Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Puppethead War #10: With Haste

< < Issue 9

By midday, the storm had reached more than a few miles inland.  Talon, the Honch, Leyh and Ferran took shelter on the leeward side of a grassy rise and waited.  Meanwhile to the north and west Ogard drove the hardy carriage with newly leased horses.

Though the trader was silent as always, his head filled with a jolly folk tune that he had learned to play long ago.  A man with lesser restraint may have started mouthing the ancient words to it, or humming to himself.  Ogard instead saved enough concentration for the landscape over which he travelled - this was why he urged the horses to speed up when the road passed into a grove thick with trees.

Rustling on either side put the trader ill at ease, his concern proved cogent as the grove began to thin.  A billowing shape darted between two bushes in the middle distance.  Ogard didn’t turn his head but scanned his field of view for any more hints.

These were probably Dirty Fighters, he thought, though hoping he was wrong.  Little was known about them other than their penchant for rippling clothes and quiet, surgical strikes.  Ogard knew there was next to nothing in the back that Dirty Fighters should care for; nonetheless he loosened the reigns and grabbed hold of his balalyre.  If the horses were worth their price they’d know what to do next.

A series of thumps behind the driver’s seat.  The trader gazed back along the left hand side in time to see one of the Dirty Fighters wrench the door open.

So, they were after something in the passenger cabin.  At least something that had been there.

Another noise close at hand.  Ogard turned around and was face to face with one of the attackers.  Iron knuckles glinted in the sunlight.  Scenery rolled on as the carriage rumbled through the countryside.  There was a disapproving growl from the man in the front cabin and a flock of birds squawked overhead.

‘Where are they, trader?’

Ogard said nothing, but he had the heavy end of the balalyre pointing at the man before he could even raise a fist.

The highway spiraled down to the outer reaches of the city, tending away from the rise of the eastern quarter until the land was more or less at sea level - not the incoming view that Talon had always imagined.  From this angle, the nearest buildings obstructed sight of the Overarchy dome and the taller, pillared Mucatedra of the Kept Sect.

This changed when the road banked left and took the travellers to a shiny and cobbled bridge.  At their end, hovels clumped together and a sharp incline bordered the valley.  On the eastern side of the river larger and more ornate buildings stretched as far as one could see.

Broken up by various snaking creeks, huge mansion-estates loomed over Carpol on the hills.  Closer and on the other side of the bridge, the road opened onto a bustling square.  Here the uptown scenery reminded Talon of Arten’s main street, only on a much grander scale.  As they crossed the river, he saw how the bay fanned out like a funnel, pouring the world’s tall ships and commerce into South Ryndia.  Another even shinier bridge extended over the bay in an arch from the docks to the rich seaside district.  There, finally, was the dome where lords and ladies from all over the country sat in Overarchy.  Also on the western bank was the pillared box shape of the Mucatedra, with a smaller pillared building nearby.  A high wall had been raised between it and the house of the Keepers.  The youth couldn’t resist a glance at the Honch as the horses were led into the plaza.

Hooves splashed in puddles left by the recent heavy rain and Leyh stopped hers and Talon’s ride in the shade of a wooden hotel.  As the Houch brought his own horse to a halt, the teacher behind him dismounted clumsily.  Ferran stared at the others, brushing trail dust from his green vest.

‘Not quite the same as a good old montiger.’

Leyh granted him a smirk and leapt to the ground.  She turned to help Talon climb down but the youth hesitated when he looked her in the eye.  There was that hint of shrewdness beyond her years, though the accompanying grin was absent.  Maybe, he thought, it would only come out at night around fizzy drinks.

The trader waved an outstretched hand.

‘Hello?  Hello Talon?’

‘Oh,’ he said.  ‘Right.’

He climbed down and saw the Honch beginning to unload their packs from the horses.  The first thing was the tall, pompous hat, which Talon had began to see in a new light.  His sect were want to wear masks when reading from histories or ministering.  Hidden identities protected Keepers in case of dangerous radicals.  For the same reason, Talon had withheld from the others the facts Verden had spoken while on the carriage.  When they had shaken Leyh, Talon would speak to his teacher about the Honch’s theories.

Verden might have noticed Talon’s continued study of the headgear and tossed him a bag.

‘We’ve got some business to attend to over the river,’ he said with as little interest as he could muster.  He focused on the trader.  ‘Thank you for your assistance.’

The young woman passed the reins of both horses into her left hand and rested the right on her hip.

‘You don’t think I’m just going to hang here,’ she said with a twang.  ‘You three paid to get here late this afternoon.  I intend on delivering that extra value.’

The trader winked at Talon again, somehow unnerving him beyond the sly face.

‘The least I can do is show you around the city.  Help you get to where you need to go.’

‘But, the coach...’ Talon began.

‘Still on his way.  Come on, I’ll take you to the bridge and you can explain this invasion to me.’

Verden’s defeat radiated in all directions.  ‘I told you I was joking.’

‘I thought you said that Talon was playing a game?’

The Honch tried and couldn't put a complete sentence together.

‘But you... and the fri- but I...’

Ferran rested one arm on the man’s shoulder and stroked his own ragged beard with the other.

‘The girl isn’t an idiot,’ he began.  ‘We owe her an explanation for all this.’

‘That doesn’t even make sense!’ the Honch said, but he realised that the teacher wasn’t joking either.

‘We should put our bags down and get to the dome.  Leyh can come with us if she wants to know but we have to make it quick.’

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Mitch.

    I'm enoying Puppethead Saga and the setting.
    Yet, I'll not tarry on praise today.

    I think you are assuming that readers remember everything.
    The Saga is a conspiracy-action adventure set in a fantasy epic. That is a lot.
    But, then there are the organisations, groups, rivals, enemies, allegiances etc.
    What I'd like to see are reminders to us readers (it could be recaps at the start of episodes) of what is important to that episode from previous episodes.

    I think descriptions of places and organisations can be expanded on in the episodes as they are good but seem edited down;
    My advice is to forget the word limit and let each episode run to its natural length.

    Hope this is useful.

    QuangoBaud (in Darth Advicious Mode)