Wow, almost did not make it :O
I blame my preoccupation with a picture book I am working on that is due in little over one weeks time - I Don't Want to Eat My Dinner it is called, a sample for you below.
On posting this, I am painfully aware of missing details, of things not quite fleshed out, but such is the state of first drafts, so read on knowing that if this gets to a more polished stage it will be fuller, fitter, finer.
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
Chapter 9 PART 3
The Sulk & Through
* * * * *
The tenth day of his travels and Economous was on the road again. Elated, he whistled softly to himself as he sat in the now moving lentum cabin, Miss Swift once again opposite and once again ignoring him. Two new somebodies sat beside each of them – some large lady in a thick shawl and coddling a covered basket, and a gentleman in sleek blue soutaine – either whom Economous took little time to observe: just to be moving on again was all his interest. The smudgy threat of the Ichormeer glimpsed once more from the hilltop road out of Poonemünd was enough to arrest his attention and he stared at it until the road dropped once more to the unending flatness of the Sulk plain and the dread mire was lost to sight.
“And what calls you out to Undermeers, my good friend,” the well-dressed gentleman said suddenly, addressing Economous directly in an accent somewhere between Gott and Bosch, with a strange Tutin ring to it too.
Though surrounded by people after so long in the strange near-solitude of this journey – this great crossing – Economous almost did not answer the forward fellow. “I have services to render to a great lady of the region,” he said, telling more than he cared to in his haste to make amends for his slowness to answer.
The well-dressed gentleman looked at him and nodded slowly. “Well for you, sir, well for you.”
“What of thee, dear girl?” the shawl-draped lady enquired with beady fascination of Miss Swift. “What brings thee hither to such out-away places?”
Tip of her fan touching her chin then fluttering with abrupt modulation, her falseman’s eyes hid again in the shade of a tricorn brim, the young woman also took a moment to respond.
“My answer is much the same, madam,” she said bluntly and turned her gaze to the view without to bring any further enquiry to an end, casting Economous a brief and subtly perplexed glance as she did.
“A great lady too, is it?” the be-shawled traveller pressed.
Miss Swift’s fan shut and tipped to the left, before snapping open and fluttering angrily – was the only word Economous could give the motion – again. “Indeed, madam” she said with careful politeness. “And I do not wish to say more on it.”
To this the portly woman smiled a peculiar, almost indulgent smile and inquired no more.
Economous did not know what to make of it all, but he was certain the two newcomers passed knowing looks.
* * * * *
The lack of proper way-posts, coach-hosts or any such thing to change teams forced the lenterman to halt often to rest his horses along this stretch named the Lang Plat. Though these were only the briefest pauses possible to serve the contrary demands of both speed and equine wind, it was not until very late in the day that they achieved the intersection of the Lang Plat and the Conduit Limus – the Ichor Road it was commonly called, its southern arm running audaciously – and largely unused – through the threats and horrors of the Ichormeer. A long earthen dyke ran upon the western flank of the Ichor Road, reaching north and south as far as could be seen. Economous had some recollection of receiving instruction at the athy of a battle being fought here during the early days of the Sulk’s full founding, though between whom and over what he could not now bring to mind.
For the meeting of two reputedly major highroads, the crossing was strangely empty of settlement and traffic – no imperial bastion to watch and tax, nor even an eeker’s cottage to make advantage of the congruence. Leaning out and looking ahead – quite painful to achieve – the young fabulist beheld in the westering light the battlements of some fashion of fortress showing clear above the rises some miles further ahead.
With scarce a pause in caution of contrary traffic, the lentum crossed the Ichor Road and pressed on.
Yawning and stretching in his seat to clear the travel-drowse, Economous heard the lenterman shout the six horse team to greater exertions despite their weariness and to the young fabulist there seemed a note of fear in the harshness of the bluff man’s cries. Though the sensation was surely just the weariness of the road, but he almost dared to admit to himself that there was something unfriendly in the air without, something – dare he admit – threwdish about the entire darkling vista. Now that he was ken of it, the threwdishness pressed upon his wind and he found himself nodding in hearty accord with the driver’s hoarse infrequent barks. Surly they were about to be beset by some slobbering horror!
Why does the lenterman not drive us faster? he fretted, peering through the lattice at the darkening hurrying world without. Is he dumb to our danger?
Over a final rise and the bastion loomed, jutting from the acute slope cut into a hillside and running long and narrow along the flank of the road. Spangled by myriad windows, its west-facing battlements lit deep orange in the sun’s last light. With a loud “Heyah!” from the driver and a disconcerted bellow of horses and the lentum lurched, shaking its passengers sharply. Miss Swift was almost knock from her seat but for the quick steadying hand of Economous’ on her shoulder. Tossed about smartly, the four travellers clung to whatever hold they could. Rocking and leaping the carriage closed the final fathoms to the bastion gates at a sprint, making the foreyard with a clash and boom of a gate closed abruptly behind them.
“Thank you, Mister Musgrove,” Miss Swift said as she coolly but firmly pushed Economous’ hand from her shoulder with the guardstick of her closed fan.
The cabin door burst open and the back-stepper was there, ready to hand the ladies alight, his face flushed, his eyes gleaming with glee the lantern glow of the yard. “Did ye see the basket?” he exclaimed up to the driver and the sidearmsman even as he opened the cabin door and handed the ladies first from the lentum.
“Nay, di’n’t catch a hook of it,” cried the sidearmsman. “But [NAME] thought he did and got us to th’ gate with all breath behind him,” he declared with tip of his head and a smirk to the driver beside him, clapping the pale and shaking fellow upon the back. “You getting the ghasts, me hearty?”
The lentum driver shrugged. “Better sure than sorry,” he muttered.
“A nicker was after us?” Economous asked as he clambered out, looking back to the closed gate that had made good their escape, then up to the wall tops where musketeers in Imperial mottle stood peering into the deepening gloom.
“I say it was, aye,” the lenterman replied sourly. “Just rose up outta the stubble and sprang at us. I thought I was done, but got us away. Where’s yer eyes at, [NAME]?”
“In me dial, as per usual,” the sidearms man grinned. “But I reckon yours are poppin’ out at any lurching fancy.”
The driver said nothing to thus but spitting a curse, stowed his whip and dropped stiffly from his high seat to the still hard earth.
A single musket shot hissed and popped into the silence from the battlements above, drawing gasps from the new arrivals. Passengers, lenters and yardfolk alike looked to the heights of the fortalice.
“Can ye see it?” came a gruff call from the yard.
“Nothing, bell-sergeant,” was the reply from pediteers watching from the wall-tops. “It has surly scunnered … if it was there.”
Looking to Economous then the rather paler sidearmsman, the lenterman adjusted his copstan to a jaunty angle. “Got the ghasts have I?” he uttered, then turned and went to help unharness the horse team.
“Aye.” The sidearmsman looked uncomfortably at Economous. “What ye gawpin’ at, townie!” he snarled and turned his back to clamber off his high seat on the lentum too.
But all Economous cared for was how close he had just come to dire monstrous encounter.
“Withdraw inside the coaching house, if you please, goodly peoples,” demanded a tired looking man of middling years resplendent despite obvious weariness in military harness of rouge, luec and or – red, white and gold.
Economous training at the athenaeum had been martial enough that he recognised the pediteer as a sergeant-at-arms of His Most Serene Emperor’s service. Compliantly, the fabulist turned his attention to his luggage being heft from the lentum roof, as he fellow three passengers retired with the elevated wind of those who have just scraped with danger.
* * * * *