“If I told ye I weren’t a danger would ya come down off yer horse and share this fire and food with me?”
Ohern stopped shimmer. The Old man’s fire was close to the road. His tarpin stretched neatly over a well made Too. His fire ignored the rain and bubbled the contents of a small kettle they both tried to looked into, the old man stirring.
Ohern looked beyond the man, then back down the road behind him. It was a slow climb up Eyegard and no business in the coming or the going. For all the beauty of these hinterlands none traveled here anymore save witches and wild dogs. The rain held its own fear of rushing feet. He no longer felt its cold, he couldn’t but he heard its promise, a whisper of harm to him. He considered the man because he could consider nothing else in the downpour he would not be creating himself and so he told himself the threat in his mind was distant as he did so many years ago. He looked over the old man’s pitch. Those were old ties on the tarpin, magics would miss that. He didn’t like that the man did not make him as a marauder.
“Do you always pitch for strangers?” Ohern asked.
“You’re a Brighton man, I know ya.” he scoffed behind his pipe. Ohern thought of Easel. The man seemed untroubled and poked in the kettle. They took turns looking at each other.
“Anyway it be a good road, for hardy folk, such are ye I rekon.” The old man said. Ohern laughed.
“Alright then, Ill not kill ye.” Ohern said to him dismounting his horse and leashing it to a bend of wild oak. They both chuckled.
“Fair kind of ye. Have a sup, its freshly made. Doe back there a bit, makin the best of good meat fore I salt and sun it, till this rain came callin, not sure what ill make of it now. Ohern took his cup from his tie and a dry blanket, then took off the saddle and set it aside on the oak, dressing down his horse for the rest. At the fire, before he sat, he said his name.
“I know ye.” The old man moved his head towards the road on up the way Ohern was headed. “I met ye afor back days, days so long now I know ye can’t recall. Cursed with keen remembrin. tsow it’s been, always. Terrible thing happened. Glad ya found yer way out of it. Just a terrible thing.” Ohern looked into his stew and cut at the venison with a small knife. “Man lives a life and then its over just like that. Only, he doesn’t die.” The old man was blowing the smoke from his pipe at the fire. “Anyway, I heeled them studds ya had up en’thar. Did some of that smything ya had need for a time. Not the metal work nor the armorin, hell, a man swing a sword can put a sharp on it I say. No, I was for the mares, shoin and the like, always liked it up there. Ye had a place. Escantia.”
“Thirty horses.” Ohern remembered out loud.
“Aye, and good ones. Right fine land up thar, good field, good pasture.”
“You been there lately?” Ohern asked.
“Youl make yer way of it. Have yer hand and yer wits ready I should think ye could fend off what dark wolf or Kord be makin a pit of the place.” Ohearn stung at the mention of Kords but knew the truth of his strength and his ability and that if it were less than ten, he could drive them out.
“Are they everywhere then?”
“Almost, almost.” The old man said.
“Maurauders back a few year. All that could be taken has been took.”
Ohern thought of the Temple and the abbey he had never entered. He thought of the silver and the carnelian and jade that found its way into the sloams and coffers of the merchants. Had he left there with more than what was his? He had hoped not but he had taken a horse and gear and over the years like the evil and the poor, he had hocked and pennied his worth from it until he rode now, again, another mans horse holding a loaned sword heading nowhere.
“You lead from below right? Grey and greasy hands, furtive soul right?” He dumped his cup in the pot for more broth and his hand trembled at the stretch.
The old man looked at the warrior and his demon and was quiet.
Some of the path had caught runoff and now a small stream of dirty water made its way over jumble and rock, pooling in a turn then off again. Snow would be higher up, Ohern looked into the clouds for it but he could not see far enough.
“It’s been a clear road up to these parts from Many Rivers, though I’ve not traveled them for some time. Roads good.” Ohern offered the old man.
“Where you headed.”
