A Funny Thing happened on the Westgate road today.
The hot sun had shone all day and the evening was warm because of it. Both sides of the road were flanked by tall poplars and oaks waving in the breeze casting shade on the green bushes and shrubs that hid the road.
All things considered,you couldn’t
hope for a nicer day to find yourself held up by a half dozen ex-soldiers with crossbows.
“She’s not much of a horse sir,” I said. “Only a step away from a pony and wh—” The tall man’s sharp gesture cut me off.
“Listen lad, the Queens’s legions will pay for anything with four legs. If you were riding a pig I’d have it off you.”
The tall leader had that quiet self assurance of man in command.
I guessed that before he had deserted he had been an officer.
“Now hop off,” he said suddenly serious.
Climbing down from the horse I rubbed the cramp out my leg.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been robbed but this was certainly the most civil. No wasted energy or bravado from these fellows, just a civil manner. Which made the underlying threat all the more real. One man routed through my saddlebags, another patted me down.
Soon all that I had was across my cloak laying on the floor.
A blanket, needles, thread, candles, honey, a volume of Tobasins field guide,oats,a waterskin, dried beef strips, oatcakes, two jars of ink and five new pen nibs, fine writing paper,a spare shirt and breeches and a tinderbox with kindling.
“Sir,that’s everything,” one man said nodding at the pile. The leader crouched down looking at everything
“Take it all but whom ever takes his cloak leave yours, were arent thieves”.
Looking up at me the commander asked “Ink and paper? Do you Know your letters? Can you read high Tanric too?”
I nodded. “My Da taught me, Sir, he’s the town maester see.”
The man looked me up and down, then said “Leave the pens, ink and paper. We can’t take away a man’s livelihood.”
Moving closer so that only I could hear, he said, “Read something for me and I might let you keep your purse.”
I nodded as he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a carefully folded piece of paper.
Opening it revealed a map that had a huge chunk missing in the middle and tiny annotations in the margins.
“Queen Helga has lost something and we want to retrieve it. But we’ve been walking round in circles since last Bindling day.” He explained spreading his hands wide, “You’d be helping your Queen really.”
I reached out for the map, my hands trembling and studied it intently.
It was easy enough to read and in a few moments I’d directed my assailants towards a distant valley. They marched off as quietly as calmly as they had arrived, leaving me alone.
Over the years I had come to think that things happen for a reason. Even though my feet would hurt soon I had to admit, it was definitely the most genteel bit of thievery I’d been witness too. Civil, thoughtful, swift, efficient, and incredibly trusting even if they were the battle hardened soldiers as suggested or come on robbers as they’d appeared.
I felt a slight pang of lose at my horse being taken. Betty had been a faithful steed, always dependable, and the saddle had cost me a whole summer’s work to earn. In contrary to his word the commander had taken most of the silver in my purse leaving me with only 4 copper pennies, to help me get back home to my village in Rena.
Once I was sure they had gone I put on my cloak, picked up my nearly empty travelsack and swung it over my shoulder.
Whistling I felt relaxed and lighthearted as I turned back the way I had came and started to walk back up the dusty road. A breeze weaved its way through the treetops, tousling the branches and roasting the leaves from their slumber to tumble down to the dirt road in a flutter of reds, greens and golds. The walk back up the road took alot longer than the few miles it had taken trotting on Betty, but I made good time.
Arriving at a curve in the road that slanted upwards I turned left at a capstone, to enter the undergrowth. The shrubs and hedges were thicker here but I managed to find a small gap after a few moments searching.Then I just followed the tree line for a while until I reached an old hollow oak tree.
Now the bandit commander had been right about me reading High tantric but was wrong in his appraisal of me being a helpful fellow. The directions he and his comrades were marching towards would lead them to a stretch of particularly nasty marshland, just before nightfall. Hopefully a combination of exuberance at finding their prize and a lack of local knowledge would keep them busy for quite a while.
Counting out the paces from the tree, I used a stick and my knife blade as a makeshift trowel and dug about 3 feet down. Just as the light was beginning to fade my blade made a metallaic sound as it hit the top of a hard object buried in the soil.
Digging around what appeared to he a strongbox, it took me a further half an hour to get the box out of its earthy abode and out of the hole. There was just enough light to make out the royal crest on the top of the strongbox, and the initials HRH HT …Queen Helga Ttano. The box was about an half an arms length wide and long and about 3 hands deep. Breaking open the locks didn’t take to long and neither did the fastenings on the small metal chest that had been hidden inside. Pulling it out my hands trembled at the thought of what was inside and as I lifted the lid my eyes widened at the treasures held within. The chest was filled to the brim with Gold coins, fat pearls and an array of jewels. The precious stones glittered in the light and my eyes were dancing with the gluttonous thoughts running through my mind.
With an empty travelsack I had plenty of room to carry my discovery and packed the hoard in with moss and bark from the forest floor, to muffle any clinking. I covered the treasure with more moss and bark and filled the top with mushrooms that were growing near the trees roots. If I was stopped again the smell of the fungus would surely put them off.
Shouldering my now back breaking pack I set out for the road walking briskly. It would take me another 3 hours to get home to my village especially with this load, but there was a spring in my step as I whistled a verse from ‘Bushel full of oats’..
All in all a pleasant day was turning into a truly glorious evening..