Boeden only stayed in Hatham overnight, just long enough to get a good night’s rest, and restock provisions. He bid Duran and Athron farewell, sought out Joy long enough to make sure she was still doing well, and set out to book passage on the first ship out. He would try and find Draedon and Savarne, by using the information he had been given by the guard at the docks, and anything else he could find out.
The ship set out as part of a group of four, under escort from two of the warships his brother had designed for Torei. Boeden sat on the top deck, the spray on his face, enjoying the spring weather and watching the warships. The lines were low, sleek and fast, like the Jotunn’s own though on a human-scale, and his own vessel was close enough for him to see the rail surrounding the space where a priest or priestess could stand. In the days that followed, from time to time he and the others on his ship could see on the horizon vessels flying the flag of Sa’iph, or Helve privateers – but under the protection of the warships, none of them drew close.
Two of the ships, and one warship, docked at Helve while the others – including Boeden’s – continued on. They rounded the cape and passed Seawell without stopping (a few of the sailors shook their heads and muttered about the continuing struggle between the seaside port’s natives and the League), and went onward to Tarrish. There, Boeden had to switch ships to pick up another to Halveet, where so many months before he and Athron and the others had unlocked the secrets of the Libraries floor map and dome. He stepped aside to survey the docks, trying to decide what to do next – go to the Libraries again to report on what had happened in the north? Perhaps spread word of Athron’s success in claiming the Beennocken? Perhaps check in with Ethan Seer, Hamal’s cleric in the city? Visit Yardmaster Berrin and immediately ask about his brother and Savarne?
“Perhaps I can accomplish almost all of that in one stroke,” Boeden thought to himself. He put on his huge backpack and headed to visit Yardmaster Berrin. Along the way through the docks, Boeden paused briefly to say hello to other Jotunn and human dock workers, that he had come to know over the years. Eventually, he was able to find the Yardmaster.
After greetings were exchanged, and they had gone back to Berrin’s office, Boeden began to tell the Yardmaster what he and his companions had been up to, since last they met. He explained, what they had discovered, in the library. He recounted the story of traveling to the north, of how much colder it was that even Farolan in the winter. He described the strange and powerful creatures that reside there. He didn’t leave anything out, even about how ashamedly, he had run in fear from the dragon’s guards, abandoning his companions. He described the size of the enormous bear, that he admittedly said was too big even for him to have grappled. He described the incredible weight of dragging it, even after it had been gutted. He told him of the great wolf spirit, that they had offered it to. He told him of the Beennocken, and how Athron had claimed it for Hamal. He explained about the Icefield of Death, and the Wyrd Seer, and strange place they resided. Boeden asked, if the Yardmaster would let the word be spread, that the right information, reach the right people. Finally, he asked about Draedon and Savarne, and their possible whereabouts.
Berrin listened, and asked questions, and clearly enjoyed the long account. If they had been in Farolan, the tale would have been told in a circle around a roaring fire, with hot brandy in mugs shared with friends and family. “I can arrange,” he rumbled, “for the Scholars in the Libraries to be told, and for word to be sent to Father Seer, if you care not to carry it yourself. As for your brother and the Dron Skippe, both returned to Farolan weeks ago. Draedon would have traveled overland, just for the novelty of it, but as you know she cannot, and so Einmar’s winds spun her home instead.”
“I greatly appreciate you taking care of the information. I am going to go home for awhile. I need a little break, from all that has been going on. I think it will do me good to collect my thoughts and catch my breath, so to speak. I think I will travel the the same route Dreadon did, just to make sure there was no trouble along the way, and that he make it home safe and sound.”
Berrin nodded, understanding the impulse. “He planned to travel to Wyndham first, and then through the eastern edge of Seldez, the Fifth Redding, and Sutton.” With one exception – the turn west to pass through Seldez – it was the same route Boeden himself had taken five years before when he had first come to the southlands. “There will be merchant caravans for you to travel with, and almost certainly people who would pay you for your company.”
“Sure, why not? I’ll even give them a discount, for the pleasure of my company,” Boeden said with a laugh. “It has been good to see you again, Yardmaster Berrin, I will try to stop in again, the next time I travel through.” Boeden then went to the Vind to see if he could get hired on to a caravan traveling his desired route.
