Chapter 2: "The Old Man and the Inn" and "The Woman"
Kori edged forward in the ragged chair as the inn’s main doorway creaked open once more. It was obvious which people were there under normal circumstances and which were there because of the dreams. And if it was obvious to Kori, it was obvious for everyone else too. How embarrassing to be in this place for such a foolhardy purpose. Yet more continued to come.
This newest arrival was an Old Man—noticeably confused—wearing a tattered cloak and leaning upon a stick. It didn’t look like the Old Man needed the stick to support him so much as he needed it to complete his nomadic appearance. Kori new straight away that this Old Man was the one that the woman had foretold. The Old Man was the guide.
Kori wasn’t the only one to recognize the Old Man’s significance. A hush settled over the inn’s entry hall as the others turned to stare at the newcomer. The Old Man seemed not to notice. Kori, however, took this moment to appraise those gathered with him.
Directly across the room was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-mooded young woman. Though her attention had been drawn to the Old Man like everyone else’s had been, she seemed unimpressed. Earlier, Kori had heard her introduce herself to the matron as Sorell. He quickly committed that to memory: Sad Sorell. Sorrowful Sorell. Somber Sorell.
As Kori sat, feeling bad for Sorell for some reason, two young men stood up from their seats and hurried over to the Old Man. The two were almost certainly brothers. It was clear that they were related but the age difference and chilled expressions pointed to something deeper; they weren’t close. The brothers either barely knew each other or knew each other too well. Either way, there was animosity between them.
The elder brother—the one with the curly blonde mop on his head—scooped in front of the younger one and grasped the Old Man’s hand first. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, good sir. You’re the one that I was sent here to find, aren’t you? You are the guide?”
The Old Man smiled broadly, his whole face wrinkling in the process. “Yes, I am the guide. I’m glad to meet you too.”
The elder brother sighed with relief. “Oh, thank goodness. I was starting to fear that I’d gone crazy…had come all the way here for nothing. Anyway, I’m Felix.” The man named Felix reached a second hand in to reinforce the handshake. “There was this woman in my dreams that told me to find you here. And now here you are. Strange isn’t it?”
The younger brother decided to interject. His approach was less polished than his brother’s. “Hello, I’m Asher,” he blurted out. “I…uh…I don’t really dream. Well I don’t remember them at least. But I do believe in miracles and visions. I hope to devote my life to the word of the Lord someday.” Asher stopped talking and looked around as though he’d lost his thought, then recovered it. “I think that this woman that Felix saw was an angel. And she led us to you. It’s an honor.”
The Old Man, Felix, and Asher started walking toward where Kori was sitting but were intercepted by yet another dreamer. This one was a lovely lady, well-dressed and expertly formed...almost synthetic. “Hello gentlemen.” Even her voice sounded measured and practiced. She presented her hand, palm-down as though showing off jewelry. “Perhaps I do not need to introduce myself? Perhaps you are familiar with my work on the stage?”
The Old Man shrugged his ignorance and Felix smiled weakly as if in apology.
Asher studied her face for a moment. “You do look familiar. What do you do on the stage?”
She looked offended…outright insulted, in fact. “I act in the dramas. And I sing as well. Surely you’ve seen posters and paintings with my likeness? I am Claire Smyth. My name rings in the ears of the cultured?” She sang those last words with such haughty assurance.
Asher nodded half-confidently, “Yeah. Yeah, I think I’ve heard of you.”
Felix moved two blonde curls hanging in front of his eyes to roll them at his younger brother. “Please,” he whispered. Then he turned and walked to Kori’s side and sat in the seat to his left. “Hi, I’m Felix. Did the woman send you too?”
Kori nodded in answer to Felix’s question. “I’m Kori. This is a pretty strange situation, huh?”
Felix laughed. “The strangest. At least you’re little brother didn’t follow you here like a lost puppy. Been trying my whole life to shake that kid off. He does everything I do and then pretends that he does it better.” Felix threw his hands up, “My apologies. I didn’t mean to fire off like that.”
