The dawn clawed its way over the horizon, red and bloody fingers reaching up and to the sky, tearing open the dull grey rags that clothed the blue, and a pitiful rain bled out onto the scorched earth below. The drops that fell were as scattered as the clouds that birthed them, offering no succor to the parched ground; puffs of dust kicked up were caught and swirled in a directionless wind, tossed about and laid back down like a careless confetti. On a cliff that overlooked the dismal scene, weathered brows drew together in a concerned frown, gnarled fingers stroked a long, wiry beard, and watery blue eyes turned from the view and fell upon a tiny form swaddled at his feet.
“Come, S’aadi,” the old man whispered. His voice was the wind, tugging at the feathers of a strange bird that perched within the limbs of a dead tree nearby. “we are only just begun.”
* * *
With a start, Dhalen sat up, and nearly knocked himself cold again upon the low beam that ran the length of the stables. With a groan, he lay himself back down as memories of the night before came back to mock him. A soft murmur, and a warm body curled a bit closer to him; a long, lithe leg draped itself over his own. Jetta–the wench he’d been trying to bed for more than a month–that must be her? For the life of him, he could not recall having tried to land another last night. He shifted to get a better look at her in the dim light, and the masses of her honey-brown curls fell away long enough for him to–Wait. Honey brown? He sat up further with a start, and winced as his head came in contact with the beam once more, waking up the young form beside him. With a groan, he tilted the face toward him, and saw the blank sleep-smile of Haile, the inkeeper’s daughter. When he had finally come to accept that no amount of staring would change her features to those of the comely Jetta, he began to dress himself with rapidity, trying desperately not to wake the young girl. It was to no avail; she awakened as he fastened his trews and reached for his boots. Her hand touched his, her fingers light and questioning–he pulled back with a start, nearly throwing himself from the loft.
“What!?” he yelped, looking back to her with wide, confused eyes.
There was a very sad smile on her face as she murmured, “You weren’t going to say good bye.”
Instant shame coloured his cheeks as he heard the hurt, evident in her voice. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her as he jerked his boots on, and continued his preparations to leave. She said nothing, but the silence was more than enough for Dhalen, who knew it better than any that it wasn’t her fault she wasn’t Jetta.