By: Patrick Handley
You know those people you meet in life that stand out from all the rest. And it is only after you’ve parted company that you realize who you were talking with. Well when I first met Maric, it was the same way. Only our paths didn’t separate, but rather, became irrevocably intertwined. I would later realize that I was spending time with what should have been my mortal enemy; but this enemy had become a friend.
It was late summer the day our paths first crossed; Maric making his way “home,” and I waiting for the iron horse on wheals to arrive and take me to the tavern were I’d gotten a summers job. I didn’t want the job exactly, as the type of crowd that sort of place attracted was a bit too loud for my taste, and shady to boot. Still Father always said that if I was to make it in the real world I’d need to first experience the under world. Besides, I needed the spending money if I was gonna get a plot of land to live off of with a family all my own one day.
I didn’t like the idea, Mother didn’t like the idea, and Granny… well she refused to give her opinion, which more often than not meant utter disgust at the very thought of a boy my age (16) living in that kind of crowd. But, Father had gone through it, Grandpa and Great Grandpa had gone through it, so it was merely my turn to carry on the tradition.
…Lucky me… Wahoo…
The iron horse arrived half past twelve, as usual screeching into the station with the squeal of metal sliding on metal; a terrible sound from any distance. The passengers departed from the dull metallic white wash painted carriages while the wooden luggage carts were also unloaded. First class passengers were off first to their waiting drivers. Then came second, then third and so on according to seating class. I waited in the courtyard of the station, along with everyone, several blocks away from where the town church stood. The tallest building in the town and ultimately the nicest looking, it had recently had a large clock put in designed to ring on the hour every hour. I’d just begun to grow accustomed to being able to hear its chimes every hour right in sink with the grandfather clock in the living room of my parents house. Incidentally it had in fact belonged to my grandfather.
The last of the trolleys pushed away; our turn to board the iron horse came. As always like some one had pressed a reverse button the waiting passengers were loaded on as well as their luggage. Businessmen, workers, and folks off to visit their relatives made up most of the crowd heading for the vacant carriages.
It was third class for me seeing how it was cheapest. Although it was a longer walk to the rear coaches, the distance it put between the chimneystack and me was worth the walk from the head of the iron horse to its tail. Also, the price of three coppers was far more affordable (and all I could afford) than the twenty-five that first class passengers paid.
It was then as I boarded that I first saw him.
Boarding the car behind mine was a man wearing the most unusual attire. Although of fine quality and make, his garments were all of leather, completely out of style. He wore a faded ashen colored shirt, sleeveless with braded black leather lining the cut offs where sleeves were missing as well as at the neck. More faded ebony leather cording laced down the front of the shirt about a third of the way ending in an inch wide X shape. A black leather belt held up the similarly grey pants he wore, some four deep pockets on the legs of his pants giving him an even more outlandish look. His footwear, a dusty black moccasin type of shoe some alterations resulting in what looked like a pair of boots; the initial height of which lay concealed beneath the man’s pant legs. The thing he wore over all that, an oddity in itself like a hooded shawl thing about two times to big and much longer, that covered the majority of him… a traveling cloak, perhaps? Hadn’t Great Grandfather had one? Also present was a brown bag at his side and a pack that hung on his back fashioned from leather of course.
I was not the only one to notice him. Indeed, he attracted a great many stares and many a man was quick to be out of his way and far from him. Many, but not I; on the contrary where half a cart was soon empty, I was striding down the aisle of that cart looking for the stranger. Something about him drew me; a quality in him that repulsed so many drew me as a lodestone does little iron fillings. It was odd to be drawn to this stranger as if I had been magnetized. Never, I will never understand what it was that pulled me towards, him call it fate. Still what’s done is done. I was on the iron horse travel bag in hand walking back to were the man sat. There were plenty of other seats in the cart in particular around and near the stranger but I wasn’t interested in those it was the one across from him that I was interested in. I sat myself down on the hard wooden seat and acted as if nothing was any different. As though it were coincidence that I had sat across from him in the aisle. I took from my pack a book I had read and reread several times. I pretended to read it a third time, while sneaking covert glances at the new company.
Some fifteen minutes later the iron horse was on the move it started with the rumbling that spoke of the bowls of the horses engine being stoked followed by the stench of the chimney stack and then the vibration and pull of the engine beginning to tug the rest of the iron contraption forward. It started as a crawl but soon grew to a swift gallop. The land began to slowly slide by at a steadily increasing rate. It was not long before the station, town, and all signs of settlement lay abandoned in a fading trail of smoke from the chimneystack. Forests green accented by the occasional stream or open field was now all that there was to see, as the ride ticked by. I of course, was absorbed in pretending to read my book, while sneaking quick glances at the man from under my brow. I’m not sure why I made the choices that I did but I made them.
He was extremely different this man; a fact, which he only added to as he pulled his legs up and sat cross legged on the wooden seat looking completely comfortable and at ease in the position. His bag was not the least bit revealing as to what it contained and the pants pockets were just as un-giving as the bag had been. He seemed quite interested in what was out the window so seeing his face was impossible especially with the hood hiding most everything of his face and head. I continued to observe the man but my looks granted little of interest. Yet I still felt there was something there that I was missing as he gazed on the forest without. It was not long before I got reckless from boredom and plain out stared at him. Once again, I was not the only one to do so, but it was me that he caught in the act.
