To Market, To Market
Horse and Honey had rummaged around, industriously shaping their morning. Bird wouldn’t rise until after noon and until then they hunted out greens, herbs and a few river crabs for day meal.
Horse was bemoaning the lack of ale to go with the crustaceans and Honey’s thoughts were a bit grumpy since she hadn’t found the herbs she’d wanted to use. The last of the butter and some chopped sorrel would have to do…we have enough to trade if we go to market tomorrow. We’ll get some butter and more grain then.
While Honey was cutting the greens into a pot Horse groaned when he flopped down on the other side of the fire.
“Why didn’t I move that rock before I sat on it, ach!” He reached into his belt purse to snake out the strip of leather he used to keep his hair out of his eyes. “If we are going to market tomorrow I’ll have this comb finished. That’s three, I’ve done, plus the knives.” Horse also dug out a strip of metal he liked to use to shape the wood he was working on. It wasn’t very big, maybe a hand’s width; when he’d forged it, he’d raised little spines along the end, made sure one side was very straight and the spiny end had a nice curve to it. All in all he could use the little tool to fashion many things, from spoons to combs. Very handy.
Honey fingered her cloak pin as she though about his quiet ingenuity. She watched him smooth the back of the comb as she sorted dried herbs into pouches. Soon the little animals in the brush became accustomed to their presence and resumed their lives, scurrying and rustling through the duff.
She’d found a good stand of woundwort near the stream, now that it was dry she could crumble the leaves into a pouch along with shredded willow bark as a help for arthritis, into another with valerian and chamomile for a tisane to bring sleep and yet another with a bit of fever-few for headaches.“Horse, love, would you keep an eye out for something I can use for a mortar? I still have that pestle you made, but the mortar was too heavy to shift.” Honey retied her head cloth more securely before leaning forward to stir the pot again.
“Ummmmhmmmm.” Never one for too many words, Horse. She smiled fondly at him.
Yawning and scratching, Bird stumbled out of the hut and stood there for a moment blinking before wandering off. “Gah! You piss like a horse!” Honey yelled in his direction.
“Shhhh, I was up all night with our guest. By the way, his name is Tod.”
“His name is Death? What else did you find out?”
The only reply was splashing from the direction of the small nearby rivulet.
Bird came back, his hair dripping, and settled down to bring some order to his person.
Through the cloth he was rubbing over his head and face was heard indistinctly “Raetian, like we thought. His maker is gone, apparently; before she disappeared she bound him to his blood brother. He’s the one who crucified and maimed him”
“Dear sweet mother, does he still exist?”
“Dunno. Tod can’t feel him.”
The three stared somberly at each other.
Horse pronounced the verdict: “Something we have to take care of.”
When Bird and Honey had set out that morning determined to find a market place to do a little bartering; their best bet seemed to be a guard post a little to the north and west. Horse hoped that the legionaries manning the post would be interested in the combs and knives he had made. Some of them were into native crafts. There were sure to be takers for the dried herb mixes that Honey had brought. She said she wanted to get more grain for porridge and salt. Horse hoped there would be cheese; he liked cheese.
As soon as Horse had tidied up and had enough wood put by for the meal fire he decided to take advantage of the light and work on a knife handle. This time he was going to keep it simple, and not get all involved with the deer and the flowers; that took forever and he didn’t get enough for it.
As he dug through his pack he found a really nice bit of horse bone that he had been saving; it would be quiet today, he could concentrate. Ya, he was ready for this kind of project. The oak on the edge of the clearing looked like a good spot, he’d have the shade and he’d be able to keep an eye out.
Where had he been when Honey and Bird had dragged a log up here? Was it yesterday afternoon? Hmmm, fishing then. Another quiet occupation that suited him.
After his tools were arranged just so, his blanket folded for maximum seating comfort; the bone was laid out on a couple of leather scraps right next to the waiting knife. He’d already put divots into the side of the knife tang that would seat the rivets, so all he needed to do is measure the bone, drill some rivet holes and work a bit of design around them.
Horse hummed as he unrolled the leather around his carving tools. Making them had been one of his first projects as a smith, it was funny how a piece of metal could hold memories.
A small breeze picked up, setting the sunlight and shadows dancing across his tools. Horse selected an awl to scratch measurements into the bone.
As the sun lifted closer to mid-heaven the little breeze faded but it wasn’t until sweat trickled down into his eyes that Horse lost focus.
“Tchaaa!” he huffed as he stiffly stood and stretched, batting at the gnats that hovered. Horse plucked at the sweaty cloth stuck to his belly, finally he gave up and tugged the tunic over his head. A rough snap of his wrists shook free the bone chips and dust before he spread it out over a bush to dry. He’d wash later, right now he should eat and drink before he went back to the knife. Reluctantly he entered the hut in search of some leftover porridge.
