Chapter 1


            The capital of Upper and Downland buzzed with activity.  Once a month market merchants came from near and far to sell their goods to the people of Carpagio. Here you saw everything displayed on dozens of little stalls. Different colorful collections of fabrics, from cotton to silk, foodstuffs like apples and pears, also carrots and all sorts of cabbages, tomatoes, and potatoes, parsnip and ginger, they were but a few of the hundred species of merchandise you could find on the market of Carpagio. There were also merchants who sold artistic objects they had fabricated during the last month. There were even merchandisers with chickens, pigs and all sorts of birds who praised their goods in a cacophony of animal sounds. A few even sold exotic species like lynxes, little crocodiles and monkeys.

            The merchants themselves were a multi-colored group of people. Those from Downland were dressed in red and yellow outfits. On the other hand, the Upperlanders decorated themselves less explicit. However, their uncovered upper arms were tattooed with Upperland runes. It was a grade for the richness of the salesman, the more you had, the wealthier you were supposed to be.

            Upperland consisted of three departments from west to east: Westerend, Kondor and Speloek. There the inhabitants were known as boastful. You could hear them from far away praising their goods. They were also crafted artisans. Their wares were not the cheapest, but you got quality for your money.

            The people of Downland came from Spira, Konteki or Mandregon. With abundant drawings on their forearms, they were the silent ones, but almost citizin of them was a hard worker. A bit surly in the interaction, you couldn’t always trust them. Once in a while they tried to sell inferior goods to naïve buyers and for a rather costly price. When they were provoked they were serious enemies. At their belt, they often carried a set of knives which they draw rather quickly to prove them right.

            Tom Varsen was from Carpagio. This Upperland city was situated in the department of Westerend, where you also could find the royal castle and the parliament building. He was an apprentice blacksmith with Sam Dorense, the best blacksmith of the capital of Westerend and surroundings. At the occasion of the monthly market day, Tom got some free hours so he could skim all the stalls off. Every time it was sort of a holiday for him. He loved the noisy atmosphere which floated around the market merchants and their little stalls. He inhaled the penetrating and exotic smells of their wares. Most of all, he loved to be with the animal vendors. Tom could sit and look for hours at their animals without showing a sign of boredom.

            Today he had, as always, taken place on his favorite spot, a milestone which was perfect as a sitting place and from where he could observe the exotic stall. The young Varsen was just in place on the short pole when he heard different people shouting. Tom couldn’t see what happened because of other people who were in his way. They were all curious about the screaming.

            Just when he looked at the left side of a little group he saw a little oblong ferret escaping between the legs of them, and he understood the nature of the commotion. The animal was escaping out of the vendor’s cage and tried to keep his sudden freedom by finding a way through the legs of the people on the outside.

           Tom started to walk and followed the small animal from a distance while the crowd hadn’t noticed that the ferret had made his way between the legs of the group of people. The animal turned around the corner into an alley and so the white ferret left the marketplace. Young Varsen was curious and secretly followed the escaped animal.

          After a few side-streets, he had lost the ferret. While he brushed through his black hair, he looked around him. Where was he? Suddenly he saw his little head, stretching out of a door on the left side.

         ‘Hey, there you are, little rascal.’ Tom carefully walked to the door where he had seen the little ferret. The door was open, but he couldn’t distinguish a lot in the semi-darkness of the room. Would he go in? It wasn’t polite to intrude in one’s home without an invitation. Some would find it even criminal. Still, his curiosity won from his elementary politeness. He always could say he was looking for the ferret in the assignment of his rightful owner.

          The room was oddly covered with carpets on the walls. The furniture was sober and existed of a table and a couple of chairs. On the table, there were lying a lot of strange play cards and a few candles stood upon it, with run-out wax on the table top. On the opposite wall, a doorway was covered with colorful ribbons. However, no trace of the ferret.

          Tom hesitated and wiped again through his hair. ‘Is somebody here?’ he asked eventually. He heard a noise behind the ribbons. ‘Hello…!’ he shouted, loud enough that the person in the other room could hear it. Tom didn’t want them to think he was a burglar.

