The red-haired boy walked next to one of the wagons, the girl next to him.
He had found out that her name was Elanor, but he was not sure if that was really her name, or some name that she had picked at random to give to him. The name he had given to her was one that he had picked at random, and he had a sneaking suspicion that she knew that.
He had told her his name was Hamish; it was the first one that came to him, being the name of one of the older boys in the village.
The wagon they walked next to belong to the girl’s mother, and during the two weeks that he had been travelling with them, it was to this wagon that he went to when it was time to sleep, curling up in some blankets underneath it.
Elanor had tried to convince him to change his clothes into something more similar to what they were wearing, saying that it would make him safer. When he asked her how a change of clothes would make him sae, she explained that if they came across strangers, they would not know that he was not one of their people.
This did not make sense to him. If they came across anyone that could take him on a more direct route back home, he wanted them to know that he didn’t belong to these people, that he was not one of the travelling people. But she was insistent and badgered him until he changed into colorful and mismatched clothes.
Two days after he put on the clothes she had found for him, they came across another group of travelling people, but this group appeared to be much gruffer than the ones that he was with, and he was sure that he didn’t want them to know that there was anything different about him; he was afraid of what they might do to him if they knew.
“Fern,” the man sitting in the front wagon said to Elanor’s mother in way of a greeting. “How are things in the direction that you came from.” He jerked his chin in the direction that his group was heading, and the way that the group that Hamish was with had come from.
“Thistle,” Fern said in response, and she tilted her head toward where they had just come from. “It is not bad that way. It is open and free. No guards looking to cause trouble.” Thistle grunted. “What about the way you’ve come from? Anything to worry about that way?”
“We came across some soldiers a day or two ago,” Thistle said. “But our outriders came across them before they could come across the rest of our troupe, and we managed to get out of the way.”
“That is good,” Fern said. “Thank you for the warning. We will be mindful of them.” She motioned to someone on horseback and instructed him to warn the outriders of the soldiers, and he rode off quickly. Then, she turned her attention back to Thistle. “Many blessings on your travels and on your trade.”
“And on yours as well,” Thistle responded with a nod.
The two of them turned away from each other, snapped the reigns on their horses, and the wagons of each group continued on their way.
“W where those people?” Hamish said to Elanor when they were far enough away that he was sure he would not be heard by anyone from the other group. “They looked . . .” But he couldn’t think of any other word but ‘mean,’ and he wasn’t sure that was a safe word to use about one group of travelers when speaking about another group.
Elanor laughed and grabbed his hand, holding it as they walked.
“Whatever you are thinking,” Elanor said, “is probably right. We help each other out when we come across each other, but they are pretty gruff. I am glad that I am in the family that I am in, instead of that one.”
He smiled at her, not completely sure if it was a good thing that she had so easily understood what he was thinking. It might have been a very good guess on her part, but he had the bad feeling that she could toot around inside his mind.
How was he supposed to protect his thoughts from someone who could do something like that? He didn’t know any stories that could give him any kind of guidance on that sort of thing, so he didn’t have the vaguest idea.
A couple of the boys that Elanor had been playing with when Hamish had first seen her came running up to them excitedly.
“Elanor, Hamish,” the one called Bramble said. “There are some wild horses over there.” He pointed to their right. “Come look at them with us. There are a couple of colts with them.”
“But won’t Fern be upset with us if we wander off?” Hamish said, looking toward Fern.
“Of course not,” Bramble said, waving a hand. “As long as we keep up with the wagons, everything will be fine.”
“He’s right,” Elanor said. “And if we don’t notice that they’ve gone too far away, there are riders who will find us and make sure that we catch back up with everyone.”
“Where?” Hamish said. “I haven’t seen any riders but the few that have been in front.”
“There are a few that stay near enough to Mother’s wagon for her to send them on errands,” Elanor said. “Plus, there are riders that ride far ahead of us to make sure there are no dangers in front of us, and riders a whays behind us to make sure that there are no dangers coming up behind us.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “We’ll be fine. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
He wasn’t sure that she was right, but he didn’t think that he was going to be able to get out of going to see the horses with them; he was sure that they were going to keep pestering him until he agreed.
He stopped walking, and Elanor continued to look at him. When she thought she saw her chance, she pulled on his hand, leading him to where Bramble had seen the horses.
They hurried away from the wagons, not paying attention to any of the adults who watched them run off.
It took them a couple of minutes to make it to the place where the horses were, and they stood in the grass, watching them graze, looking for the colts.
Hamish thought they were a pleasant thing to see, but he didn’t think they were nearly as exciting as the Romani children seemed to think they were; they seemed to think that seeing these wild animals was the most amazing thing that they had ever seen. It was almost as though they had never seen horses before, wild or otherwise.
They had behaved the same way when they had seen a group of deer, so it wasn’t as though this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.
For a moment, he thought they might have been putting on a show of excitement for him, that they were trying to make it seem like being in their group was a wonderful thing, and he wasn’t entirely sure that he could say that they weren’t. He had been with them for a very long time, and they might have been instructed to try and make him feel like being with them was preferable to being back home.
“Oh, look!” Bramble said, and he pointed off to the left as a group of deer came wandering close and began feeding on the grass.
The deer gave the horses a wide birth, not coming close enough to make any of the horses think that they were trying to get too close.
Hamish watched a large buck position himself between the does that he was with and the horses. He was definitely making himself known, as though to make sure that if any of the horses thought they might want to harm any of his group, he was going to have something to say about it.
The buck turned to Hamish and stared at him, making him feel as though the buck was looking directly into him and that he could tell everything that Hamish was thinking and feeling. His mind told him that something like that wasn’t possible, but his heart still pounded as though it were the truest thing that had ever happened.
The buck nodded his head a few times at Hamish, and then, it started to graze as well.
It must have decided that he was no threat to anyone, and Hamish was glad for that; he was sure that he would not be able to outrun the buck, and those antlers looked very sharp.
“That was good luck,” Elanor said, coming closer to him and grabbing his hand. “The buck saluted you. That means you are charmed now.”
“I am?” Hamish said. “I never heard any stories about being charmed by bucks.”
“Maybe they just didn’t tell those stories in your village,” Elanor said, “but there are stories in our family. Maybe my mother will tell you one of them while we are eating! I will ask her.”
“Hey, you children!” a rider said, coming closer to them. “The wagons are leaving you. Get a move on.”
The children gave the rider a quick look before they ran toward the train of wagons, arriving out of breath at the back of the train.