The rainy day
Everyone who saw the grey sky knew it would start to rain sooner or later. While it had been a light grey that morning, the colour had slowly turned into a dark grey that made people wonder why it wasn’t raining yet.
Watching the clouds didn’t change anything about their fate, so the people working the land paid no more attention to it. If it would rain, it would rain. If not, they would stay dry, but no-one expected to stay dry.
The same counted for the man walking over the earthen path. The only precaution he had taken was putting his lute on his back and make sure his cloak fully covered it. The instrument was his most valuable possession and he needed it to perform. Songs sounded better when there was music accompanying the words and if, for whatever reason, he couldn’t sing he could still play his lute.
Mikhal, the travelling bard, continued down the path. There were some trees alongside of it, they didn’t seem like they would really shelter him from heavy rain. So far it had remained dry and he was well on his way to the next city, but it wouldn’t hurt to look for possible shelter. With clouds as dark as these in the sky, it would be a miracle if he would stay dry.
Soon the first drops fell from the sky. He barely noticed it at first, he saw the drops of water before he felt them. The hat on his head shielded him from the rain, at least for a bit.
With every step he took, the drops followed each other to the earth in an increased speed. The thick cloak did a decent job keeping his body dry and his hat kept his head warm, but Mikhal had to admit this was one of the downsides of a travelling existence. Being cold and wet was something no-one wanted, himself included. The curled hair sticking out of his hat soon collected so much weather it smoothed out the curls and stuck the hair to his skin.
He stopped for a moment and watched the farmers work their field, he didn’t doubt they were complaining about the weather, but they would get their job done regardless. Another thought crossed his mind: if there were farmers there, there had to be farm around here too. Maybe he could find shelter and a fire there. Not all farmers were keen on strangers, but most offered hospitality to travellers.
As he walked down the path, looking for the farmhouse, he hummed a few tones. And a moment later he started to sing.
“There once was a leader, a glorious man,
the wise and the fair and the noble king Han.”
He stopped and decided to make something more suitable for this weather, but using the same melody.
“There once was a knight, wearing rusty, old chain.
Battered by battle, corroded by rain.”
He chuckled to himself, there was certainly a song in there. A very promising start. Something about an old knight with old equipment going from village to village to see if there were any monsters to fight. And of course, he walked through rain.
“Through wind and through rain he walked the land…”
Well, that wasn’t perfect, but the song didn’t have to be completed now. He tried to come up with a good word that rhymed with land and that could be used in the song, when he noticed someone down the path. A woman with long, white hair stood next to a beautiful white horse. She had her hand on it’s flank, and the moment he focused on the hand he figured that rhymed.
“Many monsters were slain by his hand…”
Not perfect, but it was a work in progress. He walked towards her and nodded politely, it surprised him how young she looked. Most women he had seen with such white hair were old, many women didn’t even reach the age that would turn their hair white. If he had to guess she was in her late twenties or early thirties.
“Good day to you,” he said. “Looking for a shelter as well?”
The woman looked up at the clouds with a vague smile. “No,” she replied, “I like this weather.”
“Surely you must be cold,” Mikhal commented, looking at her clothes. The light-blue dress seemed to be of a light fabric, it was wet and obviously wouldn’t protect her against the rain.
“I’m fine.” The woman looked at him. “What brings you on the road today?”
If he had to guess he’d say came from somewhere in the northern regions, her accent gave that away. That could explain why the cold didn’t bother her that much. “I’m travelling to the next city,” he explained. “If I would have found a shelter I would sit the rain out, but alas, that is not the case.” He bowed to her. “I am Mikhal, a bard.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mikhal. My name is Meria.”
Mikhal smiled and looked from her to her horse, he walked a bit closer so he could pet it. His fingers touched the white fur on the snout and the horse seemed to enjoy that. “A tame horse,” he said. “And a beautiful one too.”
“I do suggest you’re careful with Bäckahäst.”
As soon as he heard that name he pulled his hand back as if he had burned it and he stared at the white horse. He knew that name, there were stories about a creature called Bäckahäst, sometimes also called Kelpie or Ceffyl Dŵr, depending on where the story originated. A water spirit in the shape of a beautiful, white horse and the person foolish enough to try and ride it, because it seemed so tame, would notice their legs got stuck on the back. Then the water horse would run into a body of water, drowning their victim and eat that person.
“You travel with one?” Mikhal asked, astonishment visible on his face.
