“Master Lorn, if it’s alright with you. How about Niander and I get to know each other before we start any lessons?” Galel says with a bright smile. Niander looks from the Master to the blond boy and back, mouth too full for any sort of intelligent input.
“Well, if you think it’s important to get to know someone who might die in the course of this endeavor, who am I to stop you.” Gad disappears down the flight of stairs hidden in his large desk, leaving the two young men alone in a cluttered room.
“How did you know there was going to be a lesson?” Niander asks after a hard swallow.
“He made me find the entrance an hour before you woke up, said he had forgotten where he put it last.” Galel rolls his eyes. “Had something to do with finding the magic of some old tree.”
“Where do you think we are?” Galel motions to the sun soaked windows.
“I have no clue, but he laughed when I asked. Said the sun likes windows so why wouldn’t it be here, forty feet down.”
Looking at the high ceiling, Niander scoffs, “can’t be that far to the surface. Can it?”
“The ceiling of this room is forty feet under ground. I had to carry you.”
“Sorry about that.” Niander finishes his meal and drink before adding, “how long have you been here?”
“Today? Only a few hours. But Gad has been keen to bringing me here since he found me fighting with those thieving shits.” Galel says, guiding Niander to a nearly empty bookcase.
“I see, and what exactly did you do to them?” he watches as the blond boy sickles the spine of a book, causing the whole shelf to swing open and reveal stairs hidden behind it.
“I hit the first one in the face. The others were surprised enough to not attack right away. It gave me time to swirl some fire around them and scare them off. They tried stealing a whole Migder leg, about ten golds worth.” They climb the dark stairwell, “me dad wasn’t to pleased that I fought them since they were noble lads, he was even less pleased when he saw the mess I had made of the meat.”
“Ha, what? Did you singe it?” Niander stops and looks up at Galel.
“More like burned it half to Berial,” Galel stops and mimes flames with his hands. “Thats when ol’ Gad stepped in and paid for the damn thing. Told me dad he would gladly take it off his hands and asked me if I ever wanted to learn a thing or two about this hidden little power of mine.”
“You didn’t know you could do it?” they continue to walk, “was that the first time you used Feruh?”
“That was the first time I knew what it was, but honestly I had been burning and moving things since I was a wee little lad. When I was two I spooked the horses of a man selling pots, dad had to pay a good bit of silver to make sure the man didn’t kill me. Bless him, it would have been kinder after the beating me dad gave me. Couldn’t sit proper for a week.”
“Unbelievable, and here I spent sixteen years learning it from a batty old woman who would have rather been sleeping.” They reach the end of the stairs and Niander has to help push open the door leading out. It opens right in the middle of a busy street. A cart horse jumps aside to avoid falling in.
“What the hell are we doing here?” Galel yells in surprise. “This isn’t where we came in. Come on before we get flattened.”
They climb out and close the door. It disappears completely, as if it was never there to begin with. Making their way onto the safety of the sidewalk Niander notices he is in the Lowers, not to far from the Black Gates. Not knowing exactly how long he has been asleep he knows it is important to send word to his father. Looking around he finds a boy looking hungrily into a sweet shop. “You, with the feather in his cap, come here.”
The boy looks around to make sure he is being called and walks briskly over when no one else takes notice. “Yes sir, how can I help you sir?”
“Whats your name?” Niander says with all the command he can muster.
“Frederick Knoll, sir. If’n you please.”
“Look, I’ll give you a whole silver piece if you go up to the brink, to the Badok stead and inform Commander Badok that his son Niander is fine and will be at…” he looks at Galel.
“The Little Brisket Butchery, off the main.”
“Yes, tell him I’ll be there if he needs to call on me. If a midget answers the door, tell him the same and then curse at him. I’ll give you an extra copper if you do that.” Niander smiles at the thought of what Ring-Back would do. “Find me there after you’ve done this and you’ll have your silver. As a trust take this.” He hands him a copper piece and shoos him away.
“Nice to see the Knoll’s youngest doing more than his lazy brothers.” Galel says watching the boy ruin up the road. “Shit stable hands the lot of them.”
