Chapter Nineteen

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The roads into Dakesht were beginning to fill with people, even at dawn. There were groups of lowing cattle, bleating sheep, noisy geese and equally noisy children; and here and there a fur-trader. Sherath, astride one of the new beasts and leading Sunshine, called the others up to him.

Keep close together, he said. We'll take the beasts straight down to the market and pen them. They're better than anything we've seen here yet – they should sell early, and well.

Tarke gave a gentle tug on Agouti's lead rope, and nudged the bay she was riding with her heels to send him forwards abreast of Sherath. – Are we leaving our own beasts in town?

There'll be a livery stable, said Nemeth, hauling an unwilling Flax up to keep pace with his mount – another bay.

How do we pay them? asked Farinka.

Out of what we get for the beasts, nitwit, said Nemeth, laughing. At least, that's the general idea.

– And how much will we get for the beasts?

– No idea, said Sherath. I'll have to see how some others sell before I think about price. I don't know what prices beasts go for at all.

The market pens were filling up gradually when they arrived; one of the stallsmen checked the four beasts in.

"Don't suppose 'ee wants to sell that goldie, do 'ee?" he asked Sherath.

Sherath grinned at him. "Not really. He's a friend."

"Shame. My missus'd love that 'un. 'E's right pretty."

"He is that," said Tarke. "What sort of price would you pay for a goldie – if you could get one?"

"I dunno. Sure you're not selling?"

"Positive."

"Well then, seeing as you're not selling, maybe sixty marks. For a goldie. You could ask fifty for any of your others, and maybe get it, too. None broken-winded? Broken-mouthed?"

"They're all under five years old," said Farinka, chivvying the roan into the pen with the other three. "Green, but no vices." – They haven't had time to learn any, she added, catching Sherath's eye. He grinned.

The stallsman winked at Sherath. "Wish you luck," he said.

"And you," replied Sherath as the man turned to install the next group of beasts.

Nemeth was suddenly Aware of a tiny hand stealthily approaching his belt, and reached an arm round behind him, catching hold of a ragged little urchin. The little one froze, turning beseeching eyes up at him.

"Over young for that game, aren't you, little one?" said Nemeth softly, lifting the small scrap of humanity up by its jacket and holding it at eye level.

"Dint mean no 'arm, sor, onnist," the scrap replied. "Wuz just looken at they beasts. They's nice beasts, sor, they is," he added.

"And you weren't going to pick my pocket for me, then?" said Nemeth, half smiling.

"No, sor, not 'tall sor. Onnist?" The urchin tried what a grin would do. It worked. Nemeth burst out laughing.

"Okay, scrap. Go on home to your mother, before someone gets the wrong idea, all right?"

"Got no mam, sor. She'm dead this spring. No dad, neither. Jus' me and Kehwi."

"Who's Kehwi," asked Tarke gently, looking into the child's eyes. The urchin reached out a hand towards her, hesitantly. Tarke took the hand in her own. – Nemeth, sit him on the rails, you'll strangle him with his own jacket in a minute. Nemeth glanced at her, then perched the boy on the rails.

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