The town of crows

The mad-fool cries of crows, yawling of broken kingdoms and corrupted ambitions. They fly en masse, a churning rhythm of feathers and wauls: a warning for those needing to be warned.

I came upon a furrowed land, a place between two rivers, veiled beneath a squat copper mountain. Gildrey was a town of midday shadows and sundials carved from bone. It was ancient and dreamlike, a place where a man could get lost wandering his own street.

Heaps of stones were piled on either side of the road, crude markers of a border. I was greeted with a flurry of unclean hands, stubby fingers and sensuous, curious palms. I might be well-disposed, or I might be a shaman come to ruin their myths; their hands would know me.

An old woman approached me first. She smiled. Her face was a map of age, drawn lines around her eyes and mouth, her hair a fine weave that fell to her shoulders in a feathered spray. A small group of men fell in behind her, rolling towards her like marbles, and they were narrow-faced, their expressions complex and identical.

You are not welcome here,” she said. Her voice was soft, and she tapped my elbow three times. The smile did not leave her face, and I saw the sadness and misgiving in her eyes. “We will give you water for your journey, but you must leave.”

I come for a place to rest for the night,” I said, and she sighed.

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