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As they crossed the bridge before Spring Gulch, Page felt a great sense of relief. According to Ty, the road to the castle was a mile and a half past the bridge. The road had been flat with few hills. Pulling the wagon however was a great deal of effort, and was putting its toll on all of them. She had not helped. Every time they spotted a house or building in the distance, she would go check it and come back with more things to put into the wagon. Page planned to throw the wagon in as trade at the castle and switch back to the carts. They had no idea how long it would take them to find a place that traded horses and it would save both of their backs.

‘Mom, over there.’ Kidd said and Page looked. There was a hand written sign on the road ahead. It said ‘The Castle, Two Miles.’ With an arrow pointing to the south. Page was happy to see the paved road leading south. She had been afraid they would have to take the wagon off road to get to this settlement.

Taking the road south, the two kept their eyes peeled for any traps, or ambushes. It had been a long time since they came to a settlement and neither knew what to expect. The farther they went the more the woods cleared. The fields however were fenced in. To the west, the fields had cows roaming in the distance. The eastern field had horses. Page almost laughed thinking of her earlier thought of not knowing when they would find a horse trader. Now she just hoped they had enough to trade.

‘Cool.’ She heard Kidd whisper. Page agreed with the boy. What they saw next however, stopped them both in their tracks. A massive wall made of white stone spread out far to the east and west connected by a huge drawbridge and gate. Page could make out sentries walking the top of the wall. Several had stopped to watch them approach. Straining, Page got the wagon rolling again. Kidd immediately jumped in to help. They got the wagon onto the drawbridge and stopped before the dropped gate.

A woman stood waiting with a group of armed men. She looked the two over and shook her head.

‘Welcome to the Castle.’ She greeted. ‘Traders?’

‘Is it that obvious?’ Page asked smiling. The woman let out a light laugh and smiled to Page.

‘All traders are welcome here.’ She told them. ‘We do have some rules however that we must tell everyone before they are allowed inside.’ Page nodded not surprised by the announcement. ‘We will allow you to keep your weapons, however we do ask that you do not draw them. I also ask that you give your word that you will not harass or cause no harm to any of our people.’

‘You have my word, so long as they do not harass or harm us.’ Page told her.

‘Fair enough.’ The woman said nodding ‘I am the mayor here. My name is Helena and this is my second Steve.’ She motioned to the chubby man to her right.

‘Page,’ She replied and motioned to Kidd. ‘This is my son Kidd.’ Helena flinched surprised and Steve’s eyes widened.

‘The Page Gallagher?’ Steve asked with a painfully deep voice. ‘We heard you were heading this way. You have some friends here.’ He looked to Helena. ‘I’ll go get them.’ She nodded and looked up.

‘Open the gate!’ She called loud. Page’s mind was elsewhere however. Steve said they had friends there. Had Ty and Theo made their way back to here? The thought of Theo traveling on a broken ankle turned her stomach.

The gate rose and once it stopped, she and Kidd pulled the wagon forward. Helena and a few of the guards moved forward and gave them a hand. Page was a little surprised when they did not stop once they were past the gate. Helena took control of the yoke and steered saying;

‘We will push you to the trader’s corner.’ She steered the wagon off to the right. ‘There is a little group of cottages there we save for traders.’ Page nodded and continued to pull. ‘Here.’ They slowed and then came to a stop. Helena looked the wagon over. ‘This thing is beautiful. Let me get a look at what you plan to trade, and we may be able to set you up with a couple of horses to pull it for you.’

If they could get horses, Page would trade almost everything they had. The wagon would advance their trading business considerably.

‘Page!’ She looked to where the call had come from and was shocked to see Daniel and Martha running toward them. She had never expected to see them again. Especially this far east. The moment the two got close enough, they hugged her tight.

‘How?’ was all Page could get out before a massive set of arms joined the hug. She looked to see Tucker grinning wide with moist eyes. ‘Tucker?’ He nodded and the three released her.

‘Oh my god Page!’ Martha said looking her up and down. ‘Look at you. You’re as thin as a rail.’ She frowned worried. ‘Too thin. Are you ill?’ Page shook her head.

‘We ran into some trouble last fall.’ She explained. ‘It’s taken me a while to bounce back.’ She shook her head. ‘How did you all end up here? I thought you were going south?’ Tucker sighed his smile fading.

