Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 9b

Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 9b

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Loden had felt thick headed with a disturbed stomach all through the next day’s travels. He and Asta had said little to each other. She seemed to understand that he was in rough shape, though she did not ask the Goddess to give him relief. She was rather dogmatic that self inflicted pain or misery was not something they should be asking the Goddess to heal.

To be fair, he did realize that she had spent the evening with the people of Drok, helping them as best she could. As far as he knew it was the first time she had seen what the Tannican’s did to people, the pain they inflicted on the communities they raided and attacked. He had seen it many times during the past few years, experienced it first hand, over and over again as he tried to move away from the advancing armies. A petty, hungover part of him felt like pointing out to Asta that this, and worse, was what she had signed up for in choosing to follow the Goddess’ will to go to Swampdon. Thankfully he had the common sense to hold his tongue.

As they moved across the plateau they saw further sign that the slavers had travelled down the road ahead of them. Their passage was clear enough along the trail. Horses, two to three score of armed men and heavily laden wagons, full of slaves, loot and supplies were not easily hidden, nor were their camps. Loden had noted that they were typically moving twice as fast as the slavers. Usually around mid day they passed by one camp and then came to another before the day’s travel was done. Broken wheels and dead slaves were often discarded by the roadside. Loden gathered the wood when they found it and Asta became increasingly dower with each body, so casually thrown to the side.

The nights were cold, there was usually little to no shelter in this inhospitable land. The folks from Drok had told them about the Pwhanna low-houses, but they had come across few of those and only once did they camp in one. They cuddled together, atop their tarps, under their blankets and talked about anything but the Tannicans, when they were in the mood to converse.

There was Muthi, a sister community to Drok and the nearby quarry from which both settlements harvested stone. The dead had been left where they had fallen, the corpses ravaged by scavengers. Among the slain were few children or women, most of these would have been taken by the slavers. They spent a day at Muthi, gathering the dead. Asta cried a lot.

Later they had sheltered in one of the empty stone houses, Loden had cooked a meal, without burning it too badly. They sat at a table, in the dim light from a simple stone lamp and picked despondently at their food. Loden said, “We are catching up to the slavers.”


“Not good.”

“Oh yes it is. Once we’re close enough we’ll sneak into their camp and poison the bastards. Then we’ll free the slaves.”

“Are you carrying any poison?”


“Can you make such? I don’t know how.”

“There’s stuff here we could try to use.”

“We need something better than giving them the runs or upset stomachs. These are hard men we’d be dealing with.”

“Cowards is what they are!”

“Some of them, very likely. But not all of them, not even most of them. Besides, a band this size will likely have a priest or two with them. Some of the Priests of the Light can use their gift to befuddle and deceive people. Our best bet is to try and go around them.”

“And leave a hundred people to captivity?”

Loden was silent for a while, “I’ve had to leave thousands to die or be taken into slavery. I don’t think the Goddess wants us to attempt to free some slaves or even kill a couple dozen slavers. We are only two people, we’d surely die in such an attempt and never make it to Swampdon.”

Asta glared at him coldly in the dim light, though she said nothing further.

The next day was grey and cold, at times there was a bit of snow in the air, small flakes, blown around in swirling gusts. Asta put on her mittens, Loden fished his gloves from his pack, they were too new to feel comfy. They came to a point where the land dropped away ahead of them, a gradual decline towards more hospitable lands. Dark clouds stretched from one horizon to another. Distantly they could see a thick column of smoke, throughout the rest of the day the smoke persisted. By nightfall they had not come in sight of what was burning.

They slept near a massive stone that was not native to the area; ten paces long by three paces in width and height. It made a good wind block. Loden made a fire from dried dung and scraps of wood, Asta cooked and they ate in silence, neither talking about the smoke nor the slavers.

They huddled together in the lee of the stone. After a while Asta asked, “Want to have sex?”

Loden rolled over, facing her, even though he could hardly see her face in the dark, “I don’t think so.”

She sighed, “Whatever.”

He lay awake for a long while, he was uncertain about his unwillingness to copulate with Asta. He did desire her, but every time she had offered, he had turned her down. He remembered to place his hat top side down, then he pulled the blanket over his head and eventually fell asleep.

When he woke, Asta was already up. He glanced at his hat and saw an ornately crafted bottle of translucent green glass, it was long necked and held a small amount of dark liquid. A label had been painted with small flowers and a tiny script, Distilled Nectar of Fey.

“There’s some food. Hurry up, I’d like to make good time today.”

“That smoke was a long way off, not sure we’d reach it today.”

“We’re going to try.”

He sighed and walked over to where she sat eating, “This is unusual. Do you know what Fey Nectar is?”

She shrugged and glanced at the bottle, “Beautiful glass.”

“I figure it’s pretty potent. I mean, it’s a small amount in a well crafted bottle. Want to try a bit?”

“Can I see?”

He passed her the bottle. She glanced at the label, then set it to one side, “Can I have it?”

“Ah, sure. Let me know if it’s any good.”

He ate as she packed up their camp and started getting the horses ready. He gathered the last of their gear and secured it, then he saddled CoalPile and took the lead for both of the pack horses. Asta started off ahead of him, setting a good pace.

There was still some smoke rising in the distance, by mid day they could no longer see it. The cloud cover moved on and the day warmed as they continued to descend from the plateau. The lowlands were spotted with many dulmak, their foliage a droopy brown, other trees grew alongside the river, though nothing as compared to the trees he had seen in the Linklow Forest. Late in the afternoon they had nearly reached flatter ground. The small river meandered southwards, and a burnt out village could be seen on the nearer bank. There were a few people, but their approach must have been spotted as they quickly moved out of sight. Loden did not think they had been slavers.

Asta increased the pace and they arrived at the edge of the village when the sun was still a hand span above the western horizon. Loden reined in and looked the ruins over, a few timbers still put up a bit of smoke, the only building that was intact above the foundations was a large stone mill beside a pond, not far from the river. Loden noted a vast amount of timber floating in the water, not far from the mill, most of it of a size that indicated it had not been harvested here. A few bodies had been neatly laid out near the centre of the village, there was a pile of what appeared to be salvaged equipment and furniture as well.

“Hello?” Asta called out.

No response was offered to her greeting.

“We’re here to help. I’m a healer.”

A door near the top of the mill swung open and a young woman with a bow drawn back stood, looking down at them along the shaft of her arrow.

Asta waved up to her, “We mean no harm. I’m a Sister of Mercy. Here to help.”

Loden moved forward, he unwound the leather thong that kept the flap of his holster down. To Asta he said, “These folk are going to be on edge. Likely dangerous.”

She kept looking up at the archer, “Do you have any wounded?”

“Put down your weapons and dismount.”

“Alright.” Asta called up, “Give us a moment.”

Loden called up to the girl, “Put down your weapon. I’m not keen on being shot.”

Hysterically the young woman screamed down at them, “Get off the fucking horses! I swear to all the gods I’ll shoot you!”

Loden snorted, spat to the side, “I don’t think so.”

“It’s alright!” Asta shouted, but not before the girl let the arrow fly.

Loden sat calmly as the arrow passed over him, missing by a good arms length. “Nice try. It works better if you stay calm.”

“Loden, stop antagonizing her.”

The young woman stepped back from the open door. Loden briefly caught a glimpse of someone else up there with her. A moment later she reappeared with another arrow ready.

Asta had dismounted, “Loden, get off the horse.”

He glanced over to her, “Alright, but I’m not dis- arg!”

Asta sighed, “Oh pickles.”

Loden looked at the arrow sticking in his arm. The girl called down, “Like that? Was that clam enough for you?”


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