Flint found the pace of the caravan and the required social interactions trying at times. They had been on the road for half an eight-day by this point, yet the caravan had travelled only about thirty yat. Part of the problem during the first day or so had been the road conditions, the ground still being soft from the heavy rain that had come down the day previous to their departure from Cof Crossroads. Some of the problem was fear of further bandit attacks, a lack of outriders and guards only compounded this problem as many of the caravan folk were still traumatized from the earlier attack.
There had been disagreements and arguments throughout the past four days. Yet somehow Mr Dahlah had been able to negotiate, cajole or intimidate the rest of them to carry on. Flint had no time for the fears and self doubts of the others and he had come to admire Dahlah’s patience and leadership skills. Loden had at least been able to keep an eye on the prisoners as he often road alongside the wagon Ander was in, just behind the cart carrying the captured bandits. The two of them seemed well suited for each other and their generally congenial dispositions would have greatly helped the morale of the others if they had not been so prone to drunken revelry during the evening. Flint was really beginning to dislike Ander’s magical hat. Surprisingly the biggest asset to the trip, after Dahlah, had been the Priestess of Mercy, Asta Kaln. Asta had seen to the medical needs of the caravan folk and the bandits that had still been wounded from the earlier attack. She also had a friendly and cheerful disposition, she was quick to win the admiration of the others.
Flint was happy to leave the management of the caravan to Mr. Dahlah. As much as he could, Flint had ranged ahead making sure the road was safe for passage and that there were no other bandits planning on attacking them. There were only a handful of the others with any inclination to scout the countryside for troubles and Flint had been able to convince them to cover the nearby flanks and to keep a couple of people trailing the caravan as a rear guard. So far they had encountered no troubles, though Flint had often seen goblin tracks to the east of the road. Luckily the sign was fairly old, previous to the last heavy rains and Flint had made a point to quietly pass the word to Dahlah and Loden so as to not upset the others.
Still, the slow pace bothered him. It was a trip he could have made in three days if he had been so inclined, certainly he could have done it in five days without pushing. The present arrangement meant they were not going to get to Carskot for at least another four days, likely five. He was hopeful they would not have to deal with bad weather.
Flint spent the evenings with the caravan, typically in the company of Mr Dahlah and Asta, sometimes Loden and Ander if they were not too drunk. He left the night watch to the people Dahlah had assigned to the task and hoped they were competent enough for the job. Over the past four days he had been able to craft a few more arrows in the evenings, though he had run out of suitable supplies to make more. He also checked the prisoners at the end of each day, making sure they received water and a bit of food, they seemed well enough under the circumstances.
The next morning was overcast, though Flint did not think it would rain. Everyone was seeing to their morning routines and it looked liked the caravan might actually get on the road in a timely fashion.
Asta and Loden were conversing near Ander’s wagon and when Loden spotted him, he waved Flint over.
“Whats did you need?” Flint asked as he came up to them.
The priestess smiled, “Good morning Flint.”
“Ah, good morning Priestess Asta. Loden.”
Loden grinned, “Morning.”
“I had asked Loden if he was willing to show me how to properly ride. Aside from a few short trips on an ass, my experience if fairly limited.”
Flint looked from the priestess to Loden, who nodded, “Makes sense if she’s going to be travelling with us after Carskot. We’d make much better time riding than we would on foot.”
Flint found it odd how reticent Loden had been to committing to future travels with him, yet he seemed to easily accept the idea when the priestess said it would be so.
“We were just concerned about the prisoners. If its okay with you, Ander said he could keep an eye on them.”
Loden quickly added, “Or you could stay back with the caravan today if you think that would be better. We’ll ride ahead, I can keep an eye on the road.”
Flint looked around, “Where’s Ander?”
“Off, over there, in the trees. He’s feeling a bit under the weather today.”
“Right. I’ll stay back. You two go ahead.”
“Delightful.” The priestess seemed happy.
Loden spat to one side then gave him a nod, “We won’t get too far ahead. If it starts to rain much we’ll turn back.”
“Sounds reasonable. Stay safe.”
