I was thinking about this, and decided that since Ishkin had no plan, I was going to have to be the grownup and make one. “How about we find us a proper town and get you some gear?” I said.
He looked at me over the rim of his cup. Or rather, over the rim of my cup, since it was our only one. “I don’t got no money,” he said.
“We’ll work for it, like we did our food yesterday.”
“That’ll take too long.” He bent back over his cup and muttered something.
“I said it’d be better if we just stole what we need.”
“Don’t be stupid,” I told him. “Unless you know for sure what kind of people are running a town, you don’t know what they’ll do with you if you get caught. And besides, stealing is wrong.” When he didn’t say anything, I added, “If you’re too lazy to work, you’ll need to find your own way to wherever it is you’re going. I won’t travel with a thief.”
Ishkin got real quiet, finished his coffee and helped me cover the fire and load my gear onto Flecha. He didn’t say anything more about stealing.
We rode southeast until we came to a better road that turned due south. It kept getting colder as the day went on. Around mid-day, we saw a little cluster of tents and burros in a field near the burnt remains of what was probably a nice ranch house once. Some people were huddled in their blankets around a fire and since there were children in the group, we figured there was no danger and we approached them.
They had no food to share and neither did we, but they let us warm up by their fire. I had Ishkin bring me a few rocks, which I set near the fire to heat up. I asked one of the women if she knew the quickest way to the nearest big town.
She was a blonde, delicate-looking lady, who probably would’ve been pretty if she’d been clean and fixed up a little. She waved a hand in the direction we were already going, and said to keep going.
Another lady, this one dark-haired with yellow skin like when Robert had a liver infection, was a little nicer. She said we could make the next town by late afternoon if we kept a good pace. “But if you ain’t got money,” she said, “They ain’t going to want to see you. Why do you think we’re here and not there?”
I figured my rocks were warm enough now, and I poked them out of the fire with a stick. While I wrapped them in rags, I thanked the women for the information and for sharing their fire with us. Then I gave Ishkin a few warm rocks for his pockets and put the rest in my own.
Once we were back on the road, Ishkin asked if we were still heading to town.
“Of course. Why do you ask?”
“Well, those damas. . .”
“Probably don’t know what they’re talking about,” I said. “One is sick, the other has a nasty attitude, and they’re both overrun with kids. It’s probably hard for them to work, and they may even be in debt. Me and you are strong and healthy. We’ll find work.”
We got into town in the afternoon. It was a pretty big place, with lots of streets full of houses all close together. Or at least, there would’ve been lots of houses, if so many hadn’t burned. There were obvious signs of fighting here, but it didn’t look like anything was very recent.
There were a lot of motels in town, but the first ones we came to that weren’t burnt or falling apart were full of squatters. It took a lot of wandering around, but finally around sundown we found a little place that wasn’t too full.
We got suspicious looks from some of the squatters, who looked like they’d been living there awhile. When a few people walked by carrying bows and rifles, I guessed what they were up to and decided it was time to make a few friends. I grabbed my bow and quiver, told Ishkin to guard our stuff, and took off after the hunting party.
You’d have thought there would be almost no wild game around, with so many hungry people, but ammo doesn’t end up in civilian hands very often, and hunting with bow and arrow is hard. Looking at the sorry dregs of equipment these people were using, I had a feeling I’d have no trouble earning a tarp, a couple blankets and some cooking gear for me and Ishkin.
A few dead rabbits later, not only did I have some new friends, but I was officially in charge of teaching them how to make arrows.
Auntie used to shake her head over me and Will, disappointed that we were ignorant and uneducated, just because we got bored and fell asleep when she read Shakespeare to us. I sure don’t feel ignorant tonight. What good is Shakespeare out here? Still, I think I’d like to have a book. Now that I’m in a town and I have friends, I’m going to ask if there’s a library.
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