The caravan, part three

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Roadbreak turned out to be a dirty, smelly but rather lively place. Smaller than Arthur expected a town to be. Stone buildings dominated the center. A wall circled them and from the gates, like two long arms, rows of one and two stories wooden houses stretched outwards along the road running through the town.

With townspeople, farmers and several soldiers in yellow and green milling around Arthur almost missed the organized elegance of Verd. A feeling of unease clung to the town like rain in autumn though, and he noted almost all of the soldiers were dressed like those outside the space port. Inquisition troops. It did make sense in an uncomfortable way.

Here he came to a border town and if magic was banned in Keen then that implied it wasn't banned somewhere else. Now he stared at such a thin line between Keen and a potential somewhere else.

The sun was setting when they reached the town and Harbend hurried to make sure they all got rooms in the inns. Arthur wondered why everyone was in such a hurry, but after dusk, when the lamplights he'd expected didn't come on apart from a few blocks surrounding the road inn supporting the telegraph on its roof, he understood. The streets were dark. Had it not been for the moon he'd have been hard pressed to see where he put his feet. He never strayed from the main street and after a short while climbed the stairs to the porch outside the inn where he was to spend the night.

The escort captain sat draped over a chair staring into the darkness. They exchanged a few polite words of greetings.

Arthur picked a chair for himself at the other side of the front doors. Sitting down weariness crept up his legs. A long day, riding and walking, riding and walking. He snorted at himself. It had been a long eightday. There it was.

I'm already starting to think in eightdays rather than weeks, and each day is longer as well. Twenty five hours and thirty six minutes to be exact. Three hundred and sixty of those to a year. A bit more to be exact.

Every eight years they had to add an extra day. He assumed that was one possible reason they were so fond of the number eight.

Stretching his legs he bent his neck to get rid of the stiffness. Almost twenty years since he demanded this much of his body.

But I haven't forgotten, and that made him feel at least a little bit proud of himself. Untrained still, but weeks on the move would change that. He'd forced himself on Harbend and didn't want to be the one who delayed the caravan. That there wouldn't ever have been one without his silver and gold didn't matter.

Stars glimmered above him. One of them was new, man made, but he'd never cared to learn which one was Theta 47. He probably ought to learn. As long as he didn't travel too far east it should always point approximately to the south, placed in geostationary orbit around the equator as it was.

Settling back in his chair, he stayed for a while, allowing the day's travel to drain out of him. It wasn't until he started to feel stiff from the cold that he rose and stumbled in through the doorway. He entered almost at the foot of the stairs to the second floor but chose the narrow corridor beside them and came into the tavern.

The room was smaller than he had suspected, with only six tables and three or four chairs around each of them. He saw Harbend at one and sat down beside him. The merchant had almost finished his meal and didn't seem to be in a mood for talking, so Arthur waved for the innkeeper, pointed at Harbend's bowl and ordered the same. When the food finally arrived Harbend had already left, and Arthur ate his evening meal in silence.

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