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18 November 2016 @ 10:43 am
_Smugglers' Ring_ part 5  

They also morphed their looks. And hers. "So we fit in, on each world. So no one notices us." They also showed her what they'd brought. Steel tools. Good hardened hand tools. "A little bit of gold goes a long ways on most of the Earth Books. We'll swap these in a world that has barely subsistance agriculture for furs. The furs we swap for grain and preserved meat on a world with mechanized agriculture and a seriously wild party culture. Very affluent, fur coats all the rage. The food – and a few tools and a bunch of magic potions and charms – we take to a world, umm, stronger tribes pushed this particular tribe off their land, left them to starve. They trade gold and raw gemstones for food and livestock. We used to bring cattle and such, but it was a real risk. Fortunately they bred up their herds enough that we could stop. We'll leave the pack horses there, though. We buy new ones every trip and make a profit on them."

"Oh." Fean threw a guilty look at Spark.

"Oh, don't worry. We keep our riding horses. Not that Eldon hasn't been trying to give that horse away for years." Crimson giggled. "We rarely buy his horses, we don't want to spread the magic genes too far. There a good auction in Bleakers Knob where we buy most of our stock. The riding horses are magic, of course. Very fast and smart. It comes in handy, now and then."



Chapter Six

The further they got from the mountains, the less glad anyone was to see them.

Idlo admired the well built village as Obsi tried to drop off fertilizer. Good wooden construction, some log cabins, but more sawn boards on a frame. The rock chimneys looked to be well built and carefully mortared. There was glass in the windows in nearly every house he could see. Their fields had looked good as they drove in.

"Make them grow faster, have bigger seed heads." Obsi was sounding exasperated. Not used to being told to just go away.

This must be the place. The village that deals directly with the smugglers.

Idlo strolled off, watching the people and animals around him. The cattle in a small corral were long haired. The horses tied to the rail, slick coated. A bay and a dark chestnut, no markings on either of them. He eyed the other horses out on the street. No markings, not a sock or blaze to be seen. Must be a breed characteristic. A trio of children ran by. Boys, wearing shorts, bare footed and bare chested, they made him shiver just to look at them. Spring wasn't far enough advanced for truly warm days. They all wore thongs around their necks, with two metal disks threaded on them. He eyed a pair of girls, well dressed in the Oner style. Thong and disks, looking crude and out of place.

A sign with a stag's horn on it advertized a tavern. He stepped in. Plank tables, benches, barrels, one with a tap. "Beer?" The grubby man with the apron got up and grabbed an ordinary glass from a shelf and filled it. "Two pin." He didn't hand it over until he'd gotten the two pins, either. Like the natives, Idlo had taken to carrying them stuck through a folded bit of thin leather. Like all forms of money, their purchasing power now vastly exceeded their intrinsic value.

The man was wearing a thong around his neck, half a dozen disks on it.

"Noticed the kids wearing those. What are they?"

The man turned away. Idlo shrugged and found a bench. The tavern was almost empty, mid day. He sipped his warm beer in peace, looking out the open double door.

An old man looked him over carefully. "They're tribal. Good luck." He fingered his own. It held four of the disks. He made a show of draining his already empty glass.

Idlo took the hint. "Buy you another?"

By the third drink, they were good buddies. "See? This one cured my toothache last winter. The Shaman makes them, his Spirit Guide brings the magic."

Idlo got uncomfortably close to the old man's breath, and reached to examine the disk. It gave the unmistakeable zing of true magic. A picture of a molar, a hole drilled off center for the thong, and full of magic. Solid gold.

"One damn me. Cure the toothache?"

"Aye, and this one the cough. The other two, they're for trading or selling. See? Keeps mosquitoes away. And helps crop grow. I don't hardly need 'em. Mosquitoes don't much bother with me, and I'm a hunter, not some damned dirt grubber. But we don't trade them outside the tribe. Can't offer you one. Sorry." Lips peeled back from stained, but otherwise strong looking teeth as the old man laughed. And slowly leaned back and slid to the floor. Idlo wasn't sure but that he wasn't snoring before he made it all the way down.

He left the old drunk in peace and strolled on down the main street. He might have wobbled a bit. And staggered around a corner onto a new street. He propped himself against a corral fence and tried to remember an anti-drunk spell. A big black horse walked up to the fence and wuffed at him. :: I like beer too. ::

"Sorry, didn't bring any with me." Idlo winced. "Oh man, I only had three and I'm talking to a horse." He pushed away from the fence and eyed the big house, bigger barn. Very prosperous looking. Two teenage girls walked past, giving him a wide berth. He straightened self-consciously and headed back the way he'd come. I am not a drunk, staggering about the street, but perhaps I'd better not drive.

:: Riding's always more fun. :: the horse said.

