Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Forty-First Beginning (NaNoWriMo 2013) The Buddy System 02

Other folk lived in the woods. Most of those hunted or raised tusked pigs or gathered wood to sell at the inn. The family was one of two who made charcoal, which was lighter than wood and could be sold down the mountain with a hand-drawn cart. Nevvic had once made the mistake of asking if it wouldn't be better to go to the inn and sell the charcoal to a drayer who had emptied his cart there and could use a load for the way back.

Uncle's reaction had been slow, but violent. Nevvic had been cuffed, shoved, and bodily thrown from the house. There had been grunts and loud, strangled noises. Anger and contempt had been plain in the tone of them, but only a few words could be heard picked out clear from among them and not much more could be guessed at. Nevvic concluded, in the end, that Uncle was very distrustful. Or that he was uncomfortable with change. Or that he resented a mere boy, and one beholden to him for food and shelter, daring to question his ways. Or maybe something else. Or all. It had been a painful experience and Nevvic had never risked repeating it.

That event and the reactions of the rest of the family to it had put a stop to Nevvic asking nearly anything. He even stopped asking about his mother and his father . . . and hid name.

Jenko sounded good. He would consider Jenko. He scrambled on toward the inn, keeping on the shadowed side of upthrusts or scraggy bushes when he could.

Nevvic usually kept pretty quiet at the inn. He tended not to ask strangers questions until he'd seen someone else ask and that the stranger didn't mind answering. Even then, Gripper, the innkeeper, usually did most of the talking, balancing his store of news against inquiries as to the guest's purpose on the road and experience in the trip.

Inquiries about the weather and the state of the road were allowed and expected. You wouldn't get a direct answer to a direct question about prices of good that were passing through, but a general question about prices in general would get news about prices being up and down. Questions about the cost of fish or flour or salt would be answered and elaborated on, so long as that wasn't what was in the guests's bales or barrels.

Spreading news of bandits and taxes, traveling bards or wizards seemed to be an obligation. These things didn't have to be asked after. Some would talk spontaneously of fashion or of paladins and their quests or of thievery in other areas. And everyone swapped news of dragons.

Dragons were a bane on the land and every man's hand and eye and rumor was against them. All longed for a world free of them and all knew that world would be a joyous and wonderful thing. Strangers and known merchants would speak of recent predations and would compare the steps that people used to protect themselves against them and to make life with them bearable. Here in the wilds, the inn was as near to a kremlin as the area had. In case of attack, folk would come here, if they could. Gripper would expect them to bring blankets and food if they could, but he'd make room.

Nevvic had always listened raptly to tales of dragons. There was a new goddess in the land who was sending paladins against dragons. She was giving them special magic. there was a rumor that they could give ordinary men the magic to find dragons and to call her in. He wanted to learn more. He was ordinary, if anyone was.

There were no carts in the cutoff near the inn, so there were probably no merchants inside. There would be locals, though, gathering for the morning gossip. And maybe travelers. Nevvic scanned the sky, then risked cutting through open scrub to the inn.

There were horses in the staging area near the entrance of the overhang. Nevviv hurried and found that a group of four travelers were eating their breakfast and dickering with Gripper's son, Tote. Tote left to load the group's packs onto their horses, along with the food and fodder that they had just purchased.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Forty-First Beginning: The Buddy System 01 (a late beginning on NaNoWriMo)

Maybe his name was Jenko. Jenko was a good name. Solid, yet jaunty. Responsible, yet not dour. Nevvic yearned for a bit of not dour. And for a name. Uncle ruled the family and never called him anything but nevvic - nephew. Uncle approved of little, including loose talk and direct questions. Uncle would not approve of his trip to the inn, but he was so unlikely to approve of anything else Nevvic did that there was really no reason to avoid the trip.

The family lived deep in the woods, far from proper roads. Woods or not, the whole area was an odd mix of rounded hills and upthrust rocks, partway up a spine of mountains that reared up sheer cliffs a couple of days' walk further west. Having tall peaks to the west made for cool springs and falls and cold, cold winters.

The mountains sent down rills and streams in a net of wandering meanders. Salmon sometimes ran the streams and sometimes didn't. Dried salmon was a cheap staple that would keep through the winter. Uncle didn't approve of cheap so much as he despised spending any cash or trading anything away. He didn't approve of Nevvic wandering about, checking to see if any of the streams were running salmon, but the latest hive of charcoal had been sealed and was underburning away.

Nevvic's hands weren't particularly needed for marking the next trees to fell and definitely not needed for watching the hive and tamping the cloak of soil that had been heaped over it to smother the flames and cause underburning, an action near to burning, but that left charcoal instead of ash as it finished. The boy had big feet, but was weedy and had no weight to push down with.

Better to keep the task with his own sons. Better that they worked the knowledge and skill of charcoal making in through their hands and feet. Better that they develop the eye, the nose, the feel of wood making itself to charcoal underground. Better that they stay in the dense woods, away from the sight of dragons. Nevvic had been told yo stay under cover since he had come to the household as a toddler. If he didn't make use of what he'd been told, that was his own load.

If Uncle had been the sort to visit the in to lift a mug and trade talk, then it would have been risky to go there, instead of up and down across the hillface. But he wasn't. Nevvic could go to the inn and offer work for trade and if the salmon were flying, someone at the inn would tell of it.

Sometimes Nevvic traded sweeping or scrubbing or fetching water for a cup of soup and a bit of bread. Sometimes he would brush and comb a horse for a traveler, for a copper. Sometimes he would haul bales or barrels of goods into the storeroom, for the innkeeper or for a merchant. That was the hardest work, but the innkeeper would add a cup of ale to the soup and bread. If the merchant was important, or paid well, there might even be butter.

The inn was built of stone. It had started as a slab of upthrust that had split from its brothers and fallen between them. The held it up, making a tall roof on the top side of the slab and a low roof on the broken side, with plenty of overhang. That was a heavy enough hat to keep any dragon out. Over more years than was accurately remembered, the innfolk, and others, had carried stone to be worked into walls under the slab. The walls wandered a bit, having been raised at different time to different purposes.

There was a path near the inn, circling through a line of upthrusts thick enough to give decent cover. Over years it had been widened into a road, one that could span a wagon pulled by a team of horses or oxen. There was just enough traffic to keep the inn in profits. Folk came to live near the inn. Folk who fished the streams or panned it for gold, which was scarce, but which came down in flakes and grains and occasional nuggets from the high cliffs during spring floods. These folk lived in upthrusts not very near to the inn. Crowding the inn would have been endangering it.

Other folk lived in the woods. Most of those hunted or raised tusked pigs or gathered wood to sell at the inn. The family was one of two who made charcoal, which was lighter than wood and could be sold down the mountain with a hand-drawn cart. Nevvic had once made the mistake of asking if it wouldn't be better to go to the inn and sell the charcoal to a drayer who had emptied his cart there