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“Neither man nor death

can coax him to move with purpose.

The wind can’t carry his dreams.

The road will forever be endless.

Perhaps he’ll be late to his own grave.

Still,

his intentions unknown to himself.

Even lies have depths of truth.”

Alphion


 

 

Di’Marco grimaced, turning away from the rising sun peeking through entangled branches. He shifted his weight and nestled in for more unnecessary rest. His destination, the village of Harleah, was only a field away. After receiving unwanted help from a passing caravan on the trade route, he arrived two days ahead of schedule. Known to never be on time, he found it best to forego the homecoming formalities. Thus, hiding his satchel in the sharpest of bushes and climbing the tall Harlean tree, that stood idle on the roadside, to make camp. Di’Marco yawned and let the scent of local flowers drown him to slumber.

As gusts ebbed and flowed along the deserted trade route, the trees swayed and crackled. Di’Marco, ignorant of his surroundings, thought his joints had stiffened and cracked. Why did I come here again? It wasn’t hard to let a question turn rhetorical when the sound of footsteps pressed against the gravel road—about forty paces away. Either a broken caravan or a broken heart has led them here, an isolated road of memories. The gusts changed to wondering whispers among the leaves.

“Where is he?”, the woman asked.

Di’Marco didn’t move from his perch, but his curiosity now provoked. Hmm. About twenty or so. Who’s she meeting?

The woman was less than ten paces away from where he laid. She yelled, “MY LORD! WHERE ARE YOU?”

Lord? Di’Marco’s eyes opened but his body balanced on the branch. “Who are you expecting my lady?”, he called out.

“My Lord? Is that you?”, she asked. The woman looked around but saw nobody.

“If I may, to whom shall I honor?”, Di’Marco asked.

“I am Eleanor Belle Garde, my Lord.”

Di’Marco’s blood coursed through his body; his memory now triggering a name. Ellie?! He grabbed the closest branch and swung onto the ground, hoping to surprise her. Underestimating the height of the tree, he landed in a crouched position. Standing back up, he posed himself with a gallant look. “It is I, Lord Di’Marco. How fairs you, young squire?” He heard muffled giggles and turned to a blushing village girl pointing at him.

“My Lord, your trousers.” She turned away and bled out the laughter she had constrained.

“How unfortunate of you to lack the sense of comedy, dear squire?” Di’Marco crouched and fastened his trousers quick. “Plus, I cannot help but lose my composure to such a beautiful woman.”

“We both know you’re lying Di’Marco.”, Ellie said more seriously.

“I may lie, but I throw in a pinch of truth. It clears my soul so that I may sleep better at night.”

“Then you must lie a lot.”, Ellie said. “So, the rumors were true! You are returning home.” She ran to him and embraced her childhood friend. “It’s really nice to see you again, Di’Marco.”, her face blushing once more.

“I missed you too, Ellie. And yet, after all this time I’ve been away, you continue to play our farce of lords and knights. Have you not outgrown this?”

Remembering her place, Ellie composed herself and went back into character. She curtsied and said, “Apologies my Lord, I have forgotten my mission. Based on rumors at the Scarlett Cup, the demon Queen let loose a rumor of your arrival. I took the opportunity to heed her warning of meeting you, so that I may fulfill my duties to you as the squire you titled me.”

Di’Marco turned to the spiny bush, where he had hidden his pack and plucked it out with his sleeve covered hand. While lashing it to his back, he said, “So, the demon queen lives? Not a surprise, dear squire. Tales of her heart encased behind raging walls of fire, match only her attitude and locks that grow from her head.”

Ellie, pretending to be scared, said, “My Lord, if it weren’t for you, I too would’ve been that way. I am her younger sister after all.”

“Come, squire, let us forget your birthright for now. Our path to the Scarlett Cup awaits! Shall I tell you of my tales of travel as we walk down this perilous road?”

Ellie, grabbing hold of his arm, said, “I have always admired your tales, my Lord. But for now, let us walk in silence.”

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