’Tis a dang’rous act, this tale I propose.
Much that would amaze, magick and wondrous
hast been forgotten, ‘ere these days we live
for the fear such wonders wouldst also give.
-William Shakespeare, “Love’s Labors Won”
1. The Forest
It was almost dusk, the sun setting low, when the first villagers saw the man with the long blue coat journeying the road toward their town. He travelled by foot, but slowly, a child walking wearily alongside him. The child carried little but a stick and a small bag slung around his shoulder, while the man with the coat had a larger bag over his shoulder and a second down by one side. They walked the King’s Road, its once great path was now aged and worn as it had seen the passing of time but few travelers in the decades since an almost forgotten king had extended his reign to this northern land, far from the kingdom’s center. The villagers were still loyal, of course, and once or twice a year someone would travel by their way to give them news from elsewhere in the kingdom; and rarer, still, the visit of a tax collector to receive some meager payment from the village’s mayor on behalf of its humble townsfolk. All visitors to the village would return home, southward, remembering little of note of their visit and remarking of it even less.
Yet the site of any visitor was a novelty, so as the man and child walked the road past the first few outlying homes, children peered through windows and adults stood at doors watching their progress. The man in the long blue coat, its large lapels standing up just over his ears, would occasionally turn his head to nod and smile at the villagers as he and the boy walked past. His brown eyes were wide, with wonder or laughter one couldn’t tell, but his countenance was that of a man of mirth and peace. The boy tended to keep his head down, his eyes on the road, or his feet, or the stick that he would occasionally swing around before him. Though none could see them, his green eyes appeared as though they burned with light from within, and a small shock of bright red hair hung beneath the simple cap he wore.
As they walked past the two market stalls that butted the road and marked the beginning of the village proper, a large raptor, perhaps a hawk, dived inward to the village from the forest beyond, swooping low over their heads before disappearing in an arc behind one of the larger houses toward the center of town. The man and boy walked on, toward the fountain at town center, which by long custom was where visitors would gather to seek hospitality for a night or more.
In those days, showing hospitality to others was a critical way of life. Man, woman, or child never knew when circumstances in their life might lead them to have to take a trek to some distant village or town within the kingdom, and at such times one would depend on the hospitality shown by others. So it was customary, when a visitor gathered at a town’s center, which was usually marked by a well or fountain, that some members of the village would offer a night’s lodging and meal.
By the time they had reached the town’s fountain, several villagers were there to greet them. The mayor of the town, who enthusiastically and bombastically welcomed them to the Village of Farhaven, graciously invited them to join he and his wife for dinner that evening. A villager inquired if the two would give he and his wife the honor of staying at their home, pointing to a small house near one of the market stalls. He shared that they currently had the luxury of an empty room in which the man and his squire could be very comfortable in.
The man in the blue coat bristled at the term. “While I am grateful for your hospitality and will gladly accept,” he said, his speech a bit more refined than that of the villagers,” “this is my son, not a squire. He is a freeman just as I. Perhaps free-er, in some ways,” he mused, rustling the cap on the boy’s head. The boy, who had until then kept his eyes on his feet, looked up then, smiling at his father. The villagers around saw the intensity of his green eyes, and many of the women marveled at how incredibly handsome he was, even at such a young age.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir,” the villager replied, “no disrespect was meant, I assure you. We will be glad to have you, after you’ve supped with the mayor.”
“Nonsense, Demetrius, you shall join us, too,” the mayor, a man named Baum, declared, “and your wife, of course. I would show you the same hospitality you show these visitors to our fine village. Please, come by in an hour, and we shall be ready to receive all of you! For now, perhaps good Demetrius would show you to where you can safely store your belongings.”
“I’m Demetrius, and my wife Glinda is over there by the doorway,” he said, pointing toward the home where a young woman stood watching them. “Please, you are welcome to join us for the night.”
“Thank you,” the man in the blue coat said, hoisting his packs once again. “We are deeply grateful to you for your hospitality. The trip has been long, and if it is not an imposition we hope to stay and rest in your village for a few days before resuming our journey.”
As they continued walking toward the house, Demetrius inquired, “It is rare for people to come this far north, lest they bring us news or come to collect taxes. Are you here for such a purpose?”
The man in the blue coat laughed, a deep chortle that sounded like mirth wrapped in a blanket of baritone. “No, no, dear sir,” he replied, “nothing of the sort. No, my son and I are…” He paused for a few moments, long enough that Demetrius stopped to look at the man, worried what the answer might be. But the man continued, as though he had just sought he correct word, “…collectors on behalf of the Queen, but we bring no news nor do we seek taxes. But we travel, seeking out the stories and curiosities of our kingdom to share with her majesty.” As he took another step, his coat lapels shifted enough that Demetrius spied an ornamental pin tucked on his inner jacket. it was a shield, with an arrow with some letters.
“I pardon, sir, but I spy your badge; if you are not a tax collector, what sort of official do you be?” Demetrius asked.
