Crossing the plains was merely a matter of time- and not a lot of it. In a day, Barrett travelled from Stredo to Sashor- though most of those travelling along the newly built road would take two days to make the same trip. There was an inn at the halfway point and other buildings springing up around it. At some point, it was likely that the plains would be filled with farmland.
Barrett arrived at Clara and Jack’s farm. All around them, other farmland had expanded and other farmsteads had cropped up. Clara and Jack had been expanding the farm before… but from what he saw now it didn’t appear that there had been much growth in the size of their farm compared to the surroundings.
He didn’t see either of them outside working, so he went to the small house. He could sense them inside, but he knocked on the door to be polite. After a few moments, Clara moved from the kitchen to the door. “Hello? Oh, Barrett!” Her face moved from slightly nervous to excited. “You didn’t say you would be coming.”
“Of course not. It was faster to just come here myself.”
“Right…” Clara nodded. “I was just making lunch, would you like some?”
“Sure,” Barrett smiled. He followed her into the kitchen area. He saw her take some things from the nearly bare larder and add them to the pot she was already cooking. “How have things been here?”
“… Father has been sick recently, so things have been a bit difficult.” The bags under her eyes told the same story.
“Need help?” Barrett asked.
Clara shook her head, “I can cook just fine on my own.”
“Of course…” Barrett waited patiently while the stew cooked, engaging in polite conversation… but there wasn’t much heart in it. When the stew was ready, Clara spooned it into three separate bowls, handing one that was more full to Barrett. “Why don’t I go with you to serve Jack?”
“Right. He’d be happy to see you.”
On the way over, Barrett pulled out a bottle of medicine and poured it into the soup. He didn’t know what illness Jack had, but this particular medicine was strong enough to fortify cultivators against some diseases they would run into- it would be more than strong enough to help Jack fight off a mundane disease. Barrett took large steps past Clara to enter the room first, and stopped besides Jack’s bed. At least in this house there were multiple rooms, compared to when he had first met them… and spent most of his time in their only bed.
“Heya, Jack.” Barrett smiled as he sat down on the stool next to the bed. “I’m here, and I brought your lunch.”
Jack had been asleep, but he slowly opened his eyes. “Barrett? Why… you’re a sight to see.” He spoke weakly.
“Here,” Barrett blew on a spoonful of stew and held it up to Jack. “Have some.” Jack sipped on the soup.
“Umm… that was for…” Clara spoke weakly, but couldn’t make herself say anything.
“Don’t worry, I’ll eat too. Isn’t there another bowl, after all? Just set it there,” Barrett pointed to the bedside table. “Anyway, Jack, I just felt like visiting. It had been a long time. I didn’t exactly give you a mailing address either… though it wasn’t like there was any way to send mail at the time.”
Jack smiled weakly, “It’s good to see you.” He coughed softly.
Barrett tried to smile, “Have some more.”
Jack sipped more soup, clearly trying not to show his aversion to the bitter taste of the medicine. He didn’t know there was medicine, but probably thought Clara had messed up the cooking- or run out of proper spices. Barrett could tell they were basically out of supplies.
There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” Clara said as she walked out of the room.
Jack smiled, “She’s really growing up huh? I’m so proud of my daughter… she’s been taking care of all the farm work and everything else while I’ve been sick…”
Barrett nodded and fed him one more spoonful of stew, then set it down on the bedside table. “I’ll be back in a bit. Try to eat as much as you can, alright? It’s good for you.”
As he approached the front room, he heard talking. Or rather, he had already been able to hear it from the back, but now he could do so without concentrating. “… the contract said that the payments were due after harvest,” Clara was saying.
“Yeah, well, others have already harvested several crops. Now’s the time to pay. If you can’t…” the man who was speaking reached out to grab Clara’s arm. His hand connected with her shoulder, but then he found himself on the ground his arm behind his back. He couldn’t articulate properly to shout as his face was pressed into the floor, so it just sounded like “Arpppf!”
Barrett crouched next to him, holding him down, as he looked up at Clara. “When I asked if you wanted help, I meant with this stuff. I know you can handle cooking.”
In addition to the man he had in a hold, there were two others. One of them drew his sword, “Let go of the boss!” and without waiting to see if his ‘request’ would be answered, swung it at Barrett. Clara tensed up as she saw the sword swinging toward’s Barett’s unarmored form. However, Barrett just held up his left arm… and the sword stopped without even penetrating his skin.
“Cultivators eh? You must be recent imports… but you should still be from Stredo, right? Don’t you know that the laws of Stredo apply here?”
Because Barrett was only holding him in a grip with one arm, the man on the floor got his mouth free. “What about you? We’re collecting legitimate debts and you attacked us!”
Barrett shook his head, “You attacked Clara first. We’ll see what the magistrate has to say about this. I’d love to turn you all into paste… but I’ll just have to wait for you to be properly executed instead.” Before the three could say anything, Barrett had them all disarmed and unconscious, and was holding them in a pile in his arms. “I’ll be back soon. Don’t forget to eat your lunch- and finish feeding your father.”