          After a few seconds, a girl arrived through the ribbons. She had black curly half-long hair and her skin was a bit darker than his. Her clothing was from Upperland. She wore a red skirt and a blue blouse and around her neck, she had a big red shawl. The white ferret lay in her arms and she caressed his hair. Strange enough, the animal was behaving as a domestic kitten. Obviously the ferret trusted the girl.

           ‘Hello, stranger,’ the girl answered while she put the little ferret on the table. The ferret curled himself and stayed obediently on the table.

            ‘Can I help you with something?’

            A surprised Tom stumbled over his words. ‘I would… I mean… the ferret… what I really want to say… I was looking for this ferret… He was escaped and… eh…’

            The girl laughed. ‘Yes, it’s not the first time an animal escapes when it’s market day. They always know to find me. Don’t you agree that locking up animals is a crime? A ferret belongs to be free. Free in nature, that’s how it should be anyway, isn’t it?’

            She was petting the animal and it stayed remarkably calm during her caresses. It didn’t try to escape anymore. Tom could swear the animal liked and enjoyed it even to be touched this way.

            ‘I saw the ferret escaping and I would take it and bring it back to his owner.’ Tom had found his words again. He was over the first scare. ‘I’m Tom Varsen and I am an apprentice of the blacksmith. Do you live here?’

            The girl smiled again. ‘Not always. I’m originally from Mindar in Speloek. My name is Yila Madrigal. Now and then I come to help my grandmother in Carpagio. She’s a medicine woman, and being old already she’s happy when I visit her and give a bit of help.’ She stretched her hand out to shake his.

            Tom tried to do that, but a spark jumped over between their fingers almost touching each other. He was startled, but the girl looked very attentively at him.

            ‘Don’t be afraid. Sometimes this happens with me. Now and then a spark jumps over between a person and me. It means something, but to know for sure I have to throw the bones. I can do that if you want. Would you like that? Are you curious to discover the meaning of that?

            He knew the kind of women who read the future for a bit of money. Probably she was meant to read his future. Well, why not, he thought. Maybe he could have a good laugh about it. He didn’t believe in it, but he had nothing else to do.

            ‘I don’t have a lot of money. If it’s not too expensive… maybe… yes!’

            She grinned. ‘This is for free. I see you are an animal-friendly person. It’s in your eyes. I’ll charge you nothing because… well, just because I want it.’

            Tom was surprised. It didn’t happen every day that someone offered to read him his future and… for nothing.

            After she had lighted up the candles she pulled out of her skirt a bunch of bones. Tom looked at them and saw that those were bones of little animals. She shuffled them in her hands and threw them with a simple gesture on the table.

            ‘Hmm… strange.’

            ‘How do you mean? Something bad…?’ Tom looked at Yila with a suspicious look. Would she fool him into something? He was rather skeptical about fortune-telling.

            The girl silently gazed at him for a moment.

            ‘We shall meet again in the future, Tom Varsen. We will not stay strangers from each other. It’s written in the bones. You will make a long voyage… and…’ Here she stopped her explanation.

            ‘And what… what did you see next?’ Tom didn’t believe her but liked to hear the continuation of her story. Maybe he could catch her speaking a lie.

            ‘Your nephew in Mandragon is sick. Your parents will send you to him, to help his parents on the farm now that he’s ill. Your travel will not be without danger. Do watch your back, Tom Varsen. Danger, it isn’t a fair player.’

            ‘My nephew Johin Balden, how do you know? How do you know where he lives? Have you met him? The last time I’ve seen him, he was as healthy as a fish in clear water. And now he’s sick, you say. I can’t believe that. I’ve never met a guy as healthy as my nephew.’ Tom almost got angry about it. To let people worry with slander which was founded on nothing. He couldn’t appreciate such a behavior.

            Yila threw the bones again.

            ‘It keeps coming back. I just can tell you what I see. Nothing less, nothing more. That’s the way with bones.’

            Tom thanked her and said farewell.

            ‘Not farewell, Tom Varsen, it will be a goodbye for us. I’ve seen it and so will it be.’


© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere





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