Chapter 3.3

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"I hope I didn't upset you. I was curious," the girl's voice seemed to rouse Gnochi. He wanted to be mad; he wanted to be angry, but something about the way the girl spoke pacified him, and helped him see beyond the selfish suicidal thoughts.

"Why are you still here girl?" Gnochi's voice sounded guttural and hollow.

"Cleo. My name is Cleo. And I'm here to escort you to the dining hall." Gnochi resigned from any further debate by rising from the floor and stepping towards the door.

As he passed her, Gnochi spied, out of the corner of his eye, Cleo's downtrodden gaze. Looking out into the hallway, seeming to study the worn wood floors, he said, "Bard."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm a bard by trade."

"What's a bard?"

"Shakespeare is turning over in his grave as we speak." Gnochi's face cracked into a rare smile but saw that Cleo was not amused. "No kidding?" Gnochi asked. She shook her head. "What kind of places were you working that had entertainers but no bards? Probably government, or Luddite, I suppose. Last thing they want is stories spreading among the masses." Gnochi paused for a moment, thinking. "There was a time when the best seat by the fire was reserved for the storyteller. We as a species had edged away from that reverence, but in this second age in which we live, the respect has returned. Without strumming my own chord," Gnochi said, offering another rare smile. "I'm the best entertainer an inn like this could see in years."

"But why do stories make you so popular?"

"Cleo, what do you know of the first age?"

Gnochi noted how she hesitated before answering. "Not much. It was different from our own time."

"That's an understatement if I've ever heard one," Gnochi chuckled. "In the past age, there were ideas and concepts that people today cannot even fathom. Not only did these ideas exist, but they were commonplace. And nigh more than a mere fraction of that which was in the first age, still exists today.

"That's why I'm so famous among entertainers," Gnochi continued, "because I have a working understanding of that world –of the lives of people in the first age. From the famous and powerful to the average, I tell fractured stories coming from all different kinds of people, encompassing their everyday lives before bombs fell and ended their history. I'll tell a scene here or there, but nothing too extensive on one person or event so I can cover a larger blanket over the canvas that is, 'the first age.' " A question formed itself in Cleo's light grey eyes –eyes that look just a tad too much like Pippa's. Is what I'm seeing true? Or is this just more hallucinations? "Come into the hall after I'm done tonight and you'll see why hoteliers and tavern-keeps love to have me for one night."

"So what are you going to tell tonight?"

Gnochi mulled over his luck for a few moments. He brought the pendant to his face and slipped it over his head, resting it under his poncho next to another pendant. Then Gnochi walked to a table in his room and produced a hat, the color of road-dust, before placing it atop his head. "Something that will make the toughest man in the room cry...or if it doesn't, at least it'll fill him with a pit only the dulling ache of warm mead can mend." Gnochi and Cleo left his small room and headed towards the dining hall. Upon exiting the stairway, the mistress of the inn pulled Cleo away into the kitchen grumbling about that which she had sacrificed for this new girl.

Gnochi entered the dining hall to a low bustle of early-drinkers. He found Mirage sitting at the bar top with a guitar case by her side. "Staying for the show tonight?" He asked, sitting next to her.

"Wouldn't miss one of your stories, Gleeman. I've got your guitar here. The thing is a freak, but it is a well-made freak." Mirage opened the case and removed the guitar handing it to Gnochi. "It's got all of your...special requests, including a winter-bush headstock. The special neck...well you know what I'm talking about," she whispered, cautious of eavesdroppers. "Good strong glue holding that to the body. Know that should you break it, I won't be able to put it back together," she advised. Got it, Gnochi thought, one use only, it's not re-attachable.

"What'll you name it?" she asked handing Gnochi a small tin of paint and a brush, "Something from the first age?"

"A noble name is fitting for such a guitar, but I've yet to even consider names." Gnochi pocketed the tin and slipped the paintbrush into his shirt.

"Give it a spin," Mirage urged. Gnochi tested the new instrument by strumming a few chords in quick succession. He winced over the slightest metallic twang that resulted from the blade protruding into the guitar body. "Noticed that as well. It's faint enough that only the finest musically tuned ears will pick it up, so you should be fine. Not like you are going to be performing for the king with it," she added with a chuckle.

"Thank you, Mirage. It truly is a beautiful guitar."

"You can thank me by filling this room and emptying her food stores."

"No promises."

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This section is a little short, but when piled on top of section B, I decided that it would be better suited in it's own place. At least now, the changes in setting are very well defined. I appreciate the feedback that I've gotten thus far, and would welcome any more. Do you have any questions (that I could answer right now?) comments, or general thoughts? Be sure to let me know below and I'll get back to you. 

Read on,

Matt

Photo credit: Pixabay user RPN



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