Abruptly, as if from out of nowhere there came a horrendous crack like stone being split. He turned and looked straight at me. Panic stricken, I scrambled to bring my book back up but I was too late to hide my open staring. And clumsy as I was, wound up dropping the book instead. It was painfully obvious that I had been starring as I reached for my book. And for the longest time he studied me from within his hood.
You know those hot cold sweats you get when you know you’re caught and being looked at? Well that’s how I felt. But it was not me he was studying no he may have seen me looking at him but it was an object in his bag that he was examining. And although the urge to look at what that bag of his contained was great, I didn’t dare glance up from the page of my book, still hot with the dread of being caught.
Another stone splitting sound wracked the carts passenger’s ears and at this point the stranger had hoisted whatever it was that was making the noise from his bag. Closed it and now standing up he turned to me thrust the bag at me and quickly said, “CARRY THIS FOR ME PLEASE.” Feeling like I’d just been hit over the head, I dumbly took the leather bag and next thing I new, he was up and headed for the doors between the cars!
His strides were monstrously huge more like bounds than power walking. As his strides ate up the distance to where he was headed, I had to run just to keep up. When we reached the door, he did not even hesitate in wrenching it open, and jumping between the carts! Following suit, I continued running and leapt the distance. That is to say I tried but I would actually have fallen on the metal between the carts had the man not caught me and thrust me down by his side. Out of breath all ready, I made to thank him, but he was already striding onward.
Through the next two carts, He and I scurried met with dismay and protests as the splitting sound reoccurred more and more frequently giving people a fright. Our sudden entries got us plenty of angry words like vandals, robbers, and my personal favorite bloody hicks!!! After upsetting a good many cranky old folks in the last cart who complained about people disturbing the peace we finally reached the coal car. Once again he made the jump hoisted me across as he’d done on the past three carts “much to my embarrassment” and then hefted me on top of the cart itself. I scrambled up, met with an instant blast of wind. I nearly slid off the left side, had I not grabbed a hold of the ridge on the center of the car. The man soon followed swinging himself up and crouching low to follow me. Crawling across the cars top, I lost my grip a few times when the train car gave a sudden bounce. I was grateful for the firm hand that kept me steady so I could regain my grip. Another set of snaps from behind however made the man shove me forward to hasten me. Ending the moment of gratitude I’d felt toward him.
What the two men in charge of engine car thought of two people climbing across the top of their coal car I do not know but I highly doubt that it was anything good that they thought as the words they shouted over the wind blast were not those of a gentleman or anything that I dare repeat. Nevertheless, they made it clear that they were not happy to see us. Let’s leave it at that.
Hopping down from the roof the stranger made for the furnace, as I tumbled after landing less gracefully than I’d have liked to... “On my rear.”
Of course, the two men barred our way “like most honor bound men would have” and that is when steal appeared between us. I had not seen it before the duel blades that so easily caused the two men to leap out of the stranger’s path. How could I have missed it before? Two swords, of that length surely; it could not have gone unnoticed? Apparently it could have, for no sooner had they been there then they were gone in a swift, fluid motion.
The two workers who had barred our way, made themselves as scares as they could, in an awful hurry. That’s where they stayed too, backed to one side of the engine car. The furnace was wide open “since the two men had been shoveling more coal into it before we arrived” and the heat it gave off was sweltering. As if not noticing the heat the stranger walked forward. It was then that I saw what had been making the stone splitting noise. In his hand, the stranger held a goose egg sized rock. It was black and extremely porous, like a piece of pumice that had been fished out of a fire pit. Scores of cracks now laced their way across its surface; cracks that glowed molten red orange. Drawing tongs from his upper left pant pocket and gently grasping the stone with them, he lowered the rock into the fierce fires.
Backing away so he could keep everything in the iron horses engine in sight the man took on a relaxed stance and waited in utter silence.
An hour passed with the stone slowly gaining more crevices the shattering pops and snaps it made becoming increasingly rapid in their repetition. Finally, at last, the event the stranger was awaiting transpired. A reverberating snap rocked the ovular piece of pumice, the crags widening the stone changed in shape appearing to collapse and then a piece of the stone abruptly flew away from the reforming mass bouncing and chinking off the sides of the engine before finally coming to rest some place on the tracks. At this point, the stranger strode forward, closing the door to the furnace, as another piece of rock ricocheted off the walls. Taking a few steps back, he resumed his relaxed stance. Ten seconds passed, stone fragments beginning to fly from the stone in droves; and although we could not see it happening, the clanking sound from within the furnace was proof enough.
The two workmen looked on in what appeared to be a worried and even fearful manner now. One of them forgetting that they were pretty much being held up was so bold to take a step toward the furnace and shout, “what are you doing!”
A flash of steal, tore the bandana that hung beneath the fellows neck from it’s lofty purchase. All watched as the mottled green fabric drifted to land on the floor. “Final warning” said the stranger in a dead voice. The men needed no further words. He stepped back silent his brief moment of courage now deserting him, while his hand reached up to feel his neck in that realization of how close one has stepped within the reaches of death.
Beginning to come back to myself It felt like I‘d been plunged into a bath of ice water. For the past hour, I had been in a numb stupor. Just following the stranger as if I were under some kind of Mesmer. Only now was I becoming aware of myself again. There I stood taking part in a hold up of sorts, the reason for which I did not even know. I had to admit I couldn’t move accept for the involuntary shaking that was sapping all ability to move from my body.
