8. Ganthe

Ganthe tensed.

It was time. He had delayed long enough. The crowd was only going to get heavier.

He began to step out of his hiding place, then hesitated again. What if someone recognises me? he wondered. Or my clothes?

He had stolen a new tunic and breeches from a clothes line on the outskirts of Tarburh. They weren’t much, but they were better than the soiled rags he had been wearing. He felt bare without his jerkin, but that would only attract notice. He was just a humble farmer visiting on market day like the others he could see on the streets.

One. Two. Three. He stepped out onto the dirt street, and headed down to the crowded docks.

They had argued for the rest of the day, as they headed toward Tarburh. They had also argued well into the night, camping without fire, food or bedding. They had even woken him from a deep sleep with their shouting, it got so heated. Falduin was adamant that he would go nowhere near Tarburh, but refused to say why.

Ultimately they all decided to follow Heric and head to Wombourne. They all eventually agreed that there were were no answers back in Milardus. The only way to find out what was happening, and who was behind it, was to head to the mining site.

Ganthe was the only one that slept fitfully. The others, surprisingly even Ifonsa, had difficulties sleeping on the bare ground, but Ganthe had slept in worse places. Much worse, as little as a few nights before. Being out under the sky was truly glorious. He didn’t mind being crawled upon by ants and other crawlies. The thunderous dear leaping through their camp didn’t wake him either.

“How much?” Ganthe asked one of the bargemen. There were an awful lot of them clustered along the dock, trying to hawk their services. There seemed to be few takers.

“Thr’penny each to Harnsey.” The Bargeman said.

“Thr’penny? “

“It’s the going rate.”

“No wonder you’re backed up.”

The bargeman shrugged.

“What if I want to go further up river?”

“We only go up as far as Harnsey,”

Ganthe suspected that. He’d only made the one run upriver, but he knew there were a series of cascades at Harnsey. Going further upriver required porting the barge, which was tough work and cost a lot. It was far easier to transfer to one of the barges plying the upriver route.

“I doubt you’ll find anyone willing to head further upstream though,” the Bargeman continued.

“Why’s that?”

He shrugged, “Nearly all of them have moved down river. Look at them all.” He said pointing at several barges. They were all smaller size than the ones that plied the route between Milardus and Harnsey.

“There’s two of us,” Ganthe said handing over six coins, “with the possibility of a few more. They’ll pay their own way.”

“When do you wish to leave?”


“We’ll be here.”

His next task was to buy food. Enough for a few days, but not too much. That would attract attention. Falduin had also slipped him a couple of silver gros in the hope of buying a blanket, or something else to sleep on. Ganthe had tried to warn him that he’d have to carry it, but Falduin had been insistent.

The market was crowded, filled mostly with the people from the surrounding farms and hamlets, but there were some that looked as though they were from farther afield. A few might have been of a nobler class, wearing clean linen tunics and coloured woollen hats.

There was quite an array of foods available, but Ganthe wanted stuff that was both light, and compact. Their packs, those that had them, weren’t especially big.

Within half-an-hour he had collected several different types of dried fruit: apples, pears, grapes and even a few apricots. He bought a sizeable sack of cobnuts, a handful of pinenuts, as well as a few walnuts, and salted plums. He also found salted fish, and a streak of dried meat, that he paid too much for. He didn’t feel it was enough. Perhaps a loaf or two of bread might fill out the empty corners.

As he was making his way over to a small stall where he saw some loaves, he heard someone call his name. He hesitated for a moment, then continued without looking back. Nobody knew he was here. Nobody would remember him in any case. His name wasn’t uncommon. They must be calling to someone else.

“Ganthe!” The voice was right behind him. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder, “Is that you?”

He turned to see Ancod. He had also served in the militia, although under a different captain.

“It is you!” Ancod squealed. “I can’t wait to tell Balto. He was certain you were dead.”

Ganthe allowed the smile to form of its own accord. “No. Not dead at all.”

“You’re looking well.”

“Hard work. What can I say?” He could feel the lie forming around him. It must be like how Falduin felt when he cast a spell. He sensed the role take over, the words coming automatically. “Farm life agrees with me.”

“You own a farm?”

“Rent. Near Sifield.”

“That’s a long way to come.”

“We’re expecting our first soon. The wife has terrible cravings.” Ganthe said, holding up the bags he was carrying.

“Wow. I would never have guessed that you of all people would settle down.”

“We fought hard for this land. Why not enjoy it? You look well. What’s happened since the war?”

Ancod began moaning about how things were awful, and how he could only find manual work for poor pay. He missed the grand old days when they were fighting The Empire and the goblins. He had tried signing on with several lords but none were interested.

