Anja and the Druid

Chapter 9


Sutaron emerged on Ren's arm and immediately set about organising the teams back onto some sort of order, his blindness offering no hindrance. Anja secured the raven clad bandit and had him secured to a wagon. Margrit returned without the scout, one of the outlaws had beaten them to it and slit his throat only to find Margrit behind him. Needless to say he didn't walk far from his last deed.

Soon they were organised enough to continue, it was decided that they would push on through to Dinaant before stopping again, even if it meant dark travel. They cleared the forest in little over an hour and the town could be seen in the distance. They kept a steady pace but night overtook them and lanterns were lit, suspended by poles from the oxen's yoke to light the way ahead.

It was nearing ten when they arrived at the town and its watery defences. They quickly made the town corral and made camp. The Druid bade goodnight, advising that he would return next morning, with that he was gone. Despite the hour, Sutaron insisted on checking for damaged goods and equipment and it was gone midnight when the exhausted crew finally were allowed to rest.

News of their exploits had circulated the town by morning and the Sheriff arrived shortly after dawn to take their prisoners into custody. Soon after the Druid appeared with the figure of Mad-a-lyn beside him. He had said little on their journey in to town the previous night but Anja realised that more was happening than he was admitting to. He had seemed curious of Margrit but unsurprised by her, in fact she now had an air of confidence about her that she had earlier lacked. Advising the women that he would await them nearby, they turned to seek out their employer.

The cousins travelled south each day, the seeker stone continuing to glow dimly in that general direction. Each town and village they asked of their quarry but continued to draw a blank. They arrived in Altenburg on the seventh day and found lodging. Adun and Rhiannon were beginning to doubt the stone and were becoming despondent, but after eating they set out to check on the town's hostelries.

It was with some relief that the third inn they tried was the one they sought. A girl answering the description had stayed here a week and a half ago, no she wasn't alone a dark, slight woman accompanied her, both were obviously sell swords, best steer clear. At least the trail was not false; they were on the right track and apparently gaining on Anja.

Next morning they departed at first light and followed in Anja's footsteps on the road towards the distant hills. Their search now had renewed impetus, they continued asking of the blonde adventurer in the villages they passed through and the earlier information was confirmed. They camped that night by the road and again rose before dawn to be on their way.

After several hours they arrived at a larger town or village with several streets and a choice of hostelries. By chance they chose 'The Lamb's Head' as first stop and were ecstatic on discovering that the women they sought had stayed there, however they were a bit taken aback when told they had taken employment with a local trader on a south bound wagon train, it did however discover the caravan's destination, Aachenvom.

They thanked the landlord and without further ado headed toward the distant lowlands. Keeping up an exhausting pace they passed where the caravan had recently spent its first night before collapsing in a haystack for the night. Rising early again they continued on moving up into the rolling moorland of the Ring before midday and unbeknown to them were slowly overtaking their quarry. Reaching BackgŁte at nightfall they had already gained a day over the slower progress of the wagons.

So far the weather had remained fairly kind, the next one was not to be so good. The strong winds brought with them squally showers and the cousins set off into a wet day as they departed from BackgŁte. The way led up onto the moors for many kilometres, but they continued to make good progress. The site of the sell swords' practice session passed unnoticed shortly after midday and the now thoroughly sodden pair took little notice of the country through which they passed.

By nightfall they were only a little over six days behind the wagons and the seeking stone was glowing a little brighter. They spent the night sheltering under an overhang of a low cliff and their paltry fire barely managed to warm them let alone dry them. Next morning they woke stiff and cold but the previous days weather was not repeated, although it was still windy only cold now accompanied it. The cousins were soon on the move and heading out of the Ring into the mist-shrouded lowlands below.

Little did they know that the Druid was already with Anja in Dinaant as they pressed on. That night as they made camp, Rhiannon checked the stone and discovered that their quarry had apparently changed direction. By Adun's calculation the wagon train should have reached Aachenvom that day and he estimated them to be only four days away themselves. After some discussion they agreed that they would continue south for the time being, as they would at least have a trail to follow.

Anja and Margrit sought out Sutaron as he supervised his depleted crew in forming up. Finding a quiet corner, Anja explained to their employer that they could not complete the trip to Aachenvom with him. The old man did not argue, instead he thanked them for their work and then insisted that they take the full twenty pieces plus a five-piece bonus each.

"Good bye old man" Anja gripped the others arm which was offered.

