Deep in the Mountain

By brian francis

The cold and the dark refuse the flicker
of gems who lie so deep in the ground.
Bones lay scattered among the trophy
the lost, the magic reach, out to be found.

With less of a slide and more of a slither,
Of silver and gold, the dreams the drive
The piles discovered beneath the great mountain
In heaps and mounds the treasure resides

A whiff of sulfur drifts in the darkness
A glow almost seen through the cover of gold
Rumbles subsonic reach in and touch you
stories of dragons not believed when told

The burden too much to carry escaping
Dribbles and drops dancing away
Better to flee and lose all the bounty
But greed alas has a loathsome way

The bones will be scattered among the piles
As Draco reclines and cleans off the flesh
Casting them about for the next warning
And settling again to gather his rest

Copyright © 2021 brian francis

All the King’s Children

SS — By Brian Francis Short Story / Fantasy 2156 — WORDS

The kingdom started the Royal Orphanage Society soon after the great war of Fernrug (also known as the Bloody Field). It is said that when Crystar defeated the army of Banstir, Sire Gadron went to visit the newly conquered areas. As he visited the cities and villages, he noticed that there were a large number of children living on the street. The King felt bad that the war had left so many without husbands, fathers, and brothers. When a newly appointed Lord Overseer ordered all the children gathered up, because of the rising petty crime, the King was furious.

The King summoned the Overseer to the stronghold he had been using as his royal court, where he proceeded to humiliate and degrade the Overseer in a way that was so unlike the King. Lord Antio, the King’s most trusted adviser, was present and soon came to the defense of the young Overseer. When Sire Gadron heard the explanation offered by Lord Antio, that the children were being gathered for their protection, the King relaxed. He then congratulated the young Overseer on the fine job he was doing. The young man was then quickly escorted out of the room by Antio. Antio told him that he was doing the right thing but that he needed to look into the future when making decisions and plan accordingly. They both then went to a room together to make a plan of action. In that small meeting room the two men started what was to become the King’s favorite project.

Over the next few months, orphanages started popping up all over the kingdom and Realm. Antio took it upon himself to unite the many and disparate orphanages, and so was born the Royal Orphanage Society. When the King finally became involved, he made an edict outlining the care the children should receive, including education. He believed that the strength of a person was in the mind not the muscle. He often said he could see the future of Crystar in the minds and hearts of the children of the kingdom.

Soon he started the royal college of City Crystar, to supply the orphanages with knowledgeable masters and mistresses. He visited many of the orphanages and even chose some of the children to come and serve in the castle. Those children selected for this honor were given the finest education the kingdom could offer. The people of the kingdom also did their part. When the people discovered that this was the King’s favorite project it became the fashion to assist the orphanages in every way possible. Business proprietors, nobles, and the families of lesser royalty soon assumed any roles available to them to assist their local royal orphanage, in the hopes that the King would take notice.

When Lord Antio found that he didn’t have enough time to devote to the project, he decided to appoint me as the Lord Commissioner of the Royal Orphanage Society. I will never forget that day. I was just rising as a knock came at the door. When I answered the door, I found two Royal Knights standing outside. They told me to hurry and get dressed — the King was waiting. I ran to my bedroom and tried to dress as fast as I could. The King wanted me, I thought to myself; I couldn’t figure out what I had done. I remember getting halfway dressed when I needed to sit down; the strain of the moment was more than I could bear. I sat there dazed for a while before I heard the knight.

“Excuse me sir, but the King is waiting for us,” the knight said abruptly as he stood in the doorway of my bedroom. “Grab your things, you can get dressed in the carriage.”

On the way to the castle I dressed myself in the clothes and the two right-footed boots I had grabbed. I could see the castle looming larger and larger as we approached. I was feeling sick to my stomach as we passed through the main gate. When the carriage stopped at the foot of the stairs that lead to the main entrance I felt as though I would pass out.

A servant opened the side door to my right and greeted me as I stepped out of the carriage.

“Good morning, Sir,” he said in a cheerful voice while bowing his head.

When he closed the door the carriage moved on and turned into a passage that took it under the castle steps. The two knights dismounted their horses and escorted me into the castle. We walked through the throne room and up a long corridor to a room bearing the inscription “Lord’s Chambers.” The knights swung open the doors and there he was — the King.

I slowly entered the room with my head bowed. I walked toward the King the knights on either side. I felt a hand on my shoulder and stopped, afraid to look up I hesitated before I fell to my knee.

“Rise, my friend, and eat some breakfast with me,” a voice said.

Still afraid to look up, I stayed kneeling with my head bowed. My chest felt so heavy it was hard to breathe, and my heart was racing. I thought I was going to faint, when I felt the knight tap me in the leg with his foot. I glanced over toward the knight and saw him pointing in front of me. I raised my head and there he was, standing there, bending over toward me. I could feel my mouth drop open as I tried to speak. The King reached for me.

“I am your loyal subject, Sire,” I blurted out.

“Of course you are, my friend; that is exactly why I sent for you,” he said taking me by the arm and lifting me. “Now I would like to discuss some little thing with you, while we enjoy our breakfast,” he continued leading me to the far end of the table. “As you are aware Lord Antio is a very busy man. He has so many very important tasks, being the Lord Treasurer, and over seeing the kingdom’s relations with the other kingdoms here and there.”

I sat in the chair he guided me to and he sat nearby. The door behind us swung open and servants carried in two trays with meat, eggs, wine and shortbread cookies. They placed one tray in front of the King, and the other in front of me. He continued his conversation between bites; I just sat there staring at him. I had never been this close to him before.

I had been working for Lord Antio for almost a year, taking care of small insignificant tasks. The only time the King visited our office was when I was riding across town to deliver a message. He had left before I got back, and I missed him by only a few minutes.

“So what do you think about that?” asked the King, as my mind wondered back to days past.

“Ah, ah, I’m sorry Sire, I don’t understand the question,” I responded, realizing I had lost track of the conversation.

“The orphanages, the orphanages,” he said in an annoyed tone.

“Yes, Sire.” I responded. “The orphanages are doing fine.”

He looked at me as though I were crazy, his brow wrinkled, and a questioning look in his eyes.
“Fine then,” he said. “Lord Antio will fill you in on the specifics later today. In the meantime the boy here will see that you’re made ready for the ceremony. I have high hopes for you, Dern Moorly,” he said as he rose and walked away.

I just sat there confused and dumbfounded watching him. As the doors closed behind him I felt a tug on my sleeve and heard a young voice. “Hurry, master, we don’t have much time to get you ready,” he said as he pulled me toward the door I had entered through. As we walked up the long corridor I came to my senses and asked to boy his name. He told me it was Runt, but that it used to be Duane. He seemed proud of his new name his eyes lit up and he took on a cocky demeanor as he informed me that the King had given it to him.

We entered a room behind the throne room that was filled with racks of ceremonial robes. There was a man there, who greeted me saying, “Aren’t you the lucky one today!”

The boy responded for me that I had no idea what was going on. The man walked up an aisle, occasionally turning to me and looking me over. Then he would turn back to the racks, his chubby face showing disapproval. He would move on to another.

The boy continued, “He sat at breakfast with the Sire, and didn’t even touch his food. He just sat there staring at the King with that look on his face.”

“Which look might that be?” asked the man.

“You know the fly trap face and the blank eyes,” said the boy. “I don’t even think he heard a word the King said,” he added with a chuckle.

“Ahh. This one will work fine,” said the chubby man, holding a robe in front of him and sizing me up. “Yes, yes, I think the King will be very pleased with this one. Here, Runt, take him to the court lounge and help him into this.” He handed the robe to the boy and smiled at me. “Now don’t you worry a bit. The King has rarely seriously hurt someone in the ceremony. I’m sure you’ll be just fine,” he added, laughing, as he turned and walked away.

The boy was pulling me along and laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his little reddened face. “Hardly ever hurt someone,” he repeated, stamping his foot and laughing uncontrollably.

