Offworld items were rarities, rarities, the few imports that arrived on the continent, having been shipped across the Lesser Ocean from the spaceport in Keran were always valuable – even the commonplace ones. His own fine knife blade, stronger than anything that could be made on Temsevar, had cost Caer most of his first season’s bonus to purchase. So if there was anything salvageable left on the mithan, it would truly be as if the skies had opened up and rained money on them. For a moment that thought drove out every other and he had the exhilarating image of himself leading Alexa the Fair’s caravan into the city of Alfor, wagons overflowing with wealthy cargo.
But only for a moment.
The many long days of travel that remained before they could reach Alfor rose up and cut through that image like a row of jagged teeth. This was a small caravan and painfully undermanned with too few Zoukai. For all his own strength and skill, if word got out that they carried any great wealth – if anyone saw them take it or even noticed they had left the road – then they would be lucky to arrive in Alfor alive let alone with their cargo intact. But if – if he could keep it safe, then the end-of-run bonus it could earn him would be enough to make almost all his wildest dreams grow flesh and walk.
Caer became aware that Alexa was still watching him with an almost hungry expression on her beautiful face. Her eyes were glittering with the same visceral excitement he was feeling. It was as if, for that one moment, they were equals.
“Well, Captain?” she asked at last. “Have you nothing to say about it?”
“You will be wealthy, Honoured One, truly wealthy – if we can reach Alfor safely.”
“If,” she agreed and smiled as if pleased that he had grasped the key issue without her having to spell it out. Then the smile was gone and Alexa was the business-like caravansi once more.
“There is still time for you to ride up the mithan before sunset, Captain. I want you to take a few of your best Zoukai and see what is there, then we can make arrangements to bring it down tomorrow.”
It was getting a little late in the day and the wise Caer said he should protest and insist that they leave it for the next day. It was not sensible to take a dangerous path up the side of a mithan on tired ponies and risk having to make the descent in the dark. But the wild impetuous Caer, the Caer that had turned his back on the security of the craftsman’s life his father had planned out for him for the adventure of being Zoukai, the Caer who had defied all Zoukai convention to grasp the chance to be a captain years before he was supposed to – that Caer told him challenging the order would only make him seem a coward.
“Your will, Honoured One.”
Alexa’s hand lifted in dismissal and Caer pressed his forehead to the rug at the foot of her couch. Then he got to his feet in a single movement and was at the entrance of the pavilion before Alexa’s voice stopped him.
He held the flap of heavy cloth and looked back towards her.
“Captain, if we can get this treasure trove to the Alfor Fair, I promise you that we shall all be rich – you and your Zoukai too.”
“Your will, Caravansi,” Caer responded automatically. It was only as he walked away from the pavilion, it occurred to him to wonder if she spoke from concern in case of an attack on the caravan or fear of his own betrayal – fear that he and the other Zoukai would steal her precious gift from the sky.
He mounted his pony and rubbed its ugly head between the ears. It was true, the thought of so much wealth could certainly turn your mind. But then it could also be that he and the Caravansi were making fine cakes from nothing more than mud and sand. Caer had seen the size of the explosion and he was very aware he might find little on the plateau beyond a few useless scraps of overheated metal and a large crater. He turned his mount and went in search of the men he wanted.
From The Fated Sky the first part of Transgressor Trilogy, and the first book in Fortunes Fools by E.M. Swift-Hook.