Historical Fantasy Adventure - Third book in the Swords & Stones Series (63,400 words).
One man and his wives travel through the Roman Empire, living in a wagon, their life guided by the ancient gods. Easy to read fantasy stories of the group’s travels and adventures as they explore different lands and different peoples. In this book the crew loose their fashion designer but gain another member, and discover one of their boats has been captured by pirates setting in motion a chain of events leading them to venture overseas in search of revenge.
Home for Babies
There was still a winter chill blowing off the mountains that froze the smell of the ocean from the air until they were coming down the very last hill into Aquileia.
“Race you to the hot soup shop,” Sara yelled back from the front wagon as her and Ava gave free rein to their horse and started pulling away, even though the wagon was fully loaded.
“We’ll join you,” Helga yelled from the next wagon and urged her horse too.
Cal watched Miena in the third wagon start to follow, she’d need to keep order. Ameena and Nerrina were still keeping a steady pace in front of him.
“Nerrina will grab the reins soon,” Karli said quietly. She’d been riding in the home wagon with Cal the last few weeks, the baby very close and for a good part of the day she preferred to lie in the back, surrounded by cushions to keep her stable. Only a few more moments and the last freight wagon started increasing speed. “Ameena does whatever Nerrina wants.” Karli gave a tiny laugh.
“They’ll have to wait for us,” Cal said. “We’ve got the coins.”
“They’ll hassle Maree. She’ll give them some.”
“They’ll be too busy telling her stories and discussing her baby and our wolf.” Cana had been Karli’s constant companion, lying close to her day and night. “I want to be on the seat when we drive in,” Karli said, starting to rouse herself. Cana getting up too so that when she did get to the front and sit down, he was sitting by her feet, looking out. Cal had his arm around her, hand on her tummy feeling the movements inside as she leaned against him. “I’m frightened about the birth,” she said quietly, turning to see if he was looking. He was.
“We’ll have the best help. I know I’m not much good, but Maree and the other women will know what’s best.”
“You’ll be a great help. I want you to be there. I want you to hold me. You know me better than anyone else.”
He knew she was speaking a truth. Time and time again, he’d seen how much alike they were. He tried to keep it hidden, but was sure the others knew, they always knew everything.
“The others know,” Karli said. “They know, but they know you never treat me different to them. They’re happy.”
“They’re looking forward to playing with our baby even more,” Cal said.
“I’ll only get her to feed. Ameena will keep it as hers.”
“She’ll have to fight Sara.”
“No, chariots will win.” They both laughed, and were still smiling as they drove through the open rear gate to the warehouse yard. Cal helped Karli down, and with Cana by her other side, they walked through the double doors into the warehouse proper, eyes trying to adjust to the light. Maree looked away from her surrounding crowd toward them.
“Petra’s going to be delicate and ladylike,” Karli whispered. Maree’s belly easily twice as big as Karli’s.
“Like her mother,” Cal whispered back.
“They’re talking secrets,” Sara said.
“Karli’s not feeling great,” Cal said, but he was sure they were both still smiling.
“Can we go for soup now?” Ava asked, Sara looking down at her hands.
“Yes,” Cal said, and they were gone, Sara leading, one hand held out front, the rest running behind her.
“I gave her coin,” Maree said. “You here for the birth?”
“Both of them,” he said.
“A lot been happening. All great, you’ll be surprised.”
“We had an interesting trip, more treasure for Rome, we’ll have to go again when things settle.”
“Taking your wolf too.”
“Cana goes everywhere with us, he’s our protector,” Karli said.
“I know.” The twinkle in her eye saying she did know.
“Karli needs some help with the baby. Real women help.”
“Not from chariot racers I assume. We’ll talk together, you could send them out to the farm.”
“Do you want to come later?”
“I’d rather not until the baby comes.”
“Well you and Karli rest up. I’ll sort the others.”
When the soup testers returned, Karli and Maree were sitting together in the courtyard. “They both aren’t feeling great. If you want to go to the farm, you can, but back here for supper, Maree doesn’t even want to risk the travel until the baby comes.”
“Can we take Cana?” Sara asked.
She ran to ask, and returned with Cana by her side. “He loves racing. Let’s go.”
Even Miena went, taking her large two-horse boss chariot. Cal stayed, wandering around their shop before going next door to see Daniel in the produce shop.
“This baby is giving Maree more trouble than the last,” Daniel said, his eyes bloodshot.
“Karli’s due around the same time, she’s been miserable too.”
“At least there hasn’t been so much baby talk this time.”
“Maybe you’re just getting used to it.”
“Maybe we’re worn down with the extra work. Has Maree told you about the art gallery?”
“No, just got in and still discussing babies.”
