Hope. It was all Jep could think of these days. As he sat in the Dingy Inn, it was the only thing on his mind. Hope. Hope seemed tough to remember these days. Hope was what kept him going, though, when all else failed.
He looked around the Dingy Inn. It wasn’t much to look at; the name said it all. A dirt floor; scattered long tables with benches; and a huge fireplace. Bad weather was definitely driving people indoors this evening, and the din was becoming deafening. Men were singing, laughing, arguing and yelling to be heard. The light was dim and the smoke chokingly thick.
A stranger who had plopped down next to him earlier leaned over and said something Jep couldn’t quite make out over the noise of the crowd.
“What?” He fairly roared back at the man. “I can’t hear you!”
“I said, are you Jep?” The man screamed back.
“Hold on,” he turned towards the room and yelled out to the crowd, “You all quiet down!” Amazingly, several people nearby did. It wasn’t quite good enough for the man, though. He stood up and yelled again. “I said QUIET DOWN!” Now everyone stopped and looked their direction.
“That’s all. Thanks. I couldn’t hear a word my new friend here was saying. Go back to your business…just keep it at a low roar this time.”
The man turned back to Jep. “Now, you were saying…?”
“I was? Saying what?”
“I guess you’re right. I was saying wasn’t I?” The man chuckled. “Well, are you Jep or not?”
“I am, but how do you know my name?”
“Ike over there told me,” he said, indicating the innkeeper. “He also said you’re on your way to Jhent to see the king. Says you’re going to ask him to suspend taxation for one year. That right?”
Jep went back to his drink. He’d had this conversation several times over the last few weeks as he journeyed towards the capitol. When would he learn to keep his mouth shut?
“Yep.” He replied.
“Well,” the man said with a lopsided grin, “you must know the king pretty well then.”
Jep could tell they were gaining an audience. “I never met the man.” he said quietly.
“Never met him, you say? You must be related then. Is that royal blood flowing under that farmer’s rag you’re wearing?” The man’s grin was mocking. Laughter came from those closest.
Jep resigned himself to the fun they were about to have at his expense. “Nope. It’s farmer’s blood, same as the clothes. I’m just a plain, ordinary peasant who’s going to march into the king’s court on Justice Day and ask the king to give up a year’s worth of wealth so a few more of us might survive next winter. Go ahead, yuk it up.”
Jep could see he’d taken the air out of the man’s fun by hitting all the key points. The grin disappeared. “Son,” he practically whispered, “that’s suicide.”
“Maybe,” Jep answered, “but I’ve lost my whole family, save my little girl, the last few winters. I looked around for somebody to do something, I begged for somebody to do something; until I realized I’m the only one.”
“You? You’re the only one who can save us all? A farmer? Now why on earth would you think one small man can change things?”
“Who else? You? Them?” Jep challenged the room. “You’ve all lost loved ones to starvation and fevers brought on by winter. Which of you has a plan?”
Heads went down into their cups all across the room. “One man can’t do nothin’,” someone said.
“Not the one who never tries,” Jep replied. “Well if all the king does is execute me, at least I will have died trying to do something, instead of sitting home accepting my fate. I can’t believe God made me for that.”
Silence spread across the room like a plague. For once, Jep had shut them up. As he started to rise, the arm of the stranger shot out and grasped him. “Wait a moment, friend. Stay the night and rest. You can use my room.”
Grateful, Jep nodded.
The mocking was gone now. “A man like you going to Justice Day for us all,” he mused. “There may be hope yet.”
Jep thought about her again. Hope, his nine-year-old daughter. He looked the stranger in the eye, and saw reflected there the firmness of his own gaze.
“Hope is counting on me.”
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