‘I couldn’t leave things the way they were between us.’ He told her and Page scowled annoyed.

‘Please don’t tell me you came all this way to apologize for your idiot brother.’ She scolded. ‘Don’t. What happened was not your fault. Besides,’ she grinned ‘I think I handed the situation just fine.’ Daniel snorted in laughter.

‘You sure did.’ He giggled.

‘What happened to him?’ Page asked frowning.

‘After we were sure he could take care of himself,’ Tucker said ‘we sent him south on his own. He is no bother of mine. My brother never would have attacked someone like that.’ He shook his head. ‘Is this the boy we have heard so much about on the radio?’ Page looked to see Kidd watching the reunion curiously.

‘Yeap.’ Page said with pride. ‘Kidd, these are the people I told you about. That’s Tucker, Martha, and Daniel. They are from the first group of people I met.’ Kidd smiled nodding. ‘Guys, this is my son Kidd.’

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Kidd.’ Tucker greeted offering the boy a hand. Kidd accepted it.

‘Did you really teach mom how to hunt?’ He asked. Tucker blushed grinning.

‘I gave her a good start.’ He admitted ‘I imagine she has far exceeded the master.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ Page said ‘but wait until you see what this boy can do with hides.’ She looked around not seeing anyone else she knew in the crowd that had gathered. ‘Are any of the others here?’

‘Gwen is out taking a ride.’ Martha said. ‘The others stayed at the Redridge settlement.’ She shook her head. ‘I cannot believe those people tried to kidnap Kidd.’ She looked to the boy. ‘You must have been terrified.’ Kidd shrugged and Page understood. The boy did not like to think about it.

‘Look,’ Page started. ‘We need to get set up so Helena can check over our wares. Why don’t we meet tonight for diner and catch up?’

‘We can help!’ Daniel offered. Page chuckled and nodded.

‘Come on Kidd.’ She said ruffling the boy’s hair. ‘It’s time to amaze the locals.’ He giggled and climbed up into the wagon. Page took a quick look at the area and saw several thick tables for them to set their wares on.

Each item they pulled out for trade got reactions from the crowd. They held back on the furs, food, and water just in case. Page figured if what they had was not enough for horses for the wagon, they would just trade the wagon.

Helena went to the thick oak tables and was silent as she scanned the items they had gathered. Page wanted to kick herself for not grabbing more from the houses. If she knew there were horses here, she could have brought more. Helena shook her head and looked to Page.

‘Where did you get all of this?’ The woman asked stunned. ‘I thought our people cleaned out all of the houses and business near the road.’

‘You did.’ Tucker chuckled. ‘I would bet my life that she went deep into the woods to the houses south of the road.’

‘But that’s ripper territory.’ Steve said shocked. ‘Red’s territory ends here and just south of the interstate.’ Martha smiled.

‘We told you those stories about here were not exaggerated.’ The woman said giving Page a one armed hug. Page smiled to the woman and looked back to find Helena shaking her head. The mayor looked back to the tables for a long moment before looking back to Page.

‘I will take all of the three shotguns and ammo for the town.’ She said ‘In exchange, we will provide you with two good horses. For the first aid supplies, and tools, we will equip you with all of the tack you will need and Stanly the quartermaster will teach you how to use it and drive your wagon.’ Helena frowned to the two rifles. ‘I really want those, but I don’t know what I can trade for equal worth.’

Page studied the woman for a long time. She felt the trade was a little one sided in her favor.  Normally she would not care and just take the win, but Page liked this woman. She didn’t know why but she did.

‘Well,’ she started. ‘there is one thing we need. We have some friends that wanted us to wait here for them. I don’t know how long it will take them to make it. One of them broke their ankle traveling in the winter. The rifles and the ammo are yours if you can provide us room and board until they show.’

‘You’re talking about Ty and Theo.’ Helena said nodding. ‘They stopped here looking for you two. They traded for two horses and continued east.’ Page nodded confirming it. ‘All right. We will let you stay in the trader’s cottage. We have three others in case any other traders come through.’ She frowned. ‘Although it is a little early for that. You two are insane traveling this early in the spring.’ Page nodded her agreement.

