On the road to the village, King Jehan and his men were led by the shee. The rest stops were few and far between. There was no resting together or talking between the two groups as there had been before. Even the leaders, who had become something of friends, did not talk together. Tensions were tight.
In camp that night, both warriors and mounts were tired. Picket lines were set and guards were posted with orders to challenge anyone who approached. King Jehan went to the camp of the shee. “He was immediately challenged. “Who goes there?” a voice asked from out of the darkness. “King Jehan to see Sibelius,” he said. “Pass, then,” the guard said. This was allowed by their king’s orders. Jehan went to Sibelius’s tent.
“Come in,” Sibelius said, knowing who was out there. “What do you know about these Chimerans?” Jehan asked. “Not much,” Sibelius said. “I have never seen one. But I have heard that they come to the town we are going to, to trade from time to time.” “What about this town?” the king asked. “It’s a small settlement,” Sibelius said. “We allow it to exist because the residents have never caused us any problems. They are content with what they have, and we are content to let them stay.”
“Well that isn’t much,” the King said. “But it will have to do.” He turned to leave the tent. “What will you do when you capture these men?” Sibelius asked. “What I would like to do,” Jehan admitted, “is kill them on the spot. But that is not the law of my people. So they shall be taken back to my land. They shall have a public charge read against them. Then anyone who has anything to say for or against them will be allowed to speak. If the person speaking for them is persuasive enough, they might even go free.” “And what about the punishment for what they have done?” Sibelius asked.
“The punishment for attacking the Queen is death,” King Jehan said. “Above that, how can I kill them twice? I have already decided that they shall have the most ignominious death possible. For my people that would be hanging and their bodies not be allowed to be buried.” “Hmm,” said Sibelius, “And, as you have said, it is not possible to kill them twice.” The king nodded in agreement.
“You and I,” Sibelius said, “Have developed a sort of respect for each other.” The king nodded again. “So don’t you think that maintaining this distance is a little ridiculous?” “I do,” said the King. “Very well then,” Sibelius said. “We shall see what might be done about it tomorrow.”
The next day they continued towards the town. When it was time to rest the mounts for a time, Sibelius and his warriors joined the humans. The men began to visit a little as they had done before. There were snippets of conversation again, as there had been before. Some of the men were dis-cussing the relative attributes of their various steeds. Mounts were all rested, they took off again. When they were too exhausted to go on the men made camp for the night. Shishak was in the wagon. He still suffered from his wounds. He was still running a fever. In fact; the cook, who was the main person taking care of him, was surprised that he made that far. In the distance they could see cool mountains with white on top of them.
“What is that white?” King Jehan asked Sibelius “Snow,” the shee answered. “These mountains never do lose all their snow,” Sibelius explain-ed. “Though in winter it is much larger, there is still a snow cap during summer too.” They went to their prospective camps. Neither of them felt that they needed any conferences that night.
The next morning, early on, the village was spotted. But their mounts could only be pushed so far. They were tired from all the fast travel and the air was thin up here. They tired very easily. They made the village just as the sun was beginning to set. And there was a real hullabaloo in the town. “What is the problem,” the King called out. But the people took no note of him. He was a stranger. “What is the problem,” Sibelius called out. The people paid more note to him. They recognized that he was a shee. So were the local lairds that they knew about.
“We had a very bad night last night,” one of the people said. “The Blacksmith was killed, along with his apprentice. We found both bodies this morning when someone came in to have the blacksmith do some work for him. He searched and found the smith’s body. Then he rousted the journey man, for he knew the place the man stayed. Then they found the apparent-ice’s body in his loft. And the mercantile was robbed.” “Your Lordship,” one of the men said, bowing to Sibelius. He had never seen a human laird before, much less a king. “Can you help us. We have had murder and mayhem here.” “Well a murder frequently does have that effect. But I am not the ranking commander here,” he said. “This man is. This is King Jehan of Shinna. He is the man that is fit to judge among humans what it right and what is wrong.” Sibelius stepped back to tether his pegasus.
The people came forward to speak to the king. “A human king?” the old merchant asked. “Well I am human,” Jehan said, “and I am a king. And as Sibelius has said, I am qualified to offer help here. Tell me everything that happened.”