The lounge was a small room compared to the other rooms in the castle. It was very comfortable with a number of large couches and a few tables with chairs around them. The boy pointed to a closed door on the opposite side of the room. He handed me the robe and said I should hurry and change my clothes.

I came out of the room after changing and found that Lord Antio was waiting for me in the lounge.
“It’s a big day for you, Dern,” he said reaching for my shoulder. “The King and I are depending on you greatly. I am sure you have it in you or else I would not have recommended you for the position,” he said.

“I – I – I – really don’t understand,” I muttered.

“I know, the boy told me what happened,” he said in quiet voice. “You have to understand that the King is used to such things. The servants aren’t as generous and tend to make fun of those who are affected in this way. But you needn’t worry–you’ll do fine”

He then sat me down and explained that I had been chosen from his staff to take responsibility for the Orphanage Society. He told me that I would remain on his staff, but would have autonomy and could act in the King’s name. He also explained that I was to be knighted that afternoon. He showed me what I was to do and say during the dubbing ceremony.

That evening I moved my belongings to the castle and took my place in the royal apartments in the west wing as Sir Dern Moorly, assistant to the King. Since then, I have had numerous meetings with the King, and many of the lords. Never again was I affected by the condition I suffered at my first meeting with the King. I have seen to it that the Orphanages have been operated responsibly. And I have spent much time traveling throughout the kingdom and realm, inspecting the conditions at each of the orphanages under my care.

I have been impressed over the years with the kindness demonstrated by the subjects of the King. They are really the ones who make the whole thing work. Sire Gadron has on numerous occasions traveled with me to visit some of the many orphanages in my care. I have learned much about what makes a king a king and in particular what makes our King the most respected King in the whole world.

I have accepted applications to the society from almost every kingdom. In each case they have agreed to submit to the same standards as those found in Crystar. Now with a staff of my own, I enjoy my time at Castle Crystar, surrounded by the many servants who, growing up alone in the world, have found a place to call home. As they are– all the King’s children.

Copyright ©2020 brian francis

Sherm and Bundy: Tomorrow’s Trepidation

Series Story Sherm and Bundy II

A Short Story By brian francis 8700 words

The Village of Hemm, was a nice little place made up of kind and welcoming people.   The tavern was the center of the community and the evening before saw a constant coming and going of people.  The food was passable fair, although, there was an herb or spice that was strange and different in some dishes.  While the map on the tavern wall in Hemm was old and out of date as far as the many no longer existing small kingdoms go, the trails, and lay of the land had not changed. So, this morning found Sherm and Bundy eating breakfast while absorbing the map hanging in front of them.  His father had made him learn maps when he was young, studying them and then being made to redraw them sometimes a week later.  His punishment for mistakes was having to move the wood pile from one side of the lean post to the other side.  He learned fast that mistakes were not good.  The map on the wall in front of him was much larger than any he had studied before, although it really only covered the highlands and the steppes.  After a morning of study and one very long meal Sherm was sure he had it.  It was time to go.

After settling up with Cam, the tavern owner/barman he carried his gear out to the stable.  He brushed Tomorrow’s coat and mane and inspected her shoes while giving her a couple carrots and apples.  He also took the time to braid and bind her tail the way a knight had once showed him.  Tomorrow was turning her neck and stretching to watch what Sherm was doing with an uncomfortable look in her eyes.

“Don’t worry girl” he told her while finishing up, “this will be a good thing if we will be running into brush and find ourselves having to break trail.”  A wink and a gentle smack on the rump signaled the end of the process.  Although, the horse was still staring at her rump and swinging her tail that now more resembled a club. She did not appear convinced.

With her bridle and saddle on, she lost interest in watching her new club, but she did end up whacking Sherm in the head a time or two with it while he checked and cleaned her feet.  Their path was to continue down the road a mile or so more, before finding the trail that leads to Fernrug which sat among the headwaters of the Fernrug river. 

The beauty of the forest of the steppes was amazing, there are trees in some places that act as a lean-to and are called traveler’s trees.  There is often a small fire pit and bedding area beneath those welcoming bows, Sherm always imagined it like a little one finding refuge within the skirts of their mother. Taking the time to gather some wood and cleaning the area under the bows a sign of respect to Gaea and an ode to the lessons of his father.  “Always leave any place better off than you found it” Sherm remembered him saying often.  He had often traveled into the ring with his father, a happy time where he learned that there was a scary truth to the legends and stories of other races – of the magical races.  

Dwarfs were a serious folk who found humans annoying at best and an eternal enemy at worst.  His father had been respected by the neighbors around where Sherm had grown up.  One of the few guides who regularly led travelers into the ring.  But in the ring, he was truly loved and admired it was something about his bluntness that they liked so much.  That bluntness found during service to the crown of South Rim and Fenghorn. Father had rarely spoken about his days of service.  What little information Sherm had gathered growing up was by overhearing stories shared by the fire when all thought he was asleep.    He had heard hero’s stories and funny episodes that friends often remember most vividly.  At times it was hard not to start and jump when listening, or even worse holding back laughter at something his father had experienced. 

Evenings when traveling were a time to think and reminisce.  Bundy had taken up standing on an overhead branch her head tucked over her shoulder, while Sherm was cooking a squirrel over the small fire and reminiscing.  The air was cool but not cold in the night and the fire being so small cast a dim light among the branches. Tomorrow was fed and hobbled just outside the branches with her head poking in enough to see. 

All day he had watched for the forest’s foods and his eye and the forest had not let him down. Fresh onions and garlic as well as a nice chubby squirrel and some berries.  He also had his father’s seasoning pack. A collection of small pouches with herbs and salt and pepper berries. The squirrel was taken with his bow and it was a shot worthy of a witness, but only Bundy saw his arrow take it mid leap between trees.  Hanging by a string and spinning by the fire the seasonings and herbs and the delicious smell of crisping meat made his belly growl as he bent a green stick into a hoop to stretch the skin to preserve it.   

With dinner eaten and his bed laid out sleep overtook him quickly.  He stirred when some wolves began their howling contest.  They were both miles away and sleep drifted upon him once again. The chirping of birds drew him away from the contented comfort of sleep. 

It had been a restful night and the berries made for a tasty breakfast.  After only a few hours he finally came upon the cliffs of Yaredann one thousand feet sheer with unpredictable and strong winds.  The trail led to a path down the escarpment; a ledge carved directly into the cliff face barely five feet wide.

Tomorrow, seemed very concerned about the edge and hugged the wall tightly. While Bundy, bothered by the winds and height burrowed into Sherm’s tunic with only his head sticking out watching their decent into the valley below.  In the distance, Sherm, could see a storm falling into the valley like a water fall making a layer of clouds that hung low as they spread out below them.  The smells were changing too, from a musty deep forest odor to an almost flowery smell like a great meadow of wild flowers in early spring.

The thousand-foot descent took almost forever as the path crossed the face back and forth, there were places where the ledge narrowed due to erosion and collapse.   Also places where repairs had been made in the past. Only once in the descent was Sherm concerned about the way ahead, as half the ledge had fallen leaving a scant two feet or so for passage; for Tomorrow, too scant a passage for sure as the horse stopped and refused to even approach the damaged area.   Worst of all, they were just above the tree tops rising from the valley below. 

Sherm unsaddled Tomorrow and carried the saddle, gear and bags across to safety even Bundy wanted to stay across, to sit and watch the spectacle of Tomorrow’s stubborn refusal from the safety of the far side of the washout. She stood on the saddle horn and watching head bobbing and wings outstretched screaming encouragement and laughing uncontrollably.

When it finally seemed, he’d get the horse across she’d rear and toss herself backwards.  But he finally was able to get her back to the narrow remnant of the ledge, Tomorrow started to drop her haunches, he got ready for her to rear but instead she leapt forward and cleared the opening.  Sherm’s footing slipped away and he slid back over the side, Bundy screaming took to the air following after Sherman

As he looked into the sky, he saw Bundy come flying down screaming like a banshee, he hit an outcropping about halfway down, and tumbled down a crease in the rock to the bottom where he landed on his back with a loud thud. 

