Helloooo, my darlings! I have definitely missed you almost as much as I have missed Roger. haha So, I got this idea for a Halloween special, and here is the product of it!
The riders saw up ahead the iron-wrought gates, the only entrance through the five-foot thick, ten-foot tall brick wall encompassing the city. The leader, a woman who was small in stature compared to her four followers, let out a yell to goad her horse faster. The others did the same. The sun behind them was in the middle of its descent into the earth, throwing its burnt red and orange glow upward in a last attempt to hold onto the deepening blue sky. Yet, night would not be staved off. The stars and moon hung above the city, giving it their white light.
When the five riders reached the gates, the woman lifted her left fist and showed the sapphire ring on her thumb to the two guards. The guards bowed to the woman before one of them ordered up the wall for the soldiers there to open the gates.
The leader of the riders nodded to her companions, and they swung off their horses. The woman was the last to slide off hers, helped by the tallest of her male entourage. She slapped away the dust from her cloak before turning to the other three men.
"You stay here and attend the horses," she ordered. "Dread Robin and I shall fetch food and water."
One of the men stepped up. Though he also wore a cloak, the armor underneath the thick cloth clanged with his movements. "Are you certain you can handle it yourself, Em?"
An eyebrow rose up the woman's forehead. "Leo, what's so difficult about asking and paying for supplies?" She waved a hand dismissively. "We'll be back soon." Her dark brown eyes flickered up to the tallest man of her group. He nodded at her, and together, they walked through the gates.
As the two headed down the winding cobbled road further into the town, Em's companion muttered, "Someone's stomach is making him cranky. Again."
A grin flickered across Em's lips. "Yes, it's a wonder how Leo managed through the war when the Hawks were constantly facing low supplies."
The city of Briggetson was located on the lower part of the Tarymian peninsula, nearly thirty miles from the sea. The setting sun draped dark shadows over the tall buildings nearest to the gates. In several windows, lights burned from stubby candles to welcome the coming night. Yet, despite the twilight hour, many people still filled the streets. The air was ripe with chatter from adults and screams from children. Black and orange streamers hung from all the windows and doors. Some of the doors were painted with dried blood. Pumpkins and squashes were carved with sinister or comical faces, standing on random corners of streets or beside doorways.
Roger and Em came to the source of the festive atmosphere at the main square. At the center of the plaza was a tall fountain. Lit candles blazed on every dry edge. Some of the candles were even inside pumpkins, causing the orange faces to glow eerily. Children ran around the main square, many with parents in tow. A few children wore long, dark robes and tall, pointed hats. Others had paint on their faces to make them appear grotesque and otherworldly. Some children wore attachments to make them look like animals, like the girl who ran across Em and Roger's path, dressed as a black cat. The parents wore the same clothes they'd had in the day.
Many of the shops were still open in the main square. Their owners stood in the doorways to greet the rowdy children. In one hand was a tray full of round oat cakes of which the other hand gave to the eager children.
When Roger pointed out a child dressed in blood-stained sheets to Em, she replied, "We must have come upon All Souls' Day. These southern parts believe the veil between our world and the spirit world is supposed to be thinnest out of the entire year on this day." She led him toward the fountain, and they stopped to watch the whirlwind of children and adults.
The front of Roger's cloak rippled as he crossed his arms over his thin chest. "And that entails allowing children to wear ridiculous costumes?"
"Well, the superstition was that dressing children as monsters would confuse evil spirits from taking them back to the underworld. Now, it's just tradition to take out the children and let them dress up as monsters."
Roger snorted. "Monsters? What of those boys? How are pirates supposed to be monsters?" His finger appeared out from his cloak and moved over a group of young boys standing nearby. Two had the lower half of their faces smeared with dirt or ash for pretend beards. Three had taken the dirt or ash and colored their teeth with either one to accentuate rotten or missing teeth. Yet, what insulted the Pirate King were the hands shaped like hooks, the wooden sticks attached to the end of bent legs, the cloths wrapped around heads to look like bandanas, and the strips of leather over eyes. Over the din of shouts and screams, Roger could make out the grunts and yells of "Aye, mate-y!" coming from the boy pirates. "What in Calypso's name does being crippled have to do with being a pirate?" he demanded.
