Adrasos hated leaving Red Cliffs. They seemed so helpless before a force like the demon bandits. Even Yainni was casting wistful glances back at the tidy little collection of farms.
Father Odeil shook his head. “I think they’re safe, at least until the next full moon. But if you want to track the bandits, I won’t be moving very fast. We’ll just follow the road for twenty miles, to Honey Creek Village, and stay there overnight and have a service in the morning before we set out. Five miles north, to where we can ford the Feather River. We’ll move north a few miles before camping, there’s some bad ruins not far from the ford. Then it’s just thirty miles up the Old Road to Chico. Two more days travel—I suspicion you could do it all in a single day.”
Adrasos nodded. “I’ll follow the bandits a bit, then. I’ll try to catch you near the ford on this Feather River.”
His mother complained loudly, suddenly forgetting the English she’d learned in Red Cliff. Gennadios sneered and called him love struck. Adrasos didn’t argue.
But a day and a half later, the bandits were still moving northeast and getting into rough ground. He turned back and headed west, winding around the hills and out onto to the dry grasslands and scattered oaks that were common in the valley. Tisse settled into a steady lope, covering ground effortlessly. He hoped she had a male foal. Breeding horses, superior horses, might be a good way to make a living here. They forded a small creek in the late afternoon, and found a larger river an hour later.
“Well, we didn’t cross any roads, so I suspect we’re north of this ford.”
Tisse tossed her head, and trotted south. He spotted the carriage and wagon on the far side of the river and waved. Not that they could recognize him at that distance, but they’d probably seen the metallic gleam of the palomino mare. Another mile and they were splashing across shallow rivulets and gravel islands.
They caught up with the family and Father Odeil in time for Adrassos to help unharness the other horses and set up camp while Peep walked Tisse cool.
Chico was a maze of outgrown walls and fortifications, roads extended, widened until wagons rubbed the houses, but they could pass each other. No planning, or at any rate no consistent planning. No doubt each extension had been planned to fit the visions of each builder. The most recent outlying wall was a sturdy ten feet of vertical posts. A broad skirt of plowed fields spread out over the flood plains along the river. Most of the town was up on higher ground.
Only on the fourth side was there a sign of serious power and control. As they followed Father Odeil up the fork in the road that led up to a wide gate, Adrasos could see the wall of a serious fortification beyond.
That wall was easily double the height of the town wall, and plastered to reduce any chance of them being burned out.
“There’s no way the population of the town could fit inside the fort. I take it that they haven’t been attacked in a good long while.”
Father Odeil chuckled. “No, not for at least twenty years. We’ve let our guard down badly.”
“You said something about the troops patrolling, though, I seem to recall.” Adrosos noted an alert guard stepping out to look them over.
“Yes, and they are diligent about minding the gates.” The priest raised his voice a bit. “Good afternoon, Sergeant Longfellow.”
“Good afternoon, Father. You have some new friends?”
“Yes, and a report on some bandits. Have you seen Rudy Helfman? And would you know if the commander is in?”
“Haven’t seen him leave. Rudy came in a week ago and complained of bandits, said he had to sacrifice a horse to them.” The guard eyed Adrasos. “Do you have friends in town or will you be camping?”
“Camping. If you could direct us, or, Father, would you like me to come and speak to this commander as well?”
“Good idea. Carl, show the folks around to the camp ground, then head up to the monastery. Tell the Abbot I’ll be perhaps another hour here. Sergeant, if you see Rudy, tell him we reacquired his horse, and I’ll leave it with Adrasos, at the campgrounds.” /// remember to put the other fights in///
Adrasos dismounted, and translated for Chol, although he suspected the man had picked up most of that. He was loud enough that everyone heard. He tied Tisse to the carriage and followed Father Odeil.
The commander was a brisk sharp-eyed man. Middle-age, and fit, his hands were calloused from rein and sword. “Where are you from?”
“We are all Greek. I am traveling with my grandfather, stepfather, mother and two sisters, with four other men and five other women beside. We just crossed over, and had the great fortune to meet Father Odeil. We have been following him like lost chicks ever since.”
Odeil chuckled. “We were stopped at Red Cliffs when a pack of demon bandits attacked. They besieged us until the full moon. When they couldn’t break us then, and lost nine men trying, they withdrew.”
“I tracked them long enough to be reasonably sure they wouldn’t return immediately after we left.” Adrasos could feel himself blushing. “I thought to return well before the next full moon, in case they need assistance.”
Commander Lestade raised an eyebrow and looked at Odeil.
“Ah. I see.” There was a faint twinkle in the commander's eyes, quickly subdued. “I’ll send a troop out immediately, but it will be a bit light, I’ve patrols out every which direction right now, and I don’t like it. I pay citizen militia two dollars a day.”
“I’m not a citizen of this country.”
The commander shrugged. “If you’re going to live here, that’s close enough for me. You’ve six other men?”
“Four of them good fighters.” Adrasos hesitated. “My stepfather never trained with serious weapons, best he stay with Grandfather and the women. One of my men is demon-touched, as you say here, but a fine fighter.”
“He fought beside us, without ever wavering.” Father Odeil smiled a bit. “You know it’s not the horns that makes them demons.”
“I know, but half the troops don’t. Not that he’ll be allowed to stay here, either.” The commander frowned. “Take him with you, if he’s loyal. The other two should be enough to guard your family, not that this is a bad town, but there are always more men than women, and plenty of alcohol. I’ll take five of you for two weeks, longer if my captain finds a hot trail.”
“That will get you started on your money for the farm. Come now, and I’ll show you how to collect the bounties on Demons. The bulk of the kills are yours, or your men’s.” Odeil led him out into the town and down a fairly wide and mostly straight road.
Adrasos people watched. And studied the horses and wagons in the street. These people favored elaborate webs of straps, and heavy padded collars that followed the line of the horses’ shoulders. He could see where the collar would keep pressure off the horses’ necks, easing their breathing, and the lower attachments of lines from both sides of every horse to the wagons might be more stable. But the rest looked amazingly complex and unnecessary. I’ll have to try it, see how it suits. The horses, themselves ranged from great heavy creatures to long legged racers with awkward looking short backs. The riding horses tended toward fragile-looking, with thin legs and small hooves. Short faces with prominent eyes, almost cow-like heads.