“So where are the drovers?” asked a crusty looking halfling, intent on cooking mashed spuds over a grease splattered stove.
“We’re here,” annonced Seencheena leading her friends into the farmyard kitchen.
Slowly the halfling turned. His mouth dropped open and he shook his head. “You lassies don’t look you even know what a cow looks like! Da boss must be kidding! I can’t be taken you greenhorns onto a drove. We are already down men and they are replacing them with women and boys!”
“Which one might I be?” simpered Skye gliding over the steaming pot of spuds. "And might I say that is a fine pot of potatoes. One of the finest I have ever seen!’
‘Spuds… I call a spud a spud. I have no time for al new fanagled names. Spuds was good enough for me dad and it is good enough for me…’ answered Spud. “Well since you are here you may as well sit down and have a feed. You look like you need it. I can’t think of what da boss was thinking.”
“I think you will find us stronger that you think,” winked Skye.
“I have a cattle dog,’ piped in Seencheena.
“I have two dogs as well,’ grunted the boy.
“I am a quick learner,’ enthused Penfold.
Slapping huge mountains mashed spuds on each plate, Spud proceeded to slowly pour thick, rivers of gravy on each mound. Standing back to admire his handwork, he guestered for eveyone to sit down on the benches pulled up at the table. Satified, everyone was served the grey haired hobbit, slowly sat down. Smiled at his plate and proceeded to eat, savouring each spuddy mouthful.
“Aaaahhhh. Now that is spuds….Well, I guess we will give it a go. Don’t have much choice really. Can’t let good Queen Rose down. Time is running out and the tributes gotta get to the meet somehow. Cows don’t drove themselves…” grumbled the small man.
“We start in the morning! Get a good nights sleep. You’ll need it,” Spud muttered as he exited the room. “You can bunk down near the fire. I’m off.”
TRAINING Part 2
“To the left, P’tar,” shouted a panicked Sencheena. In response a small, silver furred, Kalshee working dog, left her side and darted to the right and quickly rounded in the stray steer she had completely missed.
“Uh…didn’t notice that….um good work P”tar….,” muttered Seencheena. She glanced behind her, at least Cole seemed to be using his two working dogs to better effect.
Penfold alerted by Seencheena, slowly trotted towards the black faced heifer who had started to stray from the left of the herd. Sencheena watched hopefully as he approached.
“Good team work, Penfold!” she encouraged.
However, the more she watched, the more she realized something was not quite right. In fact the closer poor old Penfold was to the stray heifer, the odder his angle on the saddle appeared. Rubbing her eyes Sencheena looked again at the scene….now Penfold was almost upon the heifer, sitting at right angles to the horse. He seemed blithely unaware of his predicament, a look of sheer concentration on his face, hat balanced precariously on his head.
As she continued to watch, Penfold raised a small whip to crack in the air just like Spud had shown him, planning to guide the stray safelty back to the herd. However, the whip had not quite passed the height of his shoulder …..when very, very slowly….Penfold slid off the saddle. It was as if time itself had slowed. Penfold landed with a quiet thud in the soft, green grass of the training area, a bemused look on his face, staring up at clear, blue skies of Northland and right into the quizzical, brown eyes of his patient mare.
Spud’s tiny, weathered figure was seated on the back of a tough, brown mountain pony, intensely watching. He held his face in his hands despairingly, continually muttering something about ‘greenhorns’ and ‘letting good Queen Rose down’. He slowly turned to the supine figure of Skye in the wagon beside him.
Spud grunted “ Your turn. Can’t be any worse!”
“Spud, Spud, Spud….” Skye purred shaking silver, silky locks at towards Spud. Skye slowly winked and continued. “My skills, lovely Spud, lie in other areas…in fact last night, at great personal sacrifice. I made the arduous trek back to Seaview Tavern and spent ALL night, yes the ENTIRE night ‘recruiting’ some real help. Yes, dear Spud, I have acquired us some real men, real cow herders AND I was forced to spend the night in one of their superior rooms….but that my dear Spud is a story for another night!”
Spud’s expression brightened. He slapped Skye on the back, “ Ye might be good for something after all girlie.”
Just then P’Tar started barking at two approaching riders. The horsemen were just turning into the long tree lined road leading to the old, stone farmhouse and training grounds.
“That should be them,” said Skye, rubbing her back where Spud had slapped it. “You like it rough, spud man….bet I could roast your potatoes!”
The men came close enough for Spud to make out their faces. One was a tall, weathered man with black hair and beard. The other man was slightly smaller with a thick, brown moustache and red hair.
“Dolan and Priah!!!! WHAT ARE THEY DOING HERE!” splutter Spud frowning at Skye.
“You wanted cattlemen, I got you cattlemen.” replied Skye sweetly.
“NOT these men, these be Griffin’s men! They spell trouble….” said the halfling angrily.
“ Calm down, Spudling…Skye found these poor men well into their drink….APPARENTLY they had just had a run in with a ‘Griffin’ … and they were feeling very sorry for themselves something about this ‘Griffin’ calling all the shots and something about getting food on the table….and naturally what could I do? I had to comfort them….. and one thing let to another,” Skye winked, “ and..well they offered their services.” Skye winked again and continued”….and they agreed to help little’ ole Skye here with this ‘herding thing.’ Skye lied with a dazzling smile.
With Skye’s last words the cattlemen arrived warily, glancing nervously and the angry looking Spud.
“Explain yourselves!” barked the red faced Halfling.
“Though Skye here explained everything,” Dolan scratching his thick, black beard and glancing towards Skye.
“She went on about something but I want to hear your story!” said Spud.
“We’ve split with Griff. Tired of him acting like he’s someone. ‘Sides we need the money! Ask anyone in town,” lied Priah looking steadily at Spud.
Spud looked from one to the other.
“Now if, and I say IF your story checks out, I can’t afford to say no. The tribute has to leave now and these green horns are next to useless!”
Sencheena and Penfold looked at each other aghast.
“He means you Penfold,” she hissed. “Falling off a horse…how could you Penfold!”
Penfold rolled his eyes and looked back to the action.
“Now if you be spinning me a load of rotten potatoes,” warned Spud, punctuating each sentence with a stab of a short, dirty finger. “ I will be getting Lord Dalicore on to you quick as a Kalshee herding dog, and you will never, mark my word, work with cattle again!!!!!!. I be checking out your story right now. I am warning you. If this story does not check out….don’t be here when I get back!!!”
With that he galloped off towards town.
Sencheena, Penfold and Skye looked at the two men and smiled. Cole just shook his head.
“Well that went well,” said Skye rising from the wagon and slinking towards the two men. “Now what can we do while he checks out your story…SOoooo lucky you staged that argument right in the middle of the Seaview….now where were we, ah yes…something to do….?”
With that Skye linked arms with both men, squealing with delight at the feel of their muscular arms, and led them towards the old farmhouse. Cole grimaced and walked back towards the cattle pulling his hat low over his head.
Sencheena and Penfold watched Skye admiringly.
They turned to each other and said,” “Wow! Skye is good really good…”
“Never seen anything like it before, they didn’t mention this at the school of wizardry,” nodded Penfold .