“So, to your father’s butchery?”
“Course, this way.” Galel takes him through a few busy streets before talking again. “So I heard you killed a Death Mother?”
“So did I.” Niander says shrugging. “But I don’t remember.”
“I would have soiled myself if I had come up against one. To think she made it all the way up to the Brink without being seen in the first place.”
“I didn’t think of that. How could she have?”
“Obviously someone let her in, but who would do that, and how would they. I mean either it was a fiend with a grudge or a drunkard who thought it would be a laugh.” He chuckles nervously. “Who ever it was is either dead now or will be when the Fell find him.”
“If they are lucky.” Niander stops in time to let a thrown rock hit the wall of the local bathhouse. He turns towards the street, reaching for a sword that is not on his hip. Suddenly he realizes that he has none of his weapons or his cloak. Looking around franticly for the attacker he sets his mind and his eyes turn into black orbs.
“So jumpy.” Gregory Gold says from across the street. “What happened to that steel demeanor of yours.”
Eyes back to normal, Niander sighs “Greg, you bastard.” He crosses the street and shakes the thin boys bony hand. “What brings you down here?”
“The apothecary down here doesn’t ask as many questions.” He quickly flashes a small wreath of Colb Berry. Gregory’s gaunt face breaks into a dark smile, “an unseemly man has threatened to tell my father about some things he thinks I have done with his wife. This will take care of the two of them.”
“Two?” Niander asks.
“Well, who knows if the wife will blab.”
“You are a scoundrel, sadly you are also my friend.”
“How do you think I feel about it?” he smiles darkly again. “Will you be attending Malcolm’s little party tomorrow?”
“Its tomorrow?” Niander asks, “I’ve been out for three days.
“Drinking heavily have you?” Gregory says shaking his head. “Going to ruin that Feruh of yours you know.”
“Yes, I’ll be there.”
“I think you have a blond shadow.” Gregory points dismissively at Galel. “Who are you boy, what do you want with us?”
“Well the names Galel, and I ain’t no boy.” His hair stands up like that of a cats.
“Oh, thats right your the poor one that defeated Malcolm. How nice to see you in your natural habitat.”
“Greg, you might want to watch yourself.”
“Or what? He’ll touch me and soil my fabric?” Gregory reaches into his purse and tosses a copper piece at Galel’s feet. “Here go feed your family.”
“You shit.” Galel balls his fists.
Niander steps between them, “if either of you do anything I will kill you myself.”
“Protecting the lesser beings, is this some form of charity, Niander?” Gregory says pushing his friend aside and walking up to Galel. “Go on boy, your protector isn’t here. What will… AH!”
“Leave him be Gregory.” Niander removes his hand from Gregory’s shoulder. His eyes are black again, “don’t test me.”
“Blast you, Niander. Keep your filth. I could find better treading through horse shit.” Turning around, Gregory marches away.
“I could have taken him.” Galel says fuming.
“Yes, but then I’d have his father to deal with.”
“If his son is anything to go by-”
“Tobias Gold is ten times worse. Do you think he would bat an eye if he had to kill a filthy little slummer.” Niander clears his throat, “well, thats what he’s called people from the Lowers.”
“Right,” Galel says with an edge. “Not that you ever thought that.”
“I’ve never met anyone from here, so what if I have?”
“And why would you think that, then?” Galel’s temper raises.
“I wonder why?” Niander makes an exaggerated motion with his arms, indicating towards the throngs of people. “Spick and span aren’t they. That bathhouse looks like it’s seen better days, how often do they get business.”
“You’re a miserable little twit like the rest of them.”
“Watch yourself boy.”
“Don’t call me boy.”
“Don’t act like one.”
“You insult me, and my people. You generalize us from idiotic tales told by bigots and hypocrites with money. And I’m the child?”
Niander bites his lip. “I apologize.” He says begrudgingly, “i was being an ass.”
“Yes you were, and I accept your apology.”
“Really, I am sorry.” Niander, now calm, feels shame for his sudden burst of anger.
“Forget it, lets go before the kid you sent off makes it to me dad’s butchery.” Galel scratches his brow and heads down the road, towards the Black Gates. He takes the first small street, Penance, and heads west. After only a few minutes he stops in front of the butchery.