"May we meet again Anja, Margrit. Ren uses you now as a role model, I can think of none better for a girl of her temperament. Good luck on whatever your trip brings."

He held them each in turn then turned away, his unseeing eyes shedding a solitary tear. The two friends returned to the corral and made their farewells to the waggoner's and lastly to a crestfallen Ren. This last was perhaps the hardest farewell for all concerned but all managed it with some composure remaining.

Instead of leading his charges south, the Druid instead selected an obviously little used route that departed Dinaant in a southeasterly direction. Once out of the town the road degenerated to a rutted, grass covered track, they saw no one as they followed it as it zigzagged across the countryside. The dykes here were not as prominent a feature as further north; the fields holding mostly ground crops of potatoes, carrots, swedes, mangols etc. Although the canal system was still much in evidence it was little used hereabouts and the stretches they crossed were often choked with weed.

The four travellers moved without haste but with purpose and by mid-morning Dinaant was well to their rear. Occasional stands of elm and small orchards began appearing as they gradually left the dykes behind. Here and there a hamlet was passed but no significant settlement was to be seen.

They rested around noon, the Druid sitting to one side whilst the females that accompanied him ate and talked amongst themselves. Before they returned to the road, the grey man indicated a blemish on the distant horizon and advised that it would be their destination. As yet Anja and Margrit knew not why they had followed this course and Mad-a-lyn was not forthcoming on the matter either. The blemish apparently was part of Bremerhom. The two druids and their sell swords moved off and as the afternoon passed and their route switched back and forth across the lowland the dark smudge of Bremerhom increased in size.

The day was unremarkable, dry with a blue but cloud dotted sky with a gentle breeze. In the fields they occasionally saw farm workers but apart from the wildlife there was little evidence of human presence. By late afternoon they could pick out individual buildings in the port and could detect salt on the onshore breeze. They were soon in the outskirts of the port amongst artisan's homes and warehouses.

The town was built on a series of canals that radiated from the harbour basin. Connecting these 'spokes' were a series of concentric canals breaking the town into a series of small islands. The warehouses and other buildings were often up to five storeys in height and at regular intervals tower derricks stood at the canal side.

The town was abuzz with activity, seagoing vessels jostling with canal barges and lighters. People and wagons thronged the more used routes and goods of many types were stacked canal side awaiting shipment or storage. Many of the buildings were painted in muted pinks and yellows and trees lined the streets.

The small party worked their way across the town, past the huge Burgherhall with its clock tower and the markets and guild halls in the centre of Bremerhom and then following the harbour to the east then turned up a road following one of the outer 'spokes'. After about 300 metres the Druid turned into a quiet courtyard and the hubbub of the town disappeared behind them.

On the far side stood a rickety stairway leading up to an uncharacteristically low building which claimed the name 'The Mermaid'. They crossed the cobbled courtyard and climbed to the door and into the hostelry beyond. Their leader led them to a corner table in the currently deserted establishment. Soon a serving girl came and took their order.

A pitcher of wine soon arrived followed shortly by a meal of meat and potatoes. Other customers slowly started to arrive, stevedores and seamen for the most part. Anja and Margrit sat resigned to whatever fate would bring and sipped of the wine. Their druid companions sat together talking for some time in low tones then continuing with occasional comments to their companions. It was fairly certain that they awaited someone and Anja measured the Druids reaction to each new arrival with interest.

The light outside faded while the atmosphere inside brightened into a cacophony of eating, drinking, talking and arguing. Most of the patrons were of good humour although one or two were more morose despite their companion's attempts to lighten their mood.

The group in the corner kept their intercourse with the other occupants to a minimum and generally talked amongst themselves. They drew some attention but generally remained untroubled, honest working men had little to do with sell swords and even less with druids, occasional furtive glances showed unease in some of those present.

The clientele had changed about a bit, the evening drinkers arriving and with a squeeze box and mouth organ began a high-spirited singing session. Still the Druid made no sign of recognition as men and some women entered the establishment. It was well into the night when Anja thought she detected a change in the Druid's gaze. She looked to the doorway to find a seafaring man of middle age and heavy beard enter the room. His gaze took on the occupants of the room then alighted on the small party sat in the corner.

Cum Bayrol crossed the room to their table, the Druid standing to greet him.

"Cum, it is good to see you"

"And you Druid" his gaze passed to the others at the table.

