Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 4b

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 4b

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It was still dark when Ander awoke, he felt mostly rested, but thought something within the camp had woken him. He listened carefully; the sounds of horses at rest, a couple of low conversations and the distant croak of frogs, nothing unusual in any of it. It was well before dawn, not too much point in getting up now; he would likely end up disturbing Kantem if he did so. He took a swig from yesterday’s bottle and double checked that his hat was properly positioned for the dawn then resettled himself on his bedroll under the wagon.

He was just on the verge of falling back to sleep when he heard someone move in the wagon above him. He opened his eyes while remaining as still as possible, he looked around the area he could see from the underside of the wagon and then heard, and saw, someone climbing off the back. Bare feet and the shape of the lower part of a skirt. Before he could clearly think his actions through he shifted and grabbed the ankles of the person who had just climbed out of the wagon. The woman gave a cry as she toppled over and Ander scooted out from underneath as he raised the alarm, “Thief! Thief! Someone’s in the camp!”

Before he could properly pin the woman she kicked him in the face just as he was standing up, then she started to scramble away. With a shout of pain and anger Ander leapt on her, crushing the air from her lungs.

In moments other folks were there. Angry shouting and bright lanterns. Ander rolled off the woman when a couple of the guards were there to take her in hand. The woman was of middle years and was still short winded from being crushed by Ander. Her hair and eyes were wild and she was wearing a simple skirt and blouse. When searched she did not seem to have taken anything belonging to Ander or Kantem. Belmadda showed up and told everyone to settle down and return to bed or their duties, then he and a pair of guards lead the prisoner away.

It took a while for some folks to settle down and leave off questioning Ander. Kantem and he did a search of their belongings and the other contents of the wagon, nothing seemed amiss. Finally Kantem chased away the hangers on and returned to his bedroll. Ander stayed up and finished the contents from yesterdays bottle and then waited for the sunrise and the new days booze, on and off he dozed fitfully.

The thing with the hat, you just never knew what you would get from one day to the next. There also did not seem to be a way to influence what the hat produced or transported each day. Sometimes he received a tiny bottle of liqueur, or a clay bottle of meed or distilled milk or other stranger things, and sometimes the bottles were as wide as the hat and half a pace tall, filled with the most potent of alcohol. Other times it would be the same thing from one day to the next or even many days in a row, though the proximity of known sources of beverage did not seem to influence what was produced. Ander loved his hat.

At some point in the early hours of morning Ander had fallen asleep. When he awoke again the sun was up and folks were busy preparing for the days travel. His hat had produced a blue glass bottle, similar to ones he had received before, there was no label but the bottle itself had a makers mark from one of the Tannican glass blowers from the city of Rohg Mohk Talh. He stashed the bottle in his pack, found some food and had returned to the wagon in time to help Kantem hitch the team.

Word came down the line that the caravan boss wanted Ander and Kantem closer to the front of the line, in case there was any need related to the prisoner, for them to be present. Word was the woman was not talking and was under constant guard. By the time their wagon had rolled into position along the line there were only seven wagons ahead of them. This made Kantem happy as it meant they would have an easier time on the road, especially if there was soft ground to cross.

Riding in the wagon was way better than running back and forth between the front and the rear of the caravan. Ander suspected that the slow start to the day was to allow the trailing group of wagons some time to catch up, which likely meant that the day’s end would be earlier than usual as well.

The eastern treeline was often along the road and at times they actually travelled through areas forested along both sides. Word had come down the line that the outriders had spotted a group of twenty to thirty people moving away from the road to more heavily wooded areas and that the road showed much sign of activity. Although the outriders and guards stayed vigilant no one really expected there to be a bandit force large enough to attempt an attack on the caravan. Most people speculated about night time raids or thieves in the dark.

In the early afternoon there was a disturbance a couple of wagons ahead of them, surprised shouting and then a fair sized goat running away from the wagons into the trees, at least one guard was giving chase and there seemed to be some confusion as to what was going on. The caravan did not stop though, and it was some time before they heard any clear news as to what had happened. Somehow the prisoner had escaped her bindings, one of the guards had fallen asleep and at least a couple people were claiming the prisoner had been a witch and transformed into a goat to escape her captivity.

Later in the afternoon word came of an even larger camp found a ways off the road that showed upwards of fifty people or so had been there over the past few days. Still, most of the caravan felt that fifty bandits would be too few to successfully attack them. Though others who pointed out the possibility that the previous camp of upwards of thirty and this new camp with fifty was in fact eighty bandits and if the goat-witch had been some sort of spy or scout then they had already obtained good information on the caravan’s disposition, which seemed to indicate that an outright attack may in fact be possible. Though most people were skeptical of a bandit force that size being in the area.

Sure enough, as Ander had predicted, a good hour or two ahead of the usual stopping time the caravan started to pull off the road and ready camp. The formation orders for the camp were to form defensive circles with the wagons and keep the animals and valuables within. Extra vigilance was being called for and the social areas were to be limited to the main cook fires for the evening. Also, the order went down the line that all goats should be slaughtered and eaten, which upset some of the cooks who relied on the goat milk for much of the variety in the caravan’s meals.

Soon the smell of roasting goat started making Ander hungry; he had not eaten much today and no one seemed to have any questions for him regarding last nights thief. So he looked around to see if he could find Mr Dahlah, he knew they would be interested in his bottle of Tannican hooch.

Typically Mr Dahlah was set up near the middle area of the caravan’s camping situation, today however, he spotted their wagon amongst the first circle of thirty wagons, across the way from his own. He picked his way through the crowded central area and around the horses to their wagon. It looked like there was only going to be a table and tarp set up for the daily rum ration, there was not enough space for the gaming and dancing when they were set up in a defensive circle.

He walked up, proffering the blue bottle, “Look what turned up in the hat this morning, some of that Tannican stuff you like.”

Mr Dahlah looked at him and raised a finger and finished giving some instructions about the days rum ration to the two lads that were struggling to move an untapped barrel of rum. Then taking Ander courteously by the arm, walked around to the other side of the wagon with him. “I heard you had some sort of mix up with a thief in the camp last night. Are you alright?”

He was a bit surprised by their inquiry, “Um, yes, well enough. She did not seem to get anything and the guards took her into custody.”

“Well, I’m glad you were not hurt nor suffered any indignity.”

He laughed, “I’m used to indignity, can’t really be a drunkard and not embarrass yourself every now and then. But thank you for your concern.”

“What of the rumour that the thief was a which who escaped by transforming into a goat?”

“Well, I did happen to see a sizable goat running into the woods being chased by at least one guard. And then, the order to slaughter the goats in the caravan. Seems to me something along those lines must have happened.”

“Interesting. You have a bottle of Khulmah there, I’ll take it off your hands. What were you looking for?”

“A bottle of something else and maybe some weight to go with it?”

“I’ve an extra bottle or two kicking around, I’m sure there’s something more to your taste. As to the weight, I’d be more likely to give marks at this point. You know we have a shortage of copper weight and I’m not sure that bottle is worth much more than a single silver weight, if that.”

“I’d take a couple of bottles then. Not much need for fold until we head back home.”

“Don’t forget I’ll pay or barter generously for any copper you come across, stamped weight or a pot, I’m not too fussy.”

“Sure, sure. Everyone wants the copper. I’ve not forgotten.”

He exchanged the Tannican drink for a couple similar sized bottles of rum feeling he had done well for himself.

The rest of the evening was a blur.


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