The evening fire and morning embers are a needed warmth as late fall breezes play over the roof shaking straw and shingle. The sharp morning chill bites as you step away from the hearth and ice wind plays at cloak trim outside the door. Mercio stirs in the predawn, inns herding game animals to the back and stable hands feeding horses. A smith hammer rings behind distant buildings as you walk toward the north gate. Wagons and carriages rest unhitched on roadsides behind their drooping eyed guards. A curl of doused smoke rises from a ring of three close to the gate, the man in the yellow shirt holding the dripping bucket. The wagons are heavy carts made from timber culled across the breadth of Vanterra, each attended to by a man in leather tying down the coarse burlap cover resting over a mounded load. A pike hangs from the back of each and the men bob and weave through their duties, spitting like farmers, cursing like drivers.
Another, a man, wanders through the still wagons, retrying knots in the wake of the pikemen, resetting crates under the cover. Tall for a man, his thin beard is brown and older than the pikemens’, maybe older than Yaqub’s. Hair hidden deep in a hood, but mouth bemused with every retied knot, eyes upward with every reset crate.
“Ah, least you come on time.” Yaqub crunches through frosted mud, the campfire dying behind him. “We will not be but a few minutes from departing, please prepare yourselves while my,” he coughs to hide his sneer. “men finish their preparations.” Hands reach slightly to the cloudless dawn. “If they can be called men, Fharlagen perserve me.” Hands drop and shoulders sag. “If they were I would not have needed more”
“And do make sure some one stays in front this time.” He addresses you, turning back to his caravan. “Guards do me no good if they are behind my wagons.”