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[Fiction] Singularity - (AU) Free Man


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It was time to move the sheep from the woods to the south meadow. To the family, sheep meant clothing for themselves, wool for extra income, fertilizer, and winter meat. They were not crucial to life, but they made life easier, which was always a good thing. The little beasts were meandering down what passed for the road in these parts. Franklin was in no hurry. It was a beautiful morning; much of the chores already done and he could dream about spending some time with Regan while the kids were still out and about. It was the dreaming that got him in trouble.

The horse reared up and the rider was in serious danger of falling off. With a practiced eye, he made out the man to be from the Queensland Dragoons. Most likely he was born into the gentry, with its wealth and privilege. Privileges like some experience at horsemanship before buying a commission in the Army, which he was showing off now.

“Out of the way, idiot!” he bellowed down imperiously. Then to prove his point, he began directing his horse to step on the sheep.

“Here now,” Franklin said quietly. “There is no need for that.”

With the horse about to trample one of the ewes who had tripped and fallen, Franklin stepped up and took the horses bridle. The sheep bleated and were beating feet back up the track. The rider responded by lashing the reins across Franklin’s face.

“Hey,” a young voice shouted. “You can’t do that to him! He’s a Free Man.”

It was Franklin and Regan’s eldest, Joshua. Still more a boy than a man at nine, he had all a boy’s restlessness and invulnerability.

“Free man, eh?” the rider sneered.

In a voice clear of any anger, or fear, Franklin answered, “Yes. I am a Free Man,” and he meant it. He was free; free of letting a brash young man’s lash do anything more than sting. Free of fearing a large, stamping destier.

The rider was in a quandary. He wanted to trample this peasant who slowed him down. This lesser man was an annoyance to him, and he wanted to stamp down on this sore. By doing so, he would make himself feel like the bigger man. He would feel satisfaction for putting this man back in his place. His problem was the other peasants in the fields had stopped their duties to watch this exchange. In the Republic, Free Men had rights and privileges the equal to those of the greatest Families. Still, tradition kept them in their place, servile and obedient.

This man was neither. He stared up at him with a calm serenity.

Who did this man think he was?

The rider couldn’t just whip him for standing in the road. The Law wouldn’t allow that. He had to have provocation.

Franklin waited patiently for the young man on the horse to come to the inevitable conclusion. No provocation plus witnesses equaled No Cause. There was no reason for Franklin’s past to come into this. He had left his violence behind him … in another lifetime with no regrets.

The horseman pulled on his reigns and began moving through the sheep more gingerly. He glared at the farmer, but Franklin remained passively calm.

Once the rider was safely down the road, Joshua came over the low stone wall. Franklin was his God, his Invulnerable Man, and his Father.

“Dad, how could you let him get away with that?”

Joshua was outraged.

In a quiet voice, Franklin said to him, “Son, we are Free Men. Those are more than just words … being free … really free is to be free from the control of others. It means to be comfortable enough in your own skin and with who you are so that no one else can take that away from you.”

Franklin could see that his boy did not understand. It was nearly impossible at that age, with so little life experience, for him to understand the depth of his words. Joshua would remember though. In time, he could grow into those words if he chose to.

Today, that was enough.

Franklin rounded up the sheep with Joshua’s help and went back to his day. When he got home for lunch, Regan asked him how his morning had been. He must have looked surprising, with those lash marks across his face.

“Nothing dear. Nothing important.”

And Regan smiled and nodded.

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