Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 3a

Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 3a

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Part 3) Loden


Loden startled awake from a dream that fled his conscious mind as his eyes opened. “Hey! What?”

Surprised to not be bound he sat up suddenly and smacked his head on something hard. Stunned, he collapsed back to the ground, laying dazed for many moments. He was still trying to figure out how he had come to be unbound and naked. He could feel blood running across his brow. He looked around, still confused. After a few more moments his brain processed the fact that he was in a small cave, the air was foul and his throat raw, breathing was difficult.

A sudden fear took hold of him, he held his breath and listened in expectant dread. However, he did not hear the strange warbling sound of the creature. After a long moment he started to breathe again. His abdomen was sore and seemed to be swollen. Carefully, he sat up. The first thing he noticed was Asta laying face down on the floor of the cave, her clothing shredded and bloodstained, one of her legs was in a small pool of water.

“No, no, no.” He scooted over to where she lay and rolled her over. In the dim light he could not tell if she had suffered serious wounds, so he put his cheek near her mouth and nose. He was much relieved when he felt her breath against his flesh.

He pulled her clear of the pool, worried that she did not awaken, but her breathing remained regular, though shallow. He could see familiar twilight outside and rocky terrain. He cautiously moved to the entrance and looked around. His belongings were in a pile to one side of the cave, the gooey cocoon he had recently been encased in was out there as well. The sight of it made him shudder and he dropped his head to his hands, trying to rub the memories from his brain. He found a tender, bloody goose egg forming on his forehead, from his collision with the cave ceiling. His hands came away sticky with blood.

Trying to ignore the disconcerting memories of his recent imprisonment he listened carefully for the sound of the creature, all seemed clear. Cautiously he moved out of the cave mouth, stopped to listen and looked around again. Still no obvious threats. He could see that his clothing, not including his coat, has been washed and laid out to dry on the rocks. His coat was a sticky mess, but underneath he found the rest of his belongings.

He could feel the coolness in the air and decided to get dressed. His stomach was noticeably tender but he found no other wounds aside from the recent head bashing he had just given himself. His clothing was dry, thankfully, he felt better for being dressed. He found his harness, with his swords and one of his shooters. The other repeater was with the rest of his belongings, he checked it and noticed that two shots had been fired. He looked to the cave and wondered what had happened. He assumed Asta had rescued him. Goddess only knew how she had defeated the creature and then managed to get him off the escarpment and then down to this cave.

He had a few extra shots for the repeaters, so he took the time to reload, double checking the other weapon to be sure it had in fact not been used. Ander’s hat lay top down on the ground, he left it where it was for now. He spied the small stone jug and had a brief flash of himself cackling and desperately trying to get the stopper from that jug. Another haunting memory. He found his tobacco pouch and pipes, one of the pipes had broken. He happily thumbed tobacco into the other and using one of the quick-strikes he had, was able to get the tobacco burning, though the brief flare of fire was brighter than he remembered.

He also had his money pouch, his razor, an unopened pack of cigarillos, some bits and pieces of string, a few pieces of dried meat and some hard candy. He noticed the scraps of Asta’s robe as well, it looked like someone had hacked it to pieces. He sat quietly puffing on his pipe until he had smoked the contents of the bowl. His guts roiled a bit then settled.

He moved back into the cave, being careful of his head and tried to wake the priestess, “Asta. Are you alright?”

She made no response, nor did she wake up. He noticed that she had lost a boot and that her hands were wrapped in scraps of cloth from her robe. He looked for wounds on her again but could find none. She was wearing her rope halter and had her torn shift tied around her waist, the shift also had blood on it.

“Well, it looks like you’re okay.” Though he had to wonder what she had gone through to get him away from the creature. Tenderly he moved a lock of hair away from her eyes and was surprised to find that she too had struck her forehead. In the poor light of the cave the wound did not look recent.

He wondered how long he had been captive to the creature. Wondered if there were other dangerous creatures around. He thought that they should be moving, but had no idea where he was. Going back outside he moved to the right of the cave and found a steep drop. The moons still hung in the strange sky above him; they reminded him of how desperate his recent situation had been. He focused on what was below him. There was no way that they would be able to climb down that cliff face. Turning his back to the moons he walked back to the cave mouth and looked in, nothing had changed. He then went to the left of the cave and followed along the rising cliff face until he saw a navigable slope heading down to a small valley between two mountains. From what he could see there were trees or something like trees down there. He thought that part of a distant rock formation looked too out of place to be natural and suspected it might be a tower of some sort.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting that.” He moved down slope a bit further, trying to get a better view. The tower was too far away to see clearly, if it was indeed a tower and not just a spire of rock. He returned to the cave.

Just as he was thinking of trying to wake Asta again, he heard her call out, “Loden!”

“Right here!” He ducked down and looked into the cave, she was right by the cave mouth and they startled each other a bit. She smiled at him and he chuckled uncomfortably.

“What happened to your head?”

“Smacked it on the cave roof when I woke up.”

“Let me see.”

She reached up and brushed at the wound, it was tender, but her wide eyed open mouthed expression seemed disproportionate to the situation. “What?” He asked.

She pulled back the hair from her forehead, “What do you see?” She pointed to where she had also struck her head.

“Well, a bit of a scar. I guess it looks like the double swirl of your goddess.”

She pointed at his head and nodded in wonderment, “You too, though your mark is still bloody.”

He reached up and touched the sensitive area, “Really, does that mean…?”

“The Goddess has marked the both of us is my guess.”

“Marked us.” He rubbed at the wound but it was painful. He stopped. “Why?”

“I don’t know why. I do know that I did things I’d never done before when I went and rescued you. I was filled with the power of the Goddess.”

Loden had a brief memory of calling out to the goddess for help. Disconcerted he rubbed at the mark again but decided not to mention his plea to the goddess. Asta crawled out of the cave, showing too much thigh in the process and Loden looked away embarrassed. She held up a piece of meat, “Can I have this?”

He looked at her a moment, confused, “Of course. Take it all if you want. I’m not hungry.”

“We’ll have to make it last.” She popped the piece of dry meat into her mouth and started sucking on it, “Yum, good.” She mumbled around the mouthful. Then she took out her knife and started hacking at the remains of her robe, she wrapped her bare foot with pieces of robe and secured them with additional strips cut from the same cloth. Then she rose to her feet and walked around in a circle, testing the quality of her work.

“Alright, I think that will do.”

“What now?”

“Well, we should both drink some water,” she pointed to the small stone jug, “I’d like to fill that with water as well. We might need it.”

“Ah, sure.” He picked up the jug and using his razor, carefully worked the stopper from the bottle’s mouth. He gave a sniff to the contents, it did not smell good. He took a little sip however, then dumped the rest. He offered her the bottle.

They drank from the pool and filled the jug, pressing the stopper back into place as snugly as it would fit. Then they gathered their meagre belongings. Loden had intended to leave the gooey coat behind, but Asta picked it up and stuffed the remnants of her robe into one of the coat pockets. “I figure we might need this.”

“Sure. It’s pretty disgusting.”

She gave a dismissive shrug, scooped up Ander’s hat and flipped it onto his head. She threw the coat over one shoulder and started off down slope towards the valley. He watched her walk away for a while, noticing her uneven gait from the mismatched footwear. After a few moments she stopped and looked back uphill at him, “Are you coming?”

He lifted the hat, pushed his hair back and set out after her, “I sure am.”


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