Chapter 1

Roland had two more stops to make in the city. One was an apothecary; the other was at the Duke's residence. He had already sold mushrooms at the specialty shop he and his father had always gone to, before.

This was only the second time his father had let him make this trip alone. They made several trips to this city each year to sell herbs, medicinal plants, and teas that they found growing wild.

Roland's father, Berandal, was a tall man and had been a forester all his life. There was nothing he did not know of the forests, or so it seemed to his son, Roland. Last year, when his father had been hired to guide a group over the pass, Roland had been charged to sell all they collected up to that point. This time, it was because his father had taken a fall, and broken his leg. It had been set, but the trip to the city had to go now, or risk getting lower prices for what they had found. With winter coming on hard and fast, they needed all the golds they could get.

Roland drew his horse up, and got off. He dickered briefly with the hostler, and then paid him 2 coppers for the rest of the day. The horse would be well cared for. He removed the bags from the horse, and started walking uphill to the apothecary business.

Ten minutes later, he entered the small shop. It sold healing potions, herbs, and magical items. Roland's father swore this man was much more than he seemed, but would deal fairly with them.

"Ah, Roland! Welcome, welcome indeed. And where is your father?" The apothecary asked him.

"He couldn't come. Broke his leg, and sent me in his stead. I have the herbs for you we collected. Including something father calls, Sparglove. He said you would be particularly interested in that one," Roland said as he opened the pack and pulled out individually wrapped bags.

The apothecary had drawn in his breath sharply at the mention of the Sparglove. Roland's father had said it was a very important magical plant. The apothecary quickly looked over the other plants and herbs Roland brought, and laid them aside. He looked eagerly at the final package.

Roland passed it over. Almost reverently, the apothecary opens the small bundle, and gasped in delight. He looked them over, and seemed disappointed.

"These usually come with three seeds," the apothecary said.

"Aye. Dad carefully removed the seeds. He found a place that he said was perfect, and planted them," Roland said casually.

"Let's see, twelve plants, with 3 seeds to each plant; that's 36 new plants, if they all grow well! Boy, do you know what a gold mine you have stumbled on here? Did your dad tell you how much he wanted for these?" Roland was asked.

"Yes, Sir. He said to tell you to make an offer, but that if it did not meet his minimum to take the plants elsewhere," Roland said.

The apothecary laughed. "Well then, I will offer 2 gold per plant, how does that suit your father?"

Roland was very happy. His dad had told him accept no less than 1 gold 8 silver per plant. This was two whole silvers more per plant than Dad had thought to get! 12 plants at 2 gold per was 24 gold's! That was two gold and four silver more that what he had been told to bring back!

They finished up, and Roland collected all the moneys for the herbs, plus the golds for the Sparglove. All in all, this trip to the apothecary, alone, had paid them almost 30 gold! He still had a stop at the Duke's to sell the night mushrooms to the cooks. The Duke loved mushrooms, and the night mushrooms were particularly tasty to him.

Shouldering his bag, he walked the 2 miles to the Duke's home. He had set out a brisk pace, and his long legs ate up the distance quickly. He found the servant's entrance and dickered with the head cook. When it was done, he had sold three pounds of mushrooms, for a little over 7 silvers. Another good price!

Next, Roland went to the teamsters and inquired about hiring a wagon. With a wagon along, the normal five-day trip back home, would be more like eight days to make, but it would be worth it. Berandal had been very specific on what Roland purchase for winter supplies. It would take a good wagon -load to carry everything Berandal wanted.

Coming to agreement on renting a wagon, two drivers, and two horses to pull the wagon; Roland then spent the rest of the day in the market, going from place to place within the market, buying and having his items put aside for the wagon to pick up.

Finally, everything was loaded in the wagon. The list was quite lengthy: flour to last the winter months, corn meal, grain for the two horses they owned, new boots for both he and his father, as well as warm cloaks and gloves. Roland also bought good warm pants for both, as well as shirts. Other supplies were also bought and paid for, and would be used throughout the winter. Some would be used in trade with the village that was close to their home.