They wandered off to the road together, Loden leading the horses and telling Asta of the differences between a western war horse like BigNose and Tingy and the eastern riding horses like Rogue. The priestess seemed more inclined to the smaller mount and Loden assured her that was likely for the best.
Flint looked around, he could see that Mr Dahlah’s wagon was rolling onto the road as were some of the others. The cart the prisoners were in did not have enough space for him to ride up front, he turned and looked to the wagon Ander was usually on. The burly teamster seemed impatient, she scowled at Flint.
Flint gave her a nod and looked to the treeline where he expected to see Ander.
“Might be best to go see how he is.” Said the teamster.
“Is he always like this?”
“Not in the early days, but ever since he’s had that hat, he’s been in a gradual decline. For years now.”
“Alright, fall in line when you need to. We’ll catch up.”
“Wasn’t planning on waiting.”
Flint smiled, he liked her attitude. He wandered into the trees in the direction Loden had indicated. After a while he heard the sounds of retching. Following the noise he soon came to Ander leaning on a tree and puking up bile. Flint saw that there was blood in Ander’s vomit.
“You going to make it?”
Ander started, surprised to see Flint, “Er, ah, yeah. Give me a moment.”
“Caravan’s heading out, but take your time.”
Ander wiped at his face and spat a couple of times. “Should be good, lets go.”
Flint and Ander walked back to the road, the trailing wagon of the caravan was ahead of them a hundred strides or so. They walked in silence together for a while, Ander was sweating visibly. He offered Ander his water skin. Ander took the skin without a word, nodded his thanks then gulped a few mouthfuls of water. After a few moments he took another, smaller drink then passed the skin back to Flint.
They spent the morning trailing the caravan, when Flint spotted edible plants he would pause to gather some and shared them with Ander as they continued walking. By midday the clouds had given way and the day warmed considerably. Ander appeared to have recovered from the worst of his hangover. He also did not seem to be in too much of a rush to return to his wagon. Flint kept an eye on the surrounding terrain, they had passed an abandoned homestead and he periodically caught sight of the trailing rear guard but there was nothing threatening.
Eventually Ander spoke up, “Thank you, Flint.”
“No problem friend.”
“No, I mean thanks for not lecturing me.”
“I don’t see how that would do much good. Besides, if a man wants to drink himself to death, who am I to nay-say him.”
“Dowmer would have been nagging me all morning. Making sure I knew what a fool I was being, wasting my life.”
“Well, she’s entitled to her opinion, but I don’t see how that’s going to help you.”
“Yeah, but she’s always been like that. Mean spirited and tough as nails. Did you know she fought her way out of the bandit ambush, down the line of wagons. She rescued a bunch of people and killed eight bandits. Or so she says.”
“She looks the sort. I take it you feel her respect is worth your care?”
“She’s been with the caravan longer than I.”
“Well. Regardless, a person will treat you well or they won’t. You could spend your lifetime trying to get her to show you respect and never seemingly achieve that objective. Yet, based on what you say, she cares enough to try and humiliate you into stopping your over-drinking. Sounds like a way someone who is mean spirited might show you they have some regard for your well being.”
Ander walked along in silence for a while.
Flint suggested, “Maybe we should return to the caravan, I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on the prisoners.”
Ander increased his pace. Shortly they were back with the caravan and Flint climbed up beside Dowmer, while Ander hoped up on the back. The prisoners were still in the cart. Dowmer gave him a glance but said nothing.
When the sun was low in the sky Mr Dahlah called an end to the days travel. The caravan circled, folks went about setting up camp and making some food. Loden and Asta returned from their ride, the priestess was sore but happy with the days experience. Loden said she seemed to have a good way with horses and soon the group of them settled by a small fire near Dahlah’s wagon. Ander joined them for a meal and they talked long into the evening. Neither Loden nor Ander seemed incline to drinking that night. Eventually Flint moved off from the circle and found a place to lay out his bedroll. As the camp settled Flint soon fell into a peaceful sleep.
Sometime later Flint was startled awake. People were shouting, there were sounds of violence and one of the wagons was on fire.