Bells echoed hollow and deep, marking the hour of sundown. Adahmri lifted his head, listening to the quiet bustle which filled the square. Merchants worked on packing up their storefronts and most of the children had already returned to their homes. The tall Council building upon a small hill just inside the village gates was silent. Lamps still burned within, indicating that the meeting of leaders had not yet concluded for the night.
A smile curved his thin lips as he turned his attention to a nearby bench. At the end of the winding path which led from the Council Hall, where it joined the main road that cut through the village, a little girl sat with a hooded lantern to illuminate the thick, tattered book she carried. The girl’s blue eyes glittered in the light, but her attention did not rest on the tome. She gazed up at the clear night sky, her young face smiling at all the shining stars as they blinked into sight one-by-one. Two moons shone down upon her, casting her in an almost ethereal light. Her long brown hair swayed gently in the Spring breeze. She was a picture of innocence, utterly unaware of the dangers of the world.
Adahmri’s shadows did not cling to him tonight. The white glow of his eyes was not visible. He was just a man here. His magic would not mark him tonight.
“Good evening,” the man called to the girl in a warm voice. The young girl blinked away from her fantasies and smiled cheerfully in greeting to the newcomer. Adahmri went on. “Do you mind if I sit here with you? There are no other benches.”
She turned her head, noting the dwindling activity about the square, but several members of the Militia stood on duty nearby. Though she was only eight years old, she knew to be careful around strangers. Sensing security under the Militia’s watch, she tugged her little lantern closer.
“Yes, you can sit here,” she replied, her voice light. Adahmri settled on the other end of the bench and she watched him curiously. “I haven’t seen you before.”
He chuckled. “Oh, you have not,” he affirmed. “I have only just arrived here tonight and this is my first visit to Cordak.”
“Is that why you needed to sit down?”
“Quite.” He studied her in kind, as if she was some kind of curiosity. “I am called Alen,” he continued. “Might I know your name?”
The girl shyly dipped her head. “I am Koragi Domerie,” she answered. “It’s nice to meet you, Mister Alen.”
Adahmri chuckled, a soft and friendly sound. “As I am delighted to meet you, little one,” he answered. “And what are you not-reading tonight, hm?”
Koragi blushed, looking down at the book in her hands. “This is our history lesson.”
“The whole thing?”
Koragi suddenly grinned. “No, just a chapter. I already read it.”
“Do tell me about it, if you do not mind.” Adahmri smiled at her. “I would not mind having something to listen to while I rest my feet.”
Koragi peered at him curiously. He didn’t look like he was tired, but maybe he had hurt his feet. He might have been wearing the wrong kind of boots for walking around a lot on the roads. Her mother always said to dress well for long journeys. Perhaps Alen’s mother had not known that.
“It’s about the gods,” Koragi started. She idly swung her legs as she looked up at the sky again, as if the pair of bright moons commanded her gaze. “The whole chapter was about their names and what they do for us. Like when we’re s’posed to worship them to get their blessings.”
“And who is your favorite?”
Koragi looked down at her lap and knit her eyebrows, as if it was imperative that she give him the right answer. A dimple on her forehead further demonstrated her concentration.
“Soragen,” she answered finally.
Surprised, Adahmri canted his head. “Soragen? Why so?”
“He gives us good crops and harvests,” she piped. “Mama says that he makes his presence known more than any of the other gods – except for Adahmri, but he doesn’t count.”
The man laughed softly, a twinkle of mirth in his dark eyes. “And why does Adahmri not count?”
“Because he’s a god-child, Mama says,” she answered, as if it should have been the most obvious answer. “He was born like a person, so it’s not like the other gods. They didn’t grow up with us on the ground. They’ve always been up in the sky.”
Adahmri smiled at the girl. Her innocent understanding of the gods was entirely too endearing. “Would you like to meet the gods one day?” he asked.
She beamed, no hesitation in her voice. “I would! Then I could thank Lord Soragen for giving us the wheats and the barleys!”
Adahmri laughed heartily. “I am sure he would like that very much,” he replied. “But I expect he can hear your prayers, regardless.”
Koragi grinned again and hugged her book to her chest. Up the path behind them, the Council Hall doors finally creaked open and three robed figures departed the darkened building. A plump woman led the trio, wrapped in a hooded cloak to ward off the chill. Adahmri gazed back at the approaching Councilors and stood. Koragi followed his gaze.
“Mama!” she called as she hopped down. The aging woman threw her arms open to sweep Koragi up into an embrace, which sent the girl into a series of giggles. “Mama, Mister Alen is new to town,” the little girl continued after leaning back from the embrace. Her eyes were wide and optimistic. “We should show him to the inn!”
The girl’s mother turned her gaze to the man by the bench and studied him long and hard. Adahmri just smiled pleasantly and approached with an outstretched hand.
“Alen,” he repeated. “A pleasure, my lady.”
“I am Myra Domerie,” the woman said. She turned aside and nodded to the other two Councilors, who then took their leave. Her eyes returned to the young man who had seemingly befriended her daughter. Lines of laughter and age creased her skin around her eyes and lips. Her silvery hair was tucked up into a perfect bun. “This is your first visit to Cordak?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Adahmri tucked his hands into his cloak when Myra did not accept the greeting handshake. “Your daughter was just helping me pass the time.”
“And for what were you waiting?” Myra’s eyes studied the man closer, as if trying to place some vague sense of familiarity. It seemed just beyond her grasp, like a fleeting memory of a face she’d seen once in a crowd.
“For the light to go out in the Council Hall.” Adahmri smiled. “I had hoped for an audience with you, Madame Domerie, if I might be so bold.”
Myra turned her gaze to Koragi, who tucked her head against her mother’s shoulder and just peered at them with distant curiosity as sleep began to call to her. Myra stroked a hand over the girl’s soft hair and returned her attention to Adahmri.
“We will speak in the morning,” she said. “The inn is just down the road. You should not miss it. It is the only one with the lantern on the porch.”
Adahmri smiled. “You have my thanks. I will depart tomorrow as soon as our business is concluded.” He looked at Koragi then. The girl had closed her eyes and now dozed against Myra’s shoulder. “It seems I ought bid you both goodnight for now.” He dipped into a polite bow and met Myra’s gaze. “Until tomorrow.”
Myra looked after the strange visitor as he turned on his heel and strode away. Confidence had oozed from the man, and that lingering sense of familiarity would not fade. She frowned and held her daughter close as she made her way home. Either she was simply overprotective or he would confirm her suspicions himself come morning.
Her arms tightened around the girl in her arms and she narrowed her eyes. Her suspicions were not kind.
Background Music: “Exodus (Cello Duet)” from Exodus by Miguel Johnson.