"Every evening, rain or shine, the old Ranger hobbles down to the river and blows that ridiculous horn. I don't know why he does it."
Andrew bore the curse well. Or was he flattering himself again?
Aching knees carried him slowly down the cobbled street to the old stone bridge, Salvania's only claim to fame. Some long-forgotten king or merchant had built the bridge, and - behold! - the town had sprung up as surely as the moss covered the stones.
He turned right, following a sheep trail along the river. A scarred hunting horn slapped his ribs in the usual place. He remembered that time an orc spear would have skewered him in the same spot except for that horn. He felt his thumb instinctively rub across the orc-gash.
Yes, he was spared that day when so many others of better quality had died. Was it all a random toss of the dice? Some days he thought so.
So why keep coming to the river? Why keep the ritual if it was all random chance?
"Well met, this sunset," the hawk said from her usual perch. Her voice was a faint peep-skwee among the gathering shadows. She too was a creature of habit.
Andrew skweed back, "Well met, Rabbit Bane." Ritual complete. Niceties observed.
Rabbit Bane bobbed her head and flexed one golden wing. "You are late."
"My knees hurt today."
She flexed the other wing. "Rain soon. Tonight."
Andrew continued to a narrow trail that turned left toward the river. He saw Rabbit Bane ascend overhead, her wings catching the last of the sun.
He stepped into the river, hopping gingerly from rock to rock. Fool. I am too old for this.
"Hear us. We come to you," Rabbit Bane skweed high above.
Sir Andrew of Salvania, King's Ranger of the Realm, blew a long blast on his battered horn.
"We free you this night to walk among us and be whole again." Rabbit Bane turned slowly, calling into the forest across the river.
Another horn blast.
"Protect us, holy ones, as we sleep. Cover us with your honor."
A final horn blast.
"Until we cross the veil to meet again."
Rabbit Bane turned twice more and sailed back toward Salvania. Ritual complete.
Andrew hobbled back to the bank and sat on a fallen log. He imagined his slain brothers and sisters stirring the dark tree line across the water. So many battles. So many faces.
Would they walk the empty cobbles tonight as the wizard had promised? Would they keep the evil at bay while the innocents slept?
"You were spared because you have a purpose. A holy purpose." The wizard had been persuasive. And Andrew had drunk the bitter potion in his gratitude.
The first star came out. Ritual complete. Curse complete.
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(c)2019 Mickey Kulp
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