That I would be held responsible for this; just as much as this man would was undeniable. I didn’t cry, not visibly, but inside it was like a strong wind had seized hold over my emotions.
The clanking finally died down, stopped, and was followed by an unnatural silence. I started to tremble with a new intensity feeling cold as well as drained. Slowly the stranger opened the furnace door. Out came a wave of heat, causing my skin to prickle with the cold of dread that was in my heart, I didn’t want to look but like with the stranger I felt drawn forward. Forced to look I instantly had to turn away it was so hot the fires. It was the same! The flames still licked upward the coals still glowed but something was different, in the midst of all that heat was a, a, a something. It had a long sinewy body and was no bigger than the palm of my hand. Carefully the stranger reached in with the tongs and slowly drew out the little thing. It had four legs and its tail made up about a third of its entire body. Its head was flat with ridges on top of its blue green eyes. The rest of him was molten orange to red. The creature seemingly glowed from within.
As the stranger turned from the open furnace it was then that I saw his face. Pale skin blue eyes crowned with thick black brows; he had high cheekbones and a firm set jaw and chin. Like the lizard he’d just hatched his eyes seemed to glow with an inner light that was both piercing and knowing. His dark thick brows gave him an angry scowling look wreathed in his thick dark curtains of black hair.
For an instant his eyes locked with mine, I was quick to look away I could not hold that stare. Yet again, he reached into one of his pockets this time drawing out an iron contraption it was made of three parts and held together by three vertical polls each connected to the upper and lower parts while suspending the middle piece between them. It looked to be a lantern of sorts. Careful not to scrape the lizards molten hide the man eased the little lizard down into the cast iron lantern and closed the hole filled lid. An angry chirp of protest erupted from within but after a few sparks the lizard remained silent.
For the remainder of ride he, the two workers, the newly hatched fire lizard, and myself remained silent. The stranger permitted the two men to go about maintaining the engine, but he never once took his hand from within his cloak and I think we all knew why. As the iron horse began to pull into our point of arrival, the stranger handed the cast iron lantern to me. Locking eyes with me and holding my gaze he said in a voice rolling with the menace of thunder “TAKE CARE OF HIM UNTIL WE REACH THE INN.” He released my gaze. Once again the sense of having been pummeled over the head ensued and I took the black lantern without question.. I felt that cold sweat that accompanies being stared down both dangerously and seriously. I was not about to loose this lantern. I knew that if I did, I would find myself sliding off the end of this mans sword before I could take in breath.
Looking hopeful, the two workers began to make ready for slowing the train. Pulling the breaks and cutting the furnace heat. Gradually slowly, we came to a stop, with the squeal of metal wheels on metal tracks. It was defining how could the men who worked the engine stand it? I couldn’t the lizard in the lantern certainly wouldn’t as a lot of sparks were erupting from the holes. The little guy might as well have been spewing fire at the rate the sparks were emerging. Finally, mercifully the screeching stopped. Only to be replaced by the lizards angry chirps. I still had one of my ears covered while I held the lantern at arms length. The stranger gave a slight smile and beckoned me to his side we approached the two men who backed up in apprehension. “Can you blame them?” An hour ago, I would have done the same thing on being approached by such an odd pair.
Stepping forward the stranger reached out to the man he had loosed the scarf of. Both men shied away, but the one he was reaching for stopped. Caught as I had been in that stupor. The stranger was tying the mans scarf back around his neck only it wasn’t torn! Scarf in place the stranger gave the man a pat on the shoulder.
“You show uncommon courage,” wanly he smiled “I admire that in a man” Reaching into another of his pockets the stranger drew out two gold ingots passing one to each worker. Instantly they took them, after all how often was it that you were paid a month’s wages for being held up? And on top of that, the money being from the man who did the hold up. When the money had changed hands, the stranger said “for your silence. Me and my friend were never here, are we under stood?” Both men nodded without another word. Turning he beckoned me to follow and jumped from the head of the iron horse. By this time, the iron horse had halted so I followed down the side of the engine car and made my way to where my new companion stood waiting for me. Once I was at his side, he started us through the milling crowd.
“Got a name lad,” he asked me.
“John” I replied shakily “John kinsmen” The man nodded.
“Well Mr. Kinsmen, it won’t be too much trouble for you to abandon your plans for the next month, will it?” He said this as if it were a matter of fact not a question. And I knew it wasn’t.
“N-no” I replied even more shakily. “No tr-oub-le at a-l-l.” He smiled at me, a wolfish smile, and for a moment, I would have sworn his eyes were yellow. The look softened some; he reach a hand up and tussled my hair
“Good lad,” he bellowed slapping me on the back “perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two.” Turning on his heal, not the least bit concerned that I might run we were off. What had I gotten myself into?
Chehesapeak Focus Sight
By: Patrick Handley
The town was called Chehesapeak. Odd name I admit but then the place we were in was unusual in and of itself; its population was no different. The stranger and I didn’t really stand out all that much. The garb was as varied, as the stranger’s. There were lots of browns, grays, and greens, as well as black, with the occasional white garb. All of these filled the street before us. The men it seemed went about in pants and only pant’s. Women were in some cases, even more scantly clad; in gowns that seemed to be falling off of them or clinging to there every curve. This was initially all that could be seen, in way of the places populace; but we were in the out skirts of town.
