Chaos Calls 01: Learning Visit
Chapter 03

Copyright© 2010 by Ernest Bywater


We arrive in a room in the bank of the town called Junction and Joe opens his bank box to remove some weapons. He offers me a choice of what’s in the box. I stick with the ones he’d described and we agreed to in our earlier discussions. In a few minutes we’re ready to leave.

Both of us have two medium length swords, four knives - three for throwing, a good bow with a quiver of arrows, and a hatchet each. Our clothes are typical of Chaos and look like leather or coarse cloth. I look a bit bulkier than I am because my clothes have a layer of thin bamboo rods between two layers of good leather as light-weight armour. When I showed it to Joe he was upset with himself because he’d not thought of it. The short bamboo rods are thin when compared to what’s usually worn as armour, but this is much more flexible. One added bonus is it provides some insulation against the weather. We also have on long capes and large Aussie bush hats with padded protection in the crown section. None of the clothes look particularly odd by the standards of dress here, but they’re a mix of colours that’ll blend in well with brush or forest. Before I slip my back pack on I remove my climbing hooks and the few other items I’d attached to the clothing as ornaments. I put on my cape, and it covers the pack. The pack isn’t that big: only a bit more than a hand’s width deep, as wide as my shoulders, and it goes down to my waist, but it has some changes of clothes, ropes, medicines, and blanket.

Joe closes the box, it disappears, we walk out into a hallway, along it to the main bank area, across that, and out the front door.

The first thing anyone notices about Chaos is the smell, as sanitation is an unheard of concept here. The roads are mostly dirt, although I can see the main road through the middle of this town is a well-built stone road, so this must be a major road in a well maintained area. Joe sees me looking at the road and he smiles. He says, “We’re on the very edge of King Sid’s domain and he has all of the major roads well-built to make transport and troop movements easier.” I nod because I’ve heard Joe talk of the Hero Sid and what he’s done here, especially in the slaver war.

We start to walk out of town on a dirt road to the south as we head to where Joe has some horses on a farm. These are horses bred from Welsh ponies he imported years ago. They’re easier for the locals to handle on the small farms and easier to maintain. They aren’t as fast as the bigger horses, but they’ve more stamina and they can go for longer. When we discussed the rescue we agreed the smaller horses will be a lot better for travelling through the forest and brush we’ll have to deal with.

It’s just after lunchtime when we arrive in town, and just on dinner time when we arrive at the farm - to a very warm welcome. We soon sit down to the evening meal with the farmer and his large family.

During the meal I notice the two oldest children, twin boys, keep glancing at Joe and their father while their father looks like he’s having trouble working out how to say something. The third eldest, a girl, is very glum. I can also see Joe hasn’t noticed any of this.

With a big grin I look up and say, “Not a chance, unless one of you is a very good camp cook.” Everyone turns to look at me, and the father is a lot more embarrassed than before. Also, the eldest girl looks up with a gleam of hope in her eye. Joe frowns at me, so I add, “It seems to me the oldest children are of an age to try an adventure or see more of the world. But there’s no way I’m cooking for extras. If we’ve extras along one of them better be taking over the buying of food and cooking.” This causes Joe to look around the table. He stops and looks at the father.

The father, Jay, shrugs as he says, “Your friend, Al, is right, Lord Joe. My older children wish to see more of the world. I was thinking of how to ask you to take Jason and Joseph with you. But neither can cook well.”

The oldest girl, Jaycee, says, “I can cook well and I’m already very experienced at buying food in the markets.” Her mother is trying hard to hide a smile while her father isn’t sure of what to say. The two boys aren’t sure if they should support their sister, or not.

Joe turns to look at me while shrugging his shoulders. I answer him, “If we take all three Jaycee can look after the food and cooking while Jason and Joseph look after gathering the wood for the fire, the horses, and setting up the camp. That leaves me more time to do scouting for you. Only one thing, if Jaycee sees a young man she wishes to marry she has to wait until we’re almost back here.” This causes her to blush as the rest laugh. Joe looks around the table and he receives agreeing nods from both parents and the three eldest children.

