Loëndë (Midyear), T.A. 1640
AL gazed fondly at the roughhousing youngsters in the back of the wagon, one leg dangling out the back, the other propping his folded hands. He glanced briefly out the back at the ominous clouds, now pounding along their way to threaten some other wayward traveller.
"Again, I thank you, brother Yanush," he called to the driver as one of the youngsters bowled into his leg, "I greatly appreciate the transportation!"
Yanush laughed a bit and warned the boys to behave, "You have yet to see the Midyear Faire, m'boy!" The old farmer continued his tales of the Faire he remembered as a boy, tales AL remembered hearing for the fourth time so far, his children still captivated after all this time. His eldest daughter, the oldest of the five, could not be more than fourteen, not much more than a child by human mark, but she kept glancing at the elf with a look he recognized only too well.
As per Mandos' instructions, and his own nagging instinct, he had taken pains to disguise his features and found his workmanship quite good, indeed. Notwithstanding that he wouldn't have recognized himself anyway, but he looked even less an elf than he imagined possible. He caught himself too late.
Lost in his thoughts, he had stared blankly at the last object of his attention, that object happening to be the farmer's daughter. She had, of course, noticed and apparently taken such as a gesture of affection. He was glad that the trip was almost over. He had no desire to make trouble with the "farmer's daughter" as the proverb told. This "Hill Tavern" is looking more and more appealing every minute.
After just a bit, though, several other wagons roll by, loaded with barrels of other goods and wares, prize winners and record breakers, farmers and their families, all headed for the Faire. AL turned back to his situation just in time to see trouble coming. Olga, if he remembered correctly, had moved considerably closer, and her bashful little look had turned into something far more sinister. This is not good, he thought. Olga tried to whisper something to him but was quickly interrupted.
"So, m'boy," Yanush asked, "what brings you to these parts? You're obviously not from around here, eh?"
Grateful for the rescue, AL responded quickly and shifted positions to distance himself.
"Ah, nossir, I'm not. I'm on a journey of sorts, and I'm to meet my fellow travellers near here."
Yanush expressed his understanding. "Where're you and yer friends headed ta, then, eh?"
"I can't exactly be sure, sir," he replied, thinking back to the last few days and the lifetime lost. "They should know the way," he smiled and caught Olga's eye for a second, Bad move. "I'm just along for the ride, I suppose." Yanush let out a tremendous laugh and startled his daughter, distracting her attention.
AL took the opportunity to his advantage, hopping from the covered cart to the muddy country road, a decision he soon regretted.
"Leaving so soon, m'boy?" Yanush asked, "The inn's just over that hill, eh? I'm sure you could ride a little farther, eh?"
The Elf dashed alongside the slow-moving cart and thanked the man for his kindness, but persuaded him otherwise. AL moved quickly off the miry thoroughfare and waved his goodbyes to Yanush and his family, Olga looking forlornly out the back. He sighed and shook his head, turning to the lively goings-on of the Midyear Faire.
The elf found himself promptly surrounded with people. The crowd seemed to have appeared from nowhere at all, and he did his best to navigate. He encountered a small woman shifting her way through the crowd. She appeared to be asking something, but in all this madness, he could not discern what. She seemed very concerned about whatever it was, and he tried pressing towards her to see if he could be of service. She never noticed.
"Excuse me, sir," she asked, ignored by another busy member of the crowd. "Excuse me," she pleaded again, again refused. "Excuse me, sir," she begged another. The poor woman stood barely high enough to tug his shoulder. "Have you seen my daughter, Annveth, good sir? She was to be ready for the prettiest maiden contest, but she has surely disappeared! Whisked away by some no good shiftless boy, I imagine!" The man quickly dismissed her, tending to his own.
Spotting the elf, she made her way over to him rather hastily, as if the exact image of her supposed perpetrators. Seeing her sour demeanor, he smiled softly, realizing only too soon how much more incriminating that might seem.
"Excuse me," she asked politely, "but do you know my daughter Annie?" She seemed suspicious, at best, but totally convinced of his guilt would have been more accurate. Never, he swore, never will I even glance at another daughter after this day! He bowed politely to avoid her icy stare.
"No ma'am, I'm sorry, but I do not." She didn't appear to trust his answer, though. Never divert your eyes, he reminded himself...from somewhere.
"Are you sure?" she prodded. "She's wearing a blue dress I made myself with a matching ribbon in her hair. She has the most beautiful long brown hair and blue eyes, and I'm sure she'll win." Obviously frustrated, the woman began to glance around and wring her hands, "Oh, where could she be?" Looking back up to him she asked in pure desperation, "Are you sure you don't know her?"