As it was getting late, Roland decided to spend the night at an inn he and his father had often used in the past. He told the drivers to meet him at the west gate in the morning with the wagon, ready to depart. With a nod, they drove off, and Rolland retrieved his horse and made his way into the inn.

The inn was located in the lower city, close to the west gate itself. Unless you lived in the upper city, you could not take a horse past the upper city gates, which is why Roland had put up his horse. That left you two ways of getting around in the upper city. Walking, or hiring a carriage.

The market bordered the upper and lower city, and was open to all. Horses were frowned upon in the market. The Duke disliked droppings anywhere in the market place. Teamsters were told to clean up their messes, as the fines imposed could be ruinous.

Roland got to the inn and dickered briefly with the owner for a place for the night for he and his horse. The price had gone up a bit since he last was here. Still, he was pleased, and knew his father would be also. With everything from the list purchased, he still had almost 12 gold left.

After eating two bowls of stew and drinking the mug of ale that came with the meal, Roland went outside and looked around. In the distance he saw the outer wall which totally encircled the city.

He was amazed anew at how something as big as those thirty-foot high walls could have been built so quickly. The city was only twenty years old. Magic explained a lot, but still, to Roland, a young man of 16 years of age, it seemed impossible.

Thousands upon thousands of people lived and worked in the city. The fields outside the city were all being farmed. There seemed to be something going on, everywhere he looked. He could not believe so many people could find so much to do, here.

While the city was exciting, to Roland it seemed noisy, and crowded. He could not understand why people would want to live here. Sure, it was interesting to visit, but the forests! Out among the trees, you pitting your skill against that of what you hunted. That was how one should live.

He was up early the next day. After eating a breakfast of porridge, he went out and tended his horse, and saddled and bridled him. He had only waited a short time, when th saw the wagon with his supplies, rolling down the road towards the gate.

He mounted his horse and quickly caught up to the wagon. Just before they got to it, the west gate opened for the day, and they did not even have to stop. They made pretty good time the first day, but Roland was impatient with the slow pace. If he had been alone, he would have been miles farther along. He sighed to himself. It would be a long eight days.

One day blended into another. On the forth day, the clouds started building up to the west. Roland frowned. He could smell snow in the air, yet it was early for snow. Usually they would have at least three more weeks of fair weather, before the storms and snows came.

The supplies would be fine in the wagon. Canvas had been stretched tightly over the cargo, and no rain would fall upon anything inside. Still, Roland worried. This was the first time he had been charged with brining in winter supplies, and the strangeness of the weather bothered him. The two teamsters were not bothered at all.

On the sixth day on the road, the rain started in the early afternoon. It started as a gentle rain, but got heavier and heavier. It also got colder. The rain started turning to snow in the late afternoon.

Roland reigned up, dismounted and walked back to the wagon. He consulted with the two teamsters who were sitting on the driver's bench under an ingenious device they had erected the night before.

Roland had watched as the two drivers had pulled out wooden poles and placed them into brackets mounted on the sides of the wagon by the drivers box, two poles to a side. Next they mounted crossbars to the four poles. After that, they had stretched canvas over it and they had effectively made themselves a nice little canvas roof!

The drivers, who were basically out of the storm, said it was up to Roland if he wanted to find a camp for the night, or keep going. It made no difference to them. Thinking, Roland remembered a good place a couple miles along that would offer them protection during the night.

Roland mentioned the place, and the two teamsters nodded and said that would be ok with them. They started out again, and Roland was pleased that the two drivers were agreeable. Just before it was to dark to see, they arrived and pulled off the road and into a little grassy area, which intruded into the trees.

The trees provided some protection from the wind, and there was grass enough for the horses to forage. Roland watched as the teamsters cleared an area of snow, then pulled the wagon over it. They had turned the wagon sideways to the direction of the wind. Rolland was curious as to what they were doing.