So they began to tell him what had happened the night before. “Three strangers rode into town,” the old merchant began to say. “They wanted to trade with the mercantile. We didn’t have enough of what they needed to satisfy their demand.” King Jehan thought he knew who those 3 men were. “We didn’t have enough to satisfy them. I sent them to the blacksmith. We has an arrangement with him. But he was not happy with it. He tried to keep their chargers locked up until he got paid more. It looks like he paid for that with his life.” “A moment,” the king said. “Well they have their horses freshly shod. We might have hoped that the condition of their horses feet might have slowed them down in the future. But it seems that is not to be the case. Also we were hoping to stop for a while and get our horses reshod.”
“How bad are your horses in need of shoeing?” Sibelius asked. “Badly,” King Jehan said. “Then we shall stop,” Sibelius said. “For you are in need of that and I need more supplies for our mounts and my men.” He looked over his shoulder and saw several of the men checking their mounts. The horses and even some of the pegasi were showing wear and tear and would need help soon.
King Jehan turned back to the matter at hand. “What else can you tell me about this?” he asked. “Some of us saw the three strangers. They went to the smithy and spoke to the smith. Afterwards the smith went to the mercantile. After that there was yelling. The smith and the old merchant used to fight something terrible.” “But they left town, didn’t they?” another woman asked. “No the first one said. “They loitered in front of the pub until sunset. I saw them on the streets as I looked from the window to see if my husband was coming.”
“Where did you see them?” the King asked. “On the bench near the public house,” she said. “They were there like many other people do. All the other people went into the house, but they did not.” “Did any of you other people see them loitering near the public house?” One man raised his hand, “Well not loitering,” he said. “But I almost, ran into one of them making my way home in the twilight. They were going to the smithy again. Anyhow the smith must have helped them. There was sounds of work happening there long after dark. The smith does that sometimes, when he had a lot of work to do.”
“And now the smith is dead,” said Sibelius. “That is not much to go on,” the king whispered to Sibelius. “We will learn more,” Sibelius said. “We must remain in this town for a time. Some of your horses need shoeing and other equipment needs to be repaired.” “Good idea to stay here and get it done. We can learn more of these people, why are they here?” the King said. “And we can learn more of the land hereabouts, of the chimerans, and of what might be ahead.”
He turned back to the people. “My men and I will need to stay here for a time. We need to get our horses shoed and equipment repaired. Also the shee their horses shod and equipment repaired,” the king said. “Sibelius chuckled a moment while one of the townsmen explained to the King, “The shee don’t shoe their steeds. Otherwise the pegasi could not fly. The shoes would make them too heavy.”
“So far as your horses being shod,” the blacksmith said, as he stood forward, “I and my assistant can help you with that.” By his size and muscles the King figured that was true. “We will camp outside the town and each rider will bring you his animal,” the King told him.
“There is a good place for you down by the river,” one of the women said. ’But as for fixing your equipment, the saddle maker is dead.” The saddle maker among the king’s men stepped forward. “Is his equipment still in his shop.” “Of course it is,” his widow said. “I am a saddle maker too. May I have access to the shop.” “And what will you give me for it?” the widow asked. “After all I still have to eat and still have children to feed, and my man is dead.” “I will give you all the proceeds from the shop for the few days I am here,” the man said. After all he was being fed and housed and clothed at the King’s expense.
So the people took them down to the campsite by the river. They were surprised that the shee wanted to be a little distance from the humans. They set up two separate camps there. The wagons set up and started cooking. Dinner would be a little late tonight, but it would be there.
It was in the morning, when the cook checked on his patient that he discovered Shishak had died during the night. It sometimes happened with men whipped as he had been, that they died of the fever they developed. The hope that he might have recovered and still have been of use to the expedition was what had prompted the King to sentence him the way he had. Now the other warriors would take his mount and divide his weapons and armor. His personal items were kept by Sir Fridolf to be given back to his widow when they returned home.
