54. Heathensfall

Heathensfall is different from any other town Till has seen.

As in the Sundrance, all the buildings here are made of solid stone, and the roofs of the houses and shops are covered with slate shingles that look like the scales of huge fish, more so because a thin drizzle is falling that makes everything look slippery and wet. The roads are paved with stone, as well—all of them, not just the widest one as in Maltaros. He sees very few trees, which seems odd, the country all around being so green and covered with deep forests. Only the marketplace has trees; they grow around it in a circle as if to mark its boundaries.

The market is much bigger than the one in Maltaros. Till sees countless things for sale that he doesn’t recognize. In one butcher’s stall, something that looks like a pig (but much larger and entirely covered with bristly black hair) hangs upside down from an iron hook. Its tongue dangles out of its mouth between nasty pointed teeth. Lord Osdath explains that this is a boar, that they’ll be seeing more of them, that the soldiers are fond of hunting them, and that roast boar, in his opinion, tastes far better than deer. Till is excited by the prospect of eating the meat of such a fierce-looking creature.

Lord Osdath buys some sweets for him to try. These are very different from the sugar rolls his uncle Ezriyon makes, or anything the baker in Phoros sells: a sort of cookie, but long and flat and dark brown in color. It is hard to eat; when Till bites into it, it sticks to his teeth, and even when he has managed to tear off a piece, it remains tough and chewy for a while, though the taste is sweet and good, with bits of dark rock sugar in the dough, and hints of spices similar to those he tasted at the Sundrance. Osdath also gives him a small basket of green berries to try. They are covered with soft hairs, like the leaves of nettles. Till is afraid to touch them at first, fearing they might sting. But when he does try one, he finds it very good, sour and sweet at the same time.

For their midday meal, they visit an inn near the market.

Although Till has been snacking on sweets and berries and a good deal of other things Lord Osdath let him have, he still has enough of an appetite to devour half a roasted pheasant—for once, an item familiar to him from home—with boiled vegetables and potato mash, which is served with a great cup of sweet cider. As he eats, he steals furtive glances at the soldiers who sit at a separate table from him and Osdath, and drink ale with their food. By now Till has come to know most of the men who make up Lord Osdath’s personal guard by name. They are all very courteous to him, although the ones that don’t speak his language can do little more than shrug, smile, and pat his hair when he tries to talk to them.

Three of the men—Bodwil and Ebric, two spearmen, and Frithgar, an archer skilled with Hestia’s terrible longbow, who always seems to be in a good mood—speak Tuírun fairly well. They patiently answer Till’s questions when Hargis or Osdath don’t have the time, show him all sorts of interesting and useful things, and help him in any other way necessary. He’s grown especially fond of these three, but all of the soldiers fascinate him.

Before the Parson at home said his dreams were a warning from the Shaper and his father forbade him to do so many of the things he used to love, Till and his friends would often play soldiers and brigands, fighting battles with sticks for spears and swords. But to be in the company of real soldiers wielding real spears and swords, that is a very different thing!

Till hasn’t seen the men fight anyone yet, but they practice every day, some in the morning while the others break camp, some in the evening before supper. They use blunted swords, Ebric explains, and quarterstaves instead of spears, but aside from that they fight every bit as they would if they faced a real enemy. It’s not uncommon for someone to get injured; even dull steel and bladeless staffs can crack one’s skin. At first it made Till queasy to see blood trickling down from under a helmet or from a split brow, but he soon got used to the sight. He asked Ebric if he could practice, too, and learn how to use a spear. Lord Osdath would not allow it, however.

Still, even though he won’t learn to wield a spear for the time being, Till feels more and more part of this world of stern fighting men, and though he first found traveling through woods and sleeping in tents uncomfortable, and was often cold, he’s grown quite accustomed to that, as well.

Certainly no one at home could call him scaredy-cat now!

NEXT: Servants, All of Them


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