Thieves Chapter 4 - Secrets
The road they traveled was still empty of people, so early in the morning. It was actually quiet relaxing. Despite their footsteps in the snow the only sound were Jacks puffs as he smoked one of his cigarettes. It's already pretty cold but they were not too far into the winter season yet, and it had already snowed. This would sure become one hard winter.
"So, where are we going now?" Sis broke the silence.
Jack took the cigarette between two fingers and withdrew it from his mouth, "Eesten," he blew out a white cloud, "It'll be two days from here." Suddenly a rattling noise arose behind them. "Ah," Jack said while exhaling another smoke cloud, than snapped the stub into the snow, "There's our carriage." The fox turned and saw a wagon, pulled by a mule, slowly approaching them.
They switched to the side of the street to make place for the wagon, which was still a bit away from them. Sis spoke again, "And where did you come from?"
"Before my stay in Eesgolen village I was at the east coast around Port Steff. However the port cities attract many thieves nowadays, so the competition was big and I left. I'm actually not very fond of the southern regions, too cold, too unfriendly ...," His gaze drifted around back to the nearing wagon, "Probably heading north after the winter." The human looked back at the fox, "And you? Where are you from? Always been a slave? If you don't mind telling me."
Actually, Sis didn't want to tell him, but he thought it was only fair. If he wanted to know something of the human, then he had to share something with him. "I've lived even further south, with a small group. We wanted to get as far to the north as possible, since things down there went really dangerous for our kind. Well, we got caught by slave traders," he said coldly. He didn't want to sound too emotional, although those were very private memories. "This was several months ago now," he continued, "They brought me to camp Desta, up in Eesonon."
"This slave-training-camp bullshit?" Jack interrupted him.
"Yeah," Sis went on, "From there I was sold to the Dolemans." By now the wagon was just a few steps away.
Jack gave the fox a light tap on the shoulder and said, "C'mon," and went over to the person who sat on the carriage. It was an old human wrapped in a woolen jacket and a worn hat. The man wore a moustache and carried a big load of loose hay on his wagon, most likely winter food for some cattle in a neighboring village. The load was secured with a large tarpaulin over the top and some ropes at the side to hold everything together. "Take me home, stranger?" Jack waved at the driver. The old man raised his head and squinted under his cap at the two travelers. He just snorted and nodded his head.
Sis followed Jack behind the wagon and both of them sat on the back end. "What was that?" the fox asked stunned.
Jack leaned back against the hay, "It's quite common amongst travelers. Someone with a carriage coms your way, you ask if 'e takes you home and if 'e's okay you just jump aboard and pass him some coins when you're at your destination." He put down the backpack beside him, "The 'take me home' is just a phrase."
To travel by a carriage was more comfortable than by foot, but sis found it to not be as relaxing, even though the hay kept his back warm. The constant rattling of the wheels disturbed the silence of nature. However, soon they heard some other noises.
Laughter and hoof steps. "Someone's coming the other way," Sis told Jack as the human leaned over the boards of the wagon to look who it was.
"Guards," Jack said as he leaned back.
Sis' heart raced. If they find him. If they catch him. He would be dead. He clung to the hay behind him, "They mustn't find me."
Jack took another look at the street ahead of them, then started to shove some hay aside. "Get in there," he whispered and the fox quickly squeezed himself into the created hole. "Stay pressed to the board, don't move and don't make any noises. Got that?" Sis nodded and then Jack stuffed the hay back into the hole and covert Sis' head. The fox pressed himself against the wooden board that prevented the hay from falling off to the sides of the wagon and held his breath while he heard the two mounted guards approach them.
The carriage stopped. Sis heard how one of the two guards circled around the wagon and came to a hold near to Jacks position. "Has any of you seen a fox?" one of them asked. Sis only hoped that the driver wouldn't tell the guards about him.
"Yeah," the comment came from Jack.
The fox's heart skipped a beat. Fuck. How could he do this? Now? "Like a good hand full on the market," Jack continued. Sis felt his pulse again. Why the hell does he have to make such a show out of this? Can't he tell them 'no' and be done with it?
"A free one, smartass," The guardsman spat at Jack.
The human just kept calm, "Ah! Why didn't you say that to the beginning? Free ones are quite rare those days," Jack shifted against the hay, "How come you ask? Lost one?"
Sis heard how the guard near to Jack unsheathed his sword, "You'd best not lie to us," The man seemed to circle the wagon again, than Sis felt something rattle through the straw. The man was poking his blade repeatedly into the dry grass to see if he found someone hiding in there. "This one's dangerous," the guard proceeded. Now his small figure did the fox some good for once. The blade didn't even come near to him. Though on the other hand, he had to admit, that the investigation could have been done with much more accuracy. Not that he was complaining.
"Dangerous, huh?" Jack mocked, "What's he done that you're after him like this? Or are you just angry that 'e escaped you guys?"
'Oh god damn this stupid human' Sis thought to himself. 'Just don't tell him, don't tell him, don't tell him'. The guard came back to Jack and was accompanied by the other one. "Mind your own damn business, drifter!" The fox let out a soundless breath. The next thing Sis heard was that the two guards started to rode away and the carriage started to move again. His spanned body relaxed as he felt the rattling again, but he didn't dare to move an inch. He stayed buried under the hay for another few minutes until Jack told him it was save to come out again, and only then did he slowly crawl back.
Jack only smiled at him while he picked the hay out of his fur, "Dangerous?" he raised an eyebrow, "Man you really gotta pissed someone off if they start such a circus to get you back. Or were you just their favorite pet?"
