Lively Locals 9: Peaceful Crossing

Cracked Earth Landscape by Nickolay Stanev
Cracked Earth Landscape by Nickolay Stanev

Some years ago I was in the southern lands. My expeditions had not been fruitful of late, and I was in sore need of some coin. To tide myself over, I took a job as a bounty hunter. The town I was staying in at the time had been harassed by a group of brigands for several months. They pooled they resources, and offered me a hundred gold coins if I would bring them the heads of all seven bandits. Normally I wouldn’t have taken such a poorly paying job, but my purse was so light by that point that it may as well have been filled with feathers.

I waited until the band attacked once more, then pursued them from a safe distance, with as much subtlety as I could manage. Given their superior numbers, I did not want to face them in an even fight. I hoped to attack them in the night, when they could be caught unawares. Their path led through rocky hills, and into a wasteland of dry, sun-blasted earth. The ground was so flat that it would have been impossible to remain hidden, so I allowed them to pull ahead of me over the horizon, and continued to pursue them by following the tracks their horses left on the ground.

In the late afternoon, I happened to catch a hint of movement at the edge of my vision. I turned to see a pack of large, hungry-looking coyotes stalking me. I had no idea where they’d come from, but it was clear they intended to have my horse and I for a meal. Weary from the long ride and the harsh sun as we were, I knew I didn’t have much of a chance fighting the damned things, so I spurred my horse along and we took off as fast as we could. Which turned out not to be very fast, given our exhaustion. Up ahead of us, though, there was what looked to be a dry riverbed with an old wooden bridge across it. It would be as good a place as any to make a stand, so I made for it with all haste I could coax from my steed.

We made it across the bridge, where I leaped down and drew a dagger and shield. It wasn’t much defense, but at least it would prevent them from completely surrounding me, I thought. I turned and waited for them to pounce on me, but they never did. I could see it in their eyes the moment their forepaws landed on the decrepit wooden planks. Immediately I no longer interested them. They took a few more bounding steps forward, but their focus was lost. They all wandered about for a moment, before moving off together, leaving my horse and I untouched.

I was curious, so I examined the bridge more closely. It was clearly very old, but I was surprised by how sturdy it felt. I tried putting my feet through the boards, and shaking the railings, but nothing budged. Upon closer inspection, much of what I had assumed to be gnarled, worn wood was actually expertly carved with leaves, trees, birds, and other small woodland creatures depicted on the railings and posts. Clearly it had been built when its surroundings were much different. Either that, or whoever built it had a very unusual sense of aesthetic.

I jumped down to the riverbed below, and began digging my hands into the ground to see if I could tell just how long it had been since there was any water under the bridge. The surface was so dry that I had to loosen it with my dagger before I could begin searching at all. I dug perhaps a foot into the ground without encountering anything but dry, dead earth. I was about to give up and move on when I noticed some markings on the bottom of the bridge. They were made with paint, but still clear to see. It was a large circle with half a dozen runes inside of it. I copied it to some parchment I had as best I could, then climbed atop my horse and started to ride back the way I’d come.

Back in town I found a scholar who told me the symbol was an old elven one, meaning “Go in peace,” or “Walking the Path of Nonviolence,” or something else to that effect. It wasn’t until I spoke with her  that I realized I had completely forgotten about my pursuit of the bandits after I crossed that bridge.

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