‘Let’s just say the settlement we were stuck at during the winter, was less than ideal.’ She told them. ‘Great people, but we were stuck underground with chemically preserved food.’

‘Eww.’ Daniel said making a face. Kidd nodded.

‘It was really gross.’ He told him ‘Their water was nasty too.’

Page watched as Helena and her guards gathered up the items they traded for. Once they were gone, several others moved forward to check the wares that had been left.

Page was shocked at the little interest people showed in the cleaning products. They were more interested in the jewelry, books, and entertainment. Kidd went to her frowning holding a jug of Connor’s moonshine. The man left it in their carts for any behemoth’s they ran into. Page had completely forgotten about it.

‘Mom, some guy wants to trade for this.’ He said ‘But all he has is a rusted knife.’

‘It’s a good knife.’ A disheveled man snapped. ‘Been in my family for years.’

‘It’s not for trade.’ Page told them both. ‘That’s a gift for the local behemoth if we see him.’ Kidd nodded but the man got mad.

‘The hell do you want to give that thing good shine?’ He snapped. Before he could continue, one of the guards grabbed his arm and pushed him from the table.

‘Get out of here Ryle.’ The big man snapped. ‘The mayor has forbidden anyone to give you liquor.’ Ryle scowled and marched off. The guard looked to Page. ‘Sorry about that. He is a good guy, just a violent drunk.’ Page nodded and looked back to Kidd.

‘Better put that in with our personal stuff.’ She warned and he nodded. By the time the people had finished, they had almost nothing left. Page shook her head confused as she packed the cleaners away. ‘I am a little surprised that no one wanted any of this.’ She said to Kidd. He nodded his agreement.

‘It’s because they make their own.’ Tucker explained. ‘This was a fully functioning renaissance village.’ Page looked around at the tightly packed cottages in wonder. Off in the distance she could make out an honest to god castle. ‘Crazy isn’t it.’ Tucker chuckled and Page nodded.

‘I passed this way a dozen times before the fall.’ She said ‘I had no idea this place was here.’

‘Helena said some rich guy built it.’ Martha said looking around. ‘He was a real fanatic about the early renaissance era. I guess he was disappointed that the renaissance fairs were always so short and rarely accurate. So, he built this place. It was supposed to be open year round and fully accurate. Most of the people living here are actors who lived full time in the village. Most of them had to learn a period craft to get the job.’ Page nodded her understanding.

Their three friends helped them unload their remaining stuff from the wagon and take it to the cottage given to them. Just as they finished, Helena retuned alone. She smiled to Page.

‘Well, we agreed on room and board, so these are for you.’ She said handing Page a small sack. Page frowned confused and opened it. There was a bunch of fake gold coins inside. ‘A fully authentic recreation of a village from the fifteenth century.’ Helena explained. ‘We use the old currency in exchange for wares and food. Well, unless traders like yourself come along. Then it is wares for wares.’ She motioned to the sack. ‘More than enough there to feed you, your boy, and your dog at the inn for the next two years. They will be useless when you leave, but for now, it will hold up my end of the deal.’ Page nodded and smiled to her.

‘Thank you Helena.’ She said shaking the woman’s hand. ‘I don’t know about Kidd, but I am looking forward to hanging out here for a while. This place is one of a kind to say the least.’ Helena smiled nodding.

‘After the fall,’ she said ‘We just kept doing what we did before the fall. It’s not like we could go anywhere else. Now we are the top traders for horses in the whole state. We have not got many people coming from the west, but people from the north and east.’

‘Not many people made it out of Washington.’ Tucker told Page frowning. ‘We found out shortly after you left us, that California, Washington and the whole west coast had been the hardest hit in the spread of the chaos. Northern Canada and Alaska were the only exceptions. Nearly all of South America was turned. Reports are coming in that the southern half of the continent is uninhabitable.’

‘Mouth?’ Page asked and he nodded.

‘He is a wonderful man.’ Martha sighed. ‘He saved our lives out there twice with his warnings about swarms on the road.’

‘He is a pain in my ass.’ Page chuckled. ‘But he is a great help for the fight to save humanity.’

‘You don’t want to be famous?’ Daniel teased and she chuckled shaking her head.


Submitted: January 17, 2016

© Copyright 2021 CJones. All rights reserved.

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