Running down the street laughing, I didn’t see the beggar until the last second. I tried my best to avoid slamming directly into him, but with only partial success. I clipped his left side and tripped over a crate on the roadside, sprawling out and scraping my hands against the rough cobble. I turned to say sorry, but the beggar was already approaching me fast. His near-dreaded dirty hair and soot-covered skin gave his ice-blue eyes an odd, otherworldly quality. His clothes were old, torn, and dirtier than he was with only the occasional red or blue showing through the mud and grime on them.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the man yelled as he looked down at me lying on the ground. “You could have been killed, or worse.”
I had turned to run, but when he said worse, I hesitated. “What do you mean, ‘or worse,'” I asked.
He looked around and crouch down close to me, offering his hand. “There are things happening here in Malton that you don’t understand. Dark things. Evil creatures lurking around every corner.” The man’s eyes darted around for a moment before he reached down and grabbed me. “Do you really want to know?” His stare was intense, and his breath smelled of ale.
“I-I’m sorry,” I said, struggling to free myself from his grip. He released me and let me run away from him.
“Watch for the teardrops!” He called behind me. “If you see them, run!”
I continued around the corner, down the street, and into the smithy.
“Sorry, Gavin, I overslept,” I said as I grabbed an apron from the peg and tied it around my waist.
“This is the fourth time in two weeks, Kedan,” Gavin replied. “I know things are hard at home, but are you sure you want this job? It might be too much for you.”
“I do! I really do, Gavin. It won’t happen again, I promise. Please, I can’t afford to-” I stopped when Gavin put up a hand.
“You don’t need to grovel, Kedan. I know you appreciate this. I wouldn’t have hired you if you didn’t take it seriously. It doesn’t hurt that your father was a legendary smith in his own right,” Gavin said. “I just need to know that you understand that this is not the kind of job that you can show up late to. I lost two hours this morning already because you weren’t here to light the fires.”
“I know, Gavin,” I said, looking at my feet. “It won’t happen again.”
“Get to it then,” he said, slapping me on the shoulder with his leather gloves. “We’ve got a lot to do today.”
I immediately got to work, using the bellows on the fire, fetching tools and water for him, and every other task he thought to put me on. I worked through the heat in silence, only stopping when he told me to. I could tell when the coals were getting too cold and would pump the bellows with my foot if I had to hold something for him to pound with his hammer. By the end of the day, he had made twenty blanks for short swords.
“That’s enough for today,” he said, wiping the sweat from his forehead. He set the hammer on the anvil. “I don’t know that my arms can take anymore today. Tomorrow, be on time, and we can get the blades shaped.”
“Yes, Gavin,” I replied, untying my apron.
“On your way in, stop at Harod’s and tell him I’ll be sending some swords over for fitting,” Gavin said as I hung my apron and stepped outside.
I walked tonight. I couldn’t think of a part of my body that didn’t hurt. Gavin had worked much later than he had the day before, but I assumed it was because of my tardiness. Glancing up at the stars above, I didn’t see the man step out of the alley in front of me. When I looked back, I saw a dark cloaked figure blocking my path.
“Excuse me, sir, I need to get past,” I said.
He stood there, unmoving. Unsure of what to do, I shrugged and walked to my right, close to the buildings. Though I couldn’t see his face, I could feel his gaze on me as he turned to face me as I walked past him. I heard a lantern open nearby, and it flared to life as I watched the lamplighter remove his pole, turn it around, and close the door on the lamp. I looked back at the figure but found that he was gone. On the ground, a small white piece of paper sat where he stood.
I bent to look at it and found the image of three teardrops in a triangle on the card. I had no idea what it meant, but the hair stood on the back of my neck as though whoever it was was still watching me. I walked faster to the light of the street ahead, passing the lamplighter with my hand on the back of my neck. A block later, I realized I still had the paper in my hand.
I crumpled the paper and tossed it in an alley as I began running. I didn’t want to be out any longer. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I kept seeing that same figure down alleys and standing in open windows above me. I heard footsteps on the cobble occasionally, making my heart leap into my throat every time, but they would quickly fade.
I made it home faster than I thought, and shut the door behind me, dropping the bar across the door frame.
“Everything okay, Kedan?” my sister asked as she sat in front of the fire, sewing a torn shirt. “You look like you’ve seen the dead.”
“I’m fine,” I replied as I walked across the room, “I need to get some sleep. I can’t be late again.”
“Do you want me to wake you in the morning?” she called after him as he turned into his room.
“If you wake before me, yes, please,” I said.
“Good night,” she said as she rocked back and forth.
The lamp in my room was already lit when I shut the door behind me. I tore off my clothes and used the basin to clean up as best I could. When I scrubbed my hands, under the soot, I found the same three teardrops on the back of my hand.
“Hello, brother,” a voice said behind me.