Chapter 03

Daylight crept slowly over the land, revealing the trucks and several tents that were parked by the sea shore. The mist that had covered the coast line evaporated slowly, revealing grey clouds futher out at sea. The King’s Road might as well have been called the Coast Road as it followed the coast almost all the way. The only exception was all the way south where it followed the river Garn from the sea and up to Zillah, the ancient capital, where the great nation of Gihon had seated it’s mighty and powerful leader for centuries. It was it’s present leader, the almighty Zanthar, who had fallen in love the newly discovered oil of the north, and would like to get his hands on it no matter what the cost. He sits in his beautiful castle Reyna, sending his lackeys back and forth to do his bidding whilst he enjoyed several bottles of sparkling wine produced in the Garn valley.

The morning was brisk, and morning dew was hanging from the tree braches. Corporal Heyes was sat leaning against a trunk of a big pine tree, enjoying a peaceful moment as he puffed smoke from his pipe with regular intervals. Two soldiers came up to him.

– Corporal Heyes, Sir! one of the privates saluted, the other one following suit.

– At ease, soldier! the corporal barked.

– You better go wake the others up. It will take some time before we can get moving again.

– Yes, Sir!

The two privates started going round the camp, waking everybody up. As people started waking up and emerging from the tents, corporal Heyes banged the pipe against the heal of his army boots. Then he walked down to the sea with a towel thrown over his shoulder and a piece of soap in his hand. He bowed down and gave himself a wash, then dried himself. Then he put some soap on his hands and soaped his face in. On his left side hang a huge and very sharp knife. He pulled it out and gave himself a close shave with it. As he finished, he dried his knife carefully on his trousers, well aware that if he didn’t do it careful enough, he would cut open his trousers, and maybe his skin too. As he stepped up from the icy sea water, he met captain Rawlings on his way down.

– Good morning, captain! he saluted.

Rawlings saluted quickly back.

– How is the water, corporal?

Heyes stopped for a second, eying the captain with uncertainty.

– It is cold as the coldest winter, captain. Don’t get your mustache wet, or it will freeze till ice.

John Rawlings stopped a second and looked at the corporal.

– Edward Hayes, is it?

– Yes Sir!

Rawlings gave a laugh.

– Please call me John, he said.

– Do you prefer Edward or Ed? If that is okay…

The corporal’s eyes shot up, and a smile seemed to melt the face frozen from the cold water.

– You can call me what you like, Sir!

– John, Rawlings corrected him, pointing a finger at his face.

– John! the corporal busted out.

– I would be honoured if you would call me Eddy like my friends do…

Rawlings nodded.

– Eddy it is!

He lowered his voice and moved in closer to the corporal.

– I have a feeling that this trip will bring us closer to each other, much closer… I just pray that I’m wrong about this bad feeling I have…

Corporal Heyes looked surprised at Rawlings.

– You too? he said.

– I had a bad dream… a nightmare… about this trip.

– Really? Rawlings enquired.

– What did you dream?

Allthough  Carter’s sleepingbag was made of fur. it still made him shiver in the night. As the sun emerged in the east, Carter felt the warmth spreading through his body, and he dosed off to sleep again. The night had been cold, and he had woken up many times, putting wood onto his campfire. Finally he had some rest without having to get out of his sleepingbag about every half hour. Carter slept for a couple of hours before he awoke suddenly. His eyes shot up, but he did not move. He could see his rifle leaned up against the closest tree, but right behind him, he heared heavy breathing. A clanking sound was heard as his pots were messed about by the intruder. Carter swollowed hard as he started turning very slowly. As he got his head turned around a bit, he recognized the silouette of the grizzly he had been tracking in the corner of his eyes. The bear was throwing away Carter’s back pack with his nose and then ran after it, searching for the food he could smell inside. As the grizzly disappeared out of view, Carter leaped up and ran towards his rifle. The bear stopped, lifted his head and listened. Carter grabbed the rifle and jumped up towards some of the lower braches of the tree. The bear came running towards him. As Carter frantically started to climb the tree, the grizzly stood up on his hind legs, beating towards Carter. Carter made a cry as the bear’s claws scraped aginst his leg. He swung up higher into the tree out of the bear’s reach. His left leg was burning, and he could feel some blood trickle down his leg. He lifted up his rifle and loaded it with two shots. He aimed at the bear’s head, then pulled the trigger. The mighty grizzly fell backwards with a big grunt. Carter took aim again, but waited whilst the bear started crawling around in the grass, obviously seriously wounded. Then the big animal laid still, just rolling gently back and forth. Carter climbed down from the tree and approached the beast slowly. It was not moving much, but obviously in great pain. Carter put his rifle between the bear’s eyes and fired. The grizzly stopped moving.

