To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 11 – Jitsuam Farm
Pewtory had barely travelled a mile up the lane, when he heard the clattering of a wagon and the clop of hooves behind him.
“Wait, Pewtory wait.”
The bard turned and smiled to see Archie waving at him with one arm and trying to hold on to the reins with the other. The merchants cloak bellowed out from behind him and his shirt was undone to reveal a chest covered in thick hair. If possible, the man’s face looked even more flushed then when Pewtory had first met him. Maybe, he had a good night last night. Pewtory recalled the girl on the peddler’s lap the night before. For an old man, he seemed to have an appetite for the ladies.
Pewtory stopped and stretched as he waited for the wagon to pull alongside him. The morning was dull and dreary with wisps of light rain. In the distance a dark shadow that could only be a thunderstorm added to Pewtory’s sullen mood.
“Leaving without saying good bye? What’s the rush?” Archie said. He looked genuinely offended, as if they were two long lost friends.
“Sorry,” the bard said. “Had some complications with that tight fisted bastard that calls himself an innkeeper.”
“He try to cheat you out of your payment?”
“Amongst other things.”
“Show me an inn-keeper that doesn’t try and cheat their customers and I’ll start giving birth.”
Pewtory sighed. The peddler was right. For every town and city he visited and found an honest inn-keeper there were another four or five willing to extract all the coin they could from him.
“Did you get what was yours?” Archie asked.
“Yes, and more,” Pewtory replied thinking of the added three coins.
“Then I don’t see the problem.”
Pewtory found it hard to argue the point and settled for shrugging his shoulders.
“Listen, I sold more stock than I have for a long time yesterday, and I think that your little speech might have had something to do with it. I was wondering if you wanted to travel together for a bit.
We can keep each other company, I will save you walking and in return you bring the punters in.
What do you say?”
“So I will bring in money for you and in return I will get fat from lack of exercise?” Pewtory said.
“Yep, who could turn down such an offer?”
Pewtory shifted his pack on his shoulder. It was heavy but was a necessity. How nice would it be to not have to haul the bag round with him? The light drizzle turned into a harder more penetrating rain.
Archie seemed like a reasonable man. He was astute, likable and knew his trade. Certainly Pewtory had travelled with worse companions. It was also far safer to travel in a pair.
“I accept, on one condition.”
“Say it.” Archie said with a resigned sigh.
“I get to pilfer the odd pear.”
“Done. I may even let you have an apple as well,” Archie grinned, spat on his palm and held out his hand.”
Pewtory looked at it in disgust, “No you’re alright, verbal confirmation is good enough for me.”
“I agree, I never saw the point of the spit anyway.”
Archie scooted over and made room on the bench. In one lithe movement Pewtory sat next to him and placed Willow and Wisp between them.
“Where are we heading?” Pewtory asked.
“I usually replenish my supplies at Jitsuam Farm. After that I hit Compton. Sound good?
“Sounds good. Lead on.”
They reached Jitsuam farm by nightfall. It was a small farm, decrepit in most places. The main house was a large wooden building that looked like a strong gust of wind could topple it to the floor. Many of the planks of wood in the walls showed signs of rot and in one or two areas you could actually see clearly into the house.
The barn next to it was even worse. It creaked and swayed in the wind. The thatched roof was more moss than straw and a corner section had completely given way. The rain that had fallen relentlessly all day poured into the barn like bees discovering honey.
As Archie angled his horses up the path, they passed rickety fences that housed skinny livestock. On one side sheep with bare patches and hardly enough meat on them to cover their frames, feasted on fields of mud. On the other a bedraggled gaggle of geese, filthy and soaked, squelched about. Even the bird’s honking sounded unhealthy.
“You restock your supplies from here?” Pewtory said, unable to take his eyes off the poor animals.
“Every time I pass this way.” Archie said.
“And not one of your customers has died yet?”
Archie chuckled, his chin wobbled as he did which forced his pointy grey beard to stab against his chest.
“Appearances can be deceptive.”
Pewtory doubted the appearances could be that deceptive but maintained his silence as the wagon trundled up to the farm house.
They were greeted by a small man, no higher than three foot from head to toe. He wore a set of overalls that were far too big for him, the sleeves hung listlessly from the elbow. He had a long, narrow beard that made Archie’s seem amateurish. It swirled over his shoulder in the wind and fluttered like a flag. The man scowled at the sight of the wagon. His bushy frown getting lower the closer they got.
“Archibald Freestone, You snivelling sack of dung, returned once again to cheat and bleed me dry?”
“Appearances can be deceptive?” Pewtory asked as Archie slowed the wagon. The small man stared at Pewtory with a look of disdain. When the man did not look away the bard began to feel a little uneasy.
“Unfortunately not in this case. Don’t mention the ‘Dwarf’ word. In fact, don’t speak at all.”
“I’m a bard that might prove difficult.”
“Not if you want to remain a bard it won’t.”
Archie forced a huge grin and stepped down from the wagon with an involuntary groan. Pewtory suspected it was the only way the peddler knew how to descend from the vehicle.
“Red Jack Thomas, your words wound me. You’ll be pleased to know that I sold all your stock already. I am back for more so we can get rich.”
“I’m already rich.”
Pewtory tried not to scoff at the statement. If this was rich then he would hate to see poor.
“Who’s he?” Red Jack asked. His eyes still had not left Pewtory.
“A friend, a travelling companion. His name is Pewtory.”
“You know the rules, no strangers.”
“I can assure you good sir, I am no trouble. I am merely accompanying Archibald to the next town. I can regale you with a story or even a song if you wish?” Pewtory attempted his best smile and strummed a cord on Beth, the note sang through the evening air but seemed out of place in the rain and the setting.
“Another bloody bard. Great. You know my feelings towards the smooth palmed work dodgers.”
Pewtory could not help but glance at his palms. He supposed they were quite smooth, not the smoothness you would get from a newborn but effeminate maybe. What did he mean by another bard anyway? When he looked up he discovered that Archie had now joined Red Jack in fixing him with an angry stare. Pewtory blushed and carefully put Beth away under a blanket.
Archie and Red Jack spoke in angry, hushed whispers for a while. Finally Red Jack strode off. Well strode was a bit of an exaggeration, he appeared to be walking quite quickly but he did not cover that much distance.
“I told you not to speak.” Archie hissed at him as he hopped in the wagon.
“You have to get out here. I have to go on alone to get the supplies. Red Jack has trust issues.”
“Go where? Are we not at the farm?”
“I told you, appearances can be deceptive. This farm is just a front, to give the appearance of poverty. That way Red Jack can pay less tax and be less of a target from bandits. The real farm is more concealed.” Archie paused and looked around nervously. “I shouldn’t have told you that. Go on, off you get. Red Jack does not like to be kept waiting.”
Pewtory climbed down off the wagon a little perplexed.
“I will be back to get you in the morning.” Archie said biting his bottom lip. “I have a lot of grovelling to do.”
“The morning? It’s pouring!”
“He said you can sleep in the barn with the other bard.”
“The other ba-” Archie had already clicked the reins and was pursuing Red Jack though. Pewtory watched him leave as the rain water trickled off his hair into his eyes.
He turned to look at his shabby shelter for the night and as he did so, there was a huge creaking sound followed by a loud crash. One of the wooden beams had given away where the hole was at the corner of the barn, making the hole twice as big.
“Great,” Pewtory muttered.
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