Here is the second chapter of the newly revised ‘Stories of Don Luis, Part one, Ogre’s Lament’. I am hoping to submit this book when it is finally re-done, and all the tiny inconsistencies have been removed. It is, as they say, a ‘work in progress’. I hope you’ll enjoy it and please feel free to comment.
Luis first spotted the man as he rode into the village square. A soldier, sword at his hip, pistols in their holsters, breastplate protecting chest. He wore no helmet, instead a large, floppy hat, which cast his face in deep shadow. A bright red feather took all of Luis’ attention, as the man’s features, masked by the wide brim, and a thick tangle of black beard, were difficult to work out. Except for the eyes, burning with an intensity Luis had seldom seen before. Dust covered the soldier like an extra coat, his poor steed stumbling forward to the drinking trough. They had obviously ridden for many miles, in the searing, unrelenting heat. The horse dipped its head and drank. Luis, with only two more bundles left to deliver, sat down on the fountain steps next to the animal whilst studying the man keenly.
The soldier dismounted, stretched and sighed loudly. He pulled a bandana from around his neck, dipped it into the water beside his still drinking horse, and washed himself, running the soaked bandana over his face before pressing the material into his mouth. He dabbed his lips, stopped and noticed Luis as if for the first time, his eyes narrowing. Luis stiffened, a tiny thrill of fear running through him. The man’s look seemed dark and terrible, as did the rest of him. A soldier, quick to judge, violence never far from the blade of his sword. Luis quickly averted his face and went to move away.
“Boy, wait there.”
Luis froze, the gruff voice sharp, used to giving orders and no doubt expecting compliance. The man stepped closer, his air of supreme confidence unsettling.
“Where is everyone?”
Luis blinked. “Er…it is only early, sir. Most people will still be in their beds.”
“Bah…peasants.” He looked around, as if he were trying to find something that would prove the lie of Luis’s words. Nothing else moved in the square. They were quite alone. The soldier exhaled and slumped down on the stone bench next to the fountain, coat and trousers creaking as he bent limbs. He motioned Luis to join him. For a moment he hesitated. “I don’t bite, boy.”
Luis forced a smile, and sat down. The tangy mix of stale sweat and aged, cracked leather invaded his nostrils, and something else. Something he knew, had smelled many times before; the acrid stench of decay.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Luis, sir. Luis Sanchez.”
The man cocked an eyebrow as he scanned Luis, from head to foot. Luis felt his stare and grew uncomfortable, edging away from him slightly. “You wear your hair long, like a girl,” said the man, turning away to rifle inside a little pouch at his hip. “You must be a page, or a scholar perhaps.”
Luis studied the man filling a white bone pipe with tobacco taken from the pouch. Once before had he seen this. The mayor often smoked a pipe, the only man in the village to do so. Tobacco was rare and expensive, brought in from the Americas. Luis knew where that was. He had pored over maps at his school and would often spend hours daydreaming of adventures in far off lands, of voyages across vast, open seas, of mountains and valleys and—
“Are you listening to me?”
Luis snapped his head around, blinking rapidly. The man’s eyes burned with anger and the atmosphere became charged with danger. Luis held up his hand, alarmed. “I’m sorry, sir. I was thinking, and I meant no disrespect.” He tried a smile, but the man’s expression did not change.
“Thinking about what?”
Swallowing hard, Luis pointed towards the pipe. “Tobacco. Our mayor, he has a pipe. Rare things. Expensive.”
“Expensive…” The man’s voice drifted away and he sat back, closed his eyes and sucked on his pipe. His mouth made tiny popping sounds and smoke trailed white into the air.
The relief was palpable, the moment of danger past. Nevertheless, Luis remained upright, anxious not to allow his imaginings to return and so receive another sharp rebuke. So he sat and he waited, whilst the soldier quietly puffed away.
They remained like that for some time, neither speaking nor moving. Luis concentrated on his heartbeat, struggling to keep it steady. He had an urge to run, but he overcame it, grinding his teeth, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the soldier as the man’s lips popped around the stem of the pipe.
The horse shook its head and abruptly, the soldier stood up. He knocked out the old tobacco against the fountain step, then stuffed the pipe back inside the pouch. “A tavern.”
“Is a tavern close by, where I can find refreshment? Stable my horse?”
Looking up at him, Luis marvelled at the man’s size. The buff leather coat strained across wide shoulders, arms thick and strong, legs, like coiled springs of steel, stuffed inside long riding boots. Sheer strength oozed from every pore. Even Fernando, the village blacksmith, couldn’t compare with this man. A soldier. What stories he must have, what tales to tell. The things he’d seen, the places he had visited.
“Have you never seen a soldier before boy?”
Luis shook his head, and for a moment allowed his imagination to wander, pictures of distant castles, endless forests, rivers of silver, invading his mind, sending him far away.
A crack of laughter shattered his imaginings. He gasped and held his breath, waiting for the reprimand. But this time the man did not seem vexed, merely curious. Luis let out a slow sigh of relief. “No, sir, I’ve never seen a soldier. Never.”
“So none have ever passed this way?”
“Are you certain?”
Luis nodded. The man seemed satisfied, pulled in a breath and adjusted his belt. “So…tavern?”
“Filipe runs an inn, sir. Up the main road,” Luis stood and pointed towards the hill that ran from the square. “Just after the bridge. You can’t miss it. Or the mayor, he sometimes lets out rooms I believe.”
A moment of tension returned, the man’s shoulders tightening. “Filipe’s will suffice.” He took up the reins and lifted himself into the saddle. The horse stamped at the ground, annoyed to be moving so soon.
Luis patted the horse’s neck. It nuzzled into him and he stroked its soft nose. “You have come a long way.”
The soldier studied Luis intensely. “You’re not just a country bumpkin, boy. I can see that. You are a scholar, then?”
“Yes, sir. I like to think of myself as such.”
“Peasants are ignorant, stupid. Dangerous. But you…you are different. And that, my friend,” he struck the horse’s flanks and began to move away, “makes you even more dangerous. We shall meet again, Luis Sanchez. Farewell…and thank you.”
Luis stood still, contemplating the man’s words. Different…Yes, he was different; he knew that much, the other children of the village reminded him of it every day. But the soldier meant something more, a difference which ‘…makes you even more dangerous.’ Those words, curious, making no kind of sense to Luis at all. How could he, little Luis, be dangerous? If anyone was dangerous, it was he – the soldier. He had an air about him of barely contained fury, as if he struggled constantly to keep it at bay. Violence was his companion, his friend, his constant. And now he was here, in Riodelgado. But why? That was the biggest question of them all.
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