With a slow nod Joe looks at them, one at a time, and says, “This isn’t a simple rabbit hunt in the woods. We go to fight bad men, many bad men. You could be seriously hurt or killed. Still interested?” They all nod yes while they smile at getting a chance to see the world. “OK, that means we’ll now need twelve ponies. Ten with riding saddles and two with pack saddles to carry all of our gear and food.” The younger kids start to discuss when they may get a chance to see more of the world.

After dinner Jay, Jason, Joseph, Jaycee, Joe, and I gather together to discuss what gear we’ll be taking from the farm, and what weapons the children will be using. Jaycee is the youngest at sixteen, which is an adult by local standards, and her two brothers are a year older. By the time we should be heading to bed we’ve the packs ready to go on the ponies, the ponies and saddles selected, the weapons for the three teens selected, and they’ve proven they can use them. I add a nice short staff to my weapons from those Joe has here. He hadn’t mentioned it before, but I like it as soon as I see it. It’s the perfect height for a hanbō: just up to my waist, as thick as my thumb, and made from a hardwood. Also, we all add good crossbows and bolts to our pile of weapons.

Joe has a nice room in the house while I elect to sleep on the loose hay in the barn. I’d seen their beds earlier and I know I’ll be better off in the barn. I fall asleep as soon as I ‘hit the hay:’ literally, and figuratively.

The Journey Starts

Like all farmers we’re up before dawn to have breakfast before the sun rises to call everyone to work. I wonder how they’ll go with three less to do the work, so I ask. The mother, Alice, smiles at me as she says, “For just over a year we’ve had problems keeping all of the children properly busy at work. When they grow older they can do more work. Over the years we’ve made the farm bigger. However, the way Lord Joe has us doing things makes it a lot easier to do the work, so each of us can do more than we used to be able to do before. This farm could be run by four adults, so two adults and twelve children, four of whom are adult high, means we’ve more workers than we need. Yes, the younger children will have a bit more to do, but not as much as most of the children on the other farms around here not using our ways.” I slowly nod at her reply.

After a good breakfast we go to get the ponies ready. While the boys saddle them I wander around to look at how they do things on a working farm. The youngest two children have the job of milking the cows, so I stop to watch them. One of the older children takes the full buckets away and brings them empty ones, so the milkers just move the stools, buckets, and themselves from one cow to the next until the job is done. The youngest is a girl who gets a real laugh out of my early attempts when she teaches me how to milk a cow. But by the time the others are ready I can do a good job. So I’m happy to have learned something new and she’s happy to have tricked me into doing some of her work for her.

I go to mount my pony, and almost laugh when I realise these adult animals are so small I can jump over them. After getting up in the saddle I take both feet out of the stirrups to let them hang. The soles of my shoes are only a bit over a hand’s width from the ground. Seated on the pony my head isn’t much higher than when I’m standing beside it.

With a wave to the family we ride off down the farm lane to head back to the town where we arrived via the bank. We already have a lot of food from the farm for the trip, but we still need to buy some things like pepper and salt. Joe also wants to buy the children some hard leather outer clothes as minimal armour for them, and we all agree with him on this need. We have to do all we can to protect our team-mates.

Back in town our first stop is the leather worker’s shop. The children are measured up, and most of what we want is a simple matter of sewing some pieces together to the right sizes for the coats while the pants are available from stock items. Joe orders them two sets each, and he pays for them. Jaycee and I leave the rest waiting and watching over the ponies outside the leather worker’s shop while we go to shop for the rest of our food. I’m interested in seeing how it’s done here. I leave my hat, pack, and bows on my pony. I carry my staff in my hand by using it like a walking stick. Jaycee is carrying a basket with some food stuffs she brought from the farm to trade with. I also have some money Joe gave me in a pouch to carry it, just in case we need more money to buy things.

