A Confounded Mother
‘Randall. Does she know you? Have you ever met her or Kenny before? Because, if not, it won’t be easy to convince her to leave. Do you want me to accompany you?’ I was glad to see Mikhail get back to his calm self. My multiple assurances had given him ample comfort to move on with the situation at hand.
‘I’m sorry Mikhail, but this is something that I have to do alone. I bear the burden of a secret just as you do. I hope you understand.’ Surely, it seemed that he could work with that. Understanding the position I was in, he gave me an affirmative nod.
‘Here, this should be more than enough to take care of them.’ He handed me a large pouch, full of coins. ‘They’re not used to a harsh lifestyle and suiting their needs out there will cost you an arm’.
‘That’s kind of you Mikhail but I can take care of them. There’s no need for this.’ I offered the pouch back to him. ‘We have more than we need Randall. Even spending 10 bags of gold like this wouldn’t faze us. Listen, they are like my family and their well-being is my responsibility. Let me do my part.’ He smiled coyly.
‘All right, I won’t turn down free money if you’re being so insistent’. I weighed the bag in my palm. ‘And that’s a lot of money. I could buy a dozen horses with all this dough. Well, thanks for that. But I implore you to not let your guard down once I leave. I’m going to try my best to avoid anyone else from coming here but just in case something goes wrong, be prepared. Do not station your men at the town borders. The follow-up squads are a team of three. One or two of them march into the town for inspection while one of them stays outside waiting for their return. In case the mission is busted, the one waiting outside rushes back to base to bring reinforcements.’
Mikhail watched in shock as I described the protocol to him. ‘When did the guild become so meticulous?’ He asked me in awe.
‘We’ve had to change tactics since we banded together again. Before the Knight of Wisdom first nabbed and disbanded our guild, we were quite disorganised and sloppy. That was a good lesson for us to and it drove us to being more careful with our future endeavours. Anyway, in case the follow-up group somehow does show up, furtively send guards in through the forest. You managed to spot me so easily so I don’t expect you to have trouble spotting them either. They won’t be trying too hard to hide as long as they have nothing to hide. The ones waiting for the return for the rest of the party will probably loom around in the forest path. Eliminate them first before ambushing the others inside.’
Mikhail seriously absorbed everything I was offering to him. ‘Are you really okay with this Randall? I know how much you care about them. Your brothers in the guild.’
‘Trust me Mikhail. This is really difficult for me. Never have I wished such a fate upon my brothers but our mission here is larger than their lives. It’s bigger than you and me and we understand that. This is why we are willing to make such sacrifices.’ I hooked the pouch he gave me on my belt. ‘Remember. These men are as skilled as they are sly. Do not underestimate them for regular troopers. Their job is to slip out of the tightest knots. You have a lot of men here but they are all inexperienced. Strategize carefully or it will be the end of this town.’ That made him nervous but he needed to understand the stakes before walking into something like this. He has plenty of men like I stated earlier but the follow-up squad is the best at what they do and a bunch of inept soldiers won’t be much of a problem for them. The odds of them capturing or slaying the squad are quite low so I’ll have to try my best to make sure that it doesn’t go so far.
‘All right Mikhail, I’ll take my leave. I wish you luck for the many uncertainties in the near future. What you are doing here is quite noble and your work has been extraordinary. You’ve played a great role in preserving the last remains of the soul. History will remember you for that deed. I hope for the sake of us that we never have to see each other again. You’re a good man and I’ll ever be grateful to you for trusting me.’
He was quite tired and confused. He didn’t say anything in response but gave me a respectful nod. He walked with me all the way to the inn where Sheena was still tied. I untied her loose and climbed on top of her. Just as I was about to start I saw Wilson Fawk blast out of the entrance of the inn. ‘Hey lad! I see that you’ve met our chief merchant.’ He shouted to me as Sheena slowly walked away.
‘Oh yes Wilson. I was glad to see that my old friend was the maker of this town. See ya later old man’ I waved to him as I left.
‘Oh, he knows you too huh Mikhail! What do you reckon he wants from the Forrests?’
