The Tower: A Sisters Tale

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Photo credit: © Pixabay.com

 

It was the second day after the party had descended from the mountains into the desert, that they saw the line of watch and signal towers in the distance. These sentinels marked the old Ralulee frontier, but were now within “the disputed lands.” Under the terms of The Dunes’ Peace they were to be abandoned, and the party truly hoped that the sultan was keeping his side of the agreement.

As they neared the first, a five story stone structure with a signal glass on its summit, the wind began to pick up.

“A storm is coming,” Maya observed.

“But look how blue the sky is,” Wilberta countered.

“A sand storm,” Maya corrected.

“I hate those,” Seymour said absently. “You can’t breathe in them.”

Under the circumstances, not even Breena could object to Gwendolyn picking the lock of the building. Seymour, Maya, and Gwendolyn then stepped it to have a look around.  The ground floor was much more spacious than it seemed from outside. In fact, it offered more than enough room for their horses.

The stone floor was covered with a thick layer of fine sand which seemed to confirm that the structure was indeed abandoned. As the trio beckoned the others in, some small grey creatures darted across the floor.

“What are those?” Wil exclaimed.

“Scorpions,” Maya replied distastefully. “I absolutely detest scorpions. Be careful, they sting,” she said as she crushed one under her shoe. The others followed her example, and it was deemed safe to lead the horses in.

By this time the wind had really started to gust, raising large clouds of dust. Thilda closed and secured the door against the coming onslaught.

Once the animals were tended, the companions headed for the spiral staircase leaving Thilda on watch below.

On the next level they found a kitchen and messing area. A stone cook stove was on the wall opposite the landing, and a large rustic wood table with twelve stools stood in the middle of the room. The remaining wall space was lined with shelves and cupboards, most of which were empty except for a thin layer of sandy dust as fine as talc.

One cabinet, however, held a few bottles of wine and oil; and a peg beside the doorway held two goatskin bags of stale but still drinkable water. A drawer produced a few papers which Breena and Maya determined to be requisition forms and inventory lists.

The third level proved to be a barracks room. A dozen bunks and an empty weapons rack were its key features. Here and there a few discarded papers of a personal nature littered the floor. A torch logo with the Ralulee words: “Fifth Signals,” adorned one wall.

Wilberta gave each bunk a thorough search and found a small medallion of smokey quartz caught in one of the frames.

“Look at this,” she said holding it up for the others to see.

The crystal was carved into the shape of a winged female figure.  It seemed rather stylised with the feminine curves just a little too exaggerated.

“It’s cold,” Wil said. “This entire bloody country is hot, but this stone is cold.”

“Let me see,” Breena said.

She took the piece and examined it carefully. It had an odd feel to it, but as to why, the “White Ones” were silent.

She started to hand it back to Wilberta; but Wil said, “No, you keep it.”  Breena put it into her side pouch.

The company found that the fourth level was a storeroom.  It was virtually empty, though there were a couple of empty urns of lamp oil left behind.

Finally they arrived on the signal platform. It unlike the other levels was accessed via a hatch through the floor. The wind was really buffeting the tower by now, and the entire landscape beneath them has hidden by great clouds of blowing sand.

“We better get below,” Gwendolyn said.

Just then, Breena noticed a small shelf built into the base of the lamp and signal mirror. On it were two brown bound books.  She grabbed them and joined the others going downwards and pulled the hatch tight behind her.

The storm lasted for two days, and leaving was out of the question. This was really taking its toll on their provisions, especially water.

While they waited for the storm to abate Breena and Maya worked on translating the Ralulee books.  The first was a signal book.  There were clear hand drawn diagrams of mirror positions and instructions on flash durations on the right hand pages.  The corresponding meanings on the left hand pages had been blotted out with thick black ink, however.

The other book was a general instruction book for the use of the lamps, and some non-critical information about the network of towers. Then they saw it.  There was a well near the third tower to the east of them.

It would be yet another delay, but if the storm continued they would have no other choice.

