A Mist on the River
Farahail takes his patrol mid-morning rather than at noon. He’s troubled. Rathmur is competent enough to ferret out a ruse, and the young watch captain wonders if the sergeant already suspects his clandestine operations. Well, now, go on and on about that! Because Farahail is not a bad man, despite what he does is illegal. It’s not like he’s hurting anyone ― he and his comrades. Farahail owns a tailor shop in addition to his duties as the watch captain and, as such, is subject to the merchant taxes levied by the Cor Brethil Council. All trade goods are taxed heavily. He can only afford his stock if he, well, engages with … smugglers. He can doctor the books, yes, and he can subtly misguide the Watch from making out where those operations are … but …
Ghost on the river? So even his best attempt is being espied by the town drunk! Damn Adbur!
So, he’ll have to make one more run tonight, and then Farahail considers he’ll need to make new choices. He’ll lock Adbur up on some trumped up charge ― drinking in public ― and then let it go at that. That won’t be too difficult a task, and besides, it’ll keep eyes off the river for this last sortie. He likes that word: sortie. It’s a battle in a besieged city! Farahail’s tailor business is a besieged city, and Rathmur ― his boss ― is the enemy.
Ah, now, no terrible thoughts sent in Rathmur’s direction. Farahail, pulling out a feltweed pipe for the walk, gives time to ponder. Rathmur is crusty. Crusty as all-get out, but he’s a good man at heart, despite his hatred of the Eastrouns. Too many of the older Tinney-Towners are prejudiced. But, maybe one can’t blame them; tribal raids were common years back. Even Maegluin the Adansidhe, or so the Osgerithians liked to remember their once and only king, had dedicated his life and rule in extricating Eastrouns from the wide grasslands of the Adaán. There was a battle not too far away from here, Farahail is thinking, where Osgerithian blood was spilled.
There ― see that? There are two Eastroun men at the corner fishmonger, bartering peacefully! And Farahail knows that Rathmur would’ve found reason to harass them if he’d taken the mid-morning patrol instead. Farahail won’t. It’s a nod of the head and a plod-plod-plod down to the docks where Adbur should be slogging about with a bottle of ale.
Farahail stands there among the fishermen and the goodwives, disappointed because the dockworker is nowhere to be seen. Adbur must be laid up still, in his dirty little shack, recuperating from the night before.
This might prove harder than Farahail has imagined.
Coming down the track from the docks, Rathmur’s sure it’s going to be another cool misty night. Pretty, and there’s no doubt about that! His poetic son could dream up a willowy-wispy-wimpy rhyme for certain. Faeries in the gloaming, playing tag with fireflies! At least Indir likes women. At least. And now Rathmur’s glad indeed that his son’s not of the other persuasion ― you know ― like those snooty and smirky touchie-feelies who haunt the bardic troupes in Cor Brethil! Rathmur doesn’t like them. They’re as bad as Eastrouns. Buggerers, and always on fire about banning blades and crossbows from frontiersmen because they are dangerous in urban settings or some such.
There’s Farahail, coming up the far track now, right through the middle of town. It looks like he’s intent on something … ah! Adbur is skulking on the far side of the palisade, drinking. Cat and mouse, mouse and cat. Why would Farahail care? No one tossed in drunks for drinking, unless they were causing a ruckus.
Rathmur steps back and hides around the corner of Lathir’s Bread Shopp ― missing an “e” on that. Poor guy, Lathir. He’s spent quite a sum on that sign, but he and his daughter are good people. The daughter, Jerrae, is rather plain, but she’s dutiful and obedient ―
―There goes Farahail now in full pursuit of the drunken dockworker. Caught him! Rathmur can’t understand for the life of him why the Watch Captain is so intent on arresting Adbur. Yes, the dockworker’s drunk, in public! He’s always drunk! Adbur’s been drunk since age fifteen! No one gives a never-mind on that law. So, there they go now, off to the guard tower.
