Part 1) Adwin
Adwin had not realized just how much distance they had traversed moving through The Ways last summer with the goblins. Or, more to the point, he had not realized how quickly they had travelled that distance. So far they had been travelling nearly three times faster than a man on foot could manage on a good day, partially thanks to the excellent roads coming out of the city. The first hundred yat had been along the Green Way, a broad road, running straight to the east, made when the city was first created by the Eldra. After that they had rolled along the Green Road, a slightly less broad highway, winding east from town to town, built over the last few centuries from re-purposed stone from some of the city’s original construction.
During the past five days they had moved through three small freeholds and two independent towns, all of which enjoyed good relations with GreensBridge. For most of those days they had been heading east and northeast. They had left the Green Road behind, three days past, the East Road was a far cry from the two green highways. The coach now rocked and swayed more than it had and there were plenty of rough patches. Everyone was getting tired of being bounced around, though no one suggested a slower pace for fear of drawing Tipper’s ire.
After the delay of the previous day, the station had not had the horses to properly replace their team, they all felt better having had a break from the rattling journey. They had been back on the road just after sunrise, generally heading eastward through the morning and then southeast. Sharlok’s Hold was less than an eight-day away at their present rate of travel, assuming no additional delays. However, the trails further east would slow them and there were fewer Roburns Coach and Courier stations along the East Road.
Adwin would be happy when they could leave the big coach behind, which they hoped would happen, without incident, somewhere around Sharlok’s Keep. There was still a bit of contention as to what they would be doing once they reached Sharlok’s lands, but in general they had agreed that they should be able to pass through the hold unrecognized given their mode of transport and the additional travelling companions. Tipper was unhappy with the plan, as she had been generally unhappy with most of their trip up to this point. Her only solace over the situation had been the speed that they were travelling at, everything else about the journey had made her grumpy.
Adwin was most often on the receiving end of Tipper’s frustrations as she had insisted on starting their weapons and combat training on the very first day of the trip, regardless of Adwin’s willingness or lack there of. They had trained every day since, even in the snowstorm that had cost them two days travel. Despite sore muscles and many bruises Adwin thought his skills were improving. He hoped that once they were no longer dependent on the company for transport, food and shelter that her mood would improve.
They hit a large bump, the carriage rocked wildly. Calathy had been half asleep and woke with a start when she nearly slid off the seat she and Adwin were sitting on. Blinking rapidly she readjusted herself, smiled at Adwin and looked outside. There was not much to see; rolling fields of grass and a big flock of birds in the distance. For a while the birds held her attention, they swirled in coordinated patterns, likely feeding on the bounty of insects that the spring rains and new growth of grass provided the perfect breeding grounds for.
Adwin enjoyed the fact that much of what he and the others took for granted about the plains and the wildlife was fresh and new to her. It was nearly as much fun to watch her reactions to things like a massive herd of bleek deer as it was to be back in the countryside, away from the city. He adjusted his position then put and arm around her shoulder, she smiled and leaned against him, snuggling close, though most of her attention remained on what was outside. The two windows in the carriage were of very well made glass, thick clear panes without bevels or other blemishes, though uncommon in the freeholds, such glass was easily attainable from Maldorn.
A lot of things were easily attainable from Maldorn. Adwin had made a list over the past few days of the various goods and supplies that would improve life in the freeholds. Less so for himself, more so in relation to what would be of use on a homestead or for the peoples of a holding in general. Tools and inexpensive clothing were high on the list. So was wood, finished timbers were a lot of work to make and the general scarcity of wood anywhere on the plains made it a valuable commodity, finished or otherwise. In theory he had the ability and the means to bring these products from Maldorn to a place, or places, of his choosing. He had been toying with the idea of starting a general store in Hadden’s Fort.
There was much about that idea that disturbed him. He had thought he would be leaving such considerations behind him when he had left Addath in charge of SkadWind, thought he would be leaving Roburns Trading Company behind as well. It turned out that the company still had an interest in him. During the first night’s stop Hidge had presented him with a package from the boss of the GreensBridge branch of the company with a note from Master Roburns himself, thanking Adwin for his excellent work on behalf of the company’s interests. Additionally there had been a small map with areas of interest to the company, for his future consideration should he find the opportunity. He had also been given papers identifying him as a field agent of the company, a stack of one-hundred new ten mark notes, wrapped in waxed paper, a letter of introduction and a certified voucher for drawing on company supplies.
