The travelling merchant pulled the lever to make his cart-puller stop. Not even waiting for a complete stand still, he jumped off, and began to rewind its core, all the way to the end of the coil. That should be enough to continue his journey at least a few more hours, until the darkness came to sweep the light away, sun replaced by the full moon and her stars. He looked around for any signs of other travelers, but the dirt road seemed empty. He knew this small gap in between the trees hardly deserved to be called road, being almost too narrow to fit his cart and -puller, the dirt overgrown on many places with patches of long grass and small shrubs of weed. He kept turning the winding wheel, feeling it skip a few times with every turn.
Due for a new star soon, methinks, the merchant thought to himself. He might even consider upgrading the whole puller mechanism, the core. He’d heard there were cart-pullers now that can keep going for almost 8 hours straight, and even some with adjustable speeds. Now wouldn’t that be something aye. He’d heard the old myths and legends, oi, everyone had heard those, about horses and other animals being used to pull carts. People even sat on top of them and they called it ‘riding a horse’. The merchant shook his head and let out an amused grunt. Surely those stories were only myths? If the horses from those stories are in any way like the horses running wild on the flat lands, he wouldn’t even think about getting close to them. Too large animals by far. Dangerous for sure.
A snapped twig was the only warning he had. It was enough. He snapped his head back, giving him a good view of the speeding cross bolt lodging itself deep in the puller’s wood. Without pause, he let himself fall back completely and roll under his cart. Emerging from the other side, he unstopped the vial he’d snatched from underneath the cart, and downed the content in a few quick gulps.
‘Aaaah,’ his face a sudden grimace while he sucked air through clenched teeth, ‘The rum, good stuff. Perfect.’ Inwardly he gave a little thanks for not grabbing the cognac, or even worse, the whiskey. That one would’ve been awkward in this situation.
An instant later, he felt his body grow warm, muscles heating up and flexing. His hearing became slightly sharper and he felt as if he could see better, but from extensive testing he knew that wasn’t so. While he heard the scrambling of leaves on the other side of the cart, his hands went to the underside of it, taking his-
‘Urgh, you pooing stupid thing,’ he mumbled as he tried to solve the blocked quarterstaff-hanging system. He needed to fix this hiding place, it clearly isn’t worki- ‘There we go!’ he yelled triumphantly, snatching it to his right, feeling the resistance before he heard the grunt. Surprised, he looked that way.
‘Right. I’m being attacked, forgot that for a moment.’ Frowning down to the masked person doubled in a heap on the ground, he grinned. ‘Got you in the nuts, did I?’ Chuckling, he added a solid hit on the attacker’s head.
Whirling his staff, he turned to block another person’s weapon, fluidly extending it further to make contact with the masked face. Before the attacker could crumble to the ground, he’d already pulled back his staff while twisting his body to align the end of his weapon perfectly with another attacker’s sternum. A choked out gasping sounded, but the travelling merchant calmly bend down to replace the quarterstaff back in its place. That done, he lifted of the gasping man’s mask and peered at the face.
‘Just what I thought, the pooing unibrow posse. Again. Bah. You tell your doyen that I’m tired of getting harassed. Next time I won’t be so friendly.’ With a shove, the attacker fell back, still struggling for breath. ‘Pathetic bunch of twats.’
He quickly tied them up, and jumped back on to his cart-puller. Pulling the lever made it silently go forward again.