Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 1a

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 1a


Part 1) Loden



Loden stood naked on the bank of the East Sister River. The river’s edge was rock strewn but mostly sandy along this part. His gaze was locked to the west, trying to see the far bank. It was too far away, the smudges of land he could make out were part of a chain of little islands near the halfway point. He felt a thrill of accomplishment, having crossed one of the Great Sisters with his string of horses and he had only lost the one.

Loden hacked up phlegm and spat into the river. Too bad he lost the horse, it seemed to bother him more than loosing his companions. He was too used to loosing people these past few years to be overly surprised that he was once again on his own.

He turned from the river and the past and set about flipping his wet gear over, the sun was warm and the late spring weather fair. Most of his gear lay atop rocks, drying in the sun. His tobacco had been soaked during the crossing and when he felt it, was still damp, its juices had stained the rock, he tore a soggy piece free and stuffed it in his cheek. The rest of his consumables were in about the same shape, he would have to eat most of it today, but he did not plan to do too much other than rest.

The small fire had a tin of water boiling above it, he added a few twigs to the fire and stirred some soggy grains in and waited for them to cook. He spit tobacco juice periodically and looked around this side of the river.

Most notable was a large stone bridge that spanned a small gorge from which a lesser stream joined the mighty river. There were no buildings in sight, the banks of the river gradually rose up to where the road was. Tree covered hills dominated the areas east and northeast, mostly out of sight now, but he had seen them from out on the water earlier that morning. Smaller, brush covered hills southwards and craggy, stone strewn hills to the north with steep cliffs forming along the banks of the river. The well made bridge seemed out of place in this unpopulated stretch of wilderness.

One of the horses neighed and pranced around, Tingy, young compared to the other two, playful and unconcerned. Dandy and BigNose still seemed somewhat subdued from the ordeal of the river.

“Your empress would be some proud of you three, first Tannicans to cross the East Sister.” Tingy nodded and gave a loud snort, the other two horses paid him little heed, moving sullenly along the riverbank finding grass and brush to their taste.

The afternoon slowly passed; he ate, saw to his kit and made sure the horses were okay, taking the time to brush them down. Periodically he heard larger animals, typically from a fair distance, though at one point it seemed like something more sizable moved along the gorge that the nearby bridge spanned. Loden moved to where he had laid out his short swords and kept his eyes on the brush filled mouth of the small canyon. After a while, whatever creature was down that way turned back.

Not long after the noises from the canyon he decided to gather up his gear, though some of it was still damp. He elected to make a couple trips up to the south end of the bridge as the way up was easier than the north side, which was too steep to lead the horses up. The first trip was with the majority of his equipment, the second trip was his saddle, and the rest of the gear for the horses.

Leading the horses up was not too difficult, Tingy required no encouragement, though the other two had to be coaxed. With a couple hours of daylight left he was ready to move on, mounting Tingy he crossed the bridge heading northward. The brook below him fed into the great river to his left. Looking westward from this vantage he was glad not to see any boats on the river, no Tannicans closing in on him. By the gods, he hoped he had left that enemy behind.

He spat westward and encouraged his horses to move along. Clearing the north end of the bridge he did spot some old foundations in amongst the shrubs but he guessed it had been a couple of decades or more since there had been anyone living here. The road was fairly wide and recent wagon tracks had scored grooves into the packed earth, sign that a large caravan had been through within the last eight-day, or so. He passed another ruined homestead, the old foundation was overgrown and only a few stones stuck up through the earth.

The rough hills continued to rise along the side of the river, mostly strewn with rock and spiky brush. The road meandered between the hills, only cresting the smaller rises. To the east the hills became smaller and were heavily tree covered. In the distance, a few yat down a broad valley he saw a number of tall iron wood trees sticking above the forest canopy. When darkness closed in he made camp atop a smaller hill, made sure the horses would be safe and lay out his bedroll nearby.

Surprisingly most of the night passed without dreams of violence. He awoke in the early hours of the morning, finished the last of his food and chewed on some of his ruined tobacco. The horses chomped grass peacefully and his mind wandered to his most recent escape from the relentless Tannican armies.



Loden wished he could have convinced the others to come with him, but they had not fancied their chances crossing the river and had ridden southward instead, hoping to escape the pursuing band of Tannicans. He expected they were dead at this point, he had never seen the like of those soldiers before. Plenty of other Tannican soldiers, he had fought in three sieges and had spent one summer hunting slavers, but none like this last group.

First, they were over five hundred yat, a good sixty yateer east of the front and they were not slavers. Engineers, maybe, with plains-striders capable of carrying a considerable amount of tools, gear and weapons, fifty light cavalry, a hundred light infantry, a small dirigible as well. Oddly, there had been no sign of slaves. They had been in the middle of any empty field, great pavilion tents in the centre with smaller tents in orderly rows for the soldiers, a horse line to one side and the giant wyrms at the opposite end. A deep trench encircled their camp.

Something had been going on near the centre of the camp, a leader addressing his men or some such, the men assigned to watch the exterior were paying more attention to what was happening in the camp. Loden and Drak had managed to sneak across their sentry line and plunder a bit of supplies. The inattentive guards near the horses could not stop the little stampede they had caused. All the horses had bolted from the camp and he and Drak had managed to ride out with a number of horses that had stood ready near the line.

After returning to the rest of their companions the group had packed up their own meagre camp and they continued their migration eastward. Sadly, a day later the small airship was floating in the sky above them for a couple of hours and by the next afternoon a group of cavalry was spotted behind them.

For the next eight-day the Tannicans had pursued them; ambushing them one evening as they settled for the night, chasing them across the plains and through a dingy freetown, pressing them towards the river. At one point he though they were all going to die; the Tannicans had found them again and managed to pin them along the cliffs of the west bank, overlooking the great river. But he, Drak and at the last moment, Tabber, hopped on horses and fled. Their other companions had been slaughtered or captured.

The three of them had galloped south, a number of the stolen horses following along and they came down off the plateau. The banks of the East Sister were more accessible, but the enemy was already waiting at the small village they had approached. They could not go back and they could not go to the village. Their foes tried cutting them off as the group from the rear continued to pursue them. Somehow the three of them evaded the intersecting forces and the chase continued along the bank of the river.

Then Loden had spotted the way down the bank and called to the others. Drak and Tabber had slowed long enough to hear his plan, as he gathered the unmounted horses that had stayed with them through the chase, but neither of them had liked their chances crossing the mighty river and had continued south, likely expecting him to follow. Instead he had road Tingy down the narrow path and lead the three other horses into the steady flow of the East Sister.

Some of the Tannicans had spotted him and a small band had stopped above the river, a number of them had taken shots with crossbows. Thankfully by that point Loden and the horses were well beyond effective range and the shots had all landed wide of their mark. The river had carried them southward and the horses had done their best to swim eastward. Near sunset they had made it to a small sandbar and Loden had stood with the horses, sleeping on his feet.

At dawn there was no sign of the Tannicans and Loden had encouraged the horses back into the water. At some point, maybe near midday, the sun had been hidden behind heavy clouds, a large fish had spooked the horses and they had panicked. Somehow Loden had kept three of them but Grange’s lead had broke as the horse flailed and was washed away with the river’s current. Loden eventually made it to a chain of small islands and had been able to rest. There had been enough greenery for the horses to eat and a bit of space to move around.

The current was not as strong along the east side of the river and there continued to be no further sign of pursuit. By late morning, the crossing had been done.





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