Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Gift Part Nine

Between Shandra and Michelle they managed to get Katie mounted and moving away from the dangerous area. They passed their old camp in the moonlight but by unspoken agreement kept moving wanting to put as much distance between themselves and the night's events as possible. All of them were hurt to some extent or another and their gear was battered but they did not have time to mend or repair or even to do more than wrap bandages around still open wounds and have a few swallows of water mixed with whiskey or wine.
Riddick and Dog coursed ahead as scouts. Justin could occasionally see the flash of a white coat or gleam of red eye under the moonlight. Moonlight that was not moonlight. Most societies simply called the sun "Light Giver" or something similar in their own tongues. They did call the brightness of day 'sunlight' and the night 'moonlight' as a remembrance of long past when their ancestors had come from Earth.
Faery was ordered more like Earth than this reverse universe. Although some were perpetual twilight, others night or daytime and some were obviously flat, many if not most Faery realms were Earth like and in most you could see the stars. This made Justin wonder if 'his' realm the realm he had created for their shared roleplaying existed somewhere in Faery or if it was a fiction that only he was able to remember clearly. The fact that his mother in the fictional world looked like an Elven version of his adopted mother made him wonder.
While he was wondering he swayed in the saddle as the horse swerved to miss a bush that Justin had missed in his musings. That brought him back to the here and now where they were riding through the brush. Time had passed but there was no way of telling how much or how far they had traveled if you were not paying attention.
“Where are we?” he asked Andy riding next to him.
“About half way to the Chapterhouse I think. We've ridden pretty hard and will need to rest up here soon.”
A memory nudged Justin, “Isn't there a Traveler caravan spot up ahead?” Travelers were a mixed people refugees from forgotten wars fought long ago. Thousands of years ago they had appeared in the known world at first far away on the further side of the Empire. Later they made their way to the lands of the Tuathe De. The Travelers had a 'colorful' reputation and were known as entertainers and traders but thieves, beggars, cheats and kidnappers as well. In Kantrus' long life he had dealt with them from time to time and the Travelers mostly lived up to their reputation.
“You're right,” Andy gave a smile, “That was one of our first adventures, retrieving that Nisse boy from the Travelers.”
“Hey, Sean,” Andy cantered to catch up with the mail-clad priest, “There's a Traveler's caravan spot not a couple miles ahead.”
“Hmm,” Sean mused, “It will be warded from the worst of the night creatures then and Mom and I can add whatever more is needed. There'll be water and cut firewood if the last bunch through there was a good one or no firewood if they were lazy. There might be someone there now but we can claim shelter for one night at least. These are still Tuathe De lands and the Travelers are here on our sufferance.”
“Travelers? I love Travelers,” Katie perked up a bit and Justin smiled to see it she was his friend and although he was younger and had gone through a worse ordeal it had hit her harder.
“Why don't you play something?” Sean suggested, “Your music will let them know we are friendly. It wouldn't hurt if we had some of you ladies singing either. An Elfess voice is a fair thing to hear on any night.”
They slowed down and the horses were grateful for the easier pace. Katie played her ocarina while the rest of the ladies sang. Scott joined them in a surprisingly smooth bass baritone.
“What? Why are you always surprised when I sing?”
“Because it's coming out of you, Sweetie,” his wife replied with a smile. “We expect warcries and battle chants I guess.”
Dog came back without Riddick appearing at Don's stirrup.
“Okay,” Don said his voice carrying to the whole line of travelers, “Dog says that there are Travelers there. Riddick thinks they smell okay. I guess that means they're not mostly orcs or goblins or have lots of captives sobbing in the bottoms of their wagons. That doesn't mean they won't try to lift anything we leave lying around unless we make it clear the penalties outweigh the reward and keep a sharp eye on them when they come to say 'hi'.”
“Unless they're from too far away they won't be stupid enough to try and steal Tuathe De horses.”
Michelle trotted forward with Sean two obvious members of the local and respected religious orders. The rest hung back trying to look as kind and gentle as they could. Nobody, not even the most secure keep with walls and guards would be happy with armed strangers arriving in the darkest hours of the night.
With everything that had gone wrong in the last few hours Don was worried about his wife and son. It was hard to keep in mind they were both competent and skilled warriors and as able to handle trouble as any two people he knew. Viscerally, he still wanted to shelter them and remembered the tiny bride he married and the babe he held in his arms. Dog sensed his mood and nudged his shin with his nose.
“I know,” Don replied, “they'll be fine. I'm just tired and worried.”
“Still talking to that mutt?” Scott asked with a grin.
“Yup, best conversationalist here.”
“Ouch,” Scott winced as if wounded.
