The stars soon revealed their light through the heavy night sky. The moon was full and glowed sharply against its backdrop. The king gazed up to the spectacle as if it were the first time it had appeared. Aside from his stomach, he hadn’t spoken to the merchant since the early afternoon, and he was content to keep it that way.
The merchant as well seemed content with the truce of silence until they reached a broad river. He led the way up stream towards a nearby crossing brigde.
The river waters bled dark and reflective of the night sky. Its current moved quickly as if determined to reach some brighter place.
“On the other side of this river is a ferryman’s hut. We will sleep there with a roof over our heads and a breakfast to cheer even your fickle countenance.”
The mention of food was not enough to break the king’s silence, but his footsteps notably quickened at the merchant’s words.
Once at the crossing, the merchant pulled on a bell to call the ferry, which soon came gliding up to a small wooden dock. Guiding the small craft was a hooded man, covered in long, dark robes, which looked more like large rags than proper clothes.
“King,” the merchant said, “this is Vick. He is a long time friend of mine and will show us his hospitality this night.”
Vick stepped forward to meet the king, offering an extended arm in friendliness.
“You must be quite ready to sleep under a roof, and I welcome you to mine. Mind that you’ll not be resting in castle halls, but you needn’t fear the sky’s moods nor a chilled wind this night.”
The king gave a slight, tired smile to show his appreciation and took the offered arm into his own.
“I should be glad to see this shelter soon.”
“Help a friend with his cart,” the merchant and ferryman lifted the wheels onto the raft, leaving little room for its remaining passengers.
The king took a seat on the port side of the raft and stared deep into the glossy surface that passed underneath his berth. His mind imagined the creatures that might be resting or traveling or whatever they did in the inky deep. Behind him, the merchant and ferryman carried on in low tones, sharing whatever things they had to share.
It was a slow crossing, and the king was nearly asleep when they landed on the other side.
After tying down the ferry, Vick led his guests to a simple wooden hut covered with a thick thatched roof. A small, uneven window shed soft yellow light out of the building’s interior and a light smoke wisped endlessly out of a small hole in the thatch.
Stepping inside, the king was warmed immediately by the protective walls and the small flame of a single candle, which sat on a plain wooden table against the far wall.
“You may rest here,” the ferryman indicated a spot on the floor where a blanket of rough sacks had been laid over a pile of straw and grass.
The king needed no further invitation and was fast asleep the moment his head met the nest.