The caravan, part two

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A few days later Harbend watched as Arthur rode back along the road.

You know how to handle a horse, but you've never fought from horseback.

It was all too clear Arthur came from a very different world were such skills weren't much in demand. Harbend wistfully wondered what such a place would be like.

For ten years now he'd been a trader and a traveler. Had seen great Rhuin with their black skinned, proud people, taken ship to ancient Kenlad. Even had a short glimpse of powerful Khanati before trading his way back west and then north, through the petty states west of Kenlad and then Ira, where magic was as mundane as any other craft. Followed the old caravan route to Kastari and settled there for a season.

He'd enjoyed the sight of the great beasts they tamed there, but trade was why he traveled, and apart from the busy trade around the great iron square in the capital where metals magically arrived from far away Braka they didn't show much interest in his goods.

He rode his horses through Chach, declining Chach with their knightly ideals confronting an ever changing world inevitably breaking over their borders causing outbursts of civil war that had come and gone for almost two hundred years. There had been an uneasy peace when he bought passage across the Narrow Sea.

He journeyed through the southern De Vhatic states paying only token obedience to the capital of Keen and then he entered the main network of roads along which Keen ruled supreme.

Brought up in a nation part island and part mainland colonies he settled down in Hasselden, the southernmost port in Keen. So many years ago.

He had, Harbend realized glumly, stayed in one place for far too long, and then sudden elation soared through him. He was on the road again.

He shot Arthur another glance. They were both saddle sore during the first few days, but Arthur hid his grimaces almost as fast as Harbend did, and now none of them rode with any visible discomfort.

Harbend felt his horse move under him. She was tiring. He dismounted and climbed the reserve a groom had already made ready for him.

Close to Roadbreak now.

The main road ended there at one end of the small town and on the other side lay the former duchy of Vimarin. He needed to talk with Arthur about it.

"Friend, over here," he called.

Arthur rode closer and used the pause to change horses himself. "Yes?"

"Over there is Roadbreak."

"Doesn't it have a name in De Vhatic?" Arthur asked nonplussed.

Harbend thought for a moment. "Yes, yes, I guess so, but it is translated into Khi as well. Known for what it is rather than its name." He shrugged. "Anyway, you can see the telegraph from here." Harbend pointed to the black and yellow squares clearly seen even from this distance.

Arthur squinted to see better. "I should have brought a pair of binoculars," he complained.

"Binoculars?"

"Eh, the equipment you use to read the telegraphs with, but portable."

"I have one." Harbend dismounted and walked to his remount. The groom had only begun to remove the harness and it was still saddled. Harbend opened a pocket on the saddlebags and returned with a pair of field glasses.

"Cost me a fortune," he said as he gave them to Arthur.

Arthur put them to his eyes and looked in the direction Harbend pointed. "Ah, I see them now. Your eyes are better than mine."

Harbend shook his head. That was an impossibility. A man had to be half blind if he didn't see the telegraph from this distance. It was easy to see beside... He mentally apologized to Arthur. A long line of brightly yellow trees grew behind the telegraph.

"You see it now?"

"Yes, even without the glasses. The apple trees fooled me, but now when I know where it is I can almost see the pattern with my bare eyes."

"How do you see they are apple trees?" Harbend was genuinely shocked.

"That pale yellow just has to be summer fruit."

Harbend was still shocked.

"Or, it could be the wind blowing from that direction and the entire road stinks of cider. They've got a brewery over there." Arthur gave Harbend a friendly clap on his shoulder and grinned.

Harbend frowned. Then he caught the faint scent of sweet apples. He mounted, grinning back at Arthur.

"Anyway," he said, "the town marks the end of the roads you are used to. From there on the roads are battered by weather and use and in poor condition. No more well kept road inns each half a day. We shall need to tie up our cargo and I will buy more horses and wagons." He pointed eastward and put his horse in motion, cold saddle creaking under him. "That is the last proper breeding ground this side of the mountains and we shall have to buy grain and other food as well."

Arthur nodded. "Want me to talk with the escort captain?"

"Please do. I have a shopping list to write."

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