Chapter 20 Water

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The coastline doesn’t change much as the day goes on, but many in the group still find the sight awe inspiring.

The sea catches the light of the sun, making the water glimmer like jewels. The powerful waves slam into the coastline with such force, it’s amazing the rocks don’t split. Even beasts lying out on the rocks take the full force of the sea, but reappear from the white waves unmoved.

Large beasts far out in the sea pop out of the dark blue water, clouds of air appearing above them before disappearing beneath again. Occasionally smaller animals and fish jump out of the water, their bodies spinning or flailing wildly. Birds nesting in the cliff’s side swoop down to catch the excited fish in their beaks. Several times, two birds fight over the same fish, wings whapping each other in a crazy dance. Yet, somehow both birds remain in the air.

Those pulling the wagon find many bumps and hazards as they walk close to the edge. The movement doesn’t bother Ari, her much needed sleep too deep to be disturbed so easily, but soon the group veers away from the coastline. The path eases and those pulling are grateful.

Hours pass and when it’s time to switch pullers, the group decides to stop and rest. The sun is lowering in the sky and winds blowing from the sea send chills through the group. Night is still hours away, but the air is already cooling. A small campfire is built to cook food and the ones who’d been pulling the wagon lie down to sleep.

Others lay in the grass, staring up at the stars and telling stories. Hands appear above the grass as storytellers point out constellations. The rest sit around the campfire, preparing the food or trying to gain warmth.

Crofton stares into the small flames dancing around the bottom of the pot. The stew isn’t boiling yet, but the aroma makes his mouth water. Voices talking quickly to one another grab his attention and he spies Guto, Link, and Sten standing at the head of the wagon. They peer beneath the wagon before shaking their heads and walking towards the small group around the fire.

“We’ve got some good news and some bad news,” Guto says, sitting down next to Crofton. “We’re nearly out of food.”

“Tell us something we don’t know,” Tal says beneath a sigh. Indra gently nudges her and she shrugs.

“And the wagon’s showing signs of breaking down.” Guto holds up a piece of wood broken off from the wagon.

“How? It’s moving well, what’s wrong with it?” Kemp asks.

The larger man waves his hand at the two standing behind him. Sten and Link cautiously walk forward, joining the sitting group. Link’s large eyes dart around, resting on Vico and Vesna. They avoid his eyes, clearly knowing what he’s thinking.

Sten takes one of Link’s clenched fists in his hand to calm the man down. “It’s being held together by strings and gods know what else. It’s been barely holding together since we were attacked by raiders in the Redlands…the first raiders.”

“I don’t understand, it’s never shown any signs it was barely holding together. Wasn’t it checked before we left?” Kemp asks.

“Out of the three wagons that survived the initial attack, this one was the least damaged. We fixed it as much as we could with help of course, but this was always going to be its last trip.”

“Turner, the head of our caravan, had been saving up for new wagons. This one alone lasted, what? Ten years?” Guto looks to Sten for clarification.

“Thirteen. The others, longer.” He sighs. “It’s a miracle any wagons made it this far. Traversing the Redlands isn’t good for any caravan using wheeled transport.”

“That’s why we never used anything like that,” Tal says. “The sands and terrain were more suited for beasts.”

“You said there was good news?” Crofton asks, turning the conversation back onto Guto.

Crossing his arms, a large smile grows on Guto’s face. “When we get to Marpidium, we won’t need it anymore.”

“How is that good news?”

“It’ll make it to Marpidium,” Link interjects. He shrinks away as all eyes turn to him. “At least, if the small adjustments Sten and I just made hold up.”

“They’ll hold up,” Sten adds. “If there’re no more sudden downpours. It’s a miracle it didn’t fall apart while we were digging it out.”

“Lot of ifs,” Vesna says.

“Sounds like we shouldn’t be resting. Unless, folks don’t mind carrying what few supplies we have the rest of the way,” Tal says, patting Indra on the chest.

“There aren’t many. Shouldn’t be too much whining,” he agrees.

“Are we saying the best option is to abandon the wagon?” Kemp asks.

The group hesitates, no one wanting to be the one to make the final decision. The rest of the group, former members of the Redland Raiders, listen to the conversation in silence. Some hope to abandon the wagon, so as to no longer pull it, while others wonder if perhaps it may be useful to keep dragging along.

“We leave the wagon,” a voice calls from the wagon.

Everyone looks to the one who spoke. Leaning on the side of the wagon, only her head and arms visible, Ari smiles at everyone. “Since no one else was going to say anything, I’ll take responsibility. We leave the wagon. But after we eat and rest, we keep moving.”

“Are you sure?” Vico asks.

Ari locks eyes with Link. “What do you say? Do you want to keep lugging this thing around?”

“No. It won’t even be worth anything if we try to trade it. Especially without…animals to pull it.” He lowers his eyes, a flash of sadness crossing his face.

Sten squeezes his hand, the other man smiling weakly up at him. “Dragging it around isn’t helping to forget, either.”

“All right. I’m going back to sleep. Wake me when everyone’s ready. I can’t make all the decisions,” Ari says, disappearing into the wagon.

“That settles it, then,” Guto says, clapping his hands together. “Now, let’s eat!”

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