Wylar Drig was a carter. He never pretended to be anything else, never claimed to be anything grander or more refined. He drove a cart. To be fair it was his own cart, pulled by his own horrocks bullocks, and it was, as carts go, a big one.
But with Wylar, if you had something to cart, he’d cart it for you. I’ve known him shift night soil, furniture, firewood, fireworks (which even he admitted was a little unnerving) and in one case a bride on her way to be married. He handled any job in the same methodical manner, although in the case of the bride he did wash the cart out first, and the bullocks were scrubbed and had their horns polished.
He had a bit of land north of Port Naain. It was enough to keep his bullocks on and also to raise young cattle which he’d train to work. Wylar demanded the best. He was a near neighbour of Pardo Fuen. He had a standing arrangement with Pardo. When Pardo went looking for calves to rear as bulls, he’d keep an eye out for some decent big lads that Wylar could rear as bullocks. At two years old he would pair his bullocks up; the pair would tend to work together for life. Then he’d get them used to being harnessed and even pulling light weights. By the time they were three years old they’d be properly trained, but were only given light work. Then by the time they were five years old they’d have reached their full strength and could work properly.
Wylar always tried to have six big bullocks over five years old, with another six between two and three years old in training and a dozen young calves just growing and becoming domesticated. He rarely harnessed six at a time, but it meant he could rotate teams, making sure that they got a little time for rest. As you could imagine, none of this came cheap but Wylar was the best and if you wanted the best, you just had to put your hand into your pocket and pay for it.
Aside from his cattle, Wylar wasn’t what you’d call an unusual person. He was happily married with three children, liked the occasional glass with his friends and carried a little more weight than perhaps he should. He could swear fluently when a bullock trod on his foot or he hit his thumb with a hammer. But by and large he just got on with the job and never made a lot of fuss; just a quiet, decent, and to be fair, unimaginative chap.
The one tale I remember him telling was of a job he did late one evening. He had been north carrying a load of grain to a water mill up there, and had picked up a load of thatching reed for his own use whilst he was in the area. It wasn’t what he would have called a hard day, but he’d got two pair of bullocks hitched to the wagon anyway. He always used to say that his cattle quite liked a steady road haulage job. It was more interesting that ploughing or other field work.
He didn’t work that area often and at the water mill they recommended he take Straitened Lane home. They reckoned it would save him half an hour and it’d be easy enough for a half laden wagon. Night was drawing in and it was growing dark when he got to the ford just this side of Wattergil and it was there he met the stranger. This chap had been taking a load through the ford and something had gone wrong. Wylar commented to me that after he’d met the man, he’d rather assumed the cattle had shied because the driver was waving a stick about and shouting too much. Whatever it was the cart had come off the ford and had got stuck.
Wylar left his own beasts and walked into the ford to see what could be done. It was obvious that the other cart would have to be moved before he could get his own through.
He’d been too busy checking the cart to take too much notice of the driver, but when he did, he didn’t like what he saw. He was tall but thin, pale and seemed to be on the edge of exploding into violent rage.
Wylar nodded to him. “So where’s your cattle?”
That much was obvious. Wylar decided not to ask where they’d gone, lest the chap exploded. Instead he was quietly pragmatic. “I’ll unhitch my teams, pull your cart out, and then I’ll fetch my wagon across.”
“Cannot be done.”
The thin chap gestured at the cart. “Four bullocks will never shift it.”
Wylar bent down and looked carefully at the cart wheels, two of them on the downstream side had sunk in, but the other two were fine.
“I’ll give it a try.”
As he stood up he noticed that whilst the stream was eddying around his legs and the cart wheels, it didn’t eddy round the tall chap’s legs. Wylar had never seen anything like that before but there again, as he said later; there are a lot of things in this world he’s never seen. Still he glanced down at the chap’s legs later and the river just seemed to flow through him as if he wasn’t there.
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