The Riders of the King's Own

Week Eleven
Kaen

Nyan rana yn Kaen, di nyan yn Maralu.

I cracked a rib on my first mission. That was painful. Haenel’s got it relatively easy though; at least he doesn’t have to ride horseback with a cracked rib. I’m sure the going is easier in the back of a wagon than on horseback, however hard and uncomfortable the seats are. I wouldn’t be surprised if the swordies have even padded their seats with furs, lazy buggers.

That battle the other day though, that was interesting, to say the least. It wasn’t much different for me and the other guys in the far more superior wagon—we just had to aim higher and pay more attention to flying hooves—but for the swordies, yeah, it was interesting. Pretty ineffective in the end, since the six of them together only managed to bring down three riders, but this is of course another thing that makes the shorter blades better than their longer ones. Yoryl and I took down three each rather than three between us.

Not that I didn’t feel half-naked without my sword for the duration, though. I like my sword, in all its poison arrow frog glory. I’m not happy with Melraan though. He lost one of the onyx stones that make its eyes, bastard. He’s buying me a new one when we get to Silrona. He’s so very lucky he’s not in this wagon. Still, I get to pelt him with enough casuarina nuts over dinner, and he’s been having to hold a hand over his mouth while he’s eating for fear of a pebble (or worse, a cockroach) flying in there, so that’s one up on him.

We’ve had a couple more ambushes, too. Two yesterday, just two groups of four, one group of six last night, and a larger group of eleven earlier today. I admit, ‘may’s plan is working, but goddesses’ blood, I want my horse back.

That battle, if nothing else, made us all really realise how much we actually need them. Storm is seriously the best horse in the Own, hands down. He’s a beautiful, proud creature, never goes against what I tell him to do, but he isn’t afraid to hold up if he knows something’s wrong. Like if I’m about to walk into an overhanging tree branch or something. He doesn’t get spooked at all, he’s just a very calm and placid animal.

And now we’re back with camels again. I haven’t had to deal with a camel for nine years, aside from just sidestepping around them in the stables. I’d forgotten how stubborn they were! And noisy. If they’re not spitting or groaning, they’re snorting and biting and doing everything in their power to make life uncomfortable.

I want my Storm back.

That was not the kind of storm I meant.

If it was earlier in the year I’d say we’d caught the edge of a cyclone, but this was just an Autumn storm. You get the same warning as you would in Raykin before a rain storm—impossibly dark clouds and a deathly quiet calm where not even the tops of the trees are moving with any breeze. What’s missing is the subtle static in the air, and of course the slight chill, because it’s already intensely cold. Maybe the locals can feel it get colder, but honestly, by this point, it’s all the same to me.

The way the storm just lands on you is much the same as well. Deathly quiet and still, then suddenly half the Ra-Lin empties itself on your head, or at least the wagons.

So all in all, much the same as a Raykinian rain storm, only a lot colder. We got thunder, lightning, gale-force winds, hail, the whole lot, and obviously “torrential downpours” (we call it rain. Kazinians just have to complicate things by having fifteen different ways of saying “rain”). Also a higher chance of branches falling on your head.

Or at least the wagons.

The six of us in the wagon were staring silently out the front of it, watching how the forest lit up with lightning and counting the heartbeats to the clap of thunder, as you do, when we heard what sounded like a crack of thunder without any lightning attached to it. Fair enough, it happens.

Only this was a cracking branch from overhead, which happened to land right in the middle of our wagon, in the back of my head.

It took a few moments for me to realise what had actually happened, and my first reaction was to draw a few daggers, which is my usual reaction to having been whacked convincingly in the back of the head. Not that a tree branch could care less about a pair of daggers, but you don’t think about these things when you can’t think.

It was probably only a second or two before I realised I was hunched over with a massive weight on my back and a lot of swearing going on around me. In another few seconds it registered that a tree branch had fallen on the wagon, specifically on me, so I proceeded to sheath my daggers again and add to the multitude of swearing, as you do.

