Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Gift Part Twelve

The Travelers were reluctant to let their guests go but it was a bare half day's travel to the chapterhouse and Sean and Scott wanted to get somewhere truly safe where they could get themselves and their gear fixed or resupplied. The Travelers insisted on seeing them off with a few small gifts and they returned the same. They had planned on using the traveling musician as a cover so they had a few knickknacks for trade or promotion when they came to a new town.
The trip to the chapterhouse was quicker and the grasslands became forest at first slowly with copses of trees here and there especially along creek or riversides then all at once as a dirt road entered the forest. Not really made for wagons the trail was narrow enough for two to ride closely if they were willing to duck branches that reached out from the alders and madronas on either side.
Old stumps showed where the road was occasionally kept clear on either side although the most recent cuttings were at least a decade old. Grass grew between the trunks and dark-leaved blackberry brambles were ripe alongside the trail. Passing the brambles added to the moldering odor of the forest. Further in the forest was mostly pines the road cut through letting more sunlight reach the ground making the edges of the road greener and denser with undergrowth. This made vision more difficult directly from the road and Don and Angel with Dog and Riddick ranged to either side riding between the trees of the forest. It was Angel that spotted an old bridge over a river the span was still standing but it was several hundred yards from the trail itself.
She rode quickly back to the group to find that the trail forded the stream where it widened its banks and became rippling shallows.
When she relayed the news of the bridge Don nodded, “That's where we cleaned out a nest of trolls when I was just a kid. Me and my brother two stupid kids with more muscle than any kind of common sense. We didn't know how dangerous it was so we went ahead and killed them anyway. I think in the end they were more surprised that we attacked than anything else. That's what killed them the surprise.”
“Let's not get surprised ourselves,” Sean had them keep watch towards the old bridge while the crossed the shallows but it was so wide here the creek barely reached the top of the horses' hooves. They traveled a bit further and the road met another forming a crossroads the road crossing their own was paved with flag stones and at least three times as broad with a well graveled side for horses.
“It's an old Imperial highway,” Michelle told Katie and Andy. Nearly three thousand years old and if you do minimal maintenance it will last for another three thousand years. There'll be 'mile stones' every league or so from here on until we reach the chapterhouse it's just down here to the left.”
“What's straight ahead?” Allan asked then he remembered, “It goes to Bridgetown! I've well Sion has come this way more than once on order business. Once I went just to see a Sea Elf ship that came in, it was beautiful. The sails looked like butterfly wings or stained glass windows.” He sighed at the memory.
“'Frost' has lived most of his life hereabouts but I've never been here. I never even remember the adventures you guys had from our world's perspective. I'm sure not Frost but can I be myself looking like 'Kali-ma'?”
“You don't look too much like the kid I met forty years ago,” Don reminded Allan. The two extra arms aren't that much weirder than the beard or the gray hair.”
“Easy for you to say,” Allan replied but he was smiling.
“Yeah, you don't have to worry about Dog lifting his leg on you mistaking you for a fireplug,” Scott added.
“You hear me, Dog?” Scott said towards the white dog shaking his fist in mock warning. The dog just turned and grinned at Scott his tongue lolling. Justin sat up taking notice of the conversation as the turned towards the chapterhouse and looked closely at Dog.
“Oso?” Justin asked, “Oso it's you isn't it boy?”
Justin jumped down and 'Dog' came bounding over to fuss over Justin rolling over to let Justin scratch his belly.
“Well, dip me in honey and call me a doughnut,” Don said surprised, “Right in front of me the whole time and I didn't even see it.”
“Come here, Oso. Good boy!” Dog ran to Don and jumped up with a small whine in his throat. “Sorry about getting you clipped partner,” Don said to Dog, “Or getting Oso clipped. But you're all male so that's okay right?”
Dog wagged his tail and dipped his head a bit.
“Oh, good. I didn't want you to be sore about it.”
Dog 'arrooed' at Don who nodded, “Well you were the one who ate out of the garbage. That was your own damn fault.”
“What is he saying?” Shandra asked.
“He's complaining about his food,” Don replied. “Go play with the boys,” Don told Dog.
“Do you prefer 'Oso' or 'Dog'?” Shandra asked and the dog looked back at Don.
“Dog," Don replied, “Oso was his old name but Oso wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed even for a dog. Dog can actually talk to those who understand him and he can understand whatever were really saying. Although he won't mind if you call him Oso once in a while.”
Andy and Justin both took the opportunity to fawn over the big white hellhound that acted like a puppy springing and dancing at the boys while yipping and barking spinning in circles.
“Same old clown,” Michelle said with affection. Riddick joined them and began playing with the boys as well.
Michelle looked carefully at Riddick, “Teddy, come here girl, uh boy!” Riddick bounded over and bounced off Michelle's armored chest.
“You've been gone a long time,” She rubbed the wolf's ears and scratched his back.
“This better than being a husky?”
The wolf made woofing noises and waggled his ears at Michelle, “Yup,” Don replied, “he says this is what a husky is supposed to be and she was 'fixed' when she was just a pup. She never felt very motherly anyway except towards her kids. This is better. He was thinking about giving the secret away to my brother but changed his mind. He didn't know who else might understand him. Some Tuathe De understand animal speech.”
“So you were one of Don and Michelle's dogs?” Angel asked the rangy wolf.
“Well welcome to the family!” Angel asked Riddick, "Do you mind being Riddick or do you prefer Teddy?”
The wolf answered and she nodded, “Okay, Vin Diesel is cooler.”
The party took the chance to dismount and give the horses a rest. It was only an hour or so from the chapterhouse and they were soon remounted and heading on their way.
“Damn, Oso and Teddy,” Allan said shaking his head. “You guys still like treats?” he asked the dog and wolf who bounded over and waited for Allan to pull something out of his pack. They snatched the dried meat out of the air with quick snaps. Their jaws making short work of the leather hard travel rations.

Justin and Andy spent the rest of the trip to the chapterhouse playing with the wolf and dog. The animals would bound from one to the other and chased sticks with glee. Scott was glad 'someone' else he knew had made it.

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