Ogg fell behind because the green apples started working on his guts and he had to stop and find a private place on the roadside. He hurried to catch up, loping down the road as the fog thinned to show open land on either side. Not like the woods that Ogg knew. What did people use this land for? There were a few houses, but not close to the road. Little paths joined the big road but they disappeared into the distance.
The voice of Spar cut through the thinning fog. “Ogg, get up here we need you.”
Ogg could see the two riders now and could make out the outline of other horses on the road. Hitched to a wagon. Two wagon riders in the seat. They were talking to Box and Spar, whose horses were close to the wagon. He was hardly close enough to make out any more detail than that when Spar turned.
“Ogg, jump up here in this wagon and take a look around.”
Ogg drew next to the wagon and looked for the first time at the two figures on the seat. Man and woman. Bundled against the morning chill. Looking at Ogg with a wide-eyed stare. Ogg nodded a greeting. They looked at each other. The man turned away and spoke to the riders.
“We got nothing but our produce and the clothes on our back.”
“We’ll see. Ogg, go on, get up there and take a look.”
Ogg grabbed the side of the wagon, placed a foot on the wheel hub and threw his other leg over the sideboard onto baskets filled with long yellow gourds. Some kind of food he guessed.
Ogg still had the axe in his hand and the wagon bed was full of baskets. He stumbled, having to put one foot in a basket and step down on its contents. The woman moaned and the man hugged her to him as Ogg tried to find his balance. He stumbled forward and the axe blade bit into the back of the wagon seat. The woman cried out and the man stood and pushed her to the side, away from the axe blade. “Sorry,” Ogg mumbled, stepping into yet another basket of produce and trying to pull the axe free. The man reached inside his jacket and threw a small cloth bag onto the seat.
“There, that’s all we have. Just a few coppers for the market.”
Ogg looked at the man who had sat back down huddled with his woman again. “Toss that here Ogg”, Box said, leaning forward with an outstretched hand. As Ogg reached to pick up the cloth bag he noticed a small covered basket under the seat. The man caught his eye and yelled, “Take that too, just don’t hurt us.”
Ogg was a bit confused by all this. He didn’t understand why the man was yelling and the woman was moaning, but the basket smelled of ham and Ogg’s mouth was ready for a bite to eat. He tossed the cloth bag to Box and reached for the basket.
“What’s that?’ asked Box.
“That’s our dinner. Take it and go, please.”
Ogg nodded and smiled as he handed the basket to Spar. Ogg then stood up, finding the best footing possible and looked up and down the road and into the fields on either side. The axe helped him keep his balance.
“What the hell are you doing?” Box barked.
It was a tone Ogg recognized. He was doing something wrong. He looked down.
“I was looking around like you asked me,” he replied, staring at the baskets between his feet.
Spar laughed. “What do you see?”
“Well, get down and let these folks go on to market,” Box snapped as he pulled his horse’s head around and started on down the road. Spar followed, still laughing quietly and shaking his head. Ogg jumped down and waved to the man and woman, but they were still huddled together and did not wave back. He hurried after Box and Spar. He did not want to be left out when the ham was divvied up.
The basket lay in the dirt of the road and Ogg was wishing he had some goat’s milk to wash down the ham and biscuit that had been his share of the meal. Those people had been nice to give them the basket. But some questions troubled him.
Why was he wrong for looking around like Spar had asked him to do? What was in the cloth bag? What was wrong with that woman in the wagon? What was a market?
But asking questions usually brought him trouble. Better to just wait and listen. Box and Spar had started off down the road and Ogg hurried after. Spar held back for Ogg to catch up while Box went on ahead.
“Don’t call me sir.”
“Okay.” Ogg liked that. It meant that Spar was more like Queedle or Bosco. And Box was more like Daddy he guessed.
“You’re not still hungry are you?”
“Me too.” Spar laughed. “We’ll get a good meal this evening at this place on down the road. After we cross the river.”
“Okay.” Ogg considered whether he might ask Spar a question. Maybe not get in trouble or laughed at. He decided to take a chance.
“What’s a market?”
Spar stopped his horse and looked at Ogg. “What’s a market?”
“Yes, sir.” Ogg caught himself. “Sorry, I mean just ‘yes’… not ‘yes, sir’”
“You never heard of going to market?”
Spar ignored the apology. Ogg took that as a good sign. Ogg shook his head ‘no’.
“Market is where folks go to trade things.”
Ogg looked at Spar. This was not enough information, but he knew better that to ask again. Spar did not seem to be annoyed by Ogg’s look. “Folks trade things like the squash in those baskets for other things. They take their wagon full of squash and meet up with other folks who have corn, or beans or poteen like your Daddy makes and they trade.” He stopped and looked at Ogg.
