Copyright Robin Gordon, 2013
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II: Roquana's flight
Chapter 6: The road to Jarwick Hoe
Please remember that this
went off to the second-hand
clothing market and came back with clothes for Roquana: a
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.
names,” said Fronk.
“And Wullum,” said
“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
her friends – in confidence
dear, ’cos I know you won’t let it go any further
– and she’ll
it on in confidence till it gets to the ears of someone it
shouldn’t, or one of the kids’ll let slip something
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
swarming activity. There were a dozen trucks to go to in the
convoy to Caerbirmingham, and most would go on to Jarwick
The Convoy Master, a thickset, bull-necked, red-faced man was shouting
orders and swearing like a trooper. Carters picked up lists
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
two new companions.
“All the easier for you,
Fronk. “Many hands make light work. Now
jump to it. We’ve got a load of stuff to fit into
They jumped to it. Korl was
much stronger than
either of the newcomers, and he tended to mock Moiku’s lack
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
stronger and you’ll be glad he’s on the same
“True enough,” said
Korl with a
laugh. “I don’t suppose I could lift what
I do when I
couldn’t” said Fronk.
“Right little milksop you were. Now then lads, keep
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
or sack into the truck.
The lorries were all loaded by midday,
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
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
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
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
hours. The Convoy Master and a couple of carters stood with
while the men and boys clambered out of the massive trucks to relieve
themselves against the roadside trees. Tommuz escorted
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
beer and sandwiches.
For the overnight stop the trucks again
up at the roadside. The cooks’ wagon provided hot
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
hand to help Moiku when anything proved too heavy.
They slept that night in the
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
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.
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.
dozen lads surged into the cabin and hauled Roquana and Tommuz out.
Roquana gasped and would have screamed,
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,”
“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
There was a roar of derision.
Jowsif. “You can’t take your eyes off
“You can hardly keep your
him,” said Stighvin.
“Always touching him and
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
There was another roar of derision, and
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
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
into the town and hand you over to the hoypyu.”
“To the Guild of
they can cut your balls off. That’s what you
get’em!” yelled Jowsif and
jerked Tommuz off balance so that he fell onto the floor.
“The reason you think I’m girlish is because I am
She pulled her right arm free of the lad
holding it, ripped off her cap and shook her hair loose. They
gasped. She shook off the hands that held her and struggled
of her jerkin. It was plain to all of them that she was
“I am a girl,” she
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
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
richer, but I love Wullum, so we’re running away
“No name” I
whispered to her.
“Tell them it’s safer because of the
“I won’t tell you
his name,” she
said. “If they suspect you’ve helped us
send an Inquisitor into your mind. He’ll know if
recognise the name, but you can’t recognise what you
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
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
said the boy to whom she had given the helpless smile.
“How come you’re
travelling with us?”
“Fronk’s a friend of
parents,” said Roquana. “He agreed to
take us, but
even he doesn’t know who my father is.”
“We should tell the Convoy
a rather disagreeable youth.
“You do, Weasel,”
“and I’ll tear your tongue out by the
“Yeah, you’ll not
sneak on anyone again,
Weasel,” snarled Stighvin.
A posse of hostile boys advanced on
He backed away. “I
nothing, I won’t, I won’t,” he gabbled.
don’t,” said Jowsif,
then, turning to Roquana, he bowed and said, “We’re
your service, My Lady.” Weasel’s
seemed, had convinced the doubters that their duty was to help the
un-named girl and her boyfriend, Wullum. Roquana told them
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,
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
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
“Caerbirmingham is much further from New Jackrusselham than
Jarwick Hoe and there is no direct route. There’s a
stronghold in the woods between. Jarwick Hoe is much
She repeated this to Tommuz.
“How do you know?”
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
join the labourers when they go in.”
“Hang on,” said
are you on about, Korl?”
“Korl knows our
secret,” said Roquana.
“All the boys do,”
“We’ll make sure your old father doesn’t
“Ah,” said Fronk,
“and how are
they going to get off the truck outside the city?”
“Leave it to us,”
“We’ll think of something.”
At the lunch-break stop one of the other
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
said. “Your Dad must be a real bigshot if
Lord Savark helping to look for you. Well, if that
old beast is involved
we’ll certainly do our best to help. Jowsif travels
the Convoy Master. Just before we get to Jarwick Hoe
going to be taken short. He’ll tell the Convoy
he’ll have to let him out if he doesn’t want him to
the cab – begging your pardon, My Lady – and when
leading truck stops we’ll all stop, and then you can hop
out. All the lads will say if they’re stopping
they’re going to have a piss – sorry, My Lady
there’ll be lots of lads getting in and out and
notice you slipping off.”
In the event the emergency stop was even
chaotic than Korl had said. The trucks halted.
scrambled out, headed for the trees, lowered his trousers and
squatted. The other boys scrambled out of the trucks and
around. Korl helped Tommuz and Roquana bash an opening in the
undergrowth, then suddenly they heard Stighvin’s voice
Weasel was running towards the Convoy
obviously intent on telling him there was a girl in the
Other boys converged on him. He jinked around two, but a
charged into him and down he went. Lads piled into the fray,
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
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
“We’re losing valuable time here.
I’ll dock it
from your wages!”
The boy holding them threw
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
Master. “Get in the truck Weasel. You can
whispered Korl and sped
away to Fronk’s truck.
Roquana and Tommuz crouched in their
under the trees and watched as the trucks pulled slowly away towards
Jarwick Hoe. They were alone in the wilderness, three days
from New Jackrusselham.
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