A man spoke in a low voice, “Out the back, the two of you as quick as rabbits. Don’t forget your other luggage.” The foot steps receded and Adwin heard a heavy door at the other end of the room being opened.
He pushed the lid open and slowly sat up. There was a short candle in a glass sconce providing illumination. He rolled out his shoulders and took a few deep breaths, the air was what you would expect of a storage room but the slight musk was a big improvement to the confines of the chest. Carefully he stood up, feeling a bit of protest from his leg muscles, after some stretching he stepped out of the chest. The crates were nearby, one of which contained Mokha.
“Are you awake?” There was no answer.
A couple gentle knocks of the top of the two crates, “Hello?” Still nothing.
He undid the straps and lifted the lid to find Mokha sound asleep within. He poked his shoulder and Mokha gave a halfhearted swat with his hand. He grabbed the shoulder and gave a good shake, “Mokha, wake up.”
The Aggedrah slowly opened his eyes, yawned, smacked his lips together, picked up his water skin, drained it off in three gigantic gulps and belched. He looked up at Adwin a bit bleary eyed, nodded, took a small envelope from an inner pocket of his tunic and downed the contents before Adwin saw what it was.
Mokha stood with sudden lurch upwards. He shushed Adwin and walked off towards the slightly open bay door.
“Hey, help me with Tipper’s stuff.”
Mokha returned, took the items Adwin passed him and then together they went to the back door. A big shouldered man with a broad face, who was smoking a pipe under a small lamp in the middle of the yard waved them over.
“Your friend will meet you along the road west of here sometime around sunrise. He pointed over to a barely discernible road beyond the stone property wall, “Head west, cross the bridge and head out a couple yat. She also said to stay out of trouble.” He smiled and puffed his pipe.
“Nice smelling blend.” Mokha said.
“Wikkersak blend, we call it BlueGrass.”
Adwin gave a wave, “Thanks.”
The man waved and nodded, then walked back to the open door. Leaving the two of them to make their exit.
There were a few two story buildings in the area, they loomed up as dark smudges in the overcast night. After passing a dozen buildings, or so, they crossed over a broad stone bridge spanning a modest brook.
Mokha’s voice was hushed, “Where are we?”
“I have no idea my friend, but I do know we can stop another couple yat up the road from here, so that’s where I’m going.”
Tipper woke them shortly after dawn, they were just off the road beside a boundary wall of what turned out to be a large homestead. The smell of wood smoke was in the air and from the modest sized town to the east of them the sounds of a bell could be heard. A column of black smoke rose skyward from one of the town’s buildings.
“There’s a fire!” Adwin said.
“Yes, Roburn’s Trading Company, a sizable warehouse not that far from the roadhouse we stayed at last night.”
Mokha, “You stayed at.”
“As you say.”
Adwin picked up his staff, “We should go help.”
Tipper shook her head, “No, we should get going.”
“But-” She cut short Adwin’s protest.
He gestured to the town and the fire, “But we-”
“We need to go Adwin, I’m too tired to explain it all right now. On top of everything I’m pretty sure I saw Nan yesterday, our goat? The one we left at Aramy. That can only mean trouble.”
Mokha nodded, “The goat is not happy. She’s being controlled, compelled really.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Well, I thought it would be a more enjoyable ride yesterday if I spirit travelled. As I think we are all aware the goat in question was on the back of the coach. She was actually standing on the crate I was in. Thinking this was all very curious and keeping in mind that Adwin had said the goat was a companion of yours, I thought having a little conversation with it would be a good idea.”
“As I said, the goat is being compelled. It will always be drawn to Adwin, unless the one the goat calls Small Woman reaches out to give it other instructions.”
Tipper looked to Adwin, “Did you tell that witch your name?”
“In Amary? Well, yes, she seemed nice at the time.”
“By the gods Adwin. Names have power and knowing something or someone’s true name makes it easier to cast certain types of magic. Seeking and binding, mind control and the like. You might as well have given her a piece of your hair or some blood. That goat will follow us all the way to GreensBridge.”
Both Mokha and Tipper were looking at him now, he gave a bit of a shrug, “I didn’t know.”
Mokha sighed, “Its not your fault Adwin, unlike those of us trained in the craft,” He gave Tipper a pointed look, “you had no way of knowing.”
“What happened to my arrows?” Tipper held up her quiver.
“Cat, a really sneaky one.”
She rolled her eyes, stripped out of the clothing she was wearing and started to put her armour on. To Adwin she said, “Give me a hand.”
Mokha leaned back on the property wall, openly watching Tipper change and smoking from his toadstool pipe, which fell apart before he could finish smoking the bowl he had packed. He grabbed at it, singed his fingers and dropped it, red ember settling in amongst the grass. He stamped it out and the area around where it had fallen received a good trampling. “Just to be sure, we don’t need to be starting another fire before our hasty departure.”
