Fiction Tuesday – The Old Guard

After the shadow’s proclamation Walter held his hands up and motioned for silence from the other companions. “Let’s not discuss this here, we’ve probably already said too much in the open. Let’s get on the road, and then we can ‘chat.’” He glanced up at the nearby evertorch and added, “Ok with you?” Ama and Jeremy muttered an affirmation, the evertorch flickered slightly.

The trio led the horses from the stables and finished their preparations for departure out under the sunlight. By this time the Sun had already begun it’s descent to the horizon and Jeremy was wondering where they would spend the night. He was glad to be leaving the tunnel gateway, which he thought was far too unfriendly, but wasn’t looking forward to traveling after dark. Ama, who seemed to be musing along the same lines as Jeremy, finally asked, “Surely you’re not planning on getting all the way to Meadow Run today, are you Walter?”

“No, Meddle, just to the junction. I figure we can easily make it there before Sunset and stay at the traveler’s lodge there.” When Ama cocked an eyebrow at Walter’s plan he replied, “I know it ain’t the best place to stay, but it’s on the way and it’s keeping with my traveling persona.”

“I understand, Walter. It’s a good thing I’ve brought the materials to purge the mattresses of bed bugs.”

“And for that, old friend, I am in your debt.”

Walter completed a last circuit around the horses, checking to see all his wares were in place. With that completed he motioned Jeremy forward. “Let’s be off, lad.”

As the friends reached the boundaries of the small settlement the guard who had assisted them earlier came jogging up to the group. To Jeremy’s surprise he approached Walter and saluted, which Walter grudgingly acknowledged with his own.

“Sir, I’m glad I caught you. I wanted to let you know I have messaged all the posts ahead of you and shared your identity. No one should bother you on your way to The Ravine. I wish I could do more for you sir, as well as the other travelers who are being mistreated.”

“I thank you for your efforts… Michael, was it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. Well, as it turns out we are not heading directly to The Ravine. The good healer here,” Walter held a hand toward Ama, “Needs to consult with a colleague in Meadow Run before we complete our journey.”

A grimace crossed the guard’s face. “Sir, I’m sorry to say if you travel toward Meadow Run you will almost certainly have problems.”

“I thought you messaged the posts ahead of us.”

Michael nodded. “I did, sir, but Meadow Run is off The Boulevard. The guards who patrol First Run don’t recognize the authority of my messages. And Meadow Run itself is… problematic.”

It was Ama who responded first. “How so, Michael? I’ve been in steady contact with my friend and he’s not identified any problems to me.”

Michael coughed and shrugged apologetically. “I mean no disrespect, Healer, but your friend would be Talum?”

“Talum is my friend, yes.”

“Well, as I say I mean no disrespect, but would Talum notice subtle troubles?” Ama squared her shoulders slightly. Sensing danger Michael quickly added, “Healer Talum is an excellent physican, Healer. He’s patched me up on more than one occasion when business took me to Meadow Run. I’m grateful to him and honor him as I do all healers. But he is… distracted.”

Walter chuckled, causing Ama to launch a look of warning in his direction. When he finally quieted she spoke, “Yes. I’ll admit Talum tends to get lost in his work, but surely he’d notice strange goings on in the town. He’s not blind, after all.”

“No, Healer, he certainly is not. But that’s the thing. There hasn’t been any strange goings on in the town. Senator Merkot of Meadow Run has been quietly stoking a great deal of anti outer-settlement sentiment in the Senate.”

“Merkot! I should have known that weasel was involved in this mess.”

Michael looked over his shoulder in alarm, but then turned to Walter and nodded slightly, “Yes sir. He’s got all traffic from the Outer Settlements blocked several miles outside Meadow Run.” He pointed to Ama, “Even Healer Ama may be barred from entry.”

“That’s insane. Three fourths of the materials Meadow Run needs to exist are brought in through the tunnel. How do they think they’ll survive?”

“Senator Merkot has a trading post set up at the stoppage point. Traders from Meadow Run come out to it to purchase goods.”

“I’ll be the price isn’t very good, either. Is it?”

“No sir. The Traders pay very little to the Outer Settlement merchants, and then take the goods on into town and beyond to Riverside.”

“What possible reason could he have that pushed that idiocy through the Senate?”

“It wasn’t, sir. Senator Merkot had labeled it a ‘commerce experiment.’ He says he’s trying to speed up trade and make the merchants of the Outer Settlements travel so far.”

“And the folks in Meadow Run are ok with this?”

“Most don’t notice, sir. The goods are still on the shelves and the streets aren’t as crowded. Some of the shopkeepers are a bit upset, they’re paying a tad more for products they used to get directly off of trader’s carts.”

“Merkot is making a mint off of this arrangement, or I’ll swallow the rind. It’s about time someone put him in his place.”

Ama cut in, “Michael, when did this start?”

“The road block went up five days ago, Healer, but the have been warning signs of this being set up for several weeks. Why?”

At Michael’s words, Jeremy’s eyes widened and he searched for Ama’s gaze. She too understood the timing, Jeremy had appeared to Walter five days before. He was about to speak to this when she shook her head slightly. She then turned to Michael and asked, “What happened five days ago that caused the check point to be set up?”

“I wish I knew. The directive came down saying all travelers from the Outer Settlements were to be considered suspect, unless proven otherwise. That day traders who’d been on the way to Meadow Run started coming back complaining they’d been barred from the town and cheated on prices. Right about then is when a whole new bunch of guards showed up throwing their weight around.”

“Michael, please hear me. It is imperative that I get to Meadow Run and speak with Talum. Can you think of any way we will be allowed to enter the town?”

The old guard didn’t hesitate. “I can think of one, Healer. I will come with you.”

One thought

Comments are closed.