Dural sat outside the council's hut, careful not to betray his anxiety, lest the mobs take it as a sign of guilt, and render justice before the council had heard his avatar. He let his gaze roam over the crowd, picking out the flush of alcohol and anger on many a cheek. He suppressed the shudder of revulsion which threatened his composure. To let these northern dogs know how revolting he found their debaucheries would spell his doom.
He lowered his eyes from the crowd's angry scrutiny to the small wooden charm the child had returned to him. What had the child's action meant, coming, as it did, just before his entry into the council room. He wished that he could talk to the little girl who now, hopefully, pleaded his case before the council.
The ironwood figure was one of thousands which Dural had carved over the years to keep his hands busy on the long roads. He had been struck by the girl's resemblance to the figure, or possibly the figure's to the girl, when he caught her admiring it. He had been puzzled by her expression when he first interrupted her thievery. It had not been a look of wonder, not surprising, he was, after all, only an amateur, an artisan only between shows at the restaurants and, in the north, the taverns. The child had looked like nothing so much as a bird caught in the eyes of a snake.
Dural set the figure on the ground, a small piece of wood, no more than a finger's length, yet enough apparently that the rental of it for a day had bought him his life. He drew out his pouch, slowly, so as to avoid a spear executing justice and himself. He emptied the pouch on the ground, exposing to the eyes of the mob his most prized carvings, thinking possibly to buy safe passage from the village with his wealth.
The mob surged. As one creature, they fled the central square, some screaming in terror. Dural found himself alone, with nothing to prevent his escape from the town. The councillors continued their deliberations as Dural scooped his carvings back into the pouch, and fled the town, not being willing to wait for the verdict they would hand down. He left only one of the small figures, that of the little girl, not willing to be indebted to her, even if her services were never needed.
To this day, in that Northern village, there are stories told around the campfire of the man who kept souls in his pocket, and the girl who won freedom by her kindness to a stranger.
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This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1992