Eventually we managed to manoeuvre ourselves out of the wreck of the wagon. I got the worst of it, but apart from the initial not knowing what in Lin’s name was going on, and the subsequent headache, I’m fine.

The wagon… not so much. We managed to get the branch off of it somehow, which was more difficult because of all the bits sticking out from it than from the weight. It’s ripped the canvas in three places, but more importantly, two of the support beams have been snapped. In itself, that wouldn’t be too bad—we’d be able to just get rid of the top and ride with it open until we got to the next town, which would be unpleasant, but doable.

Unfortunately though, the weight when the branch fell on the wagon meant one of the spokes in the front left wheel has snapped as well, so that puts it completely out of commission until this storm eases up, and it doesn’t look like that will be happening for a while yet. My guess is that the rest of the afternoon is going to be spent as we are now, cramped in the remaining wagon and waiting for the rain to stop, or at least slow, so we can pitch our tents and go to sleep.

Elli, the mother, says it shouldn’t take too long to mend the wheel, and should be able to do it in the morning with the right bit of wood. Even the support beams can be fixed, if temporarily, with a decent sapling or two, and Elli can sew up the canvas. We’ll be back on the road by lunch time.

Weather permitting, naturally.

And we’re back on the road, finally. The rain never let up, so we ended up sleeping in the wagon, somehow. I thought sleeping in the tents with the moisture leaking through your skin was bad enough, but sitting upright on a solid wooden seat with sixteen other people squashed in around you is just impossible. I’m told I slept at one point, but that’s a moot point really. Sure doesn’t feel like it. I’ve just got a bad crick in my neck and back and pins and needles in every limb. Minor compared to most of the stuff we put up with, but you like to have some sleep on your journey.

Actually, I must have slept, because I got woken up by someone giving an irritated warning of an ambush. That was just the chilli in the pot, that one. When your day can’t possibly get any worse, a couple of Kazinians come out brandishing… whatever they were brandishing. Probably bows and arrows. Yoryl and I flung a few very lazy daggers at them and that was that, but it’s still a nuisance.

It was still pouring with rain this morning too, but by this point we’d pretty much given up on the weather easing, so the merchants got on with repairing the wagon, since we don’t have the faintest idea about these things, and believe it or not, we were actually back en route to Silrona again not too long after when we would normally have had lunch.

I’d like to say the rain’s slowing now, but I think that’s wishful thinking. It’s not going to be properly easing until Spring, is my guess. Cross fingers we’ll at least be back in Raykin by the time it starts snowing.

I am so incredibly sick of Kazin right now. For most any other mission in southern Kazin, we’d be back in Raykin by now, but instead we’re going back to Silrona. I’m sick of rain, I’m sick of cold, I’m sick of pain, I’m sick of walking, I’m sick of wagons, I’m sick of potato liqueur, I’m sick of mud, I’m sick of trees, I’m sick of bandits, and I’m sick of people jumping out of trees to try and kill me. I just want to go home.

I swear, every time I come up here I think about leaving the Own, give the spot to somebody who actually wants to do any of the stuff we do, but that thought always dies maybe a week after we get back to Ni-Yana. Then of course we leave on another mission, hit the border and I’m thinking, “Why am I doing this?” all over again.

I hate this kingdom.

“Aeia-damned rain!”

“Aeia doesn’t damn the rain, Nol, she damns the lack of it.”

“Lin-damned, then.”

“Lin doesn’t damn anything.”

“Well somebody damned it.”

It hasn’t stopped raining in four days. Somebody shoot me. We’ve had to go off the dirt-come-mud road and travel on the paved route, because otherwise the wheels would get bogged, and that wouldn’t be fun.

This means going through (and around, for the rest of us) a lot more Houses. Ordinarily I’d regard this as a bonus—time to stretch the legs, return some semblance of feeling to the rear and exercise a bit of pinpoint accuracy. With this …someone-damned rain though, it’s just another inconvenience on an already inconvenient mission.

