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Rated: E · Book · Other · #1811445
A boy finds a tunnel under his bed filled with all sorts of strange creatures
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#839457 added March 3, 2015 at 12:49am
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Book 2 Chapter 7
I took Gemy’s hand in my own as she came up the rise and we began our decnt toward the village, I still couldn’t see any horses. “Perhaps longer than we would like,” I mumbled not wanting to make Gemy worry about what we would do. I could easily do the worrying about our timeing by myself. There was a bit of a chill in the air yet. We had to contend with wind chill while we were riding but at least then we were holding on to the warm horse bodies. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gemy pulling the cloak more securely around herself. I pulled her to be a bit more under my cloak as well. We were just a bit beyond the rise, I glanced back taking in faith that the horses were indeed waiting behind it, Nothing could be seen or heard of them.

“How much will hiring a horse or two cost?”

Gemy’s question brought me back to the task before us. I frowned slightly and tried my best to defect the question. I didn’t know. And we had no way of knowing if the price we would be quoted was accurate or not. This brought me to another unwanted realization, I didn’t really know how much I had in my purse and I didn’t know what each coin represented.

“Hopefully we will meet with someone honest.” I kept my voice steady and was rewarded when Gemy mearly nodded wuithout prodding further. The dragon adjusted a few times along the walk but both he and the wyvern we quiet as we got onto the road to enter the village as though we hadn’t just made our way through the field overnight. The buildings were simple. Wood frame construction without extravagance, chicken coups in the back of the houses with visible sections of gardens behind them.
There was a blacksmith shop, a miller’s sign hung from above one of the doors and a few other business advertisments. Still no horses. I scanned the signs above the doors looking for the most likely building to have some or hire. Finding the tavern inn combo was not that difficult though we did have to walk most of the main street before inding ourselves rather suddenly before it. Sitting beneath the wooden awning was a wiry old man smoking a pipe and starting with a scowl on his face at any and all that passed be they strangers like us or the cobbler walking by waving a greeting to him. I glanced at Gemy and started up the small set of stairs to the porch.

“What do you want?” the old man was as grouchy as he looked.

Might as well get it over with if I had to go through him to get to the owner. “My wife and I were hoping to rent a horse or two.”

“Can’t they’re all taken into town.”

“Are you the owner here?”

“Yup.” He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms to look at us down his nose.

I looked over my shoulder at Gemy, she looked a bit worried and degected. I turned back to the man. “Does any one else have a horse we could use?”

“Nope.”

“How about a donkey?”

“None in this area.”

I blew air out my mouth, “ any other anumals we can have perhaps pulling a cart.”

“Nope.”

I heard a whinny, I turned my head in that direction, the man’s eyes went the same way but he did not turn or change his expression. Gemy took a few steps to the side of the building and looked around it into the pasture. I tunred back to the man and waited for an explanation.

We stared at each other for a while. Finally he cleared his throat. “Well, maybe I do keep the mail horse here but that is not for anyone to be riding off on.”

“When was the last time mail…”

“You’re not taking it young man,” he took his pipe out and shook it at me, “You think I don’t know what you young whipper snappers like to do with animals like this? You just take them out somewhere and wreck their legs making them jump over fences. That animal brings in a lot of money for me here and it’s the most secure source I’ve got what with the war effort starting up.”

“We need to get to the city. I have a message for someone there and…wait what was effort?”

“If it needs delivering that fast I can send my boy with a message.”

I closed my eyes and tried to envision my home on the mountain to keep calm, “That won’t be good enough it has to be me that takes the message.”

“My boy can’t ride that horse with you on it. And would you be paying for your lady to stay here while you’re away, hmmm?”

“Is there any way that you can let us take the horse at least to the next village, we can have someone bring it back to you from there.”

He spat to the side of the porch,” with my luck the moment you rode out of here would be the same one an important message would arrive needing to be sent on to the king. And then I would be forced to give up hosting the mail horse and do you know where that would put me, boy?” he fixed me with a stern gaze, “in the poor house that’s what! I’m too old to be working in the fields anymore.” This last he said more to himself than me but I had to press on still. If there was even the slightest chance…
“Please sir, if we don’t move quickly there may be trouble in the capital.” I try to be as vague as possible, I don’t want to cause an uprising. Or make myself more of a target if we fail.

