Scribe of Texas Book Page Scribe of Texas Poems Scribe of Texas Short Stories Scribe of Texas Fan Fiction Scribe of Texas Preaching Politics Scribe of Texas email

Universe of G-Minor Logo
All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 10

Aaren and Jon turned, then gasped as they saw what he was talking about.

The lead wagon had been reduced to smoking ruins, a blackened skeleton propped against the remains. The second wagon was partially burned and its horses were dead on the ground. Around the two wagons were several more burned bodies. Next to them were the bodies of those hacked and stabbed to death during the moments of confusion following the initial blast. Scattered around the small battlefield were more bodies. Most of the dead were bandits but far too many of them were caravan guards. As they looked closer they realized almost half of the bodies were guards. Several of them had been stabbed in the back.

Jon gaped at the sight. “What happened? The bandits weren’t that tough.”

“It’s not their toughness, but the guard’s morale,” Horace replied. He pointed at the charred skeleton by the lead wagon. “When Old Tom bought the farm, all the fight went out of them.”

“Old Tom?”

“Didn’t you hear them shouting about it right after the fireball went off?”

“I heard something,” Aaren said for both of them, “but I didn’t really pay much attention.”

Their other friends joined them. “Did you hear the bad news?” Mira asked them. “Tom was killed.”

They nodded. “Horace was just telling us,” Jon replied.

Katrina eyed the guards nervously. “I wonder what they’ll do now?” she muttered. They were gathered around the blackened skeleton arguing and gesturing.

“We bury him and go on,” Jon told her. “What else?”

Mira shook her head. “If there was a chain of command that might work, but most of these caravans have one master and that’s it. If he gets killed there’s no one designated to step in and take over.”

“What?” Mira returned his disbelieving look blandly. “You heard me.” She shrugged. “My father and I had plenty of time over the years to talk to caravan masters who bought wood from us. We picked up all kinds of things.”

“That’s crazy!”

“Maybe, but that’s the way it is.”

“So what’s our next move?” Elric asked, ignoring Jon’s shock.

Horace shook his head. “I don’t know but we can’t just stand around forever. Those bandits haven’t pulled back all that far, they could attack again at any moment.”

As one the little group turned and eyed the bandits grouped less than a two hundred cubits away. There was a long moment of silence. Aaren finally broke it. “You’re right,” he said. “Something has to be done, but first things first; anyone need healing?” He looked around.

Mira nodded painfully. “I got hit several times,” she said ruefully. “It hurts like blazes.”

“Right.” He held up his holy symbol and a moment later her pain-filled expression eased under his healing arts.

“Ahhh. That’s better,” she sighed.

“Anyone else?”

Everyone shook their heads. “OK, follow me, and let me do the talking.”

They nodded quietly. Satisfied, he led them to the group of guards huddled around Tom’s body. They were arguing volubly but fell silent at their approach.

Aaren wondered what the right thing to say was. They’d been arguing about whether to go on to Taeljurm or head back. Some of them seemed in favor of heading off cross-country. In a few more minutes they’d all be breaking up to head in different directions, something he had to stop. A sudden thought occurred to him.

“Who’s in charge of the burial detail?” he asked respectfully.

Startled looks answered him. “Burial detail?” somebody muttered. “We didn’t even think about that.”

“Yeah, we can’t leave until we give ‘em a decent burial.”

“Ground is too hard to be digging graves–”

“What are we gonna use for coffins–”

“Maybe a pyre or something–”

“But they didn’t all worship the same gods or–”

A flurry of confused babbling broke out. Some of them poked at experimentally at the hard ground while others broke out blankets and threw them over the bodies.

Aaren winked at his friends over his shoulder. Get them worried about accomplishing some little, intermediate goal, he thought, and pretty soon they’re so caught up in it they don’t realize they’re still heading for the larger goal. If he could keep them busy with the funeral detail until nightfall they’d have to stay and camp for the night.

Which meant setting watches, which meant working together.

Which meant teamwork. Which meant pulling together. Which meant . . . going on to Taeljurm.

He grinned inwardly. Sometimes the right words didn’t have to be all that long.

*     *     *     *     *

Aaren’s ploy was only partially successful. The men pulled together long enough to bury the dead and make camp for the evening. They even set aside their differences long enough to set a schedule for the watch. But by morning the bandits had left and they resumed their argument.

Some were in favor of heading back for Thorginbelt or at least the south side of the Mügard Pass where the King’s patrols were more frequent. Others thought they had an obligation to the trading company that owned the caravan to continue on to Taeljurm and perhaps get a reward for their loyalty. That brought a round of derisive laughter from those who wanted to head back.

“Ya really think those bean counters care about yer loyalty?” one of them sneered. “You’d have a better chance of talking a halfling out of a meal.” That comment brought another round of laughter, the tremendous appetites of halflings were legendary.

