Jex waited in his spot, a large sum of coins in several small money sacks tied at his belt, money he earned from selling the deer meat.
”Ray will turn up soon, ” he thought. He peered around shifting from side to side in a compulsive manner. Dressed his best for the night in a clean shirt, trousers, and leather vest with his hair well groomed, he deemed that night special to him. That night marked the tenth fest he and Ray had attended together. He still remembered the first, the day he had met her and her family. They were new, and he was distant, but she approached him first. It wasn long before they had become friends. Thoughts rattled about his mind as he watched the streets come alive. The sun and its bloody sunset faded behind the mountains while he waited. The towering smoke pillars from the fires were visible from miles around. The ash danced above the cones of fire as people gathered round to share the tidings of giving and blessing. Jex smiled and nodded in a friendly manner to those who passed by, but he expected Ray at any moment. His patience nipped at his heels but he did not dare kick it away and lose it.
”Jex! ” came the ever longing cry Jex had been waiting for. Jex turned to Ray galloping across the way, weaving through people. Her festive dress swayed at her heels and she held her arms out at her sides. Her hard bound leather corset caused her breaths to be heavy and tumble out of her mouth in light heaves. She smiled as she pulled up next to her companion. ”Sorry Im late, ” she apologized, ”How long have you been waiting? ”
”Not long, ” Jex answered with a smug grin. ”You look beautiful tonight. ”
She smiled with confidence,
”Thank you. And you
e rather handsome. ”
” he remarked.
e hammy downs. ” They both laughed together for a moment, ”Well come-on, trinkets and tall tales await, ” Jex said and lead them into the lake of people.
Ray and Jex browsed selections of different items and exotic foods set up on display, lit by candlelight. The tables held swords and knifes of several kinds and armor occupied others. Jex drooled over each weapon and Ray reminded him to close his mouth and wipe it with a laugh. She herself eyed the swords with fancy and jewelry studded with an abundance of different gemstones in a distant manor. They tried samples together, making faces at some of the foods and enjoying others. They purchased food first for they couldn go without. Purchasing items such as blankets and much needed clothes came second, in moderation. By the end of their necessities shopping, Jex found himself to have enough for both of them to purchase leisure items to bring joy in the months to come.
Jex and Ray returned to the weapons stand they had enjoyed earlier with the last of their trade. A sword that Jex marveled over, however, did not match his share to trade, neither did Rays share cover the custom bow she had lulled over.
”But together, ” the trader began, ”Im sure you could get one or the other. ”
Jex thought about it a moment before Ray sighed and urged him away from the stand with the last of her coins, ”Come-on Jex. Well just go listen to some of the stories. Maybe we can save up for next year. ” He pulled away from her and met her look of confusion. He had decided.
”Ill meet you there, ” he said and smiled, watching her walk away, rolling her eyes. She knew he would go for the sword. Jex returned to the stand and set his coins on the counter then fished in his pockets for some gold he had kept hidden the entire night. It was meant to save it but it was worth the cost.
He dropped each gold coin on the table then said, ”The custom bow. ” He smiled knowing Ray would love it.
The trader raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise, ”Oh? Turning down the sword are we? ”
”Yes, ” Jex answered. ”But I- ”
”Say no more, ” the trader said with a sly smile. He handled the custom bow with care and gave it to Jex. Carved in the wood were symbols representing fire and the legendary creatures that used the element, dragons and phoenixes. ”Ye must have one hell of a woman boy, a fiery one at that. ”
Jex smiled surveying the weapon while running his fingertips over the carved detail, ”Yes, ” he breathed. ”Shes my fire… ” he said, dazed a moment then flushed with embarrassment. ”I-I best be going, ” he blurted and saluted, running off.
The trader watched him. ”Ay, a strange choice… ” he said to himself before returning to selling his items.
Jex ran towards Ray as she wandered around looking for a suitable story circle. She wasn picky. It was just her choice in what sounded interesting. Jex bounded up next to her and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned, her eyes widening at the sight of the bow, ”Jex- ”
”Happy birthday, ” he said with a quirky grin.
Ray looked at him and gave a stubborn scowl. ”My birthday isn for another few weeks you dope, ” she said with a smile and whapped him upside the head.
”Ouch! ” Jex laughed. ”I know. But I bought it for you anyway, here. ”
He handed off the weapon to her, and she took it with a heeded grip. A smile met her face, and she drew him into a gentle hug.
e the best, ” she smiled, her dimpled cheeks bringing warmness to Jexs heart.
They weaved through the groups of people standing about the streets chatting and picking away at untold tales. Jex tried to pick out the perfect storyteller for the night while Ray walked next to him, admiring the markings engraved in the wood of her bow.
