Till climbs out of the large bed and walks to the door.
He presses his ear against the wood. When he hears no steps outside, he tries the stout brass door handle. It won’t open. He doesn’t think much of it, he’s used to adults locking doors so he can’t get into places or at things. His mother does it with the larder, his father with his tools, and Stellia with most of the books she buys in Maltaros.
Till shrugs and looks around the room. Someone has laid out clothes for him on the chair by the table. They look very fine and very new, and when he examines them, the cloth is thick and soft under his fingers. But nothing is any color other than black, or some shade of gray.
A key turns in the lock. He jumps back into the bed and draws the blanket up to his neck.
The door opens, and a very tall man enters. He is dressed in the same way as everyone in this place. Quite unlike the Abbot and most of the other men Till has encountered so far, this man is rather too thin. His large blue eyes bulge in a long beardless face, his fingers are bony, and his clothes look too loose for him. Even his brown hair looks thin, and he has a very long nose that is bent a little to one side. When he sees Till, he smiles, which looks funny, because it makes his mouth twice as wide as before.
“I trust you have slept well?”
“Yes, thank you.” Till has to strain to understand the man, he does not speak his language nearly as well as his previous visitor. But his voice is gentle, and kind.
“Very good,” the skinny man says. “I have drawn a hot bath for you in the chamber next door. After that, I shall take you to the refectory for breakfast.” He extends a long bony hand toward Till, and smiles again. “Shall we go?”
Till decides that he likes this man, even though—or because—he looks a little odd. He sits up and takes the proffered hand, somewhat reluctantly, expecting the long, bony fingers to be cold to the touch. They are warm, however, and softer than he would have thought.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“You can call me Brother Frithil,” the skinny man says, and lifts Till off the edge of the bed.
Till frowns. “Why would I call you that? You’re not my brother.”
“I am a friar,” the man says. “I live and work here at the Sundrance, and all of us who do so are as brothers to one another. The ties of our kinship lie not in blood, however, but in our devotion to the Faith. In many ways, that is the strongest bond there is, and of course we extend it not only to those who share our calling, but to all others, as well. Therefore, all whom we meet address us in this fashion, as though we were their kin. Including you. So, Brother Frithil is what you may call me.”
“I see,” Till says, even though he certainly does not.
“Here.” Brother Frithil pulls a pair of felt shoes out from under the bed. “On a morning like this, the stone floors are far too cold for bare feet.”
Till slips his feet inside the shoes. They are too large for him, but wonderfully soft and warm inside.
“Now let us go,” Brother Frithil says. “A hot bath is little good if it is allowed to turn cold.”
NEXT: Closer Than You Think