Chapter 3 - Raisins and Doubt
It was still early in the morning when Jack entered the village of Eesgolen. The streets weren't very busy except of some people readying their shops. But he saw an unusually large number of guards patrolling through the streets. He hoped it was because of the fox's escape and not because he had caused too much trouble. But so far he weren't discovered.
However, he stocked up some water at the well and bought some dried meat for the trip. Jack didn't want to stay any longer in the village than necessary.
He grabbed some last things - grabbing as in not paying for it - and then headed for the last stop, the bakery to get some breakfast and a loaf of bread as provision.
"Morning ma'am," he greeted the woman behind the counter on which several breads laid out in various sizes. The counter was part of a little booth open to the street, which was connected to the actual building. The booth was used to present and sell the wares.
"Good morning sir," the middle aged woman greeted him back, "What may I get you?" The woman was a human of course. Down in the south, humans were predominant. You rarely saw short ones here, and if, they are most likely just poor travelers, traders, outlaws or at the worst slaves, like the little fox he picked up. The southern people are really fond of that slave business. Further up in the northern territories they are more liberal, and of course all the short ones went there. When they started the slavery shit down here this exodus didn't do well for the south, but apparently pushed the economy in the north to its best times. Sure they wanted to keep it that way and so they stuck with the anti-slavery course.
"How's the fruit bread?" Jack asked, back from his thoughts.
The bakeress smiled at him, "It's the best in town and still warm."
The woman hurried over and grabbed one of the sweet pastries to reach it over to Jack. It was indeed still warm and tasted pretty good. "It is fantastic," Jack spoke before another piece of the sweets found its way into his mouth.
"Oh, thank you, sir. We make them fresh every day. They go pretty good," The woman said smiling.
Jack took another bite, "Could you wrap me one of those please?" he asked indicating to one of the breads.
"Of course, sir," she answered and took a piece of brown paper from under the counter and started wrapping the loaf.
"Say," Jack continued the conservation, "What about all the guards? There are sure more of them around today."
The bakeress meanwhile finished the wrapping with a cord to hold the paper in place, "Oh, one of the servants of the Doleman's estate has run away apparently. Just yesterday of what you hear." Whether she used the word servant out of politeness or naivety he didn't know.
He tried to dig a bit deeper, "Isn't this a bit much trouble for one runaway?"
The woman's happy face softened a bit, "According to what they say it was a quite dangerous runaway. But I don't know any more than that. Oh, but don't worry, I'm sure the village is a save place. We never had any problems."
"Hmm," he considered that while he stuffed the wrapped loaf into his bag. At least the guards weren't after him. But the Dolemans sure seemed to want that fox back. He'd never heard much about the Dolemans, but he could imagine they weren't too pleased to hear that one of their slaves had fled. Things like this are punished hard down here. And if what the woman says is true and they never had any other escapes, they probably want to set an example with him.
'Poor fox' he thought as his view wandered over the other exhibited pastries. He should bring him something nice and sweet. "What 'bout those?" he pointed behind the bakeress, "They any good?"
"Oh yeah, sir. We make them with just a bit of honey to make them extra sweet. The kids love them," she answered her face shining again.
"Ok. Two of them and a bottle of milk if you got one, and that would be all then." It was about time they got started. The woman packed up the rest of his order and Jack stowed everything in his bag. He placed three coins on the counter and saw off the bakeress, "Thank you very much. The bread was delicious."
"Oh, I have to thank you sir. Take care," she said as she waved after him.
Sis took off the loincloth and tried on the new clothes Jack got for him. The pants fit well enough only the shirt was a bit big, but he wasn't gonna complain. This stuff was for sure more comfortable and did far better against the cold than his torn loincloth, which he had crumpled and thrown back into the forest.
The fox's gaze fell upon the backpack Jack had left behind while he was gone getting some breakfast. Sure it wasn't ok to sniff through someone else's property, but if he was going to travel with the human he wanted to know who he was. He took the pack from the ground onto his lap and opened the leather buckle.
On top of the stuff inside laid a rolled up blanket. The woolen cloth wasn't too special, but sure useful if you had to stay out over the night, and it was light and therefor easy to travel with. Under the blanket he found a rope. It was rather short for a rope, only like two or three meters long. It had a metal ring woven in at one end. Under that was an old book. The title read 'Jeff's Joyful Journeys', it didn't look too special, but between the last page and the cover several blank paper sheets and a quill were clamped. Under the book he found the matching inkpot for the quill.
Then he found a little rolled up cloth wrapped with a cord, which seemed to contain something. Sis folded the cloth to the side, not wanting to unwrap the bundle, so that Jack wouldn't know he searched through his stuff. It contained several fine metal instruments. Some hooks, some pointy things, a few pliers. He folded the cloth back put the bundle aside. The fox checked whether the human was in sight, but he wasn't gone for too long yet.
He continued through the bag but the only things remaining were a metal pod for cooking, a bundle of dry straw, some picklocks, a sheathed hunting knife, a cramped shirt for changing and at the very bottom some tools, namely some bigger pliers, a short saw, three screwdrivers, a pair of scissors and a hammer.
Nothing really told the fox anything about his companion, except that he was an, at least moderately equipped thieve, and maybe that he could read and write. So he put everything back into the backpack where he had taken it from, so that Jack wouldn't be suspicious, and put the pack back on the ground where the human had left it.
He looked again for Jack, but he was still nowhere to be seen. The fox sat on a rock and waited patiently. And while doing so he thought about what he should do now and what he had done. He could travel with Jack for some time, to at least get away from the village. But he couldn't stay with the human forever. He doubted that he would let him life on his expense for too long. And if Jack found out the truth about him, he'd definitely abandon him, or at the worst bring him straight to the guards.
