Sometimes, when Parli thought about his journey, it seemed like no time had passed since they had left the Green Way, leaving the Eastern March of GreensBridge behind. Other times, especially when he woke after a night of camping out on the plains, he was sure he had slipped into a dream of unending travel and aching muscles. Not that his muscles were aching when he woke on the forty-first day of his travels, though he had slept with a small rock under his bedroll and his back was painful under his right shoulder. He slid out of the small tent, trying not to disturb Durren who had kept the watch through much of the night. He gave a halfhearted wave and grunted a greeting to Gaddle, who was by the fire cooking breakfast, before wandering into the grass to deal with nature’s cycles.
After relieving himself he circled the camp a couple times hoping to find a spring or stream, there was no open water, of any sort, in sight. He contented himself with scrubbing down with handfuls of damp grass, thinking back to the last time he had a proper bath. Yesterday, he had sat in a smallish copper tub in one of the Roburns Couch and Courier way stations, they were a regular feature throughout Sharlok’s lands and were often the only civilized respite from the appallingly barbaric conditions of most of the freeholds.
He noted the sun was nearly a hand above the horizon and was heartened his hired help no longer felt it was necessary to wake him with the dawn. He went to the road and stood there looking along its southern track. Other than the brown ribbon of packed earth that passed as a road in these eastern wild-lands, he saw no other signs of civilization, despite the road showing signs of heavy use over the past few eight-days. He wondered where so many heavy wagons had been heading so early in the season, the tracks marred the road deeply and had done so for the last few days of travel, often forcing he and his help to ride along the edge of the road to avoid the grooves.
At least he was nearing his destination, Bowder lay only another day or so ahead. Els’ Maritha was only a few days east of Bowder according to the maps he had checked before leaving GreensBridge. He truly hoped when he reached his brother’s town that he was going to find a respectable level of civilized infrastructure. Hand pumps would be a nice step up, as compared to the majority of places he had passed through over the past month. Many of the little communities drew their water with a bucket from a communal well. Even though he had seen this with his own eyes, he was regularly in a state of disbelief that these people survived at all.
He returned to camp to find both his hired goons sitting near the fire eating breakfast. They had left the little pot by the edge of the fire; the thought of eating the bland mash within made Parli a little queasy. He elected to skip breakfast, instead he packed up his belongings and took the tent down after telling the other two they could have his share.
He had thought he was being smart and frugal by not bringing a servant with him. His assumptions about the tasks the sell-swords would be willing to do had been incorrect, however. In fact a few days into the journey they had sat him down and explained to him he would be expected to look after his own gear, clothing and mount. They were here to keep him safe from threats to his well being, not cater to his whims. The impropriety of the situation had been frustrating, insulting even. He had no choice really, except to accept their unwillingness to look after him and tend to his own affairs.
Initially he had though to replace them or hire a servant somewhere along the way, neither option had really been viable however. Hiring protection or servants in the middle of the freeholds was not something one could easily do. However, when they had stopped at taverns or Roburns way-stations he had paid someone to launder his clothing and had made sure to purchase some tasty provisions and treats for himself. Mollified, if not content, he fully intended to be rid of the two goons at his earliest opportunity. Another eight-day or so and he could dismiss them.
He saddled his horse and did not wait for his companions, they would be following soon enough. He had at least been smart enough to only pay them half their fee up front, the other half would be paid when they reached his brother’s town. He rode on through the plains along the edge of the hard packed road, wondering what had driven his brother to start his project so deeply in uncivilized territory.
Near sunset he had spotted a large village, maybe a town, a few more yat along the road. Determined not to have to camp out on the road again, he put his heels to the flanks of his horse and raced towards the sliver of civilization. Parli would not have made it to the gate of the palisade before the sunset, though thankfully some of the locals had spotted him and a few had gathered at the village gate. He reined in, his horse gave a snort and pranced highly, the locals moved back a bit. One of the guardsmen called out, “My lord, what haste?”
“Is this Bowder?”
“Aye, my lord, it is.”
“Excellent. Can you tell me if there is a Roburns Couch and Courier station here?”
“Under construction, my lord.”
“Is there a tavern or inn where I might be able to get a bath and a decent bed?”
“Aye, my lord. Old Shanitti runs a respectable inn, Oddeom. Sun’s Respite, is the local tavern and does have a few rooms to let, though you would have better service at the Oddeom.”
“Ah, good to hear.” He turned his horse around to see where his guards were. Not far off it turned out, “Would you mind waiting a few more moment before shutting the gate?”
“Of course, my lord. These must be your retainers coming along now.”
“Such as they are.”
Riding through town he noticed that there was a lot of building and expansion taking place. The wooden palisade had been fairly new and of course there were the Roburns Couch and Courier buildings; stables, small warehouse, and an attached office. There were actually too many wooden structures going up for a place so far removed from the woodlands, yet there were many piles of wood, covered in tarps, ready for use. Not to mention behind the inn there was a large stone structure being erected.
The inn was surprisingly good and the old Pwhanna man who owned the establishment was helpful and well spoken. Parli supped in his room, took a bath and had some laundry done. His protectors were nearby, but out of sight and Parli spent much of his time reviewing the various things he had intended to say to his brother when they first met. Within days he would be able to give warning to Jander and see the town his brother had risen with magic. It took him a while to settle his mind and fall asleep that night.
It was mid-morning before they were underway the next day. They left the village through the eastern gate in the palisade and travelled along a broad well packed road, it looked as if work crews had recently levelled the surface. The days travel was easy going and Parli enjoyed the view of the rolling plains. He did not even mind having to spend another night camping by the road. Within the next day or so he was expectant of a hero’s welcome from his brother.
Late the next afternoon, with a light rain coming down he and his two protectors came to what appeared to be a military camp of some sort. Flattened fields and a small collection of semi-permanent structures defined an area where a large number of people had been camped until fairly recently. Presently he could only see a few handfuls of men. He approached one group and asked to speak to the person in charge. He was directed to Arms Master Fariban.
Fariban was a large man of later years with grey hair and beard run through with black streaks. After Parli told him his business and asked for directions to Els’ Maritha the old soldier fell to a fit of laughter and then took some moments to compose himself. Parli looked on, wondering if the man was addle witted.
Finally the man contained his mirth and said, “I regret to inform my lord, that he is, in fact, more than two eight-days away from the place he seeks.” He pointed back along the road, “Sure enough that is Bowder, but not the Bowder you are looking for.”
Tightly, afraid he might loose his temper, Parli demanded, “Explain yourself man. This game you play does not amuse.”
Still chuckling a bit the soldier nodded, “Of course my lord, I meant no disrespect. It’s just this sort of thing usually happens a couple times a year. Certainly it reflects no short coming on your part.” He gestured southward across open plains, “There are two Bowders, the one you seek is south and a bit east of here. You have to cross the migratory path of the wild-folk. You’re looking at another couple of eight-days of travel to reach the other Bowder.”
Parli was not happy to hear this news.