Will the warning come too late?
This portion is from the beginning of my latest venture in the realms of fantasy.
Jesters danced along the streets, and children followed as laughter filled the air. From the inns could be heard the sound of games, and men were making deals. The women folk wandered around taking in the vast array of foods brought from afar for the festival. Now was the time to treat the family to wholesome meals, rather than the usual gruel of watery stews. Money was not easy to come by, but the town always made a great show for these three days.
Decked in their Harlequinesque costumes, the jugglers and acrobats thrilled the crowds which gathered around. Their antics both daring and entrancing, held their audiences enthralled. The performers thrilled the children with their exciting acts. To the innocent, they looked dangerous, but the artists know their art and accidents were few are far between, and rarely serious.
The festival is a busy time for Thomas Kelp. The town baker needed to bring help in to keep up with the increased demand for his loaves. It was during a short break in the processes that he noticed a stranger enter the town. The stranger appeared to be a man of small stature. The man’s movements aroused Tom, as much as the man himself. The stranger kept to the sides of the streets and in the shadows. Tom thought, “On such a day as this, why would a man wish to hide from people?”
The man’s clothing appeared torn and tattered as if he had traveled a long distance. He glanced around as if trying to find somebody or something. He never looked back. Was he too afraid of what lay behind him to chance a glance of his pursuers? Moving from shadowed area to darkness, the stranger avoided the many eyes on the streets as he passed out of sight of Tom. The baker’s day was too busy to pay heed to a stranger, besides the festival brought many visitors to the town. Some passed through, and others stayed. The inns and bakery would be working through the night, not until the morning of the fourth day would they rest. At this stage, they would provide a last meal for the travelers as they left Mondoria to go home.
The festival started many years ago when a man called Tallier left a small fortune for the town, to keep away the influence of the thieves and vagabonds that travel the highways. Some of the people said he had been a seer who wanted to find peace. Other people said he had been a soldier; who tired of fighting and became a hermit in the hills to the North. No matter what you believe, he left a prophecy.
“I, the one known to the town of Mondoria as Tallier, leave this warning to the city. If you do not change your ways and desist from worshipping the lures of flesh and coin, there shall come a day when a storm from the skies shall burn the town to the ground. Only the house of the believers shall remain untouched.”
Not long after Tallier’s disappearance; money appeared at the foot of the rock face around which the town had grown. The Church of ‘The Sisters of Tallier’ took this to be a sign from Tallier. With the money, they moved from their old church on the edge of the town. The Sisters got help from the townsfolk and moved the church to the top of the cliff overlooking the area. The Sisters thought of it as a way to watch the town’s growth as the leading seaport. This move was their interpretation of Tallier’s wishes.
With growth and wealth came many problems. Some were man-made such as the ladies who walked the streets and the increase in hostelries. More insidious was an enemy which skulked in the underworld. With shipping came the rats, a horrible plague. These beasts evolved, as species do. Before long the creatures could walk on their back legs. The town’s people called them Thrugmen. These creatures were a cross between man and rat. Thrugmen have large protruding front teeth and deadly claws capable of tearing meat from bone. Filth became the home of the Thrugmen The more the town spread, the greater their numbers grew. No matter how many they numbered, they stayed out of sight, coming out at dark to feast on waste.
All through the town’s growth, the church stood on the cliff overlooking Mondoria. Among the towns’ people were a group known as Flagellants. These people saw what was happening to their once lovely town, and punished themselves for the sins of the populace; their punishment was to whip themselves until they bled. The flagellants' numbers never grew; now and then new members would join as the older members died. The town was so busy, and it never occurred to the people to look at what was happening under their noses.
The stranger passed through the town without causing a stir, as he wandered to the door of the Mondoria Arms, the largest hostelry in the town, he paused to look back for the first time, and smiled. Gently, he pushed the large door open, to be greeted by the sight of a throng of men, women, and children. The stranger glanced at the barkeeper and nodded, without hesitation, the barman began to pour a drink for the stranger. The stranger gratefully accepted the offered drink and went to sit by the roaring fire. It wasn't long before his presence aroused the interest of the younger patrons.
The crowd began to amass around the stranger as though waiting for important news. The stranger finished his drink, wiped his sweating brow with the dirty sleeve of his tattered cloak and began, “I have come with word from the Sisters, and the seers in the hills to the north, this year Talliers’ prophecy will come true!”
The children looked around, everybody in Mondoria had heard about the prophecy, and knew one day it would happen, but when? He’d warned the town so many times, and nothing had happened that the older inhabitants took no notice of his tale.
The town guard was patrolling their usual route, not expecting any trouble, when Jimmy Pookly spotted something, “Rider coming from the West!” he called out, “one rider on horseback, no sign of enemy action.”
People from the inns poured out to see who the stranger could be. The rider, a young lady with long brown hair, rode her horse – a gray mare – passed the crowds gathered in the streets and stopped at the inn. She quickly dismounted, and ran to the stranger, “ Lord Tallier, your prophecy is upon us this hour.”
The stunned crowd gazed at the man sat before them, could this man in rags be Isaac Tallier, the legendary soldier? As the inn drew silent, Tallier rose from his stool, “Tell me, Lady Rachel, what of your parents and the castle?”
Lady Rachel Crannock looked at her master and then said, “They are all gone, my liege. The castle was hit with the first fireballs before I had a chance to escape the building collapsed around me. I was fortunate to get away.”
The inn emptied as people filled the streets to see if it was possible, in the distance the glow of the burning castle showed that their fate had appeared to be sealed. Jimmy asked Lord Tallier, “How long do you think before the town is hit?”
Tallier looked with eyes filled with tears at the sky, “That is something I cannot foretell, that decision is in the hands of the Gods, may they be graceful enough to give us the opportunity to escape before burning the city down.”
As the scared city dwellers gazed at the skies ablaze with the fireballs from the Gods, Lady Rachel asked Tallier, “Will you be traveling with the people when we leave?”
Tallier gave his young friend a hug and then replied, “Not on this journey, Lady Rachel. I have other villages to warn, but we’ll meet in the future, of that be assured. I leave the safety of these poor folk in your capable hands. My travels will take me far across our lands, to towns and cities even our bravest warriors have not come to know. I was appointed to the role of Lord Protector me on my last voyage. I left here to seek the guidance and strength to fulfill my task. Each year at this time, I return to warn you of the prophecy, I realize you have come to view me as a man to think of as a fool; but believe me, this is not for fun. You have, but a short while before this area becomes a firepit, many shall perish in flames, but those who survive will start anew and build a greater city in their memory - of that you have my promise."