A Rogue's Tales: The Ties That Bind

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#2 - Setting out

The last good days of summer are coming to an end. The rest of the farms’ crops will need to be harvested soon. Followed by the long, dull winter months. Spent mostly keeping the small, old farmhouse warm. Feeling the need to right a wrong easily coaxes the teenage mind of an adept rogue into one more caper.

Carr inspects each piece of worn black dragon scale armor before strapping them in place. A few more jobs… Or perhaps this one and I can retire this fine old suit. It’s survived a few generations. The last three years, I’ve put it through hell.

Asinine antics leading to various fights for life, over a few years, can be seen in the armor as well as his dark brown eyes.

Finishing with the shin coverings Carr ponders over the inventory in his backpack. One dirty cloak, two weeks of rations, some bandages wrapped around some healing herbs. The family lock picks, just as old as the scale armor and a small leather sack.

Making some room in the pack he adds a grappling hook and new coil of hemp rope. Mumbling he rubs the right shoulder, “I hope this one holds up better than the last.”

After sliding on the backpack he slips in between a favorite long-sword. The once finely crafted sword’s blade has many signs of contact. Its’ custom sheath is merely one that fits, after losing the original.

Turning around to a table he gathers up two throwing daggers. Simple in fashion they’re balanced perfectly and pure silver. They slip, nicely into sheaths, hidden inside his body armor.

Grabbing the handle of the exterior door Carr pauses looking back at a large roof support post. Hanging from it a bow and its quiver; holding only six arrows. Nodding he decides to take them.

Outside he calls to a small, tan mix bred horse. She paces already saddled in the front pen of the ageing barn. “Well Bressi girl. Are you ready for a bita riding?”

Seeming to understand Bressi’s head nods.

“That’s good.” Smiling Carr opens the pen gate, “Because this may be the last time you’ll get to run, this year.”

After checking the straps of the horse’s tack he leads Bressi from the corral. Closing and securing the gate Carr looks to the woods his mother went foraging in. Knowing she’ll be gone until late afternoon he seizes the opportunity to ride off quietly.

Bressi knowing where to go eagerly starts trotting across the property to a narrow trail that winds northeast through the surrounding Tau Woodlands.

Informing his trusty steed of their quest. “We’re off to find King Darvel’s tax collector and get back what they took from Ma. We’ll most likely have to cross the Ildihom range. Are you ready?”

Bressi nods in reply

He pats her neck, “Good. Lets get to it.”

Starting small and sparse the trees get large and tall half way through. Mixed with heavy vegetation and lots of twisting the trail is barely recognizable as an animal path.

Grumbling while pushing aside another leafy branch. “Jeez. Bressi I’m gonna have to cut this brush back if we wanna get the wagon through.”

Bressi drops her head avoiding the next branch. Not catching it in time Carr takes a face full of twiggy leaves, “What the? Maybe on the way back through.”

Reaching a wide but seldom used trail, cool breezes find their way through the forest canopy blowing across the pair. “I hope it doesn’t rain.” Wondering he looks up sniffing the air. Fluffy white clouds swiftly float south.

Shrugging they follow the path north.

It’s not long before something off to the left seems to catch Bressi’s eye. In tune with her, Carr cautiously scans the brush. A chill rolls over him as if being stared at.

A couple weeds move next to them Carr’s heart-rate increases. His hand reaches up for the hilt of his sword. Bressi remains calm and watchful.

Following her line of sight Carr spots a quick flash of fur, and whispers. “A small critter.” Knowing even the tiniest of beasties, can have teeth, claws and attitude, he grips the sword.

Jumping quickly to the next patch of weeds reveals a rough tri-colored cat missing a piece of its right ear and most of its tail.

“Shoulda guessed.” Carr sighs with relief letting go of the sword, “Damn Cat, curious? Or are you, going to actually follow us all the way?” He stares at the farm crouching cat, trying to stay in the shadows.

Annoyed that he’s been spotted, the cat fake’s a little grooming, pretending not to be interested in Carr or Bressi, merely giving up the pursuit.

