Archive for September 30, 2010

Untitled pt 2

Ten minutes later, the motley gathering huddled before the imposing oak doors. The winter sun had finally risen, making a halfhearted effort to melt the frosting on the high beams and carved railways of Nighthaven. Leafsong shifted from foot to foot, increasingly aware of the numbness slowly encroaching on her toes.

Fleetingly, she remembered her father musing one particularly hungry morning that a crippled child might bring in more sympathy coin. His fingers had lingered disconcertingly beside the knife until Leafsong’s mother had reminded him that a toe-less child couldn’t be sent out to scavenge for herbs. Missing fingers couldn’t slip discretely into silk-lined pockets. At this rate thought Leafsong grimly, shooting a scowl in response to a youth’s curious glance, I’ll return missing at least my big toe. She tucked her chin into her chest and bore the chilling wind grimly, her hard, pale eyes like flecks of ice.

The sound of a bell cut through the still air like a hunting knife, and in unison, the heads of the two dozen or so hopeful supplicants rose. Leafsong unstuck her feet from the stone flagstone and defended her place at the front of the huddled, her chin stuck out defiantly, frozen elbows ready to strike at anyone who dared to nudge past. There was silence for several beats, then the doors opened. Without ceremony, several druids crossed into the forecourt. All three were male, the elder dressed in the customary garb and his attendants in robes of muted brown. A thick bearskin was slung around the elder’s shoulders, protecting the old man from the bitter cold. The huddle took a collective intake of breath, eyes of all shades of amber and silver focused on the man who could – with a word – fulfill their life’s ambition.

With a gesture, the smaller of the two attendants prompted the group into a ragged line. Leafsong was enraged to find herself between two enthusiastic young females, both several decades older than herself, their white teeth gleaming like a shark’s as they beamed. Leafsong felt her own crooked teeth with her tongue, and folded her lips tightly. To add to her frustration, she was halfway down the row.

The elder and his attendants began to make their way down the line, the elder reaching out a wizened hand to rest lightly on the top of each hopeful’s head, closing his eyes for a brief moment. After a few seconds, he removed his hand, and – so far – had said nothing before moving on to the next candidate. The passed-over one had stayed there for a moment, clinging to a frantic strand of hope; but a quick shake of the head from an attendant confirmed their rejection. One by one, they trailed off, disappearing between the snowy buildings and naked trees. Leafsong closed her eyes as they came to the person beside her, biting her lip and bowing her head. She waited, her breath hovering in her throat, for the touch that could change everything.

She counted to thirty, before opening her eyes. The elder and his attendants were standing before the woman to her left, the one who should have come directly afterwards. She blinked for a moment, then opened her mouth, preparing to step forward. One of the attendants noticed her movement and shook his head sharply, flicking his eyes up and down her scrawny figure dismissively.

“You don’t belong here. Leave, now.”

Squaring her shoulders, Leafsong left the druidic temple and headed back towards the poorest district of Nighthaven, her jaw set.

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