The morning sun broke over the hills and burned off the hanging fog. Kane shivered and drew his cloak tighter around him, but the man to his right laughed and stretched out his arms to embrace the light.
“I thought you northerners were used to a little chill.” he exclaimed. “This is fine weather for travelling. No bugs. The mud is firm. And the air doesn't smell like shit and snakes for a change.” He leaned back against the sacks of grain filling the wagon behind them and flicked the reins lazily. “You get a rougher ride if they smell a snake.” he continued, indicating the plodding horses.
“My father liked the winter. He said it built character being a bit cold,” replied Kane. “My mother always wanted the hearth well fed, character be damned. My father took a sword in the stomach fighting The Pretender’s men at Hyntmor and bled out all over the snow. I take after my mother.” He was lying of course, but fighting men respected the son of a veteran and it deflected many questions about his lack of sword or bow. The man grunted, the old folk didn't like to think about The Pretender, many of their fathers had been on the wrong side of that war. He pointed to the road ahead.
“Just past this turn is the brickworks. We’ll be heading on for a bit to deliver this and check the road, but that’s where you want to go. The foreman is a bit of a prick, but he’ll answer your questions if you let him show you how clever he is.” He spat over the side of the wagon. “You won’t find no inn there, but there’s a barracks set up for the mudders. It should do you, if you can find a bed, and if you don’t mind rats.” Kane thanked him and climbed down off the wagon, then watched as the small supply train wound its way down the road.
The brickworks was a long greasy red stain on the side of a hill. Men and women alike toiled to cut away slabs of clay rich mud and carry it on to be mixed and shaped and then stacked high on long hard pallets to be fired with wood from the nearby forest. Kane studied the trails of the worker ants scurrying along with wood or straw, or buckets of muddy water and sought out their queen. He found him, a short fat bald fellow, scowling beside a mountain of logs and branches stacked three times his own height.
“What you want? Not a job from looks of you.” rasped the man. “Your hands don’t fit no shovel and I need no more bookkeepers if that’s your mind. Season’s near over here, you have to go begging for your winter board some other where.
“Oh I am journeying south from Kingstown and decided to travel here having heard of the quality of this brick.” said Kane casually. “I see how you've packed earth around the clamp. That’s very clever, I bet you get a better burn.” The man turned to him and smiled.
“A better fire, and more good brick too. It’s my own process. It catches heat that slips out the cracks. Like cooking a duck eh. Mind you, you have to make sure enough air can get in.” Explained the man excitedly.
The next hour found Kane feigning interest in the use of green and aged woods, the importance of wind direction, and the best methods for laying out a firing tunnel. Only when the fellow had thrice exhausted his rather short list of brick-making innovations did it occur to him to ask Kane about his business.
“I'm looking for an old friend who lives nearby in the forest, perhaps you know of her?” said Kane. “Ghat.”
“You’re talking about the madwoman. She lives alone somewhere in the forest, west of here I think. She comes sometimes to trade a brace of rabbit for a shirt or the like. She rarely talks. I don’t know how she manages over winter, but she somehow does. What business could you have with her?”
“My own.” he said, then quickly “My pardon friend, it involves an old family debt. Of interest only to an old family. I should leave you to your work.”
“Perhaps on your way back we can speak of some of the firing techniques used in Kingstown?” called the man as Kane picked his way through the muddy workers.
“Yes, perhaps.” said Kane.