August 13 1720
Waking up early the next day, Rhodri suggested that they try again to find the old hermit their host had told them about. Tess, Liadan, Siclare, and Sara agreed to accompany him — the men being total wimps as usual. Then Tess reminded them that they had seriously pissed off a large group of natives the night before, so Zibbler and the musketeers were included, and thus five became twelve.
Then Liadan pointed out that the man they were seeking was a hermit by choice, and that he might not be pleased by a dozen armed people walking into his home. With typical fey logic, Rhodri decided that the best solution would be to take him a pie.
“Hey, what’s this guy’s favorite food?” Rhodri asked their host.
“How should I know?”
“Well, what does he eat when he comes here?”
“Vell, he eats the raddish stew my vife makes…”
Rhodri promptly borrowed some surplus radishes from Siclare, took over Svetlana’s kitchen, and baked up a radish pie. Despite his utter lack of cooking skills, and the protestations of everyone present that a radish pie would be completely disgusting, he persisted.
After a few hours of impromptu baking, they finally got underway. Based on the directions their host had given them, Siclare suggested that they follow the well-worn bison-bath along the southern ridge, as it seemed the best track by which one might bring in a cart laden with vegetables.
Liadan pointed out that, if he was selling vegetables, he would need ready access to water. Siclare suggested that there were three rivers along their current path which could serve and which would all be roughly half-a-day’s travel by mule-cart (though only a few hours on foot) — the Roach River on the east side of the mountains, the Hawksbill on the west, and Ivy Creek almost due south. Lacking any more detailed information, they decided to make for the Ivy.
Making good time with the trail, they reached the headwaters of the Ivy a little after noon. The river was small, here, narrow enough for even Rhodri to step across but still flowing in spite of the hot, dry weather, bubbling up out of a spring in the hillside. The area around the small stream was still quite lush, with a thick growth of ferns along the bank.
Rhodri stooped down and took a drink from the river, then gagged. The water burned his throat and tasted of sulfur. Pausing, Siclare heard a faint ringing sound in the distance, like metal on stone.
Following the sound, in case their quarry might also be a miner or smith, they found, just a bit further east and uphill, a large exposed rocky face of the hillside. A large cleft rent the rock — perhaps five-feet wide, twenty-feet deep, and tapering towards the end, as if a gargantuan axe had stuck the hillside. Water flowed freely out of the cleft, smelling strongly of sulfur, then bubbled into a depression just a few yards beyond the opening and disappeared, likely to reemerge as the river further down the slope.
The sound was quite louder here, and clearly coming from the depths of the cleft. Rhodri waded into the ankle-deep water, ignoring the distinct tingly sensation on his wet feet, and headed in. At the very back of the wedge-shaped cleft, he found a cleanly cut rectangular opening, two feet wide and four feet high, running at least another sixty feet back into the mountainside. The passage was squared, and judging by the lack of channels carved by the stream still running over the limestone floor, had to have been made in the last year or two. Funky fairy that he is, Rhodri did what faeries do and asked the wall about who had carved it.
“You,” it replied simply.
Some further interrogation led to the conclusion that it was in fact, a number of short, wrinkled fey who had carved the shaft. Judging by the clearly visible yellow-green and purple chloroargyrite crystals in the wall, and the high sulfur content of the stream, Rhodri guessed that the creatures were there to mine silver, coal, or perhaps both (as both were definitely present).
Interesting as this was, Rhodri could not convince his friends to go wading through the acidic stream into the mine, nor did he have any interest in tangling with the miners. They made a mental note of the mines location, and set back out in search of “Old Bokken”.
Heading back to the north-west, they crossed over the ridge at Simmons Gap and down towards the headwaters of Hawksbill Creek. They descended into a gently sloped valley, with numerous hollows branching off, carved by the runoff of the many small streams and rills feeding the Hawksbill. The creek itself was mostly dry, with only a thin muddy trickle running through the wide bed under the late-summer heat.
A cardinal sat on a near-by tree branch whistling some Hendrix. Liadan struck up a conversation and learned that an old and very hairy human lived within the bounds of the cardinal’s small territory, and had lived there for all of the birds life apparently, and also grew lots of delicious grains. The discussion made the bird hungry, and it promptly flew off in search of some of the aforementioned grain.
Following the bird, they came over a rise into a deep holler. The floor of the holler was laid out in rows of neatly plowed fields, the the slopes on either side had been terraced into vineyards, orchards, and even what appeared to be a rice paddy. At the far end of the holler was what appeared to be a simple dugout — a rough-cut wooden door set into the hillside, flanked by a pair of wood-shuttered windows.
Numerous animals were also seen about — chickens, turkeys, hogs, donkeys, two horses, and several dogs. In one of the fields, a stout old mule was pulling a plough, followed by a rail-thin old man with a wild, dark beard reaching down to his waist. He wore a battered, old leather hat, and his black-gray hair stuck out in untended dreadlocks, clearly the result of years of unwashed neglect and nothing intentional, from beneath it.
Rhodri yelled and waved at the man, who began cursing and tugging on the mule’s reigns. After a few minutes he finally got the beast to stop, though not before it had dug a very crooked ten-yard furrow, and unhooked from the plough. Finally, after shooing the animal off to go graze, he turned and raised a hand as if to wave back. The wave quickly turned into a raised middle finger and an entreatment to “Get the fuck off my land!”
When Rhodri did not desist, a warning bullet whizzed over his shoulder. The others cautiously joined him, making a variety of diplomatic overtures towards the man. At this, the man burst out of the house, tearing off his shirt and danced around brandishing a pair of knives and letting forth piteous, sighing wails. Sara pointed out that the man’s eyes betrayed his sanity, and that this was clearly just another show to attempt to scare them off.
Finally Rhodri, quite sick of racist old men pointing guns at him, announced that he had brought nearly fifty settlers over the mountains with him, and threatened to settle in this very same valley if the man did not let them in and talk to them. Finally the man relented, lowered the gun, opened the door, and invited them in.
The inside of the dugout was a simple one-roomed affair, its walls and ceiling of bare dirt, save for a single curtained alcove. It had a single pot-bellied iron stove, the smoke billowing out the top to rest among the wooden beams holding up the roof, venting out only through a small hole above the door. For furnishings there was a single bed, spread with a thick, bright quilt, and, in the alcove a wooden bookcase packed with several neatly arranged volumes. Beyond that there was nothing, not a single table or chair. The old man sat down on the bed, propping the rifle against the headboard, and waved at the bare floor as if inviting his “visitors” to sit.
They conversed for some time. The man continued to harangue them with insults and encouragements to leave. Liadan, Siclare, Sara, and Rhodri tried to explain to the man their situation, trying to find a place to settle fifty-odd people, away from the reach of the empire, and also looking for assistance against Mad Bear and his raiding band of Hemp Wearers.
Eventually, Liadan was able to get the point across that they were seeking to establish a colony and settlement for the Unseelie Court of the Fey, and not the Empire. Unwilling to anger an official emissary from the courts (though he clearly had no problem insulting Rhodri only moments before), the man accepted a bite of Rhodri’s radish pie and offered them a jug of moonshine by way of establishing the protection of a guest pact. When the threat of them settling near-by was settled, he agreed to draw up a Map of any “threats to be avoided” (by which it was clearly meant anyone able to speak).
As dusk drew near, he, now more congenially, urged them to leave, offering that, “If you go away and promise not to tell any of your folks where I live, I’ll make sure your little passel of settlers doesn’t die of starvation in the coming winter…”
To be continued…