The paper, upon which the declaration was written, was much like any other. It was cheaper than most, letting some of the ink run, but as far as paper went; it did its work well. Hundreds of the same letter had been printed in the last few months since disease and countless riots engulfed the largest cities in the country. Only a few ports remained open in these troubled times, and anyone with a ship these days could make a fortune taking people away across the sea to foreign lands where they could start anew and claim a new life away from the squalor of the falling empires or bide their time until they could return to pick up the pieces.
"Next!" the elderly captain called and the queue of people shuffled along another step. The man in front placed a handful of coins on the table, picked up the quill, dipped it with an unsteady hand into the ink pot and drew a cross on the page held out to him, relieving him of citizenship of his own country. A country where his people had lived for centuries and were now regarded as outcasts. The page was handed to an official-looking man and the command of ‘next' was shouted again.
Mary took a slight step to the side and counted the people in front of her. Ten. She prayed that there would be eleven places open on the ship. At seventeen she was one of the youngest faces waiting to board the ship. Most people of her age had gone off to join the various rebel groups in the cities, hoping to win honour and glory if they couldn't win peace. She had realised that there was nothing to be won from the rebellion but pain and fear and more violence. She had nothing left, nothing to stay or fight for. She drew her shawl closer about her shoulders and tightened one hand on her luggage. In the other she clutched, like the rest of the bedraggled people, a couple of coins that would pay her way onto the ship and to freedom.
She had more knowledge than most of what it was like in the other land, learning all she could from returning travellers. It was new, they had told her, mostly untilled with rich soil and lots of work. She had heard of the treasures brought back; of beasts and birds that now lived on the grounds of the great palace. The air there was pure, not clogged with smog from factories and burning buildings from the riots. But it was always difficult to start over. Utopia was nowhere, especially not here.
In the new lands a new life could be built and the shackles of the old could be thrown off. There, you could be anything you want to.
From the ship came angry shouts and Mary dared to look at the great wooden ship on the water. A few men were taking another dressed in rags from the ship, dragging him along the gangplanks. As they passed her, she could make out the dirty guard uniforms, their once bright colours darkened with soot. The man's wrists and ankles were encased in iron, so that he stumbled again and again. One of the guards glared at the captain sitting behind the desk.
"He's one of them, Captain, one of them Trelagor.