Under a Blessing of Ashes - Part III

Gamran and Pelgan continued their juggling even as several groups of townsfolk began to arrive at their camp. Stern-faced adults shepherded delighted children to the benches, keeping a careful grip on them lest they venture too close to the wagons of the Magyars only to disappear within and never be seen again. A few other Magyars were also performing then, including Nagel who was walking on his hands with his feet tied behind his head. The contortionist would make his way to one group of kids, and greet them by offering a booted foot to shake. The children all laughed and gave it a good shake, as did a few of the younger adults and some of the parents.

Gamran and Peglan though simply continued to juggle their coloured balls back and forth, every now and then performing some slight trick to startle the onlookers. They both had more to do in the actual performances, but for now they had simply to entertain the early arrivals. With the darkness wide overhead, and the sparkling light of the many fires dancing about them, they continued their juggling, balls spinning through the air no more than phantom shadows. The eyes of many tried to follow them in their complicated weave through the air, but they would always inevitably get lost, and just smile and shake their head in wonder at the sight.

But there was more to be done. As the minutes trickled by, and more townsfolk began to arrive, Gamran become more and more restless. As he watched the slow steady trickle of lights migrating from the town towards their camp, he felt an irresistible pull clawing at him. In the Tagendend camp he could see only a few scattered fires providing light, and it appeared most were being used for cooking.

Gamran could see that Hanaman was walking between wagons. He was certainly making sure that the other Magyars were ready to perform for the people of Doltatra as well. However, the little thief nodded towards Hanaman, catching the firm man’s eye. Even as he continued to juggle the coloured balls with Pelgan, he tilted his head slightly, indicating the distant town. The older man appeared to think about it, even a he slowly walked from one wagon to the next. And then, he gave a short quite nod, and moved on.

Pelgan was no fool of course, and noticed the silent conversation. The two of them without one word to each other began to accelerate the pace of their juggling. Faster and faster they worked the balls, as higher and higher into the air they flew. Gamran and Pelgan began to step back from each other then, even s the onlookers held their breath. Gamran quickly secreted two of the six balls that were moving between them in his jerkin, and then both of them grabbed the other four in their hands, one for each hand.

Spinning on their heels, the grass beneath them long since crushed, they tossed both balls back over their heads, and spun around once more, just in time to catch the balls speeding towards them. Turning to the audience, they offered a deep bow, amidst delighted clapping and fits of laughter from the children. Pelgan and Gamran offered each other silent grins then, and both walked back towards the wagons. Though both Pelgan and Gamran actually entered their wagon together, Gamran had other ideas.

Once the door was closed behind them, Pelgan snorted. “He hast allowed thee to enter Doltatra?”

Gamran nodded as he slipped off his brightly coloured tunic and substituted it with a plainer and less revealing clothes. “Aye. ‘Tis only fair that I shouldst hath this chance to redeem myself.”

His fellow Magyar nodded sagely at that, fingering his knives at either side of his waist. “Wilt thou enter their camp?”

The little thief could not repress his smile. “Oh, I hath thought about bringing them some mischief.”

“Thou must not be caught.”

“I shan’t.” Gamran pushed aside the rug that lay across the floor of the wagon. Beneath was the wood panelling, as well as a little hatch set in the floor. Lifting the circular handle, Gamran pulled open the floor, revealing the dark ground beneath. He slipped down into the hole, and winked to Pelgan. “I shalt return ere long!” And with that he was underneath the wagon and rolling out behind it where the Assingh were grazing.

As the villagers were on the other side of the wagons, he easily made his way out into the open grounds, moving in a long circle around their camp. Soon he would turn about and head towards Doltatra herself. If he were lucky, he would be able to find a place to cross the river outside of town. If not, he would have to take his chances on the town’s bridge, which would be very risky indeed. Either way, it would be quite an interesting night for the little thief!

When the time came for the pageant, Kashin was completely unrecognizable inside his ogre costume. As he listened to the storyteller begin to weave the tale, waiting as he was behind his wagon while a friendly Assingh nudged at his shoulder, he half wondered what the other Yeshuel might think if they saw him like this. While they were not above such amusements, they would likely not have engaged in them themselves.

