Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 9c

Tales of a Horse Thief, Part 9c

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“Don’t draw those blades!” Flints voice cracked with command. Everyone in the common hall fell quiet.

Loden stood frozen in mid draw, Wol and her people stood. The locals made a few low comments, a couple of them stepped clear of the area between Loden and Wol. Flint continued in a calmer tone, “We have accepted guest rights from these people, we are oath bound to be peaceful. And, if they’re here, so are they.”

“That’s right,” Said Wol from across the room.

Loden could not believe what he was hearing and the smug look on Wol’s face almost made him draw his steel anyway. Flint came up beside him and in a low voice advised, “If you attack her, these people will put you in that tree we saw near the gates. If you manage to kill her, you will hang in that tree until you are dead.”

Loden took a moment to consider what Flint said, then slowly pushed his blades back into their sheaths. Most people were looking at him. He raised his hands and said with a forced smile, “Just surprised to see our friends here. I respect the laws of hospitality.”

The man who had greeted them near the gate nodded, “Good. Whatever the issue between your two parties, neither group will take action against the other within the walls of RiversBend. Understood?” He looked to Loden, who nodded and then to Wol who said, “Of course.”

“Right then, we’ll leave them to that end of the hall and you three can come sit over here with us.”

Unsurprisingly the locals wanted to know what the issue was with Wol and her party. Flint had no interest in relating the story, Loden was content to drink his mead and let Asta tell the tale. She was good, maybe not as good as a trained bard, but close. She spoke clearly and held the attention of the locals throughout the telling. They did not interrupt her and as the story unfolded they periodically turned serious expressions towards Wol’s table. When the telling was done the table fell to silence for a while.

Loden commented on the stew, “This is great, it’s not often I get lamb. Also, this mead is excellent.”

The conversation turned to news gathering, the locals were hungry for information of the wider world, Flint asked some pointed questions about the road ahead and what was known of ancient ruins in the region. Then the conversation turned to trolls and goblins, the folks of RiversBend had a strange tale to tell.

Mallaka, the woodworker, told the story of the Forest King, “Some years back was when we first heard of the Forest King. I’d say two or three years before all this banditry started in and around Cof. Word came from the few travellers we see here, reports of a new king claiming all the Linklow Forest, asking any who wished to help form this kingdom to seek out the Forest King. Being the simple folk we are, we were not overly concerned with the dreams of the ambitious, certainly we never thought to seek alliance with this new king. As the years passed we would sometimes receive travellers who claimed to be in the Forest Kings service. These people reported that the king was a great mage and had started building a city in the heart of the forest, somewhere between the South Linklow River and the North Linklow River. This mage-king had brought the diverse citizens of the forest together under one banner. He had attracted the service of humans, goblins and even trolls. All of which were living peacefully together in the king’s new city.

“Hard to give credit to such claims, though there are stories of goblins working with humans and living across the wide world. Trolls on the other hand, are known to be aggressively territorial and disinclined to work with the other races. As the years passed the stories persisted and some of our young men and women ventured off, seeking this new king. We know not if they ever found the Forest King for none of them have yet to return. More recently hunters and woodsmen started noticing that there were tracks and old camps indicating that goblins and trolls were in fact travelling together. We started loosing livestock and even a couple of people had gone missing over the last year or so.

“Then last summer a small army showed up, with some two-hundred or so goblins, a few dozen trolls and many score humans. A force of over three hundred. They surrounded our village and threatened to lay siege to us unless we bent the knee to the Forest King. So we did and now we fly the Forest King’s banner above the gates, pay a tax of ten percent of our production and have to send one male and one female to the Forest King each year.

“Most recently, Wol, and her companions showed up less than an eight-day ago. She came here seeking the Forest King, claiming that she had heard we fly his banner. Sadly we know not where the Forest King’s city is, nor does he leave a representative of any sort with us.”

Flint started asking a few practical questions and Loden noticed that Wol and her people were making a quiet exit out of the hall. He decided it was time to stretch his legs and have a pipe. He went out onto the platform above the river and could see Wol and her people loading a small boat below him. He filled his pipe bowl and used one of the quick-strikes he had to light the tobacco. He puffed away for a bit, watching the bandits. Two men and a young woman travelled with Wol, they were well armed and had loaded a considerable amount of supplies onto the boat. The young woman notice Loden and pointed him out to the others. Wol looked up.

