The tasters 1

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The three men walked along the night road in silence, the sea whispering in the distance behind them. The dark had grown thick around, and their steps along the rocky terrain were more troublesome than rewarding in distance. It had been three nights since they left the sea and still their clothes were stiff with salt, their skin sticky to the touch, but the frolicking meadows leading up to the mountains ahead offered no water to bathe in, and no shelter. They slept under furious clouds threatening rain, walked under gray skies neither near nor far, and rested under a flowing filter that drained the world of all color. Their journey, where they came from and where they were going, was hard and cruel, but not one of them spoke the thought.
+++Long ago, before setting out on the arduous trek they now found themselves on, the three men were neither friends nor enemies. Each had overheard word of the others, but had never bothered to seek them out, despite their growing popularity. Each had been a man of importance, respected and looked for in times of need, and each had been cast out. Now they walk alongside each other in comforting silence. One walked to forego the world and find his roots, the second a way of escaping the world that had grown so cruel, and the last simply because that seemed the best option put before him.
+++Before setting off, the first man and the second argued feverishly about which road they should take. Along the mountains they would find few to bother them, but also few to help them along their way, and as none of them were hunters or woodsmen, their chances of survival were unpleasant to think about.
+++“What about the sea?” offered the third man. “There is always much to see there, and fish are easy enough to catch if we cannot buy them.” In truth, he could care less which way they went; although none of them were woodsman, the forests and mountains were no place to fear out of simple ignorance.
+++“The sea is a good place, true,” said the first. “Perhaps we will meet travellers from across the waters. They say there is much to learn from a sailor.”
+++The second man, although not as confident, was not against the idea. “The sea seems a nice road,” he explained, “but I’ve heard tell of the pillaging along the sea road. If we do go that route, I suggest we travel as far off the main road as possible.”
+++And thus their route was agreed upon, and under a quiet blanket of dawn, they slipped out of the city and made their way toward the sea, never to look back at their losses. They travelled light, relying instead on their funds to purchase what they needed, and the hospitality of those outside the city to receive what they could not purchase. Being men of peace and despising confrontation, they carried no weapons but their appearance–a visage of three aged beggars in tattered clothes and scarcely filled packs–carefully crafted to provoke no attention.
+++The first day from the city was the cruelest, as they dared not beg or buy from anyone who might recognize them, but the second and third found them some distance along the road, and there were few in their former circles who bothered to travel so far away from home. They bought salted meats, rice, and some fresh fruits to keep up their strength as much as their spirits. On the fourth night they split ways hoping to beg a night’s rest easier alone than together, agreeing to meet a few hundred paces further down the road at first light. Before parting, they smiled to each other warmly with a slight confidence, their eyes speaking in that language only eyes can speak. “This won’t be so bad,” they seemed to say, then turned away to look for a quiet and welcoming hearth.

(dtn)

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