An hour past the fields of Bastonell, Jispin hurled the heads into the deep brush, their need to keep frontier locals at a distance no longer needed. They only passed two groups of farmers, wary and armed, over the next hour on the road, a road which was little more than a slightly wider trail with poor drainage and an occasional cleared spot for passing or camping with a small corral. The farmers gave them a wide berth, but took the news of a modest victory with good cheer. When they came to a fork in the road, they headed south for the small town at Grestell, rather than northeast for the even smaller garrison of Grennell. The garrison was more likely to have need for good armor and weapons being closer to the border, but it would likely have little cash and lots of soldiers with questions, while the growing city of Gresell would have more money, more ambition, and more pressing need for weapons. The surrounding farms would always want more animals at a fair price, too, even if there wasn’t a need for cavalry.
The town of Gresell was originally a modest mott-and-bailey located on a small hill, which had been gradually expanded and improved, so the central minor fortification was not insignificant, but it wasn’t exactly impressive. The city’s outer wall was a simple eight-foot-wide ditch, three foot tall berm, and an uneven palisade with occasional towers and many small gaps between the logs. Houses and other buildings crowded together behind it, though there was a significant space between, currently growing root vegetables if the glimpses they could see through the gaps were correct. A sensible thing to do. The fields outside the palisade were the normal mix of fallow, roots, forage of field peas and oats, and orchards.
“A Kurgen child could scale that,” was Jispin’s disgusted comment on the palisade.
“And a Kilpan catapult stone could rend it asunder as well. But it’s enough to stop a charging horse, and give the defending archers and pikemen time to assemble and repel an attack,” countered Andronikos, aware of his own profession’s strengths and weaknesses.
“And time to launch a great many arrows,” added his squire.
The alarm had not been raised – apparently three men and a herd of horses were not deemed a threat. However, the stone gatehouse and towers straddling the road were well-manned with swordsmen. The Crimean armor was of mixed varieties, all three of the newcomers noted.
“Name and business!” the captain of the guard, a middle-aged and no-nonsense-looking man in scale armor but no helm demanded brusquely.
“Sir Andronikos Math-Martin, of Kilpa. Recently in battle against Argentain, here to speak with the mayor, Count Jaxon, on a matter of city defense.”
“What sort of business?”
“If I had to explain the details to everyone who asked I’d die of old age before arriving here. If you’d be so kind as to tell us where we can corral and unload our train, we can be about our business before the day is out, rather than harvest time.” His voice was polite, but he still managed to give the unmistakable impression of aristocracy and leadership that so many found irresistible. “I’m sure your men would like to have better armor and time to practice with new weapons before the next Argentain assault upon your walls. We got lucky and destroyed the last one, but…”
Appealing to both the guard’s desire to get something for his men, and the mystery of wanting news but not sounding like a gossip, he acceded. Shortly the animals were being unloaded by the squire and Jispin, while Sir Andronikos rode off with a guide detached from the gatehouse to spin tales and bargain with the Count.
The customs-house where the animals dropped their burden was little more than a barn with a smaller than normal door bearing a simple lock near the guardhouse. The muddy corral had no fodder, and the sum demanded to have someone bring a load of hay sounded outrageous to Hávarðr, and he said so; Jispin said nothing in accordance with the plan, and silently went about his work noting reactions, dispositions, and moving equipment. The animal wouldn’t starve in the next hour or two, though he didn’t want them to go the rest of the day without. When they’d finished stacking the saddles, saddle bags, packframes, and the rest, they turned the animals loose to wander about the enclosure. He leaned against the wall under the eaves to escape the rain drew a hunk of jerky to munch. Hávarðr went to chat with the guards in the guardhouse. It suited Jispin fine to just listen and watch – he didn’t like the smells and look of the town or its guards. Based on some of the looks shot his way, he suspected the feeling was mutual.
He expected it would take a while for the knight to get in to see the mayor, and rather less time for information to be forthcoming from the men whom Hávarðr was sharing a friendly flagon of their plundered wine with. He had enough with him to loosen tongues with, but not enough to induce drunkenness. The young Kurgen watched and listened carefully while he finished another hunk of jerky and some hard cheese. Then he started giving all the horses a good working-over with the curry-comb found in the shed attached to the corral, and cleaned the frogs of their feet as well. Keeping a mount in good health meant it could carry him farther, faster, when needed. Hurting a horse was like letting good armor rust – the waste of a valuable resource.