It is raining and the people are racing to get inside. They seek shelter in taverns, in inns, in homes with leaky roofs. The sky is ruthless. An ancient pregnancy of dried-up lakes, of disappearing oceans, has come to term. The bridge between the world above and the earth is made in waterfalls. If man could swim upward, he might drown, or reach the rivers of heaven.
The man is young, and he is running, drenched. The wagon tracks in the roads are full of water, their bottoms turn to mud. His tunic is cloaked in the stuff, as well. The specks of clay kicked up from his heels has turned him brown. He is weaving careless through the silt streets of this village, fighting his way through the storm to get back to his carriage. He never meant to stay here longer than the day, but leaving during such a tempest is foolish. He will have to leave in the morning, setting back his plans a day. It does not matter, though. The young man’s plans are less than solid, his destination less than determined. The village is larger than he expected, he discovers, as navigating his way through seems to take longer than the first trip had. There are no longer many people to be seen on the wet roads and in the flooded alleys, but during the day the place was bustling. It is certainly a place for a stranger to get lost in, for an afternoon.
His shoes suction to the ground at each step. He dodges torch-lamp posts, and seeks a shade of shelter beneath the canopy of an abandoned stall. An apple lays on the counter, and the young man slides it into one of his many pockets. He is not a common thief, but an uncommon one. He does not go out of his way to steal, but when the opportunities present themself, who is he to leave them unpursued?
He catches his breath, once, twice, and watches as the rivers run down the roofs of the tall town. The world is loud from the percussion of rain into the earth, yet over the roar, the man hears a sniffle. His ears perk up, and he hears another. It is coming from beneath the stall he stands at. The man steps back and peers under the counter, and in the mud, a figure lay crouched, crying. It is a child.
“Excuse me,” the man begins loudly. The music of the rain necessitates his volume. The child looked up. The undercarriage of the stall could fit three more of her, if they squeezed. She is a petite child. Sturdy, beneath her wet robes, but frail-faced, crying. “Are you alright?”
The girl cries and holds up her hand. She holds a little leather shoe with untied laces. “It-it-it came untied and I fell down, see!” She shows him the palm of her other hand, which is scraped beneath the slip of mud that coats it. The young man pities the girl, as she weeps, struggling to speak. He gently takes the shoe from her and says, “here, let me see your foot.” She slides it out from beneath her robes and he puts the shoe back on and ties it. “All better, see? Where are your parents?”
The girl cries more, looking at her shoe. The young man remembers his carriage, and offers, “hey, let’s get you someplace dry. We can clean up that scrape of yours, too, like it never even happened. What do you say?” The girl nods her head, and takes the young man’s outstretched hand. He leads her out from beneath the stall and into the rain again. They take off through the sodden streets.
“Come on, now, it shouldn’t be far!”
He runs slower than before, and holds tight the hand of the little girl. At the carriage, he gives her a dry tunic, though it is man-sized and nearly swallows her. She bites some bread and falls fast asleep. The young man lays a blanket over her shivering little body, and he listens to the rain dancing, drumming, on the outside world.