Make sure check out Part 1 and Part 2. # I woke to the gentle gurgle of a stream and an intense case of déjà vu. I was lying on my back in the muck,
I woke to the gentle gurgle of a stream and an intense case of déjà vu. I was lying on my back in the muck, staring up at the sky through the slit in my helmet. My head throbbed. The air stank of dung. I pushed myself up and stumbled over to the stream. I didn’t want to think about what I’d been lying in.
I splashed alertness back into my head with the cold water of the stream. As I did, I examined the tattoo on the back of my right hand. It was a sword, with the blade pointing to my knuckles. A viper coiled around the weapon, prepared to strike any hand that reached for the hilt. All of this was circled by a ring of flames which seemed to dance as I moved my hand. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw the snake’s tongue flick out, but when I looked back it was still.
My growling stomach reminded me of more pressing concerns. It would be wise to avoid the little village I’d stumbled into last night. But it had taken me all night to find any sign of civilization and there was no telling how far away the next town might be.
And I hadn’t eaten since…well, since as far back I could remember.
I had to risk going back. But there was no reason not to be smart about it. They’d attacked me because they thought I was a soldier, which may’ve been true. I peeled off the rest of my armor and hid it in a nearby bush. I was hesitant to abandon my helmet, which had saved my life at least twice, but if I was going to eat, then the villagers couldn’t think of me as a soldier.
Hopefully they don’t recognize me.
I examined my reflection in the stream. It was hazy and distorted by the flowing water, but the dark-haired and vaguely familiar stranger whose expression stared dumbly back at me looked like nothing more than a poor beggar.
Who still stank slightly of dung.
I followed the stream back to where I could see the small cluster of houses. There was no sign of the big men I’d encountered earlier. I took care to approach a different house, just in case.
An old man’s voice answered my knock. “Yes, yes. I’m coming.”
I was just beginning to doubt his word when the door opened. The man reminded me of the others I’d seen here, broad shouldered and tall. His limbs had withered with age and he leaned heavily on a cane. His left eye looked dim and sightless, but his right was still bright.
I met his gaze. “Please, sir, I—”
He clasped my hand in both of his, letting the cane clatter to the ground. “I know who you are. Come in. Quickly, before my sons see you.” He led me back into the relative dark of his home and ushered me into a low seat. “Would you like something to eat?”
“Of course, of course. After all, you have a long journey ahead of you.”
He shuffled back to the door and retrieved his cane before heading into the small kitchen. The old man kept talking as he prepared a small meal. “It grieves an old man to see how far his sons have strayed from the teachings of their forefathers. Nowadays, they’re no different than any other common villager. In my father’s day, a visitor such as yourself would have been greeted with a feast! Or as much feast as the family could muster. Not that we ever had such visitors, mind you, but my father kept the old ways.”
He brought me a tray with eggs, bread, cheese and clean water. I devoured the food with little hesitation and less dignity.
As I washed the last of the bread down, I noticed the old man was just staring at me from a nearby seat.
“I can’t remember the last time I had a meal like this.” It may have been the most honest thing I’d ever said.
“My most humble apologies, my lord.” He dropped to his knees and pressed his face to the ground by my feet. “I have forfeited my life by serving you so meager an offering.”
What? “N-no, you misunderstand, it was good.” I reached down and helped the old man back to his feet.
“You honor me.” He bowed his head. “I am unworthy of your praise.”
Just who does he think I am?
A pounding on the door prevented my question.
“Ishtir demands you open this door!” A woman’s voice called.
The old man’s face paled. “The war-dogs have come more quickly than I expected.” He dragged me into the back bedroom, leaning on me as his cane. “Under the mat is a tunnel that leads to a cellar, out in the fields. There are provisions, take what you need and travel east to the city of Tirradon. Anasei will be waiting for you there.”
I began to ask am hundred questions. “Who are you? Why are you risking yourself like this? What is this all about?”
“My lord, there is no time. The runes will not hold off Ishtir’s dogs for long. You must go now.”
I slipped into the hidden passage. “Thank you.” I’m not sure for what, but….
“The blood of Shimash flow strongly through you.” With that he closed the opening, leaving me in darkness.
To Be Continued….