Carr chuckles, “Whatever cat.” Thinking about the first time the cat had come around. Four years wintering in the barn, the rest of the year wanders the woods. Never has Carr managed to get close enough to touch it.

After a couple hours the tree line begins to break, ahead the small, quiet farming village of Ahn. A place Carr has spent much time and knows many of the townsfolk. Most know about him, plenty don’t trust him. Those that have benefited from him hold no ill will. Since he’s never been caught stealing in Ahn the people let him be.

Thin puffs of smoke rise from most of the small buildings. Carried with it the smells of assorted foods being cooked.

A group of dirty barefooted children play fighting draw his attention. Two boys toss each other about.

Younger ones barely able to run try imitating them. Getting the other kids laughing at their pitiful attempts, Carr chuckles as well.

The girls in the group notice Carr nearing and get quiet.

A chubby ten year old sees what the girls do poking the arm of the boy next to him.

A boy with long black, hair looks up, still snickering at the little ones. “Hey! Hey Carr!” Poking his chubby friend back, “Its’ just Carr.” He leaves the group to meet Carr entering Ahn.

Waving slightly back, Carr hides a smile knowing this nine, year old boy, well enough he could be taken advantage of. Most likely the boy will use him somehow to show off to the other children. Carr will certainly play along.

The older boys follow one by one. The girls dare not, instead keep the young ones back.

The boy’s first query, “Where are you off to?”

Carr slows Bressis’ pace to respond. “Hey Effim. A kindly old lady was forced to hand over two magical rings. To an evil greedy man saying it’s payment to King Darvel, In order to gain his protection. Bah! I say to that crap.”

The boys stay back a pace or two, one asks. “Who’s King Darvel?”

The older boys make fun of his ignorance.

Effim turns back to answer, “Don’t you remember the other week that fancy carriage with those thirty armored horsemen that came through? They were collecting anything valuable for King Darvel?” Seeing the other boy is still thinking about it. “Jeez, did you just move here? My Pa’s been complaining about him ever since. We’d never paid taxes before. Why now?”

“What are taxes?” Responds the dim boy.

Sighs and shaking heads are given from the boys.

“Your Pa’s right Effim.” Carr states the history, “The towns around here were settled long, long ago outside of any Kings’ territory.” Sitting tall he boasts, “That’s why I must retrieve those magical rings before they become lost in the King’s treasure vaults.”

“Yeah, well,” Effim hesitates remembering something he’d like, “hey… can you ah… get me that collectors’ short sword?”

Pondering the request Carr digs in his body armor for a coin pouch, overhearing the boys.

“Who is that? Anyways?”

“That’s Carr.”

“My Pa says he’s a thief.”

“My Ma says he’s trouble.”

“Well my sister thinks he’s cute”

“Your sister thinks Ogres are cute.”

“Hah, my Pop told me he was raised by rats.”

Carr tries not to laugh pulling out the pouch speaking to Effim, “Has your Pa, any of his fine arrows to sell?”

“Not yet.” Effim watches him dipping into the coin pouch. “That tax guy and his butt-weasels took everything he had and a couple of bows too.”

“Hmm, that’s no good.” Carr wonders what the boy’s father is going to do the next time the collector comes around.

Effim points to the Southwest. “He’s been out every day gathering stuff to make new ones.”

“Good.” Carr tosses the boy a silver and gold coin. “The silver’s for you.”

Effim snaps the coins from the air before they have time to reflect in the sunlight, “Thanks!”

Carr informs him. “The gold is for your father. Tell him, I would like a dozen of his finest. I should be back by the next full moon.”

Effim examines the coins as the boys gather around. “Sure I’ll tell him. How’s your shoulder? Did you get a new rope?”

A little embarrassed Carr replies, “Yeah, I did.” He waves continuing on, “See you when I get back.”

More interested in showing off to the boys Effim stops outside his round mud hut. Without looking at Carr, he waves back. “See ya, good luck. And don’t forget to bring me that tax guy’s sword.”

