The caravan, part four

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Harbend growled. They'd lost a full day in Roadbreak and when the horses finally arrived they were fewer than he'd hoped for. Now he was left with ten new wagons and only twenty new horses. He'd need another twenty, but those couldn't be brought in before another two days had passed, and that was time he didn't have.

He'd be forced to take his chances and buy horses as they passed farms, but he didn't dare to stay much longer. He was an unknown foreigner here, much more so than in Verd, and if this town was anything like Hasselden then the ever present Inquisition was probably as unpopular. Sooner or later either someone from the local population or a soldier would take out the irritation on the easiest target available, and Harbend didn't plan to be anywhere near when that happened.

He was about to leave the corral when a young woman arrived with five horses and a couple of mules.

"Hi, heard you needed beasts," she called.

He looked her over. Long, brown hair hidden under a soft felt hat, freckled, suntanned face. Somewhere in her early twenties. She wore a leather jacket open in the front, so he could see that both shirt and trousers were made of the same rough linen, probably even from the same bale.

Well formed.

She'd carry children without much damage, probably already had a couple. They bred early out here.

"Yes, that is correct. I could do with the mules as well," he said when she came closer. He'd been wrong. She probably was in her late teens.

"You're setting up a caravan?" Her accent was oddly unfamiliar, but they were as far from Keen proper as was possible.

"I am. That should be rather obvious. How so?"

She looked at him and smiled. "Care for company?"

"Merchant?"

"I'm not, and neither is my mother, but she wants to join anyway. We could help you get more horses along the way. We know the farms."

Harbend recognized when he was being mildly blackmailed, but he didn't care. Each addition to the caravan was good for him, and if they could get him horses more easily then that was a bonus.

"You shall be welcome, but there is a fee."

"You handle that with Mother. I'm just to leave the horses here. Got to pack, you see." With that she left the animals to one of his grooms and rode off.

Mother turned out to be a woman not much older than himself, clad in almost identical clothes as her daughter. The owner of the brewery and wanted to know if she could get better prices for her wares elsewhere. Harbend soon lowered her expectations concerning the cider, but the brandy had aged well and would fetch a handsome revenue as close as Erkateren, and they were soon haggling over the horses and the admittance fee Harbend demanded.

Sitting in the tavern they both looked up when Arthur entered. Harbend waved him to the table.

"Arthur, meet Lianin, our first partner."

Arthur bowed and took a chair for himself.

"You make... me honored. What wares do you have for display?" Arthur said in De Vhatic.

Harbend translated her answer and explained further.

"She shall bring six wagons of her own, and she just sold me five horses and four mules. I have bought the brandy she could not bring herself. There is also twelve wagon's worth of strong cider, but I think I shall sell most of it on our way to Erkateren."

Arthur smiled in return. "Are we leaving tomorrow then?"

"Gods! No, we shall be off as soon as people finish eating. This remarkable woman even knew where I could find a cooking wagon, and she shall bring her daughter to drive it and run the cooking as well."

The remarkable woman frowned, and Harbend translated.

"He's a foreigner?" she asked.

"Foreigner, yes. Mage, no. So you have no need to worry."

"If that had been my main concern I wouldn't have asked to go with you to Erkateren, not to speak of Braka," she replied with an amused glint in her eyes.

Harbend laughed. "I admit defeat."

"Now, what was that?" Arthur asked, and Harbend translated again.

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