Tattoo Book 6 part 2.34
Posted by harmony0stars on September 24, 2010
The farmer continued to chuckle as they climbed the hill, limping slightly from some old injury or illness. A cart lay half overturned on the other side. He quickly righted it and retied the harness. The cow ignored its burden, chomping at the nearby grass as it waited. “Mind, there was a snake. Might still be lurking in the grasses.” Glory and then Phoenix bent to help him pick up the wood that had spilled out over the road. He probably had to travel a fair distance to gather enough wood for a fire. “I’m called Lark. You’ve met my grandson Tans. We don’t usually see too many travelers this far away from the cities.”
“We did get a bit lost in the mountains,” Glory conceded. “I’m Glory, and this is Phoenix.”
“We were attacked by bandits,” Phoenix said.
Lark looked grim. “Bandits have been a problem around here for the past few months.”
“Well I took care of one of them,” Phoenix announced smugly, “but his friends got away… with our supplies.” He added the last as if the old man was somehow responsible for replacing their property, such as it had been.
“Well, one less to worry about at least,” the old man said with a nod of his head, ignoring or oblivious to Phoenix‘s implications. “Hopefully when my son comes home for harvest, he’ll clear out the rest. He makes good money guarding the merchant caravans, but we miss him in the summer months when the local toughs are bored and quarrelsome.” Lark clucked his tongue at the cow, and it plodded forward, hardly the juggernaut it had been only a few minutes earlier. “We haven’t got much, but we can at least stand you to a meal and a place by the fire for the night.”
They trailed after him and down a side path that lead into the high grasses. The cottage appeared suddenly, its sod roof helping it to blend into the grass. Massive tracts of briar roses scented the air around the little house as well. Tans and a little girl of about six ran up as they approached, their mother watching from the door.
“Did you really jump on the cow?” the little girl asked, frowning at her brother as if she thought he was making fun of her.
“Yes, it was very uncomfortable. I don‘t recommend it,” Glory replied with a wink.
“Dulsie!” called the woman. “Come help me with dinner.” The little girl ran back to her mother giggling.
“Take care of Bene, Tans,” the old man said, patting the cow’s rump. The boy took the cow by the halter and led her around the other side of the cottage, letting her lose from her burden and unloading the wood onto a nearby pile. There was a small fenced in area for the cow and a few goats and chickens. A low structure squatted against the back of the cottage. It probably served as a barn, sharing a wall for warmth or stability. Both buildings appeared to be partially built into the hill.
Lark led the way inside, gesturing for them to have a seat at the large table which dominated the room. “Marta, this is Glory and Phoenix,” he said in passing as he limped into another room. The woman stole a shy glance at the strangers from the small table where she worked at making their dinner. She wiped her hands on her apron, filling two mugs with cool water from a clay jug that sat on the table.
“Thank you,” Glory said. Phoenix echoed her, and the woman smiled, going back to kneading her dough.
“Marta!” he called after a few seconds. “Where are my maps?”
“In the trunk, I think,” she said, wiping her hands again.
“I found them,” he called, and she went back to her work while Dulsie made small cakes from some excess dough and stared at their guests. The old man came out, carrying a large rolled animal hide and laid it out on the table. It was an old style map, very detailed. Glory suspected it had been painstakingly copied from a much older map. Tiny villages were marked with dots leading to Ilarnek and between Ilarnek, Thraa, and Kadatheron. Some of them were named, but many were not. She groaned inwardly at how far they had yet to travel.
“Where abouts would you say you were attacked by those robbers?” Lark asked. “They must be fairly new at their trade, but eventually they’ll favor one site or another for ambushes and then we’ll have them.”
“It was… ten or so miles back down the old highway,” Glory replied. “It might have been further since we ran for some of it in the dark. There was a small dell near the road with trees on the east. I thought it would be a good place to keep out of the wind.”
“I know it,” he said. Taking a bit of charcoal from the hearth, he made a tiny smudge. There were about a half dozen more marks on the fine leather. He frowned at the map. “That’s closer than they’ve attacked before.”
“I don’t like to make trouble…” Glory began. Phoenix glanced at her as if he disagreed but kept his mouth shut.
“Don’t think it,” Lark replied dismissively. “These men have been plaguing us since most of our young men went on their annual pilgrimage to Ilarnek to hire on with the merchants. Probably some boys too young to leave and too old to be stuck under the thumb of their elders.”
“When we came down out of the mountains, we met some shepherds who shared their food with us, cousins… Mika and Lucka. I don’t think Mika had anything to do with the attack,” she said hastily, “but I’m almost certain Lucka was the robber Phoenix killed last night.”
Lark rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I can ask around in the village. Lucka is a popular name. I know of at least two, one in our village and one in another further up the road. Or he could belong to one of the clans that live out on the steppes; many of them herd sheep. We’ll ferret them out eventually.”
“I just wonder,” Glory said pointedly, “if it wasn’t an attack of opportunity. Maybe they’re not the bandits you’ve been having trouble with. Maybe they just knew we were two travelers on the road who would probably not be missed.”
The old man shrugged. “It’s a thought, but if that’s the case, it’s just a matter of time before they take to banditry as a pastime. We’ll find this Mika and make enquiries from there.”
“I don’t think he had anything to do with it. He‘s hardly more than a boy, and now I‘m worried about him out near the mountains alone.”
Lark grinned. “Now I know you’re city born. Don’t worry about the boy. Shepherding folk are a sturdy lot. Even without his cousin, he‘ll bring his flock home.”
tp Book 6, part 2, page 35