Dragons’ Roost — Part 4

The morning was warm and dry as the wagons approached the foothills. The air was still, and even the birds were quiet at the caravan’s approach. It was too quiet in these hills where there was more life than in the plains below.

jer’Mon, the captain of Fysal’s guards was a careful man who had learned early in life to play his hunches. At his word two more scouts rode out ahead of the caravan, and those asleep from the last night’s watch were wakened. Crossbows were loaded, and the safety straps on scabbards were loosened. Two of the eight dogs were unleashed and encouraged to run in front.

Fysal approved as he too was nervous and picking up on unvoiced cues. Word was passed down the line, “‘ware the ambush.” Drivers put their blades and clubs on the benches beside them. Women and children pulled out their knives, and wrapped their babes in extra quilts.

Fysal’s wife strung her re-curved horn bow and checked her quiver of arrows. She was a child of the steppes, and although he had married her, Fysal had not even been tempted to tame her.

Konna had left his wagons to their drivers, saddled and ridden his roan to the head of the caravan and pulled up by Fysal.

“Something is wrong, my friend,” said Fysal. “There is always life in the groves here. It has always seemed a quiet and benevolent place. It feels . . . it feels as though someone is trying to pervert that benevolence.”

“Yes,” said Durnair, Fysal’s wife, as she honed her knife’s curved blade. “There is perversion here. Someone is trying to waken an ancient force he can neither understand nor control. They all will perish in the fire, and we may be caught and turned to ashes as well.”

“‘A quiet and benevolent place.’ I like that turn of phrase Fysal. It was here that Asyra left this life. It is to these groves, these trees in the foothills that I have returned once each year when the new snow first whitens the ground. It is peaceful here, and she has rested well.

“Durnair is right. If she is disturbed, fire will consume the transgressors, but you and your families will be safe and need not fear the flames.”

Durnair heard surety in Konna’s words and looked at him in a different light. His black eyes were tinged with gold. “An ancient power”–those were the words her mother’s mother used to describe eyes such as these.

A powerful shaman in her own right, Aphasa was said to have been the last to have converse with Siir and her black dragon before they flew off the edge of the world. Flew off the edge of the world and left to men their delusions of greed and power.

Durnair shook herself. She’d always thought the stories were just that, stories. Stories made up as lessons for those too young to listen to reason. Like the banded wolf that roamed the grassy steppes looking for the wandering and disobedient child, she thought.

Feeling what she felt and looking at Konna, she was no longer so sure. Replacing her knife in its sheath, she pulled an arrow from its quiver and readied her bow while looking to the road ahead.

to be continued

Dragons’ Roost — Part 3

Abben fa’Don was a bitter man. He was not particularly smart, but he did have one talent: he could motivate other envious and bitter men. He had already done so, and the trap was ready to be sprung a day or three hence.

Leaving town by a different road than the caravan, fa’Don whipped his buggy’s horse into an angry gallop. It took him till noon the following day to reach the ambusher’s camp. His use of the horse wasted it, and the horse died as he slowed to allow the sentry to approach him.

There were more than a hundred of them, ex-soldiers, deserters, outlaws, destitute farmers, prostitutes and unemployable town riff-raff. All of them were after the quick score of what they thought was an under-guarded caravan, the looting of which was sanctioned by a priest because those in the caravan worshipped other gods.

Speaking with his captains, fa’Don told them of the idolatrous innkeeper and his strongbox. The box would go to the man who brought the innkeeper’s head to the priest. They would eat now and break camp that evening.

Tomorrow morning they would be in position to spring their ambush. The magician was already there. He and his assistants were laying the groundwork for a spell that, if it worked, would decree doom for all in the caravan. And if it didn’t work, its preparations and accompanying confusion should guarantee the slaughter of the caravan’s distracted guards.

to be continued

Dragons’ Roost — Part 2

by Joe AuBuchon

During the remaining hours of the afternoon, caravaneers, their sons and guards emptied a third of Konna’s cellars and distributed the goods among the wagons. His wagons were also loaded and readied for the morning’s journey.

Late in the afternoon, the caravan’s guards and teamsters were treated to their own feast and wine. As the sun set, they returned to their posts, and the traders and their families filled the Dragons’ Roost.

Konna provided chicken and lamb, beef and pork, fresh breads, fruits and vegetables, mead, beer, ale and wine. Musicians traveling with the caravan provided music and song. Between the guards, teamsters and the traders’ sons, some of the serving girls earned twice a month’s wages in exchange for their virtue.

Konna said goodnight and went upstairs to bed before the last of the festivities were over. He wanted one last good night’s sleep in the four-poster he had carved for himself and Asyra; the bed in which they had conceived the girl and the boy, and in which she had birthed them.

An hour before dawn, Konna rose–one of the few without a headache and hangover–bathed and gathered the two small strongboxes and the inn’s books. Taking them down the stairs, he found Manzl and Corrin, the other three town aldermen, the mayor and the priest of the new god and Fysal.

Sitting down to a breakfast of tea, oatmeal, eggs, bacon and bread, they made polite conversation until Konna finished and brought out the bill of sale from the inn’s financial books. He quietly explained the sale and its terms. Manzl handed Konna a gold taler, and they signed the document. The rest of those present also signed as witnesses.

Konna then gave Manzl the ledgers for inventory and expenses and income. Next came the tax documents showing that they had always been paid early or on time and were paid through the end of the current year. Finally, came the strongbox with the inn’s operating money and the keys to the Dragons’ Roost.