The Halveet Vind Hall was twice the size of the one in Tarrish, though the layout was roughly the same – one wall covered with posted notices, a square counter in the middle of the front hall inside which stood four clerks, and tables and booths scattered about for the Vind to meet. Food was served, and ale, but no hard-liquor, and deals were being made left and right. When Boeden approached the desk and gave his name, the clerk first checked to see whether any messages had been left for him. “Ah, additional funds were deposited on your behalf in Tarrish last week. I need to confirm who you are,” she said apologetically. “New procedures – we’ve had a rash of people using potions and disquises and the like to steal from others’ accounts. The security question selected by the person depositing the funds was, ‘What was Duran’s first question’?”
“I completely understand,” Boeden said waving a hand back and forth dismissivly. “It’s actually quite a good idea. Duran’s first question was, ‘Do we all get three questions?’”
She smiled, asked him to sign a book acknowledging receipt of the 1600 gold into his account, then stamped a Vind Hall bond and passed it over to him. “All right then.” She pulled out another journal listing caravans seeking to hire guards, flipped it open and ran her finger down a page. “We have two caravans leaving within the next day and a half headed towards Wyndham. One will swing west into Seldez, and the other will swing east. I assume you want the one going into Seldez, given your route? You should go to the House Antrim annex at the western gates to sign up with the caravan master, Stewart Boyle.”
“Thank you, Ma’am, you have been more than effecient and kind.” Boeden slid a gold coin of the heaviest weight across the counter to her, then left the hall. He went to the western gates to look for the House Antrim annex, pausing along the way to buy some hot sweet pastries a baker had just placed in the window of her shop.
Boeden was still brushing the confectionary sugar, off the front of his cloak, as he knocked on the door to the annex. A lightly armored guard answered the door, “Oh,” he said tilting his head up to look away from Boeden’s waist, to look at his face. “How can I help you?”
“I would like to speak to Master Stewart Boyle, about hiring on to guard the caravan heading to Seldez”, Boeden said pleasantly.
“Aye. You can come on in – the warehouse ceiling is high enough for ya.” He waved Boeden into the central space, where wagons were already in the process of being loaded, though without the draft animals to pull them. “Stew!!” the guard called out, and across the wide open chamber a voice called back. “Gotta a strong arm or two you might want along wit’ us.”
Stewart Boyle turned out to be a Weinig – or halfling – with a head of curly blonde hair and a pipe clenched his teeth. He came out and looked up, and up and up at Boeden. “You’re hired.”
Boeden smiled down at the Weinig, “Thank you, you won’t be disappointed. Do you need any help in loading the wagons, it is not always so easy to get a workout, if you know what I mean?” Boeden put down his six foot high backpack, took off his cloak, stretched his massive frame, then began to head for the wagons. “What will I be guarding if you don’t mind me asking?”
The halfling followed after Boeden, taking four steps to the Jotunn’s every two. “You’re not sizing it up to try to steal anything are you?” he asked suspiciously.
Boeden stopped dead in his tracks, turned and stared down at the Weinig. “Certain things in this world are considered more valuable than others. Certain things a man would risk his life to steal, and certain things not.” Boeden drew his nine foot long two handed great sword, “I want to know, should I be expecting to kill men on this trip, to protect YOUR merchandise, or not?...Oh, and I would greatly appreciate if you would never call me a thief again,” Boeden said sheathing his sword on his back, with a smile that was all teeth and anything but friendly.
Boyle put his hands back on his hips and looked back up at Boeden. “You may be a tall fucker, but I can still jump high enough to cut your balls off. You wanna know what’s in the wagons before decidin’ to guard ‘em, then you need to go find somebody else to travel with. I don’t show the fuckin’ manifest to anyone, that’s my promise to my clients,” he jabbed a thumb into his chest, “and your arm and your sword, useful as they might be, ain’t worth breakin’ my word. You wanna travel with us, that’s neither here nor there to me. But you on my payroll, you’re bound by the promises I make to the people who pay us both.” It was clear that he wasn’t intimidated, and it was also clear that his integrity in keeping his contract with his clients was a matter of pride to him.
Boeden smiled down at the Weinig, a real smile this time, and nodded. “A man with integrity, I like that, it’s refreshing. I am also a man of my word, you and your caravan will arrive safely in Seldez, that is my promise. OK boss, what do you need me to do?”
“You can wait if’n you want. Here in town, I can’t use ya to help load, fuckin’ union will have my balls. We’re pullin’ out in about a two hours, and the merchants’ flunkies – damn bureaucrats – are gonna want to ‘inspect’ things before we leave. You ever guarded a caravan before? Let me tell ya, you’re gonna want to cut a couple of ‘em in half before we even make it to Wyndham. Officious, pompous asses they are.” He said it all conversationally as he fetched a clipboard with several pieces of parchment attached to it, and a pencil attached by string. “Remember one thing – you’re a guard, not a butler, and don’t let nobody tell ya to fetch and carry. Tell ‘em it’s a union thing if you have to.”