"One! That beer didn't taste that strong."

***

Fean stood well back from the window and watched Idlo walk away. "One, what did I do to deserve running into one of Urfa's own investigators? Except he’s Izzo’s now." Should I contact him? Ignore him? Damn it, I'm under orders to find the other side of the smuggler's gate, and I did. All I need to do is get back and report. If Idlo is investigating the smugglers, well, good for him. So long as he doesn't find me with them, because I'm not sure which side I ought to be on, in a fight. And the sisters did take care of these people, when my people ought to have. And they don't smuggle illegal drugs, other than enough potions for a few local villages. They don't bring in any more of the von Neumanns, probably because they don't need to. That wine probably proliferated faster than the goats and sheep.

Fean looked over her shoulder at Walnut, the middle sister. "Did you get a good look at him? That'll be the man looking for you smugglers."

"Hmm. They'll be staying at the Inn, and probably eat there. I have some hexes."

"Eh?" Fean looked at her uneasily.

"Oh, Aunt Susto, when she cleans bottles, just dumps the old potions into a big jug. The kids there stick them in these ugly little jugs, and hawk them around. If nothing else, the conflicting hair color spells make you itch like mad and then your hair falls out. You never quite know what will be in any given bottle. Fat, stupid, sex change, magic. Or the opposite. People take them on dares. Then run to Magic Central to get them cured. I think an itchy scalp would be a good idea for that gentleman and anyone he's with. Mess up their concentration."

Fean gulped. It would do Mr. Arrogant Idlo a world of good to lose his hair. And no doubt Q can fix anything really bad. Like that sex change spell. She bit her lip and failed to stiffle a giggle. "Idlo would be such a pretty woman."

"Good thing they didn’t send this ‘Ajha’ person you’re always talking about. I think you’re in love."

"Am not. I just . . . respect his brilliance."

Walnut whooped. "Oh yeah. Of course."

Fean snuck around with Macaw later and the witch pointed out the two whoop-de-do Oners, too high to sit with the two halfers and two natives who were delivering the agricultural supplies with them. Fean walked in and helped the waitresses for a moment, making sure all six got dosed. Idlo looked bilious as she delivered his doctored ale. Fean leaned across him to set the older Oner's drink down, showing a lot of cleavage. "Hangover, handsome? Just a little will clear your head." She took a long swallow, careful to show her elegant neck, and brush up against him. He was closed so tight there wasn't a chance he'd recognize her. He drank without taking his eyes off her chest. She walked away, making sure to wiggle an extra bit.

It was good for a laugh, later.

"You didn’t even need to morph your face, he never looked that high." Macaw’s grin slipped. "I can’t believe you drank some of it."

Fean slipped back into the Inn, in the morning. All six men were scratching their heads and grumbling about bed bugs. The men drove off after breakfast, and the smugglers loaded their saddlebags for their return trip. Fean clenched her fists and refused to scratch.



Q stood back and eyed the foggy circle of the gate. "Is that were you want it? Fish tend to be . . . smelly."

"They'll be frozen, and we have insecurities about gates being just out in the open for anyone to use."

Q grinned. "I understand. Umm, speaking of which, I felt another gate, an old one from Rustle's experimental days, that was attached way north of here. There wasn't anyone anywhere around it, so I closed it. If you want it back, well, both side will have to openly agree."

Izzo thought quickly. "That may have been how the occasional Comet Fall potion wound up in circulation. Good, leave it closed." He looked around the export yard and nodded in satisfaction. "Looks good. Just one more and we're done." One Damn it. Was she being disingenuous, because she knew we were closing in on it? Or did she honestly not know it was being used? Damn, I wanted those smugglers.

***

"It's gone." Crimson stared at the empty air. The trail from the village just ended right there. In nothing. It was a pretty faint trail, being used so infrequently, but they were in the right place, and the gate wasn't. "Spread out and look for it. Maybe it was just moved a small ways away."

Fean swallowed nervously. "But . . . can't you open gates? Didn't Eldon teach you?" Her hands went to her hair, started to scratch. She jerked them away and picked up the reins.

"He tried. I just couldn't grab the right kind of bubble. I couldn't even see them." Crimson shifted uneasily. "If we get desperate . . . " she looked around at the rolling hills. Tall grass and stumpy tree grove where hills cut the wind. "There's the corridor to Gate Town, where we can take the gate to One World, and then from there the gate to Embassy. Do you know anything about the set up? On the One World?"

 
 
 
ekuah on November 19th, 2016 10:32 am (UTC)
Fean
Aren't the smugglers aware that she is a high Oner?
They know that she has magic but not a witch.

matapampamuphoff on November 19th, 2016 01:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Fean
Yes. They're just kidding her. They learned some Oner Techniques in the training session as well as Fean learning some of theirs.