Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 5d

Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 5d

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After his encounter with the shifty official, Loden was quick to make his way out of the tower. His heartbeat was fast, the crowd put him on edge. He cut towards the carriages, weaving quickly between people, sometimes pushing past them. One of the traffic directors shouted at him to follow the flow, Loden regarded him suspiciously then carried on his way. A moment or two later he had cleared the worst of the congestion. He had been through worse; the fleeing mob at Harrows End, after the Tannicans had breached the walls would haunt him for the rest of his days.

He headed north along the line of carriages, periodically looking around to see if he was being followed. Ahead of him there was still plenty of traffic, the flow of people coming in and out of the market was considerable, carriages and wagons rattled by along the designated right-of-way. The day was getting warmer, though not overly hot yet, the sweat across his brow had more to do with the fishy situation he had recently found himself in.

Loden slowed his pace a bit and continued on towards the market. He was tempted to take the road to his right that lead to the four temple grounds to the east. However, he thought it best to make sure he was not being followed. He felt the market offered him the best opportunity to both determine if someone was trailing after him and to be able to lose someone if that was the case. As he came up to the market gate he double checked his satchel, he shifted it to a more forward position, hooking a thumb around the strap. He knew that a busy market like this was prime territory for pickpockets.

People crowded the main thoroughfare of the market, kiosks and tents lined either side, the congestion of people perusing, bartering and crying their wares necessitated a slower pace. He made his way to the first intersection then ambled southward, taking his time to look at the goods being offered and to see if anyone was paying particular attention to him. There did not seem to be an immediate threat but he remained cautious, slowly tracking his way south, then east and south again. The congestion thinned as he moved deeper into the market.

Loden caught the scent of quality tobacco among the myriad of smells. He raised his head and sniffed at the air, then moved in the direction he thought the smell was coming from. Soon he was also smelling good coffee along with the tobacco. Other strong smells lay under those scents; incense, hashish, herbs and spices. It reminded him of the Rashammon warehouses in Tisp. A bit further along he caught the sounds of music, a hand drum, lute, flute and sitar. Tannican, no doubt.

Sure enough, he rounded the corner of a brick kiosk and tent, there was a well and half a dozen of so vendors of Tannican descent. The stone kiosk was in fact a small cafe, musicians and dancers performed to one side. A fair number of Tannicans were lounging on pillows and rugs around low tables. They smoked from water pipes, drank tea or coffee while enjoying the entertainment or engaged in serious sounding conversations. Loden stopped, bad memories bubbled to the surface of his thoughts. Instinctively his hands edged towards where his swords would have been, however, he had placed his harness and weapons into the satchel along with most of the Eldra valuables he had collected.

Taking a few deep breaths, he made fists and looked around, no one seemed to have taken any interest in him. Certainly there were no Imperial pennants, no iconography of the Church of Light. With a sweep of his eyes he observed many Andalee and mixed blood in the area. He forced himself to relax, spit to one side and move to a small stall that sold water pipes and tobacco.

“Good day to you, good sir. What is your pleasure?” The fellow was on the short side, his Andalee lightly accented.

Loden fished out his pipe and showed it to the man, “Pipe tobacco?”

“Ah, yes. So sorry, but we have no more blends. Just tobacco for water pipes. So very sorry, but there has been nothing from Rogh Mohk Talh for over two years now. Nothing from Tisp in a year.”

“Ah. Well, I’m familiar with that problem. Any idea where I can get some?”

The fellow scrunched up his face, as if in thought, “I could sell you a water pipe. I’ve a fine selection.” He made a gesture over his wares.

“No, thanks, that’s alright. I expect to be travelling.”

“No problem, I have small water pipes, good for travel. They come with a box, no problems.”

Loden sighed, “No, that is alright, thank you.” He gave a nod and moved on.

“Are you sure? Best deals, right here!” The fellow called after him. Loden kept moving.

He wound his way through the market, heading generally north, leaving the Tannican vendors behind. Bloody Tannicans. He wondered if the city was making any preparations for the inevitable siege that would soon be on their doorsteps. Not that he cared too much, he planned to leave shortly. He intended to look for Asta at the temple, maybe wait around there for a couple of days. If she did not make an appearance, he intended to buy himself a horse and head east again. He was not getting involved in another siege. Especially here, the city would suffer food shortages pretty quickly, there were a lot of mouths to feed. Other than a few fruit trees and some small kitchen gardens he had not seen many crop fields within the city. Just around the nearby temples. For their sake he hoped the city had ample food stores set aside.

Ahead of him he spotted a very attractive woman, likely of Elquin descent, she had beautiful golden hair, held back from her face with a series of small ornate combs. She moved away from the stall she had just made a purchase from, a small parcel under one arm. As she was tucking her coin purse into her sash a gaggle of dirty children swarmed towards her.

Loden called out a warning and moved towards her. Startled she looked up in his direction. Too late. One child knocked the parcel from the crook of her arm, which elicited a startled cry from the woman. Another lanky kid punched her in the face as she turned to confront them. A small girl grabbed the lady’s purse and tossed it to another kid that had moved around behind the woman. One of them kicked her parcel away and most of the other swarmed around her shouting, some grabbing at her jewellery.

