Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 3c

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 3c

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The sudden appearance of the wild haired lady startled him. “You, come with me. There is something that I would show you.” She gestured for him to follow and walked away from the door. He portioned out some feed to the horses and put his harness and swords on then went outside to see what she wanted.

A lit, shuttered lamp had been set on the foundation stone near the door. The woman was off across the road standing near a stream, she was feeding something to one of the goats. She waved him over. Loden checked the sky, but the cloud cover remained heavy and low, surely it must be near days end. He shrugged to himself and walked over to her. “What is going on?”

She gave him a quick smile but was mostly focused on rubbing the goats head around it’s ears while it munched on whatever she had fed it. “Some friends of mine live down the way,” She made a vague gesture into the nearby trees, “I think you would get along well with them.”

Loden looked to the sky again, “I was thinking of heading out actually.”

“It is late for that now, better to spend the night in good company. Take advantage of life’s pleasures when you may, for they are fleeting and few and toil and troubles are more often our fate.” She turned and started walking away, giving a tug on one of the goat’s horns so that it followed along beside her.

Given how roughly she had treated him earlier he was unsure he would be that interested in what she may have been suggesting. On the other hand, some drink and a game or two of bones would be fine. He shrugged to himself and followed after, it was likely a better option than camping along the road. Besides, it seemed likely it would rain again.

They followed a path through the forest that ran along side the winding stream, the road and rickety tower were soon lost to sight. The smells of the forest were sharp after the earlier rain and many a woodland critter moved around them, most often moving off as they approached. Loden saw a couple of deer at a distance, a possum of some sort and so many little frogs it was hard not to step on them. Swarms of insects buzzed around in great clouds but did not bite. The deeper into the woods they travelled the more the underbrush closed in along the stream. The dreary light was reduced to a sylvan twilight. Heavy scented flowers had bloomed along the edge of the stream and the sound of bird song echoed and trilled through the trees.

Loden began to wonder how far they were going when the sound of splashing water could suddenly be heard over the calls of the birds and moments later the trees parted and a small waterfall feed into a large pool a dozen paces below them. Loden watched the wild-haired lady move downhill along a worn trail that was vaguely stair-like, the goat did not follow her but stood near the top of the falls looking at him. He saw no cottage or homestead, smelt no wood smoke, yet he was sure this was her destination.

He was becoming suspicious of her intent, why deceive him to get him out here?

Then the treetops around the falls and pool became lit with a golden glow, birds took flight and the great arch of a rainbow formed in the sky above him. He suddenly felt a little silly, shrugging off his trepidation he carefully made his way down the steep slope.

The area around to pool showed signs of use and at least periodic occupation. In a rocky nook a small table and an assortment of chairs stood near a small bronze stove with a copper kettle. A mismatched porcelain tea set and teapot was on the table with a number of small barrels and boxes on some of the chairs. The large tree that overhung the pool had a swing hanging above the water and a few ribbons and small banners throughout the other branches. A shallow cave across the pool from where he stood seemed to be a sleeping or lounging room with fancy furniture. It all seemed strange and very out of place.

The wild-haired woman watched him take it all in, “Wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Your friends certainly have an unusual home. Though they don’t seem to be here.”

With a shrug of her shoulders her dress fell to the stone she was standing on. She smiled as she pulled her shift off, “They are here. Just shy around strangers.”

She waded into the pool, it was deep enough that she was soon standing in water up to her neck, her hair floating on the surface of the water around her. She gestured that he should join her and pouted a bit when he seemed disinclined. Then, floating on her back she kicked off from the bottom and slowly sank into the pool disappearing under the small falls. Her hair churned around and slowly sank until there was no sign of her at all.

Loden waited, but she did not resurface, when she had been under for a longer period than seemed reasonable he walked around the pool looking to see if she was there. He did not spot her and wondered what sorcery was in play.

A snippet of feminine laughter came from the trees above him. He looked up but could see no one. A different laugh came from the direction of the falls, feminine but in time with the splashing of the water. He looked the area over but could see no one. He was starting to feel agitated and was in the process of heading back around the pool with the intent up climbing back up to the path. The golden light of the setting sun left the tops of the trees and the clouds above turned orange and purple in the last light of day. A gust of wind threw mist into the air and laughter sounded from around the area, feminine and mischievous. The swing creaked and the distant sounds of some ancient song whispered through the twilight.

A young woman was on the swing, moving back and forth above the pool, laughing. The tattered remains of a once fancy dress flapped and snapped. She was beautiful, natural and smiled warmly at Loden. He could feel himself relax, that smile said he was special and that she knew him from long ago. The wild-haired woman resurfaced and with her yet another young radiant woman, naked they waded out of the pool towards him.

Loden figured he was in a dream, sleeping in the rickety cabin or maybe on the roadside somewhere. The woman on the swing let go and jumped clear, she seemed to float down to the edge of the pool, the tatters of her dress fluttering around her, falling to the ground at her feet ever so gently.

“Are they not beautiful?” asked the woman who had brought him here. Though her hair was no longer wild and messy, but hung straight, damply clinging to her body. She stepped up to Loden and placed a hand on his chest. The other two hung back a bit, drawing his attention with their presence and perfect beauty.

Loden could not pull his attention from the women, he nodded and muttered, “Of course they are, how could they not be?”

“Let me relieve you of your burdens.” She reached out and started to lift his sword harness from one shoulder.

Despite his enamoured state Loden did not want to be disarmed, to much death and war had made him acutely aware of his weapons. He tried to push her hand away, she did not let up though and insistently gave a yank at his harness with one hand and pushed his hand out of the way with the other.

“I think you’ve relieved enough of my burdens for one day. Thank you very much.” He gave a hard shoved to her arm and she slipped backwards along the rock she was standing on and fell into the shallows of the pool with a splashing slap.

The other two quickly moved in on him grabbing his arms. They were stronger than he, yet stood off. He struggled to free himself but they held tightly to his arms. He yanked one way and then the other, when he won a modicum of mobility he smashed the crown of his head into the face of the woman who had jumped down from the swing. Something cracked, he yanked an arm free and grasped one of his swords, pulling it from the scabbard. The women backed into the pool shrieking as if he had sliced them. He drew the other blade.

Loden moved carefully to the path, keeping an eye on the women and his swords pointed in their general direction. They stood in the pool, the three of them watched as he carefully climbed up the lower part of the bank. In the near dark he had to climb more by feel than sight. One of the women let forth with a long shrieking wail that made the hairs along his arms stand up.

“You will not know rest nor piece in you life wanderer. You will die a horrid death. Alone. Unloved.”

He looked down towards the pool, the women were only smudges of lighter colour against the water. He sheathed one of his swords, climbed the last few feet and nearly jumped back as he came face to face with the goat. He pushed past, the goat bleated at him. As quickly as he could, sword in hand, he moved along the path back towards the rickety tower. It was too dark to see much and listening for the stream kept him on the path more than his eyes did.

When he finally made it to the edge of the woodland, the strange homestead was a ways to his right, he could see the light on the porch and broke into a run. He gathered the lamp and went directly to the stables, there were no dogs around, he saddled Tingy and put BigNose on a lead. He brought the horses to the road then quickly stepped into the house, he found a sack and grabbed some food, collected his coat and gave the room a quick lookover. He was tempted to pitch the lamp and let the place burn. Instead he exited and left the lamp on the porch.

As he led his horses along the road a goat walked out from the trees and stood watching him as he passed.


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