Manzl and Konna shook hands and hugged. Each knew it was the last they would see of each other. Corrin hugged him and cried. Konna pressed the gold taler into her hand and whispered, “For Jenn on her wedding day, hers and hers alone.” He said good-bye and shook hands with the rest, except for the priest who turned his back on the old innkeeper when Konna offered his hand.

Konna picked up the small strongbox, and he and Fysal walked out of the Roost. Two of the caravan guards were waiting with horses, as the caravan had pulled out shortly after the breaking of dawn. At a signal from Fysal, one of the guards took the strongbox from Konna, and the men mounted.

Turning the horses to follow the caravan, the four quietly rode out of the town. The smell of fresh-baked bread signaling its awakening.

to be continued

Dragons’ Roost — Part 1

by Joe AuBuchon

 

The bartender’s short gray hair was an anomaly in this part of the world though he’d never thought about how it showed he was different. Most of his customers this noontime were from Fysal’s caravan, either teamsters or guards. There were few local customers any longer.

Jenn, Manzl’s younger daughter, flashed him a hurried smile as she brought out another tray piled high with bowls of her mother’s meaty stew and fresh-baked dark bread. Burnise, a daughter of one of the town’s alderman, carried a half-dozen tankards of ale to the group of mixed locals and teamsters dicing in the back corner. With a demanding glare she held out her hand to the newest arrival who looked up at her with a quizzical frown.

“Blarr, no weapons at dicing. ‘Tis Konna’s rule. Fysal backs him,” whispered the man who held the bones.

Burnise took Blarr’s offered dagger by the hilt and bestowed a smile on the man as she rose. She swept the inn’s tavern with her eyes to see if anyone else was looking for service and saw a merchant holding up an empty wineglass. Nodding, she took the knife to a shelf behind the bar and exchanged it for a pitcher of red.

For the first time in a long while, Konna felt old. Not physically old, as he was in good health and still able to do a full day’s work at the bar or the forge, but he was world weary. The village had grown into a town, and the town was changing.

It was not, he thought, changing for the better. The new people were bringing new ideas–intolerant ideas. Their new god was not as accommodating as those of old.

He had moved here half a mortal lifetime ago, he and his wife–Asyra of the green eyes and dazzling smile that still called to him across the gulf of years. Together, they had taken over a decaying smithy and transformed it into a thriving one and added a stable and, eventually, an inn.

The next two decades had brought them children, a girl and a boy. The girl had been as pretty and hard working as her mother and married a cousin of Fysal. Her young man lost his life too soon after the birth of their daughter to an avalanche in the mountains.

Losyra and her daughter left the caravan on the far side of those mountains, and she’d taken a job as a live-in housekeeper and foster mother to a widowed provincial governor and his son. A year later she married him. He had adopted her infant daughter, and she had given him another son.

Her letters proclaimed her happiness, though on the anniversary she cried for her lost youth. Still, as Konna read the thoughts between the words and lines, he saw her smile and knew that what she wrote was true.

Konna’s boy had had the wanderlust and so had been apprenticed to a trader at the age of eight. He and his caravan had stopped at the Roost three years previous, a successful trader with a wagon, wife and newborn child of his own. Though disappointed at her passing, he would stop at his mother’s resting place on the road north, tell her his story and introduce his wife and her grandson.

Their smithy and inn, the Dragons’ Roost, had attracted the caravans that crisscrossed this parched land. The town and market had grown around him, and now, it wanted him gone. Yes, it’s time to go, he mused. It’s time to move on.

He had decided Fysal’s caravan would be the last he would service. He would leave with it in the pre-dawn light on the morrow–if Fysal would have him.

“So, my friend,” said Fysal as he sipped his date-sweetened wine, “they wish you gone. The ungrateful fools, it was you and Asyra who built this town around yourselves. The only reasons we, and the others, have been stopping here these many years have been you and the services you offer, those, your hospitality and your honesty.

“Konna, no one here can afford to pay you an honest price for the Roost. What will you do?”

“I will sell the inn for a token and travel with you, Fysal. No, hear me out; I have not lost my mind,” he said.

“I have two good wagons on which to carry the goods I wish to keep, including a portable forge and tools. I have eight dray horses and two good riding ones. I have kegs of beer, barrels of wine, fodder and traveling food and animals with which to purchase my passage.

“Manzl and Corrin and their children have stood with me even as the others have turned against me. I will sell the Roost to them for a single gold taler. They worship the new god and will be able to make a go of the business. I have made sufficient profit over the years to see me through.”

“I’ve seen your cellars, Konna,” said Fysal. “My caravan could neither afford nor carry a third of what you have stocked at this time of the year.”

“Fysal, send your sons and partners around this afternoon to load what they can. I will need help in loading what I want to take and a driver for my second wagon. Tonight, bring your families, and we will feast and dance in farewell.

“It will be the last celebration at the Dragons’ Roost as Manzl will soon be forced to change its name. When we leave in the morning, I will publicly sign over the deed to him and, once again, be free to travel the world.”

to be continued

Health Warning!

Subject: WARNING: Don’t wash your hair in the shower. (Baths are also a problem.)

It’s so good to finally get a health warning that is useful!!!

It involves the shampoo that runs down your body when you shower with it. A warning to us all!

I don’t know WHY I didn’t figure this out sooner! I use shampoo in the shower!

When I wash my hair, the shampoo runs down my whole body, and printed very clearly on the shampoo label is this warning: “FOR EXTRA BODY AND VOLUME.”

No wonder I have been gaining weight!!

Well! I have gotten rid of that shampoo and I am going to start showering with Dawn dish soap instead.

Dawn’s label reads: “DISSOLVES FAT THAT IS OTHERWISE DIFFICULT TO REMOVE.”