Nimay’s plan is working, I’ll give her that, but this is the filthiest and muddiest mission I’ve ever been on, and being one of the senior members of the Own, that’s saying something. And to think this is only the beginning of what ‘may reckons is going to be a full-on campaign! Still, the rest of it is supposed to be done primarily by First and Second Company. I think. I don’t know; I didn’t listen that far into the brief. Unimportant until we get there, anyway.

The last two days, since we got back on the road, have been pretty ordinary. We’ve gotten another four bandit groups, one of them a larger one of about twenty that we missed coming up, somehow.

We were also attacked by a group of exactly twelve Kazinian soldiers. I don’t need to say how sorely tempted we were to at least attempt to mount their horses, but of course that would have completely defeated the purpose of having left our own behind in the first place. Plus they would have thrown us off before we’d set a foot in the stirrup.

If that innkeeper, or anyone else, has laid a single finger on my Storm, heads will roll.

It was almost inevitable, now that I think about it.

We’ve lost the caravan, with maybe a week of travel left before we’re back in Silrona. I’m not sure, since I’m no good at judging travel times in a wagon. Either way, we’ve lost the caravan.

We skirted around the House of Godly Offerings, but they weren’t waiting on the road when we got back to it on the other side. We waited there for at least another half an hour with no sign of them, then checked back up the road up to where the House came into view, and finally down the other direction, but they were nowhere to be seen.

In the end we resorted to going back to the House of Godly Offerings, which, despite the name, is one of the smallest Houses on the main, cobbled road. They have a stable large enough for four horses at the most, and room enough for eight people to spend the night, but no kitchen or bar facilities.

More importantly, there are rarely more than six people attending the place, and since it’s so small, it’s nigh impossible to hide anything there, especially two wagons pulled by a pair of camels each. Not that there’s really anyone they could be hiding them from, but still, that’s the impression we got upon seeing the place, with nothing there but the six attendants.

Upon approaching, we could see no animals in the stable, dromedary or otherwise, and certainly no wagons.

The officials formed something of a blockade, letting us know quite clearly that we wouldn’t be passing without forking out a bit of coin, then the head gatekeeper, for want of a better word, said something that made me, and probably everyone else, come so very close to breaking out in fits of laughter, despite the incessant rain.

“Four silvers each to pass through.”

Four silvers each! We’ve never gone through a House for less than four gold each, plus another for each horse! Are we honestly that unrecognisable when there are only twelve of us and no horses? You’d think if anyone was going to know us in this kingdom, steeds or no, it would be the ones that can take money off us without us protesting. Much.

Nol, smartly, chose to stay silent and keep that princely insignia of his hidden. The second they’d see that, we would have lost it. Likewise, ‘may kept behind Gylepi, since she’s easily the most recognisable Raykinian even this far from the desert.

Haenel handled them, since he’s been a trader and knows best how to deal with houses, and his Kazinian is absolutely flawless.

“Oh, no, we’re not wanting to pass through, we’re just looking for a Raykinian caravan. Has one passed here recently?”

The gatekeeper stared flatly at Haenel, who was doing pretty well to keep a calm face despite his probably cracked rib. “Two silvers.”

“One.”

“One and three coppers.”

Haenel nodded and forked out the respective coin while the rest of us tried not to exchange surprised glances that we still weren’t recognised.

“They passed,” the gatekeeper said, inspecting her coins, “At least two hours ago. A man, a woman and three boys. Fur traders. If you seek the King’s Own, you won’t find them with that caravan. We already checked.”

Haenel nodded again in thanks, since bowing was not surprisingly beyond him at present, then we turned to go back up the road again, sharing a stunned silence. I’m not sure what we were more surprised about; that the gatekeeper had only taken a silver and three coppers off the Riders for the King’s Own, or that those Aeia-damned fur traders had ditched us.

Week 10      Week 12