Hoon sits on the back gate of the caravan as it lumbers its way down the long road. He pops a sweet into is mouth and chews, the gummy texture of the Nirtan Square confection giving way to an intoxicating sour-sweetness that makes the top of his mouth tighten and wrinkle.
Behind them, keeping pace with their own caravan is that of Uncle Nedrad. He sits in the driver’s chair, hands on the reins though the great, placid orox know where they’re going – straight onwards – same as they have all their lives. Hoon and Nedrad and all the others of their clan are just passengers, along for the ride.
It’s not even midday yet. They won’t be stopping the wagons for a long time, if at all. Still, they always draw a crowd from the surrounding streets. Traders, the curious, those seeking news and always the children and youth who find the wagons glamorous.
A great pile of orox dung hoves into view, emerging from under the wagon. Fresh, unmarred by the wheels of any other wagon. Come from one of the wagons ahead. A wagon-brat runs into the gap, expertly timed, grabbing a lump of dung in each hand and scurrying out again before the next orox’s heavy tread runs them over. A grin to Hoon from a grubby face and the wagon-brat runs off with his prize to find the patty-cart.
From the roadside crowd a little gang of juvenile buggerbillies scampers out alongside the wagon, babbling questions with clicks and whistles barely discernible as the trader tongue. Their carapace gleams like bronze and their six-sleeved waistcoats compete with each other in a riot of colour, but he can’t discern a word they say.
“Does it ever end?”
He blinks, there’s a girl amongst the buggerbillies. Is she their governess perhaps? Employed by some grand buggerdam to teach them the trader tongue and not to eat civilised folk? She’s young and pretty and so, despite some eighteen years of mostly ignoring the sedentenfolk he answers.
“You ever seen a wagon moving antispin lady? No, the long roads go on forever and ever and never stop.”
She hitches her skirts up around her knees and trots to keep up. The orox are slow, but the’re steady and they never have to halt, they can walk forever without getting out of breath – unlike people.
She starts to slow as they approach the marker. The streets beyond this point belong to Baron Schell and not to The Motley. She stops there at the way-marker, like most sedentenfolk she’s not one to stray beyond the familiar roads and buildings.
Hoon stands, swings on the pole at the back of the wagon and gives her a cheery wave, calling out while he can still be heard.
“My great grandfather tells stories that it circles round and comes back again, so maybe, in another life I will see your beauty again!”
He laughs as she blushes beetroot red, but he knows that no, they’ll never see each other again. Slowly as the orox plods on she and her little charges fade into the distance and disappear. The great, curving, rising horizon beckons.