His eyes narrow and he leans forward, “what sort of trouble?” He may be old but he’s sharp.
“I can’t say for now but it is time sensitive and I’m worried that we may have wasted too much already,” I glance toward Gemy, it looks like she is going up and down the street checking with the other locals to see if there is another animal or team of any variety of animals that we might hire. I smile at her efforts. She may have come to me in an unpleasant circumstance but I wouldn’t trade that smart little whisp of a girl for anything…even the horse that we so desperately needed. I turned my head back to the man just in time to catch him steeling a glance at a box that was placed between the rickety chairs on the pourch. I purposefully look at it when I catch his eyes.

He exhales dramatically but reaches toward the box, “tell you what boy, I don’t like to have to tell you no but I do have a family to take care of and I am the hub for a great deal of business in this town with my mail commission, the town might not be here if it weren’t for my stable and inn here. I’ll make you a deal. If you can beat me at a game of black stones, you can take the horse to the next village on your way and send him back from there. If you don’t you get on your way and stop bothering me.”

I clench my jaw but nod my head. What choice do I really have? If we don’t at least try this there is not way we will get to conrelius in time. At least it isn’t a lost cause either way. I move onto the porch and sit down. This draws some slight attention from the people in the town going abtou their daily lives but Im ibn no mood to notice. The first few hours are spent with the old man showing my how to play the game, what to do with the bag of stones he gives me and how the game board works. We do a couple of basic senarios to force me into the habbit of it and then we start the real game. Gemy is back now, she has joined the small audience that has gathered to drink tea or some other like beverage and observe. I can tell by the glances I send her way that she is curious about what we are doing and what will be my next move. I am grateful that she keep them to herself. I’m distracted enough with the stakes of the game never mind having to narrate as well.

Not many moves in and I can already tell I am in trouble. But I’m not about to give up. I ccan hear some of the men muttering and making observations about the game. I try to regain some of the lost space, but he always takes more than I can get back. By the time there is only one blank space left on the board. The old man spoke to me softly. “Son, you’ve lost.”

I nodded and kept myself under control. I stood slowly and gave him a slight bow. “As agreed then.” I turned to Gemy, not a small amount worried about what she thought of me. There was not likely any way for us to get a horse now. Gemy’s look was concerned but not accusing. I took her hand and sighed. We would be walking.

We did our best to smile and waved before walking off back the way we had come since that was the way as the road to the city. The old man called after us. “Come by on your way back, son, I’d love to play another game with you.”

I called back my enthusiasm for a rematch later, but I didn’t feel it. Gemy squeezed my hand. I just hoped that I was better at fooling him than her.

“There weren’t any other horses or animals.”

I sighed and worked my jaw muscles until they relaxed, “we’ll just have to keep an eye open for farms along the way, maybe we’ll get lucky.”

We walked at a normal pace, the sun was already climbing its way high into the sky but no one followed after us to announce a change of heart of the old man.

“Why didn’t you say anything else to that old gezzer?”

I looked toward the sky for composure before answering the dragon, “I was honoring our agreement.”
“Then why run away from the match.”

“We had to get moving and it will take longer on foot.”

The dragon actually snorted, “I could have beat him at such a silly game.”

I rolled my eyes before I could help it, “Yes the next time we’re negotiating with simple village people instead of playing a fair match I will whip out a dragon, scare them all away, and then steal whatever it was we wanted.”

“There was that so hard. Maybe you do have a brain after all.”

Detecting sarcasm was evidently not one of a young dragon’s strong points. The dragon continued to spout boasts about how excellent he was at games, even paltry human ones, this discussion ended up in Gemy and I recounting every riddle we could think up for the dragon to guess. After what seemed like hours of this I finally took to making stuff up without any intention of it haing a real answer. Gemy’s pool had been exhausted a while ago.

The wyvern chirped. The dragon moved back to his position under my cape and looked over my shoulder from the relatively sheltered spot made by the shadow pf my head.

“Looks like a small caravan. I’d say about five wagons. A large number of people for the convayances provided.”

Gemy looked at me hopefully, “May be we can catch a ride with them too.”