“No, I don’t think they do, but they do care about profits,” another answered. “And if we took care to ensure their profits on this trip they’d want to reward us as an example to other caravan crews of what to do in case of an emergency.”

The one twisted his lip in an ugly manner. “Ain’t you ever heard of insurance?”

The guard who wanted to continue paused uncertainly. “What about it?” he asked.

“The bean counters are covered,” the other one hooted. “If the caravan goes through they’ll make money and if it don’t, they’ll make money.”

Three more jumped in and began talking all at once. Others interrupted them and within moments there was so much shouting and yelling that Aaren had to pull his friends aside in order to make himself heard.

“This is nuts!” he scowled. “While those bozos are arguing, ten more took off on their own.” He pointed at a trail of dust heading east away from them. A similar, smaller, trail was visible to the northwest where a group of guardsmen had taken off earlier.

“What are we gonna do then?” Horace asked.

“We have to continue with the caravan,” Jon said in a pedantic tone of voice. “That’s what we signed on to do.”

Mira favored him with a withering look. “They don’t call you Mitsvah for nothing, do they? The caravan doesn’t exist anymore. Or not for much longer anyway.”

Elric, new lines on his face, nodded agreement. “She’s right. We signed on to protect the caravan, but if it doesn’t exist anymore then our obligation is over. We’re free to do whatever we want.”

“What do you mean the caravan doesn’t exist anymore?” Jon asked incredulously. “The wagons are right there.”

Elric shook his head. “The wagons are only part of it. The rest, the most important part, is the men. And if the men are gone, if the leader is gone, if the workers are gone,” he shrugged, “then the caravan is gone, no matter how many wagons are left.”

“There go five more,” Aaren noted. “If we don’t do something soon, it won’t matter what we decide.”

The remaining guardsmen watched the deserters silently then turned back to their argument with renewed vengeance.

Katrina sat down by the dying campfire, took out her lute, and began tuning it absently. “What’s in all these wagons anyway?” she wondered aloud.

Her friends turned and stared down at her in astonishment. “I was just wondering,” she said defensively. She bent over her lute in furious concentration for a moment then looked up. “I mean, we’re not going to get paid from here on out, and that guy said the owners are going to make money no matter what happens. So, I was just thinking that maybe we could, you know, take just enough to, I don’t know, balance the books,” she finished lamely.

“She may have a point.”

They turned to stare at Aaren. “What?”

“The caravan is falling apart. Elric is right. Without the men, it’s just a bunch of wagons. And if the owners really are covered, then there’s no reason we shouldn’t help ourselves to whatever is in them. Maybe we could even take one wagon for ourselves and sell its cargo in Taeljurm.” He looked around the small circle of faces. “Remember, we’re heading that way anyway and we’re going to need money.” He aimed the last remark at Horace.

Four more guardsmen thundered past on horseback as he finished speaking and headed up into the pass. The sun was climbing into the sky and the hot dust choked them. They moved out of the cloud to continue their conversation.

Horace ran a calculating eye over the heavy trade wagons. The others could practically see the wheels turning in his head. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to look over the manifest,” he mused lightly, his tone fooling no one. The lure of money had grabbed him in an instant.

“One guess what wagon it was in,” Elric snickered.

As one they turned and examined the still smoking ruins of the lead wagon where Old Tom had met his end. Horace’s face fell comically.

Jon reached up and clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry old boy, we’ll just search through the wagons one at a time. Who knows, maybe each one had a separate manifest.” Apparently, he had changed his mind and was now enthusiastically supporting Katrina and Aaren in their plan to scavenge through the abandoned wagons.

Katrina bounced up and put her lute away. “Then let’s get started,” she said gaily.

Aaren reached out and grabbed her sleeve, dragging her back. “Hold on just a minute. Nothing has been decided yet. Let’s take a vote and see what happens.”

“Aw hey, come on. We’re all in favor of it!”

“Then a quick vote won’t hurt anything. This is our first independent action as a group and we need to get started on the right foot. We put it to a vote,” he said firmly.

The rest of them looked around at each other for a minute then consented. “Okay, but do it fast.”

He nodded. “Alright. Everyone in favor of seeing what’s in the wagons and taking what we can, raise your hand,” he said formally.

Six hands went up.

“All opposed?”

There was a quiet snicker.

“It’s carried then,” he said. “The Knights of Gaia have decided to take what we can and head out. Somebody log it,” he added playfully.

Horace snapped to attention with an exaggerated salute. “Aye aye, Sir! Right away, Sir! Already done, Sir! Would you like cream and sugar with that, Sir?”

Aaren grinned good-naturedly. “Put a sock in it. Come on, let’s go.”

They turned, took three steps, and ground to a halt in sudden surprise.

Everything on my web site is free but if you like my writing, please consider donating. Thanks!
donate button
Chapter Index
arrow-back-chapter-9 arrow-forward-chapter-11