Adwin pulled on the ties of Tipper’s binder, “We didn’t start that one.” Indicating the column of smoke rising from the closer edge of the nearby town.
Mokha looked at him, surprise raising his eyebrows to his hairline. He looked to Tipper as well then shrugged. “Well, I like fires,” Mokha said, “I wish I’d been able to help, whoever started it.”
After a couple of moments Tipper had mostly sorted herself out, the rest of the gear was divided amongst the three of them and Mokha thanked Tipper for the lute case. Adwin wondered if Tipper really had set the fire, when they would see Nan next and where they were.
“Where are we?” He asked, as it seemed the safest of his questions.
“The town is called Calameer, unbelievably still part of Sharlok’s Hold. In fact the boarder of the hold is still fifty yat or so further west, if you can believe that.”
Mokha asked, “Why is that so hard to believe?”
Adwin added, “Yeah?”
She looked at the two of them, “Well, I guess its from what you’d call the old ways. The word yat comes from yatteer or yattee. Yattee is the distance one can travel in a day. Yatteer is a distance not greater than a yattee in any direction from a lord’s stronghold, or the holdings of a lord. Sharlok seems to hold four or five times that. More than he can personally attend to, forcing him to demand fealty of other lords and ladies, their marshals and a large number of knights and soldiers. A high lord or king without the renown nor likely the respect to warrant such a tittle. Someone who’s ambition is beyond his ability.”
“Wow, I had no idea.” Mokha said.
Adwin had not heard of this before either, “Well, the roads are better than in Willik’s Hold. Calameer and Wikkersak both seem to be prosperous. Where’s the problem?”
“It’s pretentious.” Was all she said. Then she headed for the road, conversation done.
They trekked westward for the rest of the morning, Mokha and Adwin trailing Tipper by a half yat or so until nearly midday. The terrain had changed slightly, there was a bit more dip and rise to the land. Not hills so much as the promise of hills. Gray and black stone lay bald of earth at various points and the tall grasses of the open plains had been replaced by moss, lichen and short brush with the occasional spindly dulmak. The sky remained overcast, but it did not rain, the breeze was intermittent.
They encountered a few people along the road that morning, but a friendly wave and a smile was their only exchange.
They stopped and ate near an uninhabited crossroads, signs posted at the intersection named the major destinations in the various directions. None of them were familiar to Adwin. The westward sign said Domkee, Thirty-five yat.
Tipper joined him by the sign post, he asked if they were going to Domkee.
“I doubt it, not the way you two are travelling today. Besides, it’s likely best if we skirt around it. If all goes well we’ll be out of Sharlok’s Hold tomorrow sometime and leave these troubles behind.”
“Yeah, that is likely best. Thank you, by the way, for getting us out of Wikkersak.”
“Well, I hope the two of you learned a lesson.”
“Don’t pick fights you can’t win?”
She laughed, “That’s a good one, I was hoping for something a bit broader though, like stay out of trouble and be polite.”
“Yeah, I think I can manage that.”
She shrugged, placed a companionable hand on his shoulder and gave a firm squeeze.”It’s good that you’ll stand and defend your friends Adwin, I can admire that. Let’s hope he holds the same respect for your actions.”
“I think so, I mean, he’s a bit weird, but it’s his profession.”
She chuckled, “I guess.”
They had spent the night on the plains within sight of the walled town of Domkee, each of them taking a turn at keeping watch. The sky had cleared through the night and Tipper had them moving well before dawn. They skirted Domkee and were back on the westward road shortly after sunrise.
The plains grass was all around them again. They had seen only a pair of travellers that day and none since mid morning. Early in the afternoon they could see a distant tower rising above the grasslands, it looked like one of Sharlok’s border towers. After another yat or so the rising land allowed a good view of the road behind them, in the distance a half dozen riders could be seen.
Adwin shrugged, “It’s likely just a patrol.”
Tipper, low voiced, “I’ve a bad feeling about this.”
Mokha waved his hand in an intricate gesture and muttered a few words in a language Adwin did not understand, Tannican he supposed. “Your goat friend is with those riders and I do think they mean us harm.”
“How? How does a goat do that?”
Mokha shrugged. Tipper had disappeared, presumably hidden somewhere along the road. Adwin looked for her tracks or moving grass but saw neither.
Mokha dug out his lute and strummed an ill tuned cord, made a face and took the time to tune it as he ambled westward. Adwin looked around again for Tipper then followed after Mokha.
“So what? We just mosey along?”
“Seems better than waiting for them.”
“What about Tipper?”
“I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.”
“What if its the witch from Aramy?”
“Then we’ll improvise.” Mokha strummed the lute with a flourish, it was still slightly out of tune.
Adwin glanced eastward again, they could not outrun them. Not unless they ran for the border tower. Though, if it was Dannos, the border tower would be the last place they would want to be.