“Big place for a butcher.” Niander says looking at the copper sign above the door.
“Its home, too.” Galel says opening the door and gesturing for him to enter.
The shop is small and clean. The smell of baked bread and cured meats lingers in the air. A group of older men argue in the corner about the best way to season a Migder head. A woman at the counter eyes a turkey, her two young girls sit on the floor at her feet playing a quiet clapping game. The man behind the counter, Galel’s father, is a large man with the physique of a once active young man who went a little round in the middle. His blond hair is tied in a tail and hangs halfway down his back. He is busy wrapping a rack of lamb and does not notice the two young men.
Galel walks up to the counter and in a deeper voice says, “Gail my good man, how does the lam smell today?”
“Same as me son’s potential, a little bad but still salvageable if you use it soon.” Gail says without looking up. “Who’s your friend, Gal?”
“Names Niander, he’s going to be learning from the masters, too.” Galel says, he puts his finger on the twine his father uses to tie off the parcel. “Just got out of the Abbey a few days ago.”
“S’that right?” Gail smiles at Niander. “How was that for you?”
“It was alright.” Niander says stepping forward and extending his hand. “My name is Niander Badok, Sir.”
“I know, me son just told me.” He puts the packed rack of lamb into a small sack filled with other small parcels and hands it to the woman with the two children, “Here you are Mrs. Frit, remember to let the meat rest a for a few after you take it off the fire.”
“Dad, Niander fell in love with the honey roll you gave me this morning.” Galel says leaning his elbows on the counter and smiling at Niander.
“Oh it ain’t nothing special, any butcher worth his seasoning knows how to honey a roll.” Gail says waving the comment away.
“He’s only modest because he doesn’t know you to well.” A young man, with the same Blond hair as Galel and Gail, says entering the room through a side door.
“Niander this is my little brother Gill, he helps out when he isn’t out chasing girls.” Galel says.
“What my big brother is trying to say is I don’t help out too much.” Gill says with a devilish smile.
One of the old men arguing grabs hold of Gill’s arm and lifts a dirty finger to his own face. “These eyes fink they been seeing you ‘round my little girl Rose.”
“On what day, old man?”
“You got a mouf on you!” the old man clenches his fists.
“So does his daughter.” He whispers to Niander.
“I’ll ruff you, I will!” The man raises his fist.
“Barton, leave the boy, you know he’s only joking.” Gail says grabbing his cleaver and another large piece of meat. “What’ll you have?”
“I wasn’t joking.” Gill says to Niander after he is released from the old man’s grip. “Soft as the petals of her given name.”
“My little brother is a bit of a ass, but if you stand close enough you might get a few looks from the ladies as well.” Galel says rolling his eyes.
“And their fathers apparently.” Niander says shaking his head in amusement.
Another blond boy, no older than nine, enters the shop. He is carrying a small box filled with coarse seasoning. Without greeting anyone he walks up to a side table and begins to rub whole legs of lamb and sides of Migder. He works with an efficiency that brings a smile to Niander’s face. This blond boy reminds him so much of Falco, the head chef at the Abbey. Everything in his kitchen had it’s place and sorry be the poor soul that didn’t put things away. This boy, like Falco, is not really here. He is in another place. His expression is not honest, he looks calm but he isn’t. His eyes are not blank, like someone doing the same job they did thousands of times before. His eyes are sharp, focused on every movement.
“Glen, come meet a new friend of Galel’s.” Gail says while quartering a turkey.
Glen wipes down his station, cleans his hands and turns a bright smile towards Niander. “Hello, you must be Niander. Galel wouldn’t shut up about you the last couple of days. Is it true you gutted a kid to win a contest?”
“Weren’t you sure if he died?” Glen says holding out a hand. “I mean of his insides came outside than I’m sure he is dead. You know that’s how it works right?”
“Yes, I just… you were so blunt about it and… well he was a friend.”
“Oh you killed a friend. How nice.” Glen smiles again and turns back to his work without shaking hands.
“He can be a little disