This chapter is one of the more serious ones. It's also pretty much an infodump (though it still doesn't provide all the info available for Johan's nameless home country). Enjoy.
It was summer, but it was cold. It always seemed to be cold in my country. I never really understood why; we're not that far north. I suppose it has something to do with us being a mountainous country many miles above sea level, but I always slept through my geology classes, so I don't know for sure.
My father had called me a couple of days before to tell me he'd sprained his back, and could I fly out and give my brothers a hand until my uncle arrived to relieve me?
I had no reason to say no, so of course I didn't. My lessons with Lelouch had been going well, and I figured giving him a week or so off couldn't hurt. So, I assured Dad I'd be there the next day and called my father-in-law and Sayoko to let them know I'd be out of town for a while. However, as I prepared to leave, I got a call from Lelouch. "Can I come with you?" he'd asked. "I'm feeling kind of restless here."
"I'm going all the way to Europe," I'd informed him, frowning. "And I'm not going for a vacation. I'll be working the entire time."
"I don't mind. I can work, too! I just need to get out of here before I go crazy!"
In the face of such a compelling argument, I had no choice but to relent, but made sure he knew that this wasn't a vacation. "I expect a detailed report on everything you learned once we get back."
"That's fine! Thank you, Dr. Kantor!"
And so, there we were. Lelouch and I were packing up some eggs and cabbages to trade in town for dinner supplies while my brothers, Vova and Misha, worked on patching up a hole in the roof caused by the last big storm. Dad was resting on the pallet in the only other room in the house, complaining constantly that he wanted to get up and work.
"I need to help you boys harvest the cabbages!" he complained in the Language of the People. "It's not right that I have to be stuck lying down!"
I sighed. He'd been saying the same things all day, and I was starting to wonder if he actually felt that way, or if he was complaining just for the sake of complaining. "We can handle it, Dad," I called back, Lelouch listening to us with rapt attention, unable to understand most of what we were saying, but trying anyway. "If you don't take it easy, you'll end up getting stuck in bed even longer."
Dad grumbled miserably to himself for a moment, then fell silent. I peeked out of the kitchen door to check on him, but he was simply leafing through my mother's old photo album, his expression one of sneaky pleasure. That's what I thought, I thought, smiling wryly and slipping back into the kitchen. The old man was just putting on a show.
"Lelouch," I said, returning to the eggs, "I may as well take this chance to give you a brief lesson on this country's history and politics. Are you listening?"
"Huh?" Lelouch asked, startled. He'd seemingly been listening to the fragments of Vova and Misha's conversation, which came drifting down from the roof in only occasionally audible fragments. They had been speaking Russian, which was only natural since the Russian faction was in charge at the moment. Speaking German outside- or even the Language of the People, which some faction members loathed even more than the language of the opposite faction- was dangerous, as my family knew better than some.
I felt a twinge of phantom pain in my leg at the thought and reached down absently to rub at it. Bringing Lelouch was risky, as I'd known. I'd been teaching him Russian, and while he could more-or-less follow most day-to-day conversation, he was still far from fluent. I'd hoped that the German faction had been in charge when we arrived, so he could speak the language he did know, but I'd been disappointed, though not surprised. The Russian faction had been gaining a lot of steam lately, and seemed to be holding on to the country for longer periods of time than usual. Fortunately, no one in the country had any problem with foreigners - in fact, they were welcomed by one and all, as they usually had things to trade that we can't make on our own- so if there was any trouble all I had to do was inform them that he wasn't from the country.
"I'm going to give you the run-down on why this country is the way it is," I repeated to Lelouch. "Capiche?"
"Don't say 'capiche.'"
"Fair enough. Anyway, this country was originally settled by German and Russian ex-patriots in the late nineteenth century," I explained. "They co-existed pretty well at first, I guess, but after a couple of generations, a few of them started fighting with each other. Each felt the other should leave, you see."
"Why?" Lelouch asked.
I shrugged. "No one knows. They may have left some diaries, but if so only the leaders of each faction have access to them, and they're not sharing the information." I paused a moment while I secured the last box of eggs. "In any case, the Germans no longer want the Russians to leave, and vice versa. After all, pretty much everyone in the country, including them, are of mixed heritage by now. Instead, the German faction thinks we should favor our German heritage- eat German food, go by German names, speak only German, et cetera- and the Russian faction thinks we should favor our Russian heritage."
"Is that why you have two names?" Lelouch asked, curious.
I nodded. "Yep. Which reminds me: Make sure you call me Dr. Petrov while we're in town today. It'll cause trouble if the wrong person hears you calling me Kantor."
"Good. Now, the two factions have been fighting each other for the past several decades. It's gotten to the point where one of them will take power, and then a week or so later the other one will wrest the power from them."
"So it's a stalemate."
"Why don't they just divide the country in half?" Lelouch asked. "The Germans on one side and the Russians on the other?"
