John Horne

John Horne random header image
Welcome! For many years I've enjoyed spending time with a few characters, and over those years a story grew up around them. Over the coming weeks and months, we'll see if you enjoy spending time with them as well. A new chapter will likely be posted each week, so feel free to stop by regularly.

If you'd like to start at the beginning of the book, you'll find all the chapters listed in order on the main page for Another Way Home.

XV. A Gathering of Western Clans

January 9th, 2008 · Another Way Home · No Comments

In the nine weeks since Garyth had joined Xond’s clan, the rhythm of life on the plains had become as natural to him as breathing. He was only reminded that he had not been born Xenarian by his awkwardness with the language. Xond, however, was surprised how rapidly Garyth had picked up enough words and phrases to hold simple conversations with the herders. He was working hard to reproduce some of the difficult sounds, just as he heard them. As they moved north, the days remained summer days but the nights became cooler, an intimation that the seasons were changing. The unbroken flatness of the plains near Dryish had given way to gently rolling moors. The hollows sometimes held marsh-fringed ponds. On very clear days, distant peaks could be seen faintly in the northwest. Xond pointed them out, explaining that they merged with the mountains forming the northern borders of both Wyeland and Xenar.

The sight of the mountains revived Garyth’s memory of his home and family, but it all seemed like a dream of another life. It was as though he had been reborn to an existence where speed and freedom displaced a slower life close to the ground. He seldom thought of himself apart from Tarn. Glimpses of those far peaks gently reminded him that his roots were not in the plains and that he was just a visitor.

Xond had told him that the clan was moving toward an area near the northern foothills where they would meet with two other western clans and their herds. The gathering was held every fall to trade stock and manage the herd for diversity. From the talk in the camp, Garyth realized that it was quite a social event. The Xenarians called it kolsar. Garyth heard this word often as they moved north. Traders and merchants would come out from Xandar Tahn to trade for stock, horses, and hides. Xond told him that there would be contests, feasting, and even some courtship.

Garyth’s reputation within the clan had been strengthened by an incident during his second shift with the herd. Through the summer mating season, bulls gather a harem of cows; as many as they can defend from other bulls. There are confrontations and even battles among the bulls. Garyth had been warned not to interfere, but to keep alert, for a wounded bull could rampage among the cows causing damage. While he observed one of these territorial battles from a safe distance, one of the contenders was badly hooked by the other’s horn and, mad with pain, charged toward a cow that was grazing near Garyth. The cow was oblivious to the danger it was in. Almost without thinking, Garyth yanked his sling from its pouch and let fly his heaviest stone with a hard throw at the cow’s rump. It had the desired effect. The cow was startled into a gallop, and, looking back over its shoulder, saw the attacking bull. It was able to stay ahead until the bull dropped the chase. A clansman had been riding toward the scene to help Garyth and witnessed the action.

That evening Garyth had to demonstrate his “stone hurler” to the group. All the clansmen thought a sling would be a useful addition to their herding implements since they could gather river rocks when they moved close to the foothills. Garyth told them they would need to color their sling stones red so they could find them after use. He was unable to find the one he had aimed at the cow. Someone suggested that it may be a safe method to mark animals if coloring could be used to coat a stone and leave a spot on a selected animal. There was much discussion about the possibilities in the camp that evening.

The northern grass grew thickly and seemed less coarse than that of the southern plains. Garyth had several close friends by now who taught him how to hide among the reeds and rushes of the ponds, patiently waiting with his bow for a chance to bring down ducks and large geese for the camp cookfires. It became obvious that the days were shortening and summer was giving way to autumn. When they left the watery moors behind and once more moved across gently rolling plains, the distant mountains filled their northwestern view more and more each day. The clan eventually came to an area where wooden rail fences marked out large pastures. They were quite close to the western mountains now, and only two leagues of rising grassland separated the fenced areas from foothills that rose to forested mountain skirts.

Groups of clansmen spent two days inspecting the fences and making repairs where needed, gathering wood for rails from the forest. Then they moved the herd into the area, gently guiding the mass of bison to separate the bulls and cows, isolating the two groups from each other with the bulls upwind. Mating season was ending so the separation was not difficult. With the herd fenced, the clan moved north of the fences and set up camp using the large tents as they had at Xolandin. They still kept close watch on the herd, for if a predator crept in and frightened the bison, the fences would be no real barrier to a stampede.

Garyth had become quite skillful with bow and arrow. He could not yet shoot accurately from a galloping horse as he had seen clansmen do, but he could hit his mark if Tarn stood still. He gladly accepted an invitation to ride with a hunting party westward in search of antelope.