Ogg was thinking. He remembered his Daddy took his poteen to Keeper Twill’s but he never knew the connection. It was a trade. They would go home with bags of corn meal or potatoes or sugar, which was the secret ingredient that Daddy wouldn’t let him or his brothers touch. He thought of another question but Box had come back up the road to where they were.
“The river’s just up a ways, let’s get off the road and scout the crossing.” He turned his horse and started off across a plowed field towards a stand of trees. Spar followed without further discussion. Box was in a hurry and it was hard to keep up traveling across turned ground, but Ogg found a long stride that took him from high spot to high spot over the field and he caught up with Box and Spar just as they got to the trees.
Through the trees was a bank of fog blocking the road as far as he could see in either direction. He edged off to get a better look at what he suspected was the river. But Box and Spar were moving away through the trees, back towards the road. They stopped and Box leaned over to talk quietly to Spar. These words were not for Ogg. This was like Daddy talking to Queedle or Bosco or Keeper Twill. Ogg stood by and tried to listen. He knew he would get in trouble if he was caught. He looked around like he was paying attention to something else. He thought he was pretty good at looking like he wasn’t listening.
“Those squash peddlers are sure to go telling the Guards what happened.”
“There aren’t any Guards on this side of the river.”
“We can’t be sure. We’re close now and I don’t want any surprises.” Box’s voice raised in volume, sounding worried.
Ogg knew the louder you spoke, the more important something was. Box didn’t wait for a reply. He urged his horse forward through the trees, angling toward the place where the road met the fog.
None of this made sense to Ogg, so he put it out of his head. It was easy to keep up as they worked their way through the tangle of trees. The horses had to find a clear way and Ogg could step around and over and was even pushing ahead when he saw something. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. From the edge of the scrub, across the road was a wide strip of water. Fog lay on top of the water and reached across the road to the trees, but it was right there. Big. Like a creek, only big. Ogg measured it and decided he could probably throw a rock across this water if he got close to the edge. Not from here though. It was big. He looked at Spar and Box as they sat on their horses looking up the road.
“It’s big,” Ogg remarked. No response. After a pause they urged the horses out of the trees and onto the road.
“Looks okay,” Box spoke in his quiet voice. He rode on ahead.
“You never seen a real river?” Spar called back over his shoulder.
Ogg snapped out of his staring and hurried to catch up. “Only the creek at home.”
“This here is the Yellow River.”
Ogg looked at the water. It wasn’t yellow. It was brown. He wondered why it was called the Yellow River when it was really brown. But he had long ago learned not to ask ‘why’.
It wasn’t too far to the spot where the road bumped into the river. There was a small shed there, a tall pole and ropes tied to a large tree. The ropes went across the river. There was a porch, floating in the water and ropes were tied to it.
Box and Spar walked their horses up to the shed and a man came out. He had a blanket around his shoulders. Box spoke to Spar who rode up the road a ways to where the fog ended.
“How much to cross?”
“Two coppers” the man answered. He then caught sight of Ogg. “He with you?”
The man looked at Ogg. “Three coppers.”
“He doesn’t have a horse.”
“Don’t matter. Three coppers.”
Box did not reply. Spar came back to the shed and shook his head. Box took the cloth bag the man in the wagon had given him and took something out and handed it to the blanket man. The blanket man looked closely into his hand and then put it in his pocket. He turned and threw his blanket into the shed and waded out to the floating porch. Box and Spar dismounted and followed, leading their horses onto the porch with some difficulty. Ogg stayed on the bank not wanting to get in the way. The porch wobbled and tipped, but not too bad. The horses didn’t like it though.
After Box and Spar had the horses settled down Ogg waded out and got on. The blanket man, now without his blanket, began pulling on a rope and the porch moved away from the gravel bar. He grabbed the rope at the end of the porch and walked to the other end, the rope over his shoulder. The porch tipped some as he pulled as the river tried to carry it down stream and the ropes held it against the flow. The blanket man looped the rope at the end and walked back to take up the rope at the far end again.
“This goes faster if everybody helps,” he said.
Box just stared ahead, quieting his horse.
Spar replied, ”We ought to tend to the horses, but Ogg can help.”
Ogg started to look for a place to lay down his axe. He was happy to help pull the rope. It would help to warm him up.
“No.” Box spoke sharply, still looking straight ahead. “Not unless we cross for two coppers.”
The blanket man continued his walk to the end of the porch, pulling the rope.
“Never mind, I need the coppers more than I need the help. If you ain’t in a hurry, I sure ain’t goin’ nowhere today.”
Ogg looked at Box, who was still staring at the far side of the river. He looked at Spar, who shook his head in a warning. Ogg was not used to standing by while others worked. A trouble came to his stomach. Not a hungry trouble, some other kind.