Chapter 3

1283 Words
CHAPTER 3 “Stow your gear in the puichok. Hing Ganau will show you where.” Zandaril turned from the horse who was hitched to the side of the wagon and waved vaguely in the direction of a soldier in the process of loading up. He returned to his task of checking the tack of his black mare. She was fit and energetic, though somewhat round and sturdy. Penrys did not recognize the pattern of the simple saddle. Except for the short stirrups there seemed to be nothing to it but shaped leather pads, decorated with punchings like his boots, and colorful wool fabric beneath, over a sheepskin. Dropping her shoulder, Penrys shrugged off the worn pack Jip had issued her last night and set it down with a metallic thump. ‘A soldier’s gear,’ he’d called it. It seemed half empty, and the clanking of the eating kit had been an annoyance the whole way as she’d followed her guard to Zandaril’s place in the breaking camp. There hadn’t been time to go through it yet, though she’d been grateful for the blanket fastened to it, in the middle of the night. She was even more grateful for breakfast, salted dough on a stick with smoky bacon wrapped around it, shared by her escort at the cook-fire of a group of troopers. She’d still been licking her fingers when she’d spotted Zandaril, supervising the loading of his wagon at the rear of the camp. Four mules had already been harnessed up to its shaft, the nearest one an elderly gray that was almost white, and the rest ordinary bays. The wagon looked like all the others she’d seen so far—tall iron-tired twelve-spoked wheels in back, with smaller ones in front, and a body about five feet wide and ten feet long. The wooden walls rose about four feet, surmounted by a high arching framework covered in canvas that was partially folded aside—only the long pole affixed to the side of the wagon-seat that flew a colorful pennant distinguished it from the rest of the nearby vehicles. She thought the device on it might be some sort of many-spoked wheel, when she tried to make it out as it flapped in the gusty wind. The smell of tar wrinkled her nose—it looked as though the seams of the wagon’s boards had been tarred and caulked. Her guard had handed her possessions over to the wizard and released her, and she tipped her head to him in farewell. Well-mannered he was, and he provided breakfast. Could have been worse. She glanced at the older, uniformed man who was busy with the last of the gear, spry despite the splint and wrappings around his right leg. She surveyed the narrow wagon seat and asked Zandaril, “Will we all three be sharing that?” “That depends. Can you ride?” She smiled broadly. “Indeed. That would be much better.” She paused and looked down at her feet, shod for indoor activities. “Although boots would make it more comfortable.” At least I’m wearing my work clothing, not something more unwieldy. “Maybe I can fix that,” Zandaril replied. “You’ll need some sort of coat or cloak, too. Any clothes in there?” He pointed at the pack on the ground. “Not that I could see.” He nodded, and called out to the man who was tying down the bundles in the wagon bed. “Hing-chi, errands I’ll have for you to the Quartermaster at our next stop. Meanwhile, please have someone fetch something suitable for our guest to ride before the Horsemaster gets too busy.” Hing Ganau started a bow but converted it into a clumsy wave and limped off to corral an errand boy. Penrys raised an eyebrow at the performance and Zandaril coughed politely. “I have here no official rank, but it seems to be hard for him to break the habit.” He paused. “Only three weeks ago I was assigned to him, when I joined the expedition at the Meeting of Waters. Posted he was to drive a wagon until he could ride again. Doesn’t like it much, and who can blame him? A kwajigomju is used to getting things done with his men, and frustrated at being alone.” He looked down at the little bundle the guard had handed him—the pouch and knife that had hung at her belt. “Here, bikrajti. You’ll want these.” That’s gracious of him. Also says something about how much he fears me, which is not at all. Is that a good thing? “Thanks,” she said, and left it at that. She attached both items to her belt and felt complete again, if somewhat under-dressed for the weather. As she recalled from the maps, Kigali was about as far south of the equator as Tavnastok was north, and autumn was starting in the south. She smelled a faint crisp chill in the air, under the blue cloudless sky, but there was nothing she could see along the horizon in any direction over the low, rolling grasslands, to account for it. If this was truly a valley, it was wider than she could see, and the actual Junkawa, the Mother of Rivers as they’d called it, could be anywhere out of her view. We’ll be delayed waiting for the horse. Let’s see what I’ve got. She knelt on the ground, on the damp grasses which had been trampled by the camp traffic and were still giving up their pungent juices. “Spoon, fork, metal cup and plate, well-scoured and well-used.” She ticked off the inventory and glanced up at Zandaril. “Might as well have been a set of bells for all the noise it makes.” “I think the practice is to wrap each of those in articles of clothing. Muffles the noise, keeps it from shifting,” Zandaril contributed, gravely. “Sounds right. Well, a nice big packet of salt, a bag of…” She opened it and sniffed. “Ugh. Bunnas,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Glad I would be to remove that burden for you,” Zandaril remarked. ‘That’s right—bunnas comes from your folk, doesn’t it? What’ll you trade for it?” “Not very good quality that is, that they buy for the troopers.” “No point bad-mouthing it to me,” she said. “I can just ask your Hing Ganau.” A faint smile crossed his lips. “You can trust me for an honest price. When you find something you want, we’ll talk again about it.” She dug through the rest of the pack. “Looks like wrappings for bandages, soap, and that’s about it. No clothes, like I thought. Not even a comb. Nothing to read.” She began to put everything back in. Zandaril cleared his throat. “I may have a sushnib or two. Books.” “Yes, a wizard would, wouldn’t he?” She tied the straps at the top of the pack and stood up. “I’ll show you a bit tonight, when we camp up again,” he said. “In wirqiqa-Zannib they are written, so it may be they are of no use to you, bikrajti.” She said to him, in his own language, “If I can speak it, then easily enough I can read it, with a little instruction in the script.” He stared at her in silence. “Didn’t believe me, did you?” she said, with a quirk of her lips, as she returned to the western Kigali-yat dialect she’d been speaking since her arrival. “There were a few wirqiqa-Zannib scrolls at the Collegium, but no native speakers, so I appreciate this opportunity to truly learn the language.” Looking at her with interest, he said, “Do you retain the knowledge after your source departs, bikrajti?” “Only if I’ve taken the effort to master it m’self, and make it my own.” This was more than she’d intended to share, and the clop of hooves provided a welcome interruption as a young trooper led a saddled horse and hitched him to the cleats on the side of the wagon walls, next to Zandaril’s mare. The mules already in their traces turned their heads to watch. She laughed out loud when she saw him—a piebald gelding, quiet and deliberate. She couldn’t picture him bestirring himself to a canter. I bet that mare can run rings around him. “Not taking any chances, eh?” she commented to Zandaril. He bowed in her direction with a smile of his own, and she sketched him a comic salutation to honor his precautions.
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