This part in particular looked to be especially run down being the equivalent of a shipyard or port, slum on a waterfront only without the water front. The train depot, a run down rusted building, which consisted of four walls and tin roof, looked on the brink of collapse leaning dangerously toward the tracks.
Taking the main street, I put my arms protectively around the iron lantern. The stranger took his bag back, and unsheathed both his blades. Causing people to give us a wide birth. The shops and townhouses looked dark unoccupied and filthy. The one on our immediate left pealed what may have been white wash at one point in time. Lack of attention and care, however had allowed things to decompose; flaking off yellow white wash that now powdered the street edge like freshly fallen snow. Make that freshly fallen “yellow” snow. Several buildings later had a number of broken windows and a part of the roof collapsed. How did this stuff happen to a town? Thinking back I remembered what father told me before I’d left for the station earlier that morning. “Don‘t be surprised if your surroundings are in pain, to the underworld, pain is it‘s treasure and it has a way of hoarding it up.” I think now I began to understand what he meant by what he’d said.
We headed on, past a storefront window that looked in need of a good washing inside and out. The green slime around the edges aside, some of the places we passed needed to just be plain cleaned out. The displays contained anything from an assortment of rusty weapons, to a full human skeleton.
I stopped looking at my surroundings after that, watching the people around the stranger and me instead. The garb had changed drastically, so much so that I’m surprised I didn’t pick up on it right off. Men in full length… robes? The woman dressing in modest single colored gowns. What kind of mixed up place was this?
We took a left now. And the apparel sifted again. From medieval to garishly bright colored shirts with puffed sleeves striped between orange cream, to a sleek purple, yellow on green, blue on pink! Woman wore red skirts with multiple aprons, a blouse, and headscarf’s of one fashion or another. In addition to the odd shirts and aprons, both men, and woman had piercings. Many piercings in a good number of places “which I will not mention beyond the ears and nose” I couldn’t help but stare. A large man with an ugly scar running down the right side of his bearded face noticed me staring at him to long and advanced on me barking out.
“You find me interesting, runt!” I dropped my eyes and shook my head.
“No?” he said standing before me now not noticing the stranger behind me.
“Well I find you boring,” he said shoving me backwards, the confrontation was starting to draw some attention.
“I think you could stand to look a little more interesting.” He grabbed my shirtfront then, pulling me closer to his greasy body. He reeked of smoke, beer, and sweat. Turning to another man who he had been talking with before he caught me staring, he beckoned to him.
“Hey! Mack! What do yah think?” he said drawing a long cruel looking knife from his belt as he did so.
“How about a good ol scar on that young face!” His friend a taller equally burly bearded man in a sleeveless vest looked me up and down. Looking beyond me, he saw that his friend was in over his head.
“Eh, he could use a little personality, but why should you waste your time given it to em?” he said this in dismissal to us, smartly trying to end the situation.
“But he was looken at me funny like. Kid’sa gotta learns to respect their superiors.” He said this whining like some child who new he wasn’t getting what he wanted. The bigger man called Mack was walking over now.
“Let him go Darl, he ain’t worth it,” putting a hand on the shorter mans shoulder again he tried to dissuade him. “Let’s get another drink en yah, you’ll feel better after dat.” The man called Darl seemed to like this idea, a good deal drunk as it was.
“Hold on a sec dis ol only takes a minute” bringing the knife up he moved it toward the left side of my face. I pulled back, but it was no good. Holding me off balance by my shirt front and raising his knife with the other; the blade started to descend. What could I do, with my hands occupied and not daring to drop the lantern I couldn’t even shield my face. Then something happened.
‘NO!’ the man called Darl stepped back as if from a physical blow.
‘GO HAVE YOUR DRINK!’ as if struck by a spur of the moment inspiration the man called Darl turned to the larger man called Mack.
“How bout anudder drink, Mack?” the man called Mack looked relieved.
“Now you’re talking sense.” Then proceeding to steer Darl away from us and in the direction of the nearest tavern door, the man called Mack gave Darl a shove in the doors direction passing him two coins.
“You order dah drinks and find us a table I’ll catch up.” Turning back to us he nodded to the stranger who nodded back and then turning on his heal the stranger started walking again. The man called Mack fell into step beside me. I didn’t look at him or anyone else as we walked on in silence; that only seemed like it would be asking for more trouble. We didn’t have far to go just around the next corner and we were there.
The tavern was not entirely run down but it looked close. The paint of course was pealing. Having clean flaked away in some spots, the sign above the door displayed the picture of a tankard, with a crescent moon on its side. The words: The Silver Tankard Were painted in spidery letters across the top of the sign. And in the window was another like the first with the message of Rooms Available. I got the feeling I’d be sharing rooms with these two for the next month or more.
We entered through the front door into a low ceilinged, poorly lit room with a miss matched jumble of chairs and tables. The tavern was near deserted, with only a few of the most loyal patrons or those to plastered to rise occupying the rooms far corners. The stranger gestured us to a table in the corner of the room that remained unmanned. Taking our seats, I made to ask what this was all about but he silenced me with a look in the way from before.
