FreeHolds Adventure, Cycle 3 Part 1b

FreeHolds Adventure, Cycle 3 Part 1b

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Hidge and their teamster, Pridden, were trying to get a spare wheel on the forward axle of the coach. Adwin could hear them talking and really wanted to go over and help. However, the last time he had tried something similar, Hidge had put him in his place making it clear that someone who had paid as much as Adwin had for the company’s services should not be lending a hand to the hired help. So, despite his urge to do so, he stayed put, watching Calathy prepare the midday meal.

Hidge had also initially tried to dissuade Calathy from cooking, however she was by far the best cook available, typically she only looked after the midday meal. After the first meal Calathy insisted on preparing Pridden hardily agreed that she could cook, so long as she showed him what she was doing to make the normally bland meals taste so good. He was happy to let her do so, the duty would have fallen to him otherwise

Tipper wandered back towards their fire from her patrol of the immediate area, something she always did when they stopped for lunch out in the wilds. She had gathered some greens, which she passed off to Calathy with a smile. She then sat down next to Adwin and said, “The road ahead turns more easterly, which means we’re on track to reach Iliathern’s FreeHold later today. That should put us on Sharlok’s borders about five to six days from now, depending on roads and weather”

“We’ve been making good time then, despite the delays.” Adwin commented.

She gave a nod and slapped a hand down on his leg, “I have to admit, you were right about the coach. It’s nearly as fast as travelling through the ways. Are you two still keen about this plan of trying bluff our way through Sharlok’s?”

He glanced over to the company employees, they were busy with the wheel.

Adwin nodded, “I don’t see why not, I think Mokha’s point about us being fairly unrecognizable, as compared to when we passed through last summer, is valid.”

Mokha looked over at the mention of his name, as usual, he and Sefla were busy with lessons. He asked, “What other options do we have?”

Tipper looked generally southward, “I think Heart-Tree-Valley is less than an eight-day south of here. Though I don’t think we’d save much time, even if they were willing to lead us through the ways again.”

Adwin added, “We also have a lot of luggage and extra supplies with us now. Without pack animals we’d have to leave most of it behind.”

Mokha scrunched his face up, “Yeah, no. I’ve become rather attached to my new instruments.”

“So that’s settled then. We’ll try to connect with my uncle’s coach line or get ourselves a wagon or pack animals somewhere inside Sharlok’s Hold. Then we’re heading to Kaymere via Lekas and Aramy.”

Mokha smiled, “It’ll be good to see Lef again.”

Tipper was quick to point out, “There’s a lot of work for us in Kaymere, I don’t think we’ll have much time for social visits. Assuming you all still intend to give me a hand?”

“I don’t think any of us have changed our minds,” Mokha said with a somewhat reproachful tone. “Besides, we still have to rest periodically and a days delay in Lekas won’t cost us that much time.”

Tipper looked like she was going to protest for a moment, but instead she gave a quick nod, “You’re right, besides, there will likely be a delay in Wikkersak. If there’s time I’d like a proper visit with my uncle. I’m curious to see how things have gone down between him and Roburns.”

She and Adwin both knew that the company intended to buy her uncle out or run him off. Tipper seemed to think her uncle would not fold easily but Adwin was not so sure. There had been a lot of resources and personnel slotted for the expansion of the eastern line. He figured, at best, they could give the man some advanced warning about what he could expect from the company.

Calathy stood, turned towards the coach, and said “Hidge! Pridden! Food’s up!”

“Be right there, miss.” Pridden called back.

Calathy started serving bowls of food. The other two joined them by the fire and everyone ate in silence. When Adwin finished he asked Pridden if he needed a hand with anything.

“No, sir. We’ve put the wheel on, just have to check the team over again. Given the fact we would have soon been stopping for our mid-day rest, I don’t think we’ve lost that much time, we should still make the station in Iliathern before nightfall.”

“Good. Let us know when you’re ready.”

It did not take long before they were on the road again. Mokha and Sefla had resumed their lessons, Calathy was sitting on the back, talking with Tipper. Adwin watched the countryside as the wagon rolled along. There was a notable difference in the road quality and the scenery when they crossed over into Iliathern’s Hold. The roads were better maintained, the couple of bridges they crossed were broad and made of stone, hedgerows bordered the boundaries of the homesteads and lined the roads while small copses of trees, between crop fields, were fairly regular. They also encountered two mounted patrols who seemed uninterested in them, there were signs of repairs being made to town walls and a small castle they rolled past.

