Chaos Calls 03: the Dragon Dilemma
Copyright© 2011 by Ernest Bywater
Most of the gear is still packed from yesterday. So we’ve a quick breakfast, cross the river, and go on our way to Two Sheaf. Three days later we arrive at an area just north of Two Sheaf where I wish to build new farms. The land to the east of the road is light forest from the road to the mountain cliffs. This is unclaimed land that we’re about to claim it by clearing it. Using axes we cut down the first of the trees to mark the northern limit of the farm area we’ll be creating. While we move down the road we cut down a tree for the border between each of the farms.
We’re not moving as fast as we were when we left Junction as we’d started buying and collecting livestock just before Summer Ford and we’ve been adding to it quite a lot since then. Cows, pigs, hens, quail, deer, sheep, and goats have been added to our herd of horses. The dogs the farmers brought from Junction are a real help in the control of the stock and in keeping the stock moving.
At mid-afternoon we reach the end of the forest and come to the last farm on the east side of the road north of the small town of Two Sheaf. I know the farm is for sale as one of the representatives David sent out gave me the details of it with a suggested price. I hope to buy it to use it as our base to get things started so Kira and I ride ahead to the farm.
We ride up to the main house and dismount. A woman walks out of the house as two men approach us from the barn. I glance at the men as I say, “Good day.” Turning to the woman I ask, “Missus Joan Mailing?” She nods yes, “I hear you want to sell your farm! Is that so?”
Doing the Deal
She glances at the two men and they don’t look happy about her being asked about selling the farm. She waves toward the house while saying, “Come in. Let’s talk over a cold drink.” She turns to the two men, “If you’ve finished doing what you’re doing, you can leave now.” The two men glare at me then turn and walk down the approach road. We enter the house and she leads us through to the kitchen. In a moment we’re seated with glasses of cold lemonade to drink. The house is neat and clean, just like the yard and fields we saw while approaching the farm. It’s clear the place is looked after and is a good going concern.
While she takes her seat I say, “Before we get started, I’ve a group of stock and people coming down the road who need an overnight camp spot regardless of if we come to an agreement or not. Can we camp on your farm for tonight, please?” She nods yes. I turn to Kira, she nods to me, and gets up to go tell them. We soon hear her ride off at a gallop.
Missus Mailing smiles as she says, “I’m right glad you came along. In two more days I’d have lost this farm with nothing to show for a life of work.” I frown because I didn’t know this. “My man died a year ago and I’ve been trying to sell the farm since. There’s a local rule: if you can’t work a farm yourself, or with family, then you’ve got a year to sell it. If you can’t, then anyone who doesn’t have a farm and can work it can take it over. Those two men are brothers, one has a farm and the other doesn’t. They both live on the farm the older one has, but they only do enough to get by. They don’t work it right. If they worked it right they’d need three or four adults to handle the load but they only do half days, at best.”
“Sorry to hear you’ve been troubled. But I’m glad I got here in time. How much do you want?”
“Well, a couple of people I trust appraised the farm as being worth thirty shells, but I’ll sell for twenty-five shells plus the right to stay on as housekeeper for keep. I was born here, lived here, and like to die here.”
“That’s sounds a fair deal. I had a man through here a few weeks back and that’s in the range he gave me as the farm being worth. When my people arrive and are settled in we’ll go into town so I can arrange the transfer of the money. I hope you’ve no objection to a bank account or cash as payment!” She grins as she nods yes. I love this place as the deals are so easy to organise after an agreement is reached.
“I should warn you, those two men, the Branson brothers, they’re not going to like this and they may cause you trouble.”
“Well, I’ll worry about that if it happens. People causing me trouble have a tendency to end up dead.” She raises her eyebrows at that, and smiles. I get the idea those two aren’t well liked in the area and few will miss them if anything happens to them.
It takes a while for the whole caravan to move down, through the entrance, and out into a recently harvested field. The stock is put into another field that’s for grazing. Leaving Warren and Carla in charge of the group I go to town with Kira and Mrs Mailing. Our first stop is the town mayor’s house to have him draw up a paper on the sale. Then the four of us go to the bank so the mayor can witness the transfer. The bank pays me the money from my account, which I hand to Joan. She puts it in a new account in her name. She’s very happy to have a bank account of her own now, something no one in her family has had before. The mayor leaves us and we go to the inn to celebrate the sale.
A Sniff of Trouble
In the town’s only inn, the Two Sheaf Inn, I order and pay for a pitcher of good wine with three mugs for us to celebrate the sale. Handing over the pitcher and mugs the inn owner states, “I hear you may be selling your farm, after all, Joan!”
She grins, hooks a thumb at me, and replies, “This young man paid me twenty-five shells for the farm. He agrees I can stay living there until I die. The money’s already in my new account in the bank. So there’s no point in anyone trying to steal it from me. I’d appreciate it if you let people know I sold up and put the money in the bank.”