‘LATER.’ His eyes said in a way that resounded in my head like an echo. The bar tender a fat balding man with a full hazelnut colored beard, dressed in a dark shirt with a maroon vest over it, meandered over to our table to take our order. The man had on a white apron stained from a spill on over everything, brown pants and boots completing his wardrobe. Now I’m not much good at reading people unless things are obvious and the moment the bar tender spotted the stranger bullets began streaming down his face.
“May I g-get you anything-g t-to dri-drink s-sirs?” was his unsteady request. I am not sure of this, but I believe he recognized the stranger.
His looking overly long at him as though it were some kind of wild animal that sat before him and not a man, was what gave me the tip off. The stranger didn’t seem to notice, and standing up, he slapped the man on the back saying.
“Come now my old friend is that any way to greet your Patron?” the Bar tender cringed from the touch, trying to look now as if he were confused by the strangers overly familiar air he said trembling slightly.
“I’m s-sorry s-sir but I d-don’t know w-what you m-mean.” The stranger’s face, which a moment ago had been open and friendly, darkened now with an intensity to rival his usual glower. The stranger rose from the table, the old bar tender practically cowering. He was caught then in another of the strangers disarming stares.
‘THE BACK ROOM, NOW’ Standing erect the bar tender stopped trembling his muscles seemingly working against his will. He turned and walked to the bar going behind it then the stranger followed him I did too and so did the man called Mack. We went through a back door, into a dark room. The bar tender lit a candle that rested on a pewter candlestick; this lit up the table and not much else. Lighting three additional candles the man turned his back to the far wall seemingly coming back into himself. As the stranger advanced on him then, he retreated until he was pressed flat against the back wall.
“P-Please, M-Maric it’s n-not m-my f-f-fault. It’s n-nothing p-p-personal against you, I s-swear it.” Maric as the stranger had been called came to stand in front of him. The man turned his head away from Maric then, only to have a firm hand under his chin turning it back to face that all-piercing gaze. Studying the man for what seemed like forever, he finally released his hold on him giving him a gentle pat on the cheek.
“In all our years together, have I ever let anyone hurt you or your family” the voice was kind, the posture easy now. The bar tender shook his head calmed by Maric’s words.
“Be easy, Robert, I won’t bring harm on you or yours.” This reassured the man, and letting out an audibly ragged sigh. He leaned forward, into Maric’s shoulder, (the stranger being a tall guy,) the man began to cry! Putting an arm around the older man Maric began to steady him, saying then.
“But some one has threatened you, and promised to hurt yours if you harbor me haven’t they.” The older man nodded into his shoulder Giving a large sob.
“Shhh” Maric whispered, “you can tell me when you’re ready.” Maneuvering the man over to a chair, and sitting him down in it, he turned to us.
“Mack take the boy up to my room. I’ll join you when I’m ready.” Turning to me, he smiled wanly
“Start a fire and put the lantern in it don’t open it.” I nodded quickly, understanding his request to be command.
“Good lad.” He said passing his bag to Mack. We left and headed for the stairs Mack keeping me in front of him. The landing was dim like the tavern bellow. The hall that stretched its full length lined with three doors, had a fourth one at the halls end. This was to be our room apparently. Fishing a large rusted key out of the stra… Maric’s bag, Mack inserted it into the lock and gave it a twist. From the sound of things the lock that held the door closed was of a heavy make. Pushing the oaken door open with his hand the hinges squeaked loudly in protest, as if crying out for a good oiling.
Maybe I’d expected the place to be brighter but it wasn’t, the windows were shuttered. Only a sliver of light penetrated the gloom through a slight niche at the bottom and top of the shuttered portals. Shoving me forward indifferently without a word Mack closed and locked the door removing the key to place it in his pocket. We were momentarily plunged into near utter darkness. Then with the crack of the shutters, being pushed open to smack against the outside walls sunlight flooded the room. Revealing with its golden rays the room that I would be spending a lot of time in from now on.
Like the key that opened and closed it, the room was of another time all together; as though the Tavern bellow had been an after thought or addition in recent years to this piece of a structure that had long proceeded it. The paneling was dark, walnut as was the flooring. All the furniture was covered over in white sheets, to keep the dust down I imagined. The two windows both of which looked out onto the street bellow, were swathed with long faded green moth eaten drapes, as for the bed, well it was king sized four posted with more mottled green drapes to conceal whomever slept there in darkness. On the back wall was the only white curtain in the place that wasn’t covering a chair or table. Upon further inspection, I saw that it hid a bathtub that looked big enough to fit at least four full-grown people. By the bed there was a small side table hard wood of course, as well as a wash stand and mirror; for faster washings I suppose. On the opposite side of the bed there rested a large wardrobe and dresser. About every wall was occupied with something or other. If it wasn’t bookshelves it was a mirror, or a desk covered with more of those white sheets. Remembering my task to get the lizard heating up which I had practically forgotten in my taking in the room. I turned about in search of a fireplace there were none in sight. Looking to Mack I asked. “Where’s the fire place?”
Jerking his thumb at a bookshelf back by the bath, he grunted, “should be a knob over der.” I looked there was one in fact part of the bookcase. I turned it gingerly, it rattled as I twisted it and then the shelf swung inward. It was a whole other room smaller by half and of similar design; it was however made of stone and bore several moth eaten tapestries instead of hard wood paneling.