Chuckling lightly Carr nudges Bressi to pick up the pace. Kids can be a great source of information. I wonder which sister thinks I’m cute. I hope it’s not Doris.

He passes the home of one of the few beings he’s nervous of confronting. Sonya, a young lady he’s smitten with. Straightening up he tries to peek in the modest home. Only seeing her mother and younger brother. Carr sighs under breath thinking about Sonja’s pretty face with her long blonde hair blowing freely in the breezes.

Taking the northern road out of Ahn, he barely takes notice of the men working the fields.

Leaving the farmland for brush Bressi’s ears perk up hearing the sound of giggling girls on the road ahead. Perking up him self is hopeful one of those girls is Sonja.

Sure enough rounding the lightly wooded road, Sonja, hair tied in a ponytail, her developing body is filling out a long pale yellow dress. If only she wasn’t accompanied by her best friend Doris, a rough girl of seven to eight stone in weight. Of course tagging along Doris’ little and trying sister.

“Yoo, Hoo Carr!” Doris calls out, “Where are you off to? This time?”

Oh God, do I stop or go on? Still noticeably happy to see Sonja he responds with a smile, “Hello, ladies. It’s a nice day to bad I can’t stay and chat. But I’ve a long way to travel before dusk. By the wonderful smells from the village, I’d say your suppers, will be ready soon.”

“Oh,” Sonja smiles up at Carr, “Thanks for telling us, we were just saying how hungry we’re getting.”

“Hi, Carr.” Doris’ sister tells their dashed plan. “We were going to run off to Lahfee, to see the Minstrels.”

Doris nudges her sister to be quiet, “It’s too far to walk and I could eat a whole chicken right now.”

Carr can’t help but stare at Sonja “I’m headed there but we’d need a cart to all go. And I don’t think your parents would be very pleased about yous traveling with me.”

“Ah,” Doris likes the idea, “you’d really take us?” She tries to encourage the others, “We can take my dad’s cart. We’ll be back by morning.”

Carr informs her, “By tomorrow morn, we’d finally reach Lahfee.”

“Dad would kill all of us.” Exclaims Doris’ sister.

Sonja had figured it was too far for them, “My parents would kill me too. Maybe another year older they’d let us go.”

“Maybe.” Doris grins at Carr, “Maybe if we were escorted.”

Carr is sure that’ll never happen, “I doubt they’ll ever let you ladies travel with me,” He winks at Sonja, “but it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t mind.”

Doris is envious of the attention Sonja’s been getting lately. “Ooo, Carr wants to take you away, Sonja.” Nudging her slightly in jest, “I won’t tell your parents. Right away.”

“Funny, Doris.” Sonja’s not amused but still smiling, “Well, we best be off.” She turns to Carr, “Have a safe journey.”

“Yah, sure. You look out for each other.” Waving goodbye he and Bressi keep moving.

“I do,” Doris waves.

Her sister belts out, “Goodbye! Ratboy!” Causing the girls to continue giggling their way home.

Glancing back to watch Sonja as long as possible Carr grumbles, “Why couldn’t I have been stuck with a better nick-name than Carr? I thank you scholar for teaching me to speak right and read in different language. But to be known as a rat, in Orc and alike tongue. It’s an insult in most lands. I, I could just curse him.” As Sonja’s obscured by the trees, he sighs returning focus to the road ahead.

Ah, well. It’s like Pa said, best if no one knows your real name. He nudges Bressi to move quicker. I do like some of the stories told about me.

Recounting the stories to Bressi, the sun slowly sets, bringing them to a familiar spot to camp for the night. A small clearing surrounded by large trees and two boulders for cover.

Tying Bressi close to some edible vegetation, Carr surveys the area. Noticing his woodpile has been strewn about and several broken sticks.

The soft dirt ground is covered in small foot and boot prints. Figuring it most of been some of the village kids, out farther than they should be. The sticks were likely pretend swords.

