Today I thought I would share a short section from my latest fantasy novel, Road of Leaves. This snippet comes from the middle of the book, providing a humorous side story. Our main character, Thomas the magician’s apprentice, has just survived a harrowing journey through the first leg of the Road of Leaves. Thom and Francis, a monk from his traveling party, are trying to relax for the night on the Travelers’ Field, when another of their party shows up.
* * *
Thom looked to where the monk pointed and saw Geoffrey trudging onto the traveler’s field, appearing dejected. The youth looked around the meadow, spotted them, and headed their way.
“He’s coming to us,” said Thom with a slight frown. He had no desire to put up with that silly rooster.
“We’re the easiest to spot, being away from the crowd. You should have hid among all the others if you didn’t want to be noticed,” said Francis cheerfully. “Just be glad it’s not Iago coming over to sneer and insult.”
The noble’s son walked near but then stopped, apparently unsure if he would be welcomed.
“Lord Geoffrey, this is our camp,” said Francis. “If you come as companion and fellow camper, then welcome. You may come and join us. If you are looking for servants to order around, then find some other group because we are freemen.”
“I am simply looking for a place to sleep,” replied Geoffrey, raising both hands in protest. “Have I ever tried ordering either of you? I do not expect to be waited on. I just don’t want to be alone.”
The monk strode over and put a welcoming arm over the youth’s shoulder. “Then join us, my son. Set your saddlebags down and find some soft grass to cushion your blanket. You will have a more comfortable bed than most in that overcrowded inn, though maybe not as fine a dinner.”
Geoffrey dropped his bags and all three settled in to eat a cold meal, sharing what they had. Afterward, an awkward silence settled on them until Francis made a suggestion. “Why don’t the two of you go visit the pixie gathering? Tonight promises to be a boisterous one with such a large crowd of travelers. I will stay and watch our camp.”
Thom wasn’t certain he wanted to go carousing with a noble.
However, before he could demur, Geoffrey spoke up. “That is a wonderful idea. Always before, I have traveled by the Road of Waters to Camelot but this time I wanted to see a Pixie Eve. The other boys speak of it so highly. Let us go, Thomas.”
“Have fun,” said Francis. “I will enjoy some quiet for my prayers. But be wary of the Pix Ale, for its potent enough to make a bear drunk, let alone young fellows like the two of you.”
Geoffrey headed off, now excited, motioning for Thom to join him. The apprentice felt he had no choice but to go along.
“Oh, and one more thing, Thomas,” said Francis as the two left. “Pixies are drawn to music and to magic, so if you don’t want them pressing in on you, avoid crafting any enchantments.”
“No matter how hard anyone begs, they’ll get no magic out of me tonight,” said Thom. His ability to hear magical elements still had not returned, but he didn’t want to say so in front of the nobleman.
Francis gave him a frowning nod, apparently understanding what he meant.
* * *
The walk helped to clear Thom’s head, the dizziness fading. However, he was still deaf to magic. He tried his best to ignore that loss, concentrating on the darkened village they were passing through.
Sometime during their walk over to the Pixvale green, Geoffrey started treating Thom like a fellow squire. He shared his excitement of intermingling with pixies and experiencing their native customs. “I heard from David that a pixie girl’s kiss is as soft as a puppy’s fur but will set your lips to burning.”
“Don’t try stealing any kisses,” urged Thom, imagining the young noble angering the whole assembly. “We are in their land now and not your father’s.”
Geoffrey giggled nervously. “I would not be so bold a thief even at my father’s court. Do not worry, Thomas. I will not molest any pixie’s lips, though I will certainly not refuse any kiss offered.” Again he giggled with excitement.
Thom heard more outrageous stories about the powers and proclivities of pixies, all sworn true by various squires of the court and not one of them believable. As Geoffrey bantered, Thom listened without much comment. By the time they reached the commons, Thom was convinced that the Goat Woman was not disguised as the young noble, for he doubted anyone could keep up such an act.
On the community green, the pixies had already started their evening competitions. Thom heard music, singing, and laughter. Tall torches stood everywhere, giving the area an abundance of light. He saw pixie men sitting in a circle for some sort of drinking game. Apparently humans were welcome, for three men sat among them, towering over the smaller folk. A pair of pixies marched around the outside of the circle carrying a large pitcher and, whenever the singing stopped, they grabbed the nearest sitter and pulled his head back, pouring a dark, foamy beverage into his mouth.
“Look! A Draught Circle. Jacob claims to have won at that last year, winning a keg and a pixie’s kiss.”
Thom sensed that the squires of the royal court spent as much time dreaming about cuddling a girl as they did dreaming about becoming a knight. He had no such luxury. He was still just an apprentice and of no interest to any woman looking for romance. Following a few more years of total poverty, he had another decade as a journeyman. The only women trying to kiss him wanted something, be it money or a potion to curse their enemy. When they learned he had neither to give, they quickly lost interest.
As they stepped onto the grasses, Thom noticed a line of canopies where the visiting nobles congregated. “Do you want to go over there, my lord?”
“Me? Not likely,” said Geoffrey, frowning. “I would be spending the whole night running errands and fetching drinks. I might be a squire at Camelot, but here I would be just another lad to order around. Besides, some of them are the louts I was traveling with when my horse faltered. They denied me aid when I needed it, so I have no desire to be in their company. I am a gentleman, but they might provoke me to call them out for their boorishness.”
Thom doubted that a mere squire could demand a fight from his betters, but he was no expert on noble customs. Frankly, he gave Geoffrey’s words little hearing, for he was distracted by one of those walking among the canopies. She moved gracefully through the crowd, carrying a full flask of wine but spilling not a drop. She took it to a middle-aged woman reclining on a campaign chair under the middlemost tent. The maid poured into a waiting cup, expertly anticipating her mistress’ tendency to jerk the target as she watched the festivities. When done, the maid stepped back out of the way to await her next order.
Thom remembered her face, her smile, her vibrant personality.
(Buy your own copy of Road of Leaves and enjoy the whole tale)
Thanks for reading.