55. Servants, All of Them

The visit to Heathensfall with its countless new sights and smells and tastes has left Till thrilled.

How many things there are to discover in the world, how many strange beasts to see and foods to savor! How much more there must yet be to come! He thinks with a brief pang of home, where he knew everything, and everyone. Then he hears the soldiers at their table laughing and clanking their tankards together, and he wonders if one day he’ll sit as one of them, a man grown, drinking ale and wine and wearing leather armor and carrying real arms. He is no longer afraid of the unknown destiny that lies before him.

“Eat up,” Lord Osdath tells him. “The Guardian commands that we depart after the midday meal. We must not keep her waiting.”

Suddenly, the laughing men at the neighboring table seem distant, unreal, like ghosts almost. They are her servants, in the end, all of them. Just like Osdath. They may smile at Till and tell him stories, feed him venison and dainties and ruffle his hair like affectionate brothers.

But when the time comes for his fate to be revealed to him, he will be alone.

They are not family to him, nor he to them. His family, his true family, would always stand by him.

My father is a wainwright, and his name is Saddion. My mother’s name is Arrita.

Or would they?

They let Lord Osdath take him away.

Can no one help him, then? Do they all just have to obey?

My father’s name…

My sister’s not afraid of anyone. She wasn’t afraid of Lord Osdath, not even of Hayrolf. She wouldn’t just obey, when something bad is done. Stellia is her name.

I’ll never forget it. Never forget her.

He hurries to finish his meal, which seems bland and tasteless to him now.

When they return to the camp, most of the tents have already been packed up. Hargis is speaking to Hayrolf of the red belt, who stands with a group of soldiers by the remaining tents, listening intently. Everyone she speaks to always listens very intently. When she is finished, Hayrolf gives a brief nod, and bows his head.

The supplies they bought in town are loaded onto the pack-horses. Soon after, Osdath gives the command to ride out. Till rides with him now. Hargis already sits atop her snow-white horse, the host of spearmen waiting behind her. Hayrolf and the men that stood with him kneel, their gaze directed toward the ground.

Till waits until they are on the road, with the walls of Heathensfall swiftly receding into the misty rain behind them.

“Why is Hayrolf not coming with us?”

“He has a duty here,” Osdath tells him. “Fear not, you still have many able men to protect you on our road.”

Although he does not say so to Lord Osdath, Till is hardly going to miss Hayrolf. He always felt uneasy around the grim warrior who, after all, helped tear him from his home.

And yet…

The idea of Hayrolf staying behind in Heathensfall makes him uneasy, too.

What does the Guardian mean for him to do there?

NEXT: To Unknown Ends

 

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