With a small fire started and the forest dark, Carr nibbles on rations. Keeping busy he fashions two cheaply crafted wooden swords, before nodding off.

Refreshed for the new day Carr leaves the wooden swords leaning against a boulder. Easily seen by whom ever enters the area first.

Only the sparse sightings of the woodlands tamer critters help pass the day away. Except for the grey skies and having to fend off the occasional biting fly, the trek through Tau today was pleasant. Reaching the almost barren landscape of Lahfee.

Lahfee is a thriving small town of four hundred twenty three. More when the Wanders and Nomadic tribes hold up for the winter here. Settled in the seventh century by Goblins, many of their huts still exist. Two centuries later other races started settling in.

Now mainly Human and Goblin with many common beastly foe, they cleared the once surrounding woods. Erecting a simple fortified wall encircling the entire town. The land closest to the town was turned into good farmland.

In the thirty years the walls had been there no battle has been fought. It has saved them from rampaging beasts and prevented the buildings from being washed away in a mysterious flood two years ago. To Carr, this is the last chance for a warm meal before crossing the Ildihom mountain range.

Crossing a rickety wooden bridge to the south gate of Lahfee, Carr watches a few of the town’s youths, wading in the Gruns River giving spear-fishing a go. It looks more like horseplay as the boys are fooling around and take little notice of him.

Looking to the gates for today’s voluntary guards sit two over aged males, curiously checking over him. One a Goblin, very pale almost human in color. The other is a stout Human. Both look very comfortable and set in their ways. Their spears lean out of reach against the wooden wall. Sitting upon upright pieces of logs the two males share a pipe. Smoking something familiar, Carr would also enjoy but has no time for with a job at hand.

“Greetings young man.” The stout sentry is curious of the reply. “What brings you to Lahfee?” He points up, “Shelter from the storm?”

Not worried Carr doesn’t look up, “Good day Men. I hadn’t decided whether to stay the night. Just a last good meal before taking on the pass and its lurking beasties.”

Appreciating the friendly and basic information the old men seem content with Carr’s character. They barely move only to pass their pipe.

In his own mumbling tongue the Goblin feels out Carr. “A good meal here? Better to eat bugs.”

Carr doesn’t completely understand him but responds. “Might as well eat bugs, Eh?”

The stout man chokes on his smoke filled lungs surprised that Carr understood the old slurring Goblin’s speech.

Content the young human understands, the Goblin continues. “Testing you. Eat at the old tavern. The cart merchants are selling the remains of weak animals killed by others.”

Carr stops briefly beside the two men trying to figure out what the old Goblin just said.

Spitting out a glob of brownish flem the stout man clears his throat. “Eat at the…” Stopping to harshly cough a few more times, “Whew…couldn’t catch my breath.”

Carr doesn’t look surprised by his statement. “Please don’t die on me. I’d most likely get blamed because I’m not from here.”

Both males chuckle at the sad truth.

The stout one finishes what he was trying to say. “Yeah, anyway, just eat at the old tavern. At the center of town. The food’s at least edible. There is, a couple huts you could rent for the night. Unfortunately you missed the minstrels.”

“For a bunch of gangly humans. They were okay,” the Goblin feels like adding.

Thinking about Sonja and Doris, Carr mentions. “Minstrels are gone, eh? While passing through Ahn, a couple pretty, young ladies wanted me to escort them here, to hear them play.”

Curious about new females the old males lean forward. “What’s that? Pretty? Or pretty young?”

Carr replies. “Oh, year or two, younger than I.”

The old men lean back waving their hands dismissively. The Human mutters, “Old enough to breed, too much trouble.”

Agreeing the Goblin nods, “They never show their true form until popping out a few pups.”

The stout man grins at the comment. “Yeah the Minstrels left, the day the Tax collector’s party rolled through. Taken joyous times with them.”

“Hmmf,” The Goblin grumbles.

Trying not to sound too suspicious Carr inquires. “Is the tax collector headed back to Monsteil?”