Suddenly the fox's fur bristled as a thought crossed his mind. "God, how could I be so stupid?" he told himself. How could he ever have trusted that human? How could he be so blind?
Jack was probably going straight to the guards right now!
Sure he hadn't known the truth 'till now, but chances were he would find out in the village. And he was a thief, so all he wanted was some money. If the guards paid him, he would bring them to him for sure.
But he was a thief. 'So why would he go to the guards, when he had told me all those incriminating details about himself?' Sis asked himself. "But who'd believe me?" he asked aloud to no one, "I'm just an escaped slave and he would be the honorable citizen how had tracked down the runaway." No one would believe him if he accused the human of theft.
But he had helped him to escape. He had given him new clothes, shared his food with him. Why would he be so nice to him if he were to betray him and deliver him to the guards? Hell, why would he be so nice to him at all?!
He checked the direction the human would come from again, still nothing. Then he tried to think of what to do now. Should he trust the human and wait, and possibly get caught by the guards and be brought back to the Dolemans, or should he ran off on his own? But where could he go? He had nothing to himself. No provisions, no weapons, he didn't know the terrain. He only had what was in Jack's backpack, but that wouldn't use him anything since he didn't know how to use it. He would be lost.
But he would never return to the Dolemans, at least not alive. Rather dying alone in the snow than being brought back there and be killed in the most terrible way possible. He couldn't take the risk. Yet he couldn't believe that Jack would betray him. But he had to make sure.
His gaze fell upon the backpack again. He opened it again and dug out the knife he had found earlier. If the human was pulling something on him, Sis would be prepared. He tucked the knife in the back of his pants and waited for the human, never letting the road slip out of his vision.
At length the fox saw Jack coming back. Alone. Sis was relieved that he wasn't accompanied by guards, but he could still have something planed. He turned towards the human, so that he couldn't see the knife and waited for him.
"Suits you," Jack approached the fox.
Sis took a moment to get what he meant, than followed his gaze to his new clothes, "It will do," he replied.
The human sat himself on the rock Sis had waited on and reached for his bag. The fox was ready to defend himself. But all the human pulled out was something wrapped in brown paper. "C'mon," he gestured to a smaller rock opposite from him and held the package out for the fox.
Sis sat himself on the stone. Maybe he could trust the human after all. But he wasn't gonna let down his guard. He took the package and began unwrapping it. Jack reached again into his bag, "Here," he held out a glass bottle filled with milk, "I dunno whether foxes are up to that, but apparently the pussies seem to be crazy after it."
Sis took the bottle from Jacks hands and put it next to himself on the rock, "Thanks." As he finished unwrapping the package he found in it two snail breads, interspersed with raisins and covert with frosting. He took one of it and bite into the dough. The sweet flavor of sugar flooded his mouth followed by the soft fruity taste of the raisins. And he thought to taste even a hint of honey.
"Hope you like them," Jack spoke up.
"Yeah," Was the only thing Sis had to reply. They were, in fact, the best thing he had ever eaten. But he didn't want to tell the human that. He just continued to eat the pastries in pure silence.
Jack just leaned back and watched the fox stuffing his cheeks with the sweets he had bought him. He involuntarily had to smile as he saw, that the fox's tail wagged from side to side. He didn't even seem to notice it himself.
"What?" Sis asked harsh after he had downed the last piece of snail bread with the milk Jack had handed to him.
Jacks smile widened, "Nothing. You just seemed to have enjoyed this."
Sis wiped over his muzzle to remove any possible remainings of milk to not make a fool of himself, "Yeah well. Isn't like you get something that good everyday as a slave." His reply was bitter. But he felt even more bitter to talk about it. And actually he didn't want to talk about himself anymore at all, so he changed the topic, "So? Are we going now or what?" he said as he jumped up from the rock.
"Sure," Jack replied also getting up from the rock he was sitting on, "But beforehand I'd like my knife back."
The fox froze in his motion, a shiver running down his back. How could he know? Had he accidentally turned and Jack saw it? "What knife?" he tried to somehow get out of this situation.
"Ah, don' pretend you don' 'ave it," the human said smirking, "Your reaction gave you away." Jack held out his hand to the fox, who at length gave the knife back to him. Jack took it and stuck it back into his backpack, "So you've been in ma stuff, eh?"
There was no point in denying it anymore, "Yeah," he murmured.
"Well, so you already learned your first lesson," he said still in a cheerful mood.
"Wait," the fox stunned, "So you're not mad?"
The human laughed, "That a joke? I'd 'ave done the same thing." He hefted the backpack onto his back and started to head for the street, "That brings us to the second lesson. If you have something to hide, never leave it alone with someone else." Jack went on until his laughter subsided, "So I take it you haven't found anything interesting?" He sounded strangely concerned.
The fox raised his ears, "No"
After that the two of them walked in silence for some while. "What did you have planned with the knife anyway?" Jack asked at length.
Sis let his head drop, than straightened his pose and spoke clearly, "I thought it could be possible, that you called the guards on me, and that they would bring me back."
"Ha," Jack laughed out, "This's the third lesson: always be on the safe side." His mood got more earnest as he lighted a cigarette, "But seriously, I'm an honorable thief. I don't wanna have anything to do with the slavery biz." He drew a deep breath through the cigarette, blew it out again and looked down on the smaller fox beside him, "Was it really that bad?"
The fox just dropped his head again and remained silent.