Benor awoke with the dawn. He crawled out from under the hedge and looked about him. There was a stream nearby and enough dry wood for a fire. He’d walked late into the night, initially because it was fine, the going was good and he was enjoying being out of the city. Then when he realised how late it must be, he just kept going to find somewhere to sleep. He got the fire going and arranged a can on it to boil water. Then he washed himself in the stream. When the water was hot he transferred it to his mug and put some more back on the fire to boil. He took a mirror out of his bag and propped it on a branch, then with a razor and his mug full of water he started to shave. Whilst he realised he wasn’t going to cut a fine figure when he arrived to meet Grayer Thirsk he could at least be clean shaven.
After he’d breakfasted on the last of his bread and cheese washed down with coffee he contemplated his map. He estimated that thanks to following the path last night he was barely ten miles from Tarrant. He should make it by noon.
The road took him up a low hill and he stopped at the top to look out and try and get his bearings. In the distance there was a smudge of smoke in the distance which could be Tarrant. However perhaps five miles away there was an isolated tower. With the eye of a cartographer Benor noted how it stood where the road and river came close together. It would be difficult to slip past if the owner of the tower wanted to keep an eye on the road. He made his way down to the road and trudged along it. After perhaps an hour the road climbed a little and from the top he could see a toll gate near the tower. A couple of banners were flying by the gate and there might be people about but it was too far away to be sure.
Toll gates in an area like this could be a dubious proposition. Sometimes they could be long established and the toll reasonable. Sometimes the men collecting it could be little more than brigands who’d happily rob a traveller and dump the body if they could be sure there were no witnesses. He decided he’d wait for company before attempting this particular gate.
On the strength of this decision he felt that he might as well rest for a while. So he sat and sipped water from his bottle for want of anything better. He watched the road in both directions and finally saw a horse-drawn wagon coming up behind him. He watched it as it caught up with him at a little better than walking pace. The painted board on the front announced “Heiron Selanade, Purveyor of traditional remedies and medicines.”
As the wagon caught up with him Benor stood up and saluted the driver. This individual, thin faced, with long silver hair and a fine moustache, halted his conveyance.
Benor gestured down the road. “There is a toll gate and in some areas they’re best approached in company.”
“And your name good sir?”
”I am Benor Dorfinngil.” He was about to add, ‘Cartographer’ but remembered the need for discretion so instead said, “A wandering savant.”
His questioner stood up, revealing himself to be a tall, angular individual; and bowed. “Heiron Selanade at your service kind sir. Would you care to ride with me for a while? I agree with your cogent analysis of the situation.”
Benor climbed up onto the seat next to him. Heiron asked, “How far are you going?”
“I’m supposed to meet somebody at Tarrant.”
“I’ll be going further so at the very least I can drop you off. Now let us see what entertainment this toll gate has to offer.”
As they travelled on the tower came to dominate the landscape. Looking at it Benor suspected it was of considerable age and had been added to over the years. Now it was surrounded by what he took to be farm buildings and a even several cottages. There was a pen of orids and men working with them but they spared the wagon barely a glance. When they finally approached the gate Benor could see there were four men waiting there. As they drew closer three of them looked to be burly ruffians carrying staves but wearing swords. They appeared to be there to provide muscle whilst the fourth, seated next to a table, plump and with his hair oiled, appeared to be a clerk. Heiron reined in the horses at the gate.
The clerk gestured to the ruffians to open the gate and then stood up and walked towards the wagon.
“This toll gate is authorised by Lord Addlestrune of Tarrant who holds the right to dispense high, middle and low justice. A wagon this size with two passengers will be five vintenars.”
Dramatically Heiron clutched at his chest. “Quick young Benor, pass me the bottle by your feet.”
Benor passed him the bottle, uncorking it as he did so and Heiron took a long drink from it. Finally he passed the bottle back to Benor. He turned to the clerk, “You ought to be more careful good sir, frightening a chap with demands like that. Had it not been for Selanade’s Elixir, it could have been the end of me with my weak heart.”
Benor noticed that the ruffians, who had been looking bored, were now watching with interest. It was obvious they appreciated street theatre even if the clerk watched the performance with a dour expression.
Benor asked, “Lord Addlestrune, I don’t think I’m familiar with him.”
One of the ruffians turned and pointed towards the pen of orids. “Yon rotund chap wielding the drenching horn with consummate precision is the lord in person.”
Benor looked, “I think I see him, he wears a leather waistcoat but no shirt.”
“That is the gentleman himself. No slacking for Lord Addlestrune, he keeps us all busy.” The ruffian pointed at the first of his companions, “He is perhaps the best ploughman within a fifty mile radius.” He then shifted his attention to the second man, “And he is as good a man as you’ll see with a scythe anywhere.” Finally he drew himself to his full height and tapped his chest. “I on the other hand am a virtuoso with a muck-fork, but today we are on holiday. Today we rest, tomorrow others will slouch here and we will turn our hands once more to honest toil. So I trust you gentlemen will let us continue our rest and not make our day tedious with arguments and bickering.”
Heiron stood up in his seat and bowed. “You, gentlemen, are an example to us all.” With this he sprang from his seat and attempted to land with a gracious flourish in front of the clerk. He slightly misjudged it and ended up clasping the clerk to stay upright. Almost immediately he whirled away and turned to the three ruffians.
“These gentlemen will assist an old man pay his fare.”
With a flourish he pulled a silver vintenar from the ear of one of the ruffians. “Benor look, we have gentlemen of quality here.”
He attempted the man’s other ear and produced a five vintenar piece. “Why thank you kindly sir. I must look to your friends as well.” With a series of grand gestures combined with arcane phrases he produced in all about twenty vintenars from out of their ears, hair and hats. Heiron looked at the money in his hand. “But I only need five; your generosity has embarrassed me with riches.”
He handed the clerk the five vintenar coin and divided the rest of the money between the three ruffians. Then he climbed back onto the wagon. “Good clerk, does our account balance, can we be gone?”
With a graceless gesture the clerk waved them through. Heiron cracked the reins and his horses stepped forward. He sat in silence until they turned a corner and were out of sight of the gate. Then he pulled a purse and some coins out of his pocket and dropped them into Benor’s lap. “How much money is there in that lad?”
Benor counted it, “About twelve vintenars in a mixture of change.”
Heiron nodded. “Well given I’ve already had twenty out of it at the gate, that’s not bad. It’ll buy us lunch at Tarrant before we have to part.”
Benor was surprised. “That’s very generous of you master Heiron.”
Heiron laughed briefly, “Well it’s the clerk’s purse, so it’s him you ought to thank for his generosity