Tipper had said before they had left GreensBridge that she expected the company would continue to try and use him for its own ends, but he had not expected such strong incentive or interest so quickly. He had asked Hidge about the letter but she had not known much, “I’m afraid it’s above my pay grade, but it sounds like the boss really appreciated your work.”
Mokha and Sefla laughed, drawing Adwin from his musings. He looked away from the window and looked over at his friend and their new companion, the two of them had been constantly in each others company since departing the city. Mokha had accepted the lithe dancer as a student, she was now in training to be an Aggedrah. During the day Mokha was teaching her some of the great ruddahs, the ruddahs of his master and some of his own. The lessons were in Tannican, for the most part. Adwin was actually starting to understand some of the things they said to each other, but he really wished he could understand the stories, or philosophical discourses according to Mokha, as well.
Sefla glanced at him and Adwin was chagrined to feel himself starting to blush. In truth he found her beauty and intensity overwhelming at times. She smiled and asked, “It must be near mid-day?”
He gave a quick nod, “I’d imagine we’ll be stopping for lunch soon.”
Mokha frowned, “Already? Let’s finish the ruddah then.”
Sefla nodded and returned her full attention to the lesson, Mokha proceeded with his recital. Calathy snuggled into Adwin’s shoulder, he gave her a quick squeeze and kissed the crown of her head. Adwin’s attention returned to the window, he watched the scenery as the coach trundled along the bumpy road.
Mokha, despite having brought a fair sized supply of drugs, coffee and liquor had been sober since they left the city. He had suffered through the first few days, grumpy, maybe even short tempered, but by the fourth or fifth day he had seemed alright. When Adwin asked him why, Mokha had replied in his teaching voice, “One should never have too much fun, certainly not all the time. While drugs can be very useful, their regular use can lead to serious debilitation. By taking a break I allow time for my body to recover and in so doing verify to myself that I am the one in control of myself, having not succumbed to the allure of addiction. Besides, I have a student now and if I’m to do well by her, then I need to recall the ruddahs and not be muddle headed.”
Adwin had asked, “Do all Aggedrah do that?”
“No, sadly most Aggedrah die fairly young, typically as an indirect result of their addictions.”
That had shocked Adwin. He had known that opium and booze could ruin a person, until recently had had not really understood what addiction really was.
When Mokha was not reciting ruddahs for Sefla to memorize, the two of them were making music, dancing or talking about music and dance. It was mostly an all day process for the two of them, though sometimes they spent the evening performing. The Roburns employees were always appreciative of such performances, especially so at the more isolated stations.
Tipper, as usual, was not riding inside the coach. Instead she spent most of her time outside on the back, which could be used for luggage or could be set up as a bench for extra passengers. She often became cranky if the weather forced her to sit inside with the others, despite it not really being crowded with a fifth or even a sixth person. He hoped her mood would improve once they were past Sharlok’s Hold.
So far the journey had not been as pleasant and idyllic as Adwin had imagined it would be. Still, he was happy to be out of the city and he did enjoy watching the countryside as they raced along the roads heading back to Kaymere, where he had first met Tipper.
There was a jarring double bounce as the coach passed over a particularly rough section of road. Calathy rolled off the padded couch to the floor with a startled cry, the rest of them were jostled around. There was a loud cracking sound. Adwin caught a glimpse of a piece of wheel as it flipped past the window. The coach wobbled. The teamster shouted for the horses to stop, everything tilted at an odd angle, followed by the shuddering sudden slowing of their transport. Mokha looked startled as he was thrown to the floor, Sefla was thrown forward as well, but managed not to fall on the other two, though she did end up sprawled across Adwin.
The coach came to a full stop, the horses voiced their indignant protests, Hidge shouted out, “We lost a wheel! Everyone okay?”