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Lights in the Darkness

Copyright Michael "The Roach" Janszen ©2002

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

 

Granny, come, tell me a story!

Do I really have to?

Yes, Granny, please. You know I love your stories.

Well then, little one, sit down and listen.

Oh, I will... I will be quiet.

OK, what would you like me to tell you about? The story about the Caliph who...

No, tell me a story I never heard before. A story of danger and mystery.

All right then, I will see what I can do. Now... This happened many years ago, in a place you wouldn't recognize. It was a small village...

Like our village?

No, much smaller. There were about ten small huts, around an open space in the middle. It was about a mile away form the river, and there was no well. So the people had to walk about a mile to get water.

Why didn't they build their village nearer to the river?

There was a swamp in between, a swamp where, people said, wild beasts were lurking. No one wanted to build there.

An evil swap? Unlike our swamp, then?

Yes, it was said it was evil, and people who strayed from the marked paths often disappeared.

...

Well, people had to walk quite far to get water, and living was hard. Then, it didn't help when, one night, there were rumors that the swamp wasn't only home to beasts, but also to evil spirits.

G... ghosts?

People said so. There had been weird lights people had seen in the darkness. Eerie and unusual lights.

Oh, but I know swamp lights. They aren't anything to be scared of.

No, swamp lights aren't. But these weren't swamp lights. The people had been living next to the swamp for a while, and knew what swamp lights looked like, and how they seemed to hover in a place, then slowly start moving again. But these lights ... not only did they move suddenly, they also were the wrong color.

The wrong color?

Yes. Some were bright yellow, some were blood-red, some were white, some were blue. People didn't know what to make of it. People were scared.

I can imagine. Must have been dangerous?

The people came together on the open space between their houses and discussed what to do. Some people said not to worry, these things wouldn't get out of the swamp. Some people wanted to take a look at what was happening. Some people just wanted to move away.

They must have been scared. I would have been, too. But, some wanted to investigate? Who were they?

They were the young people of the village.

As young as I?

No, they were a bit older; five youths: two boys and three girls. The two boys and two of the girls were betrothed, and they let the last girl tag along, because she would never find a suitor, so ugly was she.

Aww...

It was at least partially pity, though they later admitted that they enjoyed her witty comments. Oh, well... these five decided to go and see what was going on, just as the village decided to move away. The discussion had been heated, because people didn't want to lose what amounted to their last belongings. It was the word of the blacksmith that settled it. He, who was a bear of a man...

Like daddy?

Yes, a bit like your daddy, though I have to say that my son - your daddy - didn't run around unshaven, like this smith used to do. He openly admitted to being scared witless, and even cried. After that, the people decided to go away.

But if everyone moved away, how could the five young ones look?

Oh, people needed a few days to pack up what they could take along. Though, for most, it wasn't much, as they had put all their money into building the houses. And so, the night before everyone was supposed to move away, when the lights were highly active again, the five went into the swamp to take a closer look.

Hoo... Scary. And, did they find the ghosts they were looking for? Did they return?

Oh yes, they returned, but not with ghosts. They did, however, bring along something else. A few lanterns which had been hidden in the swamp, with colored parchment covering the flames.

Colored parchment? Oh, So the ghosts weren't really ghosts? But who had tried to scare them away?

Oh, once people realized there was nothing to be scared about, they started wondering. And then they found out that one villager had packed only little, as if going away for but a few days. They confronted him, and yes, he had been the one behind the lights.

But, who had he been?

Oh, it had been the smith. He had found a natural well in the swamp, not more than a hundred yards from his house, and realized that, if he could make everyone leave, he might be able to sell the houses to some new settlers, who didn't know of the past. And maybe he even had hoped to pull this off a few more times.

But, hadn't he been scared, too?

He had pretended to be scared. He had tried to remain silent, but when people remained undecided, he spoke out in favor of leaving, thus tipping the scales.

What did they do to him? Chase him away?

No, they did what they considered even crueler.

Did they kill him?

Still crueler.

But what did they do?

Remember the one girl that was so ugly? Well, they forced him to marry her, and remain as the village smith. Now that they were up to his tricks, he was powerless.

Oh, I see... yes, that must have been very cruel.

Well... they thought so.

Lights in the darkness, and people were afraid. But... wasn't the real darkness in their hearts? Being afraid of what they didn't know?

You see a lot, little one. Yes, you might say so.

And the real lights were the five who found out what was going on.

That's right. It is always important to see what is a real light, and what is fake.

Yes. And the smith, the evil man...

Oh, he wasn't evil. He was just selfish. That's not the same - selfishness can be overcome. If you have people who help you, you can overcome the selfishness, and become a good person.

See the light, one might say?

Hmm... to stay with that picture, yes.

What is going on here? Are you still not in bed?

Oh, gramps. I just asked granny to tell me a story. But now, I'll go to bed.

G'night, little one.

G'night

G'night, gramps. G'night, Granny One-Eye.

...

So, I think he will sleep now.

Yes, I think so, too. You have quite a hand with kids, y'know?

Oh, sure.

What story did you tell him?

Oh... Just an old story...

Just an old story?

Oh, yes, about a young village, and lights in a swamp.

That was long ago.

It sure was. But I still remember it.

So do I. But, wouldn't I?

I would think you did. Do you regret it?

Regret what? Being forced to marry you? It was the best thing that could have happened to me, I found out.

Yes, it worked out great, didn't it?

It did. Took me a while to see the light, but in the end, I did. Dammit, I love you.

I love you, too.

 

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