Mayor Kyoniguee has tired already of manoeuvring in the crowd, dodging carts and jumping over the bales and boxes that have been laid out on the ground.
His new coat was soaked with sweat and torn in several places, and his dandy velvet beret was lost at the first fall, but the condition of his clothing was the last thing to worry now.
The mayor hurried, mentally cursing himself for being too old and too heavy to run. It seemed to him, if he hurried, he would have time to change something.
The vanity of folding camp only seemed chaotic. Inside, each person and thing knew their place and direction; no one got under the feet of the others, jostled or interfered. Seeing, that he was in a hurry, the vagrants gave him the way and even helped to keep the balance, a couple of times, when Kyoniguee stumbled. He only hastily nodded in response and raced on. There was not enough breathing for the gratitude, and he was terribly ashamed of his tactlessness towards the irreproachably polite inhabitants of the camp.
Having reached the place, where the palace was just yesterday, he stopped, taking a deep breath, and began to look around in search of Leader. Who was already approaching, was being led by a girl who was explaining something to him vividly, pointing to Kyoniguee.
“Hello, Mr. Mayor.”
“Sit down, please.”
Turning around, Kyoniguee found a couple of boys, one of whom was carrying a light folding chair, and other was with a jug and large clay mugs. The Mayor sat down, relievedly stretching his legs, buzzing with tension, and took the first sip of beer, watching the table opposite him preparing the same chair for the Leader. Approaching Leader of the vagrants smiled, gestured on his attempt to rise for greetings, they shook hands, and Leader settled. He poured some beer for himself.
“What’s going on, Erkhee?” blurted out the Mayor, just he having waited until everyone moved away from the audibility. “Why is the camp in the strike?”
Leader saluted him with the mug and sipped his beer. He was still smiling, but when he spoke, the gaiety in his voice wasn’t felt.
“It’s time to leave,” he said. “Don’t worry, all those who are bound by contracts and other obligations will remain until the expiration of the term.”
This was unnecessary to say. The vagrants took their obligations very seriously, and always brought things to an end.
“Why? Yesterday you weren’t going anywhere yet. Did you sign the security contract for six months, knowing in advance you are leaving today?
“No,” Erkhee smiled sadly. “I received the Omen just this morning, and I’m very glad it hasn’t happened yesterday. Now, you have six months to take steps for protecting the borders without our help.”
The Omen! This was the nightmare of any Ruler who fell into happiness with the camp of the vagrants. It was impossible to wish the best neighbours: friendly, intelligent, inventive, enterprising, and, if necessary, excellent fighters.
They were located without interfering with anyone, quickly mastered the language and culture of the indigenous population and did everything possible to avoid disturbing neighbours. They could stay in place from a few weeks to a couple of generations — trading and making even the most ungrateful land blossom, teaching and learning, fighting shoulder to shoulder and helping in case of adversity.
The well-being of the surrounding lands thanks to their energy and knowledge, rose up to the skies, and over the borders, the peace reigned. Even the most troubled neighbours sat quietly. Some wanted the camp to migrate to them when the time would come, others kept in mind the custom told the vagrants during the transitions to destroy the lands of those who raised swords onto them. Money flowed into the treasury, and the cities came out of the coasts, spreading far beyond the usual borders.
Alas, any Golden Age has its limit, and in the case of the vagrants, it was ended after receiving the Omen. After a few hours after it on the place of their mobile towns didn’t leave even garbage. Each house, as well as each object in these houses, were easily disassembled, quickly packed and easily transported.
The Mayor paused, picking up the words. No one of reasonable arguments which could make them stay didn’t come in his head. No, they won’t stay for anything. The vagrants are obsessed with their Destination. Shouldn’t even try.
“You know how strong I want you to stay, my old friend,” he finally sighed. “And I know nobody has ever managed to persuade you to stay…”
“That’s right,” Erkhee nodded.
“…So, I’ll try my best not trying to persuade you.”
“Thank you. You don’t know how difficult saying «no» when a friend asks to stay.”
“I’ve been waiting all my life, and I’ve been afraid of this moment. I hope this will help me to take your all… and your personal leaving. But can you at least tell me what this Omen was? What was it? A prophetic dream? A thunder with lightning? Or what?”
Erkhee didn’t answer right once. A few moments he was looking at Kyoniguee carefully, as if trying to decide if it was worth that, then said calmly:
“This morning, a boy of about six threw mud at me and called me a stinky vagabond and a squalid.”
The Mayor couldn’t believe his ears. At first, he took it as some allegorical introduction, but Leader didn’t continue, and he felt as rage and insult slowly boiled in him.
“A boy? All this because of a snotty kid who throws mud?”
The silent nod was the answer.