Beady eyes watched them, little did they know. ”Peculiar choice, ” he muttered and pulled his hood from his head of silver hair. A loud call escaped the breath of the man ”Gather round, gather round, ” he cried in a shrill, gruff yell, ushering the surrounding people with bony hands. The few who had stopped gathered round. His smiling, wrinkled lips were the marks of a worn adventure. Wisdom hung on his bushy brows and his hands settled on his sides as he waited. Spite the five people standing around, he knew two were missing. ”Gather round! I tell thee a tale never spoiled on thy lips! I claim thee true! ”
Jex caught the words downwind. He halted and looked back. Force, with greedy hands, seemed to beckon him back the direction they had come. He stared at the man.
”What is it? ” Ray asked him after stopping several feet ahead. She had placed the bow on her shoulder where it belonged.
”I haven got a clue… ” Jex stated. His feet compelled to move and drew him close to the circle. ”I want to listen to his story. Come-on. ”
Ray followed behind. They pulled up into the circle gathered in the old mans presence. The man smiled though his eyes stayed grave.
He began, his voice as light as hoots from an owl and strained with each vowel, ”I have not a tale of valiance but of utmost discovery and heart… My tale not be for those without desire and will to find what is most precious to them, for it was taken years ago from those unprepared, ” he paused the smile dying from his face as his story unfolded.
”Years ago, when creatures of myth and magic ruled the world, a kingdom ran supreme throughout the land, one only legends call The Kingdom of Zanaih. Ruled by the mystic, Zanaih was like no other. Ruled by the unity of heavens and darkness, they were at peace. This was, however, till Temptation himself stepped out of line and the creatures fell to their false desire and want. The higher bodies felt threatened. In an attempt to save their kingdom, they conjoined their power… into this, ” his hoary hands fished into his pocket and retrieved a small sliver of a gem.
Its color resembled blood with a metallic coating. All eyes turned to the shard in awe eying its jagged appearance. ”Another for my collection… ” Jex whispered.
The old man continued, ”I insure you this may be the greatest creation higher beings have blessed us with. The inevitable is not far from reach with this, a piece of a stone. Not any stone, however. Woven in the makeup of such stone lies knowledge, energy, guidance, peace-everything good and blessed though clouded and protected with darkness and magic. It has power that calls from within. In all attempt to save the kingdom… it did not prevail. The council and structure of peace collapsed, the Kingdom of Zanaih along with. The key was washed away, destroyed, and shattered, most claim never to be found again. Forever, the kingdom of Zanaih is lost to our knowledge and its beauty and creatures. But I find that to be wrong. It exists. ” He raised the stone, its severed edges gleaming in the light of a nearby torch.
The small group stared in silence as the man turned and stared at Jex. ”This stone brings nothing but a reason to go on, ” his stocky legs shuffled across the dirt of the road. He took hold of Jexs hand and placed the shard in his palm. ”For your collection, ” he stated. ”Im not discouraging you to find the rest now. Its quite the adventure. I cannot ale you enough. They are out there. ” The old man stepped back and raised his hands, peering around to the group of people. ”I give you a parting message. May the world change not in your favor but in time. Darkness there may be, but light will always return to those who seek it. ” The old man waved off the crowd.
Jex admired the stone as he and Ray merged with the flow of the crowd once more. Concern met Rays brow at the look on Jexs face. It was as if the stone had captured his soul and was pulling it out through his eyes in a golden wisps almost like magic or thats how she saw it.
She huffed then smiled, ”Well, that was a lovely story. ”
”It was, ” Jex answered.
Smile faltering, Ray rolled her eyes, ”Every year with you. You believe everything. Dragons, unicorns, trolls! ”
”Cause everything is worth believing, ” Jex insisted and tossed the stone in the air and caught it one handed as they found a place to sit. Jex held the stone up to the light. ”To think, a kingdom, a lost kingdom. Its got to be out there. ”
Ray adjusted the bow to sit in a more comfortable position. ”Oh Jex, you talk about chasing each story and concur each fairy tale… When will you grow up? ”
”But this ones real, I mean look here. ” He held the stone out to her to hold. ”Is this not enough for you? ” he asked with childlike hope. ”We could find it, find that stone and sell it, and become rich… or something. Itd be a pleasant trip. It can be far. ”
Ray laughed then searched the stone for answers, finding none. She shook her head in response. Jex wasn being serious or at least she hoped.
”I must tell you one thing… ” came the gruff voice of the elder man. He walked up to them with the use of a staff. There was a twinkle was in his soulless eyes for a moment. He pointed at the shard he had given to Jex. ”I fought and defeated a dragon for that shard… ”
”A dragon?! ” Jex was interested.
The man smiled and cooed, ”Yes, a green one, with golden eyes. Got me a good gander with the lizard, I did. ”
”Jex, he can possibly… ”
The old man smiled, Rays cheeks turning red from embarrassment as he pushed up his sleeve and revealed the scarring from claws on the aged, splotched skin on his left forearm. ”You were saying miss? ”
”Oh don embarrass her too much. She might hit ya, ” Ray then punched Jex in the arm.
