< Return to It’s a Trap! Part 3
Oh my goodness, I completely forgot to post yesterday!
Errr… there is no man behind the curtain!
“Come with me.”
“Why should I?!”
Jeremiah stabbed the crackling logs within the fire pit. A swirl of embers twisted upwards, dancing briefly like small fireflies before burning their little bodies out in a bright flash of light and heat.
Jeremiah lifted the lid of the pot suspended over flames. The fresh squash was beginning to cook nicely and the heady scent of herbs filled his nostrils. He stirred the mashed vegetable with a long ladle, hopeful to not burn it to the bottom this time.
Keirn sat at the table, still dressed in his travelling garb. The shadows from the fire played across his eager face, ringing an almost hungry expression in his eyes. But it was not food that his friend sought. There was something else behind his sudden return and Jeremiah was suspicious of some further play behind his request.
“I have to wonder over your insistence in remaining here,” Keirn said, thrumming his fingers against the table. “It must be awfully lonely now.”
Jeremiah turned towards the pegs by the front entrance. Most lay empty now. His brothers and sister had long since moved out, having met spouses of their own and having houses of their own to tend. The only cloak that didn’t belong to him had remained unmoved upon its peg for quite some time now. And yet, even though its owner was never coming back to claim it, Jeremiah couldn’t find the motivation to throw it away.
And it wasn’t particularly out of some grander fondness for his mother. He liked her well enough, but to him she had been a bit of a tyrant. The youngest of four and the third brother to boot, he offered little to the household and his lineage other than another mouth to feed long after his mother cared for rearing young.
At least, young at his age. She was far fonder of babies than children and the moment his brothers started having some, any positive attention Jeremiah hoped he could still get was quickly transferred to them.
But despite her growing neglect of her own child, Jeremiah still remained in her home even after her very health began to leave. And when the gods came to claim what was left of her, that cloak remained. Jeremiah had such plans for it, but any time he took it from its hook the empty void it left just came to reinforce how quiet the house had become.
“I have plenty here,” he said, stubbornly stoking the fire. “Master Beadell says that my training has been coming along really well lately.”
“Master Beadell is old and senile. The old fart is lucky if he can remember which foot to properly put in his slippers.”
“All the more reason for me to tend the apothecary. And maybe in a few years he’ll name me…”
“Name you what? His successor? He keeps forgetting his wife is dead! I’m pretty certain that place is going to his son and no matter how many years you put in it won’t change that fact.”
“Look, not all of us can just abandon everything we know to wander off into the horizon on some silly sense of adventure. Some of us have people we care about. And people that care about us!”
“I know you and Amber are through,” Keirn said flatly.
“What? But how-”
“Well she’s hardly here tending to your hearth,” Keirn said, pointing at the pot now giving off a steady stream of blackened smoke. Jeremiah cried out, leaping to the flames and dragging the smoking pot away between a pair of large iron tongs. “Also, I saw her earlier with Cairen behind the temple in a most… how do you say… un-priestess like fashion. That girl does seem to have quite a fire in her, though. She should really have worshipped a Vanir.”
Jeremiah dropped the pot on the table, cursing as he quickly removed the lid. He wetting his scorched fingers as he surveyed the damage. Keirn leaned forward, pulling the nape of his cloak out of the way as he inspected the contents.
“Don’t worry, I prefer meat anyway. And it’s not like we could have bundled that up to go.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“Have you not listened to a word I’ve been saying?!”
Keirn waved his hand.
“Those are just lingering doubts. Everyone has them. Come, it’ll be exciting!”
“I can’t leave the house unattended.”
“Sure you can. Just inform my mother. She’ll keep an eye on it. It’s not like she has anything better to do.”
Jeremiah shook his head at his friend’s blatant disregard for anyone’s feelings.
“There’s nothing for me out there. Everything I want is here, in this village. I still don’t see why you need anyone to go with you. Or why you left the Academy in the first place.”
“The student life isn’t for me,” Keirn dismissed. He leaned forward. “Look, Jere, I need you. I need you to do this for me.”
“Well… because… because…” Keirn looked about the small room for some answer. But there was nothing in the humble dwelling to assist him. A simple hearth filled the space between the larder and the large table. A small cleaning basin was set to the side and was surrounded by various drying herbs cultivated from the tiny garden in the back. Across from them lay Jeremiah’s apothecary supplies – the tools and containers he’d been stocking up with his pay from the rare peddler that stopped in the village. Finally, a large straw bed lay before the stairs that descended into the small cellar where most of the food and wine was stored.
“Haven’t you always wanted more. More than this?”
Jeremiah lifted a careful amount of squash to his lips, testing to see if any of it was salvageable.
“Not even once? Never have you woken from your sleep and turned over to see the separator between you and your mother’s bed thinking that there was more to life than this useless little village and its useless little routines? What life really remains for you here: one of endlessly toiling at a business that will never be yours, waiting for some lovely maiden to walk by to come and warm your bed in the hopes that perhaps in her arms you’ll find some solace that lets you sleep?”
“Why do you even care!” Jeremiah shouted, tossing the ladle angrily towards the water basin. He thundered to his feet, stomping back to the hearth and upending the contents of the pot into the fire.
“Because… unlike this unsympathetic village… I need you.”
Jeremiah turned towards the other man.
“You having a laugh?”
“No, I mean it.” Keirn’s voice grew soft – almost vulnerable. “I can’t do this on my own.”
“At the Academy, we were taught to recognize the limits of ourselves. I know I can be a little… brisk and that sometimes my actions may need a more moderating hand. I’m no valiant knight, Jeremiah. But you, however – you are.”
He looked up at his friend, the flames reflecting brightly in his eyes.
“You care and that is a powerful thing. People see that in you and that can be a great strength. With a little refinement and a little direction you can be the very thing people look up to. The person people turn to when in need. A kind face whose honour holds him to a higher calling than the petty schemes of the rest of us rabble.”
Something stirred within him at those words.
“You really think so?”
“Of all the village it was you who spoke to me in the glade. All the other children were content with calling me names or throwing rocks at my head. Adults turned a blind eye or sneered when I passed. But not you – you sought me out even after I mocked you and turned you away. Day after day you came, sitting on that rock despite what I did. Even when I sought further refuge, you came and you waited.”
Jeremiah felt his face flush at the memory.
“How did you know?”
“Because I didn’t leave. I stayed in the trees. I… wanted to know if you’d still come even if I had left.”
Keirn stood, crossing the room and resting a hand on Jeremiah’s shoulder.
“I need you Jere, because you’re the only friend I have in this rotted village or anywhere else. Come with me and leave this empty place behind.”
That night, Jeremiah went into the basement. Behind barrels of stored cheeses and pickled vegetables was one particular chest. It was covered in dust and cobwebs, abandoned in the darkest spot. Abandoned but not forgotten. Jeremiah fiddled with the rusty latch, finally opening the lid with a terrific groan.
Inside lay an old sword and a suit of worn armour. Jeremiah stared at those treasures of a man he’d never remembered. A man his mother refused to speak of and whose last belongings his siblings shun. Jeremiah took that suit and sword back upstairs and spent the rest of the evening checking the straps and latches and polishing the metal.
The next morning he greeted his friend, shifting uncomfortably beneath the unfamiliar weight of the strange metal suit and shouldering a bag filled with what little belongings he couldn’t leave behind.
But even from the start, Keirn hadn’t been truthful. They met a strange bard shortly after: a resident of one of the further villages. Shortly after that, a woman with familiar brown hair and even more familiar features came running after them down the dirt trails.
Continue to It’s a Trap! Part 5 >
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