“Oi, newcomer, help us with this, woud’ja?”
Crofton leaps from his jubequi and heads over to two men trying to lift a wagon to change the wheel. With his help the three easily lift it from the ground and a fourth quickly changes the broken wheel.
Ari and Kemp circle around the caravan with the other magic users, keeping an eye out for any danger. The calmness of the animals relaxes them, but they still scan the red hills for any sign of movement.
The caravan has been crossing the Redlands for two days since allowing Ari, Crofton, and Kemp to join them. The scouts at Nani’s had been easy to convince once they saw what Ari and Kemp could do. Crofton’s added willingness to work only made them happier. Apparently the caravan lost a couple members after their last route through the dangerous Redlands.
“How we doing, boys?” the leader of the caravan, Turner calls back.
“Ready to go, boss,” the man finishing the wheel calls. He nods his head and Crofton and the two men lower the wagon to the ground.
The larger of the two shuffles Crofton’s hair, laughing. “Good’un, Croft.”
“Shut your mouth, Guto. I could feel you weren’t even hardly lifting, you lazy bastard.” Crofton laughs and gently punches Guto in the belly.
Smiling, Ari can’t help but laugh when Guto grabs Crofton in a headlock.
“Glad to see him making friends,” Kemp says, riding up to her. “It looked a little dicey there at the beginning.”
“Ah, Guto enjoys picking on new guys. He always picks one out to mess with and if they can keep up with him, the more he likes ‘em,” one of the scouts, Vico says.
The other scout, Vesna, Vico’s twin sister, rides up next to Ari. “It also doesn’t hurt that your boy there likes to get his hands dirty. The last people we allowed to travel with us refused to do any heavy lifting.”
“That explains why it took a bit more convincing to let him tag along,” Ari says.
“Well, that and your refusal to let the caravan leave without him.”
“You could’ve just left without us,” Kemp says.
Vico laughs. “And you wouldn’t have just followed us?”
The caravan heads off now the wheel is repaired. Crofton climbs back onto his jubequi and rides alongside Guto. Ari and Kemp take their places on either side of the caravan. Vico rides with Ari and Vesna rides with Kemp.
The caravan is made up of four wagons with a total of twenty men, not including Ari, Crofton, and Kemp, guarding the cargo. The cargo includes animals, textiles, seeds, jewelry, and select food items. The main focus was connecting the towns and villages on opposite ends of the Redlands to minimize travel distance going around the dangerous lands. Only a few caravans dared the journey due to the high number of bandits calling the Redlands home.
So far, the only danger the caravan had come across was a herd of large beasts called borums in the middle of their mating rituals. Luckily, borums are slow animals so the caravan was able to escape unscathed.
The caravan continues its long trek until nightfall when they finally stop to rest. The wagons are placed in a circle as magic users create a make shift paddock for the groduns. Once they’re secured and fed, the men and women cook meals and prepare for sleep.
Ari sits near the grodun paddock and watches the great beasts lazily eat and lie on the ground to sleep. Crofton sits with Guto and a few of the other men. Their laughter echoes across the camp to her and she smiles. She’s happy to see Crofton relaxed and easily making friends. Her eyes scan the camp and she spots Kemp talking with Vesna.
Leaning close to her ear, Kemp whispers something to her and Vesna laughs. She rubs his arm and smiles up at him before leading him away from everyone else. They disappear behind a wagon and Ari feels a tinge of jealousy.
“All right, Ariana?” Vico asks sitting next to her.
Tearing her eyes from where Kemp and Vesna disappeared, Ari nods her head. “Fine. Your sister seems to have taken a shine to Kemp.”
Shyly smiling, Vico laughs. “Yeah, she likes making friends.” He emphasizes the word friends to show he understands what Ari’s implying. “I trust her to know what she’s doing.”
“Are you really okay with it?”
“At first I wasn’t, you know. She’s my sister, I want to protect her, but she’s tough and after arguing about it we came to an understanding.” He eyes her curiously. “And what about you?”
“Hmm?” Ari returns her attention to the groduns.
“Are you okay with him being friends with my sister?”
“He’s an adult. He can do whatever he wants.”
Raising his eyebrows in surprise, Vico shrugs his shoulder then crosses his legs and pulls out balls of string. He begins twisting and braiding the string into intricate patterns. He hums as he works, his fingers easily working the strands.
Slowly turning her head, Ari watches him work for a moment. “What are you making?”
Smiling at her, Vico holds up his work. “In my village there’s an old legend about the gods. Morda, our mother god, fell in love with a mortal man who worked with silks and wool. She would watch him day in and day out. Velan, the god of death, grew jealous of her infatuation and appeared before the mortal man. He challenged him to a contest. If Velan won, the man would be killed and dragged to the underworld. If the man won, he would be granted one wish.”
As he speaks, Vico works continuously on the knot in his hands. “The contest would be to see who could create the most beautiful and intricate knot from silk and wool. Morda, catching wind of the contest, aided the man by giving him silk from her own collection. With the godly silk, the man made a knot so intricate and detailed it was said any who gazed upon it could see the very cosmos.”
Ari watches Vico’s hands move faster and faster as he makes the knot larger. The details in each twist and tie becoming clearer as he tells the tale.
“Veran lost to the mortal man, but true to his word he asked what the mortal man wished for. The mortal man wished for an unlimited supply of the godly silk.” Vico’s hands freeze suddenly, leaving the knot unfinished. Ari’s eyes rise to his face. “But Veran is a trickster and jealousy continued to feed his rage. He turned the mortal man into the very creatures that spun the silk, but instead of making him godly he kept him mortal. So the man lived out the rest of his days as a manseed spider, creating the very silk he so desired.”
Quickly finishing the knot, Vico cuts the strings with his knife and hands the intricate creation to Ari. “And that is why the manseed spider’s silk is the most precious of silk in Myldea and its web one of the most beautiful.”
Ari takes the knot and strokes the tied strings. “I haven’t heard that story before.”
“Did your parents tell you many stories of the gods?”
“No, but a friend of my mother’s used to tell me about them. My favorite stories were about the brother gods, Ogrin and Kellot. They got into a lot of trouble.” Ari tries to hand the knot back to Vico.
Shaking his head, Vico gently pushes the knot away. “It’s a gift for you. Keep it as long as you like.”
Standing, Vico puts the balls of string back into his pockets. “Get some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be another long one. Good night, Ariana.”
“Good night, Vico.”
Vico heads off to sleep. Ari looks down at the knot in her hands. She hadn’t noticed as he was making it, but there’s one strand of white silk strung throughout the knot. It winds its way through the other strings, circling out from the center. Ari traces the white silk and smiles. She lies down and closes her eyes, falling into a deep sleep.