Departure, part six

8 0 0

Arthur examined the horses while he absentmindedly counted his coins. No copper or silver shields this time. He was still sweaty and happy after the impromptu celebration he'd taken part in earlier. A large quantity of weak beer had cooled him down somewhat, but he still felt a bit giddy. Years since he danced the last time and he was pleasantly surprised he hadn't forgotten the motions.

Arthur opened his right hand to Harbend who accepted more money. They had bought over eighty horses and a few ponies, or mules. Arthur wasn't certain about the latter.

Sixteen wagons already on their way to the eastern gates, driven there by the men they hired. All in all a massive undertaking. Several hundreds of the gold marks had changed owners, enough money to buy a number of large farms with livestock and all, and the expensive part was yet to come. The men had to be paid two weeks, or rather eightdays as they counted time here, in advance. Hundreds, if not thousands more of the coins would flow before they reached their final destination, and then they needed to come back the same way.

Arthur continued studying the horses closest to him. Mares and geldings he guessed. Brown or gray all of them. Sedate, but to his untrained eye they looked healthy enough. He searched again.

That one, the brown with kind eyes. "Harbend, I'll ride the brown one, to the right."

"Ride? Should you not be on a wagon instead."

"To begin with, yes. We don't want anyone recognizing me on our way out of Verd, but after that I'll ride."

Harbend glared angrily. "This is a real journey. I do not have the time to break in an untrained rider."

"No need. I spent a lot of my youth on horseback." Arthur didn't lie. He fondly remembered long treks in the Canadian wilderness. Harbend didn't seem convinced though.

"A lot? I thought you outworlders did not use anything as mundane as horses."

"At home that would be exotic, not mundane, but you're right." Arthur laughed. "My grandfather bred horses for rich people to use in their spare time. We call it tourism. I've spent weeks riding cross country, but I admit it was a long time ago."

Harbend's stare grew milder. "And you have not forgotten how?"

"How could I?" Arthur decided to take a chance. "I'm a trained initiate. Even have a healed broken rib as a reminder of where to stand around a horse," he said grinning.

Harbend grunted, but Arthur could see he was satisfied nonetheless. Arthur sighed in silent relief. He hadn't forgotten the shaky ride from the terminal building to the train station the day he arrived. The wagons they had bought now didn't have the metal shock absorbers all carriages and coaches used in the city boasted.

"Well, I think we are done for today. Let us go back to your hotel," Harbend said.

Arthur yawned. It wasn't late in the afternoon, but they had started early and he was tired already. "Agreed," he said, and they marched away spreading dust with every step. Vildir caught up with them and together they made their way back to the city.

The day had begun with clear skies and a blazing sun, but the afternoon was overcast. The sweltering heat continued however, with humidity as an added torture. Arthur pressed his temples to ease a slowly spreading headache.

They walked in silence. The next day would see their formal parting with Harbend's relatives, of whom Arthur had only met Vildir, and Arthur could see that Harbend was uneasy. He hadn't spoken much of them, only that the man he sometimes called uncle and sometimes Ramdar was the leader of their family. From what little Harbend had told Arthur got the impression that Khi was a clan based, feudal society.

The TaleweaverRead this story for FREE!