A Thanksgiving Short Story: “We Gather Together”

Condemned Houses Ruined Town

Alyn, Commander of the Singing Legions, stepped out of the waystone and into the ruined town. A sudden breeze tugged at his tabard and tousled his grey hair. Very few people remembered the Way to this town anymore, though long ago soldiers stopped here to rest on their way to the Capital. But that was decades ago, before the sentinel spirits poured form the waystones in clouds of horror and death. The Legions rallied, fought them back into the Ways, walled them off behind wards of magic and cold steel, but not before they had murdered entire towns like this one. No, he thought, not quite like this one. This was special. This was his.

He sighed and squinted into the late evening sun. It looked hazy to him, filtered through the ghosts that flitted through open doorways and hovered impatiently. He saw them, of course. They tried to spook him every year, with their whispers on the breeze and their games of Hide in Shadow. They thought they were clever, invisible. And they were! But he knew their games, knew just what they wanted.

He smiled fondly, adjusted the pack on his back, and said, a little louder than he had to, “Oh dear! What menacing voices there are on the wind today! I hope the night doesn’t bring any frights!” He heard faint giggles in the scratch of leaves on the worn road from the waystone to the center of town. “Goodness, how big the spirits have grown! They may frighten an old man to death! I hope they don’t get me before I lay out this delicious Thanksgiving meal!”, he said as he walked and clutched his tabard around him dramatically. From the corner of his eye he saw a snaggletoothed grin that might have only been the hollow of an old tree in front of a half-fallen house.

The road took him to the town square and a platform that once had been a gazebo. On it was a long, rough wooden table surrounded by benches, newer than the rest of the town, built by Alyn himself years before and kept up by him in the years since. He unsling his pack and laid it on the table. The breeze stirred the canvas flap, as if to open it. Alyn glared sternly and it settled. They were so eager but manners mattered around the Thanksgiving table.

He opened the pack and began to set the table with its contents, A simple tablecloth covered the rough wood on top of which he put several thin ceramic plates and simple utensils he kept in a leather wrap. In the center of the table he placed the food he had packed — a small cooked game bird wrapped meticulously and securely to keep it warm, small containers of vegetables and berries, and a loaf of savory bread. Around him he could feel the spirits gathering more closely. He nodded and they rushed in on a sudden breeze, surrounded the table. Waited.

After a moment, Alyn bowed his head, closed his eyes, summoned the magic to him, and sang.

We gather together to ask our God’s blessing.
He hastens to hear us and makes us His own.

His strong baritone filled the square. He raised his head and opened his eyes. Around the table he could see them clearly now, thanks to his magic, the children who had so long ago shared this night with their families. He didn’t know why they remained here, but so long as they did, he would sing for them, share thanks with them. One by one, they joined him in the old song, the words carried down the generations almost entirely unchanged.

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

His voice broke and his eyes filled with tears. He knew they could see him as well, and they could remember. They saw him as he was then, the young Master of Song who leaped from the waystone just ahead of a sentinel swarm to save them. They remembered how he stood alone and sang defense and destruction until his voice failed and his heart nearly burst. He couldn’t not save them; he was a new Master and what remained of the swarm passed by him and took them all. But they also saw him now, the Commander who came back every year, who visited them and brought them a feast, who let them play, who remembered them. Who loved them.

We give all thanks to Thee, our Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.

Their voices grew more audible, surrounded him, comforted him. They were not the only ones loved in this place. He was their brave knight, and they were thankful on this day for him. He smiled and let their magic mix with his own. Their forms solidified, filled with the magic he fed into the song.

Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, we thank Thee!

The last note echoed between the empty houses, and the children all smiled up at him. “Are we ready to eat”, he asked, and drew his hunting knife to carve the bird. The children nodded and answered as one, “Yes, Master Singer Alyn. Happy Thanksgiving Master Singer Alyn!” He smiled back. “Good! Because I am very hungry!” And more softly he added, “And thankful.” He cut into the bird as the sun cast long shadows across the square.

———

I’d been thinking about the soldiers of song I wrote about last Friday and thought there might be a decent Thanksgiving story in their world. It’s longer than anything I’ve ever written here. I hope you like it.

Photo Credit: ShootingBrooklyn on Flickr

The song you may recognize, but if you don’t, read up on it here.

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