Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
The Trade Caravan




Chapter 7
The Trade Caravan

when the sky is the color of rusted iron
lock yourself in for the night
or be prepared for a fight
for the human-seeking machines are coming down

—The Book of Ballo, volume three, by Ergu Sumifer Ballo

Four days had gone by without incident. They had plenty of food, and Trion had finished building the small hospital and the jail. Vaega had remarked that the jail was larger and more luxurious than their own cabin, and Trion had nodded and started working on a larger cabin.

At nearly noon that day, Trion was on top of the new cabin fitting planks for the roof when he spotted a line of people outside camp, in the distance, following the old path.

“Agra!” Trion called out.

She came running, spear in hand. “What happened?”

Trion came down and retrieved the pistol from the old cabin and stowed it in his backpack.

“There is a caravan outside, out by the path where you met the two traders.”

Agra turned around, scanning the camp. “Where’s Vaega?”

“She went out foraging,” Trion said.

Agra turned back to face Trion. “What did you see?”

“Thirty people, maybe more, with pack animals—small horses or donkeys. They were moving in a single file going north along the old road.”

“Should we go meet them?” Agra asked.

“I would prefer if Vaega was with us. If they are traders, she will know best what to say, what to ask for,” Trion replied.

“Yes, she knows how to negotiate. Maybe we’ll see her as we go.”

They closed the gate behind them and began walking toward the caravan. The air was warm and the smell of flowers in bloom permeated the air with pleasant fragrances. By now they knew the way by heart and walked carefree, smiling as they went.

“What do you think they trade?” Agra asked.

“I—” Trion stopped and stared at the caravan.

Agra turned to him slightly, glancing at him, then turning back to the caravan. “What is it?”

“Vaega is walking with them, leading them here.”

Agra looked at the head of the caravan and, after a moment, saw Vaega there, talking with someone.

The caravan turned to meet them. Each pack animal was loaded with bags and crates, and flanked on each side by two people.

“They have guns,” Trion said.

“They do,” Agra replied. Several of the people had rifles, machine pistols, and one looked like he had a rocket launcher.

The caravan traders looked better equipped than the traders they had met before. Some had combat helmets and bulletproof vests. Many wore uniforms made of a heavy-duty synthetic fabric with camouflage patterns.

When they reached Agra and Trion, they spread out in some defensive circle. Vaega was walking with a middle-aged woman with an elaborate headdress in the shape of a wolf’s head but with brown and golden feather around the crown, as the mane of a lion.

“Trion, Agra! This is Amelikian. I know her from university,” Vaega exclaimed.

“Wow! This is amazing.” Agra said.

“Right? I couldn’t believe it when I saw the caravan.”

Amelikian smiled and waved at the others that all was well.

“To camp?” Trion asked.

“Lead the way,” Amelikian replied.

They returned to the camp, and once everyone was inside the fence, handlers tied the animals to the far wall, away from the crops. They sat on the ground, shared pemmican and berries, and talked.

“I’ve been here three years.” Amelikian began. “I crash-landed alone, jettisoning at the last moment from the cockpit pod, when my ship came under attack from pirates.”

Trion looked at Amelikian. “Cockpit pods don’t have any supplies or tools. How did you survive after you landed?”

“I didn’t on my own. They captured me right after crashing.” She paused. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

“What happened then?” Trion asked.

“Maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it,” Vaega said. “Some things don’t need to be explained.”

Amelikian patted Vaega’s knee. “It’s fine. Nothing bad happened. They were happy to get someone with combat experience.”

“So, how did you come to lead a group of traders?” Agra asked.

“It’s a long story. There were battles, deaths, and narrow escapes across the countryside.”

Vaega was beaming, and Agra could tell there were a thousand questions on her lips for her friend, but the sun was advancing in the sky.

“What sort of things do you trade?” Agra asked.

Amelikian turned her face to Agra. “I appreciate your focus. We buy and sell foods, seeds, furs, clothing, and a few weapons. We do not trade in animals, slaves, or exotic gear. We will buy art. There is always a demand for beautiful sculptures. We have a little medicine and electronic components on hand but there isn’t much demand, so we don’t have a large stock. We will trade gold, uranium, and steel. We will also buy finished lumber.”

Agra looked at Trion, who looked a bit lost. They both looked at Vaega, who seemed deep in thought. After a moment, she looked up again. “How much for pemmican and clothing? “

Amelikian looked at the three of them, sizing them up, and said: “we can sell you two hundred pemmican for one hundred silver, and clothing for the three of you for another hundred.”

“Do we really want to spend that much on clothes?” Agra asked.

Vaega spoke softly. “The air is warm now, but what if it turns cold, especially at night?”

Amelikian spoke: “Vaega is right. The weather is unpredictable and a cold snap without heavy clothing can be deadly.”

Amelikian looked around. “You don’t have crops yet. Maybe get some potatoes or corn too? And do you have enough medicine?”

Vaega was thinking, unsure of how to respond.

“We have enough medkits, and we can hunt for food.” Agra said.

“Very well.” Amelikian stood and stretched. “Best get going before the storm comes.”

She walked over to the pack animals and unloaded some clothes and the pemmican. Trion came up and paid with silver.

When the gate was open and they were leading the animals out, Agra asked Amelikian: “Do you come this way often?”

Amelikian responded without turning: “When the weather allows and the factions are not at war, we travel the roads between settlements, but the future is uncertain on Raheem, so we make no promises.”

Then she paused for a moment while the lumbering animal continued; “Take care of yourselves. This world can be cruel. We only have each other.” She lowered her voice. “Please take care of Vaega. I am very fond of her, but I wonder whether she would survive alone.”

Agra returned Amelikian’s sorrowful glance. “We intend to survive as a group, then leave this planet and return to the Imperium.”

Amelikian glanced up at the sky, then back at Agra. “I had such a dream, once, a long time ago.” She turned and caught up with the animals.

Trion closed the gate behind the last of them.

The clothes didn’t fit well, crudely made of animal furs sewn together. Vaega took hers off almost immediately and declared: “I can do better than that.”

She spent the rest of the afternoon fiddling with a sewing kit and reading up on how to clean and cure animal skins to make leather.

That evening, grilling rabbit and raccoon meat, they didn’t speak, eating in silence.

Just before nightfall, Agra went to the gravesite and sat, remembering how Chorix had suffered before dying. She had killed him. She felt sorry for herself while contemplating that she would have to kill again.

She dreamed of guns that night, and of killing people, but she did not wake up from her nightmares.

Next chapter: The Feral Foxes

Subscribe to the mailing list to get alerts when new episodes are added.