Frida crouched on an overgrown ledge high up on the ancient man made Tor. The large cylindrical tower of rock and concrete had no entrance at ground level, whatever purpose it originally served or who built it was lost to time. Travellers had decorated the lower levels with hand painted signs and faded pennants, the upper levels covered with ivy. From her position, Frida had a view down towards her fidgeting horse and across the valley towards the track way, one of the dirt roads that followed the ancient routes across the country. Far off, she spied the array of carnival colours that were the trader’s horse drawn caravans moving slowly towards the distant town of Fairfield. She checked for the yellow chevron roof of the one she shared with the Brazingate family, allowing herself a smile when she spotted it.
She had finished linking herself to the lash lines hidden in this Tor, lines that enabled communication across the outlands. She bent down to unplug two heavy glass and copper jars. Inside these wet batteries; in the murky nutrient soup, the eels went limp, returning to their usual torpid state. She unclipped the wire from her ear, returning it to the copper discus shaped device in her hand.
She’d heard enough. Fairfield was safe, they were expected. There had been some fight at Cassidy’s, another preacher punch up. Nothing new, hardly unexpected given their popularity, she thought.
It had been just after that message that she caught a muted dip in signal; enough to tell her there were eavesdroppers on her line. As she packed she tried to pinpoint their location. She spotted them within seconds. In the wheat grass near a small tumulus were two figures; one standing while the other appeared to be adjusting a spear, stuck hard into the earth. She cursed her luck; she should have noticed the signal drop sooner. She packed everything into her backpack and prepared to climb down the Tor. When she reached the ground she received a gentle nudge and a snort of hot horse breath. Originally a gift from a friend, her horse was a mature mare with a heavy dark mane and steady gait. Frida intended to call her Mavis, but the name never stuck. Instead she rode on Gravity. She mounted the horse in a clumsy leap.
“Light speed!” she shouted, Gravity complied.
Frida could feel the still warm Tap disc against her chest as she rode quickly to her rendezvous with the caravans. She kept it safe, close to her heart. As she galloped past them, the two eavesdroppers watched her impassively. She wished she had avoided the eavesdropper’s direct attention; she hid her hair, she even bandaged her chest for convenience when riding. She hoped they thought she was a man and was relieved to see they did not follow her back to the track way.
A spicy smell of hot suppers and boiled meat hung over the caravans by the time Frida had caught up with them. She rode past the armed outriders, acknowledging them with a quick wave. She weaved between the many large-wheeled caravans. Gravity slowed to a brisk trot to enable her to deliver her hand written messages to the various recipients. She had finished when the first tiny droplets of rain fell. Frida adjusted her hood. Fairfield was only an hour away, already visible, a jumble of undefined shapes with lanterns lit against the darkening sky.
Music heralded the caravan’s entrance into Fairfield, coming up from the direction of the makeshift gates onto the wide avenue. Under the watchful eyes of the local night guards, the merchant Caravans arrived, sides fell open and awnings popped out so that within seconds there was a bright and colourful market where moments ago there had been a large expanse of muddy track.
The storm had worsened by the time Frida arrived at Cassidy’s place. Heavy rain had washed the muddy streets into brown pools. Leaping down from Gravity, she ran over to her friend, excited and brimming with stories. She had amassed a collection from her travels, three months of tales to tell to anyone who had not been there when they happened. Cassidy was standing talking to an unknown man, whilst on the covered walkway nearby, her face catching the rain and legs poking over the edge sat a strange feral girl. By their feet, seated in the mud, resting his bruised head against a wooden post lay a Preacher. The Preacher continued muttering incoherently as the large man knelt beside him, offering a canteen of water. Frida realised her stories could wait.
"Hi Fri, That’s Jacob, he’s helping me out. Locals got a bit angry with the Preacher, can’t leave him like this, bleeding and pissing in front of my place, it’s bad for business" said Cassidy.
Frida watched Jacob talking to the Preacher, his body blocked her chance at lip reading but she thought she saw something metallic pass between them. The feral girl seemed to notice it too.
The Preacher stood up unsteadily, stumbled backwards in the slippery mud, hitting the wooden post before he collapsed. There was one final exhale of breath before his body became lifeless. Nobody moved until after Jacob had examined the man.
"The preacher's dead" he stated.
Frida and Cassidy exchanged glances; the injuries were hardly fatal. Frida noticed that the other witness, the outlander girl, had vanished.
"This isn’t good, you two, " Cassidy indicated Jacob and Frida, "give me a hand."
There was a sudden explosion overhead, a bright, colourful bloom in the sky.
From the main avenue the music continued to play as the celebratory fireworks exploded. No one noticed them carry the dead preacher inside.