"Ah yes, my companions," the Druid caught the others drift, "Mad-a-lyn" he indicated the girl.

Cum Bayrol recognised the young girl as a druid and was formal in his greeting, "Lady."

"And these are Margrit and the Scanian is Anja, both are skilled with weapons"

"Greetings" then introducing himself fully, "I am Cum Bayrol, master of the Southern Wind."

"Sit Cum, join us in some wine"

The newcomer sat next to Margrit and a beaker was procured for him to drink from. After joining them in wine the forthright man began on a bawdy tale currently doing the rounds. Anja adjusted her view of the man to take in more detail. He was of medium build, his beard covering a tanned and lined face. Dark hair curled to his shoulders and a gold hoop hung from each ear. He wore an outfit of coarse cloth dyed blue but well faded above black high boots. He wore a side blade but bore no other visible arms. The tale came to an end and Anja joined in with the communal laughter at the punch line.

"Enough of this, what service can I do you Druid?"

"As always Cum, you come to the point in your own time, yes we have need of your services." The Druid went on to detail their immediate aims. This was news to the sell-swords as well and they digested each detail as it was given to Cum Bagnol.

The next day Cum was to take them to the 'South Wind' and they would sail for Aragom in the Granite Isles that would take several days to reach. In the meantime two others should reach them here, a girl and her cousin a woodsman. They would join the expedition; more details of their involvement would be forthcoming no doubt later.

Cum left them shortly after and the Druid arranged for their accommodation at the Mermaid. They retired before the other patrons started to depart, Anja and Margrit sharing the two druids each having separate accommodation. The sounds from the bar room subsided and gave way to the occasional sea bird calling in the night.

Next morning the Druid announced that it would be early evening when they would depart and suggested that Anja and Margrit explore the port for a while. The two young women recognised that as dismissed for the rest of the day and passed back out into the hurly burly of the streets of Bremerhom.

They found their way to the commercial district and on into the maze of lanes surrounding the Burgherhall. Here they found all manner of shops and vendors. Everything from chandlery to exotic fruits could be found and people from all corners of the continent could be seen in the throngs moving about the streets. Lowlanders, Saureans, one or two Scandians a few Westlanders and Nordics, plainsmen and some which Anja could not identify - even Gnarly trolls from the northern mountains to the slight figures of Eastern Islanders.

The pair toured the stores and stopped for lunch at a coffee house. They ate lightly but well. They discussed recent events and their involvement in the Druid's journeying. Conversation changed to other matters and they left the establishment and moved back out into the streets. Anja was just window-shopping but Margrit had other matters on her mind. Spotting what she had been looking for the dark woman slipped away from her companion and made her way to the building she had located.

When Anja turned round, Margrit was nowhere in sight, a search of the immediate area proved fruitless so the young woman started back toward the Mermaid. She arrived back at the inn to find Mad-a-lyn with a young woman and a slightly older man. The sell-sword approached and the young druid spotted her, and indicated Anja to her companions.

"Anja, these are our fellow travellers, Rhiannon and Adun."

"Hullo, where is the Druid?"

"He is in the town, but where is Margrit?"

"I'm not sure Mad, I lost her in the area by the main markets, I'm sure she will turn up soon."

"I hope so Anja, Cum will be here in two hours, we must leave then with or without her."

The travellers went into the Mermaid to await the Druid and Margrit, Adun and Rhiannon telling their tale of pursuit of the woman sat with them. The grey figure of the Druid appeared but did not approach them instead took station by the window.

Margrit had still not made an appearance when Cum Bagnol arrived to take them to the South Wind. Collecting all their gear together they followed Cum and the Druid from the Mermaid, to find Margrit coming in.

"I thought we had lost you" Anja whispered to her friend as she reached her.

"I had to do something, when I returned to find you, you had gone, then I took a wrong turning trying to get back here."

The last part of this was obviously not the truth but a well-rehearsed excuse but Anja did not pursue the matter instead she introduced the two newcomers to the party.

The Druid was a short distance ahead with Cum, Mad-a-lyn talked to Rhiannon whilst Adun joined conversation with Margrit and Anja at the rear. They walked for a while then turned onto a quay close by the main harbour. Sitting ready to sail was the South Wind, a sailing vessel typical of that used amongst the southern islands. At just over twenty metres she was broad of beam and dual masted. The small crew helped the newcomers aboard and Cum assigned them quarters in the rear accommodation.

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