Rathmur shakes his head. He doesn’t care. Farahail is being overzealous, but he’s doing his job. You can’t fault the man for doing his job.
From off his back he takes the crossbow and holds it up and gives it a sharp eye.
If there’s a smuggler sneaking across the river at night, Rathmur will catch the filthy, swarthy smuggler on the water. Let him run! Yes, there’s no way the Sergeant of the Watch will allow his quarry to escape for the far banks.
That’s why he stops by Lyana the Apothecary, because she has a few deadly salves that are commissioned by the woodsmen to take down the ornery buck or brown bear. A dab of these on the tip of the crossbow quarrel will be enough to take down any man.
Rathmur finds himself hated at dusk. It begins with a row with his wife, Alma.
“He needs your guidance! Your love!” She argues.
“Indir doesn’t need guidance! He needs to learn obedience. I will not have my son seeing a swarthy-skinned Eastroun savage,” he yells.
“What about Ritae?” Alma parries. “Why is it that no one can leave the house after nightfall? No No No! That’s all you say anymore!” So ― it doesn’t go over well at all.
“Ritae and her friends ― don’t get me started on those two little miscreants! Always up to talking about boys and kissing and who knows what else.” Hrmmph! His daughters.
“They want to sort pre-dyed wool for the festival,” Alma tells him, her chubby face all red like an overgrown radish. “And Kel wants to ride her pony for the sunset!”
“There’re dangers afoot.”
Rathmur tosses a bah! in her direction. Alma herself needs to meet with the Tinney-Town Wives League over who knows what women get on about, but at this point he’s not listening to her.
He forbids them all to leave because he knows there’ll be trouble tonight and besides, those smugglers ― what if they’re worse than he fears?
The man rules the castle and the man levies the law. That’s the way it’s always been and how it should be! And now Rathmur must do what he needs to do because the Town Elders won’t erect the Great Fence to keep out the world. So he takes his poison-tipped weapon out into the misty night to do what has to be done.
The shadows and the mist are deep, and they greet him somberly as Rathmur takes the path out toward the docks. No one is about. The walk from the home to the Council Stores is silent, save for the quiet thud-thud-thud of his boots.
You can be a practical man and still keep an open mind, Rathmur believes. A flitting shadow, whiter than the high river mist, once glided down the broken path from the old tumbledown watch tower ruins that the Adansidhe himself had erected over a hundred years ago. The King! And let’s sing a forgotten song to Maegluin, the Eastroun Crusher! The King. Now, those were the days. A conservative man could keep a positive line on who was what and who was not.
Yet Rathmur himself had seen that old ghost. Once, during a long walk on a gray winter’s day, the shade coming to the town, sidestepping the frozen pools of a late rain. Sidestepping! As if it was still alive! A quiver of arrows to his back, and the slender yew bow in his phantom hands! Rathmur had wanted to say something, thinking it’d been one of his men, but the armor was all different. And the wraith faded in a brief shaft of sunlight as quickly and as silently as it had come.
Yet, he’d be damned now to think that what plagued drunken Adbur had been such a shade!
He looks up. There are children giggling and playing as they near the Speaker’s home. Ragamuffins, dressed in the browns and tan colors common to their working parents. Long hair, as curly and rustic as the far woodlands, top their mischievous heads.
“You there!” Rathmur shouts in the gruffest voice he can muster. “Get you home.”
They run away, of course, because Rathmur’s word is law. His own children are often disrespectful; what’s a man to do in these harsh and disrespectful times?
He will do what it takes, Rathmur thinks.
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3 thoughts on “A Mist on the River”
Wow. What a story! More from this writer, please!
I was drawn into the story, first by the dark and sinister mood that the author evoked, then by the characters, and their realistic personalities and their all-too familiar feelings and prejudices.
The deepening suspense built up gradually, not just with physical descriptions of the setting, but also through the development of the characters and their conversations, kept me reading. I knew something was coming, but I didn’t know what.
Love the voice in this!
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