23 Chapter 23 - Broken wheel
Stella gave a small shriek as she was thrown from her seat. Joseph went flying as well, hitting the wall hard. The carriage came to an abrupt halt, and knocking came at the door.
"Little master! Are you all right? The carriage seems to have broken a wheel!"
Climbing to their feet, Joseph opened the door and stumbled out.
Sure enough, the front left wheel had completely shattered. It looked like they hit a pothole in the stone paved road. As he glanced back and forth, it was clear that the entire road was in disrepair, which was very odd.
As Stella climbed out of the carriage, slaves began arriving to start unpacking the carriage of all their belongings and taking them to his father's carriage.
"Joseph, is everything alright? I was told the wheel on your carriage, oh my." His father showed up, panting a little, and gazed at the damage.
"That thing is completely useless. Every since I bought it, it's had one issue after another."
"The handle is loose again as well," added Joseph.
"Well, none of the wheels I have will fit it, and even the axel is a different size, so trying to replace all four wheels won't do much good. We'll leave it for now, and get you a new one."
Everyone worked very quickly, and before an hour was up, the caravan was back up and running.
The road continued to get worse, and the drivers were having to slow down a lot in order to ensure another wheel wasn't broken.
"Don't get it," William muttered, looking out the door at the poor state of the road. "Every town is responsible for a section of the main road, to ensure that it never gets this bad. I know there was a storm just the other day, but we should be seeing workers out here, repairing it."
"How far are we from the next town?" asked Joseph, curiously.
"Only a few more hours, now," William answered.
When they came over a slight rise, the smoking ruins of the town came into view. Everyone was immediately on guard, not knowing what had happened. This was one of his father's normal stops, so there were people in the streets, but seeing as there weren't any houses for them to be in, it was hard to tell if they were waiting, or just trying to stay out of the way.
"What happened?" called William, hanging out his door as they pulled into the town.
"A fire broke out at the inn. It spread faster than we could blink an eye at. Took half the town with it, and all the buildings. Mayor Joe died, along with all his family."
As the carriage came to a stop, they all climbed out, and the damage became even more apparent. Joseph could see the blank eyes in the people's faces, as they watched them. He immediately started making notes in his head for when he built his own towns. There would need to be stone buildings, better planning of water supplies, high endurance roads, ditches, water management for flooding, bridges and chimney flue inspectors.
As they got more details, it was revealed that the flue inspector for the chimneys in the inn had been sick, so he skipped some of the cleaning. Which is how the fire started. With the only well in town being clear out of the way, it took too long to get the water where they needed it.
Joseph and Stella stayed out of the way, as William jumped into action. He still had a job to do, but he could still be compassionate to the people. He offered to rescind his under one-year rule and started taking babies as old as eighteen months, when it became obvious these people were going to have a horrible time making ends meet. Many of them wanted him to take more, some even asked if he would take them as adults, but William was very rigid in his decision.
One mother, who had five children ranging in age from two to six, begged him to take her youngest. She told him that she fully expected all of her children to starve that winter, because her husband had died trying to save their animals from their barn. When the roof collapsed, it killed him and all the animals. She had nothing, and they were all too small to be able to help much. She would just be a burden on the other suffering people of the town.
Joseph hated the whole thing. Why did she have to suffer, and her children starve? Was there no way to save them? They weren't dead yet! The mother was giving up, before she had even tried.
William, finally gave in, and took the two-year-old, handing her off to one of the waiting slaves, and paid the mother. It wasn't much, but the look of relief on her eyes, told the truth. That money might just get them through the winter.
As he oversaw the trade and let his healers treat some of the people, Joseph asked him about the woman.
"If I give in to one, word will spread, and many will know it is possible to get me to give in to them too. I have to make them fight for it, make it not be worth the effort to others. I always intended to buy her child, girl has a chance at life now. If life is too easy for them, they stop trying too hard. You have to give them just enough incentive to keep going. That way, when they accomplish difficult tasks, they have a sense of accomplishment and feel more in control of their lives. Those children won't starve, she's suffering from grief at losing her husband and home, and was feeling overwhelmed. That will pass now that she has a little money to alleviate the stress and can focus on her next step."
Joseph nodded in careful thought of the lesson he had just gotten. This sort of thing had never been taught in his previous lives' schools.