Keta's Storybook!

1. AN EXOTIC STRANGER ARRIVES

The day is warm and mild, not sunny but with no threat of rain. Children play on the riverbank as women wash clothing and textiles in the rushing waters. The village hums as everyone goes about their work. As always a few men are posted on the hilltop clearing, the spot where Chehy stood when choosing of this valley for their home, to watch for the danger of invaders. As they sit with the vista of the plains stretching before them, the men carve and whittle, make tools, or repair their horses' gear. An iron drum and shaft hang under the shelter of a stout tree for the men to warn the village of attackers, to get inside the walls and close the gate.

A lone horse and cart appears over the horizon, travelling fast. The men take no note.

At the village gate arrives a merchant pulling his wares, flustered and out of breath. He stops, unsure about entering but unable to turn back. As he hesitates a mature woman approaches. She does not recognize him but greets him nonethless.

"Good morning fine traveller," she says, extending in her hand a cup of water.

"Thank you good madam," The traveller drinks thirstily. They speak in the vague dialect of the region, a combination of several diffeerent languages. It is awkward, with many gaps in vocabulary, but is understood well enough by most.

Above the village on the hilltop the watchers notice a small band of tavellers rushing toward the gate. They could not pose enough of a danger, so small are their numbers, to warrant a banging of the warning gong. However some sort of alarm seems to be in order, so ferocious is their approach.

[ . . . ]

"You will not avoid us by cowering in this pitiful village," warns a gruff man at the front of the group, the speaker staring ominously at the lone traveller.

As if on cue the burly young men step forward, tools in prominent view. The two groups square off in uneasy standoff as the woman raises the document, "Fine travellers is this your mark, here on this page, agreeing that payment has been made?"

The crowd can clearly see the document is signed. The mood changes from patient observation to suspicion.

"We don't take well to cheaters," says one of the burly young men to a hum of agreement from the villagers.

"I suspect it is their practice to conduct business normally in the city, complying with the standard rules of money lending," explains the lone traveller, folding the paper back into his pocket. "They arranged a party which followed me on my trade trip. Once I was alone, far from the city, they confronted me and threatened to take my wares unless I paid once again."

Several villagers glance at his cart with curiosity, so tightly packed is it with mysterious items under a secure cover.

"I've been doing business for a long time and on occassion encounter poor practices. I have also herard stories from collegues of such activity."

The lone traveller continues to glare steadily at his pursuers, who seem somewhat taken aback at this show of support. Unsure of what to do, none of them speak.

"You can be sure that when I return next to the city I will tell one and all about these underhanded techniques."

"Not if we get to you first," growls the gruff voice from the centre of the ominous group.

At these words the burly young men raise their heavy tools and step forward as one.

Their action drives the group back out of the range of the village gates. The men continue with their threats as the gates are closed soundly upon them.

CONTINUED . . .