The kid with the purse ran in Loden’s direction, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure his compatriots were keeping the woman busy. Loden took a couple of long strides and grabbed the kid by the arm, yanked him off his feet and slammed him into the ground. The child cried out in pain, Loden snatched the purse then kicked the boy in the guts, “Bloody thief!”

The other children, sensing the game was up rapidly dispersed into the crowd of people. Flustered and nearly in tears the woman retrieved the parcel she had purchased. Loden approached holding out the purse, “This is yours I believe.”

Flushed, she looked at him suspiciously, then seeing what he was offering her she gave a little gasp, “Thank the gods! Sir, how kind.”

“Are you injured?”

“I don’t think so.” She gingerly touched her left cheek, “Maybe a bit of a bruise, nothing serious.”

“Should we find the guards?”

“I don’t think that would do much good. Folks say the local city guard is as crooked as that gang of little hoodlums. Though, a gentleman might walk me through the market. The north gate is this way.”

“I’d be honoured to escort you. May I offer you an arm?”

She took his arm and moved close, she smelled of cherry blossoms, her clothing was expensive and of a modest cut. She chit-chatted as they moved through the market. She was from a place to the east called Two Bridge, a few years ago raiders had attacked her family’s land and most of her kin were slain. She had inherited the family fortune, such as it was. She had decided to sell the small manor and lands to one of the local knights who’s land had bordered her family’s. Then she had decided to come to GreensBridge and was presently attending the university.

He walked her through the north gate of the market and they paused in the street. She looked at him shyly, “If it’s not unseemly, I might suggest a restaurant that is nearby. I feel obliged to repay your gallant gesture on my behalf.”

Surprised, enchanted by her long lashed, dark green eyes, Loden considered accepting, “Well, I’m not sure.”

“It is a lovely place, they serve iced cream if you can imagine.”

“Iced cream?”

“Indeed. This way.” She smiled at him, her enthusiasm was contagious and instead of spitting to the side and refusing her, like he had intended, he gave a lopsided grin and nodded.

Arm in arm they walked down the street past expensive shops and fancy cafes. They entered a well tended alleyway, with potted plants of a fragrant sort and delicate looking tables with matching chairs. She picked a table in the shade and he awkwardly pulled a chair out for her to sit. Once she had settled he sat across from her. A well presented waiter soon came to their table and asked what they would like.

Loden asked, “Are we getting a meal?”

“I’d not begrudge you anything at this point sir. Your uncommon gallantry deserves to be rewarded.”

Loden was happy with her reply, he had not realized how famished he was. The waiter made a number of suggestions, most of what he said was unfamiliar to Loden. “How about a bit of everything you just suggested?”

The waiter smiled, “Excellent sir, sweet tea to start?”

He laughed, “Of course.”

The waiter left and they sat in silence for a while enjoying the ambience of the place. Somewhere nearby someone played a lute softly, small birds flitted among the vines growing along the western wall of the alley. The two of them periodically made eye contact. She had such a beautiful smile, she blushed and tended to look away if his eyes lingered for more than a moment or two. After the waiter brought the tea they both relaxed a bit and sipped at the sweet beverage.

The meal came in a number of courses, soup, then salad, another soup and then pastries with spicy meat, pastries with cheese and greens, then another salad. Through the meal they talked a bit; she about the university and some of her studies, he about being on the road with his father, back before things fell apart.

When the waiter asked about dessert the lady ordered some strong coffee, two servings of iced cream for each of them; the first to be served with a Maldorn port and the second with khulmah. They sipped thick hot coffee from little cups as they waited for their dessert. Loden was surprised by how good the coffee was. When the iced cream came he was surprised that it was actually iced cream and also surprised that the port had been generously poured over the frozen cream, it was rich and delicious. The next serving of iced cream came with the distilled coffee drink that the Tannicans loved so much. Even though he and his father had procured the beverage for a number of people through their trading enterprise he had never sampled any of it. His father had always told him it was a wretched drink.

Loden had the feeling that he should not have been surprised to be surprised, that, once again, the food was so delicious. However, he was. By the time the second round of desert was done he had a slight alcohol buzz, also felt vibrant and happy, so satisfying had the meal been. There had been so many deliciously delectable delicacies that he felt high. It had been many years since he had felt so good. He suggested that he might like to order a carafe of khulmah and enjoy the rest of the afternoon in her company. Flushed with her own good feelings the beautiful lady readily agreed.

The beverage was served piping hot, the minstrel came near their table and played for them. Loden could not believe it when she pulled out a silver case and offered him a small cigar from the Principalities. Loden was so overwhelmed by their chance meeting and the perfect afternoon he almost proposed marriage to her on the spot. Thankfully he thought better of it, as that likely would have ruined the mood.

The sun was behind the city’s buildings by the time they were done, he did not really want the afternoon to end. She looked at him and said, “If I knew your name, then we’d no longer be strangers.”

“I’m Loden. You?”

“Celestial. And, since we are so well acquainted, I might suggest to my friend that he should walk with me back to my place.”

“I’d like that very much.”


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