I could hear the hope in her voice. My feet were getting tired as well. It would mean that we would have to be much more carefull about our entourage but even with a cart to be pulled and apparently many people in it a horse would still be faster than the time we were making. We moved to the side of the road and kept our current course. It was some time before Gemy and I could hear them, but once we did it did not take long for them to overtake us.

“Helloo there, Philip said we’d run into you eventually,” the man driving the front wagon called out. He laughed, his great girdth around his belly jiggling with the effort. He slowed the horse a bit but didn’t stop. “So, you’re on your way to the city then? It’s two shillings to join the group if you’d like, that will cover you for the meals we have before arriving at the city and from there, well you’re on your own.”

I caught the side of the moving cart and put my foot on the step before hooking Gemy around the waist and swinging her up ontl the seat board where the man had moved over slightly to allow us room to get on if not to sit permanently. A very sweet looking woman about the same vintage as my mother moves some bags and boxes around in the box of the wagon and helped stay Gemy as she stepped over the buckboard into the box. I fished out the purse I carried, I wasn’t really sure what a shilling was but the man pointed to two of the coin and then went about explaining what the other ones were worth as I gave the shillings to his wife. I stayed sitting with him as he discussed what would be a fair price to pay for stuff once we got into the city.

“You do have to consider though lad, the inns and the like will be charging an arm and a leg if they can manage it, what with the festival going on there now, they have a higher demand than they have space, that can bring out the greed in some of the best of them.”

“We have something a bit more pressing to handle before we start worrying about accomidations.”

He nodded,” Aye, Philip said something to that effect. It was nice of you to take him up on his offer of the game though, that poor man,” the cart driver shook his head, “he’s gotten so good at it that no one in the etire village will play with him for fear of losing. And I admire the fact that you kept your word to him.” He looked behind him to be sure Gemy was engaged talking to his lady and leaned toward me, “in all honesty I gave you two a break on the caravan fee, Philip is an old friend of mine and he was feeling a bit guilty that he had to turn you away.”

In my mind I still didn’t think he was forced to turn us away though from what he had said he evidently believed it.

“My name is John Locklely.”

“Edmund and this is my wife Gemy.”

One of the ladies in the back riding with John’s wife and mine snorted. “You hardly look old enough to work in a field by yourself, all be it you are quite tall, never mind have a wife.”

Time to imitate some of my father’s famous charm, “You hardly look old enough to know what the difference would be.”

The lady preened and went back to her conversation with the gentleman beside her whom I assumed was her husband. Elbowing him in the ribs and talking excitable about what everyone else in the cart had to say. Perhaps that was why I wasn’t hearing much conversation out of the rest of them.

“Never mind her,” John chuckled, though speaking in a lower voice, “she can be a bit of a busy body and I think she has some sons some considersable years older than you who she would like very much to get married and start producing grandchildren. Things a bit different down here than you have it up on the mountain I dare say. Children attend a formal school for their first fifteen years and can then either go straight into apprentiship or work on the arm or some very few also follow up with more formal studies usually with the aim of getting work in the capital as lawyers or bookkeepers and tax men. It is rare to see any young man married before the age of about six and twenty.”

The only thing that really made our pace any faster than walking was the fact that the horses had a longer stride than we did. It was however a sustainable pace and we kept going with no interruption. If someone wished to stretch their legs, they had to jump down and walk and run along before getting back up. Gemy and I both did this frequently. Mostly out of consideration for the dragon and the wyvern that were wrapped around us and no doubt getting kinks in their wings. On one such outing the dragon whispered harshly.

“Get over closer to the wagon.” I walked as close as I dared and the dragon with only mild attempts at keeping himself concealed stole away to the underside of the carriage where he could ride with his claws sunk into the wood as though he were a bat hanging upside down. The wyvern didn’t seem to care about following suite, but he was so relaxed under nearly any circumstance that I was beginning to wonder if there was anything that would or could make him uncomfortable. We passed through one village where the caravan paused to pick up another five or six passengers and buy some bread to eat on the way. Gemy and I still had some rather full food sacks but we ate what we were given so we could save what we had for our trip back since it was unlikely that we would have as much help. I slipped into the shift rtation with the other men, mostly siting beside one or another of the drivers. Not really talking that much just sitting and watching the ladscape go by. The ladies kept more or less to the same wagons, alternating speakers frequently their near constant chatter and the sounds of a few of them scraping wool covered for the lack of noice the mean were making.
Gemy held up well, despite her shy bearing, she didn’t want to draw much attention to herself and once the ladies gave up drawing her out more than she would allow rode in relative peace. When I saw her get out to walk with the wyvern, I took the opportunity to join her. It was easy to note that she wasn’t in that great of spirits.

