Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 3e

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 3e

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Loden slowly awoke to the sounds of activity going on around him. This confused him at first and briefly he though he was back with the caravan, but his tender nose and sore body told him the last couple of days had not been a dream. He slowly opened his eyes, there were a few handfuls of people around him, most of them sitting and eating but a few coming and going. The was some shouting in the distance though no one nearby seemed concerned. His horses were a dozen or so paces away, grazing peacefully. He sat up and drank from his canteen.

“Looks like you had a hard go of it.” A woman commented, she stood over him with a bowl and hunk of bread extended in offering. “If you need anything else there are supplies down at the camp.”

Guardedly he accepted the food and thanked her. She smiled and moved off. Loden ate the coarse bread and simple gruel and after a few moments started to feel better. He was surprised that no one was questioning his presence, they seemed to be assuming he was one of them. He dug out his pipe and filled the bowl, someone had a small fire going over by the road and he meandered over. The young blond fellow tending the fire passed him a burning stick, Loden lit his pipe and puffed away while he took a better looked around the area.

There was about a score of people up here near the road, further east, into the trees he could hear the telltale shouts and barked commands of what sounded like military training. Formation exercises, maybe. Up here, where he had camped, seemed to have become a way point that people were using to feed themselves and rest. Not far from where he stood a man was stitching up a modest gash in a woman’s arm. Conversation was minimal. Judging by the piles of gear these folks were heading to a fight; bows, knives and hatchets were plentiful and it appeared each person had a couple of large quivers they had been carrying. He did note that there was little to no armour and what there was seemed to consist of leather vests and arm guards.

Periodically someone would give a nod or say hello as they walked past. Loden returned these greetings as he stood amongst the bandits smoking his pipe. No one seemed to question his presence or be the least bit suspicious. After a while he went over and gathered his horses and brought them back over to where his gear was. He brushed them down and gave them a bit of feed. He saddled BigNose and put Tingy on the lead then he brought the horses over to the roadside fire.

It was a beautiful day, nearly no clouds in the sky and despite being early morning it was already warm. Loden draped his coat across BigNose’s rump.

The blond kid looked at his swords and commented, “That’s an unusual rig you have there. Why wear your blades so high?”

“I find it convenient, especially sitting in a saddle. They are more aligned with my body and get in the way less. Plus I can draw from either side with either hand.”

The young fellow seemed impressed, he stood and dug around in a pouch hanging from his belt and after a moments rummaging pulled out a small clay pipe, “I’d be much obliged if you could share some of your tobacco.”

“Sure. I’ll join you.” He pulled his pouch out and reached into the centre where the tobacco was drier and offered the kid a generous pinch, “That should do you a couple bowls or so.”

The youth smiled, “Generous of you sir. Appreciated.” They stood in companionable silence as they packed their bowls and lit them with a twig from the fire. After a few moment of puffing contentedly his companion asked, “You must be standing by to take messages north?”

Loden gave a nod but said nothing, the kid continued, “I’m the runner for the southern camps. Looks like things are going to be happening soon.”

“Remder and I were talking a couple of days back. The caravan is not far.” Loden felt he had to say something but was wary of saying the wrong thing.

The kid spat, “Remder eh, what a hard ass. And that witch he hangs around with. I heard they are cannibals.”

“Really?” Loden did not know what else to say to that. Though his thought went back to the meal the witch had served him and he was vaguely disturbed by the thought of the goblin jam he had eaten.

The kid nodded and jumped to the next thought, “Well, sometime this morning I heard Wol is going to be passing through with final instructions for the various camps.”

Loden wondered who this Wol character was, he had already heard the name mentioned a couple of times from others who had been conversing near where he had been. Though it seemed likely Wol was the leader or one of the leaders of these bandits. He did not know, so he said nothing.

He had finished smoking and was wondering if he would just be able to casually walk away when there was an excited call announcing a rider on the road, coming in from the north. Most folks came up along the roadside while a few jogged off into the trees likely heading to the training camp to pass the word about the new arrival. Loden turned and watched with the rest of them.

A lone rider approached, dressed in leathers with a headscarf pulled up across their face. A bow and quiver hung from the horse’s saddle, folks called out greetings, using the name Wol and asking what the news was. Loden could see that many of the people around him adored this person. He noted the rider wore crossed belts at their waist with a short sword, a couple of pouches and a number of heavy throwing blades. He also noticed the riders hips and realized Wol was a woman a moment before she pulled the head scarf back to reveal a weathered but attractive face and short brown hair.

Wol smiled to the folks gathered at the road, she dismounted only a few strides from Loden and looked to the youth beside him. “Pedrik, right? You’re the runner? I want you to head over to Karthon’s camp and let him know I’ll be there around midday.” Pleased to have been recognized the kid took off, running along the road back the way Loden had come the evening before.

Wol retrieved something from her saddle bags, and turned to Loden, he saw she carried papers and a leather bound book, she passed the reins of her horse to him and said, “Make sure she gets some water, and feed if there’s any available.” Almost by reflex Loden took the proffered reins with a nod.

She then headed down the path to the forest camp with over a half dozen of the others following along. The rest of the people around him headed back to their gear and whatever it was they had been doing before Wol had shown up. Loden stood near the fire for a while and watched it slowly die down to coals. No one seemed too concerned about what he was doing.

Loden checked the new horse’s gear, loosened the saddle some, removed the bit from its mouth and put her on the lead with Tingy. He did give the new horse some feed, but there was no water nearby, other than the small amount at the bottom of his canteen. As he saw to the horse he kept an eye on the folks around him. He also noted that whatever training had been going on east of here had come to a stop. No one seemed to be paying any attention so him. Casually he mounted BigNose and moved onto the road. No one raised an alarm or even seemed to notice him riding away.

At this point he was less concerned about someone stopping him and more concerned about getting an arrow or two in the back. When that did not happen he felt a small thrill of excitement and he brought the horses to a trot. Moments later the camp was out of site, he could not help but laugh thinking of Wol just handing her horse to him.

His mirth passed quickly though and the real concerns of his situation settled in. There were a lot of bandits in the area, they seemed well organized and numerous enough to possibly overwhelm the caravan. Who knew how many more bandits were on the road ahead of him? Could he get past them as easily as the bandits he had encountered over the last couple of days? Was Remder somewhere ahead of him on the road? Should he even care? Could he warn someone?

He remembered that there was a logging camp somewhere ahead of him. He could leave word with them then head onward to Cof Crossroads. He felt some concern for Ander’s well being, but there was not anything he could really do for him.


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