The old guys see a purpose in the young rogue’s outing, glancing briefly at one another with a knowing eye. With no care for the Darvel name the Goblin leans in looking cautiously about for spies.

Speaking clearly to Carr, the Goblin informs him. “Today he should have left Vixy point back to Monsteil by the morning of the third day I think.”

His human buddy looks amazed by what he’s said.

Carr knows information like that is always worth rewarding, reaching for his coin pouch. “Is that so? Darvel is stretching his reach all the way around.”

“Yup, and I don’t want your coin.” The goblin points towards Monsteil, “I wanna live long enough to hear someone got those pale greedy, gutless windbags. Somehow, someday,” He turns to his buddy, “And I still like to hear about what happens to those who fail trying.”

The old stout man nods puffing away, motioning to Carr to keep his eyes and ears open.

Not sure what to think of them Carr politely moves on attempting to sound confident, “Well, gentlemen thank you for sharing such information. I bet you’ll get to hear one of those stories, one day. How much of it will be true? Will be your next question.”

The Human inquires, “Young sir, tell us your name. So we’ll know who to listen for.”

Carr answers in Orc a title the local kids have used, “Ratboy of the swamp clan.” He returns to speaking in Human. “But most just call me Carr.”

With raised brows the old men look at each other, and smile at the strange choice in title. The Human shrugs, figuring this will be the first and last time they will see the young male. They utter a, “Good-luck, young man.” shaking their heads at the foolish pursuits of the young.

Entering the busy, rustic town most people are preoccupied with their own lives. As mercenaries regularly pass through, Carr’s armor doesn’t stand out, badly.

Checking out the assorted races his eye is drawn to a tall, athletic, curvy woman with long bushy bluish hair.

Gazing too long gets the woman feeling watched and turns about. Stunning the young rogue seeing he’s checking out a young female Troll.

Catching Carr she winks a grey eye while waving slightly. Her bumpy, blemished, green skin doesn’t help her looks.

Repulsed but not showing it Carr returns the wave mumbling. “Nice body. I wonder if she’s attractive to other Trolls? Tall too. Too tall for me. Hope she don’t like little men.” Giving the female another look over he thinks if, he was a Troll perhaps, one who marries her wouldn’t have to worry about other males dogging around.

Making his way through the center of town ponders better titles. “Could be Prince Carr, ha hardly. Sir Carr of Boitug. Nah…the Great Swamp Rat.”

Spotting the old tavern he ties Bressi up beside several other horses. Looking at the badly sagging roof of the building, Carr decides to sit outside at a table not sheltered by the roof.

Immediately a middle-aged female Goblin greets him pleasantly, “Good evening. A drink or perhaps something to eat?”

Looking into the woman’s eyes with a smile, Carr compliments her, “Hello, if I was a little more mature I’d ask for something other than a bowl of hot stew and mug of mead.” Carr winks at her.

Liking how the young Human responds, she lightly touches his arm, “I’ve got a great venison stew your gonna enjoy.” She winks, “I’ll be back.”

“Okay.” Carr waves slightly as she leaves. Try that stuff on any Human woman they think you’re up to something, or offended. Races like Orcs, Goblins and such aren’t known for having great romantic lovers. No matter the race, women seem to have strange romantic ideas and even if your not what they want, they like to know you find them attractive in some way … Wait what about Carr the Swooner, Thief of Hearts.

The barmaid returns to see him staring blankly, “Hey, your not going to pass out on me, are ya?” She sets down a large wooden bowl of hot thick stew, “You look like you need it.” Setting the mead down retrieves a wooden spoon from her apron.

“Oh thank you,” Carr smells it and smiles at her, “This is going to hit the spot.”

She hands over the spoon, “Tell me how it is?”

Being no surprises in Goblin cooking, Carr digs out a large spoonful, and shovels it into his mouth. A bit warm but quite bland. Basic Goblin and Orc gesturing is to grunt their opinions with mouths full, if its truly good they just keep eating. Carr spits out, “Tasty.”

