[You can read the story from the start HERE]
The shadows deepened in the valley that sheltered the village known to its several dozen inhabitants simply as “Home”. If the elders were feeling pedantic the might point out to the younger residents that its correct name was Claven Hill. They didn’t bother making this point very often as the younger ones simply didn’t care. Here is where most of them were born, where most of them would die and, they often complained, where very little would happen in the intervening years.
A traveler has once called the place “the sticks” and the name had actually become popular with locals for a while. Because changes were so rare here, even the discovery of its derogatory meaning was not enough to cause it to fall from favour immediately. Novelty was a far more powerful force than embarrassment. It was boredom that saw the eventual reversion to “home”. After all, wasn’t that what it was?
There hand only ever been one stranger that anyone could remember seeing more than once. He had stumbled in, battered and bleeding at about this time of late summer, many years ago. He made it clear he intended no harm to the villagers and they helped him inside a hut to rest. One of the first questions he had asked was to know where he was. The answer “Home” had an unexpected effect on him.
“I’d always wondered where that was,” he muttered and then he laughed. “I’m glad I finally found it.”
Most of the villagers knew little about him, regarding him simply as the unusual stranger who made a joke of referring to their home as his own. It had to be a joke. He visited for no longer than a few weeks every year. Only a few knew this behaviour was a rarity for the stranger who called himself Droban. He rarely visited anywhere more than once.
For all his oddness no-one begrudged him his stays at Home. He was a hard worker and would often bring trinkets with him as gifts. Many of these were reputed to have mystical powers. All were beautiful and undoubtedly valuable. And there were rarely problems with bandits or wild things in the surrounding woodlands any more although Droban had never claimed this was anything to do with him.
Once he brought back a stone, perfectly round and coloured a brilliant blue that seemed to glow in the sunlight. He threw it into the stream that passed the edge of the village, remnant of the mighty river that had carved this valley through the mountains over millennia.
He told them the stone would guarantee the health of the water and lands around it and surely he had been right! Nobody could remember so many fish being caught nor such bounteous harvests as had been reaped from the floodplains each year since. Since this proof of the great power in his gifts they had become prized even more highly and were now given pride of place above the hearths and doorways of those lucky enough to own them.
There were many conversations about which treasure might possess hidden powers but few answers. Some even darkly hinted that if some item had beneficial powers, might not some harbour malevolent magic? Was Home in danger from the mystical items brought in by this stranger? Cooler heads would always note these dark muttering came from people who didn’t have one of Droban’s gifts themselves. While this sort of talk might raise some doubts, nobody ever gave up their own treasure.
On this particular evening, Droban was busying himself with the mundane task of woodcutting. Most in the village did not understand why Droban would leave what must undoubtedly be an exciting life in the outside world to play his part in the everyday chores that formed their dull lives. To those he would share any details with, Droban would say he considered his life more dangerous than exciting. He had come close to death more than once while pursuing his goals.
Beyond that, to lead a life such as Droban’s, one could not avoid generating more than the usual complement of enemies. The nature of Droban’s adventures resulted in most of his enemies were dead but there were still many roaming the world who had a score to settle. So this village, virtually unknown outside its borders, was to Droban a haven both mentally and physically. Somewhere to heal his wounds and ease his mind, knowing the dark forces of the outside world wouldn’t touch him here.
The axe in his hands had fallen on many a skull in its long and colourful past. Now it fell on wood with equal proficiency and a good deal less colour. With a sharp crack it split another block neatly in two, a piece falling each way to join the growing piles.
“You will be leaving us soon, won’t you?”
Droban was slightly surprised to see his questioner. Jeth had been ploughing the fields on the plain in preparation for this season’s sowing and although the sun had sunk below the rim of the valley, it would be quite bright beyond that for perhaps another hour.
Droban did not answer straight away. Instead, he continued splitting firewood. Jeth showed no inclination to leave without an answer so Droban stopped to talk.
“Yes, my friend, I am leaving. Probably in the morning.” ‘Friend’ was not a word Droban used often. His nomadic lifestyle didn’t allow him to form close bonds, even in this village. Jeth was a rarity within a rarity: someone Droban trusted. Droban saw the concern in his friend’s face and laughed gently. He knew that Jeth did not understand his way of life, could never feel the forces that drove him. Droban did not fully understand why he lived as he did himself, but neither did he question it. He simply knew what it was he must do.
“I do not scorn your help in leaving, it is one of the few things I can rely on. You should not think me ungrateful in this. It is merely time for me to go.”
“Why must you go? Every time you go, seeking danger, I fear it will be the last time I see you.”
Droban laughed again, unaccustomed to having another express concern for his safety.
“There is no need for you to fear for me, Jeth. My time of ending is not yet here.”
Droban knew Jeth would not continue to question his motives. They had played through this scenario before, always with the same result. It was not in Jeth’s nature to tell someone their convictions were wrong. He did not know it but that was one of the reasons Droban considered him a friend. Besides all of that there would have been no point in further argument: Droban was not going to change his mind.
Jeth walked off after this exchange, not angry but still troubled, Droban could tell. He did not worry overly about Jeth’s reactions, he knew that Jeth found walking in the twilight eased his mind. After some time spent staring at the stars, Jeth would resign himself to things being as they were. There would be nobody else to argue with, in the morning Droban would simply be gone. He slept untroubled as Jeth continued walking deep into the night.
And did not return.