Chapter 6 Scene 1

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 21 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Chapter 6: Meetings in Strange Places

“The Dust Plague of 288 was an epidemic of unprecedented magnitude. The deadly spores escaped from the Great Desert first on Merchant Guild wagon trains. They then spread through the Fertile Plains, rapidly carried over Council canals by the same Healers dispatched to help the sick and the dying. Remote Guardian Village was hit even harder, losing nearly half of its population during the outbreak and the harsh Barrier Mountain winter that followed.”

Almanac of the Healers Guild

Devon was at a loss. After leaving the Inn, he had searched most of the village without finding Fronek.

His next thought had been to check the market square. The stall construction there had completed without a moment to spare. The first wagon train of merchants had sent riders ahead to secure positions at the bazaar. The merchants would arrive later that day, surly after days of picking sand from their teeth during the desert crossing. Each would want the best stall they could get and had sent hand-picked riders with coin to get it. Their attempts at bribery would fall on deaf ears though, quite literally. The town’s Seneschal, Old Max, was hard of hearing.

Old Max had run the Guardian Village Bazaar since time out of mind, and he ran it well. The open space from the Market Square to the Town Hall was transformed into an organized grid of merchant stalls. Buyers and factors could be found on the north side of the square, with sellers on the south. Merchants with similar wares were grouped together, and those with larger goods were allotted more show space. The traders were constantly in flux as merchants came and left the bazaar at different times. But somehow, Old Max always managed to keep the event running smoothly.

He was responsible for distributing stall assignments and collecting merchant fees, and he was crafty as only an old trader could be. Once, a trader had sent a mercenary to claim the best stall through bribes and threats. Old Max pretended not to hear the threat, put the bribe in the town coffers, and gave the trader a prominent location in the square, one reserved with special stone markers for powerful traders. He neglected to mention that such innocuous seeming piles of stones were also used by mountaineers to mark landslide territory and unstable ground. The trader didn’t make a single coin and had not returned to Guardian Village since.

When Devon arrived at the Coordinator’s Pavilion, he saw Old Max surrounded by a handful of dusty riders, all clamoring for stall assignments. They must have left the wagon train well before dawn to get here this early.

Devon knew better than to interrupt the Seneschal, so he turned to the merc post. This was a simple wooden signpost, where idle mercenaries and available guards usually gathered to pass the time and wait for assignments. Devon recognized Lorn, a youth two turns his senior. Lorn was a sometime guide in the summer, though he took far fewer assignments than Devon did. The boys were friends whenever their paths crossed.

Lorn’s father was a town guard when there was need of one and huntsman when there wasn’t. His mother had died in dust plague that took Devon’s family. The older boy often went into the Barriers with his father on extended trips, where he learned his father’s trade.

Devon had heard from a few of the caravan leaders that Lorn was a fair guide, though not as good as Devon. He also knew from the handful of mock sparring matches they had shared that Lorn was the better blade.

“Lorn! I haven’t seen you in few quints. Are you taking merc assignments now?”

“Nah. Jes’ thought I’d stan’ here case this post falls doon.” Lorn’s broad accent had been hard to understand when they first met, but it was familiar now. The older boy’s smirk quickly deteriorated into an infectious grin as Devon joined him. The two boys were of similar heights, though Lorn was perhaps a finger width taller than Devon. The similarities ended there.

Lorn had sandy brown hair that would have curled into ringlets if he didn’t keep it cropped short to his head all the time. Devon’s fine hair was very light and shot through with tones that changed subtly depending on the season and time of day.

Though Lorn was still a boy in many ways, his shoulders were already broadening as his frame filled out. The outline of the warrior within him was beginning to emerge. Devon was willowy by comparison. Though he might one day exceed Lorn’s height, he would always be lean and wiry.

Both boys were clever and resourceful, traits required for rough survival in the Barriers. Their similarities made them acquaintances. Their differences made them friends.

“Is your father going out with you?”

Lorn shook his head, his eyes shining. “Da’ says I’m ready for me own run. E’s at the inn til’ I set out.”

Lorn’s excitement was as contagious as his smile. “That’s great! Fronek has agreed to take me as an apprentice this season. Maybe we’ll work the same wagon train!”

“Thas’ jes’ gran’ Devon! Fronek’s a right battler! Me an’ Da’ saw ‘im thes marnin’ on our way inna’ town.”

“Did you? I’ve been looking for him all morning! Where did you see him?”

Lorn thought a moment, looking skyward and scratching his chin. “Twas quite early ye know. We was comin’ inna the village from up Blackspire way, ye ken? ”

Devon nodded. “The dark peak up on the northwest ridge?”

“Thas’ the spot. Good game runnin’ there this harves’. Da’ says bes’ season in ‘turns. We jes’ come down to get me firs’ merc job, then Da’s back to the ridge.”

“Did you run into Froneck in the north section of the village then?”

Lorn shook his head quickly. “Nah. A quarter league out on the northwest trail, jes’ after sunrise.”

That was puzzling, but it explained why Devon hadn’t been able to find Fronek in the village this morning. “Thanks Lorn. I’ll see you around. Tell your father I said hello.”

Devon nodded to Old Max, who barely acknowledged him, as he left the market square. Perhaps Fronek had returned from his morning activities. Even if he hadn’t, Mabel might have some advice. As he headed back toward the inn, one question loomed large in his mind. What had Froneck been doing on the trail to the old homesteads?

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