Padre


Friday Flash Fiction picture prompt above

This post is out of sequence in the series, but is written now as this was the perfect prompt to inspire it.

 

 

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Rude Awakening

 

SPF 10-14-18Joy Pixley 3

Photo Credit:: Joy Pixley

 

Stubby Greene was a wagon man. Most all the folks who had ever seen him at work reckoned that there weren’t nothing with wheels he couldn’t drive. When it came to saddles, however, Stubby took to those like a cat takes to water.

The flow of events conspired to put him on a horse however. Buck had rid off to have some words with the Indians, and then Mason had an unfortunate meeting with a prairie dog hole, leaving him with swelled ankle.

Boss decided that all that could be done was for Stubby and Mason to switch chores for a few days while Mason mended, or till Buck showed.

So there it was, Stubby would use Mason’s horse, Rascal, and do the scouting and out riding. Rascal was not only the orneriest, bad tempered critter Greene had ever met, but was also hand or two too big for the little man.

Stubby found shadowing the train a mite easier than he thought, and that it drowsy-making work.  He more than once drifted off in the saddle. But Rascal ever mindful of duty, and the need for vigilance took matters into hand, waked him up by a toss into cactus-bed.

(200 words)

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Sunday Photo Fiction

The Crossing: A Sisters Tale

Image result for horse powered ferry boat

image: National Geographic

The party easily found the small wooden bridge the sergeant had mentioned. It was in fairly good repair, though many of the timbers were green with moss. In fact, the growth was in several places on the span as well, giving the clear indication that it was seldom used.  It had an eerie feel to it, and it was just wide enough for the party to cross two abreast.

“I’m glad I have my Troll ring,” Seymour said stopping to look over the railing at the shadows below. “Really don’t need to lose any more time with a fight.”

The women gave him kind smiles, and a couple nodded as if in agreement.  Even Wil fought the temptation to snicker, as she was starting to get the hang of just going along with his asides.

The far side of the expanse was more heavily wooded, but as they were still within the kingdom they were not overly concerned with security in daylight hours.  At night the resumed the practice of camping well off the road, however, and night watches became part of the routine.

It was largely quiet with the usual woodland sounds; the creaking of trees in the breeze, and the song and flutter of birds. The caw of the occasional crow stood out, and by in large the main sound was their own conversation and the hoof beats of their mounts.

On the third day the underbrush began to be less dense, and it was clear this part of the wood was maintained by a Woodward. Then the trees too became more spaced and charcoal burning mounds began to fill the gaps.  They emerged from the forest into a meadow land, where a small village, of no more than a dozen cottages and a tavern stood by the roadway.

It was evident by the lack of any agriculture that the residents made their living as charcoal burners.  The way-side inn was a testimony to this as well, as it bore the name, “The Embers.” Not wanting any further delay, however, the company hurried past the settlement towards the river crossing before them.

*          *           *

The recent rains had made the river level higher than usual, and the bank was still being licked by the current. The ferry could be seen on the far side of the flow, so they waved the flag which had been placed on their bank to summon the ferrymen.

The ferry itself was larger than they had imagined.  It was long and flat with railings along its sides, and rope barriers on its ends which provided some safely during crossings. At mid-ship there was a paddle wheel on either side powered by a horse on a treadmill. It was a relief to see that the entire party could pass in a single crossing, avoiding the loss of time or the possibility of becoming divided.

The signage written in both the common tongue and Ralulee, indicated that it would cost them two coppers each, and a half silver for each animal.

“I’m just glad we don’t have a wagon,” Thilda said to Gwendolyn. “Ten silvers is extortionate. Eight silver and twelve coppers is bad enough.”

Gwendolyn shook her head in agreement, and took the coins from her main purse and placed them in a small bag on her belt, along with a few extra coppers. She then put her the cash bag back behind her cloak.

When the ferry arrived on their side, the rope gate was opened and the party boarded. Then Gwendolyn made a big show of counting out the fare. She then stood with six coppers in her hand, and said to Wil, “Sorry darling, looks like we will only have bread and broth when we get to League Town.”

