Lines of communication

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The wind whipped up a fine white dust from the well-trodden ground. No plants grew in the loading arena at the northern edge of Treydolain, where caravan convoys prepared for their dispersed journeys to the outer edges of the valley. Each day long lines of caravans arrived, offloaded their goods and then took on new cargo, an endless procession of wheeled vehicles, mostly horse-drawn, continuing on their cycle to feed, clothe and power the capital of Lagonia and farther flung settlements.

It used to be a real arena, centuries ago, where the wild animals of the valley were brought to fight against the bravest warriors - or the strongest slaves, whichever could draw the biggest crowds. Even the warped, mutated beasts of the mountains were captured and brought in cages to be unleashed for the entertainment of the crowds. Such practises had fallen away over the years, the traditions preserved only on the northring. Treydolain thought itself too civilised for such barbarism.

There were at least seven convoys lined up in various states of readiness, from the old, ruined walls of the arena to the middle where Fenris Silt found himself standing in the baking morning sun, negotiating for passage out of the city. The caravans were always in motion: as one convoy left, another would be arriving, and thus they were the perfect way to smuggle things - or people - in and out. He had known this for years; had, in fact, tried to clamp down on the transfer of prohibited goods through various schemes and policies, before submitting to the unassailable fact that it was not possible to check every crate that moved through the city. He had never liked that uncertainty, but now found himself relying upon it.

"We're pretty much loaded and ready to roll," the leader of the convoy, one Zindell Hirsch, confirmed. "Not much space, though. Gonna cost you."

"We need passage out of the city," Fenris said again. "We don't need luxury: give us the cheapest, smallest hole you can find and we'll keep out of you way. And no questions asked."

Zindell smiled the gap-toothed grin of a seasoned trader. "Well, that's the real trick, ain't it?"

Returning the smile, Fenris leaned closer. "Let's just say that we would appreciate avoiding any official entanglements."

The trader's eyes narrowed. "I'm not partial to that kind of encounter myself," he said, "but that kind of quiet will cost you a pretty penny, too."

"I'll need to pay you to say nothing?"

Swinging his arms out wide in mock apology, Zindell laughed. "Folk round here, they've got big mouths, you know?"

"I have some coin," Fenris said, "and we can provide assistance on the road, also."

Zindell looked Fenris up and down with some scepticism. "You planning on reading some stories to the children, granddad?"

"I am more than capable," Fenris said, locking the other man with a cold glare.

The sound of running footsteps distracted them both. Fenris turned to see Tarn stumbling his way towards them, kicking up plumes of dust in his wake. Fenris braced himself: this was exactly the kind of profile he was trying to avoid.

"What is it?" he snapped.

Tarn looked between the two men, seemingly trying to formulate his thoughts, or at least his words. "She's in trouble," he said, finally, clearly doing his utmost to avoid saying Kirya's name, as instructed, "she's fallen over."

Knowing immediately what he meant, even though Tarn himself barely understood his own words, Fenris moved off with haste towards the line of caravans, where he had left his two young companions to shelter in the shade between vehicles. He could see Kirya's legs sticking out from behind a wooden wheel.

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