Bundy landing near his shoulder called his name and prodded him.  Sherm could hear Bundy, but Bundy seemed so distant and the darkness was swallowing him.  Then he heard her sorrowful cry, and a sadness, and a sense of failure settled on him as the light faded completely.

                                                  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Off and on Sherm thought he could hear people around him.  It was like coming awake while someone speaks to you, only he couldn’t seem to wake up.  His mouth had a horrible taste mixed with the taste of blood.  Finally, a feeling of contentment washed over him as he realized Bundy was cleaning his eyes.  The first time she decided to clean the sand from his eyes it had scared him a bit, but she was gentle and even cleaned each of his eye lashes.  He could feel the warmth of her tongue in the corner of his eye dabbing him then she was done and as always, she finished with a long kiss on the lips. 

“Master, Master, his lips moved.” Screamed a young boy.  “The bird was touching his mouth and I think he kissed at it.”

The bird was strutting around on Sherm’s chest, wings extended and crown raised while making a loud cry when the voices returned.  He could see her in his mind celebrating in her uniquely Bundy way. 

Every day he seemed more and more awake and aware.   There were three people around him two men and a boy.  Finally, another voice came into the room.  He was touching Sherm and examining him and chanting in a strange language. Light began to appear in Sherm’s eyes his vision was returning.  It seemed the next few days were filled with chanting and touching until he opened his eyes. 

As a monk entered the room he smiled as his eyes met Sherm’s.  “That friend of yours is a bit of a bully when it comes to people touching you.  He has bitten me three times and I think he is planning on a few more.” Said the monk his gaze locked on Sherm. “Ahh that is it a smile.  That makes me feel good.  I wasn’t sure I’d see you before I left for Fernrug.  Your friend told me your name was Sherm he also had a few choice words — some I hadn’t heard in years.  That bird appears to spend too much time in taverns learning insults.” The monks face was soft and gentle his eyes an almost yellow shade of green with a dark halo, his head seemed to project forward from his shoulders and his smile seemed almost verging on a hardy laugh.

Brother Prem, as Sherm came to know him, stayed and talked to Sherm for an hour or so.  He explained how a local man had witnessed his fall and had transported him to help.  Luck was on his side as he had landed on soft brown dirt rather than rock. Precautions were taken to not disturb his body too much as the man who was named Vin was a logger and charcoal maker who was heading out to his charcoal pile in his wagon when it all happened. 

Vin had loaded Sherm into his wagon even retrieving his horse and gear.  He was surprised by the fact that the bird had climbed up on the horse’s head, one ear in each foot, where his leaning would seem to cause the horse to turn.   And they followed Sherm in the wagon the bird occasionally flying up to Sherm and trying to waken him.  She would also spend time attending his wounds to the point that Brother Prem thought Vin had cleaned some of the wounds and the wound margins.  Sherm also learned that Vin stopped by often, where he would sit with Sherm and Bundy and talk.  He and the bird had developed a nice relationship Bundy had trained him well on the proper way to pet a bird.  She had trained everyone well and had earned the title Chancellor.  Much to the chagrin of the of the temple’s real Chancellor.

At some point he must have fallen asleep because the next time he woke he remembered it being night and Bundy was there this time, standing on his chest sleeping.  He coughed and Bundy woke to see his eyes open and proceeded to make such a racket as she spread her wings and raised her crown feathers to dance on Sherm’s chest.  It hurt, but it also felt so good to see Bundy strut dancing and screaming. It didn’t take long for the Brothers to be awakened and come running.  As the room filled with monks and other temple workers all roused by Bundy’s joyous celebration, he heard Brother Prem’s voice telling everyone to go back to bed and let him do his work. 

Soon it was just Sherm, Brother Prem, Bundy and the boy.  “Rag, come over here and see if you can hold Bundy while I treat Sherm.”  Sherm was surprised when the boy snatched Bundy up like a chicken but, was unable to speak for some reason; no matter how he tried.  Amazingly, Bundy, did not scream or bite the boy but he could tell by sounds Bundy was making that a bite might still come.  The chanting and touching continued even into his dreams.

Rag was there when he woke again sitting on the bed petting Bundy, as he stood on Sherm’s chest.  “Such a pretty bird” Rag said as Sherm came awake.  Sherm could feel the weight of Rag’s hand on Bundy’s back in his chest.  It wasn’t a pain but it almost was and while the pain in his body seemed to be getting better, the discomfort involved in his short times awake, tired him rapidly and he tended to stare at the weird stain on the ceiling of the room a monster looking shadow like stain. 

It seemed like a weird dream, the way his waking and falling away again would occur.  His dreams were still his dreams, so often of big boats and an ocean.  Neither of which he had he ever seen apart from images drawn in books.  It was strange how the shadow monster seemed to be stalking him in his dreams.  He remembered the last time he was haunted in his dreams.  On a trip into the ring with his father, sent to the Orcan town of Jiddow with a message.  While there his father went to a celebration, leaving Sherm in the rooms to wait for him.

A knock on the door and Sherm found himself being told to follow the guards waiting in the hall.  He too was taken to the celebration, where he saw his father sitting on a dais with a very large and boisterous ogre wearing a crown.  He stood in the back of the room and watched as toast after toast were offered to honor the king and Sherm’s father.  It was the first time Sherm really understood how respected his father really was by some people or at least some ogres.   Sherm was around eight and he idolized his father, often just watching him and trying to do all things in imitation of him and his ways.

Even when he was only eight, Sherm, could throw a knife or even a light battle ax and he could handle his short sword respectably, But the swords carried by the guards leading him appeared to weigh more than his whole body and one had a battle ax whose blade was as wide as his leg was long.  Ogres seemed nice enough, yet, their gruff speaking and loudness took some getting used to.  Standing there he was imagining why they had made him come from his room, he stood watching the crowds at the tables, mostly ogres but there were also men and others there too.

He was led around the wall to the foot of the stairs leading onto the dais; where he was told to go to his father.  He ascended the stairs and the boisterous crowd took note with some comments better left unrepeated.  When his father turned to him and motioned him to come to his side. 

“A glass of watered wine for the boy” cried the king in a drunken voice.  People rushed to fulfill his command.  Soon a goblet was set before him.  “To the boy!” Said the king, and all raised their drinks in concurrence.  “Come here boy I want to see you.” Said the king waving his hand and beaconing with his expression.  His father nudged him over, and the king took him by the arm and pulled him close; where he took a great sniff before declaring the boy a delicious smelling morsel. 
Sherm was tempted to look to his father but resisted knowing that no expression would be readable on his face.  That is the way his father always was when surrounded by others. 

“I want a taste Uncle.  Can I have the arm.” An orc stepped from the shadows and approached.

“Stop, he is my guest, besides take note of the placement of his hand now,” said the king.  Where a moment ago Sherm’s arms where at his side he was now standing with his hand on his sword’s hilt and had it in a ready position.   In all honesty, he had not even thought about it, his father’s training was fully engrained in his person.   “Always be at the ready when uncomfortable, listen to your inner self when it speaks.” 

The king’s hand was raised and there were guards looking like mastiffs awaiting command.  “I think they would be more comfortable if you would drop you hand to your side” he stated in a whisper before again addressing the crowd.  “Did you see him he is his father’s son.  Threatened, and he prepares to bite.  Standing here beside a king he dares to take a weapon in hand without fear or concern for the loyal guards.”  He reached over and poured out the goblet of watered wine and had it refilled with mead from his own bottle.  “He is a man in this court’s opinion and he shall be treated with the respect and honor do him.” The king raised his goblet and all followed suit. 

Sherm raised his glass and drank a gulp of the sweet delicious syrupy brew.  His glass never emptied and he drank from it with vigor and zeal. 

His Father woke him in the morning with a smile on his face and a glass in his hand. The glass was a remedy for the tortured remains of his poor body, and the smile was one of rare pride.  He puked his guts out for an hour while his father recounted the evenings adventures. He was ashamed of the way he acted in his father’s rendition of the story.  But strangely his father seemed almost proud.  “the king insisted on carrying you to your bed and even settled you into it” his father said with another beam of pride flashing from him. 