The fireplace couldn’t be missed seeing how it dominated the entire back wall. A wood stack sat next to it along with a tinderbox and kindling. Making for this I set the lantern down to build the fire stacking the dry wood with kindling appropriately and then arranging the kindling. I took the tinderbox in hand and began to send sparks onto the pile until flames took. Careful not to extinguish the small glows I blew on them encouraging the slow golden mass to spread out steadily watching as it climbed up ward to lick the larger timbers. Satisfied with my work I put the lantern on a kettle hook just above the flames a rustling from inside followed by a soft chirp spoke of the creatures stirring. For a brief moment I had a bit of a dilemma unsure whether this was to hot for the little creature. What would Maric do if I were to get it to hot? I knew the answer to that question I realized.
He was kind enough to people he knew in a ruff sort of manner. But I was just a mere boy that he’d happened to encounter in his travels. No one in this place would bat an eye if I were to suddenly not show up for breakfast one morning. My parents and grandmother would notice after two months or if I didn’t show up to my job and the man I would have been working for got around to informing them of this fact. Frantic I looked around to the one door in and out of the room. Mack was watching me leaning on the door frame as he did. “How hot should I let this get” I asked nervously.
He shrugged “Heck if I know.” Fortunately, I was saved from having to make an error, for the stranger Maric had entered the room. Coming in through the main room he turned to look at the fire going in the adjoining chamber, with the lantern hanging above the flames.
He nodded. “Nice work John,” he said, using my name with a satisfied smile. “When the fire burns low you can put the lantern down in the embers.” Mack walked out of the door way and into the larger bedroom to start uncovering the furniture.
Coming into the room and lifting a sheet off one of two red comfortable looking armchairs that sat next to the fire, Maric seated himself making a steeple with his fingers. He was looking at me now, and it was more than a little uncomforting to be observed in this way like a wolf examining its prey. The cold sweat from earlier on was back again running down my spine while I tried to look as though I were tending the fire unaware of his tense scrutiny.
“Come here and let me get a good look at you John.” Standing awkwardly I went and stood before him; he looked me up and down studying my frame and features. Perhaps it was the play of the fire light but his eyes looked unnaturally large in this lighting. They flashed gold for a moment, I think. Blinking to clear my own eyes, I shook my head and looked again. They were still blue with an eerie green tint that was the affect of the fire. I had just been seeing things.
An easy grin split his ivory face melting the dark accents of his brows. Reaching out a hand, he took my right arm and lifted the sleeve of my off-white shirt. I was fairly tanned from working in the sun on a regular basis at home; his white hand holding mine as he examined my wrist, and forearm only stressed the fact all the more. “You do any sword fighting or archery?” he asked me, genuine curiosity on his face now.
I shook my head, but did inform him with an “I’ve had some practice with a quarter staff” to my preference in fighting styles. His face which had reverted to the usual mask, lightened some, he nodded. “Would you care to show Me?”
Knowing once again that it was a politely phrased command I nodded, but then asked “where at exactly?” he smiled at this, his wolfish smile, this time speaking of secrets that little pups would not know unless he wished to share them. He did apparently wish to share this one however. Having released my hand when he asked the question that had brought us to this, I backed out of his way going to stand by the fireplace as he rose from his chair, and walked over to one of the book shelves. Moving a musty old tome that faced its broader expanses out towards us aside, he revealed yet another knob like the one that led to this room. I took in a breath of air. It tasted of old books and smoke.
“Would you like to see what’s left of my families estate here?” He asked a mischievous bent in his voice now. Stalk still, I stood there, not sure whether I did or not. He turned the knob and gave the bookcase a light shove. Swinging inward as the other bookcase had; this one was on silent hinges. The distinct sound of moving air, whistled at us from within the dark passage.
“Get us some candles and I’ll show you around.” Had this not been another command I would have stayed where I was but his voice compelled me to compliance. There were several candlesticks on the mantle of the fire, and I took those. Lighting their ancient bees-wax rods in the fire before handing one to him. Turning to the bookshelf door by which we’d entered he hollered back to Mack.
“Close the door would yah, me and the boy will be taking a turn in the inner wings.” Mack appeared at the door momentarily.
“should I call for a meal?” Mack sounded hopeful, he looked it too. Smiling again with what looked like genuine emotion (this time amusement,) Maric said in an easy going tone “sure, Mack but get us some meat if you’re going to all right.” The bigger mans face split in a wide grin. “What do you want for drinks?” he asked again like this was turning into a dinner party of sorts. “I’ll take care of that, I was thinking we might crack open one of the old family whites, or did you want red?” the bigger man was nodding with approval. “What ever pleases you.” and with that he closed the book self. Putting the room into candle and fire lights unusual golden hues.
“All right then let’s get going.” The room we entered was actually a stair well leading strait down in a winding spiral. The room was made entirely of stone, as was the stairway. The floor had a thick layer of dust covering it over smoothly which our descending foot steps stirred into swirling clouds almost like fog before it settled after our passing. There was little in way of vermin or cobwebs and the stair well looked as if it had remained untouched for a century. When we’d gone about a floor down or so the spiral opened up onto a small landing immediately across the length of which lay another spiral heading farther down. Walking to the second stair-well, I noticed that a portion of the brick on the right wall looked newer than the surrounding material. Like an entrance had been bricked off a while back.