“Well, he noticed he couldn’t drown me,” Meria said with an amused tone in her voice, looking at the horse who nodded once, much to Mikhal’s surprise. “And after we talked I asked him if he wanted to travel with me and he did.”
“You talked… can they speak?”
Meria shook her head. “No, they understand the human tongue, but don’t speak it. Some of the older ones may develop a sort of telepathy. Only a few master the ability to transform themselves into a human and in that shape they can talk, but in their original shape they can’t. This one doesn’t transform nor does it have telepathy, but I can sense the thoughts of the sentient, intelligent water creatures.”
“And you can’t drown.”
Instead of answering, Meria looked at him. Mikhal wasn’t sure why she was looking at him when he suddenly noticed he didn’t feel the rain anymore. He saw the rain, it fell all around him, but it didn’t touch him.
“I can control water,” she explained, releasing her control over the falling raindrops and Mikhal once again got rained upon.
“Why don’t you keep yourself dry then?” he asked.
“Because I like water.” She turned to her companion, who didn’t seem bothered by the rain either. But why would it be? It was a water horse. “We are trying to find a lake,” she said, “there should be one somewhere in this area. I must pick someone up. It’s been crying out to me in my dreams.”
It was raining and from where they stood he could see a farmhouse. But this sounded more important than finding shelter. He would gladly accept the rain if it would help someone. So Mikhal decided to offer his assistance. “I know where one big lake is,” he told her. “It’s not far from here. I can take you there if you like.”
Meria turned her attention to him again and smiled. “I would like that.”
“I might turn this adventure into a song though,” he warned her with a grin.
“I’m okay with that,” Meria said. “Please lead the way, bard.”
Mikhal nodded and started walking. Despite the rain, this day couldn’t be any better. He had considered staying at the previous village when he had seen the sky, he had known it would start to rain sooner or later. Still, he had decided to try and cover as much distance as he could and seek shelter when he needed it to. And now he had met a water sorcerer, a water horse and the prospect of another creature hiding in a lake. How many people could say the same? And it might even give him some new songs. Not fearing the possible rain then and facing the rain now seemed like a good decision.
They walked alongside each other, Bäckahäst trailed behind them. He seemed to graze from the grass growing on both sides of the road, but Mikhal knew these creatures were carnivores.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Meria said and she waited for Mikhal to look at her. “You’re wondering why he’s eating grass.”
“That’s true,” Mikhal admitted.
“He’s probably looking for bugs.” She looked at her white companion. “You can fish when we reach the lake.”
Bäckahäst neighed and Mikhal was almost certain it sounded like it was pouting.
“There’s no body of water here, even if you found someone foolish enough to try and ride you, where would you drown your victim?”
Bäckahäst seemed to sulk now.
“Are you okay with him eating people?” Mikhal asked.
Meria shrugged. “My mother was fond of mice, she loved them, although I don’t know why. Yet she never faulted the cat for eating them. Bäckahäst likes the taste of humans and if he eats one he doesn’t need to eat for a while.”
“But mice aren’t people,” Mikhal protested, “we mourn our deceased. Someone’s death doesn’t just effect that person, but everyone around them.”
“Maybe so, but I can’t change him. If he will find someone foolish enough to ride him, it will be his next meal. And he can hunt and eat fish in the lake, but I guess it’s not as nourishing as a human is.”
A silence fell between them, the thought of being considered good food to something made him shudder and Mikhal didn’t want to think about death or torn-apart, grieving families, or tasting good to other creatures. Although he had to admit that no-one liked it when a wolf killed and ate a man, but no-one faulted the creature for following its instinct.
To bring their conversation to a more light-hearted topic he started talking about his stay at the previous village, where he had found a meal and a place to sleep, but with no prospect of earning a decent coin he had decided to continue to the next city. He told her that he travelled from city to city and performed everywhere he stopped.
The three of them continued to walk, the rain turned into a light rain, and then it stopped. The now empty grey clouds lingered in the sky, but soon the sun peeked through the clouds and send her warm rays of light to the earth. Mikhal let out a pleased sigh when he felt the sun on his face.
“I needed that,” he said. “The warm sun. I hope it will remain sunny the rest of the day.”
He looked at the flowers on the side of the road, during the rain they had closed their petals, but now they opened again, showing their lovely shades of orange and yellow.
