Chapter Twenty Two

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Chilled air made its way through the town, rustling the fall leaves, greeting the townsfolk with the first comings of winter. Imra grumbled at the cool air and continued sweeping the dirt from the stone path that snaked from her small cottage to the dirt-packed road that led through the center of the small village, connecting it to a series of other roads that led to all manner of places that she had no interest in. The morning was just picking up, with most of the travelers heading out and the farmers moving in to set up their carts. Eli had already sparked the forge, and she saw old Henry Peck, with his cart full of milk pulled behind his devil ox, making his way into town. The fools, she thought. Alador knew how they could go on with their day as if nothing in the world was wrong. She saw the images, the death and destruction, over and again in her dreams. It was not like her dreams to be wrong. Many of the townsfolk called her the Sage, though she did not fancy the name in the least. It made a mockery of her gift, of her visions of what would come to pass. They could not even begin to comprehend what she truly was, though she had been reduced to a common housewife; a grumbling maid shackled to the small, bleak town.

The cottage behind her was quaint, tucked away just inside the trees and far enough from the road that she was not woken by the night’s travelers. In previous days, it did not matter, but recently, the roads had been more and more alive due to the new decree sent from the Silent king himself. Eight fighting men led by a knight she did not recognize, from a house she did recognize—though only by the sigil in her dream, not from any knowledge of the lesser houses, or greater ones, for that matter—entered the town the night before. They were staying at the inn just down the road, but she liked to keep her distance from the other townsfolk as much as possible.

It was not odd to have knights and fighting men traveling, not since the Lost Prince did away with two of the realms finest. It was all gossip of course, and she didn’t think to believe a word of it. No doubt it was just a story fabricated to justify the king’s most recent actions. He would stop at nothing to control every aspect of their lives, of that she was certain. She finished sweeping the walkway and put the broom back inside the cottage. The walk into town took only minutes despite her aching bones, and she immediately wished she could have been elsewhere, or perhaps younger, either would have been sufficient. The market was bustling, even more so than the day before. Damn Edgar for fancying stew, the old lard. She could have been back at home milking the goat and reading, but she had to make a stew, and, to do that, she needed food that she no longer had the patience to grow or groom.

The market stood in the middle of the town, just across from The Prancing Turnip, the only inn for thirty leagues—unless you were to go to Dunmont, and Imra despised cities more than she despised towns. Eli’s smithy rang with the sound of hammer on hot iron, and Miss Margaret’s clothier was just as busy as it had ever been. Imra knew that most of the townsfolk were afraid of her. It was apparent on their faces when they walked by, trying to avoid touching her or looking her in the eye. Respect was no longer a virtue given to the elderly, not in those parts.

Horses whinnied as they were tied off, and she could hear Neiland in the background, doing his best to let the people know that they were doomed without Alador. She shook her head as she picked through the crops on the table. There was gold corn, white corn, eye beans, peppers, ginger, cloves of garlic, onions, mushrooms, and every other type of vegetable one could hope to find this time of year.

“The harvest was good, Sage.” The voice was that of Cecil Barren’s grandnephew, Ryle. He was no more than sixteen, and a strong lad. Ryle was not large, but nor was he small. He stood about average height and weighed much the same. His dark hair was cropped short on the top of his head. No doubt he was the main reason the Barren’s harvest came in.

Imra glared at the boy, her lips a line, her eyes narrowed. “A lot of good it will do ya, Ryle Barren.”

The boy only smiled. “Half off today, Sage, Pa is looking to get rid of the stock. ‘Too many greens,’ he says.”

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