Stephanie has graciously stepped in to become the new host of mlmm tale weaver on Thursdays. I didn’t contribute last week to her first prompt, a question of perspective. However, this week’s prompt, the world after, (COVID and it’s ensuing challenges and chaos), piqued my vacationing muse enough that she returned from her spacation in Patagonia long enough to cast some words down on paper. Soon enough, I’m sure, she will be off again. She is a wanderer, but as Tolkien knew, it does not mean she is lost. I might be, but not her . . .

Very lightly-edited; if I let my self-editor lose, well . . .

To be sure he looked a scruff; a travelling scribe with sling bag, ink stone, bowl, quill knife. He carried little else – anything more than the tools of his trade would seem a heavy burden. Lightness mean speed; meant maneuverability. An advantage on the road. For, of course, others travelled too. Compelled by the need to make their way in the world.

Beneath every hood might lurk the eyes of a thief; a cutthroat; a conniver. Willing to use the all of others to support themselves. He kept his looks deceiving for other reasons. He could blend into any small crowd that might form in alehouses and at crossroads. Head down, feet shuffling he looked the ordinary scholar; sloped shoulders and ink-stained fingers. A guise that served him well.

True, he could turn spoken into written; prepared for whatever seal or stamp need be bought. Translate runish to plain-speak; map a boundary with an uncanny accuracy. He had other talents, too. Talents he prefer remain hidden; hooded like his crystalline blue eyes.

The road was heavy with folks heading to Newmarketown for the first high long market of the awakening. Women in bright smocks and overdresses carrying baskets of wintering labour: salves; twists of sweetgrass and herbs; stitcheried goods. Their sabots clattered, spattering mud along the hems of their dresses. Landers with the early crops of runner peas, tender shoots and thin roots and tubers in handcarts. Brewers’ horse-drawn wagons carried barrels of winter ale, leaving deep tracks.

Amongst these traveled the troupes of musicians – luters and pipers laying down a rhythm young children danced to. Acrobats and jugglers entertained. In the stage wagons, actors practiced performances. Fortune casters consulted their beads; magicians delighted the weary.

Some of this crowd might stand aside to allow the high-born, resplendent in sumptuous finery, riding fine, spirited horses to pass easily. Their liege struggled, on foot, to keep the pace. The highest were accompanied by phalanxes of guards. A few of the ladies rode, too; most sat in carriages, peeking through curtained windows. If it were but a long market, these would not be present on the road. But the lure of a high market, with its contests of strength, tests of merit and skill, and horse races brought even the most remote lord to town. Their tents, flying flags of their symbols and colours, would dot the wide plain above the river. Bride prices exchanged, alliances renewed or broken, intrigue and politics skulking behind the scenes.

To this forward motion, he slipped. None paid him mind. He was but one of the many. As sun disappeared, camp fires sparkled like fireflies among the trees. On the morrow, he would be soon crossing one of the many bridges that lead to the fair grounds. Newmarketown was at the convergence of several rivers. The docks would be busy too; barges and ships off-loading passengers, barrels, crates, animals in organized chaos.

He threw back the road-dusty hood, moonlight falling direct upon his face. Yes, this world would do, he thought. If he brought the survivors through in small groups, smuggled under cover of new moon, he might resettle hundreds. And, as these parallel time lines offered infinite possibilities, he foresaw the safety of thousands, perhaps millions. Afore the unvaxxed morphed yet again

feature image: The Puddle (1952) M. C. Escher