It’s an interesting experience watching Jaycee at work while she haggles with the others over items she wants. The only problem we have is when she comes to one trader who has cinnamon to sell. He has a lot of it, but he isn’t doing well as he wants only cash and few of the locals have or use cash. I can see Jaycee wants some, so do many of the other locals. I pull her back a bit and ask, “There’s more there than we want. If I buy it all can you trade it locally for other things you or your family want, and then find someone you can trust to take the traded items to the farm?”

She gives me an odd look while she nods, “Oh, yes. I can soon have all of the extra traded off for things we can use at the farm, and there are a few people here we can trust to take them to father. But the man wants three shells for the lot, and he won’t sell any less than two quads worth. We don’t have that much money, no one around here does.”

I smile and lead her to Joe. Jaycee packs what we’ve already bought on the pack pony as I ask Joe for three shells. He gives me an odd look, but gets it out of his money pouch while being very careful not to flash it about. I hand my pouch with a few pinches and quads to Jaycee to carry and I slip the shells into my pocket while I ask Jason to join us on our trip back to the market. He declines, but Joseph volunteers to go with us.

On the way back to the market I see Brian, earlier he was pointed out to me as the local King’s Representative: what they call the local cop. I ask him to come with us to the market. He gives me an odd look as he agrees to go with us.

Trading Trouble

We go up to the man with the cinnamon and I ask, “Did I hear you right, before? You’ll sell all three sacks of cinnamon for three shells?” He nods yes to me. “Right, we’ll do this one sack at a time. You open them up to show me the contents are good and I’ll pay you. To prove I’ve got the money I’ll hand it to the King’s Representative to hold and he’ll give you a shell when I take each sack from the table after it’s inspected. If a sack is short or the goods are below standard I don’t buy that sack.” He nods again. Pulling the money out of my pocket I hand it to Brian to hold. His eyes go wide with surprise, so do those of all within hearing.

The first sack is put on the table, then the contents are removed and checked. Jaycee is happy with it, so I’m happy too. I repack it and take it off the table. When I hand it to Joseph to hold Brian hands the man a shell. The same with the second and third sacks. As soon as I accept the third sack and he’s given the last of his money the man packs up his gear then and he’s off like a rabbit. I look up in surprise.

Brian laughs while saying, “That’s more money than he’s ever seen before. He’s in a great hurry to get it in the bank before someone robs him. I suspect this may not have been his stock to sell, but that’s another matter and none of your concern. That was an interesting way to do business, thanks for showing it to me. Now I best be off to see he makes the bank safely.” I grin and laugh while Brian leaves.

I turn to Jaycee I say, “OK, young lady. You now have some cinnamon to trade. You best get at it.” She still looks a bit shocked, but she shakes her head, then nods yes to me while she moves over to beside the three sacks Joseph is guarding for us.

With a grin in her voice Jaycee calls out to the locals about her now having cinnamon to trade. They’re quick to flock to the table, and she soon starts haggling with lots of people. Even agreeing with some for them to deliver stock or animals to the farm in exchange for some of the cinnamon. While she haggles I move back a bit to look over the crowd.

There’s a lot of people around the table. To make Joseph’s job of protecting the stock easier I take my cape off and put it around his neck. The cape reaches to the ground on him. He looks at me when I spread it wide around the bags then place the front hems in his hands. I say, “You’ll feel the cape move if anyone tries to reach under it into a bag or tries to cut the cape, so you don’t have to try and look in all directions at once.” He smiles while I back away from him and the table a little.

I notice it now looks like I’m standing beside Jaycee because the cape was the most distinctive thing about my clothes. A little later I notice the cinnamon seller is walking back down the street. With him are two rather large men. While I watch they stop and the seller is pointing to the table while talking to the men. All three are smiling. I move back into the crowd and around a bit. I also bend my knees and tilt my head forward while I watch them. This changes the way I look from their direction as it makes me harder to spot in the crowd.

