Jun. 6th, 2015 11:59 am
sabremeister: (Author)
[personal profile] sabremeister
A short story that has been sat on since mid-March.

An Inkling of Something Important Occurring

The roadside refugee camp was a mess, although it was hard to tell in the dark. All a traveller could see as they approached were the dotted campfires, the shadows of makeshift tents, silhouettes of people moving occasionally from fire to fire, and when you got really close, the slumped forms of the disconsolate token guards, sitting on rocks by the side of the road, spears propped over their shoulders.

Aelisande and Pirennelle, acting as guides and lead escorts for yet another group of refugees, passed the guard without comment, and led their group off the road into the muddy mess that had been a pasture. Two weeks ago, sheep grazed here. They had all been eaten.

The ranger found a space just about large enough for the two dozen peasants and their families to camp down in. She turned to them and said, "here you are. This is it."

Pirennelle, being a bard, found her companion's dull tone unhelpful. "We've arrived, everybody!" she called out to the group. "You should be safe here for a week or so. It looks like the usual procedure for food and so on - forage or theft. As you get closer to Dentrassi there should be better organisation, but we're still quite a way away. You're safe for now, though, and that's the main thing."

"Will you be our guides tomorrow?" asked one of the farmers.

"We won't be going north tomorrow," Aelisande said. "Our job is to find groups like yours and get them here, not take you all the way to the capital."

"There's safety in numbers," Pirennelle added, "so you can join another group heading north, or stay here if you prefer. I'm afraid there's really nothing more we can do."

"But how will we-" began the spokesman.

"Our job here is done," Aelisande declared, cutting him off. "You have somewhere to sleep, you're safe, you can do what you like. We need to report to the army Agent that we've brought you in, find somewhere to sleep, and get straight back out tomorrow." She turned to Pirennelle. "Come on," she mumbled.

The two women headed back to the road, and followed it towards the centre of the camp. "You don't like this job," Pirenelle said.

"No, I don't," Aelisande replied. "It's horrible. We bring these people who've got nothing but what they're carrying, desperate and hopeless, to here, where there are even more of them all around. No food, no bedding, no leadership - and the only safety is if the enemy attacks, there's so many here they'll kill someone else first. And as time goes on, the people we bring in will be even more desperate and hopeless, carrying even less, and when they get here there'll be even less food, bedding and leadership."

"But more safety," Pirennelle finished. "It's a horrible job, yes, but these people aren't hopeless. The fact that they came here tells us they have hope. And we shouldn't dash their hopes by behaving as if this place is just a giant morgue waiting to happen."

"Give it two weeks," Aelisande said. "If the enemy aren't here by then, half the people will be starving, and the other half will be sick."

"But that's..." Pirennelle tailed off.

"What?" asked Aelisande, suddenly alert.

"I thought I saw someone I know. One of my Circle. I should really go after them, catch up."

Aelisande nodded. "All right. I'll report the both of us in to the Agent, get something to eat."

"Find you at the usual place?" Pirennelle asked, putting her arms around the other woman's waist.

"At the usual place," Aelisande replied, nodding and putting her arms around her partner's shoulders.

"I shouldn't be too long," the bard assured her.

"Good - it's cold tonight," the ranger said. They kissed briefly and separated, Aelisande heading up the road, Pirennelle towards one of the fires.

"Robert!" she called, when she'd got closer to the man she'd seen earlier.

"Pirennelle!" he replied, turning. "Don't tell me you're running too?"

"I'm acting as a guide for refugee groups," she told him. "Where are you heading?"

"Circle meeting," he said, gesturing to one of the nearby fires. "I'm going to watch."

"Not join?"

"Not our Circle," he replied. "It's the Upper Circle. There's a new member."

"Lead on," Pirennelle said, awe seeping into her voice.

The campfire in question was up against a large rock, which was in the corner made by two fallen tree trunks. The members of the Upper Circle were sitting on smaller logs around it. There were five of them: A man wearing court clothes, with a receding hairline, thin face, and a short goatee; A tall man with sharp eyes, lined face, and a long and thin uncontrolled beard; A slightly rotund man with bags under his eyes, looking something like a merchant and something like a priest; Another tall and thin man, with a prominent nose, brushed back white hair, and smoking a pipe which made him look like a professor escaped from a university; A shorter man with smiling eyes, white hair just visible under a wide-brimmed hat, and a large white beard.

"So, what does everybody think of this new piece from Charles?" the one in court clothes was asking.

"I think it lacks a certain coherence," the half-priest said. "It doesn't seem to have a plan behind it."

"I agree," said the professor. "It feels like it's un-finished."

"Of course it's un-finished, I haven't finished it yet," retorted the man with the uncontrolled beard.

"I mean it seems to lack your usual level of detail and forward planning, Charles" the professor replied.

"It reminds me of the effect I was trying to achieve with some of my middle work," the white-bearded one said.

"What, un-finished?"

"Gentle social satire masking scathing irony towards the situation."

"That is what you, I and Charles specialise in, somewhat," said the courtier. "Clive and John tend towards more lofty goals in their tales. Speaking of which, have you anything for us, Clive?"

The half-priest sighed. "I'm afraid not. I've been rather busy with other things. Of course, I could give you a polemic on the war, but I rather think we're all trying to forget it right now, aren't we?"

"Yes, we are," the professor said. "I, on the other hand, have managed to find some of my earlier notes from my magnum opus, and thus have something to present."

There was a general frustrated sigh around the fire. The half-priest even vocalised his opinion. "Oh Hell, John, not more of your blasted Elves!"

"There is nothing wrong with Elves, in moderation," the courtier said. "They can be very useful at times. But how does out newest member feel about them? Terry?"

The man with the hat and the white beard leaned forward so that his eyes sparkled in the firelight. "I think Elves are wonderful."

"You do?"

"Yes - they provoke wonder. Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels. Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies. Elves are glamorous. They project glamour. Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment. Elves are terrific. They beget terror."


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