Adventure is the delight of fools and recounting it the
delight of drunks. The challenge is discerning the difference.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr
“Ye gods that’s cold!”
Mira laughed gaily at Horace’s pained expression. “Not like the warm baths you got at Mummy and Daddy’s is it?”
After less than a week with the caravan it was becoming obvious it was Horace who was having the most trouble adjusting to life on the road. For all of his considerable strength, the slightest bit of cold set his teeth to chattering. He’d spent years helping his father at the forge, growing accustomed to the baking heat and it had left him ill-prepared to deal with the cooler temperatures in the open fields and forests. Even though hot southern winds blew in from the Midbar Desert, he complained bitterly about the cold at night and bundled himself up in layer after layer of thick, woolen blankets.
Cooking was also foreign to him. The family cook had taken care of all his meals as far back as he could remember, including washing the pots and pans afterward. After one particularly intense session of questioning, his friends concluded he’d never even held a cooking pot, let alone used one. Life in the caravan demanded everyone take their turn at mess duty. Even Old Tom took a turn at it.
The first time Horace had attempted to do his part, he’d almost chopped off his own thumb, and he hated dishpan hands. He didn’t like sleeping on the ground either. The rocks and pebbles dug into his back and sides no matter how he twisted and turned. A dozen times a night he would be up, sweeping the ground under his blankets, swearing that somebody was sticking rocks under his bedroll when his back was turned.
He complained incessantly about the trail dust. The horse he been assigned to ride was a nag. His armor was getting rusty and nobody cared. Mosquitoes were eating him alive. The food was awful. The water tasted funny. The sun got in his eyes and everything smelled.
But his worst tirades were saved for his nightly bath.
After sweating all day over the hot forge with his father, the two of them had stunk to high heaven and his mother wouldn’t let them in the house until after they’d washed up. Years of daily washing had ingrained the habit into him until he felt filthy if so much as a single day went by without a bath.
A hot bath.
His father’s forge had provided all the hot water he had ever wanted. But heating a tub full of water on the trail was a completely different proposition altogether. He’d nearly come to blows with the cook the first night out when he’d appropriated the campfire and the largest metal tub available – which happened to be filled with ingredients for that night’s stew. Old Tom stopped them before they came to blows and ordered Horace to get his own washbasin and leave other people’s property alone.
In the town of Wolpern, he’d purchased a small tub to heat water in, but it was too small to hold enough for him and his nightly battles with grime were a source of endless amusement to everyone. Mira and Jon especially enjoyed tormenting him.
Horace glared daggers at her. “Go away,” he grated. “Let me die in peace.”
Mira glanced past Horace’s shoulder then brought her gaze back to his face. “Die?” she inquired sweetly. “What makes you think you’re going to die?”
Jon, a bucket of icy stream water in his hands, crept closer.
“Because I’m freezing to death!” Horace shouted at her. “That’s why. Now leave me alo. . . Yieeeeeeeeeee!”
His chest arched and he sprang straight up as Jon flung the bucket of water full on his naked back. He staggered from the shock and tripped over his washtub. It tipped over and he fell heavily into an instant sea of mud.
Jon dropped the bucket and doubled up with laughter. “What a moron,” he howled. “He fell for it again!”
Mira nodded gleefully. “Worked like a charm,” she giggled.
Horace’s eyes bugged out at them and he clambered slowly to his feet. “Moron? Worked like a charm?” he growled. “I’ll show you what works like a charm.” He flung his arms wide and dove for them. Mira let out a strangled yelp and wiggled away. Jon ducked under Horace’s reaching arms and darted after her, the bellowing, mud-smeared fighter charging after them.
Aaren danced out the way as the three of them thundered past. “Run faster,” he shouted helpfully.
Katrina threw herself down on her bedroll to watch the chase. “Who are you shouting to? Them or Horace?”
“All of them,” he said magnanimously.
“Oh, isn’t that sweet of you?”
He grinned wickedly at her. “I try.”
“I’ll bet you do.” She turned back to follow the progress of their friends as they completed their first lap around the camp.
Aaren looked around. “Where’s Elric?”
“Oh. Right.” He sank down beside her. Elric had discovered that stirring the evening stew gave him time to study his spells and kept him from having to do the dishes afterward. Unlike priestly magic, the art used by wizards was strange and alien to human thinking. Unless they were reinforced by continual study, the spells soon faded from the mind. So every evening he appropriated the big ladle and went to work, spellbook in hand.
Whistles and raucous cheers followed the race as various members of the caravan took bets on the outcome. Aaren watched them contentedly. Just four days ago the Knights of Gaia had been at the bottom of the heap in the caravan, ridiculed and tormented. Now they were accepted as regular members. Amazing, he thought, the difference a single battle could make.
The first few days had been awful.