Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 9d

Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 9d

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Loden had not received a sign from the Goddess of Mercy, at least not as far as he could tell. There had been no dreams of guidance, no waking visions, nothing. He had been anxious about the entire process, to the point where he started questioning random thoughts and mundane dreams despite Asta’s attempts to coach him. She claimed she had not received any guidance about what they should do either. He felt frustrated. If he was a Paladin of Mercy, should he not have gifts to aid in the tasks She set before them?

Thankfully the locals had a couple of suggestions, namely the villages north and westward of Teight’s Bend. There had initially been a fair amount of resistance from some of the oldsters about going anywhere else, but the young ones had been able to convince them they were needed. There had been a few days of packing, cooking and otherwise preparing themselves to leave their life-long homes.

Over those days, some of the villager’s livestock had been retrieved; a few goats, some chickens, a donkey and an old plow horse. They had one sturdy cart intact after the slaver’s attack, Loden, with Narra and her grandfather’s help had been able to cobble together another one. Asta had also been able to heal the two young men who had been near death when they had first shown up, though they were still recovering.

Nearly two dozen of them set out, the youngest children, the two recovering men and the oldsters all rode in the carts. As well the remaining grain, chickens and the few pieces of their past life that would fit in the remaining space. Asta lead their two extra horses which accommodated two of the women and three children. Narra and a boy nearly her age had appointed themselves the rear guard, while Loden took the lead, often scouting ahead, keeping alert for the various dangers that could befall them.

He was pretty sure they would all just freeze to death on the open road when the first winter storm blew in, their pace was excruciatingly slow. During their first three days on the road they had only covered a bit more than a yateer, thankfully their pace had improved a bit since. Two more days had brought them to the Kalthkeer Homestead. Sadly the Tannicans had been there ahead of them.

They had searched for survivors, they found no one. Then they had salvaged what they could and took a half days rest. In the morning they would have to decide if they were going to go west, following in the wake of the slavers or head northwest to the smaller of the nearby villages. Most of them were disinclined to follow the Tannican’s trail of depravity.

Narra had also been persistent in her attempts to convince Loden to be her husband, going so far as to crawl under his blankets while he had been sleeping during the night they had stayed at the ruined homestead. At first he had thought it was Asta cuddling up for warmth and he started to fade back to sleep. However, tentative hands opening his clothing and the sudden realization that whoever had crawled into bed with him certainly was not Asta brought him fully awake.

He tried to sit up, but Narra crawled on top of him, insistent. He was a bit stunned for a moment, but then took hold of the young woman and, attempting to keep his voice down, asked, “What are you doing?”

She melted against him and with a husky voiced replied, “I thought we could share some intimacy. Maybe? Did I do it wrong?”

“No, I guess not. But I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Tell me what to do then. I’m sure I can do it right.”

Loden gave a tired sigh, “Narra, I’m going to Swampdon with Asta, seemingly going to war. It’s not a place you’ll want to be.”

She rubbed her cheek against his scruffy face and sighed, “We’re all going to die anyway, let’s share some pleasure before the end.”

“Please stop.”

She sat back, “I swear, I’m a good cook and can mend and clean and all the useful things. I’m also a good hunter.”

“I believe you. This is not the time, nor the place and I’m likely not the man you need,” He pushed her away gently, “Now go put some clothes on and get some sleep. We’ve a long day’s travel tomorrow.”

Sullenly she said, “Alright, I’m sorry.”

She left, Loden gave a grumpy sigh and settled back down. From nearby he heard Asta giggling. He ignored her, pulled his blankets up and eventually was able to sleep. The dreams that followed were certainly not visions from the Goddess.

Loden woke with the rising sun, looked to the nearby hat and was happy to see a small jug of cider. It was good stuff, he had received it before. Appleton Cider from the Appleton Cider House, made from the best fruit of the Appleton orchards. Loden had no idea where Appleton was, but they did make good cider.

He took the time to shave, rinsed his head in the cold spring water and dropped the cider off to the miller’s wife, to be served with breakfast. She thanked him for the jug but gave him a peculiar look.

