Hiding in Plain Sight

Shara’s stories were a gateway to another world.

Unlike the other bards and storytellers scattered about the market square and by the fires of the taverns at night, she only told stories of one place, but what stories they were. Full of fire and flight, colour and smoke and steam and emotion bounding through every word, every whispering, drawn-out sentence, every tension-filled hush and heart-pounding crescendo.

Yes, she only spoke of one place but it was a place all her listeners begged to hear more of, and dreamed of visiting, one day.

And unlike the other bards and storytellers, her stories came with that hope, that warning. They may visit it one day, for her stories were taken from life, a life none of them had ever known, a life she had run from to become a market-square storyteller, a life in the heart of the imperial court.

When her younger and newer listeners asked why she could possibly bear to have left such a rich and desirable place, she smiled, shook her head and told them, “Some people are meant to live stories, I cannot. I am meant to tell them, and Court is a place for the players, not the observers.”

They would frown at this and older, wiser members of the audience would quietly tut them to silence, for there was trouble there and it was not good to go begging for it.

She had appeared in the marketplace some two years before, ragged and frightened, but when she sat down on her tattered cloak to tell her first story to a group of curious children, her voice wove the richest of tapestries around their awed heads and she became a creature of magic for the duration of her tale.

From that day, while she preferred the quieter nooks and local watering-holes, she was never lost for an audience or a place by a fire.

One evening, near enough to winter that the fire’s heat was a welcome boon, she sat by the hearth of a small, family inn, used by local farmers and others who knew it was safe, clean, respectable and reasonable. This was not a place with new clientele each evening. All the guests crossed and passed and stayed for a night or two, season after season, year on year, and the only new faces were the ones brought by the old.

This night, an old face brought a new one, and they listened to her stories as they leaned against the far wall, shrouded in shadow.

The old face belonged to Garth, a steady and reliable carter, who had first brought Shara to the town, after coming across her on the road. She had been limping and unsure of her destination, he’d suggested this town and this inn as somewhere to start.

He worried though, as she was not one who should have stopped here. For all her quiet manner and wish for invisibility, her life was meant to be more, and he worried about the price to be paid for her refusal to continue down her path.

His companion was another of his roadside waifs, and was about to solve the problem of Shara.

Her story wound to a close and people began their requests for more, some clamouring for one favourite or another. The man by Garth’s side stood and moved towards the fire.

“Please do tell another Mistress. Perhaps the one of the daughter of the North, who caught the eye of the emperor’s son, but died and yet somehow miraculously lives. Please tell us of death and how it can be cheated.”

Shara, looking up at the man as he slowly walked towards her, grew paler and paler, swaying in her seat. As he reached her, she toppled to the ground and he crouched over her.

He glanced over his shoulder, “She lives, she has merely fainted.”

He stood with her in his arms, “Is there a place I can take her to rest?”

The people in the room stared, Garth stood and swallowed nervously, “The story about the lady you asked for?”

“Yes, it’s her story and the entire palace grieved for her loss.”

“But why?”

“Why did she feign death? Or indeed die and somehow come back? That I do not know, but I intend to find out.”

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