 At some point the darkness surrounding Sherm started to fade the dreams became more distant.  His awake time became longer and longer.  The treatments from Brother Prem had worked wonders and he was soon out of bed and sitting by a window.  He discovered that not only had he been asleep for a long-time, winter was ending and he just woke from last year’s early fall. No pun being intended in the thought.  A smile played on his lips.

From his window he watched the days pass.  Rag was everywhere, and often, he had Bundy on his shoulders proud as he could be, walking the gardens or the wall with Bundy.  Just a whistle and Bundy would fly up to his window and love him up.  Yet, she would return to Rag when he screamed for him to come. 

Within weeks he was roaming the grounds himself making acquaintances.  The kitchen women were wonderful and spoiled him with treats and special requests.  It appeared their mission was to fatten him up.  He was skinny really, really skinny; weight had fallen off of him while he was recovering.  The gardeners seemed to cherish an ear for their songs and entertained Sherm endlessly while they worked, even letting him play, along on his flute after a time. 

There was a blacksmiths shop, barn, and paddock just past the gardens, and when Sherm found his way there, he found more friends with whom he came to share his lunches, and soon after found himself working with them as he built back his strength and stamina. 

Eyeren the blacksmith was a broad stout beast of a man, his arms as large as most strong men’s thighs.  He wielded his hammer tirelessly – five pounds of pure steel striking every two seconds as his assistants maneuvered the work piece on the anvil.  Without words they worked together fluidly and unerringly pausing only to exchange one cooled piece for another fresh from the fire. 

Sherm had learned farrier training from the temple when he was growing, even forging small pieces like hinges and cutting nails.  He and Eyeren ate lunch together every day after Sherm’s daily walk into the woods.   He found his morning walks turning into rides on Tomorrow and hunting to practice his bow work.  The kitchen was always grateful for the fresh meat and it helped Sherm feel like he was pulling his weight to offer it to them.  His afternoons were most often spent at the forge shoveling, pounding, and shoeing.  In short order it was recognized that his farrier work was top notch and the number of shoeing appointments scheduled had doubled quickly. 

The work pushed his endurance and stamina to the limits but he found progress every day; shifting the hammer back and forth between left and right hands.  When Brother Prem, proclaimed him fit as a fiddle and even better, he knew it was almost time to move on.  That was when the reality of the situation hit him square in the face, he owed these people his very life.  He knew that temple fees for some things was steep and as Brother Bean would say — temple compassion can be quite expensive.   It worried him, it haunted his sleep and burdened him and soon others were noticing. 

“What is wrong with you Sherm?” It seemed was the mantra heard all day in the kitchen at the forge and in the gardens.  Finally, when he was asked that question by Rag, he all but broke down letting it all out, as Bundy and Rag listened to his explanation about his indebtedness to everyone.  His burden seemed a weight too heavy upon him.   Listlessly, he passed through a few days more.  Rag kept telling Bundy to stay, and in truth Bundy always seemed to know when Sherm needed that extra attention. But it was nice to have Rag choose to leave Bundy with him.  Rag was a good boy, his devotion to Bundy had grown and become important for both of them.  He was the ever-present attendant for Bundy, he had been trained by Bundy in the proper method of petting.  He doted on Bundy and had cared for Bundy when Sherm was incapacitated and could not. 

Finally, it dawned on him that he was able to get a set of clothes for Rag and at least help him in some small way.  He remembered his father saying “break it down and kill it by chunks — every journey is nothing more than a set of steps.”   

“Rag, is there a seamstress nearby?” He asked

Mrs. Crowner makes the robes for the temple.”

“Well, how can I find her?  Where is her home? Asked Sherm.

“It is up the road toward the village, on the right side, she has an Orcan totem in front of her house.  It looks like the hilt of that dagger on your belt, but it is really big.” Rag told Sherm his excitement in discussing the totem was apparent.

Sherm asked Rag to lead the way.  As they walked, they talked, and Rag told him his story.  It seemed a sad story losing his parents when still a baby.  Delivered to the Temple by a passerby who discovered his parents murdered laying on the ground by their wagon.  Rag was on the ground sitting by his mother and trying to wake her.  The kitchen women took possession of him and he became the pauper prince of the temple.  Growing up in a temple home, raised by so many brothers who all became honorary Uncles, loved by the kitchen women who all perceived themselves as adoptive mothers. Rag was an amazing gentle soul. 

Rag was telling the truth, the totem at her house was exactly like the hilt of his dagger.  He remembered seeing them often in the ring with his father.   His father and he, would always stop and stand before them their arms out-stretched and quote the druidic prayer of submission to nature as was the tradition within the ring. 

Rag’s eyes were wide with surprise as Sherm honored his father by continuing the traditions he had taught.  A smirk of a smile flashed across his lips as he finished and studied Rag who stood in his periphery looking amazed if not a bit confused.  Sherm stepped forward and bowed, touching his forehead to the totem for a moment before stepping around the totem and heading for the house.

Awed and dumfounded Rag slowly following, he moved toward the door and found it opening as he approached.   “Greetings my friend,” said an older man standing to the front of a woman smiling as broad a smile as Sherm had ever seen.  “You honor the old ways.” She said, a squeal of excitement apparent in her voice.

“Yes, I do, still I also honor the new ways.  My name is Sherm and I have been told that a fair seamstress lived here. Would you, be she?”   Asked Sherm with a wink.

“Well, we all follow the new ways, but some choose to remember the old.” Her smile grew even wider as she confirmed being the seamstress and invited Sherm in for a warm drink and conversation.  Where they sat and chatted sipping a brew of forest herbs. 

She agreed to make a nice set of clothes for Rag, and he had a hilarious ten minutes watching her fondle Rag to gather his measurements.  She didn’t have a knot string or anything she just touched him all over and he squirmed the whole time. “Take a bath before you come to gather the clothes or I will scrub you clean myself. And if I ever again see you being a dirty waif wearing my clothes, I promise you, Ragamuffin that you will regret that day until you pass the veil.”  She said to Rag, her eyes unnaturally bulging at him as she held her face just inches from his.

Rag’s eyes wide with attention, he slowly stepped backwards an inch a time.  “Yes Ma’am, I will scrub good I promise.”  His eyes lowered to the ground as he cleared the door and ran away. 

“I think he will be spending most of his time warry that you are lurking around every corner. He seemed almost scared.” Said Sherm, as Bundy went flying after the boy.

She sat back down and made some notes in her book and sipped tea for a little bit longer as they became friends.  He found her to be an amazing font of druidic knowledge.  She found him, to be curious, and she predicted a promising future for him.  Giving her an extra four silvers for the clothes for Rag was a generous amount, and a boon for her and her husband.

A goodbye hug became a clandestine measuring session. She tried to conceal her touching of Sherm, yet, she found reason to lay her hands on him, though far less aggressively.  He knew what was going on, she was going to make him something too.  Her kindness warmed Sherm and solidified his devotion to their newly found friendship.

When Sherm left he found Bundy and Rag waiting up the road behind a tree, “Can ya tell she is a witch!  She scares me silly.  I swear, I’ll never again go there.” Rag stated in a matter of fact tone.

“Really,” inquired Sherm.  “How do you figure on retrieving your new clothes?” Sherm’s eye brows raised in the querying way of Brother Bean.  “Hmmm.” He almost broke out laughing at himself as he realized his imitation and saw himself through his younger self’s eyes. 

“Awe Sherm, you could do it for…” he stopped his plea as soon as he looked and saw the raised eyebrows.  Sherm understood him better in that moment.  Rag like him was roving through life as he did at that age, like he still was and would be until the veil was parted. 

“You’ll go with me, won’t you?  I’m gonna scrub myself pink and barrow an acolyte’s robe to wear on that day. But I won’t go inside again, oh no I ain’t gonna go there again — ever again, after anyways.”  A sternness etching his face with resolve.  He started back out for the temple walking hard on the ground.

