catch up with me thanks to my heavy luggage. My best hope was for someone to call the security guards.
I turned to the crowd at the terminal and shouted, “Help! Someone tried to steal my things!”
Nobody budged an inch. I checked the people on the benches. The old couple on the benches shuddered in fear. The children gaped in awe, waiting for what would happen next like it was a movie. The man in the pinstriped suit crossed his legs and folded his arms before turning his head away.
Juan and Ricardo closed in. The man in the pinstriped suit was the only one who looked strong enough to help. I pointed to him and shouted, “Hey, please help me! Call the security guards! Something!”
The man in the suit faced me. He cocked his head to the side and asked, “Are you talking to me?”
“Of course I am!” I barked back. “Do something, please!”
The man shook his head. “Sorry, lady,” he said. “I don’t do things for free.”
I froze. That was enough of an opening for Juan and Ricardo to tackle me to the ground. The back of my head slammed onto the gravel. Lights flashed and bells rung behind my eyes. Everything was a blur. I felt someone pin down my arms and legs. I heard a metallic click and something press against my forehead. It must have been a gun. Nothing but hazy chatter above me.
Burning with frustration, I shouted at the top of my lungs, “I’ll pay you! Just help me!”
My arms and legs could move now. The gun left my forehead. Propping myself on my elbows, I shook my head vigorously. The world cleared before my eyes. Juan’s arm was twisted behind him in a hammerlock. He writhed in pain. The one who held him was the man in the suit, who looked deadpan despite being in the heat of combat.
Ricardo swung a burly arm at the man but missed. His forearm collided with Juan’s nape, sending him crashing to the ground. In one deft motion the man grabbed Ricardo’s arm and twisted it around. Ricardo howled in pain and blindly swung at the man with his free arm.
“Too slow,” the man said as he dodged the blow. I could hear the whoosh of Ricardo’s fist as it passed by. The man kicked Ricardo behind the knee, toppling the giant. With a quick blow to the back of the head, the man knocked Ricardo out.
Everything became quiet. The man stood tall over his opponents, and he glanced at me, still struggling to get up. He removed his capelet and rolled it into a bundle. kneeling down, he tucked it under my head. I tried to rise but he put a hand on my shoulder.
“Lie down,” he said. “You took a big hit just now. Let’s wait for an ambulance before you move.”
I nodded. Up close, I noticed his harsh features softened with his tone. His black eyes looked genuinely concerned at me. I diverted my gaze and spotted the raven embroidered on his blazer. It must have been hidden by his capelet. The red sequined eye of the raven glared at me as though it was judging me. I shuddered, but the man put a hand on my arm and I relaxed.
And that was how I met Alexander Farthington, the man who wore the emblem of the raven.
TO BE CONTINUED