Earlier that day Bird, with his lyre slung over his shoulder and Honey toting a sack full of herbs, had scrambled down the
rocky slope that bolstered the western side of the
enough for a cart, it made for easy walking side by side.
On their journey south they had passed a guard post flanked
by a few houses and a small hostel. Hopefully they could do some bartering there and find out
where the nearest market town was.
Contemplating the two lugs dozing on a bench in front of the hostel, a mule flicking its tail in the shade and the dirty yellow cur flat out in the dust, the liveliest thing Honey could see was a bunch of flies buzzing around the dog. Not a center of commerce, then.
Until, that is, voices were raised contentiously from inside the taverna. The men turned towards the door, rolled their eyes and let their heads flop back; the mule rotated its ears a couple of times and blinked; the dog sat up and scratched; the flies kept on buzzing until the dog snapped at them but soon settled back into their flight pattern.
A woman swirled out on to the porch, her draperies fluttering in agitation.
“This tavern keeper charges exorbitant prices! Here I am, a decent widow going to visit my ailing daughter – and he wants to charge me what he would charge a centurion! An outrage! Not even a citizen, certainly of low birth, he’s taking advantage of my haste and worry. We will stay here until I’ve eaten and had a smallish nap.” All of which poured out with one breath.
“You two, go get something to eat in the kitchen and make sure the mule is taken care of.” She turned abruptly on the heel of her old fashioned yellow sandals and fluttered back inside. The tavern keeper, who had followed her on to the porch, threw up his hands and got out of her way.
Bird and Honey looked at each other and shrugged. Maybe they could talk to the owner after the matron had gone where ever she was going. Meanwhile they headed for the shaded side of the hostel, giving the mule a wide berth – one never knew with mules.
The ceaseless litany of complaints and demands was not was not softened by a murmured yes Matron, no Matron, right away Matron, I’m sorry Matron, but did provide a certain amount of entertainment. The mule was neither amused nor interested, but stood hip shot and dozing until one of the lugs showed up with a bucket of water and a small pan of grain.
“Hey, you, stay away from the mule! Are you looking to steal something? I’m putting the tack where I can keep an eye on it. Gods help you if you touch the beast that’s under it!” Glaring pointedly at Bird and Honey, he unsaddled the mule and replaced the bridle with a rope halter. Leaving the expensive looking saddle in the dust he led the mule back toward a paddock where it promptly had a nice roll.
‘Put the mule in the paddock, she says . It’ll be in a better temper, she says. Goldie will carry nicely all afternoon, she says. I’m the one that’s got to brush ‘im, I says. It’s your job, she says. Goldie, my ass…….”
Stomping back in the direction of the porch he scooped up the bridle and grabbed the saddle. Glaring angrily at the two leaning back against the tavern wall “you better not have touched anything, or I’ll have you up for thieves with the legionaries.” Slapping ineffectually at the dust on the saddle he turned toward the porch and tripped over the reins.
Bird and Honey shook their heads and tried to look innocent. Honey ducked her head and murmured: ”he’ll have a short life, that one.”
Bird thought a minute and asked: ”D’you think we should help him with that problem?”
Bird and Honey went back to watching the heat dance in the air above the dusty pavement, once and a while one of them would glance at the guard tower which stood silent.
The insistent braying of the mule roused them from their heat induced stupor. Its long ears had picked up the chink and clank of armor long before the four legionaries heaved into sight.
Bird and Honey scrambled to their feet and shielded their eyes against the painful glitter of the armor. In turn, the soldiers glared down their noses at the natives in the travel worn clothes.
“What are you beggars doing hanging about? There are no handouts here.”
Bird stepped forward, “Sir, since you weren’t here, we were waiting for the innkeeper to speak to us, we are here to trade.”
“Why did you look for us? What do you have to trade that a soldier might be interested in. Maybe it is your sister who wanted to do some trading?”
Honey’s nostrils flared in anger, but she kept her eyes on her feet. Dang, with soldiers, it was always something; not only were they armed but they were used to getting their way.
Bird scuffed his feet to draw attention back to him. Thank you Bird.
“We have some very nice knives our brother made, he does a beautiful job on the handles! Here, let me show them to you. Maybe a comb for your sweetheart?” He moved over to the bench and dug into his pack. “See the handles are bone for a good grip, and it is the perfect size for small, neat work.”