Sherm followed remembering being that age and the fun and challenges he faced.  In many ways he was very much seeing himself in Rag.  Both were community raised and the temple played a huge part in his becoming the person he was becoming.  Sure, he had a father, and a home, but his father was drawn away from home for many months at a time.  The temple and the community around Schism were his family and so many lessons were learned from those neighbors.  He had watched as Rag seemed always ready to lend a hand in accomplishing temple tasks.  Whether the garden, or kitchen, helping the acolytes, or any of the tasks at hand in the community, Rag was always in attendance and helping.   He remembered that feeling left after finishing a task.  Pride, yeah, he thought; pride, now that is a powerful gift.

When the day came to retrieve Rag’s new clothes, he was waiting outside Sherm’s room at the crack of dawn.  Barley able to grab a couple of apples for breakfast; Sherm was all but herded up the road.  With Rag hiding behind the totem and peering like a cornered and scared racoon, Sherm approached the door after showing his respects to the old ways, it opened without a knock and the smiling face of his favorite seamstress greeted him with an embrace of warmth.  As she welcomed him into the house, she stepped again to the door and stated that no clothes will be leaving the house until tried on and approved.  Turning back to Sherm she motioned him to a table set with a plate of cookies and a kettle. 

By the time they made the temple it was around noon meal and the forge was banked and the billows were quiet.  Eyeren, and the men were gathered at the makeshift table out under the awning in the front of the forge area, Retch and Deworont the forge boys had brought a couple loaves of bread from home, with Eyeren’s sliced, wide sausage, a spicy almost sweet delicacy, he had shared with Sherm on many occasions, there were wonderful sandwiches waiting. 

“Come on Sherm, I made ya three sandwiches.  Retch stated, both he and Deworont, beaming with pride.  “It’s Eyeren’s birthday and Grandma sent some wonderful loaves.  The sandwiches were wonderful although two would have been more than enough for him alone.  

Sherm whistled for Bundy while gathering a sample of the offerings onto the dining cloth waiting for him.  When Bundy showed up, he wrote a note and letting Bundy take it in his beak, Sherm, told the bird to go to Rag.  Then he turned and sitting on a log he shared in the meal at the table.  The olives and apple slices created a wonderful contrast to each other; the sandwich was delicious. Not only the sausage but a sharp cheese was also giving its flavor, but it was the mustard and horseradish and herbs that cleared the ears and tightened the scalp making the sandwich a masterpiece. 

As Sherm finished his first sandwich Rag showed up with a large sack.  “Ah, so there you have it the finest Great Circle honey to finish the loaves with and savor our wonderful lives.” Said Sherm, smiling at the expressions evident on all the eager faces.   Happily, Rag was hungry as always and agreed to share in the bounty and eat Sherm’s final sandwich.  The honey bread went over well as it always does.  After all, who doesn’t like honey?  And the idea that the honey came from inside the ring seemed as exciting a thing for them all. 

Yet, this all emphasized Sherm’s problem.  He offered his honey and it was devoured with great pleasure and excitement.  He had nothing else of any value.  Eyeren announced that he had engaged a contract to supply hinges for some new Realm offices, being constructed in Fernrug, about forty miles away.  Eight sizes of hinges would be required and the three hundred door rings. Eyeren had taken the contract because he had watched Sherm working the smaller forge and making hinges rather quickly.

Eyeren decided, with all of them working at it, they could finish making them within a month. 

Sherm knew he had to stay for at least one more month. Eyeren deserved the profit from the order and his excitement was evident in his joyous hug filled celebration.  The bear hug Sherm received finally broke the knot in his back that had bothered him all week.  With a loud crack and Sherm’s guttural groan Eye’ gently settled Sherm to the ground.  “Oh, thank you Eye’ my back has been needing to be cracked.”  Eyeren looked at Sherm and asked him if he’d hurt him. 

“I’m sorry Sherm, I forget how badly your body was hurt, I truly did not mean to do so.” Eyeren said sorrow drenching his voice.  

“I am fine Eyeren — it actually feels better now than it did while we ate.” 

    The next twenty-six days were tiring and yet there was a buzz of excitement.  The men were looking forward to the extra monies they were earning.  Them getting that money was important to Sherm as he saw it as a sort of payback for their kindnesses.  “Another step Pops, just as you taught me.”  Said Sherm to no one.  

Sherm announced his intentions to be leaving for Fernrug at the forge during noon meal.  They all seemed saddened by the news and expressed their wish that he should stay; each in their own way.

He went hunting one last time for the kitchen and dropped a bull elk one hundred yards from the forge. He called for help and hung and broke it down into easily carried pieces which the boys carried to the kitchen.  He gave the hide to the gardener who had requested some skin to make leather out of to cover the handles of his tools.  This large hide would last him years for covering his tools with the wetted woven leather straps as he liked so much.   The offal was placed into a cloth bag and given to Eyeren for sausage. 

In the evening Brother Prem came to visit him in is room.  He had been talking to Rag about Sherm’s perceived problem of indebtedness.  Sherm was surprised as a man could be when Brother Prem turned the tables on him.  Tossing a bag of coins on the window table he told Sherm that the temple was sorry that this was all they could offer him for all of his efforts to assist the temple. 

“What do you mean Brother, I owe the temple,” after all he learned young that temple compassion was pricey.   “I was cared for while I was unable to even talk for months.” Sherm’s face showed his confusion and discomfort.  Tears filled his eyes as he continued, “They fed me and they cleaned my messes. How can I accept this sack? How can I hold my head up and be a proud man with this debt hanging over it?”

“Sherm, I know that you are a proud man and I understand how you view your debt to all of those who have helped you.  But you seem to forget, all – you – have done to help all of those you have helped.  We all have been eating like kings from your bow.  The kitchen has sharp knives and then there is Rag he is dressing like a young noble and trying to imitate you – yes you.  He sees a man that is honorable and one who easily earns the respect and love of others.  No Sherm you have touched every soul here with your kindness and I consider your time here a blessing for us all.

  Brother Prem cocked his head to the side and asked if he thought the coin was too much.  He offered a second sack instead, a smaller one that did seem more appropriate to Sherm and they exchanged sacks.   The smaller sack contained some larger coins and dumping them onto the table he realized that the smaller sack was filled with gold coins and too ruby gems.  “What is this?”

“I suspected you would refuse to take the copper and silver coins, so I made that sack to out play you.  Yes, it is the higher value, but it is still fair to all.” Brother Prem announced and smiled wide. “The Chancellor insisted you receive fair payment. The kitchen, the repairs, your help in the aviary have all made this place a better home.  Your care during the time of injury is a blessing and it was offered free of charge at the time, even though you think that is not fair.” He said cocking and tilting his head forward, he smiled a strange little devious smile and continued “Chancellor Vernew, absolutely insisted that the amount be exactly what was in the smaller sack.  So that is now settled.  I would like to personally thank you for all of your help to me.  I have never delved so deep into repairing the human body as I did for you.  I have submitted my request for testing in Flowers, and I hope to be able to teach soon after.   You see, I was unsure of my vocation before you first came here.  I now know what the path will be.” He smiled a teary smile, his eyes flooded with tears.  “Thank you”

There are times to fight and times to sit down and shut up.  Sherm recognized this as one of the latter and lowered his eyes and opened his ears.  “Perspective”, he thought, one of the lessons of his childhood.   Everyone has one and they are often different.  He let the situation sink in and realized the kind thing to do was to just say thank you. 

It is a strange thing to be regretful of a windfall, yet he was and it stung a bit.  He spent the rest of the evening packing his few belongings and getting ready for the last day. His visits to the kitchen staff and the gardeners and caretakers were teary and mournful yet again he found himself leaving friends and heading out to the world.  The last stop at the temple was with Eyeren and the boys.  They had made him a dagger and they were very proud of it.  They explained that they folded in carbon and continued folding for fifty-two folds before forming the blade.  It was polished and you could see the lines of the folded metal. Its sound spoke of a well-tempered piece and its weight and balance were perfect.  They had spoken of knives and leg sheathes like his father wore during noon meal on occasion. This knife came with a wonderful sheath in the style of a warden of the forest.  And on the sheath were the words “FRIENDS FOREVER” carved in silver inlay.