Jaycee has done so well the first sack is nearly empty of cinnamon, and they’re big sacks. People must have really wanted it. She also has a pile of various goods that’s about the size of half a sack, plus many promises of things to be delivered from people she trusts. A little later she asks for a short break to move a lot of things off the table into the empty sack the cinnamon was in, then she opens the second sack. The three men seem a bit irritated she’s already traded so much away.

I smile when the two big men move toward the table. Reaching the back of the crowd they start to push their way through it. On reaching the front of the crowd one produces a knife and says, “Well, thief, I’ve caught up with you and I’ll have my cinnamon back.” Everyone in the crowd knows this was just bought but they don’t want to get caught up in any fighting, so they start to back away.

Jaycee stands her ground as she replies, “This was purchased fair and square, as was witnessed by all here. Take your concerns elsewhere.”

While this is happening the other man is moving around behind Joseph who’s trying to maintain security of the goods while providing support to his sister. When the second man produces a knife and moves closer to Joseph I swing my staff out and hit the man’s wrist with it. He drops the knife to grab his sore wrist. Joseph turns to the noise and sees the man holding his wrist with the knife on the ground, so he draws his own knife. I leave Joseph to deal with that man as I turn to Jaycee. From the corner of my eye I can see the man is silly enough to go for Joseph with his hands. I smile when Joseph uses a simple move to slice the man’s throat open. The first man is concentrating on Jaycee and he has Joseph between him and his partner as well. Thus he doesn’t see his partner isn’t of any help to him now.

The first man reaches across the table to grab Jaycee’s left arm. I’m in the process of swinging my staff up to deal with him when Jaycee’s right arm sweeps up from the table. I see a flash of metal, and the man has a very strange look on his face because the small knife she had at her waist is now stuck in his throat. He lets go of her and drops to the dirt. I move over to look at the knife. It’s through the throat and the spine. He’s dead, his brain just doesn’t realise it yet.

Smiling at Jaycee I pull her knife out, wipe it on the dying man’s clothes, and place it on the table. Under her watchful eye I strip the still warm body of valuables to place them on the table. Two more knives and sheaths, a sword with sheath, a hefty money pouch, a coat, and good boots. The rest isn’t worth the trouble of stripping him for. She checks it all over and places the items in the bag or in her pockets.

Joseph is still holding his position of protecting the stock. So I drag the first man away from the table to give Jaycee room to trade then I go strip the other man, putting everything for Joseph on the table near to him. The haul here is the same as from the other man. I drag the body away a little. When I do that Joseph looks over the crowd then he calls out, “Hey, Mace, I’ll give you two pinches to haul this garbage out of town for me.” A young man with an empty cart stops before he turns to look at Joseph. He looks over the scene, nods yes, and brings his cart over. I give him a hand to load the garbage, Joseph hands over the money, and the young man is soon heading out of town with a wide smile at his extra wages.

I look around the street and I see the cinnamon seller has a very shocked look on his face. Brian is coming back down the street with one of the women who’d been at the table a moment before. I catch his eye and motion toward the cinnamon seller. He frowns as he goes to the man and takes him by the arm while he brings him over.

When they arrive I say, “Brian, a few minutes ago this man came back down the street with two other men. I saw them walk down then stop over there. They talked for a moment then the other two men came over here. One accused Jaycee of stealing his cinnamon. Both pulled knives. Joseph dispatched the one who went for him while Jaycee took out the one who went for her.” Brian smiles on hearing the kids took out the bad guys. “Now, I wonder if this fellow can tell us about them. If you wish to look at them Mace is taking the garbage out of town to dump it.”

Brian replies, “I don’t feel in the need to examine any garbage, but I’ll enjoy having a few words with this fellow about some of the company he keeps. I’m surprised you didn’t deal with the men.”

“I was going to, but the kids were closer and did it all before I could get there. I think they can look after themselves.” He laughs while he walks off. He takes the other fellow with him for a little chat.

