#15 – The Merchant and The Minstrel

They slept in their wrecks, cradled above the jungle floor. At first crashing, the merchant had tried to squirm out, only to tire himself untangling the vegetation that collapsed down after them. The minstrel waited to see if their hammock would fail, and when it seemed snug enough, she let herself slip into slumber. The voices from below fit right in with the natural calls of the birds and beasts. It took a prod from a makeshift pole to rustle the merchant awake.  He shook his flyer, reached forward and tugged on the tether, but the minstrel did not rustle. He leaned over the side and looked below to see a dozen or so men, hardly clothed, and confused. He waved down to them, and as a gesture of peace dropped the last of his sweet treats. Their confusing hollers turned into laughter and delight, and one of them seemed to issue directions.

Two boys ascended nearby trunks and began to hack at the netting of tangled branches. The merchant tried to wake the minstrel again. He sunk in his seat and pressed himself against the railings. He was well braced when the flyers swung with a snapping crack. Their contents spilled all over the jungle floor, while the shells of the flyers dangled upside down. The minstrel woke mid-fall, to the merchant’s relief, and her scream was followed by only a second of silence before their rescuers excitedly scavenged their possessions.

She pushed herself up, kneeling on the root-entwined ground, and assessed her situation. She tried to stand, but her legs had not had enough rest, and she wobbled back to the dirt. She watched the merchant try to gather his junk, only to have their new friends pick at his collection behind his back. One took a rather large item and began to unwrap the canvas covering. It shone bright, even in the shadowed jungle, and other eyes turned to see the golden figures in miniature. With her teeth clenched, she crawled forward grasping for her harp. The merchant relaxed when he realised that his secret was exposed, and slumped down over the rest of his collection. The jungle folk squabbled over the object, and marveled at the emanating sounds.

They were carried back to a six-hut village where the minstrel rested while the merchant met with an elder. The seasoned man, who spoke four unknown languages, drew marks in the dirt, and tapped on the confiscated maps. It was all simple to the merchant, with seemingly universal depictions of men and homes, and they spoke in drawings for hours. One odd symbol was a strange figure, drawn sharp with violence. The elder’s attitude to the figure was fearful, and he conveyed six days of nightly attacks. When the sun had fallen, the elder excused himself, and traveled to nearby old-world site with most of the inhabitants. The merchant was brought back to the borrowed home where the minstrel slept. He laid down closed his eyes.

The hours he had slept flashed by in a second, and he woke to hands squeezing pressure into his head. He grasped at her hands, and gasped for a breath to plead. Her fury was concentrated, and his efforts were in vain. His black peripherals closed in and before utter darkness he stopped struggling. She let go and stepped away, only to jump as he burst into a fit of coughing. Again she came at him and tried to squeeze his throat. His batting hands and desperate flailing prevented her from getting a good hold, and he managed to roll away to fall off the bed. When she circled to the other side, he had squeezed under the bed, and shifted away from her reach. He bought enough time to let her run out of steam. She sat of the floor emotionally broke, failing to hold back tears as she convulsed. His eyes also watered, but more from the choking. She was a sight to pity. He tried to approach and offer some comfort, only to be struck clean across his face. An apology wasn’t enough. He had sabotaged her life for his own gain, and she pieced it all together. His altruistic argument was ignored, as she put no credence in fool’s legends. He gave up, and left her to wallow.

When he stepped outside, he looked up to see the royal star drifting past its static brothers. He sat by a fire, and rifled through his journal, re-reading the passages he had copied down. The libraries in the slaver mountain were impressive for a savage society, and the keeper of the pages was quite knowledgeable of the old-world tales. The stories varied in the details of what and how, but all had a consensus of where. The island city was out there, and everything he had learned led him to believe it was close. He owed her a reason for the betrayal, some justification for the lies and tricks. He grew resolved to share the contents of his journal with her. He planned to do it in the morning after she had some time to vent her spite, but the commotion emerging from the brush spoiled that thought. The villagers came running back, screaming warnings. They raided their own huts, and bolted from the settlement the other way from whence they came. The minstrel came out to witness the surge, and asked with concern about what was going on.

The merchant rushed to get his own belongings, and as he passed her, rasped “Their monster is coming.”

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