Kashin brought himself up short then. Only last year alone he would have scoffed at the suggestion that he could become a Magyar and pretend to be an ogre attacking Metamor. How could ever have come to pass after all? But come to pass it had, and he was a part of this little band wandering the vast Steppes in winter with aught to survive but what they carried with them, what they found along the way, and what townsfolk gave to them for their performance.

Reaching up he patted the side of the Assingh’s head, thick lips munching on cold grass as those dark eyes regarded his ridiculous visage. Kashin wondered if that ancient Åelf, the mysterious Qan-af-årael had foreseen his inevitable life amongst the Magyars. If he had, then why hadn’t he told Kashin that it was to be? Had he known, he certainly could have better prepared himself for it, wouldn’t he have?

Grimacing behind the mask, he decided that he had no wish to answer such questions just then. There were children laughing on the other side of the wagon, and his fellow Magyars were pretending to be Keepers, going about their lives, unaware of the force that was about to descend on them. Tonight was a night for merrymaking, and he ought to participate in that. Through his act he would be bringing delight to the people of Doltatra. Shouldn’t that alone make being a Magyar a thing not to be scorned?

At the sound of another fit of laughter from the children, Kashin could not help but smile. No, being a Magyar was not a thing to be scorned, he was certain of that. These were hard people who lived a hard life. If anything, the tenacity to go on like such, hated and feared by so many, and for the most part for no good reason, was something to be admired. But did the former Yeshuel feel any pride in being a Magyar? No, he could not say that he did, not even remotely like he once had about being part of the Yeshuel.

He continued to run his gloved mitt across the side of the Assingh’s face, the musk of the powerful animal muted by the cloth covering his face and the chill of the air. There were several others like him dressed in various costumes, the smaller Magyars, many of them just children, were dressed in green cloth, makeup spread over their faces to make them be the vicious little Lutins. To his left he could see Nagel dressed in the finest robes that he knew of in the possession of the Magyars, for the tall thin contortionist was to play none other than the wizard Nasoj himself. The contortionist would only put in a quick appearance, to cast that dreadful spell against the valiant Keepers, and then he would flee as a coward, when they fought back with even greater verve!

Nagel nodded once to him, and then returned his attention to the storyteller’s words. Kashin contented himself with listening to that dramatic voice as it spoke of the terrible army about ready to descend upon the people of Metamor. Kashin grinned a bit as he reached down and took the cudgel in his mitt, hefting it firmly. It was not as heavy as it appeared, but he still was careful with it. “And then the foul hordes pour up from the Earth to assault the people of Metamor!” cried the storyteller, and Kashin jumped around the wagon, letting out a bellow of rage, making his voice as deep as possible.

Shrieks of terror rose up not only from the Magyars pretending to be Keepers, but also from just about everyone in the audience, as a horde of fearsome beasts came out from the wagons and set upon the unsuspecting people. Kashin quickly located Berkon from amongst the “Keepers” and swung his cudgel down towards his fellow Magyar’s head. Berkon was a stout fellow, and they had rehearsed these moves many times, and so with firm and quick action, he blocked the blown with a weapon of his own, this one a sword whose edge was very dull. All around him, the thrill of battle raged, and yet, it was all staged, and though it appeared some of the Lutins and some of the Keepers were slain, they were just as alive as he.

Yet with each blow from a Lutin’s knife or mace, the children and adults amongst the townsfolk let out a wail or shriek of fright. And with each dead Lutin, they let out a cry of delight, cheers for the valiant Keepers defending their home from the monstrous hordes of the dread wizard Nasoj. Behind the terrible ogre visage, Kashin kept a hidden smile, even as he felt his body swell with the pleasure of a good fight. Berkon did his best to provide that, but of course, he was one of the poor Keepers who had been designated to die. And so with a swing from bellow, Kashin caught the stout man beneath the chin with the cudgel.

