Penthea

Many years ago, when the high-walled cities of Bglentium still rang to the calls of maroon-robed and veiled priests at dusk and dawn, Penthea came to the hidden town of May Rise. Walking unchallenged past the darkened fortresses at the valley’s mouth, she came past tilled fields and watched pastures with no more than passing glances and the gentle lowing of the mighty kharre to accompany her passage.

At length the path she took wound between rolling hills to the outskirts of that red-tiled town, with its famous cherry-blossomed avenues and scent as of honey that filled the balmy air and stopped at the dark-beamed tavern on the square with white-washed walls and the faded marks of axe blows in its timbers. As she passed, she ran slender fingertips across the alternating textures of the wall, and if her expression changed in any way as a result, there were none close enough to see.

The bell of the low temple was ringing slowly, calling to the faithful as rosy dusk lit the horizon. Those making their way to answer that call paid little mind to Penthea as she entered the tavern and greeted Ancient Fhaer at the bar with quiet smiles and a soft kiss to his age-rimed scaly snout. Her drink was already waiting for her, chilled with ice from the food store as had ever been her preference. Other travellers came and went that evening, but none caught the eye as these two old friends, the fair maiden and the scaled dragon-born at the bar.

Their conversation was intricate and obscure, though couched mainly in the common trade tongue, so that many knew not the references they made to the tower reborn, the watcher in the woods or indeed the reminiscences of old wars barely remembered in fireside tales in those parts. In time the innkeeper grew troubled at the fragments that he heard, raising as they did spectres of old stories heard in his youth. He approached the odd couple under the guise of refreshing their drinks and made excuse to talk with them.

“Excuse me lord, lady – but I could not help but to hear you talk of things that my mother told me of when young as stories – but you seem, if you’ll pardon my curiosity, to have misremembered parts and mixed them with others and I was wondering if I might help in some way..?” His voice trailed away under the gaze of those he had interrupted and he looked away with sudden shame colouring his cheeks. The Ancient’s wide toothy smile had, if anything, broadened and this was not a reassuring sight. Penthea’s hand rested briefly on the dragon-born’s wrist before she replied.

“Well young Giles, and bless me if you don’t bear your mother’s face well, thank you for the offer – but I think we have the right of it – even with all the time that has passed since the days of the Refounding. Perhaps we should hear what stories dear Martha told you when she bounced you on her knee and see how they match up with ours?”

Innkeeper Giles went pale then and would have left had the maiden’s hand not raised her empty glass for a refill and his professional instincts returned to the fore.
As he replenished their drinks and marked the tally on the board, his mind raced to find response and settled on asking how one so young knew his long-departed mother while he had no recollection of ever seeing her before. Her whispered response in his ear as he collected the empties made his eyes widen and he beat a hasty retreat behind the bar to wipe the slate clean. Thereafter he alone served them, waving aside his staff who might otherwise disturb them.

In time it was time to close the tavern and it was with no small sense of relief on his part that Penthea and the Ancient Fhaer departed into the warm night without incident and were never seen again in his lifetime. In years to come he would be asked what the maiden had whispered in his ear that evening and he would grow thoughtful with heavy thoughts that he never shared. Only once in the following years did he say anything, and that was in the depths of an illness from which none thought he would recover. He had asked for the illustrated household bible to be brought to him, with its depiction of the Saint May on its frontispiece, that he might be reminded of the battles fought against Old Night in that honey-scented valley and see her face once more before he died…

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