Carter sat down on the ground with a big sigh. He put down his rifle and examined his wound. It was only a flesh wound, but other animals of the forrest might get aroused if they smelled blood. He found a rag in his back pack, wet it, and cleaned his wound out. It had just about stopped bleeding, so he took another rag that he tied closely over the wound. After lighting the fire again, Carter took out his knife and started cutting a hole in the bear. Stringing the bear up, he dragged it to the tree he had climbed earlier and left the bear hanging in the air. Then he cut a great gash in the bear, draining it for blood. Carter never ate the blood of his prey. Not because he thought it was wrong to do so, but because he simply did not like it. He knew that many people enjoyed black pudding with butter on, but that just wasn’t him.

When the blood had long past stopped dripping, Carter cut the rope so that the grizzly hit the ground. He took out his knife and started skinning it. It was a tideous and tiresome work, but Carter prefered to do it as quickly as possible after he had done the killing. He made himself a stretcher and tied the grizzly’s fur to the top of it. Then he parted the big animal into pieces and packed them in cloth. Then Carter put them on the stretcher too, only one small piece was left unpacked. He put the meat on a scewer and roasted it over the campfire. In his bag he had a small bottle of sparkling wine that he was going to drink after he had killed the bear, but it had got broken wher the bear had thrown the back pack down the hill. Instead, Carter made himself some black coffee.

As soon as Carter had finished his meal, he threw some wter over the campfire. He went down to the creek and filled his canteens, thjen cahnged his wound again. it was not bleeding, and Carter was thankful for that. Soon, Carter was on his way further up the mountain, dragging the stratcher behind him. He left behind a big pool of blood and the big bones of the grizzly, almost completely stripped for meat.

The smell of roast pork was so lovely to Lan andthe 12 nomads that was following him into the dining area that their mouths were watering. Potlar welcomed them all, wishing they had all had a good night. For beakfast they would get freshly roasted pork with freshly baked bread. There was also some vintage ale to wash it all down with. Lan looked at all the food, smelling the wonderful scent that was lingering in the air.

– Potlar, he said slowly.

– You will make us all fat and lazy! I have never experienced better hospitality.

Potlar bowed deeply.

– It pleases us to hear that your stay so far has been a pleasant one…

They sat down to eat, and the talk was lively. After a while, Lan turned towards Potlar again.

– I am sad to say that this pleasant stay is about to end. We have to journey on…

He stood up, giving a loud whistle that got everyone’s attention.

– Men, it is time to ride on to Cape West! We all thank the pople of White Oak for their hospitality. May their fires never die out, and may their years be many.

– May their fires never die out, and may their years be many!  the nomads echoed.

– Man your horses!

The room got noisy as all the travelling nomads scrambled to their feet and left outside. Everybody got onto their horses, waiting for Lan. Lan beat his chest.

– Potlar of White Oak! There will always be room for you and your friends at our fires, and there will always be food for you at our table. Gods be with you!

Potlar beat his chest too.

– And you, my friend!

Lan threw himself onto his horse.

– Let’s ride!

The travelling nomads all rode on down  the Forrest Road towards Cape West, leaving a cloud of dust behind them.

Clara wiped her hands on her apron as she sat down at the dinner table. Smoked cod with carrots and potatoes were dished out on the tale for Irene and herself. A pot of butter and bacon was still sizzling in the middle of the table.

– I hope you like it! Clara said with a low vice.

Irene smiled.

– I am certain that I will! You are such an excellent cook…

They helped themselves to the fish and vegetables, then sprinkled melted butter and bacon bits over the top. The room had gone almost completely silent except for a few low sounds from the eating women. Irene suddenly put her cutlery down and stared at Clara.

– I am sorry, she said.

