The Ahld Mahn and the Six
By Lee Widener
We'll ride hill over hill
Till the day that we die
You may join us for a time
But you'll never belong
For we are the ones
Who sing no one else's song
The six men rode along in the night as they had the night before and as they would the next night. They said little, each knowing what the others were thinking. Neither the men nor their horses made any sound, as they had a reverence for the night, and dared not disturb it. They loved the dark as the rest loved the light. The town they were passing through was like any other. It rose with the dawn and went to sleep a bit after twilight. The six men rode through it just as a precaution, to ensure themselves all was as it should be. They felt nothing here. Nothing seemed amiss. The night was already half over and the only acquaintance they had made was a small coal colored mutt.
As they neared the far edge of the village they stopped at the Town Elder's Lodge. One of them stamped a mark on the post in front of the portico. It wasn't until they were on their way out of town that anything unusual happened. As they passed the last humble building and rounded a low hill, they spied a dim fire attended by a ragged vagabond. Since they rarely met anyone on their endless nocturnal patrol they stopped to talk.
"Ah come on down off yer harses then," the old vagrant invited.
A dialect from the West, the six noted, as they dismounted, silently, from their horses. They remained just outside the feeble light the frail stranger's fire cast.
"Ah, 'tis lucky I be meetin' ye fellahs. Not too often I be seein' folks up this late. If I wasn't such an ahld crazy mahn I'd be ringin' the alarm bell right now I would. 'Tis a strange pack o' dogs that roams at night ye know. I think the Elders of this town would be likin' ta meet ye, they would - but then, ye would na like that, would ya?"
All together the men thought the stranger was right when he said he was crazy. One of them, with a voice that was rarely used, spoke. "Old sir, we must be leaving. We must be halfway to another town by the time it gets light."
"Ah - and now yer tryin' to pass an ahld mahn aside because he knows too much, eh? Suppose I went to that other town and told em ye were comin'? That would be a fine cup o' tea now wouldn't it? Nah, you'll na be leavin' yet. You'll sit right here and keep an ahld mahn company, that's what you'll do."
Wearily, on the edge of the light, the six dark figures sat down.
"And don't go thinkin' I don't know who ye are! Yah - I know who ye six be, and I know what people think o' ye. I know the stories they tell. I could just go to that other town and wake 'em all before ye got there. I know a shortcut, ye know. A secret path even ye don't know about. I could get there before ye and raise the whole town. They'd be waitin' for ye when ye got there."
Together, the men wondered. They wondered at this strange old man who had the nerve to waste their time with riddles and questions. Why must he detain them with his senseless ramblings?
"Now yer gettin' board with me, ain't ye?" the old man continued, "Well, perhaps I said I knew ye six? Met ye before, as it were? Do ye remember Westmort, me friends? Do ye remember that little town?"
Westmouth- the men thought they remembered the town, vaguely, but it was hard for them to remember much. They'd been to so many towns, done so many deeds. One place seemed no different from the rest. People were all the same.
The old stranger began to talk again. "Well, I remember it, and I remember the time ye came ridin' in there! Ye and yer six silent harses! That was the first town - remember? That was the first town ye road inta and... cleaned up. The first town among all those ye rode into.
“The people of that town had just caught themselves a pair o' thieves what called themselves wizards and locked 'em up for the night! They would've burned those wizards the next day if ye had na set 'em free. Ye let the wizards loose, but that wasn't enough for ye, was it? Ye had to burn down the jail! Ye could na even stop there! The Town Elders were tyrannical and unjust, ye said, so ye murdered 'em in their sleep! After that ye went on to... clean up... every town ye passed through, always lookin' for signs things were not as you thought they should be, and always at night.
“Ye know what stories the people tell, don't ye? They say those two wizards conjured up six o' the Black Harsemen from The Good Folk to come rescue 'em and then wreck vengeance on the town. You know what else they say? The legend is that those six demon harsemen will ride until both o' those wizards are caught and burned! That be the only way the spell can be broken, 'tis what they say. They caught and burned the first wizard a month after he first escaped. Some say his screams could be heard in the hills for miles!
“The other still roams... and people still search for him. He is hunted day and night. He gets na rest. Where ever he goes he dare na show his face. He hides as best he can, fights with the dogs for food, never talkin' to nobody for fear they'll find out who he be... AYE! I've had nary a moment o' peace since ye first showed yer horrible faces to me! You've caused me a lot o' hardship, ye six. Sometimes I wish ye would o' just left me in that jail to burn the next day! It would have been over and done, and that would o' been that! I would o' had none o' this runnin', this hidin'..."
It was getting early. Soon it would be light. The men were getting tired and they really couldn't remember a town called Westmouth, so the six stood, excused themselves, thanked the crazy old man for an interesting story and got ready to mount their horses.
"Ah no ye don't!" the old man shouted. "You'll na be leavin' me again! This is one town you'll na be leavin' before all the people wake up!" The scrawny vagabond snatched a flaming branch from his feeble fire and ran toward the men. Seeing nothing else could be done, the six men, as one, drew their swords and stabbed the old man. They thought nothing of it. He posed a danger to them so they eliminated him.
The old man fell and a few sparks from the branch caught his hair. Soon there was nothing left of the old lunatic but a few blackened bones. The six mounted their horses and rode out of the clearing. The story the old man had told them was already forgotten.
As they rode into the darkness the six men seemed to fade into the emptiness of the night
- - -
Lee Widener is primarily known as a playwright. His script "The Pink House Syndrome" was performed by the X. Perry Mental Theatre in Eugene, Oregon, and "Emergency Parking Only" won a staged reading at The Stark Raving Theater's New Playwrights Series in Portland, Oregon. He is now expanding into the worlds of prose & poetry. He runs the internet radio station NeverEndingWonder Radio.
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