He packed up his gear, brushed CoalPile down and pointedly ignored Asta when she bid him good morning with a knowing smile. Once his horse was saddled and his gear loaded, he took a quick ride over to the nearby crossroads. He sat there for a while looking at the westward trail and then to the more northerly passage. The west road clearly showed the tracks of the slavers and seemed like it might head back towards Teight River. To the north he could see that the land became hilly. Both directions seemed to have more trees than the lands they had recently been travelling through.

He had a sudden sensation of vertigo, CoalPile gave a snort, demanding to know what he was doing. Loden grasped at the saddle as the western horizon rushed towards him. He momentarily thought he was flying. He saw a large village with a sturdy looking wall, outlying homesteads, a stone bridge spanning the Teight. He could see himself and Asta on horseback at the gate to the village while Tannican slavers manned the wall.

He was suddenly back in his own body, looking up at Asta, Narra and a couple of the others. Narra exclaimed, “He’s alright, thank the goddess.”

Asta asked him, “Are you okay?”

“Ah, yeah. I think I just had a vision.”

“Oh, goody. Can you sit up?”

“Where’s CoalPile?” He sat up, his shoulder was painful.

“He went back to the homestead when you fell. Can you move your arm around?”

He did so, there was some pain, but his arm was not broken. Asta placed her hand to the front and back of the sore shoulder and asked for the Goddess’ healing gift. Warmth seeped from her hand into his shoulder, the pain receded. She asked, “What did you see?”

Thinking about it a moment he scowled and stood up, “Did I miss breakfast?”

“No, but it should be ready. Let’s head back and eat. Then you can tell me what you saw.”

The group of them went back to the homestead and joined the others for breakfast. There was some excited talk among the villagers and they were obviously very curious about what had happened. Loden ate in silence, dwelling on what he had seen. He finished with a couple of mouthfuls of cider, ignoring the expectant looks from Asta and the others.

He stood, offered a hand to Asta, “Can we take a walk?”

She took his hand and pulled herself up, “Sure. Why don’t the rest of you finish packing up? We’ll be heading out in a bit.”

They wandered over to the horses and Loden told her what he had seen.

“Certainly seems like you had a vision from the Goddess.”

“A vision of our impending deaths is not really what I was hoping for.”

“I doubt it was that.”

“What do we do then?”

“Go where the Goddess indicated and see how it plays out.”

“Just like that?”

“The sendings would not be of much use if we did not follow them.”

“Seriously? You think the two of us will come out the other side of such an encounter? At best we’ll take a handful of them down.”

“Well, it might not even come to a fight.”

“Sure looked like it was heading that way.”

“We’ll only know if we go.”

“What do we do with the others? They were not with us.”

“Well, seems like we should let them know what we’re going to be doing, then give them the choice to stay here and wait or send them north, into the hills.”

Short of not heeding the vision, Loden could not think of anything else to do. He knew Asta would not ignore the sending, he almost wished he had not told her about it.

After they told the survivors from Teight’s Bend what they intended to do, the group of them decided they were going to wait at the homestead. Though there was some protest, at least a few of them wanted to go with them to help. However, Asta was able to convince them that the vision showed only Loden and she confronting the Tannicans, therefore they could either stay and wait to see if the two of them returned or head up the northward road. She promised they would return to tell them what transpired, especially if they were able to free the slaves.

Even on horseback, they were informed, it would be more than a day’s travel to Kern’s Freehold, which apparently consisted of the village of Kern and a few outlaying homesteads. So they readied the horses, leaving some of their supplies behind and started out. Loden noted Narra watching their departure silently from a ways off. He waved to her, but she did not return the gesture.

They had made good time, Loden had been hopeful of reaching the village or nearby before nightfall, however on that account the folks from Teight’s Bend had been correct. With the sun setting ahead of them they had made camp, forgoing a fire. Loden turned in early, not in the mood for small talk or advice on visions from Asta. He slept, his dreams were troubled and he often woke up. Near dawn he startled awake, thinking had had heard an animal creeping around the camp. Though, when he walked around the area he found no troubles and the horses seemed calm enough. Asta woke a while later and insisted on a cooked meal, after which they carried on towards Kern.


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