“What’s the matter my love?”

“Well,” she began pensively, “I was just thinking about when we arrive in town. One of the ladies in the wagon said that we will arrive before the city gates tomorrow evening. The caravan will stay outside the city but we might be able to get in before the gate closes. I know we were waiting till closer to the time to figure out what we were going to say or do to get to warn the prince…but it’s it time we started thinking about that now since it is getting so close?”

She had a point, I nodded to her and smiled. We looked ahead and did our best to keep pace with the caravan. It wouldn’t be that difficult to sprint back to the wagons if we did get a little behind. The mountain has no king. We have the villages that have their elders but for the most part decicions about how to do things are decided individualy. We do not have an army, just some crazy mountain men with various pointy objects that can run off wild animals. We’ve never needed the grand order that the kingdoms seem to feel that are required and I can remember when some of their diplomats came through when I was younger how amazed they were that we still did not have some kind of ruler and yet politey, but very firmly, refused to join their country. Thinking of it now I wasn’t even that sure that I would be able to see Cornelius without a formal summons. There were probably gaurds.
“We’ll ask the gaurds if there is someone we can speak to about what we heard. Don’t worry about it and leave it to me it will be fine.”

Gemy smiled at me though I don’t think she was convinced right away. I hadn’t asked the drivers when we would be arriveing at the city, It would be well for me to confirm Gemy’s intelegence. After I got her back into the wagon, I made my way back to John in the lead cart. The man sitting beside him took it was a good time to switch, tipped his hat to me and made his way off to another wagon.
“Well, hello again Ed, what brings you up this way on such a fine afternoon. I assure you you would probably enjoy your ladies company far more than mine,” he let loose a deep throaty laugh as I swung my way up beside him.

I smiled and settled myself as the cart resumed its more regulated swaying after the upset of my jumping aborad. “I was coming to ask when you thought we’d e arriveing at the city.”

He put a beefy hand on his chin, “Well, I’d say,” baring inclement weather, about the tenth hour.” He must have caught my blank stare since he chuckled and amended, “about an hour before the gates close but if one of the carts has trouble with one of its wheels we won’t leave it to plundering by thieves. In that case the whole caravan will stop. It usualy doesn’t take us that lond to fix when we all pitch in but it does take some time and if the gates are closed then there is no getting in without some special authorization.” He watched me looking ahead for a while before ventureing, “You have some kind of message to deliver I believe. Or that’s what Philip made it sound like anyway. But I’m guessing this is your first time down here. Do you know what you’re going to do when you get there? Do you know where your friend lives?”

I wasn’t sure who I felt about being questioned by a stranger without much tie to what I was doing but this was perhaps a way to get more useful information without having to be too specific. “My friend lives in the castle.”

“I assume by that you mean the place where the royal family lives and that would be the great hall. That will be easy for you to find at least. You can’t very well miss it. It is on a large hill in the center of the city. I don’t know how you’ll go about getting in but I can direct you to my cousin and he can give you councel seeing as he lives there and all. But either way I think you’ll invariably have to go though some gaurds.” He shook his head and sighed, “it isn’t good for business how paranoid everyone is. The women are all paniced for fear that their husbands and sons will be drafted to go and fight. The merchants are all paranoid that the army will seize their wares and crops for interest of feeding their men. Given the choice between that and the threat of immenent death, I think they would all choose the former but still,” he shrugged, “having everything you worked for taken away is a hard pill to swallow. Though if all goes well there should be some recompence for the people that had to give up the most but if and when that time comes I’m sure we’ll be just as glad to get our young men back.”

“I heard someone mention that before, what battle are they preparing for?”

John looked at me with utter surprise, “you didn’t know but I would have thought for sure that…”

He was interrupted by the sickening sound of wood splintering followed by the distressed whiny o a couple of horses. I grabbed hold of the buck board while he pulled his team to a halt and we both stood to look behind us some what down the caravan to where there was a cart rather out of line with the rest and tilted at a rather funny angle toward the right front wheel. There were already some men looking at the wheel and another couple had come forward to take charge of the horses. John uttered a mild profanity and took to tying the horses off, “I was afraid of this,” he fumbled with the rope, “it seems to never fail that something goes amiss nearly every day.”

