Chapter 2 - Massacre! (part I)

Simon Greenleafe was a fair lad. Small and fine-boned even though he had recently turned seventeen, he was blonde and blue eyed, fair of face and fair of nature. And the girls at the village school certainly approved of all this fairness too; they never missed an opportunity to simper and bat their eyelashes in his direction.

Simon also possessed an honest and open soul but he was quite embarrassed by this attention from his female schoolmates. Even though he had had to deal with a bossy older sister all his life, Aretha had never told him he was wonderful. Or dreamy. Generally she just told him he was a cloth-head and to get a move on and take out the trash or whatever.

Simon was not at all sure how to react to this new and unfamiliar interest from his feminine peers.

He decided that not reacting at all was the best approach, a tactic that usually worked with Aretha. When she got no rise from pestering him, after awhile she let him alone.

So Simon affected not to notice the village girls, instead staring off into space. Unfortunately, this gave him a reputation for having his head in the clouds, annoyed his teachers and made the girls that much more determined to make him notice them.

"My son is a dreamer!" Simon's father, Rueben Greenleafe, declared, not understanding the root of the problem at all. If he had, he might have been able to offer advice on the subject. Instead, he worried that his son was growing up to be a pantie-waist.

Mr. Greenleafe was a robust and generous man, a successful wine merchant, and a pillar of the small community of Myxx, which was a tiny town situated some distance inland on the Isle of Des.

Des was one of the many island nations of the great Granestella Circle and Simon had lived there all his life with his mother, father and older sister. The Greenleafe family was wealthy but not overly so. Although they did not believe in spoiling children, they also did not believe in going without.

Reuben frowned as he watched his teenage son pick a white rose and hold it delicately to his nose to sniff its fragrance. "His mother coddles him too much!" he muttered. Though he loved the boy, he was disappointed that Simon showed so little interest in the things that mattered. Things such as business, commerce and - well, in girls!

Just then, a minor commotion in the dusty street diverted his attention. Rueben turned to see a family of roughly-dressed refugees passing by. They were making their way up the lane toward the town square. Digging in his belt-pouch, he came up with a handful of coppers and tossed them to the ragged children who scrambled madly for the coins.

As the family moved away, Reuben watched pensively after them, a thoughtful frown on his face. There seemed to be more and more of these refugees coming through lately. Disturbing rumours of war were being whispered about, as well. Fortunately, no one seemed to be taking them very seriously. Myxx was off the beaten path, after all, and fairly safe from such things.

Reuben smiled contentedly to himself and rocked on his toes for a moment. He felt plump and complacent in his rich red robes and red velvet cap. He was very proud of this cap. It had a jaunty green feather sticking out of it which was the insignia of a successful merchant. He reflected that there was very little chance that strife would reach his prosperous corner of the land. Myxx had ever been a peaceful refuge, even during the Talismanic Wars which had been hundreds of years ago. The little town had been of no use and even less interest to the great powers that had waged that terrible conflict over magic. It would be safe against whatever came now.

He shuddered momentarily at the thought of magic and thanked Heaven that it no longer existed. His ancestors had had to live in constant fear of destruction from unseen magical forces. Even worse, they'd had to hide from magical creatures such as fire-breathing dragons and other monstrosities that could turn a man to stone with a single glance. It was a miracle that anyone had survived that terrible age!

People were silly to worry about war reaching this far inland. It had never done so before and there was no reason why it should suddenly do so now. Still, if refugees took the trouble to plod all the long way here, the least he could do was to share a tiny portion of his wealth and good fortune by tossing them a few coins. He wondered where they had come from but it was too late to ask. They were far up the dusty street now. Upon reflection he supposed they had crossed overland from the coast and wondered if there were any cities down there. Probably just a few port towns. Perhaps these people were fleeing from pirates?

The day passed. The townspeople went about their business, had supper and went to bed. All seemed normal.

That night, however, unbeknownst to the inhabitants, an invading army stealthily surrounded the sleeping hamlet. With the dawn they struck, screaming and shouting as they came. The marauders swept through the town in a lethal wave of steel and rapine, mercilessly killing anyone who dared resist. The town was bedlam and became steadily worse as looting commenced.

Items too big to be easily transported were carried into the streets and smashed. Heirloom furniture which had been handed down from mother to daughter for generations was hacked into kindling with broadswords and battle axes then set ablaze in the streets. Soon, huge bonfires blazed in the pale morning light at many of the street corners. The biggest was in the town square itself.

At first, the people of Myxx were stunned to react. Many refused to believe what was happening. As reality began to set in, however, goodwives grabbed children from their beds and ran with them to hide in root cellars, closets and cubby-holes. Not all were successful and those who were unlucky enough to be caught in the open soon wished they had never been born.