Loden smiled and gave a wave, “Heading out so soon?”

“Thought it best under the circumstances.”

“Want to meet up outside town? Finish things between us?”

“I don’t see why I would do that.”

“So you’re just going to cut and run?”

“You’re not really worth my time.”

“Ha!” Loden spat over the edge of the platform.

“Good luck with whatever you’re doing. I really hope you did not come all this way seeking me.”

“Nah, not worth our time.”

“Good. Then we should be off.” She stepped down into the boat, Loden was happy to see she had a pronounced limp. Then the young woman untied the boat and hopped in, shortly afterwards they were moving down river with the current.

Loden smoked his pipe and watched as they floated away, until they were out of sight. There was not much of the day left. Smiling he returned to his companions and informed them that Wol and her people were gone. Everyone seemed to think that was for the best.

Loden then tried selling his booze. Which was more difficult than he thought it would be. Mallaka had introduced him to the right people and though there was some curiosity about what he was offering, it turned out that these people had little to no coin. They were also a practical sort of folk and the exotic nature of what he was offering seemed to be lost on them. An old woman was most interested in what he had and it was not for the contents of the various bottles and containers, but rather, the containers themselves. She was especially interested in the glass and stone, less so in the pottery. She was the local healer and had little to trade that Loden was interested in, but he fetched Asta and asked her what she might want for their trip. Meanwhile the old woman had spread the word and others started showing up, making a pile of various goods they were willing to part with.

The impromptu bazaar was soon joined by Flint who had brought some dwarven made goods he had to trade. Loden was able to swap over half the bottles he had. He mostly was interested in the pelts and hides that a few of the hunters had made available. More than one bottle was opened up in the common hall and the locals passed them around, sampling the exotic booze. Loden opened one as well, slowly sipping on the strong brew.

As the sun started to sink below the western horizon nearly everyone headed out to the commons. The mood was festive and someone said something about digging up a boar that had been cooking in a pit over the past couple of days. So, Loden brought along the rest of his bottles, he kept a couple for himself and his companions, but the rest he opened and gave to the locals after having a small sampling of each. As the sun set most of the village gathered and nearly two-hundred people sang the days end. Then they partied. Fires and dancing. Loden’s booze, as well as the local mead. Roasted boar and so much other food that Loden was unsure if he had sampled everything that was available. Somewhere in the drunken revelry Loden had lost track of his companions, but by the point he realized he had not seen either in some time, he was too drunk to care. Besides, it seemed the local women were quite taken with him and his last clear memory had been of dancing in a circle of women, all of whom were trying to convince him that they could please him best. He knew that one or more of them had lead him off, but what happened afterwards was a blur.

Loden awoke with the dawn, naked on the commons, as a hundred or so people stood nearby singing the birth of the day.

They did not tarry long at RiversBend, which was both good and bad as far as Loden was concerned. He was very hungover and somewhat concerned about the end of the previous night.

Recently, such encounters had been problematic. Ever since crossing the East Sister River his relations with women had been off. First there had been the problems with Gella, Lord Gainsly’s daughter. Then Dahlah, a stunning woman in his opinion, yet they did not see themselves as female or did not want to be identified as such, that was confusing. The worst had been the goat witch, he still was not sure what had been going on with the witch and the strange women she had taken him to see. Truthfully, that encounter had really messed with his willingness to engage in such relations. Though, as best as he could remember, there was no weirdness with his engagements from the previous evening.

On the good side, they were on the move again, heading generally east and they now thought they knew where they were going. Flint had learned a fair amount from the folks of RiversBend. The locals had taken to him quickly and he was able to relate well with them. Loden knew it had something to do with the singing of the dusk and the dawn, but he still did not really understand what the Old Ways were all about. Approximately two eight-days to the northeast, where the northern plateau rose above the southern part of the forest was a great waterfall. By the lake below the falls was the town of Towwit, or, Towwit Falls as it was more commonly called. Above the town, situated on the cliff by the falls was a ruin that seemed to match what Asta had seen in her visions.


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