The third day out, they found an antelope herd and brought down four animals. Antelope hunting was new to Garyth but he showed some skill in diverting the animals toward the concealed hunters. He also did his share when they dressed the carcasses, and was given a set of beautiful antlers as a trophy. They traveled back to the camp after dark to keep the fresh meat out of the sun. By the time they returned, the clan of Falmir had moved into the area and joined the gathering.

Garyth slept through most of the next day and awoke to smells of roasting meat that evening. The weather had turned cool, so many of the people wore their heavy robes with hoods; otherwise the feast was much like the one near Dryish. Xond’s clan invited the Falmir clan to share in the bounty. Many times during the evening Falmir herders came over to Xond and Garyth to pay their respects and were startled to realize that Garyth was not Samir. Xond introduced him as Garyth, son of Carlten, from Wyeland, explaining that Samir was traveling in Wyeland. Not much was spoken, but Garyth sensed they were interested to know more. Garyth participated in several of the energetic dances and was introduced as one of the hunters who supplied the main course for the feast. By the end of the evening the newly arrived clan seemed to accept him as one of their own.

Next morning he rode out with Xond and two other clansmen to look over the Falmir herd. “This is a time when I feel the responsibility of my position more than any other. Animal selection is very important to the life of the herd. Good selection will improve the herd, bad selection will weaken it. It is at kolsar that Xenarians are bound together by trust. We must trust that the Falmir herd has been properly managed for weakness and disease. If we spot animals that we would like to have withdrawn from breeding, it is important to discuss the matter carefully so there will be no insult.”

Garyth had learned a lot about bison and he appreciated the knowledge and experience that allowed Xond to judge subtle differences. That day his understanding was further expanded as Xond looked over the Falmir bulls with a very critical eye. He used Xenarian terms to describe the traits and features that he saw, but explained what the terms meant in Wyeland words, helping Garyth understand the campfire discussions. It was a clear day and Xond paused on the way back to the camp to point out Kor Xand, a prominent peak near the junction of the western and northern ranges. He told Garyth to look carefully for he felt Kor Xand could be a landmark in a border survey. It reminded Garyth that his visit in Xenar had a purpose behind it. That evening Garyth was recruited to demonstrate his sling. There was widespread interest, with many Falmir clansmen carefully examining the simple but effective device in order to make their own.

Xond shook his head and smiled. “I wonder if Samir has introduced any innovations in Wyeland.”

A third group, the clan of Sindin, joined the kolsar to complete the gathering. Once again there was some surprise at the foreigner, but it soon passed. As herders from Xond’s clan spread stories about Carlten’s deeds in the Sindal defeat, Garyth’s presence created new and greater interest. He was unaware of all the glances cast in his direction by the young women at the kolsar, and would have blushed to know that he was often discussed when they compared the young men.

After a week and a half at kolsar, Xond told him they would ride out with a group of merchants heading to Xandar Tahn the following morning. They would accompany the group for three days before leaving them to ride due east toward the Xandar River. Although Xond did not discuss his strategy, he wanted the merchants to become acquainted with Garyth, for their political power in Xandar Tahn could be useful later. The merchants would stand to profit from open trading between the two countries.

The next day, Xond and Garyth were up before sunrise, loading three pack horses to carry provisions for their trip and gifts from the clan for relatives in the city. The six traders were a friendly lot and Garyth was reminded of Hinton. He found that they were full of questions about Wyeland. Xond interpreted for him and he answered as best he could. His encounter with Hinton had given him a lot of information about the types of goods in demand in Wyeland. The second day out he went bird hunting and brought enough fowls into camp for a small feast. When he and Xond left the group on the fourth day, each trader presented him with some token of their friendship and esteem.

Xond was very pleased. “If Samir is making as many friends for Xenar as you have made for Wyeland, we may not need a border agreement or a border either,” he joked. “We will ride to the Xandar River, where it flows out of the mountains. I judge the trip will require eight days. Then we will follow the river south to Xandar Tahn. There are small settlements along the river and these manage the timber that is floated downstream on high water in the spring. Perhaps after four months on the plains you would like to see a real house again.”

They were ten days getting to the river because of a storm that swept upon them and pinned them down for a day. The deep snow left behind slowed their progress for several more days until it melted away. Garyth had traded his antelope antlers for a pair of boots, second-hand but quite warm, and Xond supplied him with a buffalo hide robe. The sky remained overcast and threatening, but the temperature moderated. The sturdy plains horses took the weather in stride. They did not meet with other travelers until the last day as they neared the river. Xond pointed out that they had crossed the grazing corridors of Falmir and Sindin, who were still at kolsar, leaving the land empty.

