Poison-ivy

This is a classical fantasy setting: a small band of characters starts out to do something that seems simple enough and escalates into a significant, life-altering quest for them.

Mirko cursed under his breath and rubbed his itching arm through his sleeve.  He was walking through the trees at the edge of Kinewick forest, the canopied branches above sheltering him from the thin, misty drizzle that was all the day seemed to hold.  The sky was grey, and the sun barely visible as a lighter disc in the clouds, somewhere near noon.  Underneath his feet the grass, getting steadily longer as he left the forest behind, bent, gently standing back up again as he passed, and a soft, loamy smell rose up.

He paused for a moment, rubbing the water from his eyelashes and face with his other sleeve to avoid any chance of cross-contamination, and checked his bearings.  Then, glancing briefly at the sky, hoping for a patch of blue sky that might bespeak an end to the miserable drizzle, he changed course and left the forest behind altogether, crossing a meadow to a plank-bridge over a small stream and the outskirts of Kinewick itself.

The bridge's planks were soft and bowed, and as he reached the middle they dipped closer to the water than he'd have liked.  They needed replacing but the townsfolk of Kinewick were lazy about doing it themselves, and adamantly refused to let the druids grow one for them.  The current Mayor was very reluctant to have any kind of magical assistance in the town, and curiousity about that was beginning to grow.  He edged across, wishing the bridge not to break and make him still wetter than he already was.  The stream, the Kinedrink, wasn't all that wide but it was astonishingly deep in the middle, and Mirko had heard rumours that a Nereid or two lived in there.  Water wasn't his element though, so he only came this way when he needed to visit the town.

Across the bridge there was a trampled path across another meadow, this bordered with neat, tended hedges.  At each corner was a small copse of trees.  The druids insisted on this, and came and inspected the layout of the fields and farms twice a year.  There were movements in the hedges that a non-druid would have missed -- the rustle of rabbits and birds, and the infrequent crack of old wood as predators lurked, waiting for a chance to eat.  All this was like an overlaid soundtrack to Mirko though, as though two worlds were superimposed on one another.  He found it refreshing, a fascinating way to see two sides of the same reality, but not everyone could handle it.

At the end of the meadow the path split, going in three directions.  The left-hand split went off towards Home Farm and Hill Farm; the middle path led into Kinewick town, and the right hand path, much shorter and whose end he could already see, was where he was going.  It led to a group of three small houses, right on the outskirts of Kinewick.  One was Alenna's, the healer, and where he was going.  The second was Ramboc, the alchemist, who worked closely with Alenna on potions and unguents.  And the third belonged to Zesh, the clock-maker, who insisted that this was the only spot quiet enough in town to work.

He rubbed his arm through his sleeve again, and headed for Alenna's house, hoping there wouldn't be anyone else there.  A druid having to ask for ointment for poison-ivy was embarrassing enough without witnesses.

The End

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