He nods, “Good for you. The Branson boys weren’t too happy when they came in for a drink. They said someone was talking to you about buying the farm. I’ll make sure they know you sold out and you banked the money.”
“Thanks, Lief. That should limit their trouble against me. They were really pushing to get my farm. Before now they ran off three likely buyers and discouraged a few others that were looking.”
Just then the door opens and five men walk in wearing the uniform of the Brotherhood. One has a despatch case over his shoulder. They front the bar and order two pitchers of wine. Lief holds out his hand for payment. The leader slaps it aside while saying, “I’m an officer of the Brotherhood, the government of this area. We don’t need to pay for services while on government business.” Lief steps back and reaches for his club.
I nod at Kira, and she moves to the side while taking Joan with her.
With a big smile I move away from the ladies and say, in a loud voice, “The Brotherhood is not a government. It’s a bunch of thieving liars and murderers. They steal everything they can lay their hands on. They have no say or control over this area. All of the land east of the river is the domain of Lord Al. His troops, the Tigers, keep order. They pay fair price for what they get, and so should all travellers. So pay the man or leave. Wearing the uniform of bandits like the Brotherhood is enough reason for you to be killed without any notice, anyway.”
The five men step back to stare at me. When they reach for their swords one asks, “Who are you?”
I smile as I say, “Most people call me Lord Al, my Tigers call me Sir, and the Brotherhood calls me death incarnate, since I’ve already killed hundreds of them. My Tigers have killed many hundreds more.”
We all draw our swords and they attack. By my moving to the side they can’t all get at me at once, and the two nearest soon regret being in that position. I swing my left sword to sweep both theirs aside with mine while my right hand flashes up to slice their throats open. Two down and we’re just getting started. While they fall I step to the side, turn, and lean forward to slide the katana in my right hand into the next man’s groin. He screams and drops his sword as his hands go to his ruined privates and sliced open leg. Three down, dying on the floor. The others are stunned, but are smart enough to back up. I smile when I leap over the bodies and spin in the air. Landing on the other side my right-hand sword sweeps theirs to the side while my left-hand sword slides into the chest of the left-hand man. When I pull my sword back the last man turns and races for the door. In a flash I’m on him and open his back up from his neck to his hip, slicing his spine in half too. He falls to the floor, so I finish him off with a stab to the neck to sever his spine. Five down in less than a minute. If any of these people ever really learn how to fight with a sword I wouldn’t have it so easy. Most are just uniformed bullies who scare people into submission. They can’t fight well at all.
Joan turns to Kira while asking, “Why didn’t you help him?”
She smiles, “There was only five of them and he signalled me to see you were kept safe while he handled it alone. We’ve a way of talking with hand and body signs. Plus our training together means we know what to do in certain situations that are common in a fight.”
Kira helps me to strip the dead of all that’s worthwhile. I make a point of getting the weapons, money pouches, and the despatch case. Flicking a quad onto the bar I say, “That’s for whoever gets this garbage out of here and cleans up the floor for me.” Two young men sitting near the door nod yes at me. They dart forward to grab two of the dead men then drag them to the back door.
Lief slides the quad to his side of the bar as he says, “Mark and John have taken the job. I’ll hold this until they’re done.” I, and a few others, nod yes at his statement of watching the money for them. He looks at me and says, “I gather you’re the Lord Al who’s claiming Lordship!”
“Yes. I’ve been fighting the Brotherhood for over a year now. I’m pushing them back to the east where they started. King Sid’s land runs up to the river and he doesn’t wish to extend his lands this way. A few of the people living up near Bridgetown and at Grassy Meadows have asked me to take Lordship and to establish a regional government so we can support a standing army to fight off the Brotherhood. I’ve agreed to do that, for now. Once we’ve destroyed the Brotherhood I’ll review the situation. I won’t establish any taxes until such time as the land is safe and secure. Then I’ll establish suitable representatives in each town to see to the protection of the people. Until then, I claim governorship.”
“A bit young for that, aren’t you?”
I grin, “Some would say that. But I’ve been training for this since I could hardly walk, and I’m Lord over a large kingdom in another land. But you have to admit I’m capable.” I wave at the last of the dead on the floor as the two young men have taken four of the five out. “I intend to set up good locals to rule in my stead because I’ve duties elsewhere. My rule will be a lot like King Sid’s since we’ve similar responsibilities.”
Lief nods, “Yes. I see what you mean about capabilities.”
“My Tigers have been operating in my absence and will continue to do so. Each day the Brotherhood grows weaker while my people grow stronger. I’ve brought a group of people along to set up new farms along the east side of the road just north of town. They’re here to work their farms, but to also fight the Brotherhood who travel this road. They will provide protection to the forest area behind the farms. I’ll be seeding those forests with livestock for use in a special project. Thus all, but a few people appointed by me, will be banned from entering that forest area. After today anyone caught hunting in the area will be liable for summary execution by me or my agents. Please spread the word. It’ll be easy to identify the forest concerned because we’ll signpost it and have farms along the road and up to the cliffs on each end. The forest will be enclosed by farms we’ll create and own. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the extra trade the new people will provide you.” All of the shopkeepers in the inn smile at the idea of more clients to do business with and for.
