#14 – The Merchant and The Minstrel

The merchant and the minstrel flew, hovering only a few meters above the surface. When they reached a depression, they dropped with the landscape. When they drew on the mountains, they climbed just enough to pass without a scratch. The merchant was weary of flying too high. He knew how easy it was to single out a craft against the sky, and his left leg could only push so hard. Up and down, they skimmed away. The first time they stopped was to get some food in the minstrel. They had gently plopped down in the wispy snow on an outcrop buffeted from the wind by a gnarly peak. The merchant’s agent had packed both flyers with separate rations, in the event of separation. They sat in silence as she ate. They didn’t talk much in the air, except for the tantrum the minstrel had, as they were passing out of sight of the mountain, and the initial shock had worn off. The merchant was berated for what felt like half a day, but since the minstrel was leading the two, most of her fury drowned in the wind. She had come to cope with her predicament. There was nothing left for her back there. Since the fire, her life had seen little joy. Jethrow no longer shared all he had with her, and although he didn’t blame her directly for the missing harp, its absence was a daily insult. She had even overheard a servant compiling a list of prospective owners, and she had to convince herself that it wasn’t involving her. Because of the merchant, she had to find a new home, but at least the next one would be her choice.
They ascended and pushed themselves above the clouds to catch a stream. From there, the merchant could ease up and let the minstrel carry them on. She never looked back, never spoke, just got lost in her thoughts and the beauty. He carefully fiddled with maps and books, determined to find the fabled city. Without his approval, they began to descend, and the merchant panicked, rush-reading the pages. A red sun danced on blades of cloud, then dipped away, their world in darkness. The uncertainty of the fog was what the minstrel dreaded, as too often her heart would skip when she would realize that the mountains were coming fast. The dread of the haze always broke into open views. The merchant had guided them a safe course from his pampered flyer. He slacked and snacked, and snickered to himself with pride. They were fortunate enough to find grassland clearing stretching on to a cutting drop. Landing was slow and tiresome, with both exerting themselves to sweat and breath. They slept under the wings of their respective flyers. Nights weren’t as cold as expected, as a northern wind, as light as a breath, blanketed them in an unusual warmth. It was the kind of warmth that made her feel back in the desert, with the hot sting of sand.
The merchant awoke to find the minstrel undoing the tether that joined the flyers. He pleaded for her to stop, and claimed he would die if she left him. She had heard those words before from other men, but never knew such sincerity. Upon further reflection on the merchant’s lame leg, and his pampered history of avoiding labour, she believed he wouldn’t make it out of the mountain range. She went back to sleep, but he couldn’t. She woke to breakfast ready, and her flyer half-packed, with the burden locked to his. It only seemed fair to her, as it was all of his junk. What was left on hers was the essentials; food, fabrics, security, and a bit of comfort. He bargained for her to take him to the nearest sign of civilization, then she could cut the tether with the knife he left her. He offered everything he had, knowing that she wouldn’t want most of it. Her heart was played, and she consented to carry him to some destination.
On the third day, they broke past the range, to see vast blue through the breaks below. They dropped to assess, and in good spirits, the minstrel brought herself low, bringing the sagging merchant’s flyer to skim across the lake. His yelps brought delight, and she waited, seeing if he would pedal himself from the thumping of the waves. He did not. When she imagined them stranded so far from land she relented and took them above the coast. They looked for boats, docks, trails but found only untouched wild, startled animals, and the usual desolate shells of the old worlds. That night they ate fresh fish, and wild bird, thanks to a freak collision with a well fed egret. They laughed together, recalling that remarkable landing.
On the eighth night, they reached a river spewing an unusually large amount of debris. The merchant made his argument, and the next morning they left the bountiful lake to soar over a dense woodland. The forest grew more jungle as the afternoon wore on, and patches of destruction in the canopy spoke of recent storms. As night was coming, they began to scout for somewhere to land. They were still searching when dawn broke, sore and struggling. They only saw a lasting expanse of foliage. The merchant had put his effort in, but it was not enough when the minstrel’s legs went soft. Their landing was sudden and scratchy, with staggered breaks. First the canopy, then the branches, followed by the wings.