21 December 2012 @ 11:17 pm
*NaNo Project* Part the Fourth - Section the Second - Camelot - 953AD  
As Bran the guard had said, on the third day the patrol arrived to relieve him.

There was just one problem, they arrived with the sounds of cluttering hooves, they were on horseback!

Somehow it had never occurred to me that horses would be involved, which was quite short sighted of me, there was, after all no faster way to travel than that.

The problem was that I had never ridden any distance on a horse before, considering Father’s position we had always travelled by wagon and when I went to visit Bishop Grigor I went by wagon as well.

I couldn’t imagine being perched a top of a horse for any length of time without suffering some sort of serious injury.

I immediately sought out Aldric, who found my predictment hilarious for some reason.

Eventually, he calmed down enough to speak. “You’re a strange one, Geoff, no doubt about that. They’ve got horses in Caerleon, at least they did last time I checked.”

“There still is, it’s only I never had occasion to ride any, frankly I prefer not to, I don’t much care for horseriding.”

“Seems to have come back to bite you,” Aldric remarked with a raised eyebrow.

I folded my arms and grumbled. “What am I supposed to do Aldric? Walk to Camelot?”

Aldric seemed to consider that quite seriously for a few moments. “Well, the roads are pretty good here, it’d take you a week probably, but you’d get there.”

“I can’t walk through a strange kingdom, I have no way of defending myself. And if that was what I planned on doing I would have left days ago.”

Aldric made a show of swooning, putting the back of his hand to his head. “Good God, we never would have met!”

I attempted to glare at him, but I instead a smile tugged at the corner of my mouth. Aldric was a very strange man there was no doubt about that, but he certainly had a sense of humour.

All the same, that was not going to get me out of my predicament.

I considered my options of which there weren’t many, after all there was no way I could learn horse riding in five minutes, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to run along side the horsemen for hours at a time.

It was clear the only thing I could do was go by wagon but surely that would be too slow, the horsemen would undoubtedly refuse to have me join them if I was going to be such a drag on proceedings.

I turned to Aldric in despair. “Don’t you have any ideas that can help me?”

My new friend pursed his lips thoughtfully and to my relief and, dare I say, surprise he gave a nod. “What you need is something that’s not a saddle and is faster than a wagon. A horse cart!”

“A horse cart,” I repeated slowly, raising an eyebrow. It sounded a little too...simple for me.

“They’re hardly that fast don’t you think?”

“Depends on the kind of cart you’re using really, I’m not talking about the regular sort, this is something rather...lighter.”

“Lighter?” Did I even want to know?

Whether I did or not it seemed I was about to find out, for Aldric took hold of my arm and lead me across the way and around the back of a rather ramshackle looking building.

“Here you go.” Aldric waved a hand in a rather dramatic fashion as if he was showing off something truly beautiful.

It took me a good moment to realise what it was that he was pointing at, at first I took it to be just a pile of refuse, but taking a closer look I realised that the sheeting and wood were what I was supposed to be looking at.

“What is that?”

“It’s a trap. The lightweight of horse carts, a good horse pulling this can go almost as fast as one with a rider.” Aldric paused. “Well, unless the guards need to run somewhere, but that’s not likely to happen.”

“Not likely?” I didn’t particularly care for the sound of that.

Aldric shrugged. “Well, it’s pretty quiet at the moment, but you never know when things might take a turn. But look if you want to get to Camelot within a week this is your best bet.”

I took a few hesitant steps over to the ‘trap’, with a name like that I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to take my chances with it. It looked as ramshackle as the building and my confidence sank even lower when I realised that I wouldn’t be supported by wooden beams, but by a fabric ‘sling’ between the two wheels. I looked at Aldric in disbelief. “Are you serious about this? Does this contraption even work?”

“Of course it does,” Aldric looked rather offended by my question. “I had to ride in one myself once, when I broke my leg. Not the sturdiest of rides I’ll grant you that, but as long as you hold onto the reins you’ll be just fine.” He gave me a pat on the shoulder.

I sighed. I knew that the guards wouldn’t be in the outpost for long, just enough for a meal at the tiny tavern, to stock up on supplies and give their horses a rest before they’d be off again. If I was going to join them I’d have to make my decision now.

“If you’re sure...” I spoke hesitantly.

“Of course I’m sure! Look why don’t you take a seat in it? It’s not as bad as you think I promise.” Aldric gave me a friendly shove towards the ‘trap’ and moved over to the harness to keep it steady as I gingerly lowered myself into the fabric sling.

And immediately jumped up with a yelp.

“What?” Aldric peered at me. “Don’t be such a girls petticoat, Geoff, you barely even put your full weight on it.”

“I’m wet!” I spluttered in dismay, wiping down the back of my tunic in a rather vain attempt to dry myself off. But it was a hopeless effort, the seat of my clothing was absolutely drenched.

