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THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 35 TRAVELLER

TRAVELLER

We were in the centre of a shallow bowl fifty yards or so in diameter. Darande had put us down on a level piece of ground close to a large, rectangular, flat topped mound. So flat, indeed, was its top, and so perfectly chiseled its angled side and ends, that I think most of us thought 'inhabitants' even before sheep were spotted grazing on low fells to the south.

To the north we could see Macroida's 'island mountains', and to the west, and very close to us, a low, undulating grassy ridge. The river which we had spotted from above, and which was behind us as we faced the mound, flowed - according to Darek's observations of the sun - south to north.

"Shall we take a look from up there, sire?" Daranded pointed to the ridge.

From the higher ground we could see an intricate patchwork of arable land supporting grass, corn, and a bright yellow crop which was new to us. We had come to our new world at the height of summer it seemed, and with the sun pretty high in the sky, and beating down unflichingly, I could have done with a hat.

In the middle distance was a vast area of forest stretching away towards a mountain range which dwarfed anything Steefax could boast. "If only we could have time to explore them," someone said.

"Just look at that river, and the shingle where it meanders," exclaimed Bryn. We all turned to look. "I bet there's Draxy there."

"Let's go get some!" I know who shouted that, but I'm not telling, and it wasn't me.

His Majesty stopped just short of real anger. "We shall not touch it, not a grain, unless we have the leave of those who live here."

But where did they live?

"Let's follow the ridge, and see what we can see," Darande said.

North we marched, up and down gentle slopes. We had left Macroida's peculiar rocks about half a mile behind us to our right, when suddenly we found the ground falling away; spread out before us were farms and cottages, orchards, and fields of cows and sheep. On the river bank stood a great mansion, like out of the old picture books.

Coming towards us along a track bordering the river then up onto the ridge was what must have been a pretty hefty proportion of the community's population.

"Shall we go to meet them, Your Majesty?" Darande asked.

"It might be less threatening to them if we wait here."

And so it was that we stood, eagerly and doubtfully, in excitement and trepidation, with hopefulness and dread, enjoying and enduring a potent cocktail of emotions, awaiting the first Steefaxian encounter with people from another world for over a hundred years.

Our welcoming party came to a halt about ten paces from us. The first thing to be said is that apart from a considerable seniority in age they looked much like us. In their dress they would not have been out of place in any of our own farming communities. The main difference was with their hair, for both sexes seemed to favour natural growth; there would clearly be no call for barbers amongst them.

A venerable looking man - the senior village elder as we were learned later - stepped forward. He stopped before His Majesty. Hamlet was wearing the red and black uniform with gold flashes, of Commander in Chief of the Royal Army; he had had it especially tailored according to the pattern thought to have been adopted by the first of his name when he went into space.

The elder said to Hamlet, "Are you a king also?"

"As a matter of fact, I am."

Even now I am unable to recall that moment without emotion. In the stillnes which followed, we were all able to grasp the simple truth that Hamlet the First must have made it here after all!

"I will take you see Traveller."

"Traveller, sir?" Hamlet asked.

"You see soon. All you come."

"Perhaps we'd better leave some people, Commander?"

"A small guard might be sensible, sire."

"No need," said the elder. "Ship safe." By his manner of speaking one could not help being reminded of Scaffold.

"Of course," said Hamlet. "I'm sorry."

We followed our hosts down the hill and into the settlement: there were stone cottages set amidst gardens with chicken runs and pig styes, broad grass verges where goats were tetherd, and a village green with a pump and a trough in the middle of it. Part of this central area was given over to swings and roundabouts on which remarkably large looking children were playing. There was a bench where sat women and men who must have been hugely older than any who had ever lived on Steefax.

The elder said, "You meet Traveller now." He pointed to the great house we had seen from the ridge. The front door opened, and out came a tall and imposing looking figure, a senior citizen certainly, but nothing like as old a one as any of those on the bench. He was dressed not in one of the homespun tunics favoured by other men of the village, but in a long gown woven from pure white wool. He came towards us, and stopped in front of His Majesty. "Are you a Hamlet," he asked, "or have they moved on a name?"

"I am the Last. You must be the First."

"They call me Traveller, here."

The two Hamlets embraced. This was holy time.

kelson.philo's picture

Aha...fantastic. Now the

Aha...fantastic. Now the circle is complete!

Thank you so much!

A comment like this is all the reward I shall ever need as a writer. Oh, the joy of it!