Ohern eyed the man. Maybe he was evil, or a witch. Maybe this would be the end of his journey, food and sport for a monster in the thick of a pine scalp in the bones of the Brake. He sat and considered the fire and wondered if there had always been monsters.
“You never said you weren’t a danger.” He told the old man.
“Aye.” The old man said nodding his head at the coals.
The rain was not bothered by any of it and it and fell to feed or drown the world. Shimmer stood shaking his head and looking at the ground for good grass or weed. There was none.
“Do you aim to deter me?” Ohern asked him plainly without looking at him. The old man closed one eye and regarded the warrior sitting next to him on the log.
“Reckon that depends on what yer up to.” He said feeling the strength men felt only around other men. The two of them sat eating venison, sipping broth and taking heat from the fire. At midday the rain lessened long enough for each of their minds to return to the fugue of actions their lives had been that day before comfort was offered and accepted but as Ohern rose and stood, the rain started again harder and the old man
looked up at him. “Have ye taken up the smoke?”
“For a time” Ohern said.
“Have ye one with me and well pretend darkness didn’t swallow the world we both loved, weselves with it.”
Ohern regarded the closeness of the sky, how it lowered in the rain to tempt a man to touch it, but it was always further. Ohern turned and thought about killing the man. Wondered what would jump out of his form or what would be left when its life was forced out with steel. The old man rummaged under his thick blanket of furs and came up with a pouch of tobacco. Ohern gritted his teeth. “Gimme that.” He pointed to the
pouch with his chin. The old man held it out and looked into Ohern’s eyes and he in his. The Old man did not rise. “That your pouch is it?” he accused and the old man was silent. Ohern leaned over and snatched it from him, pressing it in his hands looking for the fingers of another friend but there were only leaves. The old mans throat clicked twice. He was holding out a smallish plain pipe. A new one. Ohern looked at it then the man. He took the pipe from him and looked at it like it was dwemored. The rain was strong enough now that it was a third person in their awkward standoff. It pushed and froze at him and in his caution and rage he resisted.
“Wet ye oen tabako.” He said scowling up at Ohern. He was soaked and the bag of soft dry tobacco was darkening with wet in the downpour. Ohern waited for the monster to come but it didn’t. “Give it.” The old man said looking up at him, stretching out his hand and gesturing for Ohern to toss it back.
“Who are you?”
“I said who are you!”
“A man robbed on the road!” he said hatefully up at Ohern.
Ohern filled the pipe then closed the bag and tossed it back at the man.
“Damn it if the werld hasn’t gone completely black.” He cursed and inspected his smoke and tucked it away under his blanket.
Ohern tamped the tobacco with his thumb after drying it then bent over the fire and dug for a stick to light it with. When it took he sat back down next to the old man on the log. And the two of them blew smoke back into the fire and tried to make something new out of it.
“Wickly? You lived in Wickly.”
“Never lived with people, I worked Wickley, thats how yer gallen knew me and brought me up to be tending the mares when yer Smythimen passed.” The two of them considered his words and let it rebuild for them each a pain and a memory so lost and so cherished.
“Had it been a woman I bet She’d a brought her back.” The old man said and Ohern thought about it too. Leah’dah’s maternity. He wondered if she would have. He had never heard of her raising her acolytes or priestesses, that was a different god.
“Men in the earth, women in stone.” Ohern said. The Old man nodded. “They said the mausoleums for the priestesses were like cities under the temple.” Ohern added, trying to see through the shimmering black coats of the coals. The fire had a small size, the size Ohern would have made it.
“Goes the grave, Goes the man.” The old man said and Ohern looked at him, then went back to meddling with the fire.
“Goes the grave, goes the man.” He said.
It was hours before the rain eased. Ohern felt uneasy for not having ridden in it. When he did get up to go the old man did not try to stop him.
“Wish I had a thing of worth for ye.” The old man said to Ohern.
“You’ve given me your food and your fire. What more of worth is left in the world.” The old mans eyes were wet and he said nothing more as Ohern left.
Tears are love Ohern, tears are love.