The older legionary leaned his shield against the wall and squatted to get a closer look, rolling each knife to see the complete design. “Is this one a fox? This an ibex? Ah, an eagle?” He knew he was going to get first pick, but he wasn’t ready to bargain yet. “ I like the ibex. It has good balance, hooo! Sharp bugger.”
Bird could see that they were attached to the remnants of Legio XXI Rapax; he just knew the ‘Predators’ would be fighting over the eagle and the fox, the ibex would go to the low man.
While the men were focused on the knives Honey slipped through the door into the shadowed tavern. She knew it wouldn’t be healthy for her to hang around while the men were in a competitive mood. Whoever lost the draw with the knives would be looking for something to take his anger out on – and she didn’t want to be there for it.
Bird kept quiet, he knew that four legionaries and three knives would end with trouble, he just hoped that no one got killed.
Honey stood just inside the door letting her eyes accustom to the shadowed room. Soon she could make out rough frescoes on the whitewashed walls and two doors on the opposite sides of the room. The bright rectangle obviously led outside, the other probably led to the kitchen. The rickety tables scattered about the room hid the Matron’s two servants, they and the yellow dog had found cool spots for their after lunch nap.
As soon as she could see clearly Honey threaded her way around the tables and snoring men and into the kitchen in search of the owner. Only the scullery boy was visible, sleeping next to the hearth, his tunic still wet from whatever washing up he had done. A sleeping boy, the ever present flies, the smell of lentils with garlic, and sour wine. Neither owner nor cook. Heat shimmered the air outside the rear door like a living barrier. Honey backed away and sank down on a stool to wait for whoever showed up.
It seemed as though her whole day had been spent half asleep only to be awakened by loud noises.
The legionaries had concluded their business and had stomped into the tavern demanding wine, the dog woke up barking, and one of the servants must have gotten stepped on because he started yelling. Honey could only rub her face and curse the malicious imp that fathered them – and the dog.
She shook the scullery boy awake and sent him to fetch his master before the soldiers pulled the tavern down around their ears. The soldiers seemed to be accompanied everywhere by noise; clinks and clanks, chings and clunks and clashes, metal on metal, metal muffled by leather, metal muffled by cloth. All noisy and all acridly smelling of the oil used to clean it. Let’s not talk about the hairy Italian inside the armor. Well, maybe not so much Italian anymore, she thought, but there was just so much you could do to clean leather, it would eventually reek of the person inside.
…and one of the patrol just assaulted the kitchen…wonderful.
“Oh, hai! Bring some wine little mouse. My mates wish to celebrate their good luck, getting those fine knives, and I wish to drown my disappointment – or at least let it float for a while.”
“Yesh sir,” Honey slurred her words deliberately hoping to appear stupidly uninteresting, and shuffled towards the doorway.
Whap! She was knocked right into the wall. “Hurry it up, mouse! Bring something decent, not that vinegar we had here last night.”
Whooof, that hurt. I hope I can get to his wine cup. Few crumbs of ergot will fix him up. Put his arrogant ass right out of business.
Honey scurried right out the door and around the corner as mousily as possible. Spotting a the door that looked like it might be the owner’s she quickly assailed it with her fists.
“You better get out here before they tear this bug infested dump apart.” she noticed that the scullery boy had found another shady spot to sleep before she went back to shaking the door and pounding on it. Gah! She was going to get a mess of splinters in her hands, beating on this old door.
Finally the man slumped out out of bed and into action – venting his spleen by kicking the boy on the way to the kitchen.
Two doses of ergot then, and wish them both interesting nightmares. Maybe not, I should really save it, there are better uses than bringing the nightmare.
Honey watched as the yellow dog slunk outside to flop in the dust. No doubt he had an equal desire to escape the racket in the tavern. Hmm, dogbane; a few grains of dogbane will be just the thing.
The barkeep appeared at the side door to toss out a bowl of vegetable scraps and stale bread for the chickens, which suddenly gathered, squawking, flapping and pecking around his feet. She waved to get the cook’s attention – not wanting to give away her whereabouts by speaking, and waded through the chickens to ask about the nearest market town.
“Well, girlie, the biggest market around here would be at Argentorate, which is about a day south; but the nearest would be the temples at Brocomagnus, which is north. There’s a bunch of houses there and a market square.”
“Perfect, just what I wanted to know….I’ve got all kinds of herbs here if you are interested in trading. I’m sure a man such as your self would be too busy to go gathering.”
Since the cook was really looking for headache powders they soon came to an agreement. Honey had her supplies, even a bit of cheese, and the inn keeper had a packet of herbs to ease his headaches. Unfortunately, even though they would ease his head, they wouldn’t do a thing for his choleric complexion or his labored breathing.
Can’t fix everything……..