Copyright Robin Gordon, 2013
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Index to Roquana
Book II: Roquana's flight
Chapter 6: The road to Jarwick Hoe
Please remember that this story is
Fronk went off to the second-hand
clothing market and came back with clothes for Roquana: a boy’s
shirt and jeans, a thick, figure-concealing padded jerkin, and a
cap. When she put them on, with her long hair twisted up and
concealed in her cap, she looked just like the sort of young, teenage
boy who worked for the carters. When she affected a husky,
throaty sort of speech she sounded like a boy who voice was still
“You’ll do, said Fronk, and he produced
a similar padded jerkin and cap for Tommuz.
“You’ll need names,” said Fronk.
“Moiku,” said Roquana.
“And Wullum,” said Tommuz.
“You’d best sleep here for the
night,” said Fronk. “I won’t take you into my
house. You know how it is: my wife is quite likely to tell one of
her friends – in confidence
dear, ’cos I know you won’t let it go any further
– and she’ll pass
it on in confidence till it gets to the ears of someone it
shouldn’t, or one of the kids’ll let slip something at
school and it’ll get into the gossip chain that way. Not a
good idea either to turn up at the hostel as new boys, time enough for
that when we get to the hostel at Caerbirmingham.”
The next morning the goods yard was a hive of
swarming activity. There were a dozen trucks to go to in the
convoy to Caerbirmingham, and most would go on to Jarwick Hoe.
The Convoy Master, a thickset, bull-necked, red-faced man was shouting
orders and swearing like a trooper. Carters picked up lists from
him and scurried, each with his boy or pair of boys, to carry boxes and
sacks out of the warehouses and load them into their trucks.
Fronk’s lad, Korl, was a bit surprised to find he had not one but
two new companions.
“All the easier for you, Korl,” said
Fronk. “Many hands make light work. Now then boys,
jump to it. We’ve got a load of stuff to fit into this
They jumped to it. Korl was much stronger than
either of the newcomers, and he tended to mock Moiku’s lack of
strength, till Fronk told him to leave the kid alone.
“He can’t help being younger and smaller
than you, Korl. The day may come when he’s both bigger and
stronger and you’ll be glad he’s on the same team.”
“True enough,” said Korl with a
laugh. “I don’t suppose I could lift what I do when I
“You couldn’t” said Fronk.
“Right little milksop you were. Now then lads, keep the
boxes coming! Old Fronk’s had nothing to stack for
After that Korl and Wullum made sure that Moiku had
the smallest and lightest of the goods to carry, and Wullum was always
on hand to help the youngster when he couldn’t quite lift a box
or sack into the truck.
The lorries were all loaded by midday, and the
carters and their boys went off into the refectory to eat.
Roquana and Tommuz stayed close to Fronk, while Korl went off to eat
with his friends. Before they set off, Fronk sent Moiku back to
his office to fetch something so that she could use the toilet there,
while the boys and men crowded into the communal lavatories.
Then the trucks moved off, trundling out of the East
Gate, led by the convoy master. These great heavy transporter
trucks were built for strength not speed, their electric motors
constantly topped up by recycling friction energy and by the array of
photovoltaic panels each carried on top. Roquana felt that they
were scarcely moving faster than a person could walk, and that was only
partly caused by her anxiety, for their ponderous progress was indeed
Korl was in the front seat of the cabin next to
Fronk, while Wullum and Moiku sat in the rear seats. It was
perhaps a little unwise of them to hold hands. I noticed Korl
glancing round at them occasionally, but neither I nor Roquana thought
that he could possibly notice anything amiss.
There was a toilet and snack stop after a few
hours. The Convoy Master and a couple of carters stood with guns
while the men and boys clambered out of the massive trucks to relieve
themselves against the roadside trees. Tommuz escorted Roquana
further into the woods, smashing a path for her through the
undergrowth, pretty sure that the Tohu would stay well clear of the
convoy and its armed protectors. Then they rejoined the gang for
beer and sandwiches.
For the overnight stop the trucks again just pulled
up at the roadside. The cooks’ wagon provided hot food,
and, when necessary, Wullum again took Moiku into the undergrowth and
stood guard over him. They slept in the trucks, collected
breakfast from the cooks’ wagon, relieved themselves by the
roadside, except for Wullum and Moiku, then drove on, stopping for
lunch and arriving at Caerbirmingham in the late afternoon, when they
set about unloading what was destined for that town and loading
additional goods for Jarwick Hoe. Again Wullum was always on
hand to help Moiku when anything proved too heavy.