The ferrymen seemed suddenly disinterested in their passengers from that point onwards, and got on with the task of the river crossing.

Once on the other side, the companions breathed a sigh of relief, and headed on their way to tavern.

Padre

 

=================

Fandango’s Prompt: Temptation

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Cottage

 

Some Reflections on Walls

Deal Gun 3

Robert Frost wrote that, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  While this may be a poetic truism, it still begs the question on whether these structures are positive. Most all of us have “walls” both figurative and physical.  Our houses have them, usually our yards and gardens are partitioned by them.

But what about nations?  The Oracle at Delphi had indicated that Athens would be preserved by a wall of wood.  And true enough the Battle of Salamis proved that “the wall” of the Greek fleet was enough to forestall a Persian invasion.  That same wall, however, was not capable of stopping the Spartans seventy-some years later. Nor did the massive undertaking of China’s “Great Wall,” stop the invasion of the Mongols.

In more recent times we can reflect that Berlin’s wall, had a less than complete success at keeping the subjugated people in; and the DMZ of Korea is only effective because corresponding troop build-ups on each side of the border.  It does not provide “protection” in and of itself. Even Israel’s so-called “security wall” is riddled with breaches and tunnels.

I am not going to make a political statement here on the idea of national sovereignty, and the right of nations to secure their borders.  That is not my concern.  I penned the previous paragraphs more philosophically as to the advisability of such structures (in any country).

There is a fundamental moral question here too. Is it right for humans to place barriers between themselves and others? This is not focusing on the aforementioned walls, but in our stand-offishness  with others. I began this post with a quote from a poet, so I will close with one as well.  John Donne wrote that “No man is an island.” As humans we need each other.  Isolation (whether inflicted, or self-imposed) brings loneliness, and potentially depression.  Real joy is in sharing.  There is a spiritual truth in that. As the Hebrews writer said, “Let brotherly love continue (Heb 13:1).”

Padre

Confrontation and Delays: A Sisters Tale

 

The first couple of days were not much of an adventure. The skies remained overcast, and traffic on the road quickly diminished as they moved further from the capital. Despite this the company decided that it would be prudent to camp each night off the road in a small valley or wood.

Day three brought about two changes. The first was that the clouds began to break. The second was less fortuitous. The road had become channelled between two tributaries of the Great Runnel, essentially funnelling them between two marshes.  This left the party with limited options for where to stay. In the end they opted to stop in a small copse at the roadside, and to set a strict watch during the night.

*         *         *

Seymour took the last watch, as was his custom. As the day began to break he crawled into his tent for a brief nap as the “sisters” prepared breakfast. Wilberta and Maya were just getting the fire started when they heard an unfamiliar male voice.

“Ello, and what do we ave ere?”

The women looked up with a start, to see eight soldiers wearing the rose and crossed pickax badge of The King’s Sappers.

“What are such pretty liddle things doing way out here?” a second soldier sneered.

Just then Seymour bust from his tent. “What are you doing with my sisters?” he bellowed.

The first soldier quickly did a double take of Seymour and of the diverse features of the women. “Sisters?” he said mockingly. “Look ere mate, there’s ten of us all together, and as I sees it only one of . . . .”

Seymour reached back and gripped the handle of one of his axes just as an older soldier came up from the road with both hands up in a calming gesture.

“Whoa! You have no quarrel here, ‘Two-Axe’,” he said stepping in front of the other men. “Lads, you don’t know it, but this is De Klod, hero of the Battle of High Dune.”

At that the mouthy soldier turned pale and took a sudden step backwards.  At the same time, Thilda lessened the tension on her bowstring as she stood at the mouth of her tent.

“You’re De Klod?” a fresh-faced soldier queried. “Is it true you killed four war elephants, all by yourself?”

“I heard it was five,” another piped in.

“The damned long nosed beasts were stomping the lads, I had to do something,” Seymour said without a hint of sarcasm or conceit.

The younger soldiers just looked on with astonished respect.

elephant

source: ancient-origins.net

The sergeant asked, “Do you still have the gift the king had made for you?”