Both men quieted as Michelle raised her voiced and called out, “Hello the camp!”
“What do you want?” suspicious voices answered, “It's too late go away.”
“I'm sorry it's late but we'll not be leaving our own land. You're speaking to a Tuathe De princess and her son as well as a paladin and priest of Saint Michael. We'll be coming forward slowly so as you can see we are who we say we are but we'll be coming forward none the less.”
“Alright,” a grudging male voice replied, “but just the two of you mind.”
Michelle and her eldest son rode forward slowly. There was really no way for them to look harmless. Both were armored head to toe and armed with blood crusted weapons but they could and did look like they had no plans for immediate violence. Sean offered a blessing as he rode forward, “May God shelter and protect all here and show only the truth of our intentions and peace.”
Michelle looked at the handful of men who came out of the darkness to meet them. Only two had actual weapons. One young man carried a short simple spear and an older man obviously related carried a battleaxe. It was old and well-used but well cared for and maintained. The older man was wearing a plain white long sleeved tunic and colorful vest over dark pants and riding boots. He had a tousled head of black hair with a streaks of gray at his temples. The Traveler's bearing as much as the battleaxe and clothes marked him as their leader.
“Looks like you've been in a fight tonight. I hope nothings following you.”
“I can't promise that but if they are we haven't found any sign of them. We have an elven ranger and a shadow warden with us, I don't think you can ask for more than that,” Michelle replied.
“Oh, I think I could,” the Traveler replied but it was obviously a wish and not one he was in a position to make happen by his expression he knew it.
The Traveler shrugged resigned, “Well, you're obviously who you say you are. You have guest rights at any camp. You and yours can come ahead,” he finished grudgingly.
“We have some fresh milk and stew left on the fire for our breakfast. You're welcome to share,” he said that less grudgingly.
Once he accepted his position as host he was determined to live up to his duties however difficult or inconvenient for him. It was a matter of his caravan's pride and honor to be good hosts. Even if he were planning on one of the infamous Traveler swindles or larceny he would still be obligated for form's sake to offer as good hospitality as he could. Traveler caravans made their hospitality to friends and strangers a source of status and pride between the different caravans. Big Traveler events like a wedding or funeral could go on for days or even weeks with feasting, music and dancing.
“I am Halaz Bela,” he gave his family name first as was the Traveler custom, “Please call me 'Bela'. This is my son,” Bela nodded towards the young man with a spear, “He is Lajos.”
“I am Michelle of the Silver-Arm, Tuathe De and this is my son, Sean.”
She motioned for the rest to ride forward and formal introductions were made. Most of the Travelers were obviously leery of the armed men and women arriving at in the darkness but a glint came to their eyes when they turned their attention to the horses. Travelers loved good horseflesh and were well known as horse traders as well as horse thieves when they could get away with it.
Then Dog and Riddick trotted out of the darkness and the men became much more unconcerned with their guests' horses.
“Those are not normally Tuathe De names?” Bela asked.
“No,” Don replied, “They are not.” He dismounted standing a head taller than any of the Traveler men. They eyed the big man warily but when he offered his hand Bela took it with only a hint of hesitation.
“It is my honor to meet you Hetman Bela,” Don gave him his proper title. “We thank our hosts for their fire and food.”
As the party rode forward the men of the caravan were obviously taken by the exotic Tuathe De and Elven women. Normally, that would have consumed all their attention but a four-armed giant dressed as a Brother of Saint Michael was new even to the far wandering Travelers.  The light giver was just beginning to brighten towards day as Scott made sure their horses were cared for. Young boys and even a couple girls came from the camp to help groom and feed the weary horses.
When one urchin pocketed a silver saddle ring Dog nudged her in the shoulders with his wet black nose. The girl whirled and jumped with surprise for the dog had been nowhere near her a second before. To her credit the girl nonchalantly secured the ring back to the saddle strap. After giving the girl a chance to put the ring back, Don glanced over at her. She gave him a guileless smile full of innocence and sunshine. He gave her a wry grin and tilted his head towards the big dog behind her. She had hair so dark green it was nearly black and a 'goblinish' cast to her pretty features. She gave a small shrug and turned back to her friends who were speaking the Traveler's patois and giggling as she bounced off her colorful skirts flashing in the sun to find more mischief.
Dog,” Don said to the white hellhound.
The dog gave a whuffing sigh but settled to watch the horses and gear.
“I'll have somebody bring you out something to eat, a crust of bread, maybe some moldy cheese.”

Dog belched loudly and Don gave a full-throated laugh, “You are one crude guy sometimes. Just make sure it keeps coming from that end. Nobody wants to smell anything worse.”

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