- 27a (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Chapter Twenty Seven
Franklin leaned his good shoulder into the harness and pushed again, to no avail. The sledge was stuck fast. The further down the mountain he got, the less ice and snow, and the more often this happened.
He needed a break anyway. He sat onto the Sledge and downed another ladle of the ale he’d salvaged from the mine. Lying on his side he closed his eyes and let the warmth from the liquor spread through his body.
How he longed for solid food! It had been days since he’d eaten the flat bread and all he’d had since was small swigs of ale. It had been enough to keep him going largely because it was mostly downhill. Still, if something didn’t change soon, he’d have to come up with a different strategy. He took a deep breath, stretched his good arm a couple times and then climbed back off the sledge and turned to look back down the trail.
Three men in an unfamiliar uniform stared back at him. More precisely two men and an older boy. How long had they been there? They were mounted on fine cavalry mounts and leading a work horse by a torn halter. He next found his attention drawn to the swords at their waist. Silver lined scimitars, nearly identical to the one he’d found in the weir remains at the cart.
“Identify yourself. Why havent we seen you on our patrols before.”
Franklin slipped into the role he’d been practising for just such an eventuality. A cross between Thom and the miners, nothing at all like a noble, it case anyone was trying to make a claim on his contract.
“Thank Ferus ya found me! Ya wouldn’t believe what happened to me. Dream turned to nightmare. Got on as Walt’s apprentice but we was attacked three days ago before I ever even got to see the mine …”
“Slow down boy, you look injured? If you disarm yourself, Sven will take a look at you.”
Franklin pulled Earl’s shortsword from his belt and dropped it on the road. One of the men, presumably Sven, dismounted and started uncovering his wound.
“We was attacked by monsters I say! T’was thrown from the cart when the horse bolted. Came to in the undergrowth but everything’s in ruins and Walt and the others was gone!”
The man still on horseback raised an eyebrow at Sven.
“Checks out. This wound’s days old and no sign of infection … well that infection anyway. It could definitely do with a real cleaning and dressing in a clean bandage.”
“I’d appreciate that mighty much. Twasn’t much left of the supplies. I did manage to salvage some ale and a bit more though. I’d be willing to barter for yer help getting back to town in one piece.”
“Herman, bring Sven the medical supplies.”
The boy dismounted and brought a cloth bundle to Sven.
“We found this mare in a broken harness and followed its trail back this way. Is this the horse that bolted?”
Franklin winced as Sven cleaned out his wound with a clear liquid that smelt of alcohol.
“I surely believe it is. She twasn’t my responsibility to care for so I wouldn’t be able to tell ya any of her markings, but she looks mighty similar.”
The boys voice broke behind him.
“Claude! He’s got a Crescent Spark in his sledge. I think it’s Tony’s.”
The leader’s eye’s narrowed and Sven took a step back. Well that didn’t seem like a good sign.
- 27b (Argentum’s Song – PG)
“What was your name again?”
“Fra – Fredrick sir.”
Really Franklin, that’s how you’re going to blow your cover? By almost telling your festering name! Definitely away from court intrigues too long.
“Well Fredrick, do you mind telling me how you ended up in possession of a Crescent Spark?”
“When I went back to the cart it was sticking out of the remains of something one of the monsters I think. Almost seemed human, only had really long and thick hair off the parts of the body that hadn’t been shredded.”
Sven broke the silence that followed just as it was getting uncomfortable.
“Sounds like Tony got at least one of the festering beasts before he went down sir.”
Claude’s stare finally relented.
“I wouldn’t have expected anything less from a fellow Ranger.”
The three Rangers lowered their eyes and stood ramrod straight not saying anything. This silence Franklin could handle. This silence was a silence of respect, not suspicion.
Eventually Sven resumed dressing his wound.
“Are you sure there weren’t any other survivors from the attack?”
“Not at all sir. I don’t know what festerin’ happened. But there weren’t no one around when I woke and none came while I juried up this sledge to carry what’s left of the expedition back to Walt’s family.”
Claude nodded and looked back to Herman.
“Anything else in there?”
“A broken blade, she’s got silver in her though, other than that just some ale and sundry supplies.”
“Right, Fredrick. Here is the deal. One of our own was the guard travelling with you and that Crescent Spark rightly belongs with his estate. I realize you might feel the expedition has a salvager’s right to it but we could say the same about our right to the mare. Let’s call that an even trade.”
Once Franklin nodded in agreement he continued.
“Herman, my squire, is going to hook the mare up to the sledge. We’ll take the broken blade in exchange for your medical treatment and an escort back. I’d really like to look for survivors though. How close is the mine? I’m guessing that’s where they would go.”
Tricky one this Claude. No doubt he would love to know where the mine was, regardless of how likely survivors might be.
“I’ve never yet been there and they wer keepin’ the path pretty secret. Ya won’t have any trouble following the sledge’s track to where we was attacked though.”
“You’re sure you can’t give me any further directions? You’d have more of a claim to the salvage if you had already arrived and had started labouring.”
Franklin spat in the mud.
“And don’t I know it, but twasn’t the case. I jist want to get home safe.”