The man stopped, just short of a small vegetable garden afront Demetrius’ cabin, Glinda smiling and looking on, unaware of the conversation. The man turned to face Demetrius, and the boy stepped back, a quick glance to his father and then to the doorway where Glinda stood puzzled.
“My good host, Demetrius, I suppose I should properly introduced myself.” His left hand, free from carrying a bag, gripped the side lapel of his long blue coat and pulled it open, to reveal the badge pin he wore on his inner jacket. The badge was indeed a shield, with an arrow, it’s shaft running at an angle from bottom left to top right; the point just poking out over the edge of the shield. To the left of the arrow were the initials H.M. and to the right and below, C. “I am Her Majesty’s Constable,” the man in the blue coat continued, “and for reasons of security, I often travel under many names. You may me Smith,” he finished.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Constable Smith,” Demetrius replied, and then to the boy, “and young Master Smith. You are welcome, too.” The boy looked up at Demetrius, who marveled at the boy’s green eyes and smile. Smith and his son walked into the house, greeting Glinda and marveling at some ancient clockwork on the fireplace mantle that she had inherited from her father. Made of copper, there was a clock face standing on top of the shape of a great tree stump, with doors where its roots spread down to the base. Glinda shared how when the clock struck the hour, the doors opened and a beautiful eagle slid forward and flapped its wings once per hour as the clock chimed. Indeed, the clockwork began to turn and chime just as she shared this, and an eagle of gold emerged from the bronze doors, flapping its wings six times as the hours struck.
“We’ve been invited to dinner at the mayor’s,” Demetrius shared with Glinda, “in about an hour’s time. Would you show our guests, Her Majesty’s Constable and Master Smith, to their room for the night. I will go draw a bucket of water for us so we can all freshen up.”
About half an hour after being shown to their room and leaving their bags upon the four post bed that lay against one wall, the man was sitting on a small chair a the front of the house, watching his boy wander the garden, wondering at the stalks of asparagus and the blooms on chives. As the boy played happily, a middle-aged man came walking up the dark path to the house. Constable Smith saw that he, too, wore an ornamental pin on his lapel, and as he came closer saw that he bore the insignia of local officers of law within the realm.
“Good evening, sheriff,” Constable said as the man walked up toward him. Again lifting his left lapel, he showed his pin to the sheriff and said, “I am Her Majesty’s Constable, Smith. I am not here on any official business, we are just traveling through, collecting the stories of our queen’s great kingdom to share with her.”
The sheriff smiled, and leaned against the house, facing Smith. “Good, good. Well met, friend,” he said. “I’ve heard of Her Majesty’s Constables, of course, but have never met one. Do you not usually guard her majesty’s person?”
“Yes, generally that is our duty,” Constable Smith replied. “But due to our loss, my son and I have been granted leave by her queen to travel. She asked only that we return, as I have said, with stories from her realm, that she might better know the far lands she has risen to reign.”
“Then we are well met,” the sheriff said. “I am Sheriff Slater, and I have been our lawman here for almost twenty years.”
“That is a good and lengthy time to be an officer of law!” Constable Smith declared.
“Yes, well, the people of our little provence have all generally lived well and in peace. Until recently, unfortunately.”
“Oh,” Smith replied, true concern in his voice. “What has happened?”
The sheriff glanced at Smith’s son, playing in the garden as the last light of day brought a purplish hue to the eastern horizon. He glanced at the horizon, his eyes tracing over the trees of the nearby forest, before he replied. His voice grew quiet, almost a whisper, as he spoke to Constable Smith, “I would just warn you,” he said, “to be careful if out at night. We had a mysterious death in the woods last week, and some of the village are still a bit uneasy. A young man, brash by nature in town, was found dead among the trees. We think he might have been hunting, as he had his bow and quiver. we found several arrows had been loosed, but they were a distance away, embedded in tree branches or the ground at an odd angle. There was no sign of deer or any other game, but the poor man had been cruelly eviscerated by something, Or someone.”
“That sounds dreadful,” Constable Smith replied.
“Yes, it was,” the sheriff replied, “and his father has been agitated since, vowing he would find and punish those responsible.”
“Well met, Sheriff Slater,” a familiar voice ringed out, “though I wonder if perhaps you should be here, when there clearly is a dangerous foe somewhere in our community you should be seeking.” It was the mayor, walking through the garden toward the house. Demetrius and Glinda appeared in the doorway, then, and called “Young Master Smith, Constable Smith, it is just about time.”
“Yes,” the major continued, “and I thought I would come and walk you to our humble home. We are glad to have you four for dinner, but I am afraid, my dear Sherrif, we did not set an extra place for you.”
“That’s quite alright, sir,” Sheriff Slater continued, “as I should go patrol the village’s entryways before retiring for the night. Good night, all,” he called as he walked off.
“A good man, no doubt,” the mayor declared as he turned and invited his four dinner guests to follow him, “if perhaps a bit unsuited to the task of investigation. Alas, we’ve no one else at the moment, so I must rest my hopes on him to discern what happened to my poor son…”