Berkon fell backwards at just that moment, so that the cudgel did not actually strike him. But many in the audience cried out in fright as they saw the brave Keeper fall to the snow-laden grasses, a casualty of that terrible fight. Kashin of course was met by two other “Keepers” who had leapt to avenge their fallen comrade. Making a show of fighting defensively, Kashin stepped back towards the wagons, even as the storyteller pronounced in glad words, “They hath fought back the forces, pushing them to retreat, leading them to the three great gates of all of Metamor. And ‘twas this that the foul Nasoj didst plan for them!”

And then Nagel entered the scene, his face painted like a skull, making it even more gaunt than it had already been. The first time Kashin had seen him in the outfit, he had not recognized the contortionist, but now of course he was quite familiar. Billowing about him was a fine black cloak, lined with silver thread at the edges. It had clearly not been made by the Magyars themselves, the weave was far too fine for that, but none would say where they had come upon it. After all, it belonged to the Magyars now, so of what importance could its time before then be?

“With terrible words,” the storyteller continued, even as the fighting about him began to subside, all eyes turned towards the figure of “Nasoj”. “With such horrible words, thee shalt see what evil this vile wizard hath wrought against the people of Metamor!” Nagel waved his hands about in the air as if he were casting a spell, and he moved his mouth as if he were speaking, but said nothing.

Zhenava remained hidden in one of the wagons, but her spell would be seen by all. When Negal clapped his hands together above his hands, Zhenava let loose a burst of light in the centre of the camp. The villagers all gave a quick cry, and began to rub at their eyes. While they were doing so, the Magyars pretending to be Keepers went through their change. Those to be animals pulled out masks from their tunics and slipped them on over their heads. Those to be women ran back behind the wagons while some of the women dressed similarly ran out to take their place. And the same went for the children. Soon, a motley collection of Keepers remained to take up the fight!

When the villagers could finally see clearly again, they beheld the marvel of a changed battle before them. Walking animals did battle with Lutins and ogres, while women and children went armed and fought at their side. Kashin now faced Chamag who had donned the visage of a grey fox. He was using a long axe fairly effectively, though they did aught but trade blows at that point.

“And as thee hast seen, Nasoj’s magic did not work as he hath intended. For he hath made the Metamorians fiercer than before, given them fang and claw to fight, made children trained warriors to slip in and out of battle, and fighters into women at the wrong time of the month.”

This last made several people in the audience laugh, even as the fight continued on. Nagel began to slip backwards, holding his cloak before him, and glaring at the battle as it quite clearly turned against him. Even as the storyteller began to recount the cowardly retreat of Nasoj, Nagel turned about and fled back through the wagons, not to be seen again.

Kashin however kept his focus upon the fox-man in front of him. The battle was nearly over as it was, and just the last few of Nasoj’s forces had to be killed, which meant him. With a wide swing of his cudgel, he overbalanced himself, and so Chamag struck his left arm. Of course, Kashin no longer had a left arm, and so the sleeve was sliced cleanly free to fall to the ground with a whump, as they had weighed it down slightly. Letting out a shriek, as did the townsfolk at seeing one of the performers lose an arm, Kashin flung himself back against the grass, collapsing in a heap.

Chamag grabbed the severed arm and lifted it high in one hand as a trophy, cheering their victory over Nasoj. Kashin could not help but chuckle at that. He wondered how true their version of those events was to reality, but knew that there had to be a mistake or two. Even as the townsfolk applauded and cheered the victory of the Metamorians over that evil force, some of the others grabbed him under his shoulders and dragged him back behind the wagons. After all, he was dead, and could not get up himself.

Once behind the wagons, He wrapped one arm in a hug about Pelgan who was one of the two who had carried him. He looked to see the little thief Gamran, but instead found himself looking at Ameli, a lithe young girl that usually entertained the early arrivals with her acrobatic skills. Kashin also knew that Ameli was leading Pelgan on a merry chase, something that the stern youth seemed quite content to follow.

“Thee hast performed well, Nemgas,” Pelgan crowed a bit, pride obvious in his voice.