Seymour reached back and drew one of his axes. It had a beautifully inlaid ivory handle, and bore the royal crest of Hector and an inscription which read: “Sergeant S. de Klod – For Valour – High Dunes.”

“Wow,” said several soldiers.

“Wonderful,” rejoined yet another.

“It really is,” agreed Seymour ignoring the haft completely, and ran his finger along the blade. “It really holds an edge,” he said, again with no trace of intended irony.

 

               *           *           *

By this time, all of the “sisters” had emerged. They stood listening as intently as the young soldiers did.

“What brings you this way, Two-Axe?” the sergeant finally asked.

Gwendolyn quickly answered, “We are on our way to League Town.”

“Not easily,” the sergeant said. “The Runnel Bridge has had a collapse in the last storm. That’s why me and the lads are heading this way. To do some repairs.”

Gwendolyn turned to Thilda and said, “Aunt Mildred is going to be so upset that we can’t make it.”

Thilda picked up the cue and feigned disappointment.

“Actually,” said the sergeant, “if you cross the wooden bridge over the little river on the left, it will take you to the Ferry Road.  You can cross the Runnel that way. It will take you an extra day, mind, but it will get you there.”

All of the women thanked him for the information, as Seymour looked on bemused.

The soldiers departed as the party breakfasted.

About ten minutes later, Seymour blurted out, “We have an Aunt Mildred?”

Padre

==============

Sue Vincent’s Photo Prompt: Clouds, The prompt photo inspired the idea of the copse.

Fandango’s Prompt: Adventure

The Sisters Tales are presented in the correct order on the “Themed Fiction” page of my blog. This segment follows – Preparations and Departure: A Sisters Tale

Awash in Stillness

Stillness, Howe Sound, Porteau Cove Provincial Park, Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia, Canada

Awash in Stillness

 

I have seen the sea in many a guise –

Her raging troughs deep and towering crests high –

And as a paper-smooth sheet without ripple or rise –

In which stillness reigns.

 

I have seen the sky in all its glory –

Bright blue, filled with fluttering birds in flight –

But also clothed in fog and mist –

Closing in, mimicking the stillness of the night.

 

I have seen the island stand alone –

Sentinel amid the wash- 

In defiance of both wind and wave –

Unmoved in its silent stillness.

Padre

 

 


PIC AND A WORD CHALLENGE #167: Stillness

Quick Seafood Soup

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Seafood Soup

We have been on holiday in Cornwall over the Christmas break. As one never knows what the availability and quality of food might be in an area, especially when self-catering, and over a holiday, I brought my trusty soup maker with me.

While I did make my standard Broccoli and Cheese soup, I also had the opportunity to make a seafood soup as well, as a kind of treat.  This is a simple recipe, which goes a long way in feeling indulgent even though it is basic.

Ingredients:

  • Salmon Filet 150 g
  • Smoked Haddock 150 g
  • Carrots 4
  • Double Cream 150 ml
  • Vegetable or Fish Stock Cubes 2
  • Water 1.25 litres
  • Ground Black Pepper to taste

Method:

Scrape and dice the carrots and add them to a soup maker or large pot. Add the water and bring to a low boil (in soup maker run though one cycle). After about 30 minutes puree the carrots in the water to make a thin stock. Cube the fish portions and add them to the pot (soup maker) along with the stock cubes. Cook for one more cycle or 20 minutes, and then remove from heat.  Stir in the cream and season with pepper.

Padre

Preparations and Departure: A Sisters Tale

 

220px-Pawnbroker's_sign,_Camden_High_Street,_London

source: Wikipedia

The expedition would be costly. There was no doubt of that. While there was some silver left after the robbery of the laundry, it would not be enough. Gwendolyn, however, was able to secure a sufficient loan from Bertram at only 250% interest, half his usual fee. “Well, allowances need to be made for family,” he had hissed as he had her sign his book.

Bertram had also secured a few “particular” items for Maya and Breena. Each piece was expertly (if a little skeptically) checked by the respective “sister” upon delivery.