“You’re in for it then. Plans and costs. Decisions every day, then changed the next. She said it was your idea, so I should be blaming you.”
“Is she enjoying it?”
“You know she is. It’s good to see her so involved in something like that.”
“Would you like a civic project too?”
“I’d never have time.”
“You must be making enough to employ staff.”
“I’ve thought about it. I could. We really don’t need much money to live.”
“Maree would have to approve,” Cal said.
“I know. She’s mentioned it a few times. I think she’d like me to spend more time with Maximus.”
“Make it happen. I’ll find you a project like hers. What about a chariot race track?”
Daniel was silent a while. Cal could see him thinking, deciding options. “I do know a lad who I would be happy to help me here, but a chariot track, what would I know about that?”
“You’d know how to supply all the horse food.”
“I’d have to raise money for the works.”
“That’s easy, you only have to ask your wife. Your father in law would do the building, and you’ve got a chariot already, and your wife likes racing.”
“It’s a big project.”
“But you’ve got plenty of time to work it all out. You think about it, we’ll fund it, you make it happen.”
Cal walked out of his shop leaving Daniel’s mind working full speed, pity the next customer, but seeds had been planted.
The two mothers-to-be were still in the courtyard of their warehouse, sitting side by side, looking quite content.
“You been annoying my husband,” Maree said.
“Giving him ideas,” Cal said.
“Once he gets an idea, you never hear the end of it.”
“You might like these ideas. Give him more time with Maximus, and give him a new outlook.”
“Chariot track,” Karli said, and then seeing the look on Cal’s face burst out laughing.
“He doesn’t know about chariot tracks,” Maree said.
“Sara will soon teach him,” Karli said.
“I’ve heard you’ve got your own project,” Cal said.
“I’ll show you later. So many choices, but it’s a life’s dream, I can’t complain.”
“Our art going there?”
“Of course. You build your dream, and fill it with the best. I’m sure others will contribute too.”
“I think your baby will come easy, but mine is big and it might be a problem. You are staying here, aren’t you.”
“Right here until both are born. The chariot crew can go out during the day.”
“I saw about your wolves. Others might be more afraid, you’ll need to be careful in town.”
“We’ll keep him under control, just another reason to stay out in the country. Maybe I better start cooking supper here,” Cal said.
“I’ll help you, I’m feeling better now,” Karli said.
“We might just have fish on a stick, that won’t take much.”
“Well go and get the fish. Get plenty, they’ll be hungry,” Maree said, her arm around Karli. “It will give time for Sara to tell my husband about race tracks.” They were both laughing as he walked away to start preparations.
The fish were all skewered on their sticks, fresh bread broken ready to eat and the fire was down to glowing coals when the chariot crew returned.
“How did you know we’d be starving,” Sara yelled as she saw the preparations.
“Sort out your horses first,” Cal said.
“I’ll get the others,” Helga said and raced to bring Daniel and Maree to the back yard.
Cana liked fish too, both raw and cooked, he ate as many as Sara. As the eating subsided, Cal broached the subject of race tracks. “Do you think it would be a good idea to have a chariot race track for the town?” It was on. Sara saying it was a great idea and Daniel asking her questions about what would be needed. Soon plans were being drawn in the dirt and discussions of what types of corners were best and where the spectator seating needed to be.
“You’ll enjoy it too,” Cal said quietly to Maree.
“He’ll enjoy it for ages. Thank you.”
“Tell them about our theatre opening,” Cal said loudly. Chariot tracks paused for a moment while stories were told and demonstrations acted out. Maximus handed between those not presently involved in the story. Cal kept watching the two mothers. Maree was putting on a brave face, but she was definitely not feeling well. Karli was doing much better, being with Maree had helped her confidence. When they were finally alone in bed, Miena mentioned that she thought Maree was not doing very well.
“What can we do to help her?” Ava asked.
“Take her out to our stones and give her an energy boost,” Nerrina said.
“She doesn’t want to travel,” Cal said.
“Bring the stones to her,” Sara said.
“Would that work?” Cal asked Miena.
She was quiet a good moment before replying. “It could work. We could set them up in the horse yard. It wouldn’t be as good as out of the city, but it would work enough to help her.”
“Other people will see,” Helga said, turning towards her sister.
“They’ll think we’re strange,” Heidi said, completing the sentence.
“Witches,” Nerrina said, her tone keen.
“Not if we made it like seats in a ring like those stones in Miena’s town,” Sara said.
“We’d need seat size stones then,” Ava said.
“Stones like in our courtyard wall,” Miena said.
“Would they work?” Cal asked.
“Yes. They are the right type and a good size. Seven would be best.”
“We’ll get them first thing,” Sara said, looking at Ava. “We can carry one on each chariot, that will be the fastest.”