There were murmurs of assent.

The brigands looked up, bound, from their knees.

'There is no time to waste,' said a man. 'If the storm ceases, and the cloud cover scatters, the tarnsmen of Artemidorus may strike at the columns.' Artemidorus was a Cosian, the captain of a band of flighted mercenaries. 'In a few Ahn it will be morning,' said a man.

The fellow with the knife stepped forward, but I blocked his path.

'These prisoners are mine,' I said.

'They are known in this area,' said the man with the knife.

'Step aside,' said another. 'Let justice be done.'

'Move the wagons!' called a fellow in the back.

'There are many of us here,' said the fellow with the knife, not unpleasantly. 'The wagon is still off the road,' I said, indication the left wheels. 'Let us move the column forward.'

'To cut three throats will take but three Ihn,' said the fellow.

'Help me return the wagon to the road,' I said.

'You are clever,' said the fellow in the rain. 'You would enlist our support, and thus have us be your fellows, and thus deny us our will.'

'You will not help?' I said.

'Get ten men to help!' said he. 'I will not be deterred.'

'Move the wagons!' called a man from behind him. I heard tharlarion snorting and bellowing, even in the rain. There were some five lanterns where we were. I could see others lit, farther back in the arrested line.

'I myself am prepared to cut throats if we do not move in two Ehn,' said a fellow. 'I have a companion in my wagon, and two children. I would get them to safety.'

'You will not help?' I asked the fellow with the knife.

'No,' said he.

'Stand back,' I said. I then bent over, and backed under the rear of the wagon. 'Do not,' said the fellow of the driver, who held one of the lanterns. 'He is mad,' said another.

'Look!' cried another.

I straightened up slowly, lifting the laden wagon. I looked at the man with the knife. The wheel of the wagon, that to my right, spun slowly, free, the rain glistening in the lantern light on its iron rim. The men were quiet in the rain. I moved to my left, inch by inch. I then slowly, observing the man with the knife, lowered the wagon to the road. It settled on the blocks of fitted stone. I emerged from beneath the end of the wagon. Painfully I straightened up. I looked down at the fellow with the knife.

He stepped back. He resheathed his knife. 'They are your prisoners,' he said. 'Get to the wagon box,' I said to the fellow of the driver. 'Lose no time. Get out of here. When you can I would hood the prisoners, coarse sacking, cloth, anything, and tie it down securely about their necks. Do not let them be recognized for a hundred pasangs. If they are slain on you they will fetch little from the master of a work gang.'

'Our wagon was that of Septimus Entrates,' he said.

'Very well,' I said. That meant nothing to me.

'I wish you well!' he said, hurrying around the wagon.

'I wish you well,' I said after him, and drew my pack from the back of the wagon. In a moment I heard the snap of the whip, and the cries of the beast. Other men, too, hurried back to their wagons. The heavy wagon trundled away. I stood on the road, watching it leave, my pack in hand. Some men hurried after it, to strike and kick at the prisoners, who were only too willing to hurry after the wagon. They had been brigands, accumulating loot. Now, in a way, they themselves were loot, and would bring something good, at long last, to honest men, their captors. I continued to look after them, for a time. Yes, they were now themselves loot, as much more commonly were women.

'Perhaps you will now permit us to proceed,' said a man.

'In a moment,' I said. I wanted the wagon to get a bit down the road. With the slow going, and the storm, and its start, it was not likely another wagon would catch up quickly with it. 'Had some of you lost goods to those fellows?' I asked.

'I have,' said a man.

'Most of a wagonload of loot,' I said, speaking in the rain, 'was emptied down there, by the ditch. Perhaps you fellows would like to see if you can reclaim anything.'

'The loot of Andron!' cried a man.

'Perhaps the tracks of the wagon, too, might lead to some cache, or hideaway,' I said.

Men lifted lanterns.

'There is something down there,' said a man. Almost immediately he began to descend the embankment. Two other men followed him. 'Take the wagon ahead,' said another man. 'I will catch up with you later.' He then followed the others. I moved to one side as the wagons, then, began to pass. 'The loot or Ardon,' I heard someone say. 'Where?' asked another. 'Where those men are,' said another. Two more men left the road. The wagons continued to move by. The fellow who had had the knife looked at me. 'Is there really anything down there?' he asked. 'Yes,' I said. 'Well,' said he, 'perhaps I shall get something for the evening, after all.' He slipped down the embankment, to join the others. I went then again to the left side of the road and, when a wagon trundled by, unknown to the driver, I put my pack in it, and, again, as I had before, held to its right side with my left hand, to keep from falling in the road.

I thought the storm might have abated a bit but the rain was still heavy. Too, from time to time, lightning shattered across the sky, suddenly bathing the road and countryside in flashes of wild, white light, this coupled almost momentarily, sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little later, with a grinding and explosion of thunder.

'It seems the Priest-Kings are grinding flour,' laughed a man near me. 'It would seem so,' I said.

This was a reference to an old form of grinding, for some reason still attributed to Priest-Kings, in which a pestle, striking down, is used with a mortar. Most Sa-Tarna is now ground in mills, between stones, the top stone usually turned by water power, but sometimes by a tharlarion, or slaves. In some villages, however, something approximating the old mortar and pestle is sometimes used, the two blocks, a pounding block strung to a springy, bent pole, and the mortar block, or anvil block. The pole has one or more ropes attached to it, near its end. When these are drawn downward the pounding block descends into the mortar block, and the springiness of the pole, of course, straightening, then raises it for another blow. More commonly, however, querns are used, usually, if they are large, operated by two men, if smaller, by two boys. Hand querns, which may be turned by a woman, are also not unknown. The principle of the common quern is as follows: it consists primarily of a mount, two stones, an overhead beam and a pole. The two stones are circular grinding stones. The bottom stone has a small hub on its upper surface which fits into an inverted concave depression in the upper stone. This helps to keep the stones together. It also has shallow, radiating surface grooves through which the grindings may escape between the stones, to be caught in the sturdy boxlike mount supporting the stones, often then funneled to a waiting receptacle, or sack. The upper stone has two holes in it, in the center a funnel-shaped hole through which grain is poured, and, near the edge, another hole into which one end of the turning pole is placed. This pole is normally managed by two operators. Its upper portion is fitted into an aperture in the overhead beam, which supplies leverage and, of course, by affording a steadying rest, makes the pole easier to handle. The principle of the hand quern is similar, but it is usually turned with a small wooden handle. The meal or flour emerging from these devices is usually sifted, as it must often be reground, sometimes several times. The sifter usually is made of hide stretched over a wooden hoop. The holes are punched in the hide with a hot wire.

Most Goreans, incidentally, do not attribute lightning and thunder to the grinding of flour of Priest-Kings. They regard such things as charming myths, which they have now outgrown. Some of the lower castes, however, particularly that of the peasants, and particularly those in outlying villages, do entertain the possibility that such phenomena may be the signs of disunion among Priest-Kings and their conflicts, the striking of weapons, the rumbling of their chariots, the trampling of their tharlarion, and such. Even more sophisticated Goreans, however, if not of the Scribes or Builders, have been noted to speculate that lightning is the result of clouds clashing together in the sky, showering sparks, and such. Few people, I suppose, see the unity of such phenomena as lightning and the crackling in the stroked fur of a hunting sleen. In the wagon ahead, briefly illuminated, I saw, swinging from its strap, slung over a hook on the rear axle housing, a narrow, cylindrical, capped 'grease bucket,'

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