The last Region they had to cross on their way to the North was Shamarkash. It took them two days to reach a proper road leading there, the very road Vlada and Kan had followed since Border and then left to enter the Burnt Region. It made a long detour to keep the travellers safe from the worst anomalies of No Man’s Land; getting back to it was good news, at least Kangassk thought so.
That day they were finally not alone on their journey, the only downside of that fact being that the people they met had been terrified of them at first. To the five young traders armed with rusty swords and handmade crossbows, three strangers and two chargas looked like a mighty bandit army. The oldest of the traders was the same age as Kangassk, the other four were just kids. As to their goods, there wasn’t much in the cart pulled by a sad scrawny donkey.
“...It’s all honey, honey,” the elder trader kept babbling non-stop, still nervous after the initial shock. “It’s our first time on the road. Our land is famous for its honey, you know, yes, it is. So we decided to sell some. Who else would if not us? We’re the only youngsters in the village full of old people…” He fell silent for a few moments, then gasped as the realization struck him, “Oh, where are my manners! My name’s Astrakh. These are my friends Yles, Will, and Ergen, and this is my little sister Klarissa.”
The fifth trader turned out to be a girl dressed as a boy.
“Do you even realize what you’ve got yourself into, kids?” asked Vlada in a voice full of sincere pity.
Young, brave, stupid. Greenies. Children. It’s an adventure to them, a child’s play. Take your honey, ride to the nearest city, sell it, buy something cool, go back… What can go wrong, really?
“Is something wrong?” wondered Astrakh. He saw the warrior woman frown at his words and the tall man behind her nod in a grim and menacing manner but he still had no idea what was going on.
“It’s a miracle that you’re still alive,” explained Vlada, “that nobody has cut your throats yet.”
Astrakh turned pale and swallowed nervously…
“You’d be an easy game even for a band of maskaks,” Vlada continued. “You have to join a big caravan, with guards and all, if you want to travel by the road with a load of goods. Going like this will get you killed! You have no idea how lucky you are…”
“Fools are always lucky,” Sereg put a word in too.
Astrakh quickly bowed to Vlada and her companions and called his little team of wannabe traders aside to have a word with them. The conversation they had was short and emotional, all frantic gestures and loud whisper. Several minutes later, Astrakh approached Vlada again; her, not Sereg. She must’ve looked like the leader of the group to him or, maybe, seemed less scary that her grey-haired, tall, grim friend.
“Please,” begged the young trader, “let us come with you to the nearest city. We’ll pay, I swear! As soon as we’ve sold the honey…” his last words sounded as pitiful as a kitten’s first meow.
“We don’t want your money,” said Vlada, “but we’ll see you to the city… What was its name, Sereg?”
“Exactly. Once you’re done with selling and shopping there, join a caravan. The other merchants will give you a hand, especially if you share some of your famous honey with them. They all know how hard it is in the beginning, so they help young people like you. You’ll be alright, kids.”
“Thank you! Thank you so much!” The poor boy looked so grateful! He was likely an inch from falling to his knees and kissing the ground Vlada stood on…