Prologue

So I thought I’d throw up the prologue to Pendraline here, as a bit of a preview.  It’s Friday, it’s summer, and my brain is already turning off.

 PROLOGUE

The old merchant watched the dancers from the dark shadowy corner of the tavern. He raised his mug of ale to his lips and grimaced as an exuberant couple jostled his table, knocking the leg against his knee.

“That’s it,” he said. Throwing some coins on the table, he took a final swig and rose from his chair. The crowd of dancers was thick; a mess of bony elbows and swishing skirts. He tried to make his way through as best as he could, searching for gaps between the couples. There weren’t many. As he made his way across the tavern floor, a young man tripped over his partner’s feet and the couple crashed into the merchant’s back.

“Oh, so sorry,” said the young man, his eyes on his rebellious feet. His partner looked up at the old merchant and gasped. The merchant glowered even harder at them. The girl turned back to her partner, tears in her eyes and away they danced.

The crowd was so thick, it made the tavern door look even farther away. He looked around to find the edge of the throng; there seemed to be no end to it. The long hall was packed from wall to wall. “Just have to plow through,” he muttered. The dancing was more lively now, the music frantic and wild. He pushed his way to the center of the dance floor. As the dancers bumped into him, more and more would stop their whirling and stare at him. A red-haired youth slammed into the old man from behind, knocking him to his knees. The merchant cursed as pain shot through his legs. A large brown hand reached down towards him.

“Sir, I’m sorry, I…” the words trailed off as the merchant lifted his face to look at his assailant. The young man took a step back, moving in front of his partner as if to shield her. The merchant glimpsed a pair of dark brown eyes under a mess of tangled blonde hair looking over the young man’s shoulder. There was soft cry and the head ducked down behind her partner’s broad shoulder. The young man stood still, staring at the merchant’s face.

The room grew quiet; the music died down and the shuffling noise of feet on the wooden floor came to a halt. The dancers had stopped and they all slowly turned towards the scene in the center of the tavern. Cries of dismay could be heard throughout the crowd, gasps of shock and whispers spread around the room.

The merchant looked around him. They were all staring at him. Young clear faces, their wide eyes open in horror. Is there something wrong with my face? he thought. He raised himself off his knees and stood up. The crowd backed away slightly. He touched his hand to his face. There was his beard, yes. His long nose, his eyes, his cheeks.

“Is there something on my face?” he asked, turning to a matronly looking woman at the edge of the crowd. She clapped her hands over her mouth, choking back a scream as she backed further away. He turned to a tall skinny fellow, hiding behind a wooden pillar.

“Please, what’s wrong? Why are you all staring?” The fellow’s face seemed to drain itself of all blood as the merchant addressed him. He grabbed the man’s shirt. “Tell me, what’s wrong with me?”

Around him, the whispers were growing louder.

“What is he? A monster? Diseased, maybe?”

“Disgusting, it is. What a fellow like that is doing, goin round with people…”

“It’s so awful! How can he bear it?”

“I’d rather die than look like that, oh gods, how terrible he looks.”

“I can’t look any longer! Tell me when he’s gone!”

The merchant frantically raked his hands over his face. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Everything was there; nothing missing. No cuts, no boils. What were they talking about?

“Please someone, what’s wrong with me?”

A child broke through the crowd, running to see what everyone was whispering about. Before his mother could grab him, he’d burst past the onlookers and came face to face with the old merchant. He raised his eyes to look at the old man’s face and let out a long shrill scream.

The merchant woke up, the scream still ringing in his ears. The dusty morning light shone through a small window in his room and he blinked twice, his eyes adjusting. Still feeling the stares of the dancers on him, he slowly touched his hands to his face. Like the dream, it felt normal. His eyes lit upon his packs in the corner. A mirror. That’s what I need. There was one in the bags. He swung himself out of bed, knelt in front of the bag and undid the straps, his fingers sliding and fumbling in his rush.

There it was. He pulled out the mirror and unwrapped the thick cloth that surrounded it. It was large for a hand-mirror, and heavy. Holding it in his lap, he pulled away the last bit of cloth, exposing the shining glass surface. The sunlight glinted off the glass and with shaking hands, he held it up to see his reflection. A sigh of relief escaped him. He was normal; he was all there. The dark ruddy skin, the graying beard. The long nose and thick brows. He was all there.

He settled himself more comfortably on the floor and sat for a while, gazing at his reflection. The sunlight was warm on his face, but the mirror remained cool to the touch. Tracing the edge of the mirror with his fingers, he stared at his reflection, reveling in its familiarity, its comfort.

A knock at the door made him look up. “Coming!” he shouted. He looked back at the mirror in his hands. What a thing to be doing, sitting here, gazing at myself like some fine lady! Chuckling to himself, he reached for the cloth to wrap the mirror up again. The sunlight seemed to shine more brightly across the mirror’s surface and for a moment, the merchant began to tilt the mirror to see his reflection again. Another knock at the door woke him and he shook himself out of his daze, wrapped the mirror in the thick cloth and placed it back into the bag.

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