Authors: Dave Duncan
the change of plan? The second wagon also would be fixed before evening.
wagon by itself was unusual. If the driver ran into trouble on the causeway on
a rising tide, then he might need another team-quickly! Or a good sorcerer, as
the saying went. One man alone was unusual, too. And a beginner? By himself?
Rap had held the reins often enough on the easy bits, but that was all. Why him
at all? Why not Jik or Ollo, who knew what they were doing? Why him by himself?
Hononin had heard about the testing yesterday. He might be frightened that Rap
had impressed Thosolin and would be taken away from the stables to be a
man-at-arms. Or perhaps the hostler did not want one of his hands treated like
that again. Yet Rap had never been trusted with a wagon on his own before, or
not far, at least. Certainly not for the whole trip. He shivered with tingles
of excitement. He would be one of the drivers, then-perhaps only the junior
driver, but more than a stableboy. He could eat at the drivers’ table!
Man-at-armsing could wait awhile-he was young yet.
can do it, can’t you?”
Rap said firmly, and tried to look matter-of-fact. He could handle it. “You’ll
see me down the hill, though?”
you do it?”
then,” Hononin said. “I trust you, even...” He began wiping
his face with his shirt and walked away. The rest of the sentence remained
unspoken or was lost in the shirt.
trust you, even... Even what?
had loosened her right front shoe. Rap went and told Hononin; Hononin cursed
and headed for the castle commons. Apparently the farrier was not there,
because the man who arrived to deal with the matter was Rap’s friend
Kratharkran, the smith’s apprentice, ostentatiously wiping crumbs from
his mouth and pouting at being dragged from important business. Although his
father was an imp, Krath was more jotunnish than most jotnar and had been
sprouting like a snowdrift lately. Rap had spoken with him the previous
evening, but in his leather workclothes he seemed to have grown more overnight.
his height, he had an absurdly squeaky voice. He peered down at Rap with
disbelieving blue eyes. “How long have they trusted you with a wagon?”
long as they’ve trusted you with a hammer!”
grinned in mutual satisfaction, and Krath set to work. When he had fixed the
shoe, he solemnly asked Rap’s approval, calling him “driver.”
solemnly, Rap thanked him and said it was a nice piece of work, which it was.
Krath agreed and wished him luck, then strode off to resume his meal.
of which had been very businesslike and felt good, but by the time Rap had the
team harnessed and ready, he knew he was going to be cutting the tide very close.
He found the old man counting sacks in the feed room.
ready,” he said, trying to look and sound relaxed.
then.” Hononin did not even turn around.
don’t want to look it over?” The old man never, ever, let a wagon
go off down the hill without a personal inspection, not even if Ollo or Jik was
driving. And surely he would want to look at Snowball’s shoe?
still did not turn, obviously mad about something. “Just go!” he
barked. “Don’t miss the tide!”
shrugged and left. He had not even been given the inevitable warning to take
care through the town. Most odd! Hurrying back to the yard he met Fan on her
way to feed the chickens. He asked her to tell Inos that he had to rush off.
with excitement, he climbed up to the bench. Before he could crack his whip, he
heard a high-pitched shout behind him. Lin was running across the yard with a
bag in his one good hand. He looked up hopefully at Rap. “Want some
Rap said. Lin was a terrible gossip, but bearable. No one could find anything
useful for him to do since he broke his arm. “What’s in the bag?”
with his cast, Lin clambered up to the bench.
mostly, and a bit of leftover mutton. Rolls. “
inside was too jumpy to want food yet, but he should have thought of it for
later. “Enough for both of us?”
nodded solemnly. “The old man said you’d had no time for breakfast.
lowered his whip again. “What’s into him today?” he demanded.
“He’s acting odd! Since when has he cared if I missed my breakfast?
Why’s he running me out of town like this?”
had great ears for scandal. His dark eyes twinkled. “You were holding
hands with Inos last night.”
Rap asked uneasily. “What’s that to do with him?”
giggled. “Her daddy noticed. “
trust you, even if others don’t.
slammed the brake handle fiercely, cracked his whip much louder than he had
meant to, and sent the wagon rumbling forward.
the castle gate and the harbor were fourteen hairpins. Going down was easier
than coming up with a load, but it was still tricky. Rap had watched it done
often enough, but he had never been allowed to handle brake and reins in the
town. It was odd that Hononin had not known that.
first two were easy, but he breathed a hearty sigh of relief when they had
rounded the third, which was canted steeply. A wagon out of control could be
almost as bad as a shipwreck. He was aware that Lin was watching him closely and
hanging on very tight with his good hand. Fortunately it was still very early
and there were almost no pedestrians around to mangle.
and five were not too bad. Six was a horror, with the wagon standing on its
head above the team, wheels scratching on cobbles. Too close to the wall, the
unloaded, too-light rig started to slither sideways. Rap discovered that he was
soaked with sweat and needed two more hands than the Gods had given him.
next one was the worst.
was going to catch the tide. He was not going to make a mess of this. If he
failed he would never forgive himself, and Hononin would never trust him again.
And Inos would hear how he’d run over pedestrians or smashed up a wagon
or even knocked in the side of a house and killed horses-it happened sometimes.