Xond’s navigation across the plains was faultless, and they reached the Xandar at a settlement within sight of foothills to the north. The river meandered in the middle of a broad floodplain, which it had cut into the grassland. The distance from the bluff to the river channel was difficult to gauge, but Garyth was certain he had never seen a riverbed half as wide. The few buildings making up the settlement were perched near the edge of the bluff, which dropped down to the floodplain. Garyth noted that a well-used road led south along the edge of the shallow river valley. The storm, which had battered them on the plains, had made the river current quite swift.

“Winter snows in the northern mountains melt and flood this valley from one side to the other in the spring,” Xond said. “Trees are being cut on the slopes at this moment to be hauled to the riverside on sleds. The hauling must be completed before the snows melt and turn the ground to mud. The logs are marked by the woodsmen so that when they are pulled from the river above Xandar Tahn the agents can credit the right people.

“We will go into that store yonder and hear the local news. Do not expect the people to be as friendly as others you have met in Xenar. They live within walls and their outlook is narrow.” Garyth detected a sparkle in Xond’s eye as he spoke.

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XIV. The World Is Changing

December 17th, 2007 · Another Way Home · No Comments

Next morning Smyth was up before dawn to prepare a hot breakfast for the travelers. Terry, having slept very little in her excitement, rode into the village to join them at the shop. The sky was just beginning to lighten when the three of them bade Smyth farewell. As they went out the door, Smyth handed Randal a package. He had wrapped his volume on Wyeland history for Randal to loan to Carlten.

Terry was an inexperienced rider, but Randal found her to be uncomplaining. They were well beyond Woodton by sunset when they camped. They kept a lookout for Hinton and Steven, but Randal did not expect to meet them until they were close to the mountains or perhaps at Carlten’s farm. They passed Meron and Meg’s farm without stopping because of their hurry. Throughout the day Terry’s confidence in her riding ability grew, bolstered by advice and encouragement from Samir. [Read more →]

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XIII. Terry’s Life Takes a Turn

December 3rd, 2007 · Another Way Home · No Comments

Randal and Samir switched back to day travel the next morning, departing from Hampton at dawn on the northern road. Corrin resupplied them with food for three days, and they expected to reach Bridgeboro by the fourth day. James had drawn them a map since the road they were taking was no more than a byway. The map proved its worth, for the road narrowed to a trail by the end of the first day’s ride as it entered thick forest. Randal noticed that the closeness of the trees made Samir and the horses uneasy.

By the middle of the second day the isolation of the forest trail had become so intense they both began to wonder if they had veered from the proper path. That night they left the campfire burning to comfort the horses when they bedded down. Sometime after midnight they were awakened by the alarmed whinnying of both animals. The fire had died to embers, but Samir sprang to his feet when he saw a vague shape near the horses’ heads. He grabbed a heavy branch that had been gathered for firewood and moved toward the horses. The shape resolved itself into the outline of a man who fled down the trail. Apparently the person had been trying to untie the horses’ tethers. Samir gave chase, but the felon disappeared into the darkness of the forest. A check of the tethers showed that little progress had been made releasing the knots. [Read more →]

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XII. Randal and Samir Set Out

November 26th, 2007 · Another Way Home · No Comments

While Garyth was preparing to spend his first night on the plains, Randal and Samir arrived in Dryish with Cafton and Borin at sunset after the long ride back from the lone hill, which they now called Xolandin. The Wyelanders each knew, beyond any doubt, that Xolandin, along with every stalk of plains grass, was Xenarian. Borin went to his home while the others rode to Cafton’s house. Samir did not think the two Xenarian horses would rest well in the stable, so they were left in the fenced corral for the night.

Although little was said on the trip back, Samir impressed Randal as easy-going and pleasant, like Xond. He took time with the horses, rubbing them down while gently murmuring to them. Randal believed the meeting with Xond had gone far better than he could have hoped. He knew that Xond had appreciated the trust he had shown by leaving his grandson in strange surroundings. He was certain that Garyth would quickly grow to relish his new situation. He wondered what it all meant, but he had a feeling it was very significant and important to the future histories of the two nations. [Read more →]

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XI. Tarn

November 9th, 2007 · Another Way Home · No Comments

The three Wyelanders and Samir left at dawn the next morning. It was a more difficult parting than Garyth had expected, for he longed to be returning with his grandfather. As soon as the group departed, the camp became a beehive of activity. Garyth joined the men in taking down the large tents and storing them away on the wagons. By noon only the bare clearing remained to show where the camp had been. Xond explained that they were riding out to set up near the herds that afternoon. Then he took Garyth to the area where the horses were tethered.

