by Zentara Shadowsoul
We set off early the next morning. The sun had only just risen as we rode out of the tavern’s stable yard and headed northwest along the main road toward Kerriton and the Guild Halls. It would take us all day and most of the evening but all of us wanted to reach the Guild that day with no more overnight stops. Our pace was as brisk as the horses permitted without tiring them too much. Isolda’s mare, Silva, named for the silver streaks on her head and in her mane, was heavily built, a plodder more used to pulling the caravan than riding with someone on her back. Yet she had stamina and strength, and her strides were bigger than those of Ghost or of Grunthrin’s much smaller dark grey stallion, Greth. It was a Targ word, meaning ‘grey one’. A handsome horse, despite his size, but well-suited to the owner.
Our lunch stop was brief but we had a couple of other quick breaks to stretch our legs and let the horses rest, eat and drink. After each stop the horses seemed to pick up their pace and we made good time. Even so, it was almost dark by the time we reached the bridge crossing the River Skarl. I glanced across to the river opposite the harbour where I’d halted on my way out from the Guild to draw. There was a dark ship moored there now, a new jetty and signs of building. Stopping to look closer, I asked Grunthrin what the strange boat was.
“A new-fangled thing,” he gruffed. “Driven by coal, they say. And made of iron!”
“Iron? Surely it would be too heavy to float?” I stared at it in amazement. “How does it work? There aren’t any masts! Just a sort of chimney?”
The Targ shrugged. “Sailed – or smoked or whatever – all the way around the coast from Rokmuth and into the estuary here. So obviously the weight is not a problem. Quite a sight it was, black smoke, or steam, or whatever billowing into the sky. Or so they say. Haven’t seen it move yet myself. But caused quite a stir, I can tell you. No one been talking of much else. And after the shock and the awe our local engineers flocked to see it. They’re almost killing each other in the race to learn its secrets and build their own. In the meantime the Traggeni are building jetties and shipyards. Seems they bought the land, so no one can stop them.”
“An iron ship!!! Seems impossible,” I exclaimed as we turned away and resumed our journey across the crowded bridge and along the road that, even at this time of night, was busy with merchants and travellers. I’d almost forgotten how noisy Kerriton and the surrounding area was, and was relieved once we’d left the worst of the bustle behind.
It was fully dark by the time we reached the Guild Halls. Torches stood either side of the archway that led into the stable yard, with more lighting the stables and the route to the Halls. We were all tired and parted company quickly, having made arrangements to meet up on the morrow.
Isolda headed toward her caravan that stood in a quiet corner of the yard whilst Grunthrin handed Greth’s reins to one of the stable lads who emerged on hearing our arrival. The Targ waved me goodnight as Ghost headed toward Alvin Copse and I smiled as we passed through the gateway and along the track to the shay quarters, as I now thought of them. It felt like home and that night, having settled Ghost and eaten a quick supper, I slept better than I had done for a long, long time.