Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Agents, pt. 1

     I arrived in the village shortly after nightfall. The air was chilled, with each breath I took steaming from my mouth. Snow crunched underfoot as I made my way through the town looking for a place to rest for the night. There were few places in the world that would offer lodging to a strange outsider like myself, but so far on my journey there had been plenty of kindly innkeepers' wives who allowed me to stay in their establishments. Now that I had reached my destination, though, I couldn't risk being seen in an inn.

     A cold wind picked up, moaning as it reached my ears. I pulled my dark grey cloak tighter around my shoulders and the hood farther over my brow. The night was getting later, and I had been walking for a full two days before arriving here. I needed a rest.

     I sat on a bench outside the shop of a villager who had long since gone to bed. Reclining against the wall of the building, I sighed and closed my eyes for a moment.

     "Hello, friend." My eyes snapped open. A tall stranger in a deep black cloak and hood had silently slipped up and was now sitting next to me on the bench.

     "Ah, hello," I managed to say in response, inwardly cursing myself for letting my guard down.

     "I've never seen you around here before," the man said, his features mostly hidden under his hood. I could only see his mouth and lips moving as he spoke in a deep, throaty voice.

     "I've come here on an errand," I replied, staying as close to the truth as I could. While talking, I slowly reached down to my belt, where a long knife was concealed. Should this person be an enemy, I would not be caught defenseless.

     "May I inquire as to who--or what--you are?"

     The question caught me off guard. I tried to buy myself some time to think about the question.

     "You may," I replied quietly. "But I don't feel obliged to answer until I've asked you the same question."

     The stranger said nothing for a moment. Then he asked, "Why are you here?"

     "Business," was the automatic reply.

     There was silence. I tried to think, taking advantage of this moment. I knew that the man's first question meant something, but I couldn't think what.

     "What is your rank?"

     Rank. That word reminded me of something, something that I'd heard a long time ago in my own village. What was it? I remembered.

     "I have none," I answered. "But in answer to your first question, I am one who looks for the unlooked for. I am the one who bears a nameless something. I am one who hides from darkness in darkness. What are you?"

     The man said nothing, but his lips turned upward in the smallest smile. "You are no agent, but you should be," he said. "You can answer a question truthfully without revealing any secrets."

     "Then you are an Agent of the Night?" I asked.

     "Hush! Such things are spoken of behind locked doors and vigilant guards. This is neither the time nor place. Do you have lodging for the night?"

     I shook my head. "Then you'd best come with me," he said. "I'll give you shelter for the night and lead you to what you seek." He smiled briefly again and said, "And in answer to your question, I am Tytus. Now come. The unlooked for awaits."