Fool Boys and Firm Bosoms
The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third age by some, an Age yet to come, an age long passed, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
To some, this new new brought sewn crops and a bountiful harvest, and the nearing of Bel Tine. Most of the folk in the Two Rivers celebrated the occasion with festivals, and with the hope of Gleemen coming to entertain the masses, or peddlars arriving in their extravagant caravans to bring news of the wider world; Of Kings and Princes, of the fabled Aes Sedai and bloody wars fought at the edge of the world. But such folk tales were seen as just that. Tales of entertainment.
To young Alidrin Baldyr, it was simply the time to travel to Taren's Ferry. Though that was a celebration in and of itself, truth be told. His da and his three sisters at home would begin working the small farm they owned, tilling the fields as his youngest sibling, his brother Rodin, would start to learn the art of sewing as their late mother had once done for extra money. Ali could not wait to be out of the house and traveling on his own.
In reality, he was old enough to find a wife and start a farm for himself. His 23rd birthday had passed this winter. But his da needed help on the farm, and he hadn't the heart to simply leave his four siblings until they were of age, no matter how much he wished to explore the wider world. He did not like to admit it, but the Gleemen's tales of far off conflicts and intrigue of courts, located in immaculately large Palaces that boggled the mind fascinated him. The greatest excitement Ali ever had was hunting the hair or the wolf, or practicing staff fighting with his da and friends. Or gambling.
It was the latter reason he visited Taren's Ferry this day. It was his job to bring in news from the outside world, and to ask when the merchants would arrive to ply their wares so his father could sell the wool and cotton that made the Two Rivers so famous. He crossed the Taren River with his walking staff, over the bridge and into the populated community of cobble streets and one inn. To most outsiders it was a quaint place. But to Ali it was the largest city he had ever been in.
Dusk had fallen, and most of the colorful people would be in their homes or the Inn, though he had seen the occasional watchmen out and about. Dark tales had been circulating through the region of nameless fears. Old enemies of the light that had penetrated so far into the Westlands that even Taren's Ferry was not to be entered or left in the dead of night. "Here, boy!" an elderly beggar said, his beard nearly drooping to his twig-like legs, smiling and holding out his decrepid hand to reveal two necklaces made of copper. "A good price I will sell them to you, eh? For a pretty lady?"
A good copper necklace would be a dowry worth his hide back at the Two Rivers, but this elder likely wished to rob him blind. Ali was not stupid. Plus he reminded him of old Olger back home, thinking Ali just another boy that needed to be kicked. "You smell like a goat," was all Ali said, and he strode past him, his walking stick hammering into the cobblestones as a warning with every step until he made it into the Inn.
As all buildings, the Inn was raised on redstone foundations, in case there was flooding from the Mountains of Mist. The wood was well cut oak, and the Innkeeper, Boldin Hightower, was an old friend of Ali's. The young men stepped into the warmth and the song, a conservatively dressed girl standing on a chair at the back of the room, singing a song of the love of an adventurous Coyote and the Beautiful Eagle that watched over him.
The stout men of Taren's Ferry filled the tables, though the occasional traveler or stranger mingled with them. It was not yet new spring however, and no one from anywhere else as far or farther than Whitebridge would show up here until then, or not at all. Inside the tables were round and stable, with plenty of room for drinks and games of chance to be played. A pretty serving girl fluttered her lashes at Ali as he stepped in, and he blushed, smiling back but growing a bit too shy to say anything.
It has always been his problem, his lack of experience with women. 'They could steal your heart as well as your purse and you get three guesses as to which they'll hold dear,' his uncle Montel used to say when he was very young. With dark locks of wavy hair that neared his shoulders and an athletic body, he was not unused to the attentions of girls, but only when he traveled, and whenever that occurred he was out of his element.
Well, just as well he wasn't here for that. The gaming table called to him, where he could win crowns and rumors aplenty, something the tall youth always managed to do when he made it here. His eyes glimmered at the sight of rolling dice, and if any were looking at him they would see their true color. At a cursory glance, most thought Ali had eyes as brown as the earth. But in the light, the truth would be revealed to show a maroon hue.
"Alright, boys." Ali said to a few other young men, some he recognized and some he didn't, setting down with them and unloading his pack onto the floor. "Grin, no cheating now. This year you'll not weasel your way out of paying me what's due."