Eyeren had told Sherm that they had some things to settle before he could leave.  There were finances to be discussed.  That meeting was as bad as the first with Brother Prem.  Eyeren had a pile of coin set on a table that he insisted was fair pay for the many hours spent at the forge.  Sherm relented, yet again.  Adding these new coins to his sac he shared an embrace and a good slap on the back. 

“Damn Eyeren are you trying to brake me again so I have to stay or what?” Asked Sherm with a playful lilt in his voice.

“I hadn’t thought of that.  Come on over here I want one more hug.” Eyeren announced spreading his arms wide and advancing on Sherm.  

Sherm quickly drew his new knife and said “Back off big boy before I geld ya with my fine new knife,” his smile broke into a full laugh and Eyeren joined in as they came together once again for an embrace. 

Finding Tomorrow enjoying a bag of oats and a brushing by Rag, Sherm went to his saddle and slid five gold coins into the secret places built into it.  There were already silver coins there but gold ones were a better save. 

Rag had suffered a spell of crying and sorrow on that final evening and had disappeared first with Bundy which caused some concern among the brothers.  But by dark Bundy was back in the room in which, Sherm, had been staying.  Rag on the other hand was still missing the following morning.  So, finding Rag brushing Tomorrow was a blessing, because Sherm would not have been able to leave otherwise.

“Boy but it has been a busy morning. I sure appreciate your being here to help me get ready.” Sherm said cautiously, not wanting to trigger another scene like last night. 

“I am going with you or after you it is your choice.  I can help care for the animals and you.  I will not stay here, though I fear being alone in the world, I will follow you alone if I must.”  Rag stated in an as-a-matter-of-fact way as anyone could, he must have practiced that speech all night.  It left little wiggle room and Sherm felt cornered; but in a good way.  Brother Bean had on many occasions uttered the wisdom of always being open to helping others.  In this way we can find ourselves.  Besides he’d been expecting this situation and considering it for a week.  Rag had been tossing around clues for the last month.

“Okay Rag.” Sherm replied, resignation apparent in his tone and demeanor. Going about preparing his gear, he watched out of the corner of his eye and noticed with satisfaction, an air of confusion in his little ruffian. 

“But, but really Sherm? Really?  I can come with you.”  Stammered Rag his excitement tempered by disbelief. 

“Yes Rag, I agree with your assessment and accept you as a companion for the trail. The only thing we need to work out is the danger out there.” Sherm said raising his arm and pointing into the wilderness.  “I need you to accept that I am in charge. I also need you to agree to obey my decisions, and do as you’re instructed. “

“Of course, I will, you are the boss!” Stated Rag his excitement building like a runaway water mill.   “I have everything ready in the hay loft, I’ll toss it down.”  Squealing he scurried up the ladder and tossed everything he owned in the world down.  Two sacks one the sack with his new clothes and a smaller one with his treasures.  Almost nothing and one of the happiest people Sherm had ever met.

“Rag, I want you to protect and care for Bundy.  I’ll teach you other responsibilities as we learn together.  My father was one of the best woodsmen and trailblazers in the ring I will teach you everything I know, everything he taught me as long as you remain a man of integrity; I swear to be your loyal companion.” It was a fumbling speech but it served the purpose he’d intended.

“Oh, Sherm I do, to… I’ll…” he stuttered tears running down his freckled cheeks –“I promise to be worthy of your trust and friendship.  I do. I really do.” He said looking into Sherm’s eyes with a tear-filled look of determined resolve. 

Sherm stepped forward and dropped to one knee before Rag and embraced him. “Of course, you do. Now what more do we need to fit you out. Hmmm.” Said Sherm thinking. 

The next few hours were a series of gifts for Rag and a generous sharing of resources drawn from the recesses of storage.  Rags two bags, became a highlander’s back pack and a fine leather over coat in the style of the forest people. The brothers tried to all give him something useful but at some point Sherm needed to put a stop to the process as Rags new possessions were outweighing Rag.  

Sherm decided to visit Vin on the way out of town.  It was Vin who rescued him and transported him to the brothers and the possibility of life again.  He had thanked Vin a thousand time and always “it was nothing” with that damn wave of the had to dismiss him. 

They left the stable walking Tomorrow up the road toward willow rise where the lane to Vin’s homestead was located.  Upon arriving at Vin’s, they found him black as night from the charcoal he was shoveling. 

“Beware a Nightshadow!” screamed Sherm drawing his new dagger and comedically holding it in front of him.   

“I had heard you were leaving and had hoped not to miss saying good life to you.” Vin said through a big smile of white teeth.  “I will miss our talks. I will cast remembrances into the wind to honor you. I will truly, truly miss your presence and face.” Said Vin sincerely. Feigning a tear and wiping it away on his forearm, only to get the black powder in his eyes.  Screaming for water and groping the air he laughed and cried. 

Rag jumped into action and led Vin toward the water bucket.  While he cleared his eyes, Rag mimicked his blind groping and Bundy strutted on the top rail of a fence, crown raised and wings half extended. “What in the fairy laced world is going on here Vin screamed.  You let the sapling there mock me and the damn bird too.  What I have and call friends.”     He said stepping out of his cover-alls and throwing his arms around Sherm who shared the embrace.   

“Come to the house and share a tea with me.  Boy, take Tomorrow, remove his bridle and give him some hay and water from the barn over there.” Vin told Rag before turning to walk away.

“Yes Sir, Vin.” Said in an official tone that Sherm was not totally convinced was sincere.

“I wanted to be rid of him for a while – because – well because, Sherm, the boy is as naïve as they come.  And it is a big responsibility that you need to be sure you are ready for, he is not like you and me, he’s always just roosted in the temple and they all catered to him even worse than they catered to you.” The look of sincere concern was evident in his almost clean face.  It stirred Sherm’s heart to hear the concern for both he and Rag emanating from Vin.

“Vin, I know what I’m doing, and I recognize the dilemmas that could arise.  But, remember, I was a temple rat too.  I know him, he is the splitting image of my best friend, growing up, in heart and soul.  I know him, I have known others just like him.  And I promise to do my part to help him become himself. Besides he did not leave me much wiggle room; it was either with me or following me.” Sherm said shrugging his shoulders and spreading his hands palms up.

“Well, I could sit on him a week to let you get away.” Vin said signaling to Sherm to check the door.

No sooner than the words were out Rag stomped into the room glaring. “Oh no you won’t Vin I’ll stick ya if I have to, I WILL!” Rags look of defiance could have been a study for a great statue of some hero somewhere.

Vin almost busted his gut laughing.  “Boy I knowed you was there, that is why I said it.  I give you both my blessing.”  He chuckled “You deserve each other.”  He said crossing over and drawing both into an embrace.   You both always have a home here – food, warmth and welcome.” The biscuits and tea were delicious.  

“So, I take it you would like to purchase a horse for Shorty here.” Vin said as they walked into one of the many horse paddocks.  Large work horses displayed their discomfort by circling the paddock, all of them eighteen hands if a finger tall.

Rags eyes looked about to pop out as he took in the monstrosities circling the paddock.  In the small area between the larger paddocks was an area with a large pony in it.  The pony was reddish brown with a shaggy black mane and a curly shock of black hair on the top of its head.

“Now that is just perfect for you, Rag!” Sherm stated excitedly, pointing at the pony.  Rag looked like he had fallen in love instantly. His expression a cross between excitement and concern.

“it looks wonderful, Sherm.  I’ve never had a horse before.   I don’t even know if I can ride it.  But it is beautiful.  Can I name it, huh, can I?”  Rag asked, his excitement winning out over his initial trepidation.

“Well, we should probably buy it first. Don’t you think?” said Sherm turning to Vin and Rag and raising his eye brows in askance.  