I reached out to take the reins. He looked into my eyes and nodded making his way back towards the injured cart. I used the tiem to slip the wyrms some bits of meat to tide them over, thankfully it seemed they could go for quite a while without eating so I wasn’t too worried. But I was concerned about how much time this interruption was going to effect for the journey. They spent longer arguing about the right way to fix it than actually fixing it. It remined me of home.

The repaires took longer than I think any one wanted them to, this based mostly on the frequent scowls sent heaven ward nad the various curse words I heard at varying intervals. By the time John got back and took the reins, he looked very tired and more than a little drained. I found a place next to Gemy and let him have his space.

Stopping for the night happened a bit earlier than I would have liked but there was more work to be had setting up camp for suchj a lare sompany of people as oppsed to two people just laying down and getting up as soon as daylight appeared. I helped the men water and set up the animals on leads for the night. Gemy helped assemble a rather large stew from ingredients that had been brought along by various people in the caravan everyone seeming to contribute something to go into it. It had a much different taste from what Gemy and I were used to, I think mostly due to the difference in the meat since they were using beef as their base.

Conversation was polite but everyone was tired from the full day of traveling. From their demeanor I guess that this was rather common for the evening. I passed my used dishes to the team of lades that were in charge of clean up and moved off to find my wife. Gemy was off in the far corner just out of reach of the firelight. She turned to smile at me over her shoulder as she noted my approach.

“Hey lover.” I caught the glint of light off of some scales to the shadowed side of her, some dried berries in her hand and a couple feathers on the ground at the outside of her skirts.

“Making sure some one we know gets fed?”

Before she could complete her nod the dragon snorted and mumbled that it was his hunting that got them the food. I managed not to roll my eyes as Gemy placated him with another small handful of berrier.

“Did you learn anything further about the city?”

“A little bit but there is something else that is concerning me.”

“Oh? What?”

I looked at her seriously, my eyebrows slightly drawn, debating how much I should tell her. It wouldn’t be kind to tell her and make her worried if it proved to be nothing but it would also not due for her to find out from someone else less descret. “I keep hearing people talking about a war. I’ll do my best to ask about it tomorrow when everyone’s mood has inproved but I’m really not sure what to think about it now.”

Gemy cocked her head and seemed to think about it, chewing gently on her bottom lip. She returned her gaze to me, a questioning look in her eyes. I did my best to shrug and smile in an effort to put her at ease. She smiled at me but I could tell she was still not sure what to think herself. The wyrms curled up between us as her laid down to stare up at the stars till we got tired. “We’ll see how tomorrow goes,” I said quietly not wanting to disturb anyone that might be sleeping but with enough clarity that Gemy wouldn’t have to ask me to repeat myself, “if we are close enough and the time is right we’ll go into the city tomorrow after we arrive. We might have to wait until the morning .” I felt Gemy nod as she laid her head on my chest. I moved my arms around her and stroked her hair until her breathing changed to indicate that she was asleep. My own slumber followed quickly behind.
I was awoken the nest moring by the wyrms and the wyvern adjusting themselves to their hidden positions as the first glints of light were peaking over the horizon to make the clouds blush. Sitting up slowly while rubbing my eyes I was just able to make out the flat form of the dragon just arriving under the lead cart and attatching himself to the bottom much the same way as he had the day before.

I let Gemy wake up on her own the caravan folks taking their own slow pace, making some kind of breakfast as other started the process of packing up. She smiled at me and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Do you want to head out right away?”

I smiled and rubbed her back as she stretched, “ not much point since the caravan would catch up and we wouldn’t really cover any extra ground,” I kissed her cheek, something that was thankfully no longer awkward, “we might as well save our energy and hope to walk into the city tonight.” We rejoined the group in time for Gemy to get sucked into helping to fry cakes for everyone to eat.
“Here, the young lad and lass,” said a rather boisterous and extremely hary man that had joined the caravan just a bit before we had, “ye must try this beverage, I doubt ye’ve ever had its like on that mountain of yers.” We both took the small cups of dark brown liquid the man offered, I smelled it while Gemy went ahead and took a drink. It smelled heavy. I should have let Gemy’s scrunched up nose warn me but by the time I registered her look it was too late. I closed my eyes and forced myself to swallow a bit too quickly and ended up coughing. It was horribly bitter. Gemy tried to look neutral or pleased but it came off as a grimace. The man regarded us for a moment. “Perhaps I might have warned ye that it can take a mite getting used to.”