The man howled, ”Oh Im sure she wouldn hit an elder… ”
”Try me, ” Ray spat and smirked, crossing her arms.
”Easy, easy there… ” The old mans eyes fell dark once more and he gazed upon the stone in Jexs grimy clutch. ”Ay, that shard has brought me nothing but happiness… as sadness too. It has brought with it many stories… but not all are tales I can recall myself… ” The eagerness radiating from Jex pushed him further, ”There are few who have chased after the Kingdom nor have made it farther than one man… He goes by the name Nimer. Nimer has slain more dragons with precision and taken many folk towards the kingdom. I cannot recall his story, but I was a part of his group in long journey towards finding the stone. Driven, he became a legend till he disappeared without warning. Though he fell from contact, his name came about again within the past few years… ” he looked them each in the eye, ”I tell ya, hes your best bet for a guide if you can find him. ”
”Where is he? ” Jex blurted with haste.
”Hes about a full days trip from here, Chathing I believe. ”
Jex clutched the stone, ”Chathing-thats in the foothills, ” he gasped and smiled, ”Not far… who will we be looking for? ”
”Ay, average height, black hair, young feller,
” he chuckled,
”Just don gamble with him. You
e guaranteed to lose. ”
”Id like to see him try to win against me, ” Ray snide remarked.
The man smiled and winked, ”Challenge everything, dear. This is the journey of a lifetime. ” Jex and Ray watched the old man waddle away and as he mingled with others around and soon disappeared.
The next few days rolled by, the waves of grain disappearing from the fields leaving them barren and tasteless. Frigid air kissed each face of the farmers as they bundled up the last of their grain. Satisfied with their goods, the tradesmen had filtered out of the town. The altars and statues of the harvest spirits, gods and goddesses came down with in days. The usual bustle of people walked the streets once again. It was only a matter of time before the first snow settled in.
With his harvesting scythe in hand, Jex went after Rays family fields like no other. His mind raced, his joy was over spilling throughout the days. He couldn contain it. He pretended he held a sword, attacking a beastly dragon and cutting off its head. He pretended to make wine from its blood and downed the bottle like a true victor.
After his daily activities and carrying several bundles of plowed wheat back towards the silos, Jex found shelter inside Rays warm farmhouse, feeling welcomed after a long days work with fresh brewed tea. He sat back on the couch. Ray lay close to him with a clay mug in her hands. The fire danced, painting a picture in the stone fireplace in the dim lit family room. The flames reflected in their tired eyes, each sip of their herbal tea becoming sloppy.
”I… still want to go, ” Jex insisted.
Ray lowered her mug and looked up to his face covered in a light glow of orange from the fire. She sighed, leaning on his shoulder. ”I know you do. But we have neither the money nor supplies to go. Besides, its just a story. When will you stop believing everything you hear? ”
Jex slid an arm around her shoulder. ”Never, ” he said with a smile. ”I can only think about finding the rest of the stone, selling it, and spending the money on those I care for. I want to find that stone and find my destiny… Ill slay a thousand dragons get there. ” He hoped more than anything, his destiny was with Ray.
Ray smiled burying her face into his arm. ”I know you would. ”
No later than the next morning, Ray awoke to a rap on her bedroom window. She rubbed her eyes and opened them only to find darkness. She shook her head tossing her thick brown hair about her shoulders.
”Whatever is going on… ” she growled and slipped on her moccasins and a warm coat before tiptoeing through her house being mindful of creaks in the old wooden floor. She reached for the brass handle, opening the front door letting the cool morning air flood into the house. The sky in the east was becoming lighter as the stars who played all night would soon go to bed with the moon. She shuffled around the front yard and froze startled by a figure standing in the shadows.
”Good morn and surprise, ” Jex chimed which was odd. Jex had never been a morning person. In his hands he held the worn leather reins of two steeds, saddled and geared with supplies and food. His bow and quiver were slung over his shoulder and his hood was up and over his hair. He had a bright, determined grin on his face.
Ray bit her tongue. ”Jex, are you crazy? ”
”No, why? ” he asked tilting his head.
”You… where… what are you doing? Its too early in the morning for games, ” she said in a harsh whisper.
”Im not playing games. Im being serious… Ray, our destiny awaits us, ” Jex urged. ”Come-on, what can be so bad about it? ” Ray had many answers, but he insisted, ”Come on… itll only be a few days. Well find it together, please? ” He gave her longing eyes full of plead. Even in the darkness, Ray could see it on his face.
She sighed, ”A week Jex, that is all. ” She said then smiled as she sped inside to get dressed.
An adventure… What could go wrong?
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