There were great throngs in the village square, sitting and standing in the firelight. Their different colored garments were drab but had an air of festiveness. Wendahl stood at the side of an old, old tree, leaning and shivering.
“The people are rather generous with their vittles tonight,” he said.
Derrick tossed a rock between his hands. Colin sat on the ground in a heap, motionless.
“I could share some right now,” Colin observed plainly.
Derrick spoke up.
“We could get some I bet, right Wendahl? Come on! What’s your plan?” he cajoled.
Wendahl looked over a bit, and seemed to stop shivering for a moment. He spoke calmly.
“Well, there’s about five families sharing that pig over by the stone. I figure we could always belong to a different family than the one we’re nearest too. If you don’t look out of sorts who’s going to ask?”
The other boy, Derrick, smiled a wide, wide grin.
“Don’t get too cocky, if your plans always worked we could of had a roast chicken by now of our own.”
Wendahl looked up.
“No, no… no, no… if Colin hadn’t tripped we would’ve gotten past the kitchen door easy, and the woods are right by Cralth’s fields.”
“Yeah, that and that crazy fat woman. I’ve never had to duck a broomstick like that before, not even while living with my step Grandmother! Are you okay, Colin? Heh heh, I swear she was going to beat you bloody. You’ve got to learn how to scurry, Colin, not just sit there like a dope while they swat at you.”
The two of them laughed, and Colin kind of guffled happily a bit. Wendahl looked for a moment, paying attention, and kind of moseyed along out from under the tree. The other two followed behind, walking with no hurry and seemingly without aim.
They reached a group of people, and walked along nicely. Wendahl went up to a table, decked out with a succulent roast pig and some bowls of earthy looking vegetables and sauces. He grabbed a bone, and took a big bite, leaning on the table. His two companions smiled back at him.
There was a commotion at the center of the square, people giving a loud cheer and hurrahing, and everyone seemed to quiet down. Then the strumming of an instrument was faintly heard, and slowly grew louder. A brisk tenor’s voice licked syllables out of the air, which seemed to fly to Wendahl’s ears over the distance. The roast pig was full of fatty juices, which began to fill up all the cold air in him and warm the whole world.
He felt the excitement of the families around him and the music danced up into the sky, and it seemed that there had always been laughter and music in the square, that it had never been an ordinary place where villagers simply passed through.
The minstrel played many songs, some which people would clap and skip to and some that they would just sit and listen to, still as the sky.
Soon he forgot about the roast pig and the cobblestones and the chill breeze that would blow every now and then, and only knew of old tales of love and woe, of dismal dungeons where lost lovers waited forever, of monstrous creatures from ever below, of blade and fire and beauty and spire, of towers that climbed higher and higher, of secrets untold, mysteries of old, treasures more precious than silver and gold. And then the minstrel’s playing ceased, his voice gently was quenched.
The people sat and bathed in the stillness for a moment, and then laughter and speaking murmured across the square. The people began to get up and move away from the square, becoming sparser and sparser. Wendahl stood and watched them, motionless, watching as fewer and fewer people were left.
On nights like this, after the minstrel’s playing ceased, when the music finally turned back into silence, he felt a horrible emptiness, a kind of gray nothing that enveloped him and seemed to suffocate all passage of time. He would look up at the stars, but they were like little points of nothing on a thin black lie.
He wondered often if other people ever felt it too, but it seemed as if they never did, and he never asked anyone. After all the people were gone, he sat and watched the embers slowly die out, shivering and watching.