Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Forty Eight

Story time began at about 9:09 on September 19

Sebastian woke that morning feeling miserable. He was hungry and the bread he had taken from the kitchen was already a bit dry.

Of course, he hadn't slept well at all, with wind noises, animal noises, rock noises, water noises...

And the few branches he had managed to collect for a bed were not springy enough to hide all the rocks jutting out of the ground.

And the first thing he saw, on waking, was a crow cautiously stepping close to the overhang.

"ARRRRR!" shouted Sebastian, startling the crow into a languid retreat.

It banked and turned, and came to rest on a snag out of arm's (and stone's) reach. It made a low, guttural sound as if it were laughing.

Sebastian shuddered, and began to collect his few things. It was cold, and misty, and therefore damp, and he wanted to find a warmer spot.

He had no plan -- no idea what he would do next, no thought for anything beyond the next moment.

A twig crackled behind him, and a rock slipped to the side.

Too late, Sebastian turned to look...

Too late.

A huge, rough hand went over his mouth and a strong arm went around his waist and lifted him.

Sebastian fainted.

He came to in the back of a wagon, or so he assumed.

His arms were tied behind his back and he was lying on top of them. One leg was tied to a ring on the side of the vehicle.

He groaned. A gag cut the sound.

Sebastian regretted having waited to do his morning ablutions... he really wanted to make a pit stop.

But there was nothing he could do. He shifted slightly and tried to see what might be around him.

Wooden planks underneath him, at the sides more planks with iron rings set periodically. The vehicle was fairly tall.

There was a stench...

He twisted around.


There were at least half a dozen sheep and goats in the tall-sided, closed topped wagon that bore him -- where?

He had seen wagons like this before, they usually were bound for the port city at the end of the river that flowed past the village.

There were cages of fowl, and bushels of food items stacked and tied as tightly as could be packed and still leave room for life in the animals.

The wagon jostled back and forth and Sebastian turned away from the other inhabitants of the wagon, trying to find any fresh air.

He drifted off as tears wet the sides of the gag.

He woke as he was roughly pulled out of the wagon before it had stopped moving.

Two huge, unsavory looking men were there, one with a whip and one with a bowl of stew and a hunk of bread.

They removed the gag and untied his arms, but left his leg tied up.

Sebastian gulped down the food and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He looked at the men fearfully.

The one with the whip appeared to be about his father's age -- hair beginning to gray at the temples. The other man was younger, heavy-set and dressed in clothes that obviously were meant for someone smaller.

The older man handed the whip to the other and untied Sebastian's leg. The goats moved around uneasily and bawled in fear.

"You boy! Get out of there and help fetch water for the animals. The bucket's under the tailgate."

Sebastian eyed the men warily and sullenly. He was in no position to argue or negotiate. He grabbed the bucket and walked the few steps to the stream they had parked near...

The big man held the whip at the ready and stayed just within reach.

He moved clumsily and slowly, with a rolling gait, as if he were never sure the ground would be where he thought it was.

Trip after trip Sebastian made, until his arms ached and his hands grew blistered. Finally the trade animals and the draft animals were watered and they let him hang the bucket up.

Sebastian wondered at the men, who seemed restless, always looking around. There were seven in all, he now knew, and three wagons. One with the livestock, one with vegetables and preserves, and one with... he didn't know. But as one man always stood near the gate on that one, he couldn't get close enough to tell.

It was already getting late in the day, but they moved out anyway, taking the rarely used trail down the mountain to the west.

He knew that it would eventually wind around and come out to parallel the river as it flowed to the sea. He was confused that they took this route.

But the men seemed reluctant to speak except in low whispers and grunts. They tied his hands again, in front this time, and shoved him unceremoniously back into the livestock wagon, but left him ungagged and otherwise unfettered.

He tried not to let his fear and disappointment show, but the men laughed at him anyway...

Once the gate was closed and latched, he let the tears fall.

With a rumble and a jolt, the wagon began to move, throwing Sebastian to the floor and sending the chickens into a tizzy.

Hour after painful hour, the wagon jolted and bounced, jostled and bumped its way down the mountain.

Inside the wagon it was stuffy and hot. After a while, the smell ceased to be oppressive and simply was.

Every once in a while a bit of fresh air came up through a crack in the floorboards, and Sebastian found that if he put his head near it he felt better.

When the wagon stopped again, it was dark outside, and the blast of cold air that came in when they opened the gate made Sebastian gasp.

The huge man stood there, still with the whip, but this time it hung off his belt. He untied the rope that bound Sebastian's hands and motioned to the bucket wordlessly.

No words were needed. Sebastian could hear the roar of the river and quickly proceeded at his task, wincing at every step, as the bucket's handle cut into his blistered palms and fingers. He shoulders ached and his feet were bruised from walking over the rocks.

When he was done watering the animals, the man handed him a large broom. Sebastian swept out the filth from the wagon. He could smell something cooking from the fire the men had built.

Finally, he was done and the man shoved him toward the fire. The men were smiling a bit more now, passing around a bottle from which they eagerly chugged drinks.

Sebastian found a spot not too close to the men and was handed a bowl with more stew and more bread.

He looked curiously at the bottle, and one of the men passed it over to him. Sebastian threw his head back and chugged...

and spluttered and gagged and choked. The liquid burned all the way to his stomach, where it set fire to the stew.

One of the men grabbed the bottle out of his hands as he raced for some bushes and was ill.

They laughed uproariously at this. "Yo HO!" shouted one man, and the chant was taken up by the others.

Sebastian returned to the circle, and a youngish man -- maybe John or Daniel's age -- came up to his side with a tin cup filled with milk.

Sebastian accepted it gratefully and sat down again.

He finished his meal and listened drowsily to the songs the men sang, of far-off lands and salty waters, of women who offered favors (what sort, Sebastian didn't know, perhaps candy he thought sleepily), of vast riches to be had for the brave and wary.

He was barely aware when someone covered him up with a rough blanket. The sparks from the fire leapt up into the dark night, constellations of flame...

And far away, at the far side of a little village, a woman sat at the window of her front room, watching and waiting and wondering and worrying.