“Here, take a handful of this sweet grass and approach that horse yonder,” Xond said, handing Garyth a shock of broad-leafed grass and pointing to a beautiful black horse. “Let him smell you,” Xond called, as Garyth queitly approached the animal. “His name is Tarn.” [Read more →]

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X. A Change of Plans

October 29th, 2007 · Another Way Home · No Comments

The Wyelanders skirted around the base of the hill and saw that the ground sloped downward and then leveled. The Xenarian camp spread out before them on the level ground where seven large circular tents were set. The tent tops peaked in the center and gracefully curved downward to about a man’s height at their outer perimeter where the sidewalls dropped to the ground. These large tents ranged in a wide circle around a broad circular depression of bare earth. Cafton explained that bison loved to roll on their backs and the plains were dotted with bare depressions called wallows. Several dozen smaller tents were scattered about beyond the inner circle. A number of horses were picketed on the outskirts of the camp near a cluster of empty wagons. Garyth spotted a few goats being watched over by a small boy. Several cookfires were burning in the central depression. Two of the fires had iron spits loaded with fowls and turned by men. A huge kettle was suspended over another fire. Garyth noticed a pile of tightly wound grass bundles, somewhat removed from the fires. Dried discs of bison dung were also stacked near the grass bundles and Garyth realized both were used as fuel for the fires. Some small children were at play on the far side of the central area with a group of young women gathered in conversation nearby, watching over the children. The three black horses of Samir and his escort were grazing beside one of the large tents. A beautiful pennant fluttered from the center tentpole, giving that tent an official air. [Read more →]

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IX. The Plains of Xenar

October 15th, 2007 · Another Way Home · 2 Comments

Garyth entered Fairview on the third day, but only stopped to buy some food and ask the distance to Dryish. It took two more days to cross the mountains and begin the descent toward the plains of Xenar. The eastern slopes of the mountains were dryer and lacked the forest cover of the Lowell side, so the view from the eastern slopes was nearly unobstructed. Far below, the plains stretched eastward to the distant blue horizon in unbroken flatness except for a solitary, treeless hill. He could look down on Dryish long before he arrived. It was obviously a village of herders, with fences, stock barns and shearing sheds. [Read more →]

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VIII. Lowell at Last

October 8th, 2007 · Another Way Home · 1 Comment

The walk to Lowell took three days from Windsall, but the weather held fair. On the second day out the road crested a low ridge and Garyth caught sight of the eastern mountain range. The view left him almost breathless. For a moment he wondered why he had ever left home. He had grown up on high slopes with long views, and seeing the distant mountains was like recovering something that, until then, he had not understood was missing.

Lowell was a thriving town, smaller than Crossways, but larger than any of the other villages he had passed through. It was late afternoon when he entered the town, stopped at a shop, and asked how to find the magistrate’s office. He was directed to a large building near the town’s center. On opening the door he was astonished that the room he entered was much smaller than James’s office in Hampton. A man at a desk asked him his business and Garyth handed over James’s letter. The man read it and told Garyth to sit down in one of the chairs, then left through a back door. He soon returned, followed by a smiling bald man, rather short and round, who clasped Garyth’s hand and introduced himself as Hamish, the magistrate. [Read more →]

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VII. An Incident on the Way

September 28th, 2007 · Another Way Home · 1 Comment

Gizzer had more than a couple of stories to tell, but Garyth enjoyed the listening as much as Gizzer enjoyed the telling. When they stopped to eat and give the team a rest, they discovered that Corrin had packed a feast.

“It’s no surprise,” Gizzer said. “Corrin takes hospitality seriously. We’ll eat what we want now, and have an afternoon snack and supper too from what’s left over. I think the rain will let up in awhile.” Gizzer took a big bite out of a chicken drumstick and continued to talk while he chewed. “I should’a tow you ‘at dere ‘ave been dree adacks by bandits along dis road since las’ fall.” He swallowed and waved the drumstick in the air in front of Garyth to emphasize his points. “The rascals haven’t been caught yet, but the poor victims say there’s four of ’em. I was glad when James asked me to give you a ride. It’s been about a month since the last incident, and this rain is keeping the road traffic light today. They might not try anything with two people in the wagon but you never know.” [Read more →]

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VI. To Crossways and Beyond

September 17th, 2007 · Another Way Home · No Comments

The next day, Garyth, Hinton, and Smyth were up at first light. A high overcast lingered from yesterday’s rain, but Smyth believed the worst was over. Garyth helped Hinton hitch Jesse to the wagon, and Steven arrived when everything was secure for the trip. Garyth and Hinton thanked Smyth for his hospitality. When Garyth held out his hand to Hinton for a parting handclasp, Hinton placed a small leather pouch in it.

“That is half the winnings from my wagering at market,” Hinton said. “Keep it tucked away out of sight and it can save you some time feeding yourself. It is enough to get you to Lowell if you are careful.” [Read more →]

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