The shrunken old man trolled his wares down the sad little road. He wasn’t really an old man but the years had been hard and the miles long. He was withered, like a shrunken apple withers and sucks up into itself till nothing but a hard shell remains, wrapped around a bitter core. He had never made it to the golden cities of lore and sold wares to kings and queens. But, he had been a steady figure up and down the coastal roads for over 20 years. He was consistent and while he was on occasion robbed by hoodlums or roving marauders, he always walked away with his skin mostly intact. Often, he found that a word said he and a sigh placed there would bring his wares back within a new moon. For he was a peddler by trade, but a messenger by choice and that did have a few nice perks.

He was a good peddler but a brilliant messenger. Who paid attention to the shrunken old man with the wobbly step and the gnarled oak staff. Not city guards for sure, not politicians meeting in dark alleys, and not even other messengers.  He had found that an added tremble in his step within town walls made him sell more wares and hear more tales. In those tales were words and phrases and keys. He took them, passed them to the next town and shambled on with the majority none the wiser. His father had a been a zealot, but he had been loud and proud about his rebellion and at nine years old Malakiff had seen him beheaded. It had sparked something in him then, something that rebelled at the idea of rulers playing god with the lives of the peasants. On the same coin he wasn’t a particularly brave man. He wasn’t the loud rebel his father had been, he had more survival instinct than that. Instead, Malakiff made an art out of being harmless, out of being unnoticed, and while his shamble made him look like an old deaf peddler his ears heard just fine.

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