They slept that night in the carters’
barracks: a suite for the Convoy Master, single rooms for the carters,
and two-man cabins with bunk beds for the boys. The ablution
facilities for the boys were communal, and poor Roquana had to walk
past about twenty lads in various stages of undress to get to the
toilet cabinets. Wullum made sure he was always close at hand,
just in case of need, but it was a relief to both of them when they
could at last get into their cabin and close the door.
Their relief was short-lived. Before Roquana
had time to take off her cap or her jerkin, both of which she had kept
on even when going to the toilet, the door was flung open. Half a
dozen lads surged into the cabin and hauled Roquana and Tommuz out.
Roquana gasped and would have screamed, but she
managed to keep control of herself enough to stay quiet while Tommuz
roared out his angry protests.
“Shurrup!” snarled a big lad, Jowsif, I
think, and gave Tommuz a shove.
“We’re gonna show you two pansies what
we think of your sort,” shouted another.
“We hate queers,” said Jowsif.
“What we gonna do wiv ’em, Stighvin?”
“Strip ’em naked, give ’em a good
kicking and dump ’em in the main square,” growled
Stighvin. “Leave ’em for the local hoypyu.”
“We’re not queers,” Tommuz
There was a roar of derision.
“We’ve seen you,” jeered
Jowsif. “You can’t take your eyes off your girly
“You can hardly keep your hands off
him,” said Stighvin.
“Always touching him and patting him,”
said another lad.
“And we know what you were up to when you kept
going off into the bushes with him,” sneered another.
“He’s my little brother,” Tommuz
There was another roar of derision, and the lads
gave Tommuz to understand that almost all of them had brothers and they
were well able to distinguish between fraternal affection and erotic
“Wanker!” yelled one of them.
“Bugger! Sodomite! Filthy
queer!” came shouts from all around.
“Like I said,” growled Jowsif, “we
hate queers, so we’re gonna strip you and your little girly
friend and give you a good hard kicking, then we’ll drag you out
into the town and hand you over to the hoypyu.”
“To the Guild of Eunuchs,” siggested
“Yeah,” said Jowsif, “then
they can cut your balls off. That’s what you deserve, innit
“Right, get’em!” yelled Jowsif and
jerked Tommuz off balance so that he fell onto the floor.
“Wait!” shouted Roquana.
“The reason you think I’m girlish is because I am a girl.”
She pulled her right arm free of the lad that was
holding it, ripped off her cap and shook her hair loose. They
gasped. She shook off the hands that held her and struggled out
of her jerkin. It was plain to all of them that she was indeed a
“I am a girl,” she said, “and
I’m running away with my boyfriend because my father wants to
marry me off to one of his cronies who is even older than he is.
My father is one of the richest merchants in Beddleham and he thinks if
I marry his friend he’ll get control of that business and be even
richer, but I love Wullum, so we’re running away together.”
“What’s your father’s name?”
“No name” I whispered to her.
“Tell them it’s safer because of the Inquisition.”
“I won’t tell you his name,” she
said. “If they suspect you’ve helped us they’ll
send an Inquisitor into your mind. He’ll know if you
recognise the name, but you can’t recognise what you don’t
know, so you’ll be safer.”
“Who said we’re going to help you?”
“Oh, please,” she said, looking up at
the questioner with an air of helpless appeal. “You will
help me, won’t you?”
“Be a waste to give a nice-looking girl like
you to an old codger that’s even older that your father,”
said the boy to whom she had given the helpless smile.
“How come you’re travelling with us?” Jowsif asked.
“Fronk’s a friend of Wullum’s
parents,” said Roquana. “He agreed to take us, but
even he doesn’t know who my father is.”
“We should tell the Convoy Master,” said
a rather disagreeable youth.
“You do, Weasel,” growled Jowsif,
“and I’ll tear your tongue out by the roots.”
“Yeah, you’ll not sneak on anyone again,
Weasel,” snarled Stighvin.
A posse of hostile boys advanced on Weasel.
He backed away. “I won’t say
nothing, I won’t, I won’t,” he gabbled.