“I will not be able to sell it though Sherm.  I purchased him a few weeks back.  I foresaw the probability that you would be stealing our boy from us.  I wanted to give him a gift that would remind him of his home. And those of us who love him.” With those last words Vin turned to Rag and formed a smile drenched in tears.  “He is all yours Ragamuffin.  Care for him well, he is a beaut’ of a highlands pony, the largest I’ve ever seen.” His tears filled his eyes and so to did mine and Rag’s. 

Stepping up to Vin, Rag embraced him with as much love as any son could muster.  “I’ll always remember you Vin; you will always have a place in my heart.  How could it be otherwise?” Rag asked in a voice that echoed Brother Prem.  “In fact, I am going to name her Muffin, just so I am always reminded of you when I call to him.” Rag’s tears staunched with his decision of a name, but Vin’s let loose and his cheeks became streams.  They came together for a one final hug after Vin taught Rag how to saddle Muffin with all of the gear, he had bought him.  Saddle, blanket, bridle, Bags, a coil of rope a halter, bed roll and oiled coat for rain.  Rag was ready, sitting proudly on Muffin. 

As Sherm and Vin came together to say goodbye – “Vin, I will never be able to repay the debt I owe you.” Said Sherm tears again in his eyes.

“there is no debt owed me by you, I did what Gaia would have wanted.  Actually, I owe you for the opportunity you gave me to earn Gaia’s respect.  You just take care of our boy there and remember both of you have a home here, always.”   As Sherm started off, Vin stepped up and squeezed Rag’s leg, making a face that was twisted up stifling his emotions, he kissed Rag’s knee, before turning away and going to the water barrel to splash some water on his face and watch them fade into the forest.

Readers: Thank you for taking the time to read my story sincerely -bf

Sherm and Bundy: Setting Out

SS/ Fantasy 3367 – WORDS By brian francis

The water in the stream flowed with a purpose which has always interested Sherman.  By just watching it drift by, it seemed to help him think. Like thoughts that he had never once felt the need for a hand on his back in congratulations for a job well done, that was something that his father had never offered. He had a certain drive all his own. He had tried his hardest to excel in everything he took to task; he’d taught himself to read, to write, to fish and hunt and even make furniture – even furniture, people were willing to buy with money.  Now, he’d learned how to care for wounds and administer medicines, and even how to allow a person the time needed to accept their fate and move on.

He had been caring for his father for the past six months; the doctor had visited their small home numerous times every week since David Taylor had laid down on the bed and would not, could not get back out.  Sherm had cared for him as best he could since then, with the help of some of the neighbors, and some people from the nearby monastery.  Mostly it had fallen to Sherm to clean his father’s messes, to feed and support the household.  Now with his father finally laid to rest in the field down in the stream’s bend he had nothing but time.

“Sherm, are you down there?” came the voice of the Doctor. It wasn’t until the second or third time that Sherm stood up from the tall grass and acknowledged the call.  The doctor, calling, waved him up to the house and they sat down for a fine talk about living and dying.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t come across death before; something always dies when it’s time for dinner.  That is just the way of it.  But the doctor went on talking about letting go and moving on and such until Sherm was about to fall asleep. “So what are ya going to do now Sherm?” that simple question ask by the doctor had been swimming in Sherm’s mind for week.  As the end came for David Taylor, he was spared the pain and suffering by fading into a deep sleep.  As he lay there in the bed and made no requests or demands Sherm was left to wander the thoughts and confusions of his mind.  He would sit for hours petting Bundy the white parrot given to him by a passing carnival master. 

Bundy was too young to perform and would never have survived on the move–and the show must constantly move.   So for some repairs to a wagon’s hitch Sherm earned some money and a bird not expected to live.  That was three years ago.  Sherm’s attention to the bird’s care was heroic and an important lesson for him.  His devotion to the bird was all consuming in those first months.  Now he was rarely seen without the bird perched on him somewhere. He still sees to the feeding of the Bundy before himself and it is obvious to all around that there is something special in that rather weird relationship.

“Sherm …yo there… you Ok… Sherm” prodded the doctor.

“Yeah, I’m doing just fine.  Other than not knowing what to do now and fearing being on my own and not being able to do it.”

The Doctor laughed a long and low chuckle. “Well, I imagine it might seem a bit scary to think about; but if you really think about it you’ve already proven your mettle boy. “ Reaching out and cupping Sherm’s cheeks in his palms the Doctor went on,  “There is not a person within miles who does not admire you for the devotion and care you’ve show to all things, all of your life. There is not a father who does not pray his son would show the same strength of character.  You are not alone …you are not alone.   Do you understand? “

As Sherm listened to the doctor’s words his heart seemed to stop and at that moment, overcome with emotion, he fell into the embrace of the doctor and sobbed.  It had seemed like he would never be free of the duty and burden that his father had become.  Now all of that was behind him and his purpose in life seemed to have disappeared along with it. He was a stranger even to himself

After a while, having regained his composure and able to speak without stumbling over sobs, he and the doctor finished their talk.   He was prepared to make the decisions required of him; he just needed some time to figure it all out. 

There were still chores and the Widow Jengk’s chairs for her sitting room at her boarding house.  She made the most wonderful lace cookies, a cross between a candy and a cookie, which make mouths water all over the township at the mere mention.   He decided to buckle down and just get on with living.  Maybe stay here for a while finish up with his undone tasks and then set out to discover the world. 

                                           * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Getting his responsibilities completed became a chore as the good people here about discovered tasks that only he could resolve. It was nice to realize that those neighbors cared enough to do all they’d done.  He had been working hard for three months and had put on weight for all the pies and custards brought to him.  He was finally ready to step away.  His home would be lived in by a friend whom he trusted.  He had built a shed so the collections of the family furniture could be moved out of house and allow the new residents to move their stuff in.  When Sherm started to empty his bedroom, he was stopped by the friend who told him that this house was his home and his room will always be waiting for him. 

That evening friends and neighbors gathered on that plot of land that would always be his home.  It was a very emotional night for him, Bundy was jumping from person to person trying for a bite of this or that, A joyous scream announced the arrival of Bundy’s favorite monk, Brother Bean, Bundy’s head feathers rose as he bobbed his head in excitement. 

Sherm was actually thinking he might be a fool to leave so many loving supportive friends.  But then the happy announcements from Bundy “go bye byes, hurrah.”  He knew he had to keep his word, second thoughts be damned.  His pack was ready to go when he laid down to wait for morning.  He had sold the farm horses to pay for the doctor’s visits so it was going to be a walking tour of the world for a while. He did have a healthy pouch of coins.  At least it seemed healthy to him.  

Neighbors were still hanging out when the sun came up.  Sherm wanted to get an early start so his intention was to wake and being to wander.  But that was not to be, he was made to endure another meal of delicious fresh berry breakfast cakes and some coffee that had been made into a special treat by the addition of chocolate.

The good byes where endearing and each person present wanted a hug that often came with a whisper in the ear of loving support.  Rebekah, whispered in his ear that she would wait his return.  Just as he was ready to turn and walk away he heard the sound of a wagon racing up the road.  It was Brother Bean probably coming for the other brothers who were mostly passed out lying about the porch.  As he approached he cried “Sherm not without a hug. My Friend!” He slowed and stopped nearby and jumped down with a huge bear hug that forced the wind from Sherm in a gush.  “You my friend have set an example worthy of study and devotion.  The many animals that you have cared for when injured.  The many people who have had you touch their lives with your loving attention.  During all of your struggles you never demanded help like some people do and still you found the time to help that eagle and the bear cub.” Brother Bean had told the bear cub story many times.  He was amazed at the way the mother allowed this boy to go into the water and release the cub from the tangle of vines it had created.  She allowed him to inspect the cub and then even seemed to say thank you by nudging him with her nose and knocking him down before walking away. 