Content with the reply the women smiles, “Very good. Get it into ya. You could use to put on another stone.” Patting his shoulder she carries on.

Half way through the bowl Carr’s belly fills, sitting back to finish his mead a single raindrop splashes on his hand. Looking up to dark skies closing from the northeast. “Better keep moving.” He wishes to avoid heavy rain.

Reaching for some coins he asks the nearing barmaid. “Kind lady what do I owe?”

She steps right over to him, “Four silver,” noticing he’s only eaten half, “is there something wrong with the stew?”

Assuring her Carr replies. “No just too much for my little belly.” Pointing to the sky, “I’d like to keep moving before the rains start.”

Looking up she notices a lightning flash, “That doesn’t look like just a little rain. You should just hold up in town for the night.” She grins slyly, “I’ve got a hut you could rent for the night. For a young cutie like you, I’d let ya, get away with just another silver.”

Wondering about her intent, Carr responds smiling. “A single gold for a bed and be fed. An excellent deal.” He places a gold coin on the table, “Your offer is one I have to turn down.”

She inquires disappointed, “Why’s that?”

“I need to reach Monsteil in three days.” Still smiling Carr slides the coin to her, “Keep it all and remember me, I should be back in a week. I’ll be looking for another good meal and a dry bed.”

The smile returns as she quickly places the coin in a pouch, clinking with several others, “Anytime you come through, stop in and I’ll take care of you.”

“Very good then.” Carr stands bowing slightly to her, “Thank you kind woman. I’ll be certain to see you the next time through.” He leaves to untie Bressi.

“Safe journey young man.” While cleaning up she watches him leave.

Swiftly exiting Lahfee Carr easily coaxes Bressi to a gallop. Following a northern road between the fields they pass groups of farm workers. Tired and hungry they’re focused on getting home. Unthreatened by the scale, clad thief they only check Carr over. Most see him as another youth, off to put his life in peril.

After crossing a sturdier bridge over the Gruns River the sky blackens. They manage to reach the trees as the rains start.

An hour of trotting up the winding road the storm catches them, strong winds bat around the trees allowing the heavy rainfall to penetrate.

Flashes of lightning periodically illuminate the road, creating eerie, moving shadows, followed by claps of thunder.

Branches throughout can be heard creaking, cracking and crashing down, keeping Carr’s mind alert and Bressi on edge.

Becoming wet Carr talks attempting to calm Bressi and himself, “So-kay girl it’s just a lot of noise, we’ll be just fine.”

“Crack! Crack! Crack!” a large nearby branch breaks away tearing through the other trees as it goes down, startling Carr and Bressi.

“Easy girl. Easy,” Carr pulls back on the reins keeping Bressi from bolting. “We’re gonna be okay. I hope. Out here at this time of day there are so many other things to be concerned about. Wild hungry beasts, savage parties of wanderers, lurking thieves and cutthroats. Never thought I’d be taken out b...”

The surrounding area lights up briefly as a bolt of lightning shoots out, it forks, splitting an old tree they just passed. The immediate booming thunder sends Bressi racing. Before the tree splits, they’re gone.

Carr tries to stay in the saddle, bouncing about. Jerking on the reins has no affect, Bressi is taking her own course, leaving the road and tearing into the woods. Staying low he grips the saddle tight waiting for Bressi to slow or stop.

Branches, twigs and vines whip across them. With every loud crash and boom Bressi changes her direction. Carr has no idea where they are, how long she’s been running or when she’ll stop, as his eyes are closed tight praying to stay on.

After one of the longest and wildest rides, Bressi stops and slowly turns herself around. Opening the eyes Carr loosens cramping hands. Able to see his horse has found shelter, in a shallow but tall opening in a rock formation.

Sliding off the saddle he pats Bressi. “Alright I guess we can wait it out, here.” His hands and face have many scratches and nicks, but nothing that needs aid.

Bressi turns her head away shaking it.

Seeing his horse isn’t very happy he crouches by the opening watching the storm pass.

A.R.T. The Ties That Bind Chapter # 2 Complete

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