A little later Jaycee is finished trading. She has a bag and a half of goods, lots of promises, and a half bag of cinnamon left for our use. While she packs up I ask about the table. She explains the first seller either owns the table and will come to collect it, or he paid to hire it for the day and the owner will collect it when we walk away. I smile at the neat way the market is organised.

When we reach Joe and Jason we tell them of the trouble. Jason is a bit upset he missed it, and Joe laughs. Jaycee adds a lot of stuff to our packs then I accompany her to take the bags with the rest to a house in a side street. A woman answers the door and she gives Jaycee a very warm greeting. They chat for a moment then the bags are gone through. When a deal is reached the bags are handed over. In exchange for some of the goods she’ll accept delivery of some of the things to go to the farm on Jaycee’s behalf as Jaycee already organised for their delivery here. Her husband will see all the gear gets safely to the farm. We’re about to leave when Brian arrives home for his lunch. Yes, the gear will be safe.

Back to Joe and the boys to find all the gear is now ready to go. We get some fresh food to eat for our lunches then we head out of town, going east while we eat our lunches.

On the Road

We make good time riding along the road at a gentle pace. When we near sundown we start looking for a place to camp. A little later we see a cleared section in the brush and forest to the north with a neat trail to it from the road: it’s very inviting, but it seems too inviting to me. Jason says, “That looks like a good place to camp for the night.”

I simply say, “Yes,” while I point out some small, faint trails into the woods on each side of the path. Joe waves to me and the trail, so I get off my pony. The others look at Joe while I move into the woods.

I take care while I scout out the area for a few hundred yards around the camp. Just over two hundred yards north of the camp I find the ground drops away for about twenty yards or so. It’s a straight drop down to some brush and fen land. I look over the edge to where I can see the remains of many bones along the base of this section. I scout wider while I move back toward the road. About three hundred yards further east is a small natural clearing in the forest without an obvious trail to it. I head back to my party.

Once in sight of them I nod at Joseph and he leads them along the trail in single file. When they reach the clearing Joseph goes to get off but I wave him back when I hold a bush aside while I wave them over. By now Jaycee is in the lead, so I tell her, “Go as straight as you can that way and be careful not to damage the bushes, there’s another clearing to set up camp in.” She goes in the direction I’m pointing. When Joe reaches me I say, “This is an ambush site. There’s another clearing, a natural one, about three hundred yards that way. We should be safe there.” He nods to me as he keeps moving in Jaycee’s wake. Once all the ponies are by I follow them for a few minutes then I break a small branch off a bush and I go back while brushing the trail to hide their tracks. Back through the other clearing, along that trail, and down the road for a bit.

Coming back I check out the other side of the road, and I soon find some foot trails into the forest. Following them back I find a small and well hidden clearing about one hundred yards from the road. On the far side is a well-used trail heading to the south-east. While nodding slowly to myself I head for our camp.

First Camp

Stopping just before I walk into the camp I smile at what I see. I’m just back from the edge of the clearing and still amongst the brush, but both Joe and Jaycee are looking at me while Joseph is watering the ponies and Jason is placing firewood near the fire. Our packs are set out around the fire, the cooking gear is out, and Jaycee is preparing a meal, the saddles and the rest of the gear is in a neat stack to one side, plus a little of the hay we brought is ready to be given to the ponies. While I watch they all go on with their tasks.

Moving into the clearing I go to Joe and tell him what I’ve seen. He slowly nods then tells me to go back to watch things for a while, but to return for my meal in a little while. I acknowledge my orders and go to my gear to change a few things before going back into the forest.

I find a good tree near the road to watch the trap clearing and the road from. It’s just getting on full dark when a family group comes walking along the road from the east, sees the clearing, and goes to it. I sit and wait. A moment later a man crosses the road then he goes to watch the family. After a few minutes of watching them set up camp he leaves and he goes back across the road. I climb down and go to our camp.

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