– I don’t want to be ignorant of your problems, Clara. You listen so attentively to my complaints. How are you doing? Is it hard to live by yourself?

Clara started scraping her plate.

– I have been on my own for almost ten years now, she almost mumbled.

– It is over nine years since my husband died, and I have never been able to give myself to any other man. We were only married for about a year…

Irene tried to smile at Clara.

– John said he was a soldier. Is that correct?

Clara straightened her apron.

– Yes, he was a scout for the army. He was also my brother’s best friend…

Irene picked up her cutlery again, putting some fish and bacon on her fork.

– I didn’t realize that you had a brother.

Clara smiled shyly.

– He’s a bit of a loner. Had a good career in the army, but quit and moved into the mountain.

Irene dipped some potato in melted butter.

– Is it long since you’ve seen him?

Clara looked thoughtful.

– Must be about five years ago now, she exclaimed.

– He doesn’t come into town very often.

Irene put down her fork again.

– Well, if you don’t have family here, you could always move in here with us…

Clara’s eyes opened wide.

– In here with you? I don’t know…

She bit her lower lip, heavy in thought.

– I would not like to intrude… she started.

Irene waved her hands.

– It would be fabulous! she practically shouted.

– John is away so much that I often get lonely. Some times he comes home for dinner, then goes back to the officer’s house and sleeps there to get an early start. He doesn’t like waking me up early in the morning. Would you at least think about it? I feel like you’re family…

Clara rubbed her chin.

– I don’t know…

Irene blinked, smiled and leaned closer.

– Please say you’ll at least think about it, she urged.

Clara thought about her lonely hut about ten minutes walk from the Rawlings house. It was practically always dark, cold and empty. Clara had lived there with her husband Bernard. He was tall and strong, with light blond hair, a big bushy mustache and the bluest eyes you had ever seen. They had beeb so happy in that little hut, but after Bernard had been killed by a hardened criminal wanted for bank robbery, the hut had been grosely neglected. They had decided to wait a year or two before having any children, so when Bernard was violently torn away from Clara after only a year”s marriage, Clara was totally alone in this world. Fortunately, her good cooking skills and tidyness made it easy for her to get herself work, but she was still alone in her hut after work hours. Could she really move in with Irene? What would her husband say?

Clara bit her lip again and looked straight at Irene.

– Okay, she said.

– I will think about it…

The small cabin under the Tiger’s Tooth was hardly visible in the dusk. A colomn of white smoke rose from the rooftop, hardly recognizable for even a well trained eye. The cabin was situated with the back wall against the mountain. The two short sides were covered by the logs that made up the small building, and at the front there was only one door and one window. There were trees on both sides of the cabin, but the front was almost uncovered. Green thatch, moss and dirt with grass was stuffed into the walls and made it difficult to discover, even in broad daylight.

Carter pulled his stretcher up to the cabin, huffing and puffing. With a last effort of strength he threw it down on the ground. A dog started barking inside the cabin, and soon the door opened. An old man in grey tunic and a blanket over his shoulders appeared in the doorway, squinting out into the dark. Carter smiled.

– Hello Genji! he shouted.

– Fancy some bear meat? I’ve got a load full of it…

The old nomad’s face broke into a smile.

– Carter? he asked.

– I have not seen you for many moons… Please come and join us by our fire…

Carter walked up to Genji and banged his fist onto his chest. Genji did the same. Then they showed the inside of their palms to each other. Carter made a sigh.

– I felled a bear a couple of hours from here, Carter said.

– I wanted to share the meat with you as it’s too much for me to carry all the way home.

Genji smiled.

– Are you telling tales again, Carter? Well, as it happens, I have not found anything but rabbits lately, so bear would be a welcome flavour in our cooking pot. Will you sup with me and share my pipe tonight? I have thick blankets for the night too…

Carter nodded.

– I will be honoured to share your fire and your pipe, he answered.

Genji helped Carter to pull the bear meat and hide into the cabin. Then they sliced up some of the meat and fried it over the fireplace. When the meat was ready, they sat down in front of the fire with a bowl of meat each and some garlic bread on the side. The two men ate in silence, listening to the flames spitting and hissing at the ceiling. Genji had a hard looking face with as many wrinkles as a prune. His skin was darkened by the sun, and his hair was angelwhite. His dark brown eyes were deep and serious, and he didn’t make jokes often.