"Two reasons," I said, holding up two fingers. "One: They're both too stubborn to compromise. They won't be satisfied until there's one clear winner, no matter how long it takes. And two: The people won't stand for it. The vast majority of us are neutral. The battles are fought in designated areas where the civilians are unlikely to get dragged in by accident, so other than a tendency to drag young men off the street and force them to serve, and a few trigger-happy soldiers-" another twinge of pain in my leg "-the people are mostly unbothered by the fighting. If the factions tried to divide us the way you suggested, there would be a revolt. That's pretty much the unspoken agreement between the factions and the people: They can play their little war games all they want, but if they try to drag in anyone who doesn't want any part of it, there will be hell to pay."
"But the factions are armed, aren't they?" Lelouch argued. "They could easily put down an armed revolt!"
"Probably, but it would be a simple matter for someone here to make it to a nearby country and alert the EU, then they could send in soldiers to put a stop to the fighting."
"What makes you think they'd bother?"
"Mostly the fact that they already send soldiers in every couple years or so to tell them to knock the hell off. And also because said representatives have straight up told us that if they start gunning down civilians in the street for taking up arms, they'll step in."
"Why don't they now?"
I thought it over for a minute. "Y'know, that's a good question. I have no idea. Maybe the current war with Britannia is higher up on their priorities list, and they don't want to spare soldiers to put down a tedious civil war in a backwoods country like this one?"
"Are you asking me, or telling me?"
"Asking you. I just said I have no idea. Do you think that sounds like a good enough reason?"
"Then maybe that's the reason," I concluded, closing up the box of eggs. "All right, let's git. Do you have your toys?"
"Yeah, hold on a second," Lelouch said, trotting into the other room to find the bag. "Do you really think these are worth anything?" he asked studying a Transformer disbelievingly.
"Well, they're probably not worth food," I admitted. "But you might be able to get a nice souvenir for your sister and Miss Shinozaki with them."
Lelouch nodded and put the Transformer back in the little bag he'd brought to carry him. I handed him a small crate of eggs to carry, and we headed out the door.
We returned to the house some time later short several dozen eggs and a bagful of old toys, but newly in possession of a couple gallons of milk, a few fish, a set of straw dolls, and a woman's jacket. Lelouch was smiling at one of the dolls as we walked, no doubt picturing the look on his sister's face when he returned home to deliver them to her. I opened my mouth to tease him about it, but before I could say anything, Misha's head popped up over the fence and he called out to us in Russian. "Hey! Kolya! Great timing!"
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Some of the chickens got loose. We need a little help getting them back in the coop."
"All right," I said, then turned to Lelouch. "Go on and put this stuff in the ice box," I ordered, handing him the box containing the milk and cheese. "Then come and help us."
"Oh. Okay," Lelouch said, tucking the doll safely into his bag before taking the box from me with a grunt.
I watched him take it inside with a bit of concern, positive he'd drop the crate, but he managed to get it into the kitchen. I nodded, satisfied, and headed into the yard to help my brothers.
"Owwwww…" Lelouch moaned a couple of hours later. We'd managed to get the chickens in the coop, but Lelouch and ended up scratched and pecked in the process.
"I told you to be careful," I scolded, dabbing antiseptic on his wounds.
"Those birds are evil!" the boy complained. "I'm never gonna feel bad about eating another one of them for as long as I live!"
"Now, now. They only attacked you because they thought you were attacking them."
"Then how was I supposed to catch them so they didn't think that?"
"You weren't. You were just supposed to be careful."
Lelouch sighed and hung his head. "You're impossible."
"So I've been told. You're all done, so help me get dinner served."
Misha and Vova had to go home after we wrangled up the chickens, so it was just Lelouch, Dad, and me for dinner. Lelouch and I carried the food over to Dad as carefully as we could, and sat down on either side of him to eat.
"What is this?" Lelouch asked, picking at the food on his plate.
"Fish and cabbage. It's all you're gettin', so eat it."
Lelouch frowned. "You say that like you expect me not to like it," he complained.
"Well, most of the kids I've served it to don't."
"How many kids have you served it to?"
"Just my son."
"One kid isn't exactly indicative of the entire generation."
"Stop using big words like 'indicative,'" I scold. "For one thing, it's creepy, and for another, I don't know what it means."
"It's the adjective form of 'indicate.'"
"There's an adjective form of 'indicate?'"
"Yes. It's 'indicative.'"
"Huh. Learn something new every day."
Lelouch rolled his eyes. "Don't you speak, like, a billion languages? How did you not know that?"
"I learn new languages by listening to native speakers, and I don't think most Britannians use words like 'indicative' on a day-to-day basis."
"There are a billion languages?" Dad asked.
"No even close," I said. "Lelouch is exaggerating. I only speak six languages."
"That's nowhere near a billion."
"No, it really isn't."
Lelouch counted on his fingers, mouthing words without speaking for a moment. "I know you speak Britannian, German, Russian, and your 'Language of the People,' but what other languages do you know?"
"French, Spanish, and Britannian Sign Language. It's kind of hard to wander around Western Europe for a few years and not learn the first two, and I took the last one because I thought it would be fun."
"I can't read or write the two spoken ones, though," I admitted. "I should probably work on that."
"Probably, yeah." Lelouch paused for a moment. "Hey, wait, that's seven languages. You said you only spoke six."
"One does not speak sign language. One signs it."
"That's just semantics."
"Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Eat your dinner."