the shouting from the lower floors grew louder and the mountebank heard heavy boots pounding up the stairs.
the mountebank slowly pushed the door of his room open a crack. now he could hear louder shouting on the landing outside.
he made out a female voice which he thought he recognized as that of the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter whom he and the other three travelers had fallen so desperately in love with earlier in the evening…
how long ago it aeemed...
the innkeeper’s daughter was saying, “this man is not kobra! look at him! does he look like kobra, does he look like a desperate bandit?”
rough laughter answered her. the mountebank opened his door a little more and thought he saw the flash of a bayonet!
soldiers! two soldiers were standing outside the door of one of his fellow travelers, and the beautiful daughter was standing in that doorway!
she must have been in the room of one of the other travelers!
and now there was more shouting from another room, from further down the hall, and what seemed to be another female voice addressing more soldiers - in a somewhat more commanding tone than the innkeeper’s daughter -
and more loud banging and shouting from the lower floors of the inn -
the mountebank had heard enough. his only thought was to escape. but there was no way to get past the contingents of soldiers.
he softly closed the door and looked back and considered the little window of the room. it looked like it might be just wide enough to crawl through…
he opened the window. his luck was good. there was a tree just within reach, if he could manage to crawl through the window…
he got out the window and down the tree with only a few scrapes. the whole inn was now lit up and in an uproar.
he dashed between some trees and found himself on a dirt path which must have led somewhere… anywhere…
he saw a figure ahead of him, also running away, and followed it…
was it one of the other travelers? was it kobra?
before he could discover who it was two more soldiers emerged from the trees beside him and arrested him.
the mountebank, the flowerseller, and the fool were all taken into custody by the soldiers who had been detailed to capture kobra.
it was decided that one of them would be hanged and the other two turned over to the local authorities to work on the roads.
the salesman escaped, as did kobra.
the innkeeper, suspected of being in league with kobra, was sentenced to three dunkings in the local pond, a fine of five hogsheads of ale, and twenty lashes. in consideration of his age, and his long standing in the town, the sentence of twenty lashes was commuted.
kobra was never found or heard from again, but the empire was brought down by another rebel and his band…
a man and woman walk down a dark road.
the man’s bulk is hidden under an old greatcoat, and his head under a wide hat. he has the rounded shoulders of a peasant, and the black beard and sunken eyes of a fanatic.
the woman is wrapped in a long cloak so that only her eyes are showing. she carries a basket on her arm.
they come to the outskirts of a town. some sort of celebration is being prepared for… a coronation, a carnival, an execution…
a constable stands at the entrance of the town, and the man asks the constable if there are rooms available in the town.
“you are late, brother,” the constable replies, “all the rooms are taken, you will have to sleep in the park or move on.”
the woman shows the constable the basket and pulls back the cloth covering it, revealing a redfaced child with an angry staring expression on its face. the child shakes his fist at the constable.
“you see this child,” the woman says. “this child is going to be the savior of the world.”
“i am happy to hear it, madam, but move along, please.”
the man and the woman and the child move down the town road. booths have been set up by the enterprising, selling food and drink, and promoting games of chance. it is late, and many of the booths are dark, but a few are lit by torches.
“try your skill, brother, you look like a strapping fellow, win a prize for the little lady…”
“what kind of mug do you take me for?” the man scowls, but the woman pulls him along.
they pass through the town and back on to the road… rain begins to fall…
on the carnivals and the coronations and the executions… rebels and infidels are rounded up and hanged … and the hangman bets his pay on the turn of a card…
saviors are born… hymns are sung… churches are built and then burnt down,,, witches pronounce their curses and popes their benedictions… win a prize for the little lady… you look like a lucky fellow… you can’t win if you don’t play…
the rebels against the empire, and the empires they rebelled against… where are they now?
they have been blown away with the dust… the dust that is flattened by the rain,,,
the innkeeper’s daughter stands at the window above the road to the wicked city…