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Of course, I was very careful about not making any sound at all. I knew that I would be in a lot of trouble if they would have caught me spying on them. They were first talking about money and then, to my surprise, the two adults, a man and a woman, started flirting with each other. But I was no idiot either. I recognized flirting when I heard it and those two were definitely doing just that.

The man was telling the woman that they should take a little break. The women was giggling at his suggestion and replied that the kitchen had to be clean as a whistle first. Again, I was thirteen at the time and quite innocent. But even at the time, I realized that I was overhearing something that was clearly private and maybe even frowned upon.

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The woman suddenly gave in and said:. The man clearly liked this plan because you could spot the excitement in his voice from two blocks away. Of course, I would soon find out. I was now in my third night of active cleaning duty and I started to like the routine. Roaming around in the dark felt empowering in a way. And it beats sleeping on a cold hard floor. They let us sleep in the next day. Around there, sleeping in meant that they only woke you up at 7 am.

We had ten minutes to get ready and gather outside in the central plaza. Lucretia was already waiting there, surrounded by some of her guards. She started by yelling at us for being too slow. And then she told us that we would have to hike for 10 miles that day, without food and with only one small bottle of water each.

She also told us that we had to stay together as a group and under no circumstances were we allowed to leave anyone behind. I actually thought that this was quite doable. Lucretia proceeded to divide us into two seemingly random groups, one group about three times larger than the other.

That hit me in the gut for some reason. Lucretia smiled to the other guards. And then dropped this little bombshell on all of us:. Since there are three peasants for every high-born, this should be easy. We all thought this was some kind of joke at this point. But there was little humor left in this place. Lucretia smiled again and yelled:.

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Craig, Christopher and I had to carry an overweight kid. Again, this really felt like some kind of joke but the guards were dead serious about the whole thing. Whenever one lord or lady was not completely off the ground, the whole group was ordered to a standstill. And as Lucretia had stressed, we all had to arrive back at camp together. The weather would make things even worse.

It was early in the morning but you could already tell the heat was going to be insane. But alas, there was nothing we could do about anything. So our rulers were hoisted up in the air amidst the sound of groaning and complaining. And the crowd started moving nevertheless. We had not even progressed for one straight mile when I realized that this hike was going to kill all of us peasants.

The overweight kid, our so-called lord, was very accommodating at first and even looked genuinely embarrassed. He was telling us how very sorry he was and how he would repay us in some shape or form. And he even kept that routine up for like an hour. But then, together with the other highborn kids, he started to take his role too serious and began to complain when we handled him too rough.

The lords and ladies were not really to blame in my opinion. Because the guards were always sabotaging us peasants and calling us lazy and stupid all the time. After a while, the high-born just forgot that this was supposed to be a role-play and acted like they were true royalty.

Our first break was two hours in. I was about to drink from my bottle when one of the guards confiscated it and give it to my lord. The other guards did the same thing to the other peasants because only royalty was allowed to drink water. I really thought some kids would protest at this point. Somehow I thought that we peasants would start some kind of revolution and would refuse to carry those highborn anymore. But nothing like that ever happened. When the break was over, the peasants resumed their drudgery like nothing had ever happened. And for some reason, the guards were still not happy.

They were talking among themselves and it was obvious that they thought we were not suffering enough. The guards unloaded their backpacks and ordered us to carry them too. Though near the end of the hike, some fellow peasants almost collapsed every ten minutes. And that meant that the whole group had to wait. I remember being flooded with happiness when I spotted the fort at the end of the day. My back was killing me and my feet were bleeding, but getting back to that fort was, until this day, one of the greatest moments in my life.

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We all gathered in the central plaza. Everybody was in pain. The lord and ladies not in the least, because the peasants had been quite rough near the end of the day. But pride was the dominant emotion that time. Definitely among the peasants and even among the highborn. We all felt like we had done something extraordinaire.

Even Lucretia seemed genuinely impressed. She smiled a lot and went on about the importance of persistence, leadership and whatnot. Nobody was really listening to her because we were all hungry, thirsty and tired beyond imagination. And then Lucretia said something that was music to our ears:. We all cheered like they had just announced the end of World War II. But then Lucretia stared at me. And to my utter shock, she summoned me over. I remember my legs being glued to the concrete and not only because of that hike.

As I approached her, my stomach turned into a knot. She was black and really old. I could clearly see her black hair was greying and that she had lots of wrinkles in her face. That much was obvious. She looked at one of her guards and asked:.

The guard nodded back and said:. She studied me very carefully like she was trying to imprint every little detail.

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And then, while the other kids were already enjoying their banquet, she said:. The other guards smiled as well. I used to be quite feisty as a kid and never knew when to shut up. This was one of those moments.


I stared at Lucretia, the warden of this miserable place, put my chin way up in the air and said the legendary words:. This made Lucretia crack up and she said to her guards:. If it were a dog, we would have to put it out of his misery.

For some reason, the other guards found this hilarious. Lucretia then looked at me and said:. She turned around and went inside. The other guards had a weird look on their faces. Something between pity and disgust. But then one of them grabbed my shoulders and pointed me toward the toilets. I had to clean them until told otherwise.