‘Ah, the classic squeeze information out of a drunk man in a bar. You know, you should be the last person to give away free information to a total stranger’
‘He’s seems like a good man Mikky. I’ve met too many people in this lifetime. Judging people is one of the very few things I’m good at. Moreover, I knew that you were next in line to meet him so I didn’t have much to worry about. You know, you seem like you have a lot on your mind. Why don’t you get to work? I’ll go walk this booze off’
The riveting smell of the harvest ready crop filled my lungs with ecstasy. The farmlands were the most beautiful part in this town even though they didn’t look as opulent as the town-centre. The plush scenery was a gift to these eyes of mine that haven’t seen much apart from gloom and despair. After a few minutes of riding it was hard imagining that I spent the last decade in the wastelands. I imagined setting up a cottage on the edge of the town. Tilling and sowing in the morning and relaxing in this paradise in the night. What a peaceful and beautiful life would that be? Why would I ever leave this place again?
The first sight of a carrot farm blew that innocuous dream out of my mind. I came back to the reality which I accepted years ago. A life without sin is not a life of mine. Blood and treachery are my closest friends and a bunch of thieves are what I have for a family. People like me do not deserve a plenteous life like that. It’s for the regular folk who’ve suffered as a result of poor choices made by a puerile king. I don’t deserve that life until I redeem my sins by giving that life to the people first. This is the only way I know that can wash my countless sins away.
“Mirriam and Edward” said the signpost on the fence of the carrot farm. I promised myself that I wouldn’t leave this place without them but I had no clue about what to tell them. How do you explain something like this to anyone? How do you expect someone to leave everything behind at the command of a total stranger? I had no answers to these questions. I didn’t have time to prepare for this so I decided to act on instinct from this point onward.
I knocked the door twice and awaited response. When there was no answer for a while. I knocked again.
‘Wait up Ed! You’re unusually sooner than usual today’ I heard a soft feminine voice come from the inside. It grew louder with every consecutive footstep I heard. ‘Done playing alre….?’ she paused when she saw me.
‘Hello….. Mirriam?’ I asked in a slightly confused tone. Apart from the greying roots of her long and wavy black hair, she looked really young to be a mother of a fourteen year old. The boy certainly got his looks from his mother. A pointy chin, a small but sharp nose and a long neck. The only thing he didn’t inherit were those brown eyes as he had crystal bluish-green eyes. She was in a farmer’s attire and was sweating hard when she opened the door. She quickly wiped her forehead with her sleeve as I greeted her and gave me a smile behind two very confused eyes.
‘I’m Randall, a friend of Mikhail’s. I wanted to talk to you about something and he told me that I could find you here.’ I looked around both ways and asked her ‘Do you mind if I come in?’
She paused for a moment to take it all in but finally caved in. ‘Oh please, do come in.’ She opened the door completely to let me in. I stepped in and followed her to the lounge. The insides of the farmhouse were more elegant than the rough exterior. ‘We’ve never had anyone visit from the outside. I was a bit surprised but then a friend of Mikhail’s is always welcome here. Please, have a seat.’ She offered me a seat on a jute couch in the lounge.
‘Oh no, it’s fine.’ I reluctantly refused. This was not a friendly social visit and I wanted to get to the point really quick. ‘I presume your son isn’t home’
‘Edward? No.’ She responded in a way that defined the impossibility of that scenario. ‘He stays out all day long. He doesn’t get along with the rest of the kids for some reason but he still manages to find something to kill his time.’
I kept looking at her wondering how to break the news. When the silence began taking its toll, she began. ‘So! You wanted to talk to me about something?’
‘Yes!!’ I responded abruptly. ‘Yes’ I said again in a much gentler tone. ‘It’s about your son.’ I could feel her discomfort as soon as she heard that.
‘What is it?’ The spunk had died out of her voice.
‘I met him on my way to the town. I saw him in the forest. I even spoke to him.’ I kept strategizing on how to go on. This was no easy task. Her attention got heavier with every moment of silence. ‘Ma’am, I….. I have good reason to believe that your son might be a soul keeper.’