He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and looked deeply into her beautiful blue eyes, truly the eyes of this maid of which she searched.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I assure you, I do not. If I encounter her in my wanderings, I will direct her back to you, you may be sure."
Despite his best efforts, the woman's condition only seemed worsened by his words. She quickly shambled off, calling her child's name in a more feverish attempt to locate the maiden.
Humans, he mused, How confusing.
He continued his way among the booths and carts, savoring the sights and sounds, salivating after the sweet smell of pastries, meats, and pies, staggering with the overwhelming perfumes and, as the wind changed, the stench of the animal pens. He turned his head quickly and covered his nose, catching now the wafted sounds of laughter and joviality. A million brilliant colors, as if a rainbow captured in the ribbons and hems of dancers, flashed and danced before his eye.
Anxious to gain some distance upwind, he meandered in that direction. At one moment, men danced about in short pants, banging sticks to a jovial rhythm. A seemingly spontaneous festival of song drew a number of people, and jugglers and acrobats pleased and taunted the crowd. A sudden roar of laughter caught his attention, and he turned to find puppeteers performing for a large group. Some of the individuals gathered, AL
noticed, wearing bright felt caps of an odd nature, a few graced with beautifully colored feathers. One such young man, a handsome sort, seemed to have quite a healthy following of young ladies, his enemies, all composed of his similar gender, fumed and festered nearby. AL had half a mind to teach the lad a lesson about boasting, but reconsidered. Perhaps, though, Annie's mother might had best searched here first.
An idea sparked in his crafty little mind, a plan to not only show this gigolo a little humility but also to appease a weary mother. Doubtful that the group would have subsided upon his return, he marked the spot in his mind and checked the young ladies over once to see if Annie was among them, adding a surreptitious glance that caught more than one eye. He carried on.
Truly, the sights were many; the diversions plentiful! A strange woman walked from her tent and eyed the crowd. Men and women alike avoided her, either out of respect or in fear, he could not tell, and spoke in hushed and whispered tones. Soon, though, a line had formed outside, and one by one they disappeared into the tent, emerging very sullen and composed. A sign on the side read, "Fortunes Told, Palms Read," and AL wondered at what this woman might have had to say for him. Perhaps his past, instead, but he had no money to spend on such tomfoolery.
In another place, a tall muscular man claimed to wrestle bears for his strength. One of the beasts was brought forth for a demonstration, and the man bested the creature. The crowd was truly amazed, but upon further inspection, it was obvious that its teeth and claws had been removed. The man issued a challenge as the weary animal was taken away.
"I vill wrestle any man for a ten silfer pieces!" the juggernaut screamed at the crowd. "If he can beat me," he snorted, "he vill vin tventy!" The crowd cheered with enthusiasm at the "more than reasonable offer." Many men lined up to best "Boris the Bearman," but AL did not feel like staying for the slaughter. You could beat him, a tiny voice echoed to him, you know how, but he dismissed it, remembering his condition.
As the Elf moved on, someone announced the next four contests. The "Spoon and Egg Race" sounded interesting, to say the least, but "Weight Lifting" and the "Best Sheep" contests didn't seem to spark any interest. He wondered about the "Sack Race," though, trying to figure out how one might race a sack.
He passed a weapon merchant who tried to sell his wares to another potential customer, but the elf turned him down. Many others, both warriors and those that aspired to be, drooled and bartered over the weaponsmith's many implements of destruction. AL remembered the odd dagger concealed in the hilt on his forearm and the surprise of finding it there. Moreover, the amazement and shock he received upon realizing that he had taken it off without thinking and only noticed it when he had trouble with the clasp. He remembered how odd it looked to hold the short hilt in his slender hands but at the same time how natural it was.
He imagined that some of the ancients eyeing the younger with disdain and forlorn could understand his feelings. Many of the old men were scarred or missing limbs, and they gazed upon the merchant and his tools with remembrance and sadness, a virtue AL sorely missed.
He skillfully dodged a number of farmers and their wives hurrying to a nearby cart. A small contingency of dwarves and a single swarthy human were selling furs brought from Numeriador, wherever that might have been. They appeared to be interested in food and goods that would travel well and were willing to barter. A number of people were arguing prices and exchanges with the group. Al moved on, disinterested with the banter, but marked the place in his mind.