A hand on my shoulder giving a squeeze told me that I‘d stopped, which I hadn‘t realized, and that I should keep going. Moving quickly not wanting to incur Marics wrath, I hurried on to the second stair case to begin the second decent.
The lower landing we came to was like the stairwells; in way of dust. But unlike the stairwell, it had some furnishings. More wall hangings as from the first stone room, also the dark wooden furnishings mirrored the upper levels, but unlike with the upper two rooms, these ones had a worn look to them. Like they’d seen much use in an age long past; never being repaired. Some of the furniture was broken, tossed down to the floor, to lie in a shattered state of disarray. Like a great urgency had been present to leave, at the time of it’s destruction.
Sensing the question in my examination of the visual state of things, he answered before I asked it. “It happened about eighty one years ago when an invading army seeking to take this land for themselves came, raiding and pillaging. They burnt most of the town. Large estates like my grandparent’s were included, and this is all that remains.” He paused allowing the effect to sink in. then. Still looking around me I noticed that among the rubble there also lay a number of weapons. A broken spear lay at my feet. I reached for it but his hand on my shoulder stopped me. “Please leave it.” I did as he asked the question why torturing me.
“I leave it this way as a memorial to those of my family that perished here, my little cousin will do with it what he wants when the inheritance passes to him but until that time it remains as is.” The firmness in his voice finalizing the statement as if to speak it true, that any who would so dare ought to challenge it and be slain. His mood lightened then “the wine however is a different matter.” He laughed then. “I’m sure my ancestors won’t miss a few bottles” I smiled at this, and we continued walking down the hallway we were in; to a larger room. This room had the look of a main living space. A fireplace sat on the wall to our left. Logs burnt and not laying inside it the table before the fire looked like it had been a dining table silver and cutlery still scattered upon it and the floor. On the right wall was another door way and what looked like it may have been at one time a kitchen. The far wall was home to some number of bunk beds made and not. The overlying theme of the place looked to be dust. This wall also had a doorway in it, which we took. Another stairway lay beyond this one, going strait like the ones I was accustomed to. This stair lead us down to another hall way going left and right. Taking the left way we passed through another door on the left side of the hall directly opposite another which led down another stairway. The room we entered was small but lined with shelf upon shelf many of which still held their contents. Obviously, this was where the wine had been and still was stored.
Going to one of the shelves located at the back of the room, Maric took down two black looking bottles. Handing me one he turned and we went out the door of the wine room and came to stand at the base of the stairs leading back to what had been the main living quarters.
“Hmmm,” Maric mused pausing, “perhaps I should…” he trailed off and started up the stairway.
“Tell me john, do you have a head for archeology?” he looked at me as if expecting a response. I could only stare back.
“You don’t have a clue what that is, do you?” I shook my head.
“Well I had better explain it then.” He continued walking taking us through the living space and back to the hall, we had come in through.
“Archeology is, well it’s…” he paused again thinking. Then looking about him at the memorial to his ancestors a spark came to life in his eyes.
“Archeology is basically figuring out something that no one is around to show or tell you. Take this room for example. If I weren’t here to tell you, what had happened here you would still be wondering what had happened. You follow me?” I paused considering the thought.
“I think so,” I said coming to the conclusion that he was making sense so far.
“Well archeology is just that, had I not been here you would have had to find out what happened here on your own. And say for instance that there was a device you discovered down here. That you didn’t know what it was for or did, you’d play around with it and make guesses as to what it was you’d found, right.” I nodded, seeing that he was going somewhere with this.
“So you’ve found something like that and you’re asking if I’d be interested in helping you guess what it is.” His smile was sincerely warm as well as pleased.
“You catch on quick I see, and yes that’s exactly what I’m asking. Are you interested?” I shrugged.
“Do I really have a choice,” he smiled that wolfish grin again.
“Not exactly no, but it’d be much easier on all of us if you were willing to help.” We began ascending the stairs then.
“I might as well, it’s not like there’s anything else interesting to do.” We reached the top stair, and the room behind the bookcase. Setting his candle and bottle on the mantle, I did the same, and when I had, he took a fist full of my hair in hand. And bent my head back to look him in the eyes. His usual scowl was back now. His eyes had me and I heard what it was I’d been hearing all afternoon.
‘FAIR WARNING.’ He tugged my hair up, his voice ringing inside my head now ‘DO NOT CROSS ME, FOR YOUR SAKE.’ What was this? How was he doing this to me? I felt my limbs limp and floppy, like boiled noodles. This wasn’t right why was he able to shout in my head? Summoning what will power remained in me to control my limps I stood forcing my limbs to straiten even though they screamed for me to give into him. The effort caused me to shake violently but I was able to face him. ‘get out of my head…’ feeling my anger and revulsion come to a point my vision flashed red. He released my hair, nursing his hand as if it had been stung or burnt. Staggering backwards I fell on my rump for the second time that day.
“You’re stronger than you look.” He said, studying me as he had before. I didn’t sweat as I had earlier, but I still felt small, and wearied; looking up at him didn‘t really help either. But the moment ended; smiling he offered me a hand up. I didn’t know that I should accept it though, after all it could be a trick. But deciding staying on Marics good side was in my best interest for survival I did take his hand.
