Some say that the moon is like a mirror to sun. That sun uses moon to cast light even at night, when it would be powerless otherwise.
This night, beams of moonlight tried to find their way through the clouds as noise of digging was spreading around. A crow cawed.
“Get lost filthy scavenger! There’s no food for you tonight.”
“Another night like this and i will tie myself a loop I swear! A nice tight loop...”
“Cut it out will ya? It ain’t all that bad. We dig a hole time to time and get enough to afford a warm place to stay and food for every day. Or do you wanna go back to the village cemetery? Diggin’ several graves a day?”
“I sure ain’t wanna go back there. Since the plague’s started, the village diggers can dig their hands off.”
Talmir reached out for a rock and tried to hit the hungry guest, but he didn’t. The rock bounced off the branch as crow moved to another one. “Damn you cursed thing! Next time I will get you!”
The clouds moved away and the moonlight has revealed marks on trees, burnt torches and bags besides the hole.
The knife slid easily through the flesh as skilled hand guided it. The woman took the chunk and threw it on the grate. This early the inn was almost empty, only two dirty old men sat at a table by the window. She took the mugs and headed towards them.
“Rough night, gentlemen?”
“Rough night indeed.” Strada replied without showing interest in chatting.
“Where is Lada ? And who are you anyway?” asked Talmir after a long sip.
“Lada is ill. I serve for the time being. The name’s Baldimera.”
“So Lada too? That’s a pity. She was a good wench.” murmured Strada and both men turned their faces to the beer.
“You talk like if she was dead already!” spoke Baldimera surprised, but none of them paid heed to her any-more. “Crap!” she cursed as she smelled the burnt meat and rushed towards the stove. Two men got engaged in a quiet conversation as she was scraping the burnt steaks.
Outside a stranger rode slowly on his horse, calmly, unnoticed for everyone minded his own business. “I hear a disease troubles you, good people!” the rider shouted as he stopped at the busiest place of the whole village where healthy were taking care of the sick. He showed no kindness in his voice, nor woe. One could say it sounded almost mockingly. An old man that hindered rather than helped raised his head and gave the stranger an inclement look, though pity it induced, not fear.
“What do you care? Did you come for a bite? We sure have a lot of meat.”
“Quiet old man! I’ve come to help.” At this more people turned their sight towards the stranger.
“I’ve been sent by the King, to help...” The grumpy old man spit on the ground when he heard this.
“The king himself you say? And what does our king ask in return for this generous gesture?” and he spit again.
“He asks of you nothing but this: allow me to help where I can and to end your suffering where i can not. And as for orders...”
“Orders? What orders?” the grump asked fretfully. Stranger sighed and continued:
“No one is to leave or enter this village until the order is called off.”
The rest of villagers gasped in surprisal.
“Starting this night, the village will be watched. Everyone who dares to disobey is to be punished by guardsmen surrounding Rhaba.”
The first signs of lament were starting to arise, but were immediately silenced by stout gruff voice.
“Hard times have come to us if the king himself sees us as a threat.” said the chief of Rhaba.
“At last! You must be Preslav!” called the stranger and got off the horse.
“I am indeed. And what will your name be, may I ask.” said Preslav.
”I am Velrad. I’ve been sent to provide my healing abilities. I don’t suppose this is the spokesman of yours...” he said and pointed to the grump, who didn’t dare to interrupt the chief.
“You suppose rightly. Come young man, we’ll discuss the rest at my hut. Everyone, get back to work! There’s nothing to be worried about.” He didn’t sound very sure about this. “Svetlan, take the guest’s horse to stables!” and they showed their backs to the crowd.
“So the king wants you to take care of my people?” asked Preslav as they finally sat on a bench in his hut. He foresaw this event, yet it surprised him. He never thought the king would act this early. How did king find out about the plague? He wasn’t prepared for this.
“Yes, he has entrusted me with this matter. I believe you understand why...”
“Aye, aye, the king is worried about his people behind the walls.” interrupted him Preslav.
“But are we not his people as well? Don’t we pay taxes too? And yet he has sent a butcher to us!”
“My main task is to heal your people.” Velrad tried to explain, but there was no need.
“You mentioned ban of leaving the village. Does that refer to you as well?” Velrad wavered at this question. At last he admited.
“Yes. I am banned from leaving as well.” Preslav sighed grimly.
“Then negotiation is out of question. We depend on king’s support and have far too few worthy men to oppose him. Go on then! Go and cleanse our village!” Velrad has not shown a single sign of disquiet, he was relieved actually. It went so smoothly.
“Thank you for your understanding.”
“Wait! There is one last thing I ask of you. It is only a formality but perhaps you understand it’s importance.”
“Of course. Here.” And Velrad threw on the table a golden seal of the King. Preslav recognized the sign, but it was not familiar to him furthermore. It should have been.
Sombre times have started in Rhaba that day. People soon understood that role of healer was but a cover to the true purpose of Velrad. Yes, he has saved two or three. But what was it compared to countless lives he has ended? Talmir and Straba had no choice from now on. They could not leave the village and so they had to return to the village cemetery. Preslav couldn’t bare the burden of guilt for his decision and he sank his grief in booze. Did he even have a choice?
Few days later it was done. There were but few people with signs of the plague now. They were isolated from the rest of the village and no longer seemed a threat. The stranger got on his horse and disappeared as unexpectedly, as he arrived. A long mourning has begun in Rhaba.
At night of his departure, Velrad stopped his horse under an old oak. He got off and waited. Not long after that a shadow emerged from the nearby forest. He strode slowly towards Velrad and stopped in front of him. Even through the darkness he could recognize the twisted posture of Budivoj, one of the village elders.
“Are you waiting long young man?” He didn’t wait for Velrad to answer.
“You have accomplished your task with admirable precision. No one has suspected a thing. They were too scared. The seal of the king lies safely back in Preslav’s chest. Tell me son, did you enjoy it?” The old man grinned.
“Did you enjoy sentencing quarter of your village to death?” Responded Velrad without hesitation. Budivoj’s grin froze on his face, while Velrad remained expressionless.
“I sincerely hope that you are not burdened with bad conscience. I thought you understood why this had to be done. Preslav didn’t listen to me in this matter and the village could not afford to take care of the sick any more.” This time it was Velrad who grinned.
“Whom are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?”
“They were doomed anyway! I have saved the village!”
“Why didn’t you do it yourself then?”
“Let us stop this quarrel! I will tell you why. Because I needed a moon. You see, some say that the moon is like a mirror to sun. That sun uses moon to cast light even at night, when it would be powerless otherwise. In this case, you were my moon. You helped me to cast light where I was powerless.”
“Spare me of your riddles. Where is my reward?”
“Two men with shovels are waiting nearby. You will find them by the light of their lamp along this road. They’ll give you the reward.”
“You are here at last? We are to dig something for you, but we’ve buried many bags these nights. Which one shall it be?” Stranger examined marks on trees and sighed.
“Dig out the one under the sign of moon!”
by Martin Krč
Year 1, Issues 1 & 2