Few people were bothered with work. With only days left before the festival, Red Maple was enjoying the cool weather. The final preparations would begin soon, but the chance to relax after the harvest was too enticing. Impromptu tables and booths were cobbled together in haste, leaving proper construction for later. Food and treats that would normally only be had during the festival were produced early. A puppet show began in the morning and performers continually switched out to keep the entertainment going into the afternoon. Anyone who sampled heavily of the ales and stout drinks were walked to a guardhouse or inn to sleep off their intoxication.
The town guards were glad of the convivial atmosphere and the cooler temperatures. The summer had been particularly difficult and made wearing their leather and mail armor a test of endurance. Groups of them were scattered about, ostensibly to maintain peace, but they were also enjoying the festivities. Forwin, grinning, nudged the man next to him, giving a nod to another group of guards.
“Tell me the truth, Geoffrey. Have you spoken with Peter yet?”
The other man was in a panic, looking at the other guards around them. Berta looked particularly disgusted, looking him up and down in judgment.
“Quiet, Forwin,” he hissed, “I’ve enough troubles over this as is.”
Looking around at the faces of their comrades, Forwin gave a brief laugh, emerging as almost a bark.
“A lot of you need to grow up,” he said, his voice thick with mockery. “Why do you care who someone loves? It isn’t your life to live, yes?”
The answers he received were scowls and they shuffled away, leaving the two men alone. Forwin nudged his friend a second time.
“Come visit with Joan and I tonight,” in a softer, more compassionate tone. “I will invite Peter and you can learn for yourself if he has feelings towards men.”
Geoffrey’s face turned into a grimace.
“I don’t think that will be a good idea. He might not be interested and I would look like a fool. Besides, the sound of thunder continues to grow. I suspect tonight will be a terrible storm.”
Forwin looked puzzled, turning his attention to the sky before scanning the horizon. There were no clouds in sight. Listening intently at the sound, an alarm began to grow in him.
“Geoffrey,” he hissed, “that is not thunder.” Staring at Forwin, he began to speak, but was stopped by a gesture.
Forwin nodded towards Peter’s group before turning to catch up with the guards who had walked away. Geoffrey looked around in a panic before scrambling to warn the others. He knew better than to doubt Forwin’s instincts. Before he could say a word to the others, though, a welcome sight walked into view.
“Oggy,” he bellowed, but was again silenced by a gesture. The homely little man approached with his long poleaxe held loosely. That he was dressed in armor and well-armed created a stir among the crowd and activity ceased.
“You’re too excitable, Geoff. Calm down before you begin a panic, though it seems it may be too late to avoid one.”
Oggy scanned the horizon, just as Forwin did, l;istenly closely before a resigned sigh escaped his thin lips.
“Call out the alarm, people, we will be under attack soon.” Several began talking at once, the guards all being indignant at his order.
“That is neither thunder nor the earth rumbling,” Oggy said through clenched teeth. “Those are booted feet marching towards us.” He turned and rushed away, ignoring the comments hurled at his back. He continued to accelerate, running easily in spite of the weapons and armor strapped to his slight frame. Ahead, he saw Monk and Wisher standing outside of Marta’s inn, while she huddled in the doorway. He nodded at his former friends and they understood immediately, Monk turning to order those inside to take up arms if they could, and for others to flee the city.
Dodging obstacles and people, Oggy continued to run, searching for those he knew would understand his wordless warnings. The town had its guards, but there was always a greater population of caravan guards, especially now with the festival approaching. His reputation may be damaged, but most knew him to some degree and recognized the urgency in his eyes. Men and women alike poured into the streets under arms, spreading their own warnings, demanding people flee the town for safety. Their home would soon be a battleground and the fewest number of bystanders to protect would be best for all.