They put their bowls away, and Genji found some tobacco and started stuffing his pipe. Soon they were both sitting relaxed, blowing smoke rings and talking about what had happened since they had seen each other last. Genji’s dog, ironically called Cat, had been laying patiently next to the fire the whole time. She was rewarded with some juicy meatbones by her master. Carter enjoyed sleeping outdoors, but tonight he was actually looking forward to sleeping under a roof.

Captain Rawlings had enjoyed a few hours in the saddle. They had to lower their speed after darkness had started falling. A couple of hours afetr nightfall their steadfastness had been rewarded. They had reached the river Ayila, and Baron Bridge was right in front of them. They could not see too much because of the darkness, of course, but from the peninsula they had arrived at, they could see lots of lights coming from the Baron’s castle in the middle of the river, situated on a rocky island. There was no way to cross the river here without going through baron Finnegan’s castle unless you were planning on a weeks detour up river.

John Rawlings halted, pullig the reins of his horse.

– Company HALT! he shouted.

The entire company halted, and specific orders were given to make camp on the peninsula. In the morning, Rawlings would have to go out on the bridge to bargain with baron Finnigan about letting them cross. The lorrys and equipment were parked or placed in a circle. Fires were lit, and cooks started preparing a late supper. The chatter of chearful voices rose from the camp along with smell of spicy food. At baron Finnegan’s castle the alarm was raised by the guards. A scout was sent out, only to return soon after to report that the campers posed no real threat to Baron Bridge. Curious eyes followed the campfires, and after a couple of hours, the fires died down and snoring could be heard from the camp.

Lan was leading the nomads slowly up the road, most of them carrying torches. He was cursing under his breath, being annoyed at leaving so late from White Oak. The dark was so thick that they had to walk their horses the last couple of miles. Finally they reached their destination. After clearing the woods, a large stone fort appeared. Cape West had been built about 200 years earlier. It was built of great, big stone blocks cemented together. It’s walls could not burn, only the houses on the inside of the wall, housing weapons, animals and soldiers. The fort had a look out tower on each corner, and these could room quite a few soldiers. For years now, the fort had been left empty, letting all kinds of vegetation grow up and cover large areas of the fort. Shrubs and flowers were filling the courtyard, and climbing ivy was covering the walls on the outside.

The fort was not empty enymore. The towers each had three people on look out, and the doors were closed shut, bolted on the inside. Fires were burning several places inside the fort, and at times voices could be heard from the inside. Lan and his company of nomads walked up to the door and knocked three times. A small window opened in the side of the door, and a pair of brown eyes peered outside.

– Who goes there? Identify yourselves!

Lan cleared his throat.

– We have come from Methus Hill to collect barrels! We seek a place by your fires tonight!

– Wait a sec!

The little window slammed shut, and silence spread across the nomads. Lan turned towards his fellow travellers.

– What is a “sec”? he whispered.

Suddenly the doors were unbolted with a great noise, and the doors swang up slowly. About twenty soldiers came marching out, all carrying rifles in their hands. An old, mean looking man, thin with thick dark hair and beard walked out in front of them. A big scar went sideways across his face, right in the middle of his nose.

– My name is Hogan! he wheezed.

– You may join our fires, and we have wagons and barrels for you, but you will have to leave your weapons in our armory untill you leave again!

Lan wrinkled his eyebrows. He did not care for this Hogan person. Every fibre of his body told him that Hogan was bad news, and could ot be trusted. Reluctantly he gave up his knife and spear, motioning everybody else to do the same. One by one the nomads gave up their arms, then walked silently in to the fort. It looked like there was about 100 soldiers there. They settled down by a fire in silence. Only Lan did not go to the fire, but followed Hogan reluctantly. They would be leaving as early as they possibly could in the morning. Hogan led the way into the HQ, then turned around to face Lan.

– Can I offer you a drink, he smiled crookedly, revealing his golden tooth that made him look like a pirate.

Hogan grabbed a bottle, pulled the cork with his teeth, and spat it out. He grinned his crooked smile again.

– I am going to enjoy doing business with you all, he whispered.

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