Cinis

Cinis bounced in the crate’s interior as the wood siding met gravel, his head slamming into the lid and causing him to see stars as the boards threatened to break. From above, wild horse hooves slammed about him, knocking the crate once and causing it to tumble over again, this time bruising his elbow as he was inverted. Commotion erupted around him, the shouting of guards mingling with the cracking of Donald’s whip and loose gravel showering down on top of the crate.

Gradually the horse calmed, the dust Cinis could see outside of his peephole settled, and all grew quiet, except for Donald’s apologetic voice.

“I’m sorry, sir, terribly sorry. Truly, he must have been spooked by something. Been in the family for years and never had a breakdown like that before.”

“Keep a tighter hold on him next time. Clear your goods out of the lane, I’ll send two of my men to help, and be quick about it. Next time, whatever you drop belongs to me.”

“Yes sir, right away!”

Cinis felt himself being hefted up and thrown onto the cart, landing sideways so that his face mashed into one of the crate’s corners. Seconds later Donald’s whip cracked again and they were free, bumping along the rough road, away from the city and everything Cinis had ever known.

“We’re clear,” came Donald’s voice from above after several minutes of riding. “Came real close there. Libus, the lid of your crate almost came clean off, and by the look of the guards, they did not appreciate lifting it, either.”

“A little lifting is the least they can do,” responded Libus’ voice. “We’re not in the clear yet, though, Donald. The road will surely be under surveillance for miles around. We won’t be safe until we are well down the river.”

“Might as well pry the lid off, then,” Cinis said from within his box, “so we can fight if necessary.”

From beside him, Jessica laughed. “Not so fast. You’re staying packed up until we’re downriver, like Libus said. They’re looking for you, so unboxing you would be a dead giveaway.”

“You’re staying boxed up too,” said Libus, “for the same reasons.”

“But—”

“You agreed to the plan earlier, miss, and it has not changed. We stay in our crates, and we’re loaded onto the rafts. You can’t get on the raft unless you’re in the crate, the dock workers simply would not allow it. Then, Donald’s horse will have another fit, we’ll cut the lines, and start moving downriver. The workers likely won’t mind when they see the raft floating away alone, as it will get caught up on the bank after a mile or two and they can retrieve it. But it won’t get caught on the bank, since we’ll be steering, and we can leave it behind at the next convenient town.”

“He’s right,” said Donald. “The only way you’re getting on that raft is by crate.”

Jessica did not reply, though Cinis could hear her huff. They continued to bounce along the path, the occasional horse passing them to head toward Querkus, Donald shouting out greetings to those passing them that he recognized. After some time, Donald pulled the horse right, and they left the main road, the sharp, rocky bumps changing to more subtle, muddy ones. The crate cooled as tree branches extended overhead, blocking the sun, and birdsong filled the humid air.

And far ahead, Cinis could just hear the shouting of dock workers.

“Bring it here, bring it right here, Donald!” came a gruff voice, and the sound of a heavy hand slapped the side of Cinis’ crate. “Terrible business today, absolutely terrible. Almost no shipments from Querkus, and we’re backlogged on the ones trying to get in. Any idea what’s happening over there?”

“Oh, nothing good, Petey,” responded Donald with a sigh. “Took me nearly an hour to get this shipment out. Hopefully after I send this on its way everything will clear up.”

“Hopefully indeed,” answered Petey. “Hopefully. I don’t know, Donald. They say that when something’s going wrong, it’s the traders who know first. We see what goes into the city, and we see what goes out. And I haven’t liked the looks of those who have been trading the past few weeks. Traders from Corsus. They wouldn’t admit it of course, but I know. From deep Corsus.”

Donald laughed, keeping his voice steady, “You’re getting suspicious in your age, Petey.”

“I ain’t! I ain’t, and today’s lack of shipments shows it! Load up here, on this raft. We’re near finished unloading it, and may as well start filling it. See those boxes there? See the wood that was used to make them? I’ll be damned if that ain’t Whisterwood. You know where Whisterwood trees grow, Donald?”

“Course I do,” Donald responded, as Cinis’ crate rose and was dropped on the raft, the river’s current causing it to bob.

“Course you do is right. Corsus. And I’d just as well bet that those that brought it were from where that wood came from. Probably chopped the trees down themselves. They’re up there on the bank now, see em? Letting my men do all the difficult work of unloading while they start negotiations for new rates.”

“That seems like the true infraction here, Petey. Any chance you have another raft we can load onto? I’m not a superstitious man, but I’m not one to spit in the face of luck either.”

“This is all that’s available right now, since we’re so backlogged. Fortune be damned, Donald, I won’t let them impact my business. We’ll have your shipment out in record time.”

“I’m sure it will be gone in record time. Perhaps I can help you unload those boxes from Corsus beforehand? So that they don’t get mixed in?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I won’t let you do their work for them.”

“Alright,” said Donald, his voice slightly strained. “They’ll stay then. Thanks Petey, and take this. For your trouble. You’ve been good to me throughout the years, and I owe it to you. Especially since your fortune seems to be turning.”

There was a rattling of coins exchanging hands, and Petey spoke.

“You are most generous, Donald. That’s nearly enough for me to buy a new raft, including cargo.”

“Oh, really? I wouldn’t know. Can you lead my horse up the bank, while I check inventory?” Donald asked as the last of the crates were loaded onto the raft. Cinis heard the knots holding the raft in place slither as Donald pulled the wet ropes, removing any ties to shore.

“Best of fortune, Libus, before it turns,” Donald said. “Don’t be gone for too long, for Querkus needs you.”

“I’ll bring aid when I return,” came Libus’ answer, and then they were floating downstream, Donald hurrying his way to his horse, which had begun to buck in his absence, spilling over several other carts of merchandise and causing a heavy influx of swear words.

Next Chapter

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