It started with a lantern on a road at night.
I was traveling alone, as I often did, my senses not on edge, but not dormant. The stars and moon were old friends now, comfortable, and not the beautiful distractions, the harbingers of romantic foolishness they’d been.
My weapons were sharp, my pace was easy, my body was sound, but I was thinking of the rest to come; they day was long, and as the horse clopped along beside me, a light came the opposite way, seeming to dance in the air, clinking as it approached.
Someone was holding up a lantern, the light pushing them into deep shadow so that only part of their face was lit.
I said nothing, and put the knife in my hand.
The light must have glinted off the blade, because they stopped.
“I’ve no money. Please don’t hurt me.”
It was the voice of a child, but that meant nothing; there were people in this world who had no problem using children as a ruse to tragic endings.
They put down the light, and I watched their moonlit shadow as they removed the hood.
“It’s just me…”
I still kept the knife to hand because we had to pass each other.
“Move along, then, and keep to your side of the road. I’ll keep to mine, and we’ll get where we’re going.”
“But it’s you I was looking for.”
I sighed, running out of patience. “Considering we’ve met for the first time, and I don’t count youths among my friends, I doubt it, now–”
“She told me I’d find you here, on this road.”
“The woman at the cottage on the hill. She said you called her ‘Amia.'”
It sent a jolt through me, because I thought I’d lost her. In fact, I had, but here she found me.
“She’s there, waiting for you. She asked me to meet you and show you the way back.”
“And what’s your name…?”
I half expected her to say she was my daughter, but nothing else seemed forthcoming, and I stood there for a moment or two longer than necessary.
“It’s getting late, sir. Will you come, or not? I am to either bring you, or tell her why.”
Nothing in me rang any warning bells; I was curious as to what happened to her, how she knew I was here, why she sent this young girl through a night forest to an empty road, and how at precisely the time of night I’d be on it.
As I recalled, she had no great powers to speak of, at least, of the supernatural kind.
Still, the best decisions throughout history were seldom made by moonlight, and perhaps a little of the old magic from those celestial bodies that have wreaked havoc on the heart were not quite done with me.
“Lead on, Alazne.”
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.