The Forest Folk

Compared to the well-groomed farmers in their estate, he must have seemed a barbarian. His matted, gold mane flowed behind him and he was bare chested, covered by a dark cloak and worn trousers. He spoke a dialect of Rilkan recognisable to the farmers, but only with difficulty.

They tended to him in their small but fine house, the pantry filled with foods the forest folk could only bear in spring. The fire always burnt, and the hearth was warm. The local apothecary could tend his outer-wounds, and many of the local lasses were intrigued by the songs of his lute. But they argued among each other, much. And the farmers always made him aware, however subtly, that in their eyes he was landless, penniless, and was expected to toil under them when he recovered. That was their way, out on the fields. Nothing was free here, least of all time.

He tried to remember what it felt like to be here, all those years ago. That was another time. He was less than he was now, troubled, haunted, bored. It was their expectations and hypocrisies which led him to fly, to flee and call out to the forest folk he once mocked. Those hardy woodlanders would take on any vagabond, renegade or wanderer if they seemed honest enough. The woods had nurtured him for nearly twenty years, as much as they had tested him. There he was an elder, respected, paid in the currency of reverence and influence. It seemed so far now, he felt weak. Something had drawn him back here.

Could he ever escape it?

This did not truly feel like home. Not as a child, not as an adult. This was his weakness, his lack of self-belief, his torn nature. Many of his demons were born here, much of his woes also. Here there was little meaning; the farmers with their rugged hands and rugged work for a distant lord they never saw, far less cared for. A heavy price for the basics of their freedom. That was the chain that bound him, and brought him back. They somehow had a power over him.

Yet, they had changed also. His absence taught them a well-learned lesson. They enjoyed his lutesong now, and admired his friends in the woods. Wasn’t that a form of respect? And the farmlands were richer now, and all of them enjoyed a better life. Wasn’t that a form of change?

Life is a complex, knotted thing.

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