Tipper left Adwin outside with the goats and their sizable mound of gear and went in to talk with Gibler. According to the proprietor, the family name Gibler was originally Eln’Gibler and he could trace his roots back to the Elquin nobility of the Second Kingdom. The decor within was largely of Elquin origin, most of it being much more recent than the Second Kingdom, but throughout the tavern the theme persisted. She felt that if one were in an Elquin house or hall in the east, that this was the sort of setting you would see.
It took Gibler a moment to recognize her, “Surprised to see you miss. Not unhappy though, as you’ll be among the first guests this spring.”
She gave a nod, “I’ve goats to trade, was hoping the cabin by the brook was available?”
“Less than a month, there’s one other with me and we’ll feed ourselves or pay the tavern as needed.”
“Three goats, and you’ll have to clean it out yourselves. No one has been there since last autumn. I’ll send one of my lads out to collect the goats. Was there anything else?”
“No I don’t believe so, I’m sure we’ll be by day to day, I’ve not seen many people in the last few months, it’d be nice to be social and to hear some music.”
He smiled at her, “Town Hall will meet those needs. Glad you survived the winter out there. I’m sure you’ll have some stories to share.”
The cabin was a simple one room structure made of rounded stones held together with a hemp based mortar, wooden rafters with clay shingles. Fifty paces northeast a bend in the local brook provided an expansive shallow, a tiny pair of stony islands and a broad sandbar. Until recently the spring thaw had the edge of the brook nearly to the cabin, the earth was still squishy and the matted grasses slippery closer towards the bank. A few short balach trees grew near the brook and as well a few groves of dulmak further down the banks in either direction. Fifty paces uphill and south of the cabin was an outhouse and waste disposal stone box beside a compost bed. Between the latrine and the cabin was a small outdoor oven, though not much had been stockpiled for fuel and rodents had camped out in it throughout the winter.
It took most of the afternoon to pickup the debris, remove storm shutters, replace shingles, turn the compost, sweep and wash. Tipper was surprised, but Adwin was a good worker and they had laboured quietly together for hours both familiar with the tasks at hand. Even now Adwin was gathering fire wood and dung from further down the banks.
They moved most of their equipment and supplies into the cabin, slaughtered one of the goats and hung it to bleed out. They used what trail food they had on hand and started a broth in an old pot that had been in the oven, the Dresmend’s makers mark was stamped deeply on the bottom. Fresh greens were later added and rose hips. They stopped to eat an hour or so before sunset, tired, dirty and sore.
The soup had been filling but bland. They sat quietly on the step together, Tipper could see Adwin’s eyes getting droopy in the late afternoon sun. She slapped his knee, startling him, “Come on, lets clean up.”
His confused frown and sleepy expression made Tipper smile, he asked her, “What have we been doing all afternoon?”
“Us and our clothing. Come on, the brook is deeper by the falls. Grab that block of soap, it’ll feel good to be clean.” He followed her westward along the bank of the brook, the low sun in their faces, insects and birds flitting here and there around them.
Water fell down through a series of five rocky courses, of which two dropped down a dozen feet along a slab of natural stone, together they filled a narrow water cut basin, five paces across and nearly twenty long, from there the water spilled over another rocky decline in the land and flowed towards the bend in front of the cabin.
Tipper, did not pause, dropping her belts; knife, hatchet and pouches to the ground, she waded in then jumped for the deeper water. She surfaced, standing, the water was chest deep, nearly a foot higher than last autumn. She turned and waved Adwin in and plunged back under.
When she came up again Adwin stood in the shallows, water up to his knees and the soap block in his hand, “It’s cold!”
“Yes. Get in, you’ll get used to it.”
Tipper stripped off her skirts and tunic, under garments and soft soled boots, she tossed them over to where falling water pounded the rocks below and then slowly sank back into the water. Adwin, shivering now had managed to get about waste deep. “Oh, come on, just get in.”
He did and also stripped, though he kept his floppy hat on and shivered for a while. Then they washed their clothing under the falls, Tipper had to grab his hat from his head before he realized he had forgotten it. They scrubbed themselves down and worked matted knots from their hair. By that point Adwin had become accustom to the water and they splashed around and swam for a while.
When twilight started to settle, Tipper climbed the falls then waded out of the brook. Naked, she walked out onto the plains towards the sun, starting to hum. As the last rays of light were on the horizon she began the full song of nightfall. Singing the old words that her father’s mother had taught her, arms out to the sides, slightly raised with fingers splayed. Her voice was powerful and clear, the critters of the wild fell silent. Her breath was perfect. After a while Adwin joined her, assuming a similar pose. They sang as the clouds lost their golden-red colour and the deep purple of the early night opened a canopy of stars above them.
Tipper fell silent and after a moment Adwin did as well. They stood silently side by side for some time. Then she stepped up to him and wrapped her arms around him, their bodies pressing together. She kissed him and together they sank to the grass and made love under the night sky. Tipper felt the long isolation of the past winter slip away and after they had spent their passions they slept, arm in arm.
They woke with the rising sun, Tipper sang a brief greeting to the new day. They decided to have quick dip in the pool, retrieved their clothing and returned to the cabin. Adwin was obviously a bit uncomfortable and finally, after breakfast, he worked up the nerve to ask her about the previous night.
There was a slight quaver in his voice when he started, “So yeah. Um, last night was nice, I mean really nice… ah, I was kind of wondering where all that came from?”
Tipper looked him in the eyes, there were so many ways to answer that question, but he seemed so awkward and sincere in that moment she decided not to poke fun and said, “I’ve been alone or mostly alone, for the better part of the past year. We’re also going to be on the road together for the next couple of months… I may even be starting to like you.”
“Oh. Well, that’s nice.” A pleased grin forced itself on to his face and at the same time he also managed to look embarrassed and bemused.
“Great, now that we’ve done that. Lets get to work, there is plenty to do.”
Over the next ten days Tipper and Adwin smoked goat meat, collected and dried vegetables, mended and patched clothing, resoled their boots and worked on their armour.
Tipper made arrows and bow strings. She started the work on Adwin’s bow, shaping and gluing pieces of wood and bone, then binding it together with strips of damp leather. She spent a number of afternoons at Dresmend’s using his workbench and tools, Dresmend’s oldest daughter had shyly asked to help, she was a quick learner and a useful assistant. By the end of the first eight-day Tipper decided that she liked the girl well enough.
Adwin fished the brook and collected crayfish from its rocky bottom. He cooked most of the meals and kept their living space clean. He spent some time at Town Hall, talking with the locals and the few travellers that came through, mostly those from the west.
In the evenings after their meals and singing the setting of the sun they spent some quiet time together, often making love. Afterwards they would lay side by side and Adwin would tell her some of the things that he had heard about the road; There had been goblin sightings from mid-spring onward, in numbers far surpassing previous years. A couple of isolated homesteads were no longer occupied, one seemingly killed off by goblins, the other abandoned with strange markings left on the buildings. Rumours from further away that the Tannican armies marched ever eastward, conquering everything in their path. Speculation that said armies would be laying siege to GreensBridge before summers end. As well he shared the more practicable information on towns and larger settlements and the major landmarks and obstacles that lay between such places.