The stallions hooves clomped against the cobble stone of the road. Oren noted the recent addition to the path to The Landing. As the steady rhythm lulled him into a half-slumber in the saddle, he wished the founders of the busiest port in the kingdom had possessed the foresight to call their fledgling town something other than The Landing. The name felt lacking as a description for the busiest port on the island. The Landing housed a population only second to that of the capitol itself. A wagon approached on the road, laden with goods from the harbor. The dissonant clatter of the two horses stepping out of time with his own stallion stirred Oren from his reverie.
The owner of the wagon showed no indication of traveling anywhere other than the middle of the road. As the team pulling it drew closer, Oren pulled the reins of his mount trading stone for soft dirt. The old couple sitting on the wagon bench bickered in hushed murmurs. He twisted in the saddle as they passed, eyeing the bed of the wagon. Whatever freight they held lay hidden beneath a heavy tarp. The thought of abusing the power of the writ he carried flitted to mind. He tugged the reins once more, returning the stallion to the paved road. Dismissing the siren call of curiosity, he returned his gaze to the path ahead. The decision proved fortunate as a heavier flow of traffic lay just beyond the old merchants.
Carts and wagons drawn by all manner of livestock clogged the road. The stallion whinnied in annoyance as Oren directed it back to the road’s embankment. The flow of merchants and farmers appeared to be an exodus. They flooded around the bend in the road in a steady stream. Each person laden with wares they secured from their time in the trade center of the nation. Only the lack of urgency belied the banality of their actions. Oren gawped like a country boy getting his first taste of the rest of the world. The Landing had prospered in the eight years he’d been absent from the rest of the world.
The strangeness of being the only traveler heading towards the city bothered Oren. As he rounded the bend, the walls of the city loomed in the distance. The old wood stockade Oren remembered was replaced by a fine expanse of stone and mortar. The flow of traffic stretched all the way to the gate that served as the main entrance. Oren owed the good fortune of having a well trained stallion to his continued progress to the city. He stared dumbstruck at the transformation of a simple port of call into a bustling metropolis.
The closer his approach brought him to simultaneously strange and familiar sights of The Landing, the slower the outbound citizens moved. Some gawked at him. Others kept their eyes forward. Everyone seemed disgruntled. Oren listened closely for whatever snippets of conversation he could glean from the ruckus. No mention of evacuation caught his ear. The sheer amount of people leaving looked abnormal, but the complacency of the participants indicated a sense of routine. A wave of doubt rushed of him.
If The Landing managed to change in such a drastic manner since he had cloistered himself from the world, he expected much greater changes from the rest of it. He thought back to his encounter with the bandits on the outset of his journey to the port. A sense of longing overtook him for the simple violence he enacted in response to them. The fact that his wizard-woven robe had prevented the bandits attack settled his unease. He reminded himself that there were always constants, despite the gray that now speckled his beard.
Lost in his own thoughts, he missed the first attempts of the gate guard to have him halt. The stallion snorted its irritation as he wheeled it to a stop and dismounted.
“You deaf, fop? How many times does a man have to tell you to halt?” The guard in charge groused at him.
“My apologies. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been traveling. The magnitude of the changes that have taken place took me by surprise. I have urgent matters that require I must get to the harbor as soon as possible.” He offered up his most charming smile as he imparted the last bit to the man.
“I reckon it has. That dress you’re wearing hasn’t been in fashion for nigh on five years. You talk all funny too.” The guard punctuated his assertions with a glob of phlegm on the cobblestones. “You can’t get in this gate right now. It’s a…” The guard paused and scratched at the stubble on his chin as he searched for a word. Giving up, he turned and shouted at another guard watching from the gate itself, “Oi, Bertram, what’s that fancy thingy the playwrights is all using for when everyone leaves?”
This question stumped Bertram, he called over a couple more guards. They debated noisily over what words the scribes used. The man detaining Oren appeared content to wait for them to come to a consensus. Oren was not.
“Exeunt Omnes.” He said.
“What?” The guard turned to look at him.
“The term is Exeunt Omnes. That’s what writers use to signal to the actors that they should all leave the stage.” He reiterated.
“Oi, Bertram. Exeunt Omnes sound right to you?” the guard called out to his friend. Bertram and the other guards huddled once more in conference. This time the debate was much shorter before Bertram popped over to Oren.
“Aye, Alek, we decided that sounds right.” He smiled, oblivious to the situation. Alek turned to Oren and smiled as well.
“The gate is Exeunt Omnes…” Oren prompted. Alek’s eyes widened as he remembered the conversation.
“Oh, right. West gate is Exeunt Omnes until nightfall. Only people leaving. You want to get in right now, you’re going to have to circle round to the North gate. Course, that would probably take you until nightfall.” Alek trailed off. He looked genuinely puzzled by the predicament Oren found himself in.
“Well,” Oren said to the guards, “I suppose I’ll just have to wait until nightfall.” He led the horse over to a small patch of grass and settled down to wait out the merchants.
Apropos of: Arathania