The kids trundle off to bed, even Archer which surprises me. I put Chess on guard duty near her window just in case. I put on a pot of mud as I go through the days inventory. Seemingly all good trades asides from Porter’s. Kids.
Right; forty gallons of pure water. Nine gallons of tainted medium rad water. Two gallons of kerosene…
I am only asleep for minutes when I feel a presence above me. I slide my right hand under the pillow to grab my knife when I see that it’s Porter standing there.
“Dad, I can’t sleep.”
“It’s okay,” I mumble as I throw back the bearskin blanket. “Climb in.”
He burrows in like a tick. It takes him a few minutes of kicking, twisting and turning to get himself comfortable. I plant a kiss on the back of his head. “Good night.”
“Tell me a story about mom?” He rolls over to face me. “Please.”
I sigh, “Close your eyes. Once upon a time, a long time ago when the Principality of Savannah was just called Savannah…”
“Slaves! Get your fresh, hard working slaves!” cried the scarred man over the din of the crowd. His was just one of those yelling out spruiking their human wares. Antonio wandered through the market amazed at all that was on offer; car engines, slaves, swords, exotic pets, sugar.
“You like snakes?” growled an old woman shoving a large python in Antonio’s face. Startled he stepped back into the path of a large man who was not going to stop causing Antonio to get knocked into another stall and spill over a dozen apples onto the floor.
“HEY!” barked the apple vendor grabbing Antonio by the collar. “You stealing my apples?”
“No!” yelped Antonio as he tried to get lose when he spotted the most gorgeous thing he’d ever seen standing on the adjacent slave table.
“Mom!” gasped Porter.
“Ssh, this is supposed to bore you into sleep.”
Antonio was stunned at her beauty, so stunned in fact he didn’t see the wooden chopping board the apple vendor picked up and cracked him across the head.
“Ow!” screamed Antonio grabbing his head. “What was that for?”
“You’re stealing my produce!” snarled the vendor waggling the board at Antonio who pulled out a stiletto.
“No, I’m defending myself from some mad apple muncher,” replied Antonio. “I haven’t stolen anything; I don’t want your apples. This whole thing has been a misunderstanding. Let’s not make this stupid thing even stupider.”
The apple vendor and the young man circled each other a few times before the vendor spat on the ground. “You’re lucky, you little street rat.”
“I’m lucky?” scoffed Antonio. “What you’re selling as apples are really choko’s. Fake apples.”
The merchant scowled and gathered up his fruit. “I see you again rat, I crack your empty head open!”
Antonio kicked a loose “apple” back to the man. He put his knife away and ran over to the slaver stall.
“She cooks! She cleans!” yelled the woman with the silver hook hand as she yanked the girl’s chain. “Fine strong teeth!”
“How much?” shouted Antonio.
The woman looked him up and down. “I doubt you have anything I want boy?”
Antonio cocked an eyebrow “How much?”
“Two sheep,” said the woman “Or a box of shells for an AK.”
Antonio looked the woman in the eye. “Is she made of magic? Twelve shells.”
“A box is my price little boy.” She yanked the chain making the girl fall to her knees. “She’s in prime breeding age! And, a rarity my friends, not a tattoo or scar upon her milky hide.”
“Don’t move,” Antonio said more to the girl than the slave woman and he raced off to the dace side of the markets.
“You left her?”
“Another interruption Porter and I’ll put you in Chess’ box?”
Antonio stopped at the table where a pudgy dwarf with neck tumours shuffled cards. He placed his stiletto and a bottle of water down and pointed to the AK-47 hanging from the roof above. “That thing loaded?”
The dwarf nodded and licked his lips. “Yes.”
“Deal me in.”
The dwarf smiled, flashing his blackened teeth capped with golden crowns, and shuffled the cards when Antonio reached over and grabbed his hands. “I want a fair game, not one of your usual carnie nonsense games.”
The little man snorted and reefed his hands away. “My house, my rules.”
Antonio’s shoulders dropped as the dwarfs little fingers tossed out two cards to him and then two to himself. The dwarf flipped over a card to reveal a naked lady holding a seven. “Your move.”
Antonio looked at his two face down cards and flipped over the left one, it was another naked lady holding a ten. “No, I believe it’s your move.”
The dwarf narrowed his eyes as he studied the cards again. Something was amiss. Slowly he flipped his other card over to reveal another seven. Antonio smiled and flipped his card over, two naked ladies holding an ace to which the dwarf realised he’d been swindled. “Pay up.”
“You won mom in a card game?”
I grab a pillow and hit Porter in the face. “Sleep.”
“But you haven’t finished!”
“You need sleep,” I remind my youngest. “And I said if you interrupt I’d put you in Chess’ box?”
Porter quickly shuts his eyes and loudly faux snores. I roll over. “Good night.”
“You owe me a story,” Porter says quietly.
We rise with the sun. Breakfast is quick and simple before we open up the caravan again. Drummer locks Chess away while Hunter and Porter get ready for our second day. I look around and realise Archer’s not about; not on the roof either.
“Where’s your sister?” I ask to which I get blank puzzled looks from the other three before she appears. “Good morning Archer.”
She scowls and heads up to the roof for lookout duty. I go to grab her when Hunter waves me away, seems he is happy swapping positions with his twin. I’d prefer if they stuck to the schedule but I’m happier she’s here than me having to traipse into Willow Creek looking for her.
“You in charge of all this?”
I turn to see two Willow Creek Paladins standing there, with another a few feet away; the one from last night.
“I am Antonio Bassanio; merchant, tinker and proprietor of this humble caravan,” I bow slightly.
“You’re coming with us,” says the one on the left as he grabs my shoulder.
To be continued…
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