One of the other farmers says, “Has anyone told you the forest there is the hunting grounds of dragons?”
“Yes, I know. That’s why I’m sealing it off. People have been in there to hunt the forest animals. Thus there isn’t enough food for the dragons, so they’ve been kidnapping people for meals. I intend to stop that by negotiating with them to leave us alone and I’ll stock the forest for them to hunt in. That way we can all exist in safety.”
“How will you deal with dumb animals like those dragons?”
“They aren’t dumb animals. They’ve a culture and a language of their own. I know their language and I’ll speak with them. We see them as animals and they see us as the same. I intend to change that. I’ll establish some respect and make an arrangement between us. Anyone who’s been hunting dragons can stop right now. I’ll kill any who do. I’ll also kill any dragon who breaks the peace, once I make the deal.”
“Well, I hope you can make it work. I’m fed up with losing stock that wandered into the forest.”
“That shouldn’t happen now. Your stock will have to cross the new farms to get near the forest. So will anyone else who goes looking for my stock in the forest. We’ll soon have fences up and no one will be allowed to go into the forest, so it should soon be a dead issue.”
Another farmer chimes in, “Maybe. But them Branson brothers are always boasting about killing dragons. They won’t like this.”
“They don’t need to like it. They just need to obey it.” That gets a few laughs from around the room. This makes me think those two aren’t known for obeying rules and the like.
A little after that we leave the inn to return to the farm, which I’m now told is called ‘Town Limits.’ I think it’s appropriate, because its town side is the edge of town and the start of the local farming area. and wild life area of unclaimed land.
Organising the Farms
We’re back at Town Limits in time to help prepare dinner. It doesn’t take long because we now have it down to a fast routine. The camp is set up in the corner of the field nearest the house. My wagons are put away inside the barn and the farmers’ wagons are nearby. Many sleep in or under their wagons while my carts are too small for that. All of the stock are either in the barn, in the attached corral, or grazing in the field behind the barn.
While we eat today’s stew we talk about the farms and how we’ll go about making them. The first thing to do in the morning is to set out in as many work crews as we can. We’ll start cutting down trees on each of the marked areas. This is to establish our bona fides and to stop anyone else from hopping in now we’ve announced our intentions. We’ll also extend this farm back the remaining few hundred yards to the rock cliff. All of the harvest crops are in, except one, and that’s due to be harvested in a couple of weeks. Which means we can use most of the fields to store the cut trees, for the moment. That’ll make the on-site work easier while the horses will make dragging them away very simple.
Each of the farmers setting up new farms will lead a crew of four others to start the tree cutting, that’s seventy-five people tied up in the fifteen new farms we’ve marked. Jasmine will be working with Joan to see about getting the farm houses here ready for full occupancy. Jake will lead a team of four others to cut the trees extending this farm. He and Jasmine will be running this farm for me. They don’t know it yet, but I’ll be giving it to them and their prospective spouses as a wedding gift. The expanded farm will be big enough to need two families to run it. Warren and Carla will be in charge of two roving patrols of an officer and ten troops each that’ll see to the security of the workers. The rest will stay here to look after the stock and this farm, for now. The plan is to get up, have breakfast, and be going before dawn.
The next morning no one’s happy to be awake in the dark, but they’re soon ready and heading out with some hot roast beef sandwiches to eat for breakfast. Joan and Jasmine were up earlier to make the sandwiches from the fresh bread and the roast beef they’d cooked during the night. Their work is very much appreciated by those eating the sandwiches!
A couple of wagons belonging to Town Limits are used to deliver the people to their work sites. The first task is to mark the outer line of trees to show they’ve started. The sound of axes cutting wood can be heard as soon as the sun rises high enough for them to see what they’re doing well enough to work with safety.
It’s a good thing we make an early start as all of the trees are marked and the first few are fallen when the Branson brothers lead a couple of other disreputable looking types along the road. All are carrying axes on their shoulders. I smile when I see them look up the road. All they can see, for as far as they can see, is people chopping trees on the east side of the road. They turn and look at the wood behind the farm. Jake’s team is busy on the side of the wood marking and cutting the trees for the farm’s extension. But he hasn’t marked the wood along the back of the farm yet. I’m sure the Branson’s have spotted this oversight because they speak to their friends and they all enter the farm.
Turning to Daisy, one of the women staying on the farm today, I ask, “Please get a few men and have them start marking the trees along the back of the farm right now.” She glances at the four men, nods yes, and moves off when I head down to intercept the men. Nearing the men I call out, “You men, you’re trespassing on my land. Get back on the road and off my property right now.”