I tried my best to smile as I worked to get my breathing back under control. He called it coffee and it was worse than any of the bitter teas my mother made me drink when I was sick. Perhaps you could get used to it over time, there was an old lady in the village that was oddly fond of bitter tea , but I wasn’t sure I wanted to put up with it long enough to aquire a taste for it. Gemy very bravely set out to finish the cup she had been given, thankfully it was small but the man’s wife intercepted when his attention was otherwise occupied and releaved us of our labour with a wink. Packing up thankfully took less time than setting up did and with a quick check on the wheels and axels, we were off. I’d have to ask the dragon later how on earth he had managed to avoid detection during their search. Once we were off I managed to secure my place with John on the front wagon. I had to wait some while as he and one of the other men were discussing where their stops were to be. There were two villages that we would be going through today and no telling how much time we would have to spend in each if the people to join the procession weren’t ready when we arrived. Their business settled as much as they could on our end the gentleman jumped to the road to relay their findings to the rest of the driver.

John turned his wide smile to me, “so what do you say, lad, is it better to set out with a group of companions?”

I shrugged and answered honestly but with as much lightness as I could muster, “you get more travel time in when in a small group but it is better to travel with the aid of good animals than on foot.” He laughed at that and I let him have a moment of peace before launching in on what could possibly be a much more serious and potentially unwanted conversation. “You mentioned something yesterday about a war. I heard something about that before but they didn’t elaborate. We aren’t aware of any war efforts…or at least we weren’t at the time I left.” I left the question unspoken though how he could get around what I said without stumbling on it was unlikely. Exactly my intention.

He was silent for a while, he had looked at me the whole time I spoke but now that I was quiet and just looking at him thoughtfully he stared straight ahead his mouth in a serious though not hard line. At length, just when I was beginging to wonder if I hadn’t been that clear after all, he spoke, “well lad, that’s a bit of a loaded statement. Though I suppose it isn’t really that much of a surprise that you on the mountain don’t know. There are more likely to be sympathetics the Artulan up there than here.” I frowned slightly but refained form demanding more information when he was again coplentative. At length he spoke, “You’re no doubt too young to know about this but every quarter century or so, the Artulans launch an attack on our kingdom, a devastating and harsh affront, worse than any drought or cruel winter could be. This year we hope to strike before they get the chance. What exactly they are planning to do I and not privy too. But I know it must be a delicate business. We cannot attack them without them making sufficient preparation or we will likely face grave recourse from their allies, but not to let them be so far along that they push us right back and inflict even further damage with the justification that we struck first. It is most distressing and I’m sure driving a great many people to distraction despite what festivals and the like would lead an onlooker to believe.”

I was shocked by this which must have shown on my face since John told me to shut my mouth least I start catching flies something that I can vaguely remember my mother telling me when I was much younger. This brought on a smile and John rapidly changed subjects to the fine herd of cattle he had a home and how he hoped his young men, by which I assume he meant his sons, were managing them well. I was not quite able to dismiss attending him altogether since he expected and intelligent reply of more than one word or nod but what o my attention could be spared was engrossed in that no one had told me about this. Surely the northers would have to come over the mountain in order to launch any such offense and if that happened someone would have said something. Unless they had some other route that we didn’t know about. But in that case wouldn’t they just trade that way? Then again if they really did have such a hard time getting along cordially perhaps that was why they went through the inconvenience of commissions on all their goods and everything they bought through us. Still it was odd. I still couldn’t resolve the matter in my mind when we paused for the afternoon meal. Sitting still made it worse. Gemy was able to catch up to me after a quick run.
“Aren’t you the one that said there wasn’t much point in getting ahead of the others since we would be overtaken in short order anyway?”