“See you don’t,” said Jowsif,
then, turning to Roquana, he bowed and said, “We’re all at
your service, My Lady.” Weasel’s intervention, it
seemed, had convinced the doubters that their duty was to help the
un-named girl and her boyfriend, Wullum. Roquana told them that
they were bound for Jarwick Hoe, where Wullum had a cousin who would
The next morning the convoy got under way again, the
heavy trucks lumbered out of Caerbirmingham and took the road to
Jarwick Hoe. Progress was even slower than the previous day, for
this part of the journey involved a long pull up the side of a range of
low hills and then the long, careful, slow descent down the far
side. Occasionally a carriage belonging to a lord or a monsignor
would flash past the slow moving trucks, and, shortly before the stop
for lunch, Roquana and Tommuz saw, to their horror, two carriages in
the crimson and gold livery used by Lord Savark.
“Perhaps we should have left the convoy at
Caerbirmingham,” Tommuz muttered.
“No,” I told Roquana.
“Caerbirmingham is much further from New Jackrusselham than
Jarwick Hoe and there is no direct route. There’s a Tohu
stronghold in the woods between. Jarwick Hoe is much
She repeated this to Tommuz.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Sometimes there’s a voice in my head.”
“The Savarks will be waiting for us at Jarwick
Hoe,” said Tommuz.
Korl turned round. “Get out before we
reach the city,” he said. “Hide in the woods, then
join the labourers when they go in.”
“Hang on,” said Fronk. “What
are you on about, Korl?”
“Korl knows our secret,” said Roquana.
“All the boys do,” said Korl.
“We’ll make sure your old father doesn’t catch you,
“Ah,” said Fronk, “and how are
they going to get off the truck outside the city?”
“Leave it to us,” said Korl.
“We’ll think of something.”
At the lunch-break stop one of the other boys helped
Tommuz smash a pathway into the undergrowth then left him to guard
Roquana. Korl sought out Jowsif and Stighvin.
He rejoined Roquana and Tommuz to eat.
“The lads are really impressed,” he
said. “Your Dad must be a real bigshot if he’s got
Lord Savark helping to look for you. Well, if that old beast is involved
we’ll certainly do our best to help. Jowsif travels with
the Convoy Master. Just before we get to Jarwick Hoe he’s
going to be taken short. He’ll tell the Convoy Master
he’ll have to let him out if he doesn’t want him to shit in
the cab – begging your pardon, My Lady – and when the
leading truck stops we’ll all stop, and then you can hop
out. All the lads will say if they’re stopping anyway
they’re going to have a piss – sorry, My Lady – so
there’ll be lots of lads getting in and out and nobody’ll
notice you slipping off.”
In the event the emergency stop was even more
chaotic than Korl had said. The trucks halted. Jowsif
scrambled out, headed for the trees, lowered his trousers and
squatted. The other boys scrambled out of the trucks and milled
around. Korl helped Tommuz and Roquana bash an opening in the
undergrowth, then suddenly they heard Stighvin’s voice yelling,
Weasel was running towards the Convoy Master,
obviously intent on telling him there was a girl in the convoy.
Other boys converged on him. He jinked around two, but a third
charged into him and down he went. Lads piled into the fray, and
Weasel was quickly stripped of his trousers, which the lads flung one
to another while the humiliated sneak scuttled hither and thither
trying in vain to catch them, and the truck drivers came out of their
cabins to laugh at his plight. Weasel was obviously not a popular
All the while the Convoy Master was bellowing at the
boys to stop their nonsense and get back in the trucks, but the
pandemonium was so overwhelmingly loud that no-one could hear him till
he loosed off two shots into the air. That brought instant
“Give that little sod his trousers and get
back in the trucks,” shouted the enraged Convoy Master.
“We’re losing valuable time here. I’ll dock it
from your wages!”
The boy holding them threw Weasel’s trousers
on the ground and the snivelling sneak scampered over to pick them up
while the other boys turned away and made for their trucks.
“Hurry up!” bellowed the Convoy
Master. “Get in the truck Weasel. You can get dressed
“Good luck!” whispered Korl and sped
away to Fronk’s truck.
Roquana and Tommuz crouched in their little den
under the trees and watched as the trucks pulled slowly away towards
Jarwick Hoe. They were alone in the wilderness, three days walk
from New Jackrusselham.
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