Sir Fridolf assigned men to be on guard, also men to be in the first group to take their horses to the blacksmith. While people were sad because of the death of the blacksmith and his apprentice, they were happy to have more business in town. The pub was full when King Jehan’s men came in. Everyone wanted to see them. They were curious about what these men looked like. Who were they and where were them from?
Gossip began to flow and Sir Fridolf was listening. One of his men asked, “What are those mountains anyway?” “We call them the backbone of the world,” one of the townsmen said. “They are the highest mountains in the world.” “They are so high, not even a pegasus can fly over them,” another man added.
“What about the forests,” the first warrior asked. “There are lots of forests up on the mountain,” the first townsman answered. “In fact we think the supply of trees is endless.” He began to drink some of his beer. “And what about the animals there?” Sir Fridolf asked. “Oh there are plenty,” the second townsman said, after taking a swig from his own mug. “Anything dangerous?” Sir Fridolf asked. “Of course there are,” the first townsman said. “Have you ever seen a forest that did not have dangerous animals in it?” “Of course not,” said Fridolf.
Royals were one of the currencies that these people accepted. So Sir Fridolf brought a round of ale. He invited the man he had been talking to, to his table. “So tell me about these chimerans,” he said. “We know about them,” the man said as he accepted the invitation. “Where do they live around here?” Fridolf asked. “Well there’s some that says they are nomads. That they follow the seasons. They don’t like it where it is too hot or too cold. They’d be in the south now, but they’ll come up north here as the weather warms.” The man took a drink of his ale and so did Fridolf. “Then there’s some that says they hibernate. Gets themselves under ground and sleeps until it gets warm enough. That’s what I think,” the man said, taking another drink of his ale. Sir Fridolf did the same. “One time I see some of them go into a cave. I wait the whole day for them to come out again, and what do you know? I has to leave at dark and they still didn’t come out of the cave. And I know I seem ’em go in.”
“That is very interesting,” Sir Fridolf said. “We are going to the land of the chimerans. If we want someone to translate for us, who would we speak to?” “Well I would guess it would be Storus, at the mercantile. He is the son of the old man and the father of the boy. Watch out for that boy though. He’s as close a trader as his grandsire is.” Fridolf left the pub then and returned to the camp. Once there he reported to the king. “I have been talking to one of the locals in the pub. He told me that there are some people here who think that the chimerans are migratory. They seem to move with the sea-sons, preferring the warmth of the south in the winter and coming back here in the summer. Then there are others who think the chimerans hibernate during the winter. He says that he himself saw them go into a cave. He waited as long as he could, but they never came back out again.” “Did he say who might speak to the chimerans for us?” the King asked. “Yes,” said Sir Fridolf. “One of the storekeepers at the mercantile, his name is Storus. He seems to speak their language. They come there to trade for things that they can’t otherwise get. They trade leather, and hides and furs with him.”
“Well then, let’s get to it,” the King said. They left the camp and headed toward the mercantile. When they got there the old merchant and Storus were both busy with customers. The boy saw that and came up to them. “May I help you sirs,” he said. He was too young and innocent to recognize a king, which he had never seen before. Jehan found that he likes that and wondered how long it would last. The boy was very forthright with them. “Where do I go?” the king asked, “to find a man who speaks chimer-an.” “My father speaks chimeran,” he said. “He deals with them all the time. He can translate for you.” He never thought that what his father spoke might most accurately be described as a trade language. He knew what he needed to know to trade certain items with the chimerans. Those who came here knew the woods well and all the products of the woods. They came to obtain things that they could not get there, certain medicines and anything made of metal. Mostly they traded other medicines, leather goods, and furs.
Ever the trader, the boy said, “My father can work for you for a price.” “What price,” Jehan squatted to negotiate with the boy. “50 royals,” the boy began the bidding. The father was somewhat aghast at that price. Jehan decided to humor the boy a bit, “10,” was his counter bid. “40,” said the boy. “30” was Jehan’s offer. They settled on 20. While this was going on, Storus finished with his customer and came over. He looked on as his son completed his negotiations.
As he finished his negotiations, King Jehan looked up. “Is 20 royals for as long as you are with us acceptable to you?” Since that was near half a year’s wages in these parts, that was fine with him. ’Aye,” he said, and shook hands with the King on it.