Chapter 1: A Conjunction of Fates | Part 2

2

This was the furthest the firbolg known as the Lalar had ever travelled from her woodland home. She had heard of races cultivating the land and transforming it to produce food in vast quantities, but she had never truly seen it close. Stretches of uniform wheat growing within constructed barriers of deadwood prevented intruders from casually walking across the fields. It was a far cry from foraging in the woodland groves, but upon close inspection it was clear that even in this cultivated land many animals were able to make their home here.

A small family of dormice ran up and down the wheat sheave stalks, and many cottontail rabbits were enjoying the luxurious feasts that such intensive cultivation nurtured. Small birds built nests in the bushes that reclaimed the deadwood barriers, and sung tales of love and joy to the morning light; Chaffinches, dunnocks and wrens flitted from hidden perch to hidden perch. And where there are small animals, there are always larger animals to hunt them, and as far as Lalar could tell by their scent there was at least one family of foxes that had built a set nearby.

Nature always made a way, and no one could tame it for long.

Coming out of the wheat fields Lalar came upon a dirt path that lead to a dwelling built from deadwood and stone. She started towards the homestead before something caught her eye and her stomach turned. Across the top bar of the deadwood barrier that ran along the dirt path, little tiny bodies had been pinned. The bodies of many little, lifeless moles.

The grim trophies framed the dwelling darkly, and so, turning her back on the dwelling, Lalar followed the path in the opposite direction to what was presumably the large city that she had been told to go to.

Over the city she noticed a strange star burning brightly on the horizon. She had been so intent on the goings on the ground she had missed it completely until that moment. Perhaps it was a sign that fortune was with her.

***

‘THE SKY IS WHAT?!’ Tana cried out, rolling off her chair and running to a window of the Studregg Tavern to peak out at the sky nervously. ‘What is going on?!’ The sky was blue and clear, and not a flame could be seen.

‘Oh it’s nothing like that little one,’ laughed Hektor, choking on some bread that had been in his mouth as the deep gnome caught him off guard. Coughing he slammed his fist on the table several times, before settling his throat with some water. Aggie’s stared at him unflinching. ‘There is a comet in the sky Tana,’ Hektor announced as he stood up and walked over to the opposite side of the Tavern. ‘You won’t see it out of that window, but you can see it out of here, look!’ There was a rush and the sound of wooden chairs scraping on wooden floors as guests at the tavern scrambled to look out of the window that Hektor stood by, leaving Tana unable to get close. ‘BACK UP! BACK UP YOU LOT!’ Hektor called out at the crowd, making space for Tana to see the burning crimson and gold firebrand in the deep, cloudless sky.

‘What is it?’ Tana asked nervously, her large green eyes fixed on the burning sigil.

‘Tis a sign. An omen.’ Hektor replied solemnly.  ‘You know what that means?’ Hektor asked the small gnome who had pulled herself up onto the windowsill. Tana nodded darkly before turning her attention back to Aggie, who was still sat in her chair, looking past the tavern door. Hektor walked over to Aggie, through the whispering rabble, and sat back at the table, continuing to pick at his food.

‘I still thought I would’a had more time,’ Aggie said, turning to look at Hektor. ‘But I guess ye can’t really choose these things can ya?’ Hektor smiled the same warm, chip-toothed, smile he had had for as long as she could remember.

‘Course you can Aggie.’ Hektor said, in a quiet rumble, pushing his empty plate into the centre of the table. ‘You always have a choice. But what ye don’t always have is the opportunity t’do something truly different, t’go out there and see the world.’ Hektor’s hand gestured pointingly to emphasise his words, ‘You have always had a fiery ‘eart Aggie, and you ‘ave built somethin’ truly beautiful here.’ Hektor looked over to Tana who had turned back to look at the comet in the sky. Aggie followed his gaze to the small gnome. ‘There are others who need ‘elp, outside of ‘arstead. Help that me an’ Alysha can’t exactly do no more.’ Hektor stood up and placed his hand on Aggie’s shoulder comfortingly, ‘The last one will be ‘ere soon, after that it’s up t’you. Ye can’t make a wrong decision here Aggie. It’s an important decision, but it’s not possible t’get it wrong.’ Hektor dropped a gold piece on the table as he walked towards the tavern door.

‘Hektor wait!’ Aggie called after the grizzled veteran as he neared the door. Hektor turned around with raised eyebrows.

‘Hmm?’

‘You forgot your leftovers!’ said as she rushed into the kitchen to pack a fresh meal to go for her old friend…

 

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