Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Three

Chapter Three

In the courtyard, on a stone bench, another patient sat calmly, looking around blankly at other people and humming softly to himself. He was squat but slim with a hollow quality to most of his features. His hair was brown so light it was almost blonde, his eyes green, and a small, neatly trimmed beard circled his mouth. He had enough control over himself that he could maintain his facial hair with an electric trimmer-- under supervision, of course. He never complained about being watched like a child.

Now, sitting on his bench, he continued his humming, the one thing he did constantly. His professional background in music still showed through in his mannerisms: constant noisemaking, either hums or whistling. Sometimes it was Mozart or Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky or Bach or Wagner, or even Webern or Berg although no one wanted to be around him when he whistled the noise they called music. But sometimes, when he whistled something and was asked what it was-- a question he always answered in detail-- he would simply respond, “Mine,” and go on with it. He had once been a composer and music teacher for a college two towns over from Ighosia Falls.


Draegon had come into Necras two days before the official onset of the Search, planning to perform at the ceremonies, or at least on the street corners if he couldn’t get onto the official center-of-attention platform in the center of town. There were prizes for the best musicians and storytellers, especially for the best telling of the legends involving the renowned sword. On the day of the official onset, the contests began at noon. He had already added his name to the lists of storytellers, but he had yet to get up and tell his chosen tale; the tellings would go on late into the night. In the meantime, he had already made a decent handful of coins just from playing his hand dulcimer on a street corner.

People tended to walk wide of him in the crowds, at least once they registered what he was. He knew it was because of his hair. Only the Keidenelle had hair any shade lighter than golden-brown-- excepting the white and grey that came with age, of course-- and his was whitish yellow, marking him as one of the uncivilized nomads that wandered the land, brutalizing and robbing whatever people they came across. Even with him alone, and dressed as well as any successful bard, and acting and speaking just like any civilized person, the people avoided him. If no one else noticed, at least he knew he was not a savage, although he didn’t like to think about what he had to go through to become civilized.

A man on one street corner stood on a small wooden box, shouting advertisements for the menagerie, Jonal Keffinen’s Traveling Sights of Wonder. Had he not been standing on the box, he still would have been tall. He had a semi-tamed mop of black hair, a slightly crooked nose, and blue eyes that missed nothing. He looked like a man used to spotting trouble in a crowd. He spoke easily and cheerfully and with many grand gestures of the arms, and frequently stopped his advertising to banter amiably with a passerby. Draegon knew this man; he was Jonal Keffinen himself, the owner of the menagerie. He tried to step wide around him, but his own height and the fact that his pale hair marked him out in a crowd worked against him. He almost felt the moment Jonal’s eyes fell on him, and the shout came aimed right at his shoulder. “That’s my property! Stop him! Guards! Stop him!”

Just as suddenly as with the man on the balcony and the woman in the common room, the musician’s behavior changed. He jumped up and shouted at the tp of his lungs and darted away from the bench, running at top speed across the courtyard, through the flowerbeds, and even plowing through people milling about.

“I’m no man’s property!” Draegon dared to shout back before breaking into a run, careful to keep hold of his instrument cases so they didn’t wind up lost or damaged. He pushed his way through the crowd; suddenly they no longer wanted to part for him. He cursed the days he had worked for Keffinen in the Traveling Sights. Those days were years gone, but they still haunted him. He cursed under his breath. He was no savage to be displayed anymore, no attraction to be viewed by gawking patrons for a few measly coins he would not see so much as a penny of. Not anymore. He was going to preserve his freedom even if it meant running.

One of those he ran into was another patient, a mild-mannered and constantly sad woman with dark hair and almost purple eyes.

Before he could slow down or turn, he barreled headlong into a merchant’s wagon, throwing what looked like some rather expensive-looking porcelains and mechanical toys into the road, breaking them into pieces on the stone road upon impact. His momentum halted, he couldn’t help but make eye contact with the dark-skinned and dark-haired woman sitting atop the wagon. Rich azure eyes stared into his, seeming to delve into his core.

“Someone caught you and tamed you young, didn’t they?” she said, sounding more amused than he was comfortable with. Too out of breath to reply, he gave her an apologetic look before beginning his run again.

The salt-and-pepper policeman took it on himself to stop the ruckus, running through the halls and plowing over people himself to get at the running musician.

More and more he ran through the crowd, plowing past people and mumbling out-of-breath apologies whenever he could. The crowd seemed to be thickening around him. Jonal Keffinen’s condemning shouts still followed him, ringing in his ears and threatening a cage again. He refused to let his screaming legs rule him and make him slow; the crowd was making him go slowly enough.

He ran headlong into a solid wall, and arms wrapped around him immediately, keeping him from continuing his sprint. A guard looked down at him, stern face glaring and accusing. “You’ve been called before Lady Ara of Melistrat.”

The crowd around him was silent. All eyes were on him and the guards; a wide empty ring had opened up around them. Three guards-- that was what they had sent to capture him.

“Mother punish that damned Jonal Keffinen,” he muttered under his breath. Whatever punishment the Mother sent to him would be too good, he decided as the guard holding him released him from the tight bear’s hug he’d had him in and marched him towards the largest building edging the plaza. Behind him, another guard called, “Anyone else who is involved with this man, come before Lady Ara.”

Draegon could hear both the sound of wagon wheels-- the merchant woman’s cart-- and Jonal Keffinen’s slimy voice trailing after him.

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