Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 4a

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 4a

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Part 4) Ander


Ander sometimes wished his life was not such a mess and over the last few days he seemed to be wishing that hourly. Since Loden had left, Ander had found himself with the worst of the jobs to do around the camps and much less free time in the evenings. He also had to deal with with dark looks from the caravan guards and felt like he was constantly under supervision from his superiors. Many of his peers within the caravan no longer wanted to drink or gamble with him and when he was not slaving away at the worst of the camp jobs he was more often than not by himself.

Part of him was angry at the unfairness of the situation, sometimes he was even angry with Loden, even though he knew that was an unfair outlook. Regardless of the situation’s fairness he did question whether of not he wanted to remain with the caravan much longer. He was a veteran of this trek, had made the trip every year for nearly a decade now, he felt Master Belmadda owed him more respect than his present lot.

After the heavy rain of the day before the caravan had slowed to a crawl and the lighter carriages and wagons had a fair sized lead on the heavy lorries. At two different spots along the road trees had to be cut and laid down to provide a less squishy passage for the heavier wagons. Ander wondered how long it would take to rejoin the dispersed elements of the caravan. His job today and much of yesterday had been as runner between the two groups, a task usually reserved for the outriders or some of the more youthful labourers He trekked back and forth enough over the last twenty to thirty hours that his leg muscles were feeling a bit tender, he could not remember the last time he felt so physically tired.

So far today he had walked past the rickety tower three times and expected he may have to do it three more times before the day was done. He had heard that the place had been recently abandoned, certainly there was no sign of the large family that had dwelt there in years past. In its present abandoned state, except for the goats, the strange building had lost its quaint appeal and had more of an ominous feel. They had also come across another nearby homestead that had been burnt out, the guards and outriders of the caravan had become extra vigilant.

A bit further down the road, much sooner than he had expected, Ander spotted a number of the heavier wagons. He approached with a wave and stood to one side as the lead wagon came up on him. Dowmer was the teamster, even at the best of times she had a mean look, but one glance showed she was in a fouler mood than usual. Ander skipped the usual pleasantries and said, “The Boss doesn’t want the heavy wagons splitting into smaller groups. Looks like you’re leading about a third of them.”

“Easier to get the others across if we moved on a bit. We’ll have to wait for them here.” She gave a signal to those behind her and slowed to a stop. She seemed disinterested in further talk, Ander gave her a brief nod and moved along the roadside until he had passed the eight wagons that had managed to cross the latest boggy stretch of road.

A bit further along he came up to the obstacle, noting that three more wagons had made it across and the crew was working on the fourth while the third was being reloaded. As each of the heavier wagons crossed over the boggy section the crews were unloading about a third of the weight and then reloading it after the wagon crossed the corduroy stretch. It was gruelling, heavy work and Ander was thinking maybe being messenger for the day was not such a bad job in the face of what was being done here. He found Old Grundle and waited for the fellow to stop shouting instructions to the teamster of the wagon presently crossing the mess.

Grundle moved over to him after the wagon had made it across, “What’s the news?”

“The boss says he doesn’t want the heavy wagons coming in smaller groups.”

“Well, that’s going to increase the chances of getting bogged down again.”

“Yeah, he figured you’d say that, but wanted me to tell you that the road ahead is much improved over yesterdays conditions. Depending on how the rest of this crossing goes he’s hopeful that the heavies will be able to rejoin the rest of the caravan sometime this evening.”

“He is, is he?”

“Just telling you what he said.”

“Yeah, alright Ander. I get it, he wants us to keep our grouping because it will be easier to protect us. If you ask me it just illustrates my point about us having the need of more guards for this trek. ‘Specially seeing as how the caravan’s much bigger than it was a few years ago.”

Ander shrugged, “Anything to pass back up the line?”

“Tell Dowmer to wait closer to that rickety homestead.” He looked back at the remaining wagons that needed to cross, “I should be able to get this lot that far along by nightfall. And, if he’s serious about having us all together by this evening then he should send along another twenty of so able bodies to help lug the cargo around. My crew’s are already on the tired side.”

