17. Dinner at the Sundrance

The door to the huge building is tall as three men, and made of massive planks of dark wood.

Above it hangs a large black cloth, dripping rainwater, and embroidered in silver with the Cresset of Hestia. Next to the door, an actual cresset made of black iron is mounted on the stone wall. It’s twice as big as the one outside the Cresset Hall in Phoros. A sullen red fire burns in the iron basket, crackling and hissing as raindrops fall into the coals.

Till remembers how the Parson once explained to him that the Cresset represented the light of the Faith, which must be borne into all corners of the world until there is no more darkness for ignorance and wickedness to hide in. When he went home and told Stellia about this, she said that all the light in the world would not be enough to dispel the ignorance of certain people. But then she would not tell him what—or whom—she meant by that.

Two of the hooded men open the great door before Till, Lord Osdath, and the Abbot. The wooden wings move slowly, and creak mightily as though in protest. When the men have pushed the door open all the way, they bow and stand motionless as Lord Osdath and the Abbot pass inside with Till.

“Now then,” Lord Osdath says. “Shall we see the feast the Abbot’s cook has prepared for us?”

“Most definitely,” the Abbot says, speaking Till’s language. “He is from Baramond. They like their food there, and he is a master of his craft. He makes the best candied chestnuts in all the Realms.”

“Candied chestnuts?” Till yawns. “I’ve never had those.”

“Oh, you’ll like them.”

They walk down a long hallway. To their left, a succession of tall and narrow windows offers a view of rain lashing dark treetops. The facing wall is bare save for the torches mounted there in regular intervals. The unsteady flames send shadows dancing over walls, ceiling, and floor. At the end of the hallway, light streams out of a wide-open door. A man wearing a white apron stands beside it, waiting. He is even fatter than the Abbot, and he smiles eagerly.

Till hastens his steps, in part because he is hungry, but more because he is afraid that the shadows might detach themselves from the masonry, and envelop him before he can reach the brightly lit door.

Behind the door is a large hall full of rows of tables and benches. There’s room for a lot of people to eat together. But aside from Till and Lord Osdath and the Abbot, the only other people present are the the cook and his kitchen boys—three young men who look rather nervous as they run back and forth to bring and remove the many dishes that are being served.

Till and Lord Osdath sit with the Abbot at a table apart from the rows of benches, a bit higher up on a sort of wide stair in front of a huge fireplace. Three thick wooden logs blaze and crackle there on a blackened iron rack. Till has never seen such a large fire indoors; the fireplace in his parents’ house is tiny by comparison. This one is almost as big as the room where he and his sister sleep at home.

The food is all very good, though the herbs and spices in it are different from the ones Till’s mother uses. There’s a roasted pig, which was removed from the huge fire just as they arrived, and of which Till eats a great plateful. Many dishes he does not recognize at all, and some vegetables he’s never seen, such as strange little green things that look like cabbages for very tiny people. These are cooked in butter and seasoned with something that tastes a little like mint, and he finishes a big bowl of them with crispy roast pork.

When the candied chestnuts arrive, Till finds that what the Lord Abbot said is true; they are the best thing he has ever eaten, aside from his mother’s spiced almond pudding of course, and he has far too many of them. By the time he is supposed to have his warm bath, he is too sleepy.

All he remembers is being carried to bed, though he isn’t sure by whom.

NEXT: Lost and Alone


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