Excerpt from The Wombanditos

A Prequel to The Western Lands and All That Really Matters

Copyright © Andrew Einspruch, 2018. All Rights reserved.

Chapter 3

In a Circle


That night, Odmilla brushed out Eloise’s curled mess of hair, a ritual Eloise enjoyed. Before the platypus became her handmaid, having a nanny or servant do her hair was a penance at best, and a torture at worst. But Odmilla’s clever, patient paws could coax out even the most determined knots, a knack Eloise swore bordered on weak magic. She learned to relax as Odmilla methodically separated her hair into strands and tugged it gently with wide-toothed combs, and sometimes, if the styling was ambitious enough, narrower combs. 

“Princess, what sort of braid do you fancy this evening?” asked Odmilla. Her rubbery platypus snout and her heavy, rural Southie drawl made it difficult to understand, but Eloise was used to it by now. 

“Whatever suits, I guess. Something simple and tight. We’ll save frilly, complicated, and message-laden for another time, don’t you think?”

“As you wish, Princess. Do you have a preference for ribbon color?”

Eloise thought about the outfit she planned to wear the next day. “Navy blue, please.”

“Oh, a change. Well, you know what they say. A change is as good as having your blood replaced.”

“Not a great phrase, really.”

“No, Princess. Not really.”

Her hair done and dressed for bed, Eloise bid her handmaid goodnight and blew out the candle. She then drank a full volume of water to make sure she woke up early.


In the pre-dawn light, Eloise dressed herself in sensible clothes suitable for travel at that time of year, left Odmilla a note that would not cause alarm, slipped out of the family living quarters, and went to the rendezvous point Jerome had specified: the Dangling Participle, a public inn favored by poets, bards, and sticklers about language.

The cart that Eloise and Jerome rode on belonged to a stout radish monger named Bööster Böyden, who everyone called BB. His “going to town” crofter’s clothes looked well-mended and clean (Eloise suspected a loving spouse), his complexion reminded Eloise of a turnip, and his hair shared the exact texture, form and shade of brown as a particular flocked rug in one of the castle’s guest rooms. They sat on the back of the cart, feet dangling off, leaning against the crates. Jerome had even organized a cushion and blankets to keep them warm and keep dust off Eloise, which would help keep her habits in hand. 

The cart was pulled by a chipper, chatty bay horse named Basilio de Bardigiano, who went by BdB. Jerome had found them waiting for their radish crates to be filled with pears for their return trip to Lower Glenth. BB and BdB were equal partners in a transport enterprise. Their cart sported a jaunty, hand-painted cartoon of a giant radish with cart wheels featuring cartoon likenesses of BdB and BB. Below this were the words “Radish Rollers: Transporters of Fine Radishes and Radish-Related Products.” Then, in smaller letters: “You have Radishes. We have wheels. Let’s roll!!!” They’d been happy to accept a few of Jerome’s coins in return for a spot on the back of their cart, no questions asked. As the cart rolled down the main road, Eloise was relieved it was full of pears, and not something with a less appealing smell, like durian, pukeweed, or used socks.

The one tricky moment was exiting the castle gates. To almost anyone, she’d look like an ordinary traveller sitting on the back of a cart. But that day, the duty guard was Lorch Lacksneck from Lower Glenth. Eloise was not friends with him, but knew him well enough to say hello. He was a dedicated, respectful wall of muscle and rectitude. Lorch chatted with BB and BdB as he checked them through the castle gate, noting them on the exit scroll. “Say hey to my folks if you see them,” he said. 

“Will do,” BB said.

“And if my mother holds true to form, you’ll need the following answers to her questions: Yes, he’s eating. Yes, the fungal issue has cleared. No, really, it’s cleared up. No, he’s not married. Yes, he would tell you beforehand. No, you should not be holding your breath. No, he hasn’t forgotten how to write. Yes, he loves you.” 

As the cart pulled through the gate, Lorch looked up from the exit scroll and caught Eloise’s eyes. His brow furrowed, puzzled. He looked down at the scroll and back up at her. She gave him a small wave, then put her index finger across her lips in a “let’s keep this quiet” gesture. His furrowed look deepened, and he cocked his head in an unspoken question. Eloise held her thumb and forefinger three weak lengths apart, hoping the narrow gap conveyed a short amount of time. Then she pointed to Jerome, showing that she was not on her own.

Lorch let the cart go, but his face remained neutral and his eyes on her until BdB rounded a corner and the castle gate was no longer in sight. 