Her eyes told me how peeved she was at me. A reaction so full of rage and disgust as if I had told the most offensive joke of the century. It probably was. ‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about. You’re saying that my son….. my Edward is a soul keeper?’ She asked me to make sure that that’s exactly what I was implying.
‘Yes.’ I had nothing more to say to her. Nothing safer, nothing more comforting. ‘Yes, I do’
‘Do you understand what you are talking about? Who are you anyway and what makes you think you can just barge into my house and say such a putrid statement?’ Rage quickly seeped into her voice. It was completely understandable.
‘Listen Mirriam. I am Mikhail’s friend. I come from the capital. Not the west. From the mainlands.’ I didn’t have too many words so I had to make every word count. ‘Look. I know it sounds crazy. I can hardly grasp the magnitude of things as I say them. It’s just as shocking to me. I used to know a couple of soulkeepers back when they weren’t an extinct breed. I’ve worked with them long enough to identify a prospect. Believe me. Your son is a prospect’
She rushed to the door. Pointing her hand outwards, she yelled at me. ‘LEAVE!! NOW!!! I won’t listen to another word of this.’
I squeezed my face with my hand thinking of a way to make her listen. I wasn’t going to leave without them.
‘Please. Hear me out Mirriam. This is not a joke. Your son, he’s fourteen right? Just look at the facts. Tell me, when was the last time he was sick?’ Her angry red eyes started to flutter with hints of shock. ‘You must have also noticed his affinity with animals. You must have noticed how they flock around him. He looks like a natural, doesn’t he?’
Just when I was starting to make progress, the kid showed up at the door. Mirriam grabbed by his arm and pulled him into her protective grasp. The scared and confused kid spotted me and a hearty smile cleared up his psyche. ‘Hey mister!’ He exclaimed happily. He then turned to his mother. ‘Hey Ma! Shugu hurt her wing today and was bleeding out. This man saved her life.’
‘Shugu, that pigeon?’ She tried talking normally to not spook the kid out yet.
‘No!! The sparrow’ The way he responded highlighted his disappointment in his mother’s bird-name-remembering skills.
‘Oh, that’s very nice Ed. Listen why don’t you go inside. Just stay there for a while hon. Do not come out till I tell you to. This man will be leaving now.’ The kid didn’t want to go in but she had made it very clear what he had to do. She walked him inside and came to face me again. ‘Listen Mister. I don’t care what you say. You need to leave. Please, just leave and never show yourself to us ever again.’
I bowed my head down. ‘I’m sorry Mirriam. I can’t. I can’t leave here without him.’
Without hesitation she drew her sickle out of her belt. Pointing it towards me, she made her threat. ‘You’re not taking my son anywhere. Leave now and don’t make me use this.’
I raised my hands and faced my palms in her direction signifying that I had no intention to fight, resist or even defend myself, making clear my stance on total surrender. ‘We don’t have much time Mirriam. If we don’t settle this now, things will take a very ugly turn.’
‘What do you mean we don’t have time’ she asked me. She was notably scared. I could make things up so that things tip in my favour but I knew that lying now would only cement bad things for us in the future. I had to be honest and clear about this.
‘I’m a scout for the thieves guild. Some people are going to show up after me so we need to leave before they arrive. Mirriam, you need to get your son to safety before more people find out what he is.’
‘THIEVES GUILD? A THIEF!?’ She walked to me with the sickle on her stretched out arm. She stopped when it was an inch away from my neck. I didn’t shudder and my wide open arms still screamed surrender.
‘You should put that down Mirriam. Even with a sickle in that position, there’s no way you can hurt him. He’s quick and you’re not a person who could ever hurt someone else.’ She and I quickly turned our gaze to the source of the voice which came from the door. It was old man Wilson.
‘Lord Fawk!!’ She uttered in absolute shock. The sickle was still on my throat.
‘Lord? You’re the lord?’ I said, muffled in shock.
Here’s the next chapter : Chapter 5 – The Deadline