Markus lived in a small, one storey house, in a row of one storey houses. He entered through the front door and propped his bow and quiver inside. He carried the fish-sac into the small kitchen and tossed it onto the table. Markus’ uncle, Jonin Andlo and his mother, Keritha Andlo were seated there.
“Welcome home, Markus. Did Maeilor give you any trouble?”
“He underpaid me for a fish because it had a knife wound where I had to stab it. And he underpaid me for the perfectly normal fish as well”.
“You had to stab a fish?” Jonin turned toward him, interested.
“It was at least a hundred pounds; four feet long, two feet wide”. Jonin’s eyes widened.
“Where did you find a fish that big?”
“The Maradeno River. Same place as always”.
“Really? Wow, that’s the biggest I’ve heard of. Now, why don’t you cook us up some of that fish?”
Markus sat out front, watching as people bustled about in the square, preparing for the festival in three days time. Women hurried in groups; discussing the decor and the catering no doubt, while others still chased small children who had a hold of one end of a banner as they ran with mirthful laughter. Men stood in groups, some discussing how much ale would be needed; others discussing the women they would dance with; and others still talked about other matters. Some were to be seen hauling carts laden with goods; others carrying tables or chairs; all under the watchful eye of a woman. They were seen as the better organisers for big occasions; men tended to become over obsessed with ale and women, so they left the organising to the women with the promise that they could handle the ale and wines.
Markus shook with laughter as a man was clapped over the head for dropping a table; he had been staring at a passing girl. He was now being furiously berated by a woman who appeared to be his mother. She boxed his ears and then sent him away, beckoning another man to take up the chair.
Markus smiled as his best friend; Sedunga Amathorn slouched over to him, dragging his feet, his head hung in shame. Sedunga was slightly smaller than Markus at around six foot; and he possessed a reddish-brown coloured hair that was cut tight to his scalp. Sedunga was slim, but his figure was misguiding. He was strong and extremely athletic.
He sat on the wall next to Markus. “Blast that woman; she works me like she would a pack mule”. Markus heaved a laugh.
“What? Carrying a few chairs from one side of the square to the other? That is the work of a child, Sed”. He continued laughing as Sed struggled to come up with a response.
“Very funny, Markus”, Markus continued his laughter, eventually coming to a stop. “So, do you intend on finally asking Salla to dance this year Markus? The whole village knows you two are the perfect match; everyone seems to see it but you”. Markus knew they were wrong, Sed was over-exaggerating. Sure enough, a few villagers had suggested they be a couple; two had even suggested they marry, but Markus knew Salla only saw him as a friend; a good friend at that.
“She won’t agree to it, Sed. She sees me as no more than a friend”.
“Whatever you say; whatever you say”, Sed sounded exasperated.
“Who do you intend to ask to dance, Sed? That girl you had your ears boxed over?”
“Maybe I will. Or I might ask Beilan, or Leilianda”. A smile crossed his lips as he said Markus’ sister’s name.
“It would be wise for you not to mess with Leili. She would tear you apart if you attempt your tricks with her, Sed”.
“All the more reason to try”, he ducked under a swipe of Markus’ arm, laughing. He danced away, spinning in circles, leaping through the air. “And it couldn’t hurt for you to try either, Markus. The worst that can happen is that Salla will reject your offer of a dance. I’d wager she accepts”. And with that, he was gone, vanishing around a corner.
As Markus turned his gaze back to the square, he noticed a man standing at the opposite side. He was dressed in an entirely black cloak; and he seemed to blend into the shadows. A normal person’s eyesight could not pick him out unless they focused. Markus’ heightened sight from years of fish spotting barely afforded him a glimpse of the figure. A hood drawn up around his head, none of his facial features were discernable. Markus blinked, and the man was gone. So there was a stranger in town? An indiscernible, black cloaked man. Who was he?