Eloise’s stomach tightened. Would he rush off and tell someone? Would there suddenly be a squadron of guards ready to haul her home? She hoped not. She was really looking forward to a day out. But if a retrieval crew showed up, well, so be it. 

They rolled past the town walls and out into the countryside, following the Queen’s Roadway for a few strong lengths before turning off onto a smaller road toward Mooondale and Lower Glenth. BB and BdB kept up a steady flow of amiable conversation. It had been BdB’s first trip to Brague, and the horse’s chatter revealed a gossipy fascination with the castle and town, especially with its equine goings-on. “Did you know, BB, did you know, did you know there are establishments in Brague that are just for horses? Horses only, BB.” The horse trotted, neck crooked, keeping one eye on the road while the other looked up at BB in the driver’s seat.

“Actually, I had, indeed, heard such things, yes.”

“And you didn’t tell me beforehand? You left me to figure that out on my own?”

BB wiped a hand across his face. “Never occurred to me to say anything. Sorry. But it’s not like you asked, either.”

“How am I to know to ask you about something that I don’t know exists?”

“Fair point.”

“Do you know what goes on in those places?” BdB looked scandalized. “Can you guess?”

“I’m guessing that one might have something to nibble and something to drink. And one might enjoy the company of other horses.”

“Yes, yes. Of course, there’s that. But gambling, BB! Gambling! They gamble using oats for wagers!”

“BdB, are you telling me that there is gambling taking place right under the nose of our fair queen?”

“Under her nose? No, she wasn’t there. Not that I saw.”

“Figure of speech, BdB.”

“Oh. Sorry, I can’t always tell. There was one Percheron there, a huge stallion who wore something that made him smell of flowers.”


“Flowers, BB. A stallion who smelled of flowers. Like wisteria and frangipani. I smelled it with my own nose. He had a Hanoverian mare on one side and an Arabian mare on the other. He called them his ‘good luck charms’. Colt, oh, colt, they were pretty. Anyway, the Percheron was wagering bushels at a time. Bushels, BB! Of oats!”

“Is that a fact, BdB?”

“It is! It is! I saw it with my own eyes, BB.”

“Well, that’s something. What were they gambling on? Cards? Dice?”

“Humans! They were gambling on humans running foot races! They had this circle, and humans raced around it.”

“You don’t say, BdB.”

“I do say, BB. I say it very much. Humans!”

“Why would anyone wager perfectly good oats on a bunch of humans running in a circle?”

“That is the salient question, BB, I daresay. Made no sense to me at all. No sense at all.”

Eloise had never heard of such entertainment in Brague. She caught Jerome’s eye and gave a questioning shake of her head. Jerome shook his back. It made her wonder what else went on that she was ignorant of.

“So?” asked BB.

“So what?”

“So, did you place a wager, BdB?”

The horse stopped talking, although the cart kept moving. The pause stretched. Suddenly, Böyden let loose the deepest laugh Eloise had ever heard. “Why, Basilio de Bardigiano, you bet on a human!” His guffaws were infectious, and Eloise found she could hardly keep from laughing herself.

If horses could blush, BdB would have looked like a beetroot.

“Did you… Did you…” BB could barely get the words out through his laughter. 

“Did I what?” The horse sounded indignant. He held his chin up and trotted down the road without looking left or right.

“Did you… Did you win?”

Another long pause.

BB howled with laughter, tears trickling from his eyes. “I’m gonna… I’m gonna…”

BdB stopped and turned his neck all the way around, so he was looking straight at his business partner. “Don’t.”

“I’m gonna, I’m gonna tell your missus!”

“Please, BdB. Please, don’t. She wouldn’t understand.”

“She wouldn’t understand? I don’t understand. You wasted perfectly good oats wagering on humans running around from nowhere to nowhere. Ludicrous! I thought you had more sense than that, BdB.”

The horse hung his head, ashamed. “Apparently I don’t,” he whispered. “I thought it would be fun.”

“Was it?” BB’s laughter faded.

“No. I felt sorry for the humans, being forced to run around like that. Poor bloody things. I wanted to take them all home with me.”

“I’m sure they’re fine. Some humans like racing around.”

“They didn’t look fine, BB. They looked sad. And they didn’t look like they had much choice about being there.”

That stopped the laughter. It wasn’t such a fun or funny idea if someone treated the people badly, or forced them to participate in something exploitative. 

The cart rolled down the road for a dozen strong lengths in silence. Eloise thought this might be something she should take up with her mother when she returned.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from The The Wombanditos. Click here to get your free ebook copy. or you can buy it here.