“I still don’t understand”, Kiri said, “if they are trying to take over the town quietly, why do they need the weapons? And if they have the weapons why don’t they just use force like everyone else would?”
Lexa shook her head, “Their goal isn’t to kill everyone off they want to be able to use the people and either treat them like their slaves or convince them to join their forces. That is where most of those men you saw in the woods came from; they were ‘convinced’ to join their forces. Besides they don’t have the numbers to wage a proper battle. If they were to win, they would lose so many people that it wouldn’t be worth taking over the town and they would be easily driven out. Also, the news would reach the capital city and a larger battle would be fought and they would lose even more people and those who they forced to join them would turn on them. But, if they can weaken the town from the inside and quietly step into powerful positions, they may be able to take over the town without anyone knowing or putting up a fight and may even get people to help them do so.
They have the weapons just in case they do need to fight or if a farmer or some townspeople do put up a fight or become unruly. Besides, once they are in their positions, the weapons then become a good sign of force and power.”
“I would never join them.” Kiri remarked.
“You wouldn’t have a choice.” Lexa replied. “They have a way of not giving you the choice. They force you into a situation in which the only way out seems to be to join them and if you don’t, what they hang over your head, will destroy either your life or that of someone you love. At least that’s how it happened …”
“How what happened?” Kiri asked.
“Nothing!” Lexa snapped. “Now I think you are beginning to see why your mayor was running around today in such a hurry. I would think that they are beginning to get to him. It won’t be long until he either gives up his position or begins to make strange proclamations. Once that happens, it won’t be long before the town is completely under their control. I would guess that it will be at that point when you will start to hear ‘rumors’ of the port city being taken over. The only problem is, they won’t be rumors and it will be too late to do anything about it and even if you had the foresight to warn the capital city; you would be stopped before you could do so.”
“So is there anything we can do, or do we just sit and wait until they have control over the entire empire?” Kiri asked.
“I don’t know if there is anything we can do, but I am sure that we wouldn’t be able to do it alone.” Lexa said.
“Who would believe us even if we could let others know? Why wouldn’t they shut us down before we even got things going?” Kiri asked.
“Exactly, that’s why we are not going to let everyone know. But, we do need help and I know where to find it. Come on!” Lexa said as she grabbed her jacket and headed for the back door. Kiri sat stunned for a second and ran after her.
Lexa turned right out of the back door, up the alley and in between buildings. Zigzagging her way through the alleys and buildings, not running but at a fast walk towards the woods on the other side of town opposite of where the activity of all the men was. Kiri was always a step or two behind. When they finally stopped at the edge of the woods near a barely distinguishable trail, Kiri stopped and panted for air.
“Where… are… we… going?” she managed to ask.
“Through here.” Lexa said pointing at the trail. “Don’t tell anyone about this.”
Lexa looked around, pushed past the brush and disappeared into the woods. Kiri followed right behind her. She tried to follow Lexa as close as she could, the brush and brambles cutting and scratching her and catching on her clothes. The rough overgrowth soon opened into a smooth trail. The path was smooth and wide enough for the two of them to walk side by side. The woods enveloped them, blocking out the afternoon sun. Kiri noticed that it was quiet, very quiet, except for the occasional bird twittering in the treetops. They walked for a short while before Kiri noticed it. She smelled smoke. It wasn’t long until they made a turn and she saw a small whisp of smoke coming from what appeared to be a makeshift chimney of a tiny hut.
“Where are we?” Kiri asked, “Who’s is this?”
They approached the small hut. It was nestled amongst the trees and growth, if it wasn’t for the smoke; Kiri thought she would’ve walked on by it. As it was, when she first saw the smoke, her first reaction was that the woods were on fire and she started to scream. As she looked around, she noticed there was a wheel barrow for hauling wood, an axe and a chopping block and nestled a little further away was what even looked like an outhouse. The unusual thing that Kiri noticed was that everything seemed to blend into the surroundings as if it belonged there and yet, nothing was missing.
They came to the small wooden door of the hut; Lexa raised her hand to knock. Before she could bring her hand down, the door opened a crack and a spear came out as the point rested under her chin.
“You move, you die.” an old voice crackled.
Kiri’s mouth dropped open, wanting to scream, too afraid to scream, too afraid to move.
“Leave!” the voice commanded.
The spear backed off about a half an inch.
“We need your help.” Lexa managed to say, moving as least as possible, only her eyes following the direction of the spear.
The spear remained motionless. Nobody said anything.
“Why are you here? Who are you? What do you want?” the voice questioned.
“I am Lexa, this is Kiri, the barmaid. People are taking over the town and we need your help to stop them.” Lexa explained.
The point of the spear backed off about 6 inches as the door opened another inch. Lexa turned her head to look, it was too dark inside to see anything.
“Barmaid? . . . yes, barmaid. Yes.” the voice confirmed.
Kiri’s skin crawled.
She wanted to shiver, or scratch or run. But she dared not move.
There was a long pause.
The spear moved back to its original position. Lexa’s head snapped upright and she faced forward again. She felt as though her chin was raised even a little higher. The door closed, almost slamming the spear in it.
“Leave now! While you still can.” He commanded.
“Can you help us, please?” Kiri begged.
Lexa grunted a warning.
Kiri continued, “The bar is all I have left. It’s all I own and it’s the last thing I have left of my father.”
The spear didn’t move, the man didn’t respond.
Another long pause.
The spear disappeared through the crack of the door, much to Lexa’s relief. The door slammed shut. Lexa and Kiri looked at one another and started to turn and leave. The door opened fully.
“In, quickly!” the voice commanded.
The girls glanced at each other and stepped in. The man shut the door behind them, slamming it shut and dropping a cross bar into place to secure the door. He shuffled around grabbing items and moving things around. From underneath piles of junk, he produced two stools and slid them near the fireplace.
The girls sat on the stools cautiously. As the man shuffled about the small dwelling, Kiri looked around. Along the wall opposite of the fireplace was a bed with a pillow and several quilts. At the head of this was a table which was covered with tools and what looked to be half completed projects; with enough room cleared away for one person to sit at the table to eat where a chair sat. The fireplace was stone, not very pretty but seemed to serve the purpose. With in the fireplace were two long metal poles which could swing in and out of the fireplace upon each which hung a cast iron pot. Both of which were hanging in the fire at the moment.
Kiri noticed that the place looked quite dirty and nasty. She expected to see rats crawling about the place and had actually placed her feet on the bottom rung of the stool so that she could keep her feet off of the floor. What seemed to overwhelm her was the stench. She couldn’t tell if it came from the food cooking over the fire, the entire place or the old man himself. It was all she could do to keep from gagging.
The one thing out of everything in the little dust covered hut which stood out the most to Kiri hung above the fireplace. A sword! It was the only thing in the entire hut which was not covered in dust and grime. It actually gleamed; the sword was of brilliant colors which seemed to change as the firelight danced across it. It was very intricately carved. Kiri wanted so much to ask about it but, considering their welcome, didn’t think this would be the right time.
“I will offer you a cup of tea but of my dinner, you will get none.” The old man explained. Kiri quietly gave thanks.