Wildcard Wednesday, Better Late Than Never

This isn’t my best work by any means, given the time limit, but improv is not supposed to be about your best work.  It’s about working  your best.  Does that make sense?  So, without further ado, here’s my Wildcard Wednesday Fiction Improv.  Join in and link up here.

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He wore an old scarf, a scarf nearly as old as himself.  It was clean, and it was neatly mended in spots, but the fraying of the weave at the edges told its age honestly.  It was nothing more than rough linen, the roughest kind, the kind worn by prisoners on their way to death.

He kept the scarf cleaner than it was when it had first come to him.  And, when it had first come to him, it hadn’t even been a scarf.

When the graying man arrived in the village, that scarf was what stood out the most about the new fishmonger.  Strange thing for a poor merchant to be wearing, especially in this climate, the old biddies muttered in the market.

At last, one of the local boys– often idle at best, a troublemaker at worst—was brazen enough to accost him about it.

“Who do you think you are, wearing that thing around your neck?  Does it ward off the evil eye or something?”

The creases in the man’s walnut-brown skin deepened around his sun-hardened eyes.  He looked like he was covering up a laugh, he pursed his leathered lips so.

Clearly the question hadn’t been taken seriously.  This angered the boy.  “Well, you gonna answer me or not?”

“Certainly, my boy,” came the reply.  “In time.  How old are you?”

The boy rubbed the bottom of his nose with the back of his arm.  “I don’t know.  Eleven, maybe?”

“And you don’t have a trade to learn?”

“No father to teach me one.  No mother to sell me as an apprentice.”

The man’s wrinkles went from jolly to heartbroken in the space of a breath.  “Ah.  I lost my parents, too, when I was your age.  In prison.”

The boy’s jaw dropped.  “Prison?  What for?  And you lived?  Did you escape?”

”You are a font of questions.  Come with me.  I’ll find you work.”

The boy sneered so much it was almost a snarl.  “I don’t want work.  I just want to know what the scarf is for!”

The fishmonger laughed.  “And I’ll tell you, too, if you come and work for me.”

So he did.  In the months of quiet work, catching and selling fish and living rough in the countryside caves, the boy found out that the fishmonger had indeed been in prison.  Yes, he had almost died there but not at the teeth of a lion.  He’d been sucking the last bits of flavor off of the rotten fish bones that had been thrown to the Christians awaiting their death.  But then a man in the same dungeon found him choking and.  The last thing he saw as the gray of a faint sucked away his vision, was that other prisoner, “Bishop” they called him, touching his strangled throat.

“And the scarf?” the new apprentice asked.

Smiling, the fishmonger replied, “Where my throat had been touched, a fierce light shone.  All day, all night while we waited for the beasts to get hungry enough to devour us, that light shone.  The prison guards screamed at us to stop the light, but we couldn’t.  One threatened to strip my mother naked and strangle me with her clothes to cover up the glare.  That’s when the Bishop finally tore a strip off the bottom of his tunic and gave it to me.  The next day, he and my mother and the other Christians were released into the arena.”

The younger orphan grew somber.  “How did you live, then?”

The fishmonger absently touched the band around his neck.  “One of the guards was superstitious.  He didn’t want to kill a child who was protected by the gods.  He let me loose into the streets.  I made my way around the coast, learning to fish and keeping my light covered.”

“Is the light still there?”

The fishmonger gave his apprentice a merry, sidelong glare.  “It is, but you must get to heaven to see it.”

 ###

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