“Thou hast done wonderfully, Nemgas,” Amile nodded in agreement. She then winked to the younger man. “And so hast thou!”

Pelgan blushed ever so slightly at that. However, it was short-lived as Kashin pulled the mask from his head, feeling the chill night air against his cheeks. “Where hast Gamran gone to? I expected to see him here.”

Pelgan and Amile looked to each other and shook their heads. “He hath an errand to perform.”

Kashin blinked a moment as he looked down to the two younger Magyars, and then nodded glumly. He should have suspected as much. Gamran had gone to filch from the city, or the horse tribe, or perhaps both. “I hope he does not get caught,” was all that he could bring himself to say.

“He shan’t,” Amile said pointedly.

“Not after the last time,” Pelgan agreed.

Kashin nodded then and glanced back towards the circle of fire beyond the wagons. He only could see a sliver of it from here. They would have a much better vantage point from on top of the wagons. Already, he could see several of the other performers climbing up where they would not be easily seen by the audience. Gamran would have to make his own luck, and he suspected that the little thief was quite experienced at that. No need to worry about him any further then.

“Shall we watch the rest?” He invited, pointing up towards the roof of his wagon. Both the younger Magyar’s nodded enthusiastically, even as Pelgan reached out for Amile’s waist, and the girl seemed to debate stepping just out of his reach, or slipping into the embrace. She chose to dart ahead then, scrambling up the side of the wagon, and grinning back down at the stunned youth. Pelgan blinked several times, and followed after her, no longer paying Kashin any mind.

Kashin chuckled to himself as he slipped free of his suit and replaced it back in its cupboard inside the wagon. He then made his own way up, determined to enjoy himself that evening as he watched the rest of the performances of his fellow Magyars.

Doltatra was quiet and the streets were dark. Lit only by the occasional torch, Gamran had little trouble following the shadows in his course through the small fishing village. The town itself was laid out on either side of the river, with avenues beside either bank. Small wharves stood just off the railing along the Atra, but of course they were empty. The Magyar could easily see that the townsfolk regularly broke the ice around each spot, though it was already well on its way to freezing once more.

The houses on either bank were all small, made almost entirely from wood. The little iron they used had all been brought in by traders, and it also appeared that most of it had been fashioned by other hands. Gamran found most of the buildings lay as he remembered, though one or two appeared to have been repaired after a fire. Even the Burgomaster’s residence which was on this side of the river as he remembered was barely larger than the rest, big enough only to house any criminals before they were punished in whatever manner they saw fit. A gallows stood just outside, with a little room for the townsfolk to watch. It appeared in little use though, though Gamran had almost managed to get his neck in that rope once before.

The little thief cringed at the memory, scowled, and moved on through the shadows. He had been overconfident the last time, and would not make that same mistake again. Slipping alongside the Burgomaster’s home, he caught sight of one townsfolk walking along the street. He drew himself back further into the shadows and held his breath. The figure was solitary, large of stature, and bore at his side a wooden mace. Clearly one of the guards Burgomaster Agee had left behind.

Gamran saw another home a short distance away, shrouded in night’s sweet shadow. He waited until the guard had turned about in his courses, and then quickly darted to it, pressing himself against the wooden frame as soon as he reached it. He listened to the sound of the guard’s footsteps, but they simply continued to slowly crush the hard earth of the avenue. He had not heard or seen Gamran move, and was unaware of the Magyar’s presence.

Smiling ever so slightly to himself, Gamran moved alongside the home, gently touching the single window. Locked. He was not surprised. The Burgomaster had likely ordered it after they knew who was visiting. A locked window had never stopped him before of course, but he would not risk it with the guard so close. He very well knew that with the Tagendend here he could not expect Hanaman to win his release should he be caught.

And so Gamran continued on through the town, moving south with the river always in sight. He soon left the guard far behind him, and felt a bit more comfortable moving along swiftly. Their storehouses were on the eastern bank of the river, this much he knew, and so at some point he would have to cross over to the other side. There were several bridges in the town itself, but he inevitably saw a guard crossing each of them, soft leather boots echoing across them as they marched their solitary watch.

