We came to Scrubplains, a village slightly larger than Oakvale, mid-morning the next day. Torgood didn’t speak of things I didn’t remember and I didn’t ask him. I’d spent the night turning it around in my mind and I’d awoken with the feeling that maybe it didn’t matter. So I’d courted a woman – maybe it’d been Weaver Noth’s wife – and obviously I hadn’t been chosen otherwise I would have a wife. I hadn’t wanted a wife, had I? Or children? The thought of children made me remember my fire dream, where the child cried and I couldn’t get to him.
Scrubplains appeared to have water and not to be in a drought. We contacted one of the elders, who treated Torgood like a long lost child, and gave me a dismissive sniff when introduced. I guess my reputation – whatever – had made it this far. He confirmed that by telling me as we were leaving that there were no witches in Scrubplains.
Torgood and I decided that a drink would be nice before eating more road dust and bumping along on our mules. The village didn’t have a tavern, but the village square had a lively market that included everything Oakvale normally had, plus one tired looking palm reader. She made a wiggle-finger warding gesture at me when I looked her way, so I didn’t investigate.
We found a stall that sold beer and roasted meat served on slices of bread. In Oakvale we trade for goods and services, so when the seller raised an eyebrow at me when I didn’t respond to his request for coin of the realm, Torgood shouldered me out of the way and pulled out a few copper pieces.
“Don’t you have any money?” He whispered to me as we returned to the village well where we’d left our mules watering.
“Sure, I have some gold pieces, but I was saving them for the city.”
“How many?” His eyes lit up in a manner that made me wary.
He chewed on his lip for a moment and then reached some decision.
“Let’s go see a merchant I know here, we’ll get you some change.”
I followed him, leading my mule. “I don’t want change. Change is hard to keep track of.”
He ignored me and ducked between two buildings and went around the back of a third where he knocked on the door of a rickety shack. A small, dark-clothed child answered, eyed Torgood up and down, and then sheathed his knife.
“Wait, that wasn’t…” I started. Torgood gripped my shoulder to shut me up and dragged me into the dimness of the building.
“Torgood, so good to see you.” Another black-clad childlike person came out of the back through a curtain. Torgood clasped arms with him.
He didn’t introduce us. I stood by the door, opposite the child with the knife. His stare reminded me of Som’s cows.
“Have you got any spare change? I’m a little short.”
The child-man laughed and said “I’m a little tall. What’s it worth to ya?”
Torgood laughed, pulled out a delicate looking ring from his pocket and gave it to the man. He pulled out an eyepiece, held the ring toward the doorway, and examined it.
“Where’d you get this one?”
The man snorted and examined it again.
“I’ve got change,” he said at last.
In exchange for the ring, which the child-man placed in his vest, Torgood received two small bags of something that clinked. Money, I assumed. Torgood took the bags, nodded to the child-man, and dragged me out saying over his shoulder, “We’ll drink soon.”
“I know it,” the man replied and the door shut firmly behind us.
Torgood handed me one of the bags and took the coins from the other and stashed them about his person, in many unexpected pockets, and in his saddle bags. He gestured for me to do the same.
“You don’t keep your money in your boot do you?” he asked.
I nodded. I knew enough not to put all of my money in my belt pouch.
“We’ll have to get you some pockets.”
Several stops later, we finally rode out of the village. Torgood sat on his mule, sewing pockets into my vest, cloak, tunic, spare pants, hat, and belt.
“Anything but the boots,” he told me.
“Where’d you get that ring?” I asked.
“I had it.”
I raised my eyebrow at him.
“I did,” he insisted.
“What … were those men halfmen or dvergr?”
“Dvergr? What have you been reading? They’re just short.”
“What were dvergr doing in Scrubplains?”
“Providing us change, of course. Just because you’ve never been out of stuffy old Oakvale, doesn’t mean that I haven’t. Lots of short men…”
He waved my word away, “live here. You do realize that Oakvale is the middle of no where, yes?”
I shrugged. “It was on the map.”
“That’s another thing you should hide. The map, the lamp, the vase. Those things could attract a lot of unwanted attention. So don’t mention them to anyone but me.”
That night we camped in a clump of scrub and at Torgood’s direction, I made sure that the lamp, map, and vase were hidden from view and within reach.
“We should be okay here, but you know, bandits.” He seemed strangely pleased by the prospect, and I suspected that he was trying to ‘cat up and catch the mouse,’ (as my mother used to say) with me being the mouse as usual.
We’d passed a few people moving from Scrubplains or going to Scrubplains, mostly traders with stock. Nothing I’d think twice of, but Torgood’s admittedly more worldly view made me paranoid. I had a knife, but not a very big one. I could fight, but I didn’t like to. Torgood’s long walking stick turned out to be an unstrung bow, which he’d tied to the back of his saddle.
Hiding in the scrub seemed like a smart idea.
The bandits found us anyway.