19. The Visitor

When Till wakes up, the room is not very bright at all.

It is morning, but the light that comes in through the windowpanes is gray and colorless. Rain patters against the glass. A fierce wind has sprung up, and the sound of its howling makes Till want to pull the featherbed over his head. He remembers his dream of Stellia being there with her book, and for a moment, he feels doubly sad and alone because it was only a dream.

Or was it real, perhaps?

With a sudden wild hope in his heart, he sits up, and gasps in astonishment.

On the chair next to the table, underneath the picture of the bald man, sits a girl.

“Good morning,” she says.

“Good morning,” Till mutters, surprised but also disappointed. The girl in the chair is not Stellia. “My Lady,” he adds, remembering what his father taught him about addressing well-dressed strange women on the market in Maltaros. He glances around the room to see if anyone else is there, but he is alone with the girl. The woman. He can’t quite decide, she seems very young, a little older merely than his sister.

“Did you sleep well?” she asks.

Till nods. Not only is this woman not his sister, she could not be more different from Stellia. Her hair is long, and very dark, black, really, not the warm chestnut brown of Stellia’s curls, and it flows down past her shoulders in wild waves. Her face looks, he can’t quite find the words, a bit sad, or weary, as if like him she has just recently woken up from a dream and is now regretting that it wasn’t real.

Her eyes are dark brown, almost as dark as her hair. But some other color seems to be hiding in them, also. It is visible only briefly, like a glint of fish darting through murky water, coming and going so swiftly that he cannot be sure it was there at all. It seemed very beautiful to him, this hidden color—or was it light? For a moment, he is left with so strong and aching a desire to catch another glimpse of it that he forgets that it is rude to stare at people, especially into their eyes. An instant later the strange longing has passed, and he looks quickly away from the woman’s face.

The rest of her isn’t particularly colorful. She is dressed in gray, a dark gray, like the clouds right before there is heavy rain. How could anyone look cheerful that way?

“How long have you been here?”

Till decides that maybe he doesn’t have to call her My Lady all the time, she is so young, and besides, she does not look so richly dressed in her drab coat and tunic. She also wears a leather belt around her waist, a broad and black one, like the soldiers have, the kind of belt he’s never seen a woman wear before, rich or otherwise.

“I arrived this morning,” she says.

She speaks his language, and much better than Lord Osdath. If Till heard her somewhere at home, he might not have noticed at first that she was not from Taronnis.

“Are you my visitor? The one Lord Osdath said was coming for me?”

“I am.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Far away,” she says. “Aren’t you hungry?”

Surprisingly, he is, after the quantities he ate the night before. “Very.”

“I’ll have a friar draw a hot bath for you. After that, he will take you to the refectory for your breakfast. We will speak more then.” At the door, she pauses. “I understand you are quite fond of the chestnuts?”

“Could I have some for breakfast?” Too late, Till remembers what his father always tells him, that it is polite to say no first, even if you really want something.

“I mean, please? If it’s not a bother?”

“I’ll tell the cook,” the woman says, and leaves the room.

NEXT: Brother Frithil


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