There was a wonderful smell in the air, a scent of freshness. Maybe walking in the rain wasn’t all that fun, but that moment when the rain stopped, when the sun shone again and started to heat up the wet plants, that made him happy. He started whistling a cheerful tune and Meria smiled as she listened to it.
Suddenly Mikhal stopped and pointed to a narrow path that lead into a forest, it seemed more like an animal trail than an actual path, a bit larger perhaps because the local farmers used to go to the lake. They couldn’t walk alongside each other anymore, Mikhal lead the way, followed by Meria and Bäckahäst followed her.
As they walked over the path Mikhal continued his whistling, the sun had lifted his spirit and during his travel he often played some music, sang a song or whistled a tune. Especially when he was alone and had no-one to talk to.
The forest was full of life, the birds seemed as happy as the bard that the sun was back, because they sang their own song. The bard even stopped whistling to listen to what they had to sing.
When they reached a small stream Mikhal stopped and looked at a bush with berries growing close to it. “This is a good place to rest for a moment,” he said as he turned to Meria. “The lake isn’t that far away, but these berries are delicious and the water is clean.”
“I’m fine with that,” Meria said, “but there’s nothing here for Bäckahäst.”
Mikhal pointed to where they were heading. “If your companion is hungry, the lake is down this path, he can’t get lost. He can fish while we take a break here.” He just hoped no-one would be fishing there now, but with the past rain the odds of that were low.
The water horse took off and ran towards the lake and Mikhal and Meria took a small break in which they drank water, ate berries and told each other where they came from.
As the settled down, tasted the berries and drank fresh water, they talked about where they were from. It turned out Mikhal was right: Meria did come from the northern regions, known for its many lakes, plains and swamps, and lack of trees. Mikhal told her that he grew up in an inn that his parents run, but that he wanted to travel and perform and that it was the best decision he had ever made. He was happy, he had food and shelter most of the time and he had met a lot of interesting people, current company included.
After the break they went to the lake. The big lake was surrounded by forest on all sides, but it had a small, sandy beach around it.
At first there was no sign of the water horse, but he soon emerged from the water and joined them.
“What did he eat?” Mikhal asked.
There was a moment of silence. “Fish,” Meria finally said without looking at him.
While Mikhal wasn’t convinced it really was fish, he decided to believe that. He’d rather not think about what else it could have been. “So, we’re here. Where is the one you need to pick up?”
Meria walked to the edge of the lake and stepped into the water. She looked out over the lake with a distant look in her eyes. It wasn’t long before a small, blue, lizard-like head emerged from the water and it came toward Meria. She bent down and lifted a small water-dragon from the lake. The dragon had wings on its back and fins alongside its small body.
“I thought water dragons had wings and legs,” Mikhal said.
“The river-dragons, yes,” Meria said. “They live near the water, not in, so they don’t need fins. The sea-dragons live under water and have no wings or legs, but of course they do have fins." She looked at the small, blue creature in her arms. "This is a hybrid, her mother is a river-dragon and her father is a sea-dragon. Her mother got captured, but she managed to hide her child in this lake first. She was alone, so she called for help.” She smiled lovingly at the small hybrid. “I came as fast as I could when she reached out to me in my dreams. I need to take her to the sea first, then I will see if I can find her mother.”
Mikhal listened to the explanation in silence and he looked at the dragon. It was adorable, but he could tell by the way she snuggled into Meria that she had been lonely: she welcomed the company. “Do you think it will be dangerous?” he asked.
“It could be. A hybrid like her is rare.”
Mikhal nodded and looked towards the east. “I have no plans, if you want my company I’d love to travel with you, but I’m close to useless in battle. I do know a man who lives roughly a days-travel from here. He’s a mercenary and while he’s not fond of dragons, he is one of the best swordsmen I know. If you have money with you, you can try to hire him. It’s only a small detour from the way to the sea.”
“Do you trust this mercenary?”
“I do,” Mikhal said with a nod. While he did trust him, whether or not the man would want to come along with dragons involved remained the question, but they wouldn’t know unless the asked.
“Let’s go meet him then.” Meria decided and she looked at Mikhal. “But that city you were travelling to?”
“That was just a good place to make some money, but there are more cities that we’ll visit on our way to the sea.”
Meria nodded. “I would like your company, bard. I don’t know these regions that well.”
“That’s settled then!” He gestured to the east with his arm. “This way.”
And so the bard and the sorceress started their travel to pick up a swordsman and bring a small water-dragon to the sea. Needless to say, it was quite an adventure, but that is a story for another time.