A Mist on the River
“Ho there!” It’s the clothes washer on her night errand; it looks to be at least ten large baskets of dirty and soiled linen from those who can afford to pay her.
“Ho and back!”
“Are you looking for Farahail? He came up this way about an hour past.”
He gives her a parting wave. If he stays too long with her, she’ll gossip his ears off …
“He asked to borrow my husband’s skiff,” Sedrah calls after him. “Don’t you guardsmen have your own skiffs?”
Rathmur turns around. “He borrowed your husband’s―”
“Aye, and with no much of a thank you in the process! Flint will want it a’fore daylight. I’ve got four children to feed.”
Odd, and it makes him think. Farahail would have no business after hours with a skiff anyway, not without Rathmur’s leave. Ah, but, now, there’s no never mind with all of that! Rathmur will ask the young Watch Captain what he was up to at first light and it’ll be done.
And then it hits him. Is Farahail tracking smugglers? Certainly he’s not patrolling for damn Eastrouns swimming across the river! There’s a five hundred silver bounty on each of those smugglers’ heads and possibly a promotion!
By the time the sergeant has come to the dock storehouses, he spitting mad. So! Farahail is edging on Rathmur’s investigation! The young tailor-turned-watch-captain would usurp his superior’s position!
He leans against the overhang stanchion and adjusts his crossbow. The mist has risen so thick it’s like a ghost itself, creeping out of the dark water. Ah, Rathmur tells himself, there’s no way that the young pup will bag any one of them smugglers tonight without the help of a good crossbow and a dose or two of Lyana’s salve. There’ll be a row tomorrow morning, then. An all-out smack-about.
He hunkers down, crossbow at his side.
This isn’t good. Or is it? This is the exact place where Adbur has seen his phantom. The Tinney-Town docks are the only best place to make a landing if one is transporting wares, unless, of course, they must go against the current and try Sirion way, way up north. That’s just silly, Rathmur thinks. If so, then the smugglers wouldn’t be his problem! They would be the problem for those sidhe people. Sirion elves.
The light-skinned one
Flitting between shadow and moon
The sidhe people run
From misty glen and doon
Rathmur smiles, despite his mood. It’s an old lullaby from his long-gone childhood. His wife has sung it softly to their own children. The “doon” in this instance refers to the enchanted foothills and the rolling grasslands of the Adaán.
And the shadows are moving now, far out on the water. A hooded and cloaked figure upon the water. Adbur’s ghost?
It is solitary: a black black black pinnacle wrapped in midnight. It glides without movement, and there’s no light to slash through the night and illuminate the darkness enshrouded where the face should be.
Rathmur, despite his self-assurances, can’t act. The gliding apparition is a statue above the waist-high river mist, but even its solid shadow does nothing to make it feel more earthly. No torchlight ― how could a smuggler find his way in the dark? And a crick crick crick of something unseen and―
―No distinctive plodding of a pole in the water as there should be!
He’s about to jump up with his weapon when the far shadow comes to a full stop some yards from the dock. He’s been seen! The goose is caught! The shadow on the river, which has been up until that moment rock-still, whirls about and begins to haul on a line to pull itself back across the river!
That is how the bastard’s doing it! He’s using a tethered line to move his skiff back and forth across the river! That’s why there’s no plodding of an oar or pole! Rathmur, happy by this disclosure, confidently shouts out.
“Ho and come back, fool!”
Yet, he doesn’t want the shadow to do that. He wants an excuse to bring it low.
The cloaked figure lets out a frenzied squeal, and the skiff moves faster away.
Rathmur thinks this is the way he prefers it! He’ll put the Eastroun smuggler down rather than worry about him languishing in a stock! Ah hah!
The crossbow clicks, and the tight cable goes twang! A muffled cry comes from the cloaked ghost, and it falls forward on the skiff.
Triumphant, Rathmur searches the stanchion and moorings for the ending line. There! Brilliant, of the smuggler, if one would want to give one of those dirty, dark-skinned bastards any praise. Rathmur hauls on the line.
“My love my love!” ― From the mist. A young woman’s heavily accented voice. An Eastroun?
Rathmur pauses to light up the fishing torch from the barrel so he can see what he’s doing. At this time the line comes in quickly, but the woman’s voice ― frantic at first ― is now sobbing.
There, now, pulled from the mist, Rathmur can see two figures in a low punt, both hooded and cloaked. Smugglers. Eastroun smugglers ― just as he’s figured! Now he’ll make short work of the woman if she makes at him, but…
…She doesn’t. She is sobbing over her fallen comrade. When Rathmur moves to see better, she throws back her hood, revealing a young, dark-brown face.
An Eastroun girl.
A lightning jolt smashes and crashes his insides. Rathmur jumps aboard the punt, nearly capsizing it. He pulls back the hood of the fallen one.
Indir, as neatly as you please!
Indir, the brash, the rash, the rebellious, the lover, the foolish, who braved the river mist to see his Ebart against the wishes of his father. Dead, now, dead as the air around them.
At once the dullness of the hour, when shadows creep along ghostly illuminated avenues, where once a goodwife may pass with a basket of bread and a secret smile on her lips, where somber the glow of few windows of content houses stream to touch the barrenness of cobblestones below, the touch of wispy fingers from the outer reaches come to caress scattered pools, because the night has been weeping.
The haunting memory clings to the streets of Tinney-Town as the morning mist arises from the river and the hills beyond the town. And these hills, trodden and scarred as reclining and battle-wearied warriors with lines of roads and trails; white and feathery comes this mist after quiet dawns, blanketing the moist ground underneath light cirrus clouds ― full themselves of wispy dreams and dank shadows of light. And later, in the still autumn rains upon the steep roofs of the town, the clouds will scatter those dreams and drown them in dark pastures.
One might feel the docks, where the ancient Aramdoreans of Osgerith once looked up at the hills, which could, at times, hide or show the Great Bear or the Dragon.
Then beyond the crest of the hills and toward the flat riverlands, one could see Tinney-Town outspread in the gloaming; bright Tinney-Town with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimneys, labyrinths of steep, crooked streets, the majestic spire of the windmills, scattered and tossed wharves and small bridges, willow trees and the somber barrows. Antiquity hovers on gray wings over the autumn-brightened thatch and gambrel roofs; fanlights and small-paned windows gleaming outward in the dark hour to join mother Drillae and her ancient constellations. And far away, against the rotting docks, near the curvy and abandoned avenues, the river flowed; the secretive, great water that came from the far Hithalarmir Mountains, out of which the people of Osgerith had come in olden times.
When it has all gone now behind him, and once again his course is focused now ahead, Adbur floats his skiff on the misty water.
There’s no mistaking it as the rain deadens and the night pulls close; a faint ker-plunking, from the darkness of the far bank reaching now his ears. He tightens his hold on the pole. Then, as he passes the outcropping of rocks ahead, the dockworker feels his heart quicken when the shadows of strange beings move silently across the water.
He doesn’t look at them.
M Cid D’Angelo has been writing since he was very young, after finding a cache of books left behind by a previous tenant in the attic of his home and an old Royal Electric Typewriter in his bedroom closet. An eclectic writer, the author applies his pen to any genre that strikes his muse, from literary short stories, horror, science fiction, even historical and fantasy. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a U.S. Navy veteran, but owns his knowledge of the written word mainly due to extensive reading. Throughout the years, his writing has been published in various print and digital magazines and literary journals. His horror novel, Dead Reckoning, was published by J Ellington Ashton Press and was a Top 10 Finisher for Best Horror Novel of 2015 (Critter Awards).
Featured image via TSG Pictures, Pixabay
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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