This week we look at a piece from The River’s Flow, a story by Alejandro Melchor in Champions of the Scarred Lands.
They followed the man, who later introduced him as Gareth. They walked a path covered in mud. Jedem slipped twice, the innkeeper three times as many. Only Essery seemed like she was actually enjoying the scenery and not worrying where she stepped.
“So, why did you come?” Essery asked the druid; Gareth had gone ahead once the path upstream reached higher ground.
“About the villagers’ efforts?”
“Oh, Jedem. What’s there to see? I’m a simple girl.” Her reply was jovial.
“What are you?” He asked. “You’re not fey, and I sense no magic around you.”
With those two words, she told him he knew what he was asking, and she also dared him to find the answer on his own.
There were around two-dozen people gathered among scattered sacks and logs, arguing loudly.
“Here they are!” Gareth pointed at them. Another villager, covered in mud, walked over angrily, wielding a shovel. He pointed at the two of them with the metal end.
“You shouldn’t be here!”
“We know.” Essery answered calmly.
“You’re in danger, you fools!” The villager shouted. “I don’t know what this idiot and his wife told you, but the river will ?ood soon, and drown everything in this valley.”
“Then why are you still trying?” The girl asked with complete innocence, hiding Jedem’s low chuckle.
“I ask, why do you try, if you know you’ll lose in the end?”
“It’s… we…. Look, little girl…” He pointed the shovel at her and stared in amazement at his now empty hand.
Jedem was looking at Essery. Now she had disarmed the man with an ease that spoke of a warrior’s training; she now held the shovel, and was leaning on it.
“It’s rude to point, specially with a sharp object.” She said.
“All right!” She gave the shovel back. “Now, Jedem, is there a way in which you can help these people?”
Of course there was, Jedem thought. He could conjure the incoming storm away, he could harden the peasants’ crude blocks into hard barriers of ironwood and stone; he could even have the trees still standing help build the blocks, or invoke a wall of stone that would serve much better than their inappropriate bulwarks. But he wouldn’t; Denev had decreed the storm, and if a human settlement was washed away, it was because it was built where it shouldn’t.
“No.” He answered finally; Essery just shrugged.
“Figured as much.” She turned to the villagers. “Right, people. Give me something to do!”
The druid spent remaining hours until dusk watching the girl intently; she didn’t lie when she said she was stronger than she seemed. She was also tireless. No matter how hard the task was set upon her frail-looking shoulders, she finished it without complaint, and with the good cheer to joke around. The men’s morale increased a thousand fold, and by the time the sun hid behind the horizon, they had made great progress.
The men themselves were amazed at how far they’ve built their blocks. Jedem faded into the background, letting his presence be forgotten. He looked at everyone work hard at a completely futile task. It reminded him of ants.
They all returned to the town in good spirits; several buildings had light coming from inside, but none of the farms did. The druid supposed that they were being cautious, keeping all the people in the settlement together in case of a disaster. The fools didn’t realize that they stood a better chance by scattering; the ?ood would take them all out in one swoop.
“Gods, I’m beat!” Essery crumbled on one of the inn’s chairs; the room was packed, with all the men and some of their wives and daughters.
“You realize you worked for nothing.” Jedem talked low.
“Yes.” She answered.
“Look at them, Denev’s son.” She gestured toward the peasants. “They too know they face their death and that of their loved ones; yet their spirits are high.”
“Sheer foolishness.” He grumped. Already someone had taken out some musical instruments and they were all singing.
“They tried to turn us away.” The girl leaned closer to him; he could smell her, sweat and mud and dried leaves. “They wanted to spare us the fate they fear. You know of the coming storm; probably they know too.”
“Except I know exactly how strong it will be.” Jedem wanted to prove how Denev favored him, not these people that abused her.
“Why haven’t you left yet, then?”
“Because…” He hesitated; it was an excellent question. “I have ways to survive, and I’m still curious.”
“I hope your curiosity can outweigh your conscience.” She was uncharacteristically serious. “You have these people’s salvation in your hands.”
“Only by the power Denev grants me.” He hissed. “And who am I to go against Her will?”
“You know Denev’s will?” She countered.
“Of course! I’ve served Her for longer than you’ve even been alive!”
“Humans have trouble understanding the will of the gods, and they’re here with us.” She looked at the townsfolk. “You think you can understand the will of a Titan?”
“You speak nonsense, girl.”
“Maybe.” She got up. “But consider this, mighty druid: If Denev believed as you do… would she have helped the gods in the Titanswar?”
She walked into the mob, leaving Jedem scowling. He left the room angrily, shutting the music and laughter from his ears. The last thing he heard from the annoying girl was her rejecting a marriage proposal.
He saw lightning in the distance, and felt the wind. The storm would be here tomorrow, if not tonight.
Discover how Jedem and Essery’s story concludes in Champions of the Scarred Lands, available in ebook and print from DriveThruFiction, via Amazon Kindle, and via B&N Nook.