Some of the men of the town, most clothed only in their nightshirts, rallied gamely and attempted resistance. They defiantly brandished rakes, spades and hand-scythes. The brave stand was feeble, however, and short lived against the military might of trained soldiers. The townsmen died as they stood, cut down like dogs in the bloody streets.

Simon's mother, a sensible woman, was one of those who rushed about, trying to gather her children and a few belongings. Dragging Simon out of bed by his left arm, she hurriedly helped him dress and then hustled him before her down the stairs into their dusty wine cellar. She bade him crawl beneath the great barrels, entreating him to not come out again until she returned with his sister.

On the way down the stairs, Simon had glimpsed eighteen-year-old Aretha. She had always been something of a drama-queen and she now she was hanging far out from an upper-storey window screaming into the early light of dawn that soldiers were vandalizing the town. If that was truly the case then he reasoned that hiding in the cellar might be a good idea.

Simon realized her shrieks had suddenly stopped and wondered where she was now. His mother had probably finally got hold of her and managed to shake some sense into her.

He was still somewhat groggy with sleep. Confused and scared and not wishing to incur his mother's formidable wrath at finding he had not complied with her urgent demands to get himself hidden, Simon gingerly crept on hands and knees beneath the barrels.

The further he crawled into the murky space between the great tuns, the tighter the space became. For once, he was thankful that he was small for his age. Finally he emerged into the narrow area behind the tuns where the great oaken barrels did not quite come flush against the cellar wall. There he sat, his back pressed against dank stone amidst the dust and the cobwebs. Yuck! How he hated spiders!

Faint sounds of the tumult drifted down into the cellar even though his mother had closed the cellar door when she went in search of Aretha. Simon bit his lip in the darkness and hoped they would come back soon.

And where was his father? Perhaps Rueben was even now attempting to negotiate a peace with the army's generals. Simon brightened at the thought; his father was known far and wide as a master bargainer, a negotiator of fair trade and business contracts. And he was an Elder on the town council. Most likely the whole council would soon be deep in discussion over settlements and peace treaties!

Simon waited. Eventually things grew very quiet and he was tempted to crawl out to see what was going on. It was cold in the cellar and he was stiff from sitting so long in the damp. His mother's warning still rang in his head, however, and she was not a woman to be crossed. He decided he would wait just a little while longer.

Just when he could stand it no longer and was reconsidering the consequences of going against his mother's orders, there came a loud crash. Heavy thumping sounded on the thick boards overhead.

Simon shrank back against the hard stones of the cellar wall trying to make himself even smaller. Whatever was happening above, it did not sound like peaceful negotiation.

The cellar door suddenly slammed open, wood splintering from its heavy iron hinges. Simon jumped involuntarily, scraping the back of his hand on the rough oaken edge of the nearest wine tun. The light of a flickering candle appeared at the head of the stairs illuminating a pair of heavy, mud-spattered boots. Tentative steps on the stairs themselves turned into rapid thumping as the owner of the boots discovered Rueben's inventory and rushed down to take a closer look at the all the barrels of wine and spirits that lined the walls of the Greenleafe cellar.

A heavily accented voice shouted in glee, "Hey, hey, hey! Look what we 'ave here!"

"What 'ave you found, Cedric?" called a rough voice from above, "Is it another wench hiding in the basement?"

"Something almost as good, 'arry," the one named Cedric called up to his friend. "Maybe even better! Come 'ave a look!"

The other man - Harry - did come to look and Simon, peeping out from his cramped refuge, saw this fellow was carrying a second candle. Both men were dressed in the crude leather-and-steel studded armour of common soldiers. Both carried wicked-looking shortswords in their right fists.

Harry whistled through gapped teeth as he gazed at the huge cache of wine and liquor. Quite a lot of it was in bottles but most was in the large barrels that lined the stone walls, stacked in dusty pyramids. Simon's father was the local wine merchant after all.

And where was his father, Simon worried. He dared not crawl out now. Common sense, of which people perpetually reminded him he had none, told him plainly that these men were extremely dangerous. Now that they had discovered his father's inventory, things could only get worse.

As a wine merchant's son, Simon knew something about drunkeness. And he'd seen men outside the local tavern; drunken men who liked to fight and cause trouble. He'd seen how normally sensible men, and not a few women, drank and drank until they bumped into things when they tried to walk, became loud and acted like buffoons. Eventually, they would fall down and pass into a drunken stupor, usually laying right where they had fallen and were insensible of anything going on around them.

These men might do that. There was certainly enough wine and his father had always boasted that his inventory could supply the King's army.

Simon felt a glimmer of hope.

To Be Continued...


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