Her smile was sweet if temporarily breathless. I drew her hand withing my arm not really in the mood for her teasing but appreciating the company none the less. She looked at me in a puzzled way for a while but my smile must have been tight enough for her to catch that I wasn’t interested in talking. We walked for a while around a few bends in the road. No sound of the rolling wheels that must eventually overtake us. I wasn’t sorry. But I knew it would not last that long. We would be excused I was sure. No one holds young people to be content in inactivity for so many days together when they are as used to working as people such as Gemy and I that had lived on the mountain scraping an existence out of the very earth itself for our entire lives.

“I hope I haven’t done anything to offend you.”

Gemy’s comment half whispered as it was with great gravity and a droop in shoulders that I had not the precence of mind to notice earlier nearly made me wish to hit myself and I halted her and pulled her into an embrace laced with a kiss. “It isn’t you, I promise, you’ve been the best companion I could have hoped for for this journey,” I smiled genuinely down at her, “moreover you’ve saved me remarkable irritation that I would have had to sit through with the matronly ladies we have met with had I been alone.”

She did her best to laugh at that though I could tell from the halting way she went about it that she had likely been holding back tears. I could have kicked myself in that moment for not thinking how my pensive mood would look to my wife who had had no insight into the conversation that had affected me thus.

“Gemy you are an angel for putting up with me as you do. I have got some more information out of John about the war and it has left me rather perplexed is all. I will try to think of something less heavy since dwelling on the subject is proving no balm and I can make no more sense out of it this last hour than the entire moring before it.” She clung to me for a while yet but at length released me her eyes were a bt red but she had managed to prevent herself from crying. I kissed her again for good measure and apologised for my lack of consideration for her feelings, she protested that she had mearly been thinking too much. I returned that I had been the one to give her the material for such thoughts and we resumed walking in all the good humor of a pointless argument being heartily enjoyed by all. We were starting to get to the end of our bout of nervous energy when we finanly heard the rumble of the cart wheels.

John let out a laugh once they were within such a distance as he wouldn’t have to be shout to be heard by us. “A very pretty trick I must say! But really you can’t have found my society as bad as that, surely the pleasantness of my companions would be enough to make us for my deficiencies?” He wife gave him a strong poke to the ribs that he quickly acted to make seem like the most grevious of abuses. “Perhaps I should not have spoken so quickly of my lady being genteel.” The lady continued her assault with a smile that refused to be wiped off her face regardless of her paltry efforts in that direction. They were good humored and it was a blessing indeed to have John as the principal organiser of the group otherwise I could easily foresee a great many squabbles that would otherwise be avoided. The rest in the party mearly smiled, some laughed, at the display as I readied to get aboard. I was getting rather adept if I did say so myself at mounting into the moving carts even and perhaps especially with Gemy on my hip for a counter balance. “We’ll have an easier journey especially for the horses today,” he said in a more moderated tone once we were back aboard, “the landscape is nearly all down hill from here to the capital, and much better maintained all things considered. We’ll have no trouble with the wheels because of ruts now.” That did not however keep one of the horses from managing to throw a shoe. Thankfully his driver was a blacksmith and was more than capable of reshoeing a horse quickly enough that the ladies didn’t have a chance to really get settle in the grass with their quilts and chatter before being obliged to realight into the wagons so we could move on.

I dared not venture after this interruption anything to do with the subject of when we were expected to arrive as it seemed to nearly always pereminate some form of delay. Everyone else seemed of the same mind and aside from the noise of some of the younger girls, though being in fact older than Gemy, about the things they were looking to see in the city in particular some style of parasol that the one was extremely interested in trying. She talked at length about it describing all she had beard about this most fasionable accessory despite the uncomfortable looks of all the adults with enough sense to be aware of current events. Some whispered words behind me directed at Gemy filled in immediately the cause of such avoidance of theirs from the subject.

“It is unfortunate that she should be so taken. Parasols are a devise used commonly in Artulan for keeping off sun. A purely more usless contraption I’m sure has never before been given leave to be thought of seriously. If one is going to work and that wonk needs to be done outside as so much of it does. There is no getting around that some time must and will be spent in the sun. You cannot disagree with me, indeed I can see from your freckles that you cannot. You have been yourself a great deal in the sun. I cannot think what it is that these young ladies are with increasing frequency valueing the nonsence of the Artulans. At the rate things are going they might start bugging about keeping pets of no use and planting more trees than the ground knows what to do with. And imagine really, the absurdity of making the removal of a problem tree so serious as to be a crime complete with punishment. It is a consolation that once the young ladies are settled in marriage and with a child or two about their ankles they quite forget this foolishness of keeping some strange beauty habits and spending more time in reflection than weaving.”

