A cough startled her enough to make her last thought vanish like mist through her fingers. ‘I’m Meylinn. I speak for these Free-folk,’ she said.
She was becoming more cognisant of how old age brought about a lack or urgency. To her this made little sense as death was inching ever closer. ‘Who might you be?’
‘Varick. Varick Einar.’ He made a brief nod at the boy behind him. ‘The boy is Marshall.’
‘Pleasure and well met, Varick. If I may, how long have you been travelling? It’s a long road from Ahn’Ahran, many stops along the way. What news can you share?’ Meylinn noted the frustration that settled across his face.
‘Einar is an old word for loner in the Ahn’Ahrani street language,’ she mused, as if talking to herself. ‘Or home was here and now you search for a new one. Or perhaps something else? I can have no secrets, so speak truly.’
The last was a lie, many of her people were deceitful about their past. For some the lie was minor, like neglecting to mention a wife or a husband left behind. For others the lie was greater: theft, murder, corruption. One man had come to her in a haze, almost naked and barley aware of his surroundings. He had claimed to be an exiled Duke, but he was clearly an acolyte of the Imperial Inquisitors and the owner of a fractured mind to boot.
The dung comes in many shapes, colours and smells, she thought as she adjusted her cloak. It’s for me to sort it and store the least offensive specimens.
‘Not Ahn’Ahrani. My father and grandfather were born deep within the Northern Reach. We use clan names not second names,’ he spat and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘I chose the word Einar after leaving my clan. I liked the sound of it.’
Varick then turned towards the boy, ‘You need to piss? We won’t find food here, so we ride on.’ The boy shook his head and with that, his father made his way to a nearby bush.
‘Hold now,’ shrieked Meylinn. ‘I’ve said nothing about turning you away. I must know you, in a fashion, before accepting you into our homes.’
‘Get to know me somewhere warm and after I have some food in my belly,’ he replied retying his belt.
Meylinn sighed. The man seemed gruff, unrefined and at the best of times taciturn. Hardly a threat, but not likely of any real use. He looked fit enough to hunt or scout, but she had plenty of young men and women keen on that. She needed builders, wheelwrights or smiths; roofs needed to be mended, axles repaired and horses shod. She needed trackers or star-readers, men and women who could read the land or heavens and point them in the right direction. She needed healers or herbalists…
I need to find a daisy, but today I found more dung. Another dissident or poacher or criminal to add to the heap. How long will this one last? The boy needs help though.
As though the Constants themselves were mocking her, the heavens opened up and unleashed a barrage of hailstones. ‘Varick Einar, I welcome you and your son, Marshall,’ she said perfunctorily. ‘Now come, let us be away from this hellacious weather.’
With that, Meylinn Dara accepted Varick and Marshall Einar into her flock. Her family. In the end, it would become a decision she would come to lament for some time.
CW SY 2013