Breena’s absence from the infirmary was another concern. She arranged to put its day to day operation into the hands of her senior attendant, a corpulent woman of about sixty; and Gwendolyn had negotiated for two medical students, who were regular patrons of the wash house, to take turns at Breena’s between their lessons at the university (with the proviso that they receive a year’s free laundry).

Thilda and Seymour were sent to acquire the horses and mules. These were inspected by Thilda, and were secured at a very reasonable price. It seems that the looming presence of Seymour had aided in negotiating “discounts” from the liverymen.

Seymour seemed to have a fair amount of coin of his own, and Thilda convinced him to part with a little of it to have his armour repaired before their departure.  “It will be so much more comfortable without all those nasty dents,” she assured him, giving her most tender smile. “I know a place where it will be back to you in no time,” she added.  No one seemed to notice that this gave her an additional chance to see the tall pale figure who worked there. Better still Seymour not only provided the excuse to visit, but was paying for it as well.

The laundry itself would be left in the capable hands of Thyme and Mildred. They too lent a hand in the preparations, helping to check deliveries and packing things in more useful-sized packages.

At last departure eve arrived. Seymour led the animals to the Alleys, and careful packing of the saddle bags and mules was completed by dinner time. Seymour then returned to the livery-yard where he would keep watch. The sisters all would stay at the laundry for the night, and join Seymour near the farriers’.

 *       *       *

It was not the most auspicious of send offs, as it was a grey drizzly morning. The companions had planned on bundling themselves a bit anyway in order to hide that they were armed. So in one sense it made them even less conspicuous as others were wrapped in cloaks and blankets as well.

They arrived at the livery gate and found that the horses were already saddled and waiting. “Hello, little sisters,” Seymour greeted with his usual affectionate sincerity.

“Good morning, Seymour,” they rejoined in chorus.

“It looks like a lovely day to travel,” Seymour said, without the slightest sense of irony.

The sisters nodded, looking at the dismal sky, and Wil rolled her eyes, the meaning of which was lost on Seymour.

They mounted and began to make their way to Southgate, where they gave smiles, and a polite nod to the two “Rosemen” stationed there, as they exited.

Green meadows and freshly harvested fields lined their path as they began their journey southeastwards.

Image result for dirt road through fields

source: Zazzle

Padre


 

Ragtag Daily Prompt Corpulent

Detrimental

images (5)

image: Telegraph co.uk

Detrimental

 

New routes home –

Going abroad alone –

And practice of talking to strangers

They tell us are things detrimental

 

Juicy red meat –

Fried foods that we eat –

And the amount we drink

Too are things – detrimental

 

But to see only the same street –

Never a new person to meet –

Bland diets with no treats –

Is this to real life, not detrimental?

 

Padre

 

Thank you Fandango for the excellent prompt: Detrimental

 

Introductions and Deliberations

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Maya and Gwenldolyn led Wilberta through the Alleys until they emerged on the Back Lane. This time there was no need to wait in the queue, and the trio was ushered into a small grubby office where Breena was sorting some papers.

“Hello again Gwendolyn, and you must be the “Green One,” Breena said nodding to Maya.

“I have been called that on occasion,” said Maya “though it is more about my choice in sarees than for anything mystical. How are you ‘Bright One?'”

They both smiled, and Gwendolyn felt she was on the outside of an inside joke.

“And this is . . .” Breena began.

“Wilberta,” Wil interjected.

” . . . the wiry house breaker,” Breena continued. “You are welcome, as well.”

Wilberta felt suddenly naked before Breena, and after the experience of being caught by Maya earlier in the day she began to wonder what she had gotten herself into.

“Can we trust her?” Gwendolyn asked.

“Definitely. She is like you and Thilda: troubled, and trying to survive, but her heart is good,” Breena replied.

“Good, that is what I hoped,” Gwendolyn rejoined. “I am good at what I do – locks and such, but I am no climber.”

“Wil, we need a “specialist,” if you know what I mean. It’s not technically thieving, more of an adventuring into some pretty dodgy places. Would you like a job?”