Gamran settled upon the southernmost bridge at last, it was the widest of them all. A single man watched over it. He was older than the one near the Burgomaster’s home, and he held a slender pipe fashioned from one of the local trees. A tiny red glow emanated from the end of it, and he would regularly blow out the smoke as he kept warm in that cold night air. He was armed with a mace as well, but it hung from his belt through a leather loop, brushing against his leg as he walked.

The Magyar watched him for several minutes, noting the deliberate slowness to his stride. His eyes would case wide along each bank of the river as he walked, blowing smoke from the pipe as he peered into the dark shadowy buildings. And then, as he came to stand at the foot of the bridge, he would turn, and begin his trek back across. The bridge rose slightly in the centre and was fashioned from wood, with a central pylon and crisscrossing beams underneath to support it. Gamran made his decision then, and waited once more, tensing his body to move quickly across the wide avenue that separated the buildings from the Atra.

After the man his back on the thief once more, Gamran began to count. At the count of ten, he strode quickly, feet moving silently over the hard earth, his soft boots disturbing not a stone. He reached the bridge as the guard reached its middle, still puffing upon his pipe. Gamran quickly climbed over the railing along the river, and ducked beneath the bridge, gripping the wooden supports underneath to keep him from falling into the deadly ice below.

The footfalls sounded upon the wood slow and firm as the guard crossed the rest of the way. Gamran hooked his feet around the understructure and moved to the middle of the bridge on his bank. It was dark, and the ice beneath him did not reflect the sullen light well at all, but he was used to seeing in the dark. He could make out the vague outlines of several more beams fitted at angles before him. Reaching out tentatively, he discovered them with his fingers. Feeling along them, he learned their places. Once certain, he wrapped an arm about them, and pulled himself along, feet gripping the next pieces of wood.

Upside down the little thief hung from the bridge. He could hear the guard beginning his way back across, and began to count the number of footfalls he took to make it across. Even then, Gamran continued to feel at the outline of the next crossbeam, moving to it once he felt he knew it well enough. He paused when he heard the guard starting back, taking a single moment to turn about and start on his way back. Seventeen steps Gamran had counted. More than enough he thought.

Gamran continued that way, slowly feeling his way forward to the next crossbeams, holding onto the last with his legs the whole while, letting his arms do all of the work. It did not take him long to reach the central pylon, also fashioned from wood and resting upon several large stones in the river, and cut to hold the wood steady. Gamran considered taking a moment to rest his legs, but decided against it. While the guard overhead would never see him there, the guard walking the bridge just a short ways up the river might.

The man with the pipe made five more crossings of the bridge before Gamran reached the other bank. With a tentative hand, Gamran reached out for another beam nearer the side of the bridge, readying himself to climb back up. He yanked it back when he felt something he could not se. A bundle of old twigs slipped from its perch, and fell with a small puff of dust upon the ice below. Damn bird’s nest, Gamran thought, even as his body tensed.

He could hear the guard stop in his tracks at his end of the bridge, not moving. The little thief held his breath, feeling his heart pound in his chest. He could even hear the beating ringing in his ears as his fingers dug into the wood. Could the guard hear the sound of his beating heart? Gamran could almost feel the noose tightening about his neck as he held his perch there. He offered silent prayers to all the gods then, hoping that at least one of them would hear his plea.

And then, after several long moments, the guard began to walk back across the bridge. Was he satisfied that he’d only imagined that noise? Or was he walking backwards so that the thief might reveal himself? Listening to the sound of the boots, Gamran found it hard to imagine the man was actually walking backwards. Even so, he waited several more minutes. Crossing his legs over the rafters, he leaned down, plucked the fallen bird’s nest from where it lay upon the ice, and then lifted himself back up to the understructure. He stuffed the offending bundle of twigs back in a crook of wood, and then continue don his way to the side of the bridge.