Well with all that said, Brother Bean, walked to the back of the wagon and released the rope tying a beautiful painted pony unlike any, Sherm, had ever seen.  It had a beautiful rosy coat with black blotches. Its eyes were wide with excitement and it was not winded at all from the ride.  In the back of the wagon there was a fine saddle that had silver work and in the bed roll Brother Bean explained that there is a special blanket of warmth made with magic.  After readying the horse and finally looking at her from a distance he realized how smart she looked and imagined how smart he would look riding her. Sherm gave an apple and carrot to his new friend Bundy jumped onto the snout of the mare and while she did shudder she had no problem allowing it to climb up to the fore head and grabbing two bunches of main while screaming “Go bye byes hurrah, hurrah.” and with that Sherm mounted and began his new life of adventure.  It was surely a sight never before seen of a man riding a horse with a parrot atop its head. 

Even after a full day’s ride he was still among his friends.  He found a barn where he could sleep and rest.  He opened the doors leading to the outside so the horse could come and go he gave some hay to a stall and crawled into his travel bed and was joined by Bundy who nosed her way under the blanket and slept in the crook of his arm.

A pile of hay made for a good bed and his blanket of warmth lived up to its promise.  Sleep came quickly and dreams of what lie ahead teased his rest with excitement and even dread.  When in the morning he was awakened by the mare eating him out of a bed.  He rose to make a hard tack, dried meat and hard cheese breakfast.  While he ate, Bundy found his pocket of seeds and dried fruit and joined in to this their first breakfast away from home. Taking the bucket and getting fresh water for the horse and taking the time to brush her and inspect her condition. She was in wonderful shape and ready to go again.  Periodically Bundy would climb down from his shoulder or jump onto his lap from the horse to find her pocket and eat some food and ask for drink.  More than able to drink from a bottle the canteen was no problem in fact, all was well.  Life was good.

Bundy chose to ride on Sherm’s Quarter staff and fly into the trees to scream and do her crazy bird act.  She would cling to a branch and spread her wings and screaming as she would fall over backwards and continue her screaming gyrations.  She was happy and her joy lifted his spirits and made him laugh. 

Half way through the day with storm clouds threatening they came upon a small farm with the whole family harvesting wheat as fast as they could.  Sherm understood the imperative – the storm would destroy the harvest left in the field.  When he noticed that the family consisted of three boys all young and a woman presumably the mother with no man to be seen he found himself approaching the woman and offering to assist.  Asking only the opportunity to shelter in the barn through the storm.  The children were all dreary and looked exhausted at least until Bundy came flying up and saying hi and introducing himself.

With terms agreed, Sherm took charge, instead of the kids carrying their every bundle to the barn he had the woman lay out the largest tarp she could find in the barn and having them gather onto it.  He cut the remainder of the field like a pro and the family worked to gather as the storm approached.  Using the horse to drag the loaded tarp to the barn was much faster and far less work than the alternative. In the end the harvest was a success and exhaustion was the result. 

Quickly, Sherm, found himself the unwilling victim to unrelenting questions as he made his bed and prepared for rest.  The boys each wanted to have Bundy ride their shoulder.  And boy did they puff up and get prideful being a perch.  After brushing his horse and fielding questions about its name that he could not answer.  He asked the boys to allow him to get some rest. They obliged and Sherm and Bundy settled into their night. 

Though rest was soon interrupted by a most wonderful smell.  Root stew and fresh bread brought to him by the nice mother to the little ogres.  She told him of the loss of her husband in an accident last year.  In the morning she was sure that the storm would be the final straw, not seeing any way for the children and her alone to accomplish the task need.  She had had their wagon and field team stole the previous month and she just so appreciated his help, with tears on her cheeks.  He encouraged her to get back into the house before the storm which had developed some gusty winds and was threatening to really set in.  He closed up the barn after watching her get safely inside.  And it was back to sleep.  Though a full belly, sleep was restless due to the raging storm, yet,  even the great cries of the thunder could not raise his eye lids.  And still excitement and dread haunted his sleeping hours. 

Waking early to a wet but storm free world Sherm grabbed his bow and quiver knowing that this would be a wonderful time to find some game for the family.  And after a few hours he’d trussed a good number of birds and when he finally scored a wild pig he regretted not bringing his horse, “Spot.”  No that didn’t sound right he’d just have to keep thinking.  After field dressing the boar, he dragged it up a nearby tree to secure it while he went for the horse.

She was all teary and grateful again when he asked if she could dress the birds.  As she set about prepping the hearth for the process, he set off to retrieve the boar.  The rest of the day was spent in butchering and smoking, a sack of salt found in the smoke shed sure helped.  

As evening fell and the meal was smelling delicious, he found himself pondering how lucky he was to have had such and easy life.  The lean-too on the side of the barn facing the smoke shed was a perfect spot to rest during his days toils.  While lost in thought he seem to fade to a daze.

“Sherm can I speak with you for a moment,” came her voice in the sweetest of tones, dragging him from his reflections.

“Eh, Sure Misty, I was just trying to slough off the day and catch my breath. It’s been a roundy – round all day,” he said while rubbing his eyes and leaning up.

“I just wanted to say” she started, but then exclaimed, “Oh my, but your eyes are red! But I guess mine are too,” revealing a shy coyness in her expression. 

“Well, I’ve been playing with smoke most of the day” he teased her “What is your excuse?”

“I have been crying tears of joy for the first time in over a year. My heart has been lifted by your kindness.” She said staring into his eyes. “Thank you Sherm for coming into our lives.”

Now was the time for Sherm to be uncomfortable, now was the time to remember that expressions of gratitude are the right of all people and receiving them graciously and without expectation is the will of the gods with respect to a worthy soul.  And with that mantra in his head he explained that it was his blessing to meet such a strong family.  As he now had friends here where he’d never been before. She also let him know that diner was ready and the family wanted him to share their table.

After washing up and checking the smolder he knocked on the door. Their dinner was awesome roast bird and root stew with bird stewed right in.  There were comments of cannibalism when Bundy asked for a piece, but Sherm assured them that Bundy was more than a bird, a sentiment all agreed was true.  He heard about the boy’s father and shared with them how he too lost his father.  They spoke of dreams and his travels.

The rest of the week allowed him to finish up the smoke curing of the meat and the curing of the hide with the ashes of the smoking fire.  He made some repairs around the farm and tried to teach the boys all he could in such a short time.  They absorbed his attentions eagerly and proved their worth in short order.   The youngest, Danny, taking up the chore of the watcher of the smolder.   While Rye and Trip took on the repairs to the leather hinges of the front door.  By days end he was prepared to leave and had gathered and packed his belongings.  Rest was comfortable all night and in the morning his goodbyes were brief aside from the meeting with the children in the morning when he awoke with them kneeling around him waiting.  He gave each a handful of coins their earning for helping him.  They assured him at his coaxing the they would wait until he was gone to reveal their windfall.

Misty cried and Sherm announced that he’d dubbed her forever in his mind as his friend  “Misty Cries” After a brief hug he set out once again on a path to tomorrow, Oh ,but maybe that is it “Tomorrow.”  Hmm, thought Sherm still looking back and waving.  “Tomorrow!”  I think we’ve found a name for you.

A day and a half up the road he found a small hamlet called Hemm.  Not much beyond a couple warehouses and about twenty residences and of course a traveler’s inn and tavern. 

Asking permission to enter with Bundy on his shoulder had never led to anything but a warm welcome and this was no exception.  Some grog is said to help the traveler stay fit.  While the taste was often bitter, this inn’s private brewing was almost sweet in its bitterness.  So the grog flowed and the conversation flowed until a man with a green feather in his cap approached him and let him know about a team of horses found abandoned on the road three or four weeks before in response to his discussing Misty’s predicament.  The locals all seemed unaware that she had stayed working the farm.  Those present agreed with Sherm’s proposal that she was a part of their community.  The wagon would be returned to the family by these good people in the morning.  And they would reach out to her and her family. 

It was easier to continue down the road knowing that Misty and the boys would have a community helping her.  Having studied a map on the wall in the tavern he realized that the transport road would take weeks longer than following the old trails down through the steppes to the low lands and the great caravan roads.   Although that would leave him little contact with people it would save him time in getting to a real city. 

One more night then setting out in the morning early after a nice breakfast and one final study of the map.