“Right then, will do.” Ander gave a wave and headed back north, stopping to pass Grundle’s message to Dowmer and then kept moving. After a while he came to the rickety tower again. A couple of goats were hanging out on the upper rooftops, otherwise he saw no other signs of occupation. He did see a nice chair by the main entry and decided to stop for a while. He took some time to scrape the mud from his boots and then looked at the door to the homestead, wondering if he should go in.

At the very least it would not hurt to take a look around.

Ander cautiously approached the door and listened for a while. He could not hear anything beyond, after a couple of more moments of silence he tried the door. It was not locked and it swung open with the smallest of creaks. He waited another few moments, then stepped in. The place was empty and quiet.

“Hello?” he spoke into the silence. There was no response.

The light from the open door showed a cold hearth and a main room dominated by a large table. There were a couple of alcoves off to one side with small windows, each with a cot and a few personal items. A narrow stair went up to the second level. On and around the table and on various shelves and a long sideboard running the length of the eastern wall, there was everything one might expect to find in a well stocked rural kitchen.

He found an empty sack and started to collect some of the food stuff, of particular interest were a number of preserves; pickles, jam and a few less recognizable items. They were labelled, but despite years of travelling through the freeholds and being fluent in the spoken language, Ander only knew a few words of the written Andalee. He recognized the word for jam, which was clearly on over half the preserves, including a couple that did not look very jam like. There was also some dried meat, vegetables and fruit as well some candied pine nuts. The rest of the food stuff was base materials for cooking and baking, he did not see much point in scooping that for himself.

From the nooks he took a pipe and a small, nearly empty, tobacco pouch. There was a tunic and pair of breeches that looked like they would fit him and numerous pairs of socks. One nook contained mostly woman’s clothing, which he left, though from that same nook he found a beautiful broach of bone and silver depicting a pool and trees. Candles and a flint striker also went into the sack.

He started up the narrow stairway only to come face to face with a rather mean looking cat. It hissed at him and arched its back. He backed away watching the cat warily and after a moment’s consideration decided to head out. He was happy enough with his haul.

Ander left, shutting the door behind him, maybe he should mention the kitchen to the cooks, there was obviously plenty of supplies that the caravan could use. It took him over an hour to catch the trailing end of the leading section of the caravan. He caught up to the wagon he was assigned to and said hello to Kantem, the teamster for there wagon. Ander and he were friendly enough to each other, though Kantem was not much of a drinker and did not gamble either. Ander stashed the sack of loot and checked to make sure his daily bottle was still where he had hid it. Then with a wave he left Kantem to his job and continued up the line in search of Master Belmadda.

When he found the caravan master he reported the rear disposition. He also learned that the outriders had found a few suspiciously large camps along the roadside. One of which showed signs that a large number of arrows had been crafted. Belmadda wanted him to head back immediately and let the back section of the caravan, specifically Captain Hollen, know of this news.

Ander went back to his assigned wagon and climbed up next to Kantem. He took the time to have a pipe and let Kantem know about the increasing likelihood of there being bandits in the area. Kantem was not surprised by this, after all, one abandoned homestead and a second burned out was not a good sign. Ander took a few swigs of rum, gave Kantem a wave and then headed back out.

Ander trudged back to the rear wagons, it took a little less than an hour and he found that about two thirds of the heavy wagons had made it to the rickety homestead. They had stopped, as was their instructions, many of them were looting the homestead and at least a couple of the lads were gathering the goats together, while a few others were trying to reach the ceiling in the stables, thinking that said ceiling might be finished with gold or some other valuable metal as it reflected much light. After letting Dowmer and a few others know what was happening he continued back towards the remaining part of the caravan, looking for Hollen.

After finding the caravan’s lead outrider and passing along his message he once again trekked back to the front of the caravan, when he brought the news that the heavy wagons had made it across the worse of the wet ground and would be camping out at the abandoned homestead. Belmadda decided to call an early stop for the night in the hopes that he would be able to have his dispersed elements back together again at some point in the morrow.

Ander was so tired and leg sore that he skipped out on carousing that night. The guards were double posted and extra vigilant given the likelihood of bandits in the area. After he found his assigned wagon he ate a bit and had a couple of drinks from the day’s bottle but kept dozing off. Shortly after sunset he surrendered to the impulse to sleep.


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