He waited for the guard to make one more crossing of the bridge. Once he started on his way back, the little thief began to count each footfall. At eight, he poked his head up over the railing and glanced about. The avenue was dark, and the man had his back to him. With another pull, he lifted himself up around the bridge, and made for the comforting shadows of the buildings on the other side of the avenue. Only when he reached the welcome darkness did he allow himself to breathe once more. But he kept it low and quiet, eyes ever alert for any more guards.

But he saw none besides the man with the pipe. He continued to walk the bridge, content that there had been nothing in the rustle of twigs. Gamran then moved between the homes nestled along the river following a path that was familiar to him. He had walked it several times before the previous years they had been in Doltatra. He knew better than did the townsfolk where they had loose boards as he did in every town they had ever passed through.

Doltatra had two warehouses where they stored their goods. Gamran had been caught in one of them, but never the other. So it was to the second he journeyed. He doubted very much that he would be able to enter the first ever again, so went on past it with only a tinge of regret. The warehouses were no bigger than their homes, but they were always full of foodstuffs during the winter. They were set a short distance off the ground, so that the food would not be spoiled should the Atra flood. Crouching low, Gamran slipped underneath the home, moving through the dirt as quietly as possible. Wit his fingers he counted the boards, until he came to a familiar one.

Pressing along it with his fingers, he found the peg that held it in place. Pressing upwards on the pointed end, he jostled it out of place. His eyes cast about the base of the building, but saw no feet passing by. That was good. He had counted the number of Burgomaster Agee’s guards that had been with him at their camp, and the number he had seen in the town. He doubted that any would be waiting inside the warehouse for him to poke his head through. Shifting the board out of place, Gamran did so.

It was very dark in the warehouse, only the outline of shelves full of sacks could be seen. With a little grin, Gamran pulled himself inside the building an ran his fingers across the shelves and the goods within. Oats in some, wheat in others. Even several shelves full of potatoes. But nothing else. This would do though, he thought, very pleased with himself. He would not take any now, but once they were ready to leave he would help the people of Doltatra show their appreciation for the Magyar’s performing skills.

Slipping back under the building, Gamran pulled the piece of wood back into place. Gripping the peg firmly between his hands, he found the groove he had dug into it, and pulled down hard. Twisting back and forth, he finally managed to move the peg back into its place as well. They would never see that it had been moved.

Gamran glanced about once more time, making sure that no other guards were about. Seeing none, he slipped back out from under the building, and brushed a bit of dirt from his plain brown jerkin and pants. It was a very cold night, and he was beginning to feel that chill settle in his bones. He would have to return to the wagons soon, he knew that. Glancing to the South he could see the fires of the Tagendend still burning. But he did not see any of the horse clan moving about between their tents.

Feeling a sudden surge in both mischievousness and anger, Gamran began to approach those tents, moving out from the shadows of the houses, and into the dark depths of the night on the Steppe. He was as adept at that as he was at moving through the village, and soon, found himself moving around the tents. He made sure to keep the horses between himself and the tents. The beasts did not regard him as anything to worry about, as he knew they would not. Animals never feared him after all.

Moving in a bit closer, he could see that the Tagendend had arranged their tents rather haphazardly, in small clusters near the fires. The horses were allowed to roam free, and they did so, though they held close to the camp. He could see that there were a few individuals out, though they had their eyes more towards the river and not to the empty Steppe towards the east. Of course, Gamran knew that the Steppe to the East was not completely empty, though he and many others wished it was.

Shuddering, he ignored such things, and moved in closer, crouching low as he passed between two tents. He could see vague outlines through the thick fabric, but they were still, asleep. As he moved along, wrists upon the ground, he found a piece of cloth that had been used as a seat. It was a thick wool, and would make a lovely garment, but it had just been bundled up and forgotten by the filthy horse folk. Gamran snatched it in his arms, and decided that he had tempted the gods enough.

Crawling back, Gamran made his way back along the outside of the camp, just outside the where the horses were circling. In his arms was the bundled cloth, thick between his fingers. He would bring it to Thelia, and he knew she’d be delighted at his find. The thought of the young seamstress’s smile brought one of his own to his lips. And so he did not seem the stone that he hit his toe again, cursing under his breath.

