the shadows are calling us out: Mallos

"You back again dearie?"

Gawain turned and his gaze settled on a little old lady carrying a tray. A long leather strap allowed her back to take some of the weight. She smiled up at him, the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes deepening.

"Oh," Gawain grinned back at her, "hello Magda. I was just..." He broke off, shaking his head. He didn't know what he was doing, or what he was looking for. "I guess I was just wandering."

The waterfall beside them roared. He turned his face away from her to stare up at it. He'd made it his mission to find out as much about Shaman as he could. He was next to useless if he didn't at least have a basic understanding of the geography. How could he help his brother evade a murderer if he was only capable of stumbling around like a blind man. He wandered often, and he wandered far, drawing himself a little map noting key landmarks, potential hiding places and the distances in between. It was a habit he'd developed working with Scout. His commander had always laughed, called him square, a swat, a pencil pusher.

It had never not come in useful.

Yet, he always ended up back at the base of the waterfall, staring up at the torrent of water as it poured over the rocks from above. A few enquiries amongst the locals had given it a name; Prince Falls.

"Sad story, isn't it?" Magda said, her blue eyes twinkling. She rested her small hand on his arm, her fingers twisted by arthritis and spotted with age. "That poor lad. And his poor parents. I saw the king not long after it happened. Mark me, he were never much of a one for smiling, but I ain't never seen a man look so grey as he did then. It was enough to break yer heart."

Gawain sighed and set his hand over hers. "We all get our hearts broken in the end, one way or another." Magda nodded.

"We do that. But we get chances to put 'em back together too. Never quite the same as they was before, mark you, but oftentimes good enough to get by."

They lapsed into a companionable silence, watching the water and staring down at the cloud of water vapour gathering in the pool at the base of the falls. This had been the place where his life had changed. Someone had grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him off the path he'd expected to walk. It had taken him long enough to come to terms with it. He thought he'd made his peace, put it all behind him.

And yet here he was.

"What are you selling today, Magda?" he asked her, breaking the silence. Gawain looked down at the tray. It was filled with various nick-nacks, some tattier than the others. He pointed at a fine-looking ring. It was a thick band which would have looked like flat metal if its surface hadn't seemed to dance and crackle like fire. "What's this?"

"Prayer ring," Magda replied, "for the sun God. I thought you might like that one." She picked it up in her trembling fingers and set her shining eyes on him again. Carefully she set it back down on his open palm. "Looks to be just the right size for you."

Mallos. Was that the answer? His father had sent him to his grandfather, told him he would help him...and then he'd been deposited on Shaman and promptly forgotten with no more answers than when he'd first woken up on Umbarra II. Mace had filled in some of the gaps, thank God, but who could tell him the rest? He wanted to know everything, about his father, about what had happened to his mother, about what Tristan had been like before everything had happened.

Maybe...maybe it was worth a try.

Gawain reached into the purse at his belt and pulled out a silver coin. He pressed it into Magda's hand.

"I'll wear it," he promised her, "and think of my friend by the waterfall."

"I think you'll find you have many friends, boy," she said in reply. "You've just got to go look for 'em."


He should have gone back to the forest. He definitely should not have followed a group of guards towards the castle, and he certainly shouldn't have climbed the outer wall. He sat alone in the gardens cross-legged in the rose-bushes staring up at what used to be his bedroom window. He wondered which path his father had chosen. Had he left everything as it had been, closed the door and left the cobwebs to gather on the memories? Or had he cleared everything away, hidden the wound away in the hopes that ignoring it would ease the pain?

Gawain knew he should have gone back to the forest, but something held him still.

The ring had fitted his finger perfectly. He'd placed it on one of his remaining whole digits, and ran one of the shorter ones across the stone, admiring the gem's smoothness. It was a well-made thing, of a higher calibre than the trinkets Magda usually peddled.

Can you hear me, Mallos? he wondered idly. I hope one day you do. I can't...I don't... He shook his head. It was stupid, what could he say? His father's face swam before his eyes and a single tear ran down his long nose. I always expected he'd be here, you know? If I ever made it back. I dreamed about it so many times and he was always in them. He was Shaman to me. Was it the same for you? Is that why you've not been back?"

Gawain rocked backwards and lay on the ground, staring up at the stars. Moving on wasn't quite so easy as closing a door or tidying away some old forgotten things.


photo by Tom Hall at flickr.com


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