THIRTY-THREE TALES OF WAR XXV: THE PEDLAR
Civil war rages in the black-blooded nation of Kandrisev. Its citizens grow restless. They demand their voices be heard. These are their stories laid out in thirty-three tales of war.
CICADAS chirped all around and the sun blazed down in glorious summer heat as the Pedlar waited outside a homestead somewhere in Chariv, counting ten fivepieces out into the farmer’s waiting hand.
“Wherever did you get a little thing like this?” the Pedlar asked in idleness.
“Found it dropped down the road.” The farmer scratched his nose.
“Ochetski warriors are rarely so careless. Must’ve been in a hurry.”
The Pedlar finished counting coins and took the grieving wheel from the farmer, gingerly tucking it into the pocket of his trousers. “There’ya go. That should set you up nicely for the coming months. Kind of you to let me buy this,” he added.
The farmer shot him a look of longing to be alone and trudged away.
“Blessings of the Five upon you!” the Pedlar called.
Whistling, he walked off down the road to Misgrad. He didn’t know whose souls the grieving wheel grieved, but it was no matter. No one could be remembered forever.
That night in a stand of pines at the mountains’ feet, he pulled out his treasure and counted the beads. Eight. Perfect. Holding the grieving wheel tightly in both hands, he bowed his head low and offered it toward the sky. “Mother. Grandmother. Grandfather. Sisters and brothers I’ve never known. I will forever hold the sorrow of your losses within my heart.”
He lowered the wheel. No one ever taught him how to pray correctly—at least, not in the Ochetski manner—but it only mattered that he was trying. How could they have? His mother was an Ochetski warrior and his father a Chovreki woodcutter. She had left the Pedlar on his father’s doorstep swaddled in hillwalker hide and placed in a steppe-grass basket. He was raised the Chovreki way; a worshiper of the Five and the Orthodoxy. Still, a part of him longed to know the ways of the other half of him.
He tucked the wheel back into his pocket and warmed his hands against the meager fire he kindled. Maybe that was why he lived as he did. His father didn’t like that the Pedlar didn’t want to carry on with woodcutting, but he understood. Besides, the Pedlar thought to himself as he added grass to the flames. Out here, he might have a chance to meet them. If he did what his father wanted and carried on the family business tucked away in the northernmost reaches of Kandrisev, he’d have to wait for the rest of his life.