Pulling me up like I weighed next to nothing, he laid a hand on my right shoulder to steady me this time; his features smoothing out. “Just don’t betray me all right, can we agree to that?” He was compromising I think and I decided I’d push things a little farther before I agreed to anything.
“I will agree to nothing,” I said. He began to have that dangerous look about him again. One that reminded me that no one would miss sixteen-year-old John kinsmen, in this town or anywhere for the next two months at least. I decided I’d compromise with him too.
“At least not until I know what you’re asking me to do, or be a part of.” The dangerous look passed.
“Very well.” he gestured to the red armchair he’d uncovered earlier, indicating I take it as he removed the white sheet from the one opposite it. He let the sheet fall to the floor. And taking off his cloak thing which he’d worn since I first saw him. He tossed it over the back of his chair and took a seat sighing.
“All right kid what do you want to know” with his cloak off now, I saw how he was able to conceal his swords so well. The scabbards like the blades curved to a certain extent, he had on a harness of some sort, which crossed them behind his back curving them upward so they were out of his way, and didn’t show. I also realized that he had two more knives at his waste and probably more concealed in his pockets or boots. He was also of a physique level that surpassed Mack by a long run.
Mack had a bit of a beer belly to him. While Maric was solid muscle, it felt like sitting across from death, this thought only accented by his pale skin, black, and grey leather clothing as well as his assortment of scythe like knives and swords. The cold sweat was back but I forced myself to forget about it and meet this man on his own level, which he was offering me a chance to do.
I hadn’t been expecting to ask questions, that I would get answers to so it was a blundering scramble to get words out “What, um, what is it you want my help with?” the man smiled.
“I thought we covered that already. I was going to want your help in guessing what something was.” The boy grimaced at the bluntness of his own question.
“I know that; what I meant to say was, what do you know of it? What does it look like? How big is it, what colors, stuff like that.” The mans forehead wrinkled in frustration, serious thought smoldering in those blue eyes.
“It would probably be easier to show you.” He stood and walked over to the bookshelf, next to the one that opened into his inheritance. Reaching up to the top shelf for a tome that looked older than the estate below, he continued.
“The thing is we know what were looking for, and where it’s located, we just can’t find it, or a way into the place where it is.” Coming back to the chair with the book he sat down and opened it thumbing through the pages until he found the one he was looking for, passing it then to me, he said.
“This is loosely what it looks like.” The page was yellow, crumbling at the corners. The drawing on the page was in black ink. Depicting a stone circle surrounded by eight fixtures and then another eight towers with a second set of the same fixtures. Each tower had three pillars that supported a large circle disk as a roof of sorts.
“What is it?” I asked having never seen anything like it before all the places I’d been. These places were few in number true, but I considered myself decently well traveled.
“It’s a focus sight,” Maric said this like it was some great statement that should have had me struck in awe. I wasn’t however.
“A what?” I asked dumbly, a number of more questions rising up in me like what’s that, what’s it do, what’s it for, etc… he saved me the trouble again going into an almost lecture tone he began his explanation.
“A focus sight is an amplifier for the super natural. It amplifies, monitors, and regulates a balance of magic in nature.” I must have been looking at him with a blank face like all this was flying over my head, which it was, because he stopped and asked me.
“You do know what magic is, Don’t you?” I shook my head and he sighed.
“It’s not an easy thing to explain but, well it’s… It’s kind of like a life force of some kind. Every living creature has a certain amount of it. Even you.” Frowning I attempted to figure out what he was saying.
“So there’s this force that exists and everyone has it?” He nodded saying.
“Yes, and some creatures have a larger amount in them, like me and you and the fire lizard.” I thought about this and then asked.
“But what’s it good for, and if everyone has it do they need it to live or something?” It didn’t take him long to answer.
“you don’t need It to live exactly, but it can help you to stay alive. As for what its good for…” he trailed off and then drew one of his smaller weapons. I jumped back in my chair at the sight of the weapon thinking he’d gotten tired of me and was about to get rid of me. My fear had no real foundation though, and as it turned out he cut himself instead. Slicing across his right palm. I watched with dark fascination as he did this, grimacing while crimson welled up from the cut on his hand.
“Watch this.” he said. Raising his hand over his head a blue light erupted from it swelling to encompass his hand and then continuing to flow down and over his body turning him entirely blue for a few seconds before it sank into him. I could only stare. He showed me his hand. The wound was gone as if it had never even been there. Not believing my eyes though I had to stand up, disregarding his knife, and feel his hand with my own. This didn’t make sense where was the cut, it couldn’t be gone, I’d seen it with my own eyes. Maric let me have some time to look his hand over, so as to convince me I guess.
“it’s good for healing wounds,” He said, gripping my right hand that I’d still been feeling his palm with. I tried to pull back but he held me there.
“Please let go” I said, he didn’t though, so I looked up into his eyes, thinking that I might have to go through another mental struggle with him again. Our eyes met but there wasn’t a challenge there.
“If you‘re not convinced by that then I guess I‘ll have to show you this way” taking the blade and bringing it towards my hand, I pulled back trying to get my hand away. Why didn’t I just stay in my seat?
He sheathed the knife, in it’s scabbard, and said, “You don‘t have to be afraid, I‘m not going to hurt you.” he released my hand letting me retreat to my chair. Which I quickly sat down in eyeing him warily.