The Old Man, Asher, and Ms. Claire Smyth eventually made their way to where Kori and Felix were seated. Even Sorrowful Sorell uprooted herself and joined the others. Each of them pulled up one of the ugly chairs and formed a small circle, with everyone’s attention focused on the Old Man. But before anyone had a chance to begin, a tall muscular man stepped forward, seemingly out of nowhere, and added his chair to their group. This stranger appeared as if from nowhere; a shocking feat considering the man. A dark-skinned hulk, bald headed, and muscled. His clothing was tattered and a tattoo wound up one arm and down the other.
The sudden addition of this large fellow drew everyone’s eye away from the Old Man. They all stared unwittingly at this stern-looking man. He gazed back at them wordlessly.
The Old Man raised his hand in greeting, “Hello, friend. Have you come here because of the woman too?”
The dark man nodded almost imperceptibly. “I am Lesedi. And I am here to journey with you, guide.”
The Old Man smiled warmly and greeted Lesedi with equal warmth.
Felix gestured to the Old Man. “Good sir, would you like to tell us why we’re here?”
The Old Man cocked his head and narrowed his eyes as if trying his hardest to hear something that was simply too far away to hear. “No,” he said at last. “Not yet. We’re still missing one, I believe.”
Just then, the inn door swung open again. Kori immediately lost his breath as this newcomer entered the room. She was beyond stunning, beyond beauty, beyond anything that Kori had ever laid eyes on. Her golden hair—not blonde or yellow or light brown, but genuinely golden—fell comfortably over her shoulders like the petals of a newly bloomed rose. This gorgeous creature only smiled apologetically and swept her hair back over her shoulder with a sweet flourish. “Hello. I…uh…I’m Marielle. Are you all waiting for me, by any chance?”
Kori wanted desperately to answer her; to have some communication with this wonder of nature. But as he went to speak, her soft gaze flickered over to him briefly and he lost his nerve. He felt as though he would never be able to speak again or even move from that very spot.
Luckily, the Old Man filled the silence that Kori had created. “Yes, Marielle, it would seem that we’re all here for the same reason. And you are right on time. Come sit with us.” The Old Man gestured toward an empty chair.
Marielle nodded her appreciation and made her way to the seat that happened to be squarely beside Kori’s. As she settled into her chair, Marielle glanced up at Kori. “Did I miss anything?” she asked with a genuine look of concern.
Kori mustered up every ounce of courage that he could just to keep his eyes fixed on hers; he wondered if he’d ever seen eyes that color before…or even seen such a color at all. “No,” he managed to stammer out, “we really just sat down. I’m Kori.”
He could feel the blood pounding in his head, the beads of nervous sweat appearing along his hairline. He’d known this girl for no more than five minutes and she was already playing havoc with his emotions…and, oddly enough, he liked it.
But that was the last that they spoke to each other that night. The rest of the night belonged to the Old Man; the one that was to be the guide. Once everyone had arrived, the Old Man began speaking of the journey ahead. As if possessed by some divine spirit, he foretold an adventure the likes of an ancient storybook. The Old Man talked and talked for hours into the night; it seemed that he knew very little on his own, but somehow gained the knowledge as he spoke. Every so often, the Old Man would fall silent, close his eyes, and cock his head to the side as though listening to something inaudible. Then he would open his eyes, energized anew, and begin spouting off his next tale of wonder and awe. Stories of enchanted forests, unforgiving mountain crags, and creatures from worlds unknown. These were not premonitions or predictions of the journey ahead necessarily, but the myths and legends of a long-forgotten adventure. The possible dangers and wonders before them were unimaginable.
The unusual fellowship listened in rapt silence as the Old Man spun his mystery into the earliest hours of the morning. None of them seemed to tire at all, despite the time gone by. There was an odd magic in the air; it felt familiar to each of them, like something out of a faded memory. But this was the day that the line between reality and magic would blur as they ventured out into the world beyond.