“What the hell? I … personally … “ he couldn’t find the right words because of excitement, “I’ll personally catch this little toad and flog out him, that way, he won’t be able to sit for a month! Just show him to me, I …”
“No chance!” Leader shook his head. “The child isn’t to blame. Do you think he invented it by his own or embodied that the adults didn’t dare to? And these words? Did he invent them himself or repeat that he heard from his elders?”
“Perhaps you’re right … Do you know what I’ll do? I’ll find his parents … The whole family! I’ll order to throw them into the desert instead of you. Or I’ll hang … No, I’ll…
«And what will you tell the others? That will happen to anyone who won’t think well about the vagrants? You will shout it from the balcony of the town hall and send the heralds to repeat your words to everyone who hasn’t heard them? Punishing for thoughts is like extinguishing a fire with brushwood.”
“Well, then let them think. What does it matter?”
“Much, my friend. Alas, too much. Thoughts are the beginning of actions. We, the vagrants, prefer to leave after the first, and not after the second. Sooner or later someone will be stupid enough to try to hurt us, and we won’t stay in debt. If we leave today, everyone will remember how good it was when there were vagrants alongside and how much worse it became when they left. Indeed is it better if people remember enmity? Sooner or later, any people cease to appreciate the benefits that coexistence gives …”
“I cannot believe it,” roared Kyoniguee, not caring at all about extra ears could hear him now. “All this because someone was carrying nonsense in the presence of a six-year-old boy! What kind of nonsense? Erkhee, you can’t leave us because of someone’s foolish talk! You know how we love and respect you. Everyone knows that you aren’t a beggar, and vagrants are friends. How can you leave us because of such nonsense?”
Erkhee asked him to stop with a gesture. Spilt the rest of the beer to mugs and saluted the Mayor:
“For your people, honourable Kyonigee! You can be proud of your people, my friend. Eighty-five years and twenty-four days we lived side by side as one family, and it’s a lot, much more than usual. We won’t stop being friends just because the vagrants are leaving on time. After a few generations, we’ll be back and still be friends. It’s a pity, of course, that you and I won’t be here already.”
“But because of the chatter of a single idiot …”
“Not a single one. The child heard the words meant for the ears of the other. If someone pulled the speaker down, the kid wouldn’t take it as a normal thing. However, the answer was, at best, a tacit agreement. Of course, a person could just grumble under his nose, but sooner or later they will share this idea.”
The Mayor sighed and looked into the empty jug and regretfully put his mug on the table. Noticing this, Erkhee nodded to the boy who was waiting nearby. He ran up.
“Do you want more, honoured Kyonigee?”
“Yes, please,” the thirst still made itself felt.
“I’ll be back soon. And will bring your beret.”
“Yes, my sister found him. It’s probably already cleaned.”
“Let … Kh-haaa …” The impressive bass of the mayor unexpectedly gave the rooster, in the nose it tweaked, and he had to turn away, coughing falsely. It was still not enough that somebody saw the tears welling up in the eyes of such a respectable man.
“Let her leave it for herself,” he said at the second attempt. “as a souvenir”.
When he returned home, it was still light: the custom of the vagrants ordered not to linger for goodbyes and move quickly. It couldn’t keep up with them on foot. Near Kyonigee, a few lucky people fumbled scantily, who knew about the trouble in time and managed to get to the missing city to exchange a few farewell words with the departing friends. A whole stream of agitated townspeople was moving towards them, who, at the sight of the gloomy mayor and his companions, understood everything without any unnecessary questions and turned back.
Only one person stood out in the general flow. He was a middle-aged rider in a road suit, clearly for a long journey. In the saddle in front of him settled a dirty six-year-old boy. These two didn’t return and seemed to take what was happening for granted. Going to the side of the road, they watched the crowd.
“Daddy, are you sure it should be done? You always said that throwing dirt and saying rude is bad, but today you asked to do that. Look: now everyone is upset.”
“Do you remember, I told you about the Omen?”
The boy nodded seriously.
“When you see it, you have to throw all your things and expel the vagrants in any way; otherwise it’ll be bad.”
“Because if you don’t get them out in time, the vagrants will disappear. They just won’t move anymore and become like everyone else. They must travel, help everyone, learn from some, and then teach others. And someone should make sure that they don’t sit too much at one place. Now we’ll go, and we’ll find a city near which they’ll stop and will look after them again. No, no, I promise you won’t have to do any bad things. If you want, we’ll even go to Erkhee and apologise, of course, without telling him that it’s because of the Omen. Let him think that we followed them for this purpose.”
The boy nodded with obvious relief and asked:
“And what did the Omen look like?”
“I saw how their children built a toy camp, in which the houses didn’t dissemble. This means the vagrants wanted to stay here forever.”