He walked a bit farther and spied a pretty young mother and her precious infant, selling cakes and pastries. He paused for a moment and smiled at the child who giggled happily. He almost reached for a coin, but a voice sang out from nearby. Across from the mother's booth, an apothecary sold various elixirs, "good for what ails" and "potions of the heart." He turned back to find the young woman proffering a sample of her goods.
"Would you care to buy a delicious homemade pie, m'lord? Two pence less for a weary traveller?" The sweet melange of odors was almost unbearable, and the elf succumbed to his stomach.
Reaching for his purse, he asked her, "For how much do you ask, m'dear? I am partial to a well-baked cherry tart."
"Na'ry a shilling for a dozen, sir."
"Pray, then, might I give you a six pence for half that number? I would be sore pressed to consume so succulent a treat by my lonesome."
"Why, sir, you are too grateful, of course you may," she replied, blushing, and placed the pastries in a small cloth. She handed the package to the elf, now happily amusing the small child. He thanked her heartily and straightened, fumbling with the folds of the cloth.
Extracting one of his tarts, he asked, "Do you object that I should give one to your child? He does so seem to wish for one."
"As you wish, m'lord, but only if you allow me to give you another."
He declined politely and placed the tart in the infant's tiny hands. The baby squealed with delight and gnawed on the gooey treat.
"Madam, I wish you the best of health to you and your child," he blessed them, bowing. "May Mandos grant you his favor."
She looked at him strangely, as if she was unsure of what he had said, but curtsied politely and turned to another customer. AL continued on his way, popping one of the tarts into his mouth and tying the package off with a leather cord. Something inside of him said that letting the child have the first taste and not accepting another was a safe venture, but he could not see why. Neither could he understand what would have prompted such a line of thought but continued into the Faire, dismissing the notion.
He passed cobblers offering leather and wooden shoes and books, tanners selling hides and skins, various craftsmen of rope and candle, smithies and their wrought iron, the woodcarver's fine finished goods, tables and chairs from the Carpenters Guild, all these things and more filled the bountiful field in which the Faire was pitched. AL found particular interest in the horse traders. He doubted that his meager cache would buy any animal of value, but a common riding horse would do him well on such a journey as he was about to embark upon. He marked the place and walked on, thinking it best to come back once the people's needs had been assuaged.
He had not walked far before he encountered a fight between two men over some young woman. The crowd seems to jeer the two on, as if asking for the inevitable escalation the elf foresaw. Words were exchanged, then shoves, though mostly from the crowd, and one of the men staggered back, a knife planted squarely between his ribs. The unfortunate soul, the elder of the two, grasped at the blade in desperation and disbelief while the other stared in horror.
The blood, the life, poured from his body onto the fresh grass, and the dying man fell to his knees gasping, reaching for his assailant. The other was frozen with fear and the shock of his actions and could do little more than squeak in his helplessness. The crowd had pressed back upon him, and the elf could not see the final death throes of the man, but somehow he could imagine the tortuous writhings as if they were before him.
The crowd parted as the constables come to take the still flabbergasted murderer away. Something about the scene before him now sparked a memory, or a primal bloodlust, or some emotion he couldn't discern. Seeing this corpse lying still in his own blood upon the grass... reminded him of something, but what might a dead human... another inkling crossed his mind, a filthy evil thought of death and destruction. He shook himself quickly and expunged the image. If that was his past let it stay forgotten.
He could still hear the one taken away trying feverishly to explain, "I
didn't mean to kill him, I swear!" The constables shook their heads and told him to face forward. He complied and his fervor faded, "I just wanted to teach him a lesson." From the murmur of the crowd, AL learned that he was the husband of the young woman with the infant selling pastries. They had naught more to say of him aside from his virtues. No one knew who the dead man was.
The elf approached the body but stopped at the edge of the bloodpool. He crouched to look at the man, his horrified expression still cast like a horrid death mask, and wished there was something to be done, but he knew all too well that the man was dead before he reached the ground. How he knew, he was not sure, but he was certain he recognized the wound even having never before seen it.
A elderly individual placed a hand on his shoulder and asked, "Did you know this one, my son?"
AL turned to reply and saw the humble robes of the clergy bound heavily about the man.
"No, father," AL responded, turning back to the corpse, "I did not."
"Well, then," the priest continued, gesturing to his entourage of similar dress, "You'd best leave us to our work."
Three of the larger men bowed deeply and stepped across the crimson threshold, barefoot, into the pool. They began to say the last rites of passage for the soul, as per the custom of the land, as AL looked wearily into the clearing sky. A small wooden sign swung gently in the wind, announcing the remainder of the festivities.