Things Are Not As They Appear by Keith Kitchen

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SUMMARY: When a stranger arrived in the village bearing news, he was stunned to find that not only was his news unwelcome but that bad news was dealt with severely.


He was walking down the path, and what a long, ordinary-seeming path it was. He hadn't seen anything other than the occasional deer for several days now, and that was pathetic. All he had done for days now was to put one foot in front of the other, so simple a task, just movement down the path.

He was bored. His mind was an unusually active mechanism, gifted by whatever gods there might be with invention and to be alone, with no one to interact with was a punishment that was difficult, nearly impossible to bear. Even the bear and the rabbits seemed to avoid him. Birds? They knew better than to come close, if for nothing else because he would use them to curb his hunger.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was several degrees above the horizon behind him and the sky cloudless and blue. While he couldn't see them, he could hear bees in the distance. Honey would sustain him, but he grimaced. It was too sweet for his taste. Berry season was over, unfortunately. He wouldn't mind blackberries or even elderberries. Granted, with a wave of his hand he could have them anytime he wanted, but that took some of the fun out of the entire process.

He continued along the path for the entire morning. Just as the sun was reaching its zenith, he came to the crest of a small rise, a hill as it were, and he looked down into the valley and couldn't keep the smile from stretching across his face.

The townspeople were and always had been content. Their life was simple and drab but there was nothing to truly complain about, except, possibly the occasional bitter draft or the rarer domestic disturbance. Life went on as in the days of their fathers, grandfathers, and even farther back.

It was near the noon hour when the stranger came to the well in the center of the village. He was dressed in the color green from his peaked cap to his cloth shoes and he wore a multicolored peacock's feather from his cap. Hair of gold spilled out from under the cap and those who looked upon him saw what they believed to be one of the most beautiful men they had ever seen. Men who saw him wanted to be his friend and follow him and the maidens who gazed upon him felt a rush of desire that they could barely understand, much less contain. He had walked into town from along the old path which was known to the village elders as the King's Highway, yet to most it was just an old path leading to the village; a path which no one followed out of the village and until this day, no one in memory had followed into the village. It was rumored to be cursed, if you believed in that sort of thing.

A goodly number of the town folk came to look onto the spectacle of the stranger, for the village had received no visitors for many a year. As they gathered around him, he smiled smile that surely could have broken even the heart of a princess, for the man appeared princely indeed. As he dropped the bucket of the well downward, more and more people of the village gathered around.

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