A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
Chapter One: Preparations
The three of them raised their cups, the amber liquid inside swishing around as they cheered to good fortune and great opportunity.
“Truly, Robert, I could not be happier for you,” Maximus said. “A job in the temple is worthy of much praise, no matter where you start.”
“I’m only a steward, Uncle,” the lad said. “I’ll be cleaning up books and sweeping refuse.”
“I happen to like my books in their places,” Maximus insisted with a wide grin on his face. “And you’ve seen my workshop from time to time. Do you really want our temple—the place we commune with the gods—to be as run amok with debris and nonsense as the back room in my museum?”
“It’s a start,” the third man said. Both the others looked to him, noting the tears in his eyes, and the eager smile he wore. “You’ll go far, my boy,” Richard said. “Your mother would have been so proud.”
Robert grasped his father’s hand and gave a light squeeze. His eyebrows dipped as he offered a sympathetic gaze. “It’s alright, Father.”
The priest nodded. “I know it is, Son. I know it is.” Richard rose from his seat then, and turned toward the door of that meager cottage. “I’m going to go for some air. Between the heat and the ale, it’s particularly stifling in here.”
While the much-respected cleric took his leave, his son and his guest bowed their heads. They heard that door shut, and Robert gulped down the rest of his ale. Maximus chortled at that sight, but nodded just a moment later.
“Uncle, will you tend to my father?” the lad said. “If I go out there and start talking, I’ll ramble on until I say something foolish.”
Maximus tapped his knuckles against the table then. “It takes a wise man to know that about one’s self.” As he stood, he reached across and clapped the young man on his shoulder. “It fills me with pride to see you taking this first step on your journey. I don’t have a son of my own, so I can only imagine how your father feels. But, whatever emotion he can’t seem to contain, I’ll help him with. Tomorrow’s a big day, after all. We need him to be coherent. As for you, maybe you should get some rest. What good ever came from thinking of work well into the night?”
When the museum curator stepped outside, he saw his friend leaning against the crude wooden fence. His horse was penned, and he looked upon the street alone.
“You don’t approve,” he said after he had drawn close to Richard.
“Of course I approve,” the priest said. “But it’s moments like these, knowing that Alice isn’t here to see her son’s accomplishments…”
“She can, if you believe your God,” Maximus said as he took his place along the fence.
Richard grumbled. “It’s not the way she should see moments like these. She should be here with us.”
Maximus nodded, and swallowed away the tension he felt since his failed joke. “I know, my friend. I know. She was taken from us too soon, and I’d do anything to get her back. I can only imagine what you would do.”
The cleric blew out a weary sigh. “You know, there was a time when I questioned it. My faith, I mean.”
“It wasn’t fair to Robert. I had this beautiful, wonderful child, and I couldn’t punish him by sinking into despair.”
Maximus arched his eyebrow. “How did you come back from that? How did you press past the sadness and the anger? How could you ever bring yourself to believe again?”
“It took a long while,” Richard said. “A long while.”
Knowing better than to press further, Maximus nodded and kept quiet. He looked at that empty street with his companion, wondering how life could have been if his friend had not been lost to him all those years ago.
“I should get in there,” Richard finally said. “I’m punishing my son again. He should be praised and his accomplishment should be celebrated. His old father should know better than to skulk in the shadows nursing a broken heart.”
“We all need time like this,” Maximus declared. “If only we could plan when it comes.”
The priest chortled. “You’re a good listener, my friend—much better than a talker.”
His friend squeezed his shoulder then. “Tomorrow is a bright new day. I have no doubts your mirth will be overflowing when you see your son take those first steps up to that temple.”
“Of that, I have no doubt,” Richard said. “Enjoy whatever odd project you’re working on tonight.”
The tinker flashed a wry grin. “I assure you, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Well, whatever you’re not working on has been making a lot of noise these past few nights. Someone is bound to notice eventually.”
“And what a grand unveiling it would be,” Maximus said as he past his friend on the shoulder, “If I was working on something.” At that, he climbed over the short wooden fence, landing on the other side and bracing his leg.
Richard was already on his way back to the cottage, and didn’t notice his friend favoring that leg. After a few moments and a few more deep breaths, Maximus labored forward, but not toward his museum or the workshop tucked within. His path aimed east, and after several hundred steps his limp subsided as anticipation mounted.
Concerned with the planned event of that evening, he almost missed the second set of footsteps behind him. His brow furrowed, and he halted in his tracks, spinning about.
“Not very deceptive of you,” he challenged. “I would have thought you’d been taught better than that.”
The lad smiled. “I do well enough.”
Maximus folded his arms over his chest. “Then you’ve got it?”
“Of course. Though I don’t understand why, just yet. Especially considering that when we first met, you said—”
“I know what I said, Samuel,” the tinker acknowledged. “But what you did tonight wasn’t… it isn’t what I would call stealing. It’s more like liberating.”
“If you say so.”
“Such decisions must often be made in the pursuit of science, you see.” Maximus spun on his heel once more, and led the lad along that road, toward the eastern exit of the city.
“I’ve heard the pitch before,” Samuel said. “What I don’t understand is… why this one? He’s your friend?”
“Sometimes even friends wouldn’t understand,” the tinker declared. “But you’ll see. Everything has a reason, and I did not ask for your help without one of my own.”
Samuel rummaged through his pack, looking for the item he pilfered.
“It can wait,” Maximus said. “Today is a special day. You get to see the fruits of our labors. Would you care to follow me a bit further?”
The lad arched an eyebrow. “You’ve never asked me to tag along before. I’ve been pestering you for years, and you’ve never so much as given me a hint as to what my trials have been for. What’s the difference tonight?”
“All in good time,” the older man promised. “But you’re right. When we first met, I promised you a continuation of the story, didn’t I? I’ve been lax in holding up my end of that bargain. Perhaps we’ll remedy that today.”
“What?” Samuel exclaimed. “You mean, you’re going to tell me what happened to Alice and Salvatore?”
Maximus flashed a grin. “I’m going to tell you what happened next. Where did we last leave off?”
“You think I remember that well?” the lad pressed.
“Samuel narrowed his eyes and clicked his tongue. “It was after Charcoal had…”
“Ah yes. A bittersweet time to be sure. My horse… my truest friend was gone, but Alice could live. But not all was well. While we had rid Alice of the carbuncle, people in Seramore and Greenwood and several other towns in Raleigh were suffering. And since the only place to find medicine was in Seramore, we had a problem.”
“They wouldn’t give any to Alice or Richard,” Samuel said. “And they knew your face by then.”
“That’s right. We were running out of allies. We needed a plan.”