"I'm not gonna talk about it," Sis snapped back sulkily.
Jack laughed again, "Oh, c'mon now. I just saved your ass. You can tell me."
Sis sat himself back onto the edge of the wagon with a thud, "I said fuck off, Jack!"
The human's laughter didn't fade in the slightest, "Alright foxy, got it. But you gotta tell me sometime."
"And don't call me 'foxy', you hairless ape!"
"Ouch," Jack laughed even more.
They rode along the hay wagon until it began dawning. When the driver turned left, Jack jumped off the carriage and headed with a quick sprint up to the driver. Sis followed him but stood back and saw that Jack passed a coin towards the man. The fox still couldn't believe that the human hadn't alarmed the guards, but if what Jack said were true, the driver likely wanted the money from him and therefor kept shut. Now that he thought about it, the driver let Jack do the talking. Maybe he just wanted nothing to do with their business. However the man was on his way and Jack went the right hand way of the forking.
Jack lit a cigarette. Soon the little glowing dot of it was about all one could see in the darkness. "Are we going to sleep outside?" Sis asked already feeling tired from the day. While he rode most of the day on the carriage and didn't do much physical labor he still felt exhausted and stressed.
"We'll 'ave to," Jack answered, "Told ya we would be going for two days," he took the cigarette from his mouth and yawned, than rubbed his eye and stuck the shortened cigarette back between his lips, "But we're not gonna sleep in the snow. If I'm not mistakin' there's a bothy somewhere down the road," he gestured towards the street ahead of them. And indeed a few minutes further down the road lay a little wooden booth to the sideway of the street.
It wasn't too special. It was dark, old, timeworn and cold. "Fuck it's freezing cold in here," Sis stated as he entered the building.
"Well what did you expect? This thing is in the middle of nowhere, open to the street 'nd everyone. And it's not like the administrations down here care 'nough to keep them in order," Jack told him as he walked in behind him and closed the door, "This things are for surviving not for comfort." the human took off his backpack with a relieved sigh.
The interior of the bothy was small and the floor was natural ground. The backside of the room was covered with a pile of straw, old and damp, and in the middle a fireplace was situated, to which the ceiling had a vent. "Here's some firewood," Sis acknowledged to Jack, "looks dry enough." Jack gestured him to bring some of it and started to form a pile of straw in the fireplace.
"Not the big ones yet," the human told Sis and put the two logs he gave him to the side, "Get me some small stuff first." Sis looked over the little stack of firewood and collected some branches, splinters and some pieces of bark, took another slightly smaller log and brought everything back to Jack. The human placed the smaller stuff on top of the straw and arranged the logs around that, like a tent. He drew a match and lit two spots before he stuffed it, still burning, into the pile.
The flames fast grew bigger and lightened the room somewhat. Sis sat back and watched the fire grow while Jack rummaged through his backpack. He got out a wrapped loaf of bread and broke off a piece for Sis, than he got out the dried meat and offered some to the fox. Before he started eating himself he got out the metal pot and filled it with some snow, outside the bothy, and placed it next to the flames to melt. "You've brought some water. Wouldn't it be quicker to drink that?" the fox asked.
"Sure," the man answered chewing some of the meat, "But if you immediately need some water it's quicker to have it than to thaw it," he raised an eyebrow to the fox. Jack stuffed the last bit of meat into his mouth and got two new logs to put in the fire. The small room already heated up a little. "Want some more?" Jack held out the dried meat to the fox and got another one himself, "Since we're going into town tomorrow again there's no use in saving it up." Sis gladly took him up on his offer. "In Eesten we're gonna eat and sleep in an inn," Jack continued, "Then you'll taste some good stew."
Sis looked up at that. He couldn't just walk into the town. Not after what he had done. "I can't go in an inn. They're still looking after me," he said.
"Oh don't worry. I'm sure they won't be looking after you anymore," Jack answered, "I mean you're just a runaway. It's not like they don't have enough other slaves." The human was giving him a look that told the fox that the human wanted to say something more, but waited for Sis to do so.
"...Yeah," Sis murmured. Could he tell him? What would he do in the worst case? The fox really didn't know if he should tell the human. On the one hand, he's on the bad side of law himself, on the other, what Sis did is a completely other league than theft.
"Or is there something else you're afraid of?"
No he wouldn't tell him. Not yet. Maybe when he didn't depend on him anymore. "No, I just don't want to take a risk," Sis answered not looking at the human. He hoped Jack wouldn't press any further.
"Hmm...," Sis felt the human judging him, "Well. I'm sure we can find a way to get you in there unseen." His voice lacked of the usual lightness. "Eh," Jack yawned and rummaged for the blanket, "Let's get some sleep. It's still a good way to town. We'll think off something tomorrow." He threw the blanket over himself. Jack kept his clothes on to stay as warm as possible. The fire had done a good job. It was at least warm enough so nothing would freeze off. But if the fire got off tonight it would get pretty cold again. "You coming?" Jack craned his neck to the fox.
Sis looked up surprised, "You mean... with you?"
"Yeah," Jack responded as if it were obvious, "It's getting fucking cold at night and I wanna stay as warm as possible."
"No way!" Sis protested.
"Urgh, c'mon now. I'll even let you have the place on the fire. Or do you wanna freeze your tail off?" Sis considered this for a moment. It was cold. He sighed and went over to Jack to crawl under the blanket to him.