Exodus from Steel Horse Crossing - The Rovers


It had already been a long night, and it was getting longer by the moment.  The small council of Rovers that had met some hours ago were in motion almost immediately, and word had made it to all corners that still had people: It was time to leave if you valued your life.  It wasn’t a message sent easily, or without the weight it deserved, but it was the right thing to do for the moment.  Elder Timothy from the tribes had made his appearance as expected, and was already moving south with the first caravan out to work with the Ironworks in Mill City.  His people had split between working with the clans to sort people, movements and rescues as they became necessary.  The symbiosis between Rover and Natural One melded effortlessly as it had many times in the past, speaking volumes for the closeness of both strains in the area.

More worrisome was the RPM, as not a single Diesel Jock had made their way to the appointed emergency locations.  That spelled out two possibilities.  The first was that they didn’t believe the threat was credible to the town, and the second was that they were already trapped in on the north side of the town, and were unable to make it out.  Dick Berken was bold, and even reckless, but he wasn’t a stupid man.  He would know that this event was too big even for his best fighters, and if he could have made it they would have been here.  No, they were already lost, and there would be no freeing them.  Not right now, at least.

The elderly man, his long white hair flaring in the light breeze, sat on a log thinking in the time provided about all these things and more in the matter of a few moments.  His heavily furrowed brow bore the weight of many people across its ridge, and gnarled old fingers passed thoughtfully across a tattered brown and grey scarf wrapped around his neck, shoulders and chest.  Claus Staghorn had lost much of his family and clan over the years, and they had left him holding the reigns of a many year old peace between the founders of Steel Horse Crossing.  The old Rover could remember those very beginnings, all the way back, despite the cobwebs that hung around those memories.  He was as old as anyone could count, and yet the fates had yet to see him dragged off into his final day.  Until that day, he would hide in plain sight of his own people, the third Elder of Steel Horse Crossing, the only man that could recount the history of the entire region to the day they had all fought for the land together.

“Claus,” a small voice whispered in the darkness, the feel of a warm hand on his elbow accompanying the words, “we need to get you inside.  You’ll freeze out here.”

Claus chuckled softly, a little cough following the noise.  “Greta, at twice your grandparents’ age, you’d think you’d stop worrying about me.  If I made it this far, the cold of my own homelands are unlikely to be the thing that ends me.”

Greta had been one of the few familial survivors of the Staghorn clan, and one of even fewer that refused to let go of that name out of sheer respect for her kin.  Claus was her relative, but she wasn’t sure how far it went back, and how many “greats” had to be attached to the relationship.  It wasn’t important to her in the end, as she’d spend whatever part of her life was required looking after him and she liked it that way.

“You’re being intransigent, you old coot,” Greta teased.  “Come now, others are waiting, and we have so many things left to do.”

The pair made their way slowly to the low, protected fires near discreetly hidden caravans.  Various clans, caravan leaders, and other notable Rovers had gathered here despite their groups being similarly hidden in other locations along the southern reaches of town.  Claus noted the faces in the low light, counting who was still left and where there was someone missing, he counted the number of people that should have been taken with the caravan that was already on the roads.

“Too many still here.  What are we holding for, and do we know if whatever that is will end up making it?”  Claus’ voice was soft, but firm.  This was no time for too many heroics, and anyone that thought otherwise was likely to perish along with anyone they were attempting to rescue.

“Not many left now,” came a deeper voice from behind the shielded fire.  “We should all be on the roads within the hour, and we’ll leave one behind for any last emergencies, as instructed.”

Claus nodded, as did Greta, both acknowledging that plans were being enacted as expected.  Only one last detail was missing, and Claus would see to it personally.

“A small addition to our plans, then,” he commented, as all the faces turned to listen.  “I’ll make my way immediately to Rail City.  This is bigger than just Steel Horse, or even Mill City.  We’ll need to invoke the treaty, and I’m not sure Elder Timothy knows enough of the details.  Dick Berken hasn’t made it to the rendezvous point, so I’ve got to assume they are a loss for the time being.  That means it falls to me to reach the Chancellor and discuss the terms.”

A bit of rumbling came from the voices around the fire, some in agreement that Claus would be the only reasonable alternative while others suggested he would have problems in such a large city with the Ironworks.  While divided, the voices never made demands nor did they ever suggest the statement was invalid.  Their respect was clear, despite the worry that they carried with them.

Claus clacked his teeth together quietly, yet purposefully, while the few voices spoke.  He was of two minds.  Standards suggested he allow them to talk, as everyone should be heard.  Time suggested he skip to the point of importance.  He opted for the middle, and let the conversation happen without him for a few more moments as he processed who was still available on the southern town borders.

“Unfortunately my friends, this talk will not settle the problem of needing someone in Rail City that knows the terms of our contract with the Ironworks.  I am that person.”  Claus spoke as a matter of fact now, bringing his considerable years to bear.  “I will need a caravan ready to move now, as I’ll find my second leg of the trip in Mill City once we arrive.  I also need some letters delivered for those that would be in Mill City, and I’ll need someone handpicked for a task that will take on some matter of importance in the near future.  Have people watched during the discussions to follow.  I need to know who would be astute to take on some matters for the future of the town.”

The others around the fire acquiesced to the older Rover, knowing that his words were to be followed at this point now that his mind was made up.  It would be up to them to all do their parts, in whatever fashion they could make them work.  A few of the people standing in that same circle would never share similar moments again if everything didn’t go to plan, but they knew that for the security of the town and the protection of the Ironworks, they would need to perform their duties as best they could.  It was a group effort to secure the community.  It was the community that must survive to ensure that Steel Horse continued beyond that night.

Greta looped an arm through one of Claus’ as he started to walk off, enacting his plan.  A single voice called out from the fire as it petered out, chasing the pair of them.  “The gods go with you both, and see your safe return.”

Claus grinned slightly, looking ahead at the caravan readied for his departure.  “If I’ve made it through all this just to not make it back from the Chancellor, let’s hope you’ll send Hugo and Muni after the lot of them, yeah?” 

At the mention of their names, two caged ravens bristled and squawked, their blood red eyes trained on Claus as he flicked a finger’s length of raw rabbit meat at both.  “You’ll have formal invitations for the town by the new year, and if you don’t, you’ll know where to come looking for me.”

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