Wilberta stood with her mouth aghast, not quite taking it all in. “Arh, I . . . um, can you say it again?”

“We are going beyond the frontier to the borderlands. There is a treasure there and we aim to take it. We have a couple of fighters, a healer, and an Enchantress, we need another ‘thief.’ Are you in?” Gwendolyn explained.

“I think so. How dangerous will it be?” Wil questioned.

“I cannot lie to you,” Breena said. “It will be perilous, but if we survive great things can come of it.”

Wilberta stood deep in contemplation and then nodded. “Okay, I’m with you.”

*          *         *

 

Thilda was sitting at her work desk binding the fletching to an arrow, when the others arrived back at the laundry. Now there were five of them. “Five ‘sisters,'” Gwendolyn thought to herself. “This was looking good, especially with Seymour along as well.”

Thilda greeted Maya and Breena, and then looked puzzled at the newcomer.

“Who’s this?”

“Thilda this is Wilberta, she is our new ‘light touch,'” Gwendolyn explained. “Wil, this is Thilda.

Thilda shot a glance at Breena, who smiled and nodded approvingly towards Wilberta.

Thilda taking the cue, stood and shook her hand, “Welcome.”

*        *        *

Thilda slid her stool back from the bench and removed two floorboards. There was a chest with two new locks on it. She took a key from her neck, and Gwendolyn produced another from her coin purse. She then pulled a folded vellum sheet from the box and spread it out on the table top.

It was the first time all of the sisters had seen the map. Thilda and Gwendolyn had of course, and Maya and Breena seemed to “know” more about it than seemed natural. But for Wilberta it was her first real knowledge of it.

There it was, neatly written in the common tongue with Ralulee characters in brackets in a different hand under each caption. In the corner was the royal seal of Razuli which looked authentic enough. All seemed in order.

The women circled the table and examined it more closely. Breena pointed to a side of the map. “We are here in the Northwest. We will need to cross the Great Runnel here, and enter the disputed lands.”

“Then if we keep to the west, we can enter the mountains via the Long Pass,” Gwendolyn said.

“Are you sure of that?” Thilda challenged. There is a lot of traffic in the pass, and we really don’t need any more attention drawn to us than is necessary. After all we will be five women travelling in the Borderlands.”

“Yes, but Seymour will be with us too, . . . but I take your point.” Gwendolyn conceded.

“When I was travelling with the circus,” Wil chimed in, “we went through the foothills here. They are fairly easy to travel, and there is a small “Runnel League” town at the base of the peaks which has a tavern as well.

“In that case we should cross at the ferry, here, instead of the bridge,” Thilda said.

“Good idea,” Gwendolyn and Maya said almost in unison.

“We will then enter the mountains above the Runnelman town, and it will also give us less time in the desert on the other side,” Gwendolyn observed.

“So all together about three weeks in each direction, though it might take a little longer on the return,”  Maya concluded.

“It looks like a plan, then,” Gwendolyn said, and they all nodded in assent.

“What are we going to tell Seymour we are doing?” Thilda asked.

“Good question,” Gwendolyn said musing.

“May I suggest that you tell him the truth,” Breena intervened. “He isn’t as dense as you think.”

“Have you met him?” Thilda asked, chuckling.

“No I think we should, or at least a version of it,” Gwendolyn conceded. “Let’s tell him we need to collect some lost things, that some bad people have taken.”

“I think that will do,” Breena agreed.

“Next, what will we need?” Gwendolyn asked.

“Six good horses, and two pack mules – a wagon will be useless in the mountains,” Thilda observed.

“Good, let’s start with that,” Gwendolyn said. “Maya and Breena, you two make a list of any “special items” you need and I will see if Bertram can source them. Wil, you and I will get the standard stuff, like the bread you kept me from ordering earlier,” she said giving the girl a wink. “Now ladies, let’s have a drink.”

Padre


This is a Sisters Tale, and it follows Chance Meetings A full index of the Tales can be found on Themed Fictions.

Haunted Wordsmith’s 3TC: Return, Queue, Drink