Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 1d

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 1d

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Later in the afternoon, not long before the caravan began to pull over to the west side of the road, one of the fellows from last night was waiting for him. Ander, maybe. He waved from a distance and stood off the road waiting for Loden to reach his position. Loden noted ruins to the west, near the cliffs above the East Sister.

“Loden, hi. Thought you might have gone off on your own, road away on those fine horses. Been looking for you.”

Loden felt a prickle of distrust, his eyes narrowed, “Ander, right?”

“Yeah, from last night’s bones game.”

Loden spit, “What do you want?”

The fellow seemed a bit taken aback but continued, “Well, I was just checking to see your interest in this here bottle? I happened to find it in my gear.” He proffered an expensive looking bottle of booze.

Loden’s eyebrows shot up and his biggest smile spread across his face, “Not sure where you found that, but if it tastes like that bottle looks, then the answer is yes.”

Ander smiled back, “Thought that might be the case. Thought I’d go down and help Dahlah set up the commons, come with and we can secure the bones game, and sample this beverage.”

“Sounds fair I guess, lead on.” Loden dismounted and lead his two horses toward the camp area, it seemed like the entire camp would be gathered at one site tonight. Plenty of flat and open ground here, a few larger rocks and some thorny looking bushes. Along the north and eastern edges of the clearing a low rock-pile wall appeared to be someone’s forgotten project.

Dahlah, the tobacco merchant from the night before, frowned at Loden when he approached. He smiled back as Ander made the introductions.

“Fine, get the tarps up and set up the side boards along the wagon. What did you get today?”

Ander gave Loden a sly look, then answered her, “Not sure, there is no label.” He reached into his satchel and produced the fancy bottle.

Dahlah held it up to the light, her face was washed in an amber glow. “Looks nice, the bottle though, I’d give you half a silver for that.”

“Ha, right, figure that’s cut some way of the other, you know as well as I that anything cut would be worth twice as much.”

She gave a dismissive snort and passed the bottle back, “That was my twice as much offer. It’s just glass, not worth anything near the stone or crystal ones you sometimes get.”

Ander frowned and took the bottle back, avoiding looking directly at Loden, “Come on, I’ll show you where the tarps and poles are.”

Loden looked to him and then back to Dahlah, who took out a small cigar and popped it in her mouth, pushed it out lengthwise with her tongue then palmed a quick strike from somewhere and struck it with her thumb nail. Loden turned away and followed Ander over to a nearby wagon were a handful of people were already offloading the supplies for their commons.

Ander explained as they went through the process and with the other half dozen people helping it was done a short while after Ander’s explanation. Eight tarps went up around Dahlah’s covered wagon, sideboards along the wagon were flipped up, a couple of small tables placed under one of the tarps with a small keg of rum and a number of mugs and glasses placed out with the keg.

Dahlah passed Ander a few wooden boxes containing various games. The Bones Box, as Ander called it, contained many more dice than needed, three standard sets of five dice. There was also a couple sets of the Tannican game, towers, and three sets of the ever popular stones game, as well, a handful of other less common games. According to Ander, one of the caravan’s teamsters had carved most of the games, boards, boxes and pieces, over the past decade. They took one set of the common, five dice and wondered over to an area of hard packed ground under a tarp.

Loden asked about the bottle of booze and the odd conversation that had taken place regarding that bottle. Ander deflected his question by opening the bottle and half filling their cups and making a toast. It was smooth and strong with an oak aftertaste. After stating his appreciation, Loden once again asked what the story was, but this time the arrival of a couple of other players distracted from the question and the game started up with the four of them each throwing a copper coin into the pot.

A few women came around, selling pies and tarts. Loden was very happy to buy a meat pie for himself and another for the rest of the crew that had gathered, their circle of dice throwers had risen to five, but there was a break in the game as people ate. Again Loden asked Ander what the story with the booze was. A snarky aside from one of the other crew slipped out and Ander was forced to come clean.

The story, if it was to be believed, was that Ander had found a magical hat some years back, while on this very route. The hat, according to Ander and a couple of the others in the know, would produce a bottle of booze with the rising sun, so long as it was topside down, not being worn. Loden though that it was a wonderful idea, but was hesitant to believe the story, thinking that the crew was having some fun with him.

The game went round a few more times, a couple more people joined in, so far Loden had been doing pretty good. By the time the sun had set he was up thirty-one copper coins, nearly a silver weight.

With the setting sun a break was called to the game and lanterns were lit and hung, filling the commons with a soft orange light.

The wide eyed, pretty woman from last night came up and asked to join the game. She slid into the circle between Loden and Ander and introduced herself to Loden, “Hi, I’m Gella.”

“Hi Gella, I’m Loden.”

“I saw you last night.”

“Come on, lets play.” One of the other gamblers said as he tossed a couple of copper coins into the pot.

Ander poured Loden some more of his fancy drink, and offered some to Gella, though he had not offered any to the others. They gambled and drank, drank and gambled. A few of the gamblers that had joined them earlier bowed out, one to sleep and another to take his watch on the perimeter.

The night’s musical entertainment was the same two fiddle players as well a larger fellow who played a mean hand drum. After a few more rounds of gambling and another couple drinks Gella was able to drag Loden away from the game and they spun a few times around the common area, dancing to the foot stomping music.

Then she lead Loden away from the common area, eyes a-glitter and a mischievous smile plastered on her flushed face. She stopped when they had found a spot between a couple of the freight wagons, far enough from the commons to offer a bit of privacy, and started making out with Loden. They were both a bit drunk and passion ran fast and hot, they fell to the ground together loosing clothing and pretensions.

She was soft, warm and responsive. Her unexpected aggressiveness aroused him. They moaned together and Loden could feel his climax approaching.

A voice interrupted them, “Gella, your father is looking for you! You should not be doing this.” A strong hand grabbed Loden by the arm and pulled him off the woman.

Loden lashed out, struck the man in the face with his elbow and came to his feet swinging. Once, twice and three times Loden swung, wondering where his swords were. The man fell back with a shout and a few others rushed into the area. Loden stepped back a pace or two as Gella darted off into the darkness with most of her clothing bundled under an arm.

Someone approached with a lantern.

Loden with his back to one of the freight wagons, mostly naked and angry over the intrusion, spotted his swords underneath his nearby clothing. The man he had been fighting had blood running freely from his nose, “That is Lord Gainsly’s daughter, not some common camp follower.”

Loden eyed the small group of angry men who were facing him, his gear and clothing scattered at his feet. He noted Ander and a few other folks he had met earlier in the evening came up to the rear of the group. There was some talk of hanging him.

Ander stepped forward, “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

The bloody nosed fellow dribbled blood onto his tunic and said, “Seems pretty clear what was happening here. Best you stay out of it Ander.”

“No sir, I can’t do that, sir. The lady in question has been around the commons the last few nights and she invited this. We all saw it.”

Begrudgingly a couple of the other gamblers nodded or said aye.

The merchant lord’s retainer wiped at the blood on his face, and said to Loden, “Best you clear out of here then. If I were you, I’d be long gone before the dawn.”

Not wanting to fight half a dozen men over something he had no idea about, Loden gathered his clothes and his weapons harness, though he kept alert in case they decided to jump him. The threat seemed to have passed, for the time being. The small gaggle of folks watched him depart but did not follow him to where he had left his horses and the rest of his belongings.

It did not take him long to pack up his gear and saddle Tingy. Then he slipped off into the night, leading his horses by moons light.


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