Trust yourself, his mother had said. If you don’t, who will? He yelped,
pulled the reins, tightened the brake, and the rig stopped. Silence. Lin looked
at him curiously. “What’s wrong?”
wiped an arm across his streaming forehead. He was panting as if led run all
the way up from sea to castle. “Listen!” Lin listened and his eyes
widened-clopping hooves and the rumble of iron on cobbles. Then it grew
suddenly louder and another team appeared ahead of them, crawling round bend
number seven, horses wide-eyed and steaming, hugging the buildings to have room
to swing their load through the curve. Then came the wagon, with the driver
shouting curses and a load of new peat dribbling water off the back. Nasty
stuff, fresh peat. It was heavy and it could shift, but peat couldn’t be
stacked over the winter in that climate, so the first loads were always still
if wed met that...” Lin said, and shivered. Sometimes it could take hours
to straighten out a meeting on one of the bends, backing the load down the hill
jackknifing it, even.
oncoming team straightened up and began to move faster.
was, the driver. He grinned and then showed surprise when he saw ony Rap and
Lin. Struck dumb by the thrumming of wheels, he pointed back down the hill and
held up one finger. Rap nodded and signaled zero and tried to look as if he did
this all the time. Then Iki had gone and Rap reached for the brake again.
Lin said. “How did you know?”
hesitated. How had he known? His own team had been making far too much noise
for him to have heard. Could the horses have heard and sent him a signal with
their ears, a signal that he had seen without knowing? Not likely at all. Could
he have caught a reflection in a window? The sun was shining on the windows, so
that was not very likely, either. But he had known. He had been quite certain
that there was a wagon coming at that corner. That was rather an eerie feeling.
How had he known?
one of the things you youngsters have to learn,” he said.
go scout for me.”
made an obscene suggestion. He studied Rap with a very puzzled expression for a
moment before jumping down and heading for the corner.
were losing time. Lin was clumsy with only one good arm, and Rap had to stop
dead each time he needed to come aboard, then stop again to let him off before
the next hairpin. They finally met the second wagon between twelve and
thirteen, and then it was a fast run down to the harbor.
were few ships there that day. The sun blazed hard from quicksilver water, the
gulls were bobbing and preening, and the air bore the tangy scent of fish and
seaweed. A very slight breeze was ruffling the surface, but there were no
waves. Anxiously Rap eyed the causeway ahead.
late!” Lin sighed.
much swell,” Rap said stubbornly. “I’ll risk it.” He
stood up and thumped the reins on the horses’ backs, urging them to a
canter, wondering if Lin would demand to be let off. He would not be able to
swim with that cast on his arm, but Lin probably did not know how to swim
anyway. There was no point learning--a man died of cold in a few minutes in the
Winter Ocean. Then Rap remembered that he could not swim, either.
did not speak. The wagon picked up speed, thundering along the top of the quay
toward the long curve of the causeway that led to the distant shore. Most of it
ran over land-low islands and rocks, dry land except in the big winter
storms-but there were four low spots and the tide was already running over
three of them. The wagon bounced and rolled and sent seabirds screaming; then
there was water on both sides of the way and Big Damp was coming up ahead.
took that one at full speed. It was straight and shallow and he did not sense
any worry from the horses. Water shot out in silver sheets and salt spray
splashed in his face and then they were safe on the other side, Duck Island. It
had been deeper than he had expected, though.
still sitting and thus lower than Rap, had been soaked. He whistled and then
laughed, a little nervously.
hope that new wheel stays on,” he remarked.
Damp was still dry, except for a few spray pools, where wavelets were starting
to splash over.
they were climbing over Big Island, and Rap slackened the pace so as not to
heat the horses. But he stayed standing. The rocks and shingle alongside the
road gave way to the harsh, stubborn grasses that enjoyed the challenge of
living so close to the sea, and for a moment the water was out of view. Then
the wagon rolled roughly over the crest and started steeply down.
lay the main stretch of causeway... except that most of it wasn’t there.
squealed, “Rap!” and straightened up.
had not expected the gap to be quite so wide yet. Already the blue tide was
pouring through, shiny and beautiful under the sunshine. He had never seen
this, except from shore. The wind was strong now and cold, whipping the horses’
manes, but the waves were very small. The raised roadway ran out into the sea
ahead for a short way and then dipped under. Far away to the left, jutting out
from Tallow Rocks, was the other end.
were two bends in the road. Somewhere.
off, then! “ Rap snapped, without slowing the wagon. He was not going to
sit for six or seven hours on Big Island and be laughed at for the rest of his
days. In truth, he was already too late to stop, for the roadbed was raised and
there was no room to turn; this part would be underwater in an hour or so.
Backing up would be tricky. Then hooves started splashing and he saw eight ears
begin to flicker with alarm. He could calm horses by singing to them-not that
he had any sort of a voice, but horses were not music critics. He started
singing the first thing that came into his head.
traveled land, I traveled sea...
Lin howled. “You’ll go off the road! Stop, for the Gods’
up!” Rap said, and went back to singing. The horses’ ears rose
again as they listened to him. They kept splashing their big hooves and the
wagon continued to roll steadily forward. A couple of swimming gulls watched
intently, bobbing up and down as the waves flowed under them.
maiden... maiden, oh. Maiden, maiden, maiden, oh...
off to his left, two fishing boats were setting sail from the quay, and Rap
wondered what they thought of this strange horsedrawn vessel plying their
harbor. There were a couple of big rocks coming up on his right, green with
weed and purple with mussels, being lapped by the small waves, and he knew
about how far those were from the road. A fraction more to the left...
was just enough wind to make the water ruffled and impossible to see through,
but he could tell where the edges were by the way the waves surged over them.
It was safer than it looked, he told himself.
was starting to whimper.
gave her love, I gave her smiles,
wooed with all my manly wiles...
he could imagine that watery blue roadway making its turn. He pulled on the
reins and the wagon curved slowly round and apparently he had guessed right,
because they continued their slow progress.
had started to pray to some God Rap had never heard of. A new one, maybe.
of the fishing boats was heading in their direction.
wagon had almost stopped bumping. The tide was stronger here, in the middle,
leaving a wake as it flowed by the horses, and they were getting very nervous
now, no matter how hard he sang.