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Iolaus wrapped the ends of the leather reins more tightly around his fists before giving them a quick snap. With a whinny of protest, the horse bolted, rattling the cart and its contents as they shot forward onto the rutted road.

"Hey! What—OOF!" protested a voice from the back.

Iolaus risked a brief glance over his shoulder. His passenger had tumbled backwards onto the bed of the cart, heavy legs flailing in the air in a riot of garishly colored cloth and glittering brocade. "Hang on," he warned, a bit belatedly.

"Hang on?!" Salmoneous struggled to right himself, rolling painfully around on the rough wood. "Hang on, he says!" Wincing, the merchant pulled an especially large splinter out of his ample backside. "Where did you learn to drive, anyway?" he demanded irritably. "The School of Searsiscus?"

"Head of the class," quipped Iolaus.

Salmoneous gingerly crawled on hands and knees toward the front of the cart, peering at the road ahead. "Watch out for that rut," he advised.

"I see it." Iolaus twitched the reins and the horse obediently jerked to the left, swinging around the deep hole in the road. The cart tipped slightly onto its two left wheels before slamming back to earth with a jarring thud that threatened to toss Salmoneous over the side.

"Maybe we should slow down a little," grunted Salmoneous as he grasped the cart edge to try and keep from rolling around like an olive in a pot.

"I could," said Iolaus as they roughly veered around another obstacle. "And maybe you can use that silver tongue of yours to talk them out of killing us when they catch up," he added, jerking his head to the left.

Less than a mile away, a dozen rough looking horsemen rode parallel to the cart.

"Um," said Salmoneous eloquently, "Not to criticize your driving—"

"That's all you've been doing!"

"—but they seem to be gaining on us."

"We need to distract them. Give 'em something to keep them busy," said Iolaus.

"Oh, sure. Of course. Why didn't I think of that?" Salmoneous replied tersely. "What do you suggest I do? Sing? Tap dance?"

"Do either of those and they might start shooting at us, too," snapped Iolaus. He jerked his head toward the back of the cart. "Start throwing some of that stuff off."

Horrified, Salmoneous looked at his precious bundles and bags of merchandise. "Do you have any idea how long it too me to get that inventory?" he demanded, outraged. "This represents six months of my life! I fleeced – I mean, I worked my fingers to the bone to put this together! I can't just—"

An arrow whizzed past with a whistle of displaced air, striking the wood a hair's breadth from Salmoneous' ring-bejeweled hand.

Iolaus glanced down at the shaft then up at Salmoneous. "You were saying?"

The merchant grasped the nearest bundle of booty. "One distraction, coming right up."
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August 2011

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