|artwork by the lovely and talented GereaKaye|
But he had to admit, that this visage was certainly one of wonder and awe. No one had used the "road to eternity" for at least 40 years. New roads had been commissioned by the King and the law which included travelling passes were enforced by the magistrate. The new crossroad was more that a days ride from where he was right now and none, save those with special permits, were allowed to travel this way. Not since the youngest prince of the realm and his all 23 of his men had disappeared on this very spot, without a trace, except for one sword twisted beyond the strength of 10 men into what could only be described as a puzzle piece and a note saying, "there will come a time for payment". But not one word had been heard in 40 years, and so here Almone was in the exact middle of the ancient crossroad with a permit, waiting for a man, he had never met.
The hair on the back of Almone's neck prickled and he saw goose flesh fall down his arms as he dismounted his horse and tethered her to a rein ring, one of several at the side of the crossing on a tall tree that had been felled for that very purpose. Then a thought came to his mind. Why would a place that hasn't been used in decades not have the kind of overgrowth he had experienced on the trails along his path to this crossroads? This was more than odd. The area for 50 meters on each side of the exact crossing was well manicured, as though someone had taken the care to make it look well used but beyond that 50 meters the area was overgrown with flowers, herbs, bushes as well as small trees.
He looked at the sun and realized he had at least and hour before he was to meet the person he had been tasked to fetch. So ignoring the mounting uneasiness in his chest, he got some bread and a jug of wine from his saddle bag and found a shady spot, created by his horses shadow and took advantage of the down time.
Almone sat on the ground, tore the bread in half, and began pondering. This was just his luck to have been in the house kitchen when the master had come looking for someone to go on this journey. If only he had gone to the stables first, then someone else would be out here in the middle of nowhere. Of course he was always in the wrong place at the wrong time according to his shrew of a mother. She took any and all opportunities as he was growing up to tell him that he was the worthless third child of a no good gambler. That statement, as he grew to be a man, didn't make him feel bad for himself as it had when he was a child, but for his father because he couldn't have been a very lucky man to have gotten that shrew pregnant not just 3 but 5 times. He laughed out loud and startled the horse. She voiced her objection to his interruption of her grazing with a stomping of her hooves.
As he looked at her he saw what could only be explained as little lights flashing in the woods. He slowly drew his blade and held very still. As he watched, the lights one by one faded away. The woods were dark and the birds were still singing, so he thought himself just a reactionary giving into some of the tales of hauntings and strange happenings that he had heard back at his masters manor. Almone dismissed the lights as nothing more than his vivid imagination. He would go on a walk as soon as he finished his food and drink, head in the direction of the flashes of light and investigate.
Once again he became distracted and pondered. Why would his master need a tailor from the other side of the kingdom? There was no event or ball in the coming months that would require any new clothing, at least not to his knowledge. Maybe his master's daughter had finally accepted a marriage proposal. But that would only require a dressmaker, not a tailor. And not just any tailor was expected shortly but the finest one in the kingdom, except that of the the Kings staff of course.
His brother Amos worked in the King's palace as an assistant pastry chef. Almone himself hoped he would be able to find work in the city of the palace after his apprenticeship had ended so that he and Amos could at least see each other. The rest of the family had scattered after the latest raid on their coastal home. Inland was the only safe place to live now. Almone had no idea where his older sister, and younger brother were. He assumed they were with his mother but no one knew. His oldest brother Alphonso had been killed in the last war. That's how his mother and siblings managed to live on their own, because they received his brothers soldier's pension. As far as his father, he hadn't seen him since he was 12. Just as well, he really was just as his mother had railed, a no good, nare do well, with a bad temper when he drank, which was all the time.
Almone finished what he wanted of his provisions, wrapped them up, stood and put them back into the saddle bag.
As he turned towards the crossroad, he saw a huge cloud of dust appear on the horizon in the direction from which he expected the tailor to arrive and then suddenly a burlap bag was yanked over his head, a strange acrid smell met his nostrils and then blackness.
Yes, it is that time of year when I start thinking of spookiness and mysterious happenings. So I have written a short story and hope you will enjoy it as it plays out over the next few weeks.
Smooches and Squoozes, Oma Linda