By the time evening had settled the caravan had turned into a little village of its own.
Master Belmadda had been a cagey sort. Aware that the horses were stolen and not that interested in the beasts as they were trained for war and not the sorts used by caravans. He suggested his guard captain, Cobber Hollen, as someone who might be interested in one or more of his horses. As well, someone who may decide to hire Loden on for work with the caravan’s outriders.
Master Belmadda had been interested in buying his modest amount of Tannican coin however. Though his rates were akin to highway robbery Loden was not overly concerned about the exchange, the Tannican coins would not likely spend well in the eastern freeholds.
Captain Hollen had indeed been interested in his horses, but offered such a low price that Loden would only part with one, he was able to talk him up a bit on the price only by selling the best of them. Dandy was in his prime and well trained, Loden was sad to see him go. He declined the offer of a job as an outrider as he intended to travel eastward on his own. Away from the Tannican threat.
He was then able to get a good meal, stew and bread with a bit of cheese, he sat at a fire with some of the teamsters and listened as they talked. He was introduced to the barber and made arrangements to sit in his chair the following afternoon, after the days travels. He also could hear some of the folk carousing and music was being played, he had been tempted to seek out those lively individuals, but the food and the efforts of the day had tired him. Instead he camped near one of the picket fires, his two horses hobbled nearby.
That night he dreamed of food and drink and dancing and carousing. When it seemed he was having fun or talking with a friendly lady the Tannicans attacked the caravan. At one point he started awake with a shout, it took him a moment or two to realize there was no attack. The nearby sentry gave him a guarded look but made no comment.
Camp was broken predawn and by the time the sun was rising the lighter of the wagons were moving out onto the road. The pace was slow, as one might expect, but the road was in good shape for that days leg of the journey, the way lead mostly between the hills with only one modest climb up and across one of the larger hills. The caravan kept to its modest pace through until mid afternoon and then started the process of settling for the night.
By the time he had found the barber the fellow already had someone in his chair and was pulling a tooth from the older fellow’s mouth. Arms and legs tied to the chair the patient squirmed and cursed and when it was done spat blood and grudgingly paid the barber his fee.
“Sorry for the delay. Tooth gone bad and those of the caravan are supposed to be served before the hangers on.”
Loden shrugged it off, “Not to worry, I need a trim and a shave. I’ll pay extra for good soap and more if you leave no cuts.”
“Best bladesman in the camp. If you can sit still, I’ll not even leave the smallest nick.”
So Loden sat, had his hair combed out and trimmed and then his beard shaved clean. As promised the barber had a steady hand and not a single cut had been left.
“How are your teeth?”
“Good as can be expected of someone who has not eaten properly or consistently for a number of years, but no problems that I can tell.”
“Good, Good. Best keep them rinsed and clean out the bits of food that lodge between the teeth.”
“To be sure my good man. Thank you for your service.” Loden paid him six copper weight and the man smiled at his generosity.
He borrowed a pinch of tobacco from one of the camp workers and asked where he could purchase his own. He was told to speak with a Mr Dahlah and wondered at the man’s mischievous look.
Clothing was easier to find than he thought it would be, factory made clothing, from the factories of West Port were the contents of a half dozen of the caravan’s lighter wagons. The cotton and hemp was of a good quality and while the cut of the tunics and pants were unfamiliar to him they were comfortable enough. He bought underclothing, two pair of pants and two tunics. Riding boots and heavy leather coats were also available and while the boots did not fit as snugly as he would of liked they were of a good quality and extra socks gave the snug fit he preferred. The leather long coats were of a style he had seen amongst some of the caravan folk and while they here too heavy for most summer time travel they would be good for most bad weather that he may encounter. He laughed though at the prices, mostly from disbelief, in Tisp just the coat and boots would have been twice what he paid for everything he had just bought.
As the night’s darkness closed in about the camp Loden sought out some of his other necessities.
Tarps had been run out from a covered wagon, a couple of younger lads played fiddles and people mingled. An attractive woman stood in the door at the back of the wagon, she wore tight three quarter britches with a nice shirt and vest, her bearing spoke of style and refinement.
“I was told to speak to a Mr Dahlah about purchasing tobacco and such?”