He watched amazed as they got yet more canvas, and stretched it the length of the wagon, and tied the upper side of the canvas to the wagon, and pulled it tight, and drove stakes into the ground, and tied the canvas off to the ground stakes, making a nice area under the wagon free of wind, and out of the snow.

Roland had gotten the horses settled while the teamsters worked with the wagon. This was the first time they had done this. While Rolland had slept under the wagon with the drivers before, this was the first time he had seen them do this. It was very clever!

Shortly they had a fire going, and they heated water, added meal and other ingredients, and soon all were eating a filling, if bland supper. Roland asked about the tricks the drivers had done with the extra canvas.

"Well, we spend a lot of time on the road. Rain, snow, good weather, and bad; makes no difference. When we take a load somewhere, we want to be as comfortable as possible. So me and my brother here, we thought about how best to do that.

"We told the guild master what we had in mind, and he looked interested. So we showed him what could be done; and sure enough, he now has all his wagons fitted like this one! 'Course, me and my brother had this one fitted, and when you are assigned to a wagon, that's the wagon you have always. So we made it as comfortable as possible.

" While all the wagons have the traveling roof if the weather gets bad, not all have the extra canvas for the wall we make. The guild master thinks it a waste of money to buy canvas for the wall. So if you want it, you pay for it," the older of the two drivers said.

Roland, having witnessed the protection the traveling roof gave the drivers, said he thought it a dandy idea. He said it was so simple, he didn't know why no one thought about it before. The brothers just grinned.

"We got the idea from a wagon that was a wonder. We never saw the like of it, before. We ran across it a few years ago when we had gone east with a cargo for the Duke's brother. When we pulled into Halston, that's the dukes brother's city, there was a wagon all made of wood.

"Even the canvas part we put up over the drivers bench was made of wood, on that wagon. It was surely a thing of beauty. A traveling home really. It was longer than our wagon, and it had a team of four pulling it.

"Now our wagon here, why, two of these huge Nestry horses are enough to pull this load. But he had Four of them pulling his house on wheels," the youngest driver said with a hint of envy.

Roland got up, and went out into the now heavy snow, and checked on the horses. They were fine. They had used their hoofs to clear snow away from the grass, and were eating contentedly.

When Roland got back, their was water on to heat for tea. All in all, these two drivers were very competent men, ready for any weather and road condition they might come across. He was glad he had gotten these two men.

"Boy, wake up. You have a decision to make," said a voice, startling Roland from a sound sleep.

Berandal was starting to worry. This early snow was not ordinary. While he had faith in his son, he was worried about the supplies that he was brining back. A snow such as this could bog a wagon down quickly. Under normal conditions, it was about eight days for a loaded wagon to make the trip from West Halston. He knew when his son should have left, and when he should be back. He was late.

While Berandal sat and mended socks, pants, tunics and fletched arrows;.one of the neighbors from town had sent their daughter to help him, until his son returned. Actually, he was paying her a copper penny a day, which was good pay for a young girl to make.

It was the fourth day past Roland's due date, when he heard a faint jingling, off in the distance. He was outside, having gathered more firewood, when he heard it. He cocked his head, and slowly turned it a little left and right, to see if he could capture the sound again.

There! That was definitely the sound of harness, off in the distance, and coming from the direction of the road! He carried the wood inside. Hurrying, he put to much weight on his mending leg, causing him to wince in pain.

He told Beatra to put more water on for tea. When she looked at him curiously, he explained that he had heard the sound of harness -jingling coming from the road., and he was sure it was his son with the wagon.

Smiling, Beatra did as she was told, and soon had a kettle of water warming over the fire. Berandal went outside. Shortly, he saw his son ride into sight, followed by a wagon.

Roland, seeing his father standing there, waved, and smiled, as his father waved back. It was good to be home. Keeping at a steady pace, he finally came to a stop before his father.

"Sorry I'm late, Dad. But we had to wait out the storm one day, and with all that snow on the road, it really slowed us down " Rolland said as he dismounted.

Edited by TeNderLoin

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Story tagged with:
Magic / Fiction /