The sound did not go unnoticed by the Tagendend either. One of the watchmen rose from their place by the fires, and grabbed a blunt piece of wood. Dipping it within the flame, the end caught and he carried the torch with him as he approached where Gamran crept. “Show thyself, thief!” he cried, arousing several others in the camp.

Gamran cursed then, and looked back and forth. He could not very well head further east into the steppe, the Tagendend riders would run him down with ease. And with an alarum sounded, he could not head back into the village, or the noose would be waiting for him. And so he decided there was only one thing he could do. Steeling himself, he dashed headlong past the tents, even as the surprised horsemen started to stir and look about in confusion. The one guard shouted in surprise then. “Halt!”

But Gamran had no such intentions. Even as he heard the sound of running boots behind him, he leapt across the wide river, gritting his teeth for what would come next. Feet first, he plunged through the ice into the bitter cold water. His body went numb as the cold struck, the water pushing at him, urging him downstream. With one arm clutching the rolled up cloth, the other gripped at the edge of the ice, and he pulled his shivering body up the opposite bank.

He was only dimly aware as he cut his hand upon a rock, a little blood flowing between his knuckles. Yet he relentlessly drew himself up, clothes sopping wet. He could hear shouts from behind him, but he pulled himself upright and ran back towards his camp, making sure that he kept himself out of view of the festivities. Gamran knew he had but once chance to keep his neck from the noose, and he had every intent to do so.

He could tell that the townsfolk were still being entertained by his fellow Magyars for which he was glad. It appeared that the dances were now on, which disappointed him slightly, but he had sen them many times before. His whole body shook as he ran though, but the only way to stop that would be to get inside the wagons where it would be very warm.

He had no trouble getting around behind them, where the Assingh were still grazing lazily, their thick coats undisturbed by the winter’s cold night air. Nor did he have any difficulty identifying the seamstress’s wagon. Crawling underneath, he gave a gentle rap to the trapdoor in the base. He rubbed his arms over himself as he waited before it opened up, and a curious face peered down. Her face was small, with a short hooked nose and covered by short, curly dark hair. Her smile was concerned though as she saw him, and helped him up into the wagon.

“What hath happened to thee, Gamran?” Thelia asked as she closed the trapdoor, and covered it once more with the simple rug that rested in the floor of the wagon. A pair of beds were sat at the end of the small interior, while a large table occupied one side where they would work making their clothes. Cabinets of cloth, thread, and needles occupied one other section towards the front.

Gamran began to pull off the wet rags, feeling the warmth of the wagon try to pierce his shivering flesh. Thelia helped him out of the wet clothes, setting the bundle of cloth he’d taken from the Tagendend to one side. He smiled up at her even as his teeth chattered. “I brought a present for a sweet lass.”

She blushed and smiled slightly at that, even as she set the wet clothes to one side, helping him free of his boots and pants, even of his linens. A small white cloth she placed between his fingers on the wound, though it was not bleeding heavily. She then took out a dry blanket from one cupboard and draped it over him then, and he pulled it tightly to his chest as he continued to shiver. “I shalt fetch Zhenava for thee.”

“I thank all the gods that I find the noblest of hearts in all the vast Steppe in thee!” Gamran waxed as she went to the door. She blushed once more at that, and then turned her head as she heard a commotion begin to sit outside. The sound of horses approaching filled their ears, as well as shouting. The music that had been playing ceased as people began to chatter in worry. “What dost thee see?” Gamran asked, even as he pulled the blanket tighter.

The slight girl lifted the window shutter and peered out through the glass. “Riders from the Tagendend. Wast that theirs?” She points to the bundle of cloth. When Gamran nodded, frowning a bit in sullen embarrassment, Thelia bit her lip. “I shalt fetch Zhenava.” She then stepped out the door while Gamran continued to shiver in the blanket. He kept it tight to his neck though, as if it would keep the noose seeking it at bay.

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