“I’ve just finished some work in Shaybur,” Ancod said. “I’m on my way to Swyn. Word is there’s a bunch of work there. You hear anything?”

Ganthe shook his head. He’d only been half listening, as he usually did when Ancod moaned – which he did a lot. “How’s Balto?” he asked by reflex.

“Last I heard, he’d signed on to a mob working out of Pryleah.”

“Doing what?”

“He wouldn’t say. All hush-hush. Probably a bit on the dodgy-side, you know how he is.”

Ganthe nodded absently. He was just about to ask about Balto’s knee (it was injured during the war), when a flash of dark red cloth amongst the crowd caught his eye. It was the same distinctive shade as the one he’d seen in the valley the day before.

“You wouldn’t have need of some labour on your farm would ya, Ganthe?” Ancod asked.

Then he saw her. Her cloak and hood were red. In the sunlight it looked like the colour of blood. As she moved through the crowd, she kept her hood up, covering her face, but Ganthe could see her long brown hair peeking out every now and again. She was tiny, looking barely taller than a child.

What really gave her away was the two brutes that walked a pace behind her. They were her bodyguards, Ganthe knew. Garbed in the same leather brigandine, and carrying wicked looking swords at their hip. They stood out amongst the peasants and village-folk, who all gave them a wide berth. Carrying swords so openly, Ganthe was a little surprised the bodyguards hadn’t been detained by the watchmen. Perhaps the witch had magicked them or something.

“I wouldn’t normally ask, but I don’t fancy walking all the way to Swyn,” Ancod continued. “ What if the word is wrong? What if there’s no work up there?”

The woman stopped, and turned.

Ganthe only just looked away in time. He got a brief glimpse of her face, much older than he imagined.

He laughed and placed his arm around Ancod. “I need to find a blanket. Let’s discuss it as we shop.”

As they walked away, Ganthe could feel the woman’s gaze boring into his back.

A coil in the shape of a nine

“They’re here,” Ganthe grinned as he whispered in Heric’s ear.

Heric twisted, and had his knife to Ganthe’s throat before he could blink. Ganthe’s grin became a grimace.

Ganthe stumbled back as Heric shoved him away. He almost tripped on a root hidden amongst the leaf litter.

“Idiot,” Heric said, as he pulled his knife away. Then he stormed off.

“Not clever,” Ifonsa said as she emerged from the shadows of an old oak. She lowered her bow and returned the arrow to her quiver.

“Where’s the food?” Falduin asked. He was seated on a log beside Lera. Up until Ganthe’s failed jape, they had been talking quietly with one another, almost like lovers do. Was something going on between them? Ganthe wondered.

“I left it back there,” Ganthe said gesturing behind.

Falduin leapt up and raced toward where Ganthe had pointed, disappearing into the low brush.

““I needed to know if everything was secure here first. You might have been held hostage,” Ganthe added.

“And you just decided to play a dangerous prank?” Ifonsa said. “To make certain?”

“It worked,” Ganthe said, wiping a drop of blood from his throat. “Now I know you’re not hostages.”

“What if we were?”

“I guess I’d have to lead a valiant rescue,” Ganthe flashed her a grin.

“It’s covered in ants,” Falduin cried from the scrub.

“Brush them off,” Ganthe called back, “Unless they’re honey ants. Those are delicious.”

“What is this?” Falduin asked as he emerged from amongst the trees.

In his hands he held the bags of food, and under one arm he carried a heavy blanket coiled up. He dropped the blanket onto the ground in disgust.

“That’s your blanket,” Ganthe said. “It cost quite a lot unfortunately.”

Ganthe unrolled it to reveal the garish pattern, patches of green, yellow and red with a brown border.

“Is that all they had?” Falduin asked.

“Oh no,” Ganthe admitted, “They had lots of really nice ones, but nothing nearly as expensive as this. You gave me two gros, after all. I wanted you to get your money’s worth.”

“You paid two gros for that?” Ifonsa said, laughing.

“Just one,” Ganthe said, “The other one I gave to a friend, who needed passage to Swyn. I knew you wouldn’t mind.”

Falduin was speechless. He kept opening his mouth to speak but no sound would emerge.

“What? Did you buy him a horse?” Ifonsa asked.

“I believe that was his plan.”

“It’s beautiful,” Lera said, running her hand over the blanket. “So soft. I believe you got a bargain.”

“I thought so,” Ganthe agreed. “They wanted much less, but I haggled hard.”

Heric returned, having calmed down. ‘You said they’re here,” he said pointing at Ganthe with his knife. “Who is here?”

“The witch,” Ganthe said, “And about twenty of her disciples.”

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