Aldric had the audacity to laugh at my predicament, and my glare only served to amuse him more.

“Sorry, Geoff,” he apologised when he finally caught his breath. “It’s...well the look on your face.” He shook his head. “Sorry about that...should have known it’d be a bit damp, it’s being out here for months now.”

“Brilliant,” I shook my head in disgust. “Now I’m wet and probably dirty.”

“Come on, Geoff, don’t be such a ninny, you’ve got more than one tunic, I’ve seen you in a few since you got here. Settle down, go get changed and I’ll dry this thing off.”

I felt like snapping back at him, but really, he was being rather nice, so I held my tongue and headed off to change. I could feel the wetness beginning to spread and it was a decidedly unpleasant feeling.

I’m not sure what exactly was in the cart, but I don’t think I ever want to know because once I removed my tunic the brown stain and stench was enough to make me wince and decide it wasn’t worth taking it with me. Instead I tossed it into the shrubbery outside my window and gave myself a quick wash. Fortunately whatever the Hell was on the tunic hadn’t soaked through and once I had on another tunic I felt clean enough to return to the trap, where Aldric had finished mopping up whatever had been in the trap.

“There! Good as new, it’s oilskin, waterproof, easy to clean off.”

“Easier to clean off than me.” I muttered.

Aldric rolled his eyes. “Just get in and I’ll show you, it’s sturdier than it looks.”

I gave the trap a close look before I took my seat. It did cave in slightly but as Aldric had promised it was surprisingly thick and somewhat stable. It seemed likely that I would be safe enough in it and wouldn’t end up being dragged along the ground.

“If you think the guards will agree to let me come with them in this...” I began slowly.

Aldric waved a hand. “Not to worry, they owe me a favour. I gave them extra ale last time they came through.”

I hoped that he wouldn’t be extending the same favour this time around, because having to follow some less than sober riders wasn’t my idea of a safe journey.

The guards seemed to have all their faculties when I met them an hour later ready to leave the outpost and enter Camelot proper. They did look rather uncertain about having me come along, but Aldric had obviously given me a good recommendation because they didn’t say anything to my face about their doubts instead they were rather welcoming.

“So they don’t have saddles in Caerleon or something?”The leader, a Sir Harold, asked me in amusement.

“No, they do, I’ve just never needed to use them.” I explained to be greeted by laughter from the group and a lot of head shaking.

I looked at Aldric with concern, but he was chuckling along with the rest of them and gave me a punch in the shoulder.

“You’ll get along famously,” he said with much more confidence than I had. Then he looked serious. “Looks like this is goodbye then, Geoff. It was...interesting,” he laughed and threw an arm about my shoulder. “I’ll miss you, if you ever get a chance come by for a visit, all right?”

I was surprised that I’d made such an impression on Aldric, I’d always considered myself rather...uninteresting, so really, I was rather touched. “I’ll do my best, I want to visit my parents of course, and I’ll be sure to come by this way.”

“I’ll keep your favourite chair warm for you, I’m sure you’ll have something else to read.” Aldric promised, giving me one last punch in the arm. I had to say, I really wished he’d find another friendly gesture, my shoulder was beginning to feel numb.

But there was time for it to regain its feeling because shortly afterward the ‘trap’ was set up to one of the guards rest horses and off we set.

It proved to be a rather bumpy ride, the roads of Camelot were far better than those of Caerleon, but they weren’t a patch on the roads of Mercia, not to mention the fact that the ‘trap’ completely lacked anything in the way of suspension or support so I felt every jolt. But I was certain that I would have been far worse off had I been in the saddle.

Still by the end of the day every joint and muscle was aching and I felt like an old man as I climbed out of the ‘trap’ and flopped down on the ground, which probably wasn’t the best idea. It was hardly a mattress.

“You all right there, Monmouth?” One of the men asked me as I winced.

“Uh...er...yes, fine.” I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, I didn’t want them to consider me some sort of drag on them. I didn’t want to find myself be left behind in the next town.

I decided to change the subject and instead asked how many days they thought this trip would take.

“Another three days,” Sir Harold replied after issuing instructions to another guard to prepare dinner for the night. “We have to stop at a new settlement on the way, just to take a look at the place and see how they’re getting along there.”

My face fell a bit at this news, I mean I had nothing against this new settlement, but I wanted to get to Camelot as quickly possible and I wondered if there was some...polite manner to ask how long it would take and to kindly request it not take too long. But I couldn’t think of a way, so I kept my mouth shut.

I managed to sleep quite well that night, I guess after being in the ‘trap’ lying on a non-moving surface even one that was as hard as the forest floor was a relief. Although I was still quite stiff when I woke the next morning and found myself wishing that I didn’t have to get back in the cart. But there was nothing else for it, so I gritted my teeth and climbed back in as Sir Harold called for the group to move on.
 
 
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