“That’s me. If you’re looking for pipe tobacco, the worker’s usually buy the West Port long cut.” Loden marvelled at the woman’s accent. “However, for the more discerning smoker we have a decent selection of southern tobacco. We also have cigars, mostly cigarillos from Maldorn and the Principalities, but others are available. Quick-strikes, lighters and pipes, fuel for the lighters and hand crafted pouches. What’ll it be.”
Loden tried to be his most charming self, leaned in casually against the back of the wagon and smiled, “That all sounds really nice miss, what do you suggest?”
She frowned at him, “I prefer Mister and I’d suggest your charm would work better on the camp followers or just about anyone else. I’m here for business.”
He frowned, stood straight and spat to one side, “Sure thing mister. I’ll take two pouches of the West Port long-cut, one pouch of something nice and some cigarillos.”
“You paying marks or weight?”
She took a stylist of some sort and without dipping the instrument made a couple quick notes in a book, “The pouches of tobacco will come to two silver and the cigars are five silver a box, unless you’re looking for better quality, but the Common Man is a fine smoke.”
Loden choked and stepped back, “That’s a third of a gold weight lady, you might as well be robbing me at those prices.”
She looked down at him, “It’s mister or sir. I’ll throw in a box of quick-strikes if you want. But that’s the price of tobacco on the road. Take it or leave it.”
Begrudgingly he paid the woman, collected up his purchase, hacked loudly and spat to one side before walking off. He moved through a few dancers enjoying the fiddle music, stopped at a small table with a couple lads serving rum, asked if he could get a mug and looked around. He sat on the ground, sipped his rum and smoked a bowl of tobacco. The tobacco was nice the rum even better.
He found it odd to see people comfortably at their ease, no hollow gazes or worn faces, no one suffered from a lack of food. The casual joy of the people around him was disturbing.
Off to one side of the lit up area he could see a game of bones taking place and decided to wondered over. Before too long he was asked if he wanted to join in. One of the gamblers had a bottle of alcohol, he was happy enough to sell a couple of splashes. Loden took up the dice and after a few rounds and the loss of a handful of copper coins had learned the rules of the variant they were playing.
As the night progressed a few more people showed up, more for the music than anything else it seemed, but there were others here for dicing and drinking and the chance to find a companion for the night.
Loden, after having lost a few more rounds throwing the bones, was talking to a couple of teamsters that had worked with the caravan for a few years, learning what he might find along the road ahead. One of the dancers, laughing and giggling collided with him, he staggered, sloshing his drink.
A pleasant voice apologized, Loden turned to see a young woman, fairly short with flashing eyes and cheeks coloured from exertion. She laughed and once again made her apologies.
“Well, hello missy!” Loden exclaimed, his annoyance at loosing the last of his drink swept away by the pretty smile she bestowed on him. Then she was gone, back to the circle of spinning dancers, calling her apologies once again and laughing as though she was fey possessed.
He watched her dance for a while, she seemed to be better dressed than most of the folk around and a bit into her cups. She seemed caught up in the carefree abandon of the dance. Not much later, after having another bowl of tobacco, Loden decided it might be time to turn in. He found his camp, off towards the northern edge of the caravan and said goodnight to his horses before he settled into his bedroll. It was the most pleasant evening he had in years, joy and a sense of peace left him exhausted. He slept deeply.
The next day saw the caravan heading onto the road with the rising sun. He had taken his time that morning, brushing down the horses, putting some order to his gear and then following along behind the caravan. It had been nearly noon before he started along the road. It was not too long before he passed the dung family and a bit after that before he caught up to the caravan proper. As he made his way slowly forward he took the time to chat with some of the folks, a few he recognized from the evening before.
The winding road did not seem to change overly much as it wound its way through the hills, though by mid afternoon he noticed the trees on the east side of the road were closer. He admired the trees, so many trees, most he did not recognize, though he did spot another iron wood, less than a yat from the road reaching high above the other trees.
“That’s iron wood, is it not?” he asked the teamster nearest him.
“Not the first of it I’ve seen. Seems like it would be worth getting some though, considering how valuable it is.”
“Seems so, but it’d be a fair piece of work just getting to that one there. You’d have to find or cut a trail to the iron wood just to get a team to it. Then I’d recon a gang of woodsmen and another of labourers and a wagon load of goods to keep folk happy while the job was being done. Not to mention the best steel axes and saws a person could buy.”
“When you put it that way, it does seem less of an idea than I first thought.”