Brother Frithil is tall, and thin, with eyes so large and bulging it seems they might fall out of his bony face at any moment.
Stellia wonders how he retains this skeletal frame, for during the breakfast they take together, he eats with the appetite of not one but several fat men. They sit around a sturdy wooden table in the friar’s chambers, which are near the end of one of the long, dim corridors that seem to make up most of the building. The room is not very large, and sparsely furnished. On one wall, an overburdened bookcase is flanked by a narrow and sagging bed. The only decoration in sight is a small tapestry of some wooded landscape, its colors rather faded, hanging above the fireplace, in which lively flames are devouring a stack of birchwood logs.
A single window looks out on the rain-slick flagstones of an inner courtyard some ten yards below, lined on each side by a cloister. At its far end, a wide archway opens, presumably, onto the Sundrance grounds. In each corner of the yard grows a yew speckled with bright red berries. Frithil’s window is tucked away above one of these, somewhat protected from the wind, whose sighing and moaning therefore doesn’t rise to quite the haunting pitch that woke Stellia in the morning. Rain still patters ceaselessly against the panes, but that is a less doleful, almost soothing sound.
The food on the table has nothing of the austerity of the room: there are boiled oats with walnut oil and raisins, honeycombs, heavy dark bread, sausages, salt pork, an array of marmalades and compotes, and the best milk and butter Stellia has ever tasted. Noticing her surprise at the diversity of the fare, Brother Frithil points out that each Sundrance is self-sufficient, and that this one, being the Great Sundrance of Silence, maintains some of the region’s finest creameries, apiaries, and pig farms in the land and woods surrounding it, as well as a brewery on the grounds of the Sundrance proper.
As delectable as these offerings are, Stellia eats hurriedly, barely able to restrain herself from bursting out with questions about Till. Her haste avails her nothing. Frithil is certainly in no rush at all to be done with breakfast, and it would be rude for her not to wait for their host to speak of these matters when he chooses, or at least when Garroth suggests it. Unfortunately, neither Garroth nor Nevynne give the least indication of impatience as they happily partake in the prolonged repast.
And so for an unbearably long time, the only sounds to interrupt the silence of the room are the smacking of lips, the clink of utensils, the crackling of the wood burning in the fireplace, and the rain tapping on the window.
At last Frithil—Frithil the thin, who has the appetite of a giant—pushes his bowl away. He lifts a sleeve to stifle a belch.
“Your friend is mending nicely,” he says. “With luck, he shall be joining us for dinner tonight.”
Garroth shoves a last slice of ham into his mouth. “And you are sure,” he says as he licks the grease from his fingers, “that those tending to him are not aware who we are, and what our mission might be?”
“Reasonably so,” Frithil says. “Had the Abbot learned who you are, we would not be sitting here in such tranquility.”
“True enough,” Garroth murmurs, though he does not look entirely reassured.
“It’s a disgrace,” Nevynne says, “that men loyal to the Crown should have to sneak about like this! Does this Abbot not owe allegiance to the Emperor like everyone else?”
“Oh, he does,” Garroth says. “But you know how it is with these pious types.” He winks at Frithil. “In the end, they’re always just a bit more loyal to the Faith.”
Brother Frithil winks back at him. “We would not have anyone doubt it.”
“So, as long as we do not know the Guardian’s designs, we must be wary of them, and of all who serve her. There may be dangers that we need to uncover, and secrecy will serve us better in this than waving the Imperial seal in everyone’s face. Especially an outdated one.”
Brother Frithil dabs his lips with the sleeve of his habit. “It is of dangers that I must speak to you.”
“You hinted as much, during the night,” Garroth says.
“I wished for you to hear it with a rested mind, that you may judge it with clarity.”
“And I shall. But before you tell that tale, young Stellia here deserves news of her brother, for it is in hopes of finding him that she came to accompany us.”
Frithil’s expression turns somber. “You may find that the dangers of which I mean to speak and the fate of the boy are not two separate matters.”
NEXT: What Till Saw