The level of activity surprised Adwin. The hold was small, comparable to Willik’s Hold, but there was every indication that this was a prosperous place and that the lord of the hold was actively trying to improve the local situation. Whereas, in his memory he could not remember Lord Willik ever being as engaged with improvements such as what he was seeing here. He wondered what the difference was.

As the afternoon slowly passed the sun sank towards the horizon behind them, the coach continued onward as the darkness encroached. They came to a large village, if Adwin remembered correctly the place was called Hammer’s Crossroads. The Roburns Coach and Courier station was on the nearer edge of the settlement, they came to a gradual stop then he and his companion disembarked, stretched and looked around.

The place was fairly quiet. There were a few people out and about and there was a tavern a bit further towards the centre of the village. Most of the buildings were of stone and wood, usually the lower third being of stone. Some of the station employees came out to help with the luggage and the team, he and his companions gathered near the back side of the coach.

Mokha took out his pipe and thumbed some tobacco into it, he placed it between his teeth but did not light it, “Seems like a sleepy place.”

Tipper headed off to a nearby field, “I’m going to sing the sunset, before the day’s done. Anyone who wants to can come along.”

The others looked around at each other and without exchanging a word they unanimously followed her. Sefla did not sing but Adwin could see that she was listening intently. Calathy was humming along with them. The rest sang the ritual song a couple of times through before the last light of day left the sky. Then together they headed back to the station and entered through the main door.

Most of the company stations were set up similarly to the one here in Hammer’s Crossroads. They boasted a double wall of broad planks of wood with a hand spans gap between the outer and inner walls, the doors were heavy and the windows were double paned, they could be shuttered both inside and outside. The main office through the front door consisted of an open space, typically outfitted with a cast iron stove, large table, chairs and benches. There was a desk and counter to the right of the door, the station master usually dealt with most of the business from this vantage. Shelves lined the walls behind the counter and contained many of the common products the company imported from Maldorn. A door behind the clerk’s desk gave access to a small warehouse and the stables beyond. A door at the back end of the main room gave access to a long hall, off of which the staff’s private rooms were located and two smaller rooms for visiting couriers and teamsters. Another door at the end of the hall lead out to the shit-houses while a narrow staircase lead up to the accommodations for the coach customers.

The employees were gathered around the common table scarfing down their evening meal, as one they stopped and looked at the group of them by the door. There was a long pause then Hidge pushed her chair back and stood, “This is Master Adwin and his companions.” She gestured to her left, “This is station master Galden.”

There was another brief moment of silence, then the station master wiped at his face with a hand, managing to smear bean juice across his clean shaven chin. Still eyeing the group he left the table, heading for the counter, “I heard you lost a wheel earlier today. Glad to see you’re alright. If I could just get your signature or mark on the books Master Adwin, then you lot can head upstairs. Your luggage is already up in the hall, we’ll have some proper food cooked up for you all within the hour.”

Adwin went to the counter, took the proffered steel quill and after dipping it into the inkwell, scrawled his signature on the indicated line, “Any news from the road?”

“Well, sir. There is. As you’re heading east to the end of the line, I’m happy to inform you that you’ll be able to get all the way to Wikkersak. By the time you get there, I’d imagine the station will be built and sorted out. Near enough that you shouldn’t experience any discomforts during your stay there.”

Tipper came up to the counter beside Adwin as he said, “I was under the impression we’d have to deal with a local company once in Sharlok’s Hold.”

“Not anymore. I’m happy to report that the line has been extended to Wikkersak to the east and as far south as Bowder. Depending on how Sharlok’s endeavours proceed over the next couple of months, we might even have the routes extended to points beyond by the autumn.”

“So Sharlok has proceeded with the road improvements?”

“He has in fact. As well he’s raised his banners and will be bringing the outlying areas under his control. There’s been bandit problems east of his present holdings for some years now.”

Tipper asked in a seemingly casual tone, “So the Wikkersak Coach service is no longer running?”

He looked her over with a critical eye before responding, “Far as I know they’re still in business, though they’ll be unable to compete with the company’s services. Besides, there’s a rumour that the owner has run off with his family, leaving one of his men in charge of the company.”

“I see.”

Adwin detected an edge of anger in Tipper’s voice. He quickly thanked the station manager and he and his companions headed upstairs.


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