Em held up a hand to her mouth as the corners curved upward. "Well, there are Draconians around here as well," she said, and she nodded to two girls walking in front of a bakery. They children wore dresses of silver with green pieces of cloth layered over each other to appear like scales.
Roger's black eyes narrowed. "How in the gods' names can you even tell they are Draconians?" His pale features twisted in disgust. "If they knew what Draconians really were—"
"But they do not, thank Helena," said the queen of Tarym. Her hand dropped back to her side. "Roger, it's all in good fun. Let the children have their youth and innocence." She tilted her head to look up at him. "They do not have either for long."
Roger looked at her for a hard moment at the corners of his eyes. "This tradition is ridiculous, as well as the superstition it was born from," he said. "No wonder the Politickans call you Tarymians a backwards lot."
Em shook her head. "We believe in gods, do we not? We believe that after our deaths that our souls go to the underworld, do we not? What's so hard to believe about evil spirits?"
"Nothing is ever hard to believe," said Calypso's favorite. "It's the ridiculous means to ward off said evil spirits that is unbelievable."
" 'Tis history and tradition," Em countered. Her eyebrows went up. "You're just mad that the children are making fun of pirates."
The two turned their heads when a hoarse yell rose up in the direction of the bakery. A scarlet-faced man shook his meaty fist at a handful of scurrying children. The white apron he wore was covered with eggs and dirt. The children running away from him had their heads thrown back and their arms waving in the air, laughing and shouting as the baker threw curses and obscenities at them. A mother nearby covered her daughter's ears before hurrying away.
"Someone didn't give them their treats," said Em.
"The consequences are dirt and eggs," said Roger. "How juvenile."
"Any sort of punishment, from what I've heard," said Em. "Sometimes it's vandalism to the shop. Most times, children come inside and pelt the poor soul with whatever they can get their hands on. The locals call the punishments 'tricks' to make light of people who fail to give the children the oat cakes. It teaches the shop owners to have their treats ready every All Souls' Day."
"So, instead of turning the punishment on the brats for being little moochers, they blame the people who care not to give up so-called 'treats' to them. Wonderful."
"Basically," said Em with a grin. She laughed when Roger rolled his black eyes.
"As I said before, you people are backwards—"
"Hey, Mister, I like your sword."
Roger and Em turned to their left. A boy barely half the size of Roger stood a few feet away, staring at the hilt that poked out from underneath his robes. The boy was dressed like a pirate, complete with a bandana and an eye patch. Roger eyed the wooden sword tucked into the boy's rope belt.
"Boy, my sword is a cutlass," retorted the Pirate King.
The boy drew out his own sword and held it aloft. A smaller wooden stick had been tied to the end of a longer stick, and the other end was sharpened to a point. "Bet you didn't make it yourself. I made this meself," he said proudly. In a rough and deeper voice, he yelled, "Arr, mate-y! There be headwinds up ahead!"
Em threw her head back and laughed as Roger unsheathed his cutlass and held it against the wooden sword.
"Boy, if you knew what headwinds were afoot, you'd have come better prepared than this," said the Pirate King.
"What do you mean?" countered the boy in his normal, high-pitched voice. He reared his sword back and hit at the steel blade with a dull tack. Switching to his pirate voice, he said, "I can handle anything with me jolly crew and me faithful ship! No rough seas can get the best of me!" The boy's green eyes moved to Em. Noting the way her short hair was done up in fancy knots, he said, "And I'll rescue the damsel and take her back to her prince!"
Roger turned his head with a rising eyebrow to Em. She grinned at him, her cheeks red. When Roger returned his attention back to the boy, he asked, "Oh, really?" With his cutlass's blade, he pushed off the wooden blade. As the boy swung at him again, Roger spun around the sharpened point until he came directly behind the boy. Before the child could react, Roger placed the cold edge of his steel blade against the boy's neck.
Em's grin dropped. "Roger, don't—"
"Wow, how did you do that?" shouted the boy. He used his free hand to push Roger's sword off of his thin neck and spun around, staring up at the pale man with wide eyes. "Where did you learn that? Can you teach me?"
Roger made a small grunt underneath his breath as he returned his cutlass back into its sheath. He walked around the wide-eyed boy and grabbed Em's hand. "I'll give you one piece of advice: never let your guard down."
With that, Roger proceeded to drag a smiling Em into the bakery.