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Hadron the traveller, 26th November

by  Otter

Posted: Monday, May 7, 2007
Word Count: 1266
Summary: Satirical short story

The traveller Hadron leaned back against the wall of the cottage. It was the 26th of November, he was only two or three days journey from the ship that would take him home. Seated on the floor, not as close to the fire as he would have liked to be, he had eaten from his supplies, supplemented with food shared among the others who had taken shelter here. Before the fire, his boots steamed with many others and his cloak hung in the warmth of the rafters, drying out slowly.
There were the normal exchanges of strangers when he had entered but now the talk was quieter, a low hum broken by occasional laughter and the percussion of rhythm sticks of bamboo played by a young man near the fire.
The pack beside him was dry; he couldn’t have risked the contents becoming damp and had kept it tucked inside his clothes. His head rested on his larger pack uncomfortably wedged against the rough stone of the wall.
Beside him an older man, Adam, he’d said his name was, a shepherd or smuggler by his rough looks grunted and coughed as he drank from a flask. He offered it to Hadron who took a deep swig before passing it back with his thanks. The fiery liquid warmed him inside.
“So you’re on your way home now, eh?” The older man was striking up talk again. Hadron was glad of the sound of another’s voice; it had been a long trek over the mountains with only occasional glimpses of other people until now.
“Yes, I have to be home for my little daughter’s birthday, I have a good surprise for her this year.”
Adam grunted again, “and you’ll be surprising your lady too no doubt, friend after your long ways East.”
“What’s your surprise then?” A voice asked from the ring of bright firelight. It was a younger man, Davon who asked, as he broke from tapping together his rhythm sticks.
“I have a good one, as I said,” Hadron answered, but maybe I shouldn’t have spoken of it here.
“Now you’ll have to tell us or we won’t rest easy friend, keeping us in suspense” Davon said jokingly.
Hadron looked around at the others, they seemed to be akin to him, weary travellers seeking shelter from the storm. They had offered him a share of what hospitality there was in this place, a hut kept furnished with emergency supplies by the shepherds and travellers over the hills.
“I’ll tell you as you ask, “ he said, “While in the eastern roads, I came on a caravan of traders. They had all kinds of wonders. I think that some of them were wizards, they had strange looks; eyes all slanted and yellow tinted skin. I travelled with them for quite a distance and struck up a friendship. When it was time for me to take my leave, they gave me this pack of wonders that I keep safe here and it’s this I take home for my daughters surprise.”
“Is it treasure?” another voice asked, “precious stones, gold?”
“No it’s nothing like that.” Hadron answered, “A piece of lovely fabric that’s both warm and cool and very thin, and some powder.”
“Powder for the face?” Adam asked, “I’ve heard tales of women among the eastern traders who powder their faces white, but you don’t want your daughter to be up to their tricks friend.”
“No, it’s a magic powder, but they told me to keep it dry and said that when lighted, that stars will fly from it into the sky.” Hadron wondered now if he had said too much, they were listening intently, Davon had stopped playing his sticks and faces turned darkly from the firelight to look in Hadron’s direction.
“I’ve heard that they have evil arts these easterners.” Davon said, “They summon demons and dragons. Perhaps what you have there is not so good, it could release something you don’t want. It may be dragon breath not stars you’ll see and that won’t be such a good surprise.”
“Show us this powder, then,” said Adam abruptly.
“It’s wrapped up tightly.” Hadron answered, and I don’t want to unwrap it here. Now he knew he was in trouble, their faces loomed, he knew they could see him clearly in the firelight.
“Well I for one won’t sleep well this night if there’s dragon breath in your parcel, I’m for seeing this now and for us keeping it till morning for you, unless you’d rather sleep out there with the wolves.” Davon said.
“I’ll unwrap it for you to see, but I’ll keep it by me if you don’t mind.” Hadron answered. He took the parcel in his hands, which were a bit shaky now, and pulled on the knot of red thread that bound it tight. Slowly he unwrapped it, the beautiful yellow silk fell out slippery and shining in the firelight. He heard a small gasp, picked it up quickly. Then he took the small brown packet that had been inside the silk and tugged at its wrapper carefully to reveal a large pouch of strong leather. He opened the ties at the top of the pouch and held it open for Adam to see inside.
Adam swayed a little as he took the pouch from Hadron; he sniffed and put his finger into the powder.
“Its as he says” he said, “nothing but dust in there, I hope you didn’t pay good money for dust.”
“Lets all see” said another voice. The pouch was passed from one to another until it reached Davon at the fireside.
“Please don’t spill it, they told me only to light it outdoors as the stars fly fiercely and there’ll be nothing left if you all poke your hands into it!” cried Hadron in dismay.
“You have the pretty fabric, there’s plenty to give to your daughter there, it’s as fine a piece of fabric as I’ve ever seen,” muttered a voice from the shadows.
Davon looked at the powder. He said,
“I think maybe we should try a little now to see whether it’s stars or dragons will come forth. We could try a little in the fireplace to see what happens.”
A man who had been quiet up until now jumped up with his knife out,
“Don’t you release any dragon near to me!” he shouted, as he staggered around aimlessly, obviously worse for the drink, “If you mean to try it outside with you.”
“If its dragons they’ll be straight up the chimney won’t they?” another said.
“No! Leave it be!” Hadron was on his feet now, there was a scuffle and someone held him from behind. “Let me go! Give me back what’s mine I say!”
“Sit down all of you.” Davon said, “We'll try a tiny bit of this and if it’s harmless we’ll give it back. There’s plenty of us here to deal with it, you should be glad that you aren’t alone to try it yourself with your wife and child looking on.”
Hadron sat down and a couple of men drew their knives and stood warily close to Davon.
Davon drew a small pinch of the powder out and placed it on the fireplace but just at that moment the fire spit and a spark landed close enough to ignite the powder. A dozen sparks flew in all directions.
There were shouts from all around,
Feet danced around the floor, Hadron was pushed aside and a hand grabbed the bag and threw it all into the fire.