“It’s gettin’ colder,” the old man said. He shifted his weight onto his other leg and put his shield down.
“Aye, that it is,” his companion said.
They stood for a while, rubbing their wrinkled hands together over a kettle on a fire.
“Makes me shiver, it does,” the first man said.
“Aye, it does that too,” said his friend.
They took out mugs and poured hot water into two mugs.
The first man stuck his hand into a clay pot and pulled out a handful of leaves. He divided them into the two mugs. “They’s nearly moldy, we’ll need some more soon,” he said.
“Aye, that we will,” his companion said.
They sipped from their mugs as one, and then put them aside. The first man sat on a stool by the fire. There was only one stool.
“We’re goin’ to need another stool,” the second man said.
“Nay, that we won’t.” The first man stood up and walked to the tower window. “I’ll take lookout, an’ you sit for a while.
The other man sat for a while.
The wind picked up slightly, and gushed through the two guards and their kettle.
The one sitting on the stool shifted slightly and stirred the coals beneath the kettle. “It’s getting’ colder,” he said.
“Aye, that it is.”
Fate of the Myklamir
“There were no battle-weary soldiers, no heroes, no valiant defenders. There were only refugees and prisoners. Confused and scattered, the myklamir abandoned the city. Piercing cries and death shrieks tore the hearts of those who had weapons. Yet if we wanted a chance to fight back, fleeing now was our only chance. There were few stragglers. This is what I saw: fire, blood, death, destruction. Damnation and chaos I had once thought harsh words, but in this case I find them lenient. The creatures that attacked us were beyond compare, with black fur and hungry eyes. Why? How? I had heard that there were some such creatures near Jaram, but nowhere as close as our beloved capital! Yet there was something else – a dragon swooped overhead. We had never even seen a dragon in the forest; we had never seen a dragon in these lands at all. Yet here was one laying waste to our dwellings. The forest also turned on us. Myklamir were snagged by roots as they ran, turning only to find themselves face to face with the enemy, with fallen branches blocking their escape. Thank the Maker that the innkeeper had warned us, lest we had all suffered the same fate.”
Swish, swish, clomp, clomp. Noon boils with commotion. Fruit vendors, butcher wagons, pawners, spicers. Waremongers call out goods. Buyers strike deals, then enthusiastically break them and remake them with other, more cheerful merchants. Fresh produce changes hands. Bakers shout out warm bread and hand out stale loaves to beggars.
Minstrel stands in reds and yellows on a street corner, plucks energetically at the strings of his well-groomed lute, chimes in with words. Another town favorite. Coins sprinkle into a hat at his feet; most of them are little, but one or two pointedly glitter. The minstrel, handsome fellow, sweeps a deep bow to the generous donors. Resumes his song with renewed vigor.
Hem of a dress flutters among striding legs and standing legs alike. Little lass squeezes through audience. Dress is frills and waves; simple material, but lovingly made. Ah, how she loves her dress! See her spin in glee! Market day, sun shining, and her mother has made her a beautiful gift. She stops for a moment, tugs at a gourd hung from her shoulder, sips, plugs it closed again. She twirls; her dress spins wide for a moment.
Little lass giggles and steps shyly toward the minstrel. In her other hand she clutches a fistful of lilies and daisies. She selects two lilies, lays them neatly in the minstrel’s hat, curtsies. A guffaw from behind her, a chuckle to her left. Girl glances over her shoulder, blushing all the while. Poor lass, only young, sweet, innocent – loving the sun, loving the day, loving her dress!
Minstrel clucks tongue, drops to his knees, takes child’s hand, and plants a gentle kiss on her fingers. He takes something from under his hat; a long, golden-red feather, smooth and unmussed. Little lass takes feather with wide eyes. Minstrel stands again, strums lute again. Different song; less known, but no less loved. “The Lass with Eyes of Blue.” Little lass giggles, curtsies, dances away. Minstrel smiles. Mothers eye Market Child jealously. Men forget their troubles and quarrels as she dances past, smiling, humming.
Little lass waves to all merchants, all farmers selling wares; she knows most of them, but surprises others by waving anyways. Market Child is alive, so alive! The day is so warm and alive, and her mother has given her such a pretty gift! Ah, little lass, enchanted is the day that meets your earnest and oft-given smile.
Moonlight silhouettes ferns and trees. A sharp easterly breeze stirs leaves, brushes twigs, jostles sleeping flowers. Grass shivers. A fox kit mews.
Two shadows are not made by sleeping fauna. They cling to the trees, but are not of them. The breeze tugs at a cloak. Wool, harsh and unkempt.
A road, flanked by the trees and their dark canopies, sleeps undisturbed.
One of the unbelonging shadows moves slightly, raises a hand, stifles a cough. Leather scrapes on leather. The handle of an axe thuds to the ground. The breeze catches a single, muffled curse.
The road’s slumber is interrupted; a lone person is walking it slowly, wearily, carrying something. An empty scabbard sways lightly at his hip.
The moon slinks across the sky. Shadows lengthen. The unbelonging shadows straighten as the figure on the road draws even with them. They detach from their trees and slip through grass and fern until their feet are firmly on the road. One puts hand to a hilt, unsheathes steel, holds it ready with knowing hand, raises it high. Moonlight glitters on the blade. Good steel, well kept. He uses his other hand to take the shoulder of the lone wanderer, and tugs slightly to turn him.
The hand holding the hilt of the sword falters, fumbles, nearly loses grip. The face of its unbelonging shadow pales.
The lone wanderer keeps walking, does not falter, does not look back, does not slow or move faster. In his arms is a young woman. Her hair is dark and long, her face is paler than the moonlight. Her eyes have been closed. Her left arm dangles limply at her side.
The second bandit circles the wanderer and signals for him to stop. He holds his axe in his right hand, ready. The wanderer walks directly into the bandit’s outstretched hand, but keeps pushing forward.
The first bandit recovers from his falter, moves to his companion’s side, pulls him out of the wanderer’s path. “I know this man,” he says. “He could kill us both, if he tried. I fought with him. I know.” He breathes in deeply. “Lord Meramon, where are you going? Who is this girl?”
Meramon keeps walking. The two bandits watch, wait, listen, wait.
The second bandit snickers. “He is defenceless; he is nothing.” He moves forward and raises his axe.
“No, not him,” the second bandit says. “This is a good man. Spare the axe. Let him be.” He moves to Meramon’s side and gazes long at the young woman’s face. A beautiful face, youthful, gentle, flawless. “Who was she?” he asks Meramon.
Meramon’s gaze is unfocused, empty. He keeps trudging forward. He remains silent.
“Come, Lord Meramon, I am a friend. Remember me?” The man takes off his cloak, turns it inside-out, displays the red and black coloring to Meramon.
Meramon does not look. He keeps walking.
The man fixes his cloak back around his shoulders, red and black hidden again. He mutters a prayer to the wind.
The second bandit stares after Meramon. “He is empty, a husk. We’d be giving him mercy if–”
“No, leave him. He has done nothing but good for our people. And somehow, this is his fate…”
Both bandits return to the canopy of the trees. The shadows shift slightly, the grass sighs, the branches groan.
The breeze kisses the girl’s face, tosses her hair gently. A teardrop moistens her lips.
The fox kit mews again.
Moonlight gently blankets the night.