Gemy was not sure what to say and tried to make discreet inquireys into the Artulans way of life without getting herself lumped in with the young ladies her companion seemed to think completely devoid of sense.

Perhaps I was not in procession of a very good sampleing of the Northers but, the traders I had seen though valuing form did not do so at a discredit of function. But knowing nothing of the ladies of the culture, as they never ventured up the mountain with their husbands, I could make them no defence since I had no further and perhaps even less knowledge of them than this lady did. I did wonder however that the young lady should be so sure of finding such a professedly useless item in the capital that I unserstood was all practicality. Gemy’s mind turned the same way, even with a more limithed knowledge of the trading patterns of the two nations and hazarded the question to her companion herself.

“Oh,” replied the lady first with a gravity and I could see her shaking her head, “it is a novelty and there are those in the capital, since people seem to have some large amount of income to be disposed the closer one comes to the city, that prey on people’s curiosity and have with odd and useless goods in stock and indeed get restocked frequesntly through the summer and try to hold extra in the winter. Trades have not yet resumed this year if the understanding I have had from my husband is to be believed,” this she said with some suspicion as though she herself did not think it that likely that he should, “but the shops that do enduver to stock such items will still have some available though I don’t think the young lady has quite considered the amount of traffic and people that have been to and fro from the city in the last few weeks.” She was quiet a moment before resuming, “the more I think of it the more likely I think it is to be that the stores will be rather picked though if not entirely devoid.”

“That is a pitty,” Gemy returned softly, no wising to catch her companions ire, “I would like to see them since I had no knowledge of such things. I know it would serve no purpose but novelties such as that can be seen without the requirement of a purchase I hope.”

The lady humphed her assent but didn’t seem to be all that offended by Gemy’s desire, “At least you think a look is enough, for there useless items are as without a proper purpose as they are expensive, I do not mean to look down on you my dear,” here she spoke in a lower voice, “but your husband seems very young and I do not think it likely that he could afford to buy you something of that kind when I’m sure there is other outitting to be done about the house, or preemptive purchases in advance of children.”

Without looking I could venture a safe guess that Gemy was blushing at that. If I was judgeing by no further evidence than by my own, it would be a sure thing.

“Wherever did you get your dress my dear this material seems so strange and unique.”

As Gemy’s back was to me I could feel her instantly tense and move away slightly, a cast over my shoulder revealed that this impertinent lady was indeed strocking the wing of the wyvern as it lay over the dress on Gemy’s leg. I was getting near angry at the familiarity the woman was imposing but Gemy was distressed to the point of being unable to speak or move to stop her.

“It is a design of my mothers,” I did my best to keep my voice in its middle register instead of letting it sink lower, though if the woman persisted I would not keep back, “it is a very serviceable kind of work dress made with a particular leather.”

“Indeed,” the lady was trying to pinch it up to feel it now, “can you tell me how it is made, it is so very smooth but I can see what you mean that it would be durable.”

Gemy was looking near frantic at me now.

“I would have to apply to others with knowledge beyond mine and they are not present here to give a hearing.” I did not stop the dip in my voice now but the lady meant to prattle on, going so far as to edge even closer to Gemy and apply both of her hands to the search she seemed intend upon conducting for the seams.

“How is this put together?”

My hand involuntarily squeezed into a fist. John’s hand stayed me before I showed any further signs that I might later regret.

“You’re too considerate of female delicacy,” he said to me in an undertone before addressing the lady to be heard, “Hilda, stop being inappropriate, you’re making the girl uncomfortable.”

She backed off but engaged in an instant in a harsh battle with John about who knew more about what was appropriate, a man or a woman, while ignoring the glaring evidence of the case in front of her. John’s wife took some invisible hint from her husband to draw Gemy away and engage her on more innocent and perhaps a bit trifling and unimportant topics. John needed no help in his debate so I was left to simmer myself off and try to regain some good graces without snapping at anyone.

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