Now that he and Boeden had reached an understanding of sorts on where they stood, his ire had subsided, and they could engage in good-natured banter between themselves and the other guards as they watched the wagons being loaded. Boeden could tell that Boyle had probably worked with most of the guards, and the other people in the warehouse before, and they were all used to his cursing, his sudden flares of temper and just as sudden jocularity. “Mostly it’ll be a cake job,” one of the other guards, a short-haired half-Shal woman who introduced herself as Blythe told him. “We shouldn’t have much trouble to Wyndham, maybe a bit in Seldez depending on how rowdy the local militia are. It’ll get interesting in the Fifth Redding – damned halflings,” she grinned at Boyle who rolled his eyes, “most of ‘em have a bit of larceny in their hearts.”
“Sounds like fun,” Boeden said to Blythe. “How long have you been guarding caravans?”
“Three or four years. It’s a good way to pick up some coin going from one place to another, and there’s always the benefit of safety in numbers. Yourself?”
“I left Farolan almost six years ago, and worked as a caravan and dock guard for about two years. The last three to four years I have been doing things with my companions. Right now I am taking a little vacation, back to Farolan.”
“All the way back?” She sounded surprised. “Are you planning to stay there?”
“Yes, all the way back. No I am just staying for a little while to catch up, why?”
Blythe shook her. “I don’t think I’ve been home in at least as long as you. No real inclination to go back, either.” She shrugged and flashed a smile. “Just not a homebody I guess. Looks like they’re finished loading.”
By the dozen wagons, Boyle was walking with a handful of merchants’ representatives, who carried their own clipboards and checklists. Draft horses were brought in to be hitched up, and teamsters climbed aboard the wagons to take up the reins, and a couple of guards headed outside the warehouse to fetch their own mounts; the others distributed themselves on various wagons to take up their positions. No trouble was expected until past Wyndham, and the mood was jocular. The bureaucrats (who were the subject of much behind-their-backs jokes) climbed into their own covered wagons (which were, everyone was sure, plushly decorated inside, for the comfort of their pampered asses) to follow as the caravan pulled out of the warehouse and headed for the city gates.
Boeden fell in behind the last wagon of the merchandise and before the first wagon of the bureaucrats. He was used to that position because he walked, and didn’t ride a mount. His height allowed him to survey the whole caravan from the middle, over the wagons and horses. He asked Blythe if she wanted to ride next to him on the way, saying, “I would really enjoy the company and conversation, if that is okay with you?”
“I would appreciate the company,” she answered. Though she had the look of one who knew how to handle herself in a fight, she still had a ready smile and easy disposition, and as they rode northwest towards Wyndham she told Boeden about her childhood home in the East Redding and how she had come to her regular work in the west. “Have you traveled to the East Redding,” she asked.
“Yes, I have been to the East Redding a couple of times, have you ever been to Farolan? Are you making the return trip with the caravan after Seldez?”
“I have never been there, no. And I was planning to stay until the Fifth Redding, maybe pick up something coming back south. You hear what happened in Palderton?” she asked, and Boeden realized that in the time it had taken him, Athron and Duran to travel overland to Hatham, the story must have spread. “I grew up on a farm south of there, my mum and dad, and me and my brother and sisters – a trip to Palderton was an adventure. Now what’s happened to it,” she shook her head, at a loss for any other words.
“Yes, I have heard about Palderton.” Boeden looked away from Blythe, knowing he was not any good at lying. “A sad, sad affair, that and Hinderlet. I hope that you or your family, did not lose any friends in that tragedy?”
“A few.” Her face darkened for a moment, the cloud passing over her usual sunny disposition. It didn’t last long; she had a personality that seemed able to bounce back quickly, and soon enough she was back to talking and joking, not only with Boeden but the other guards and the teamsters driving the wagons, or even with other travelers on the road.
The days to Wyndham passed pleasantly. Other than the occasional spring rain, nothing troubled them. Boeden got to know the guards and the teamsters by name, who was married or who had a sweetheart waiting for them somewhere. He learned which of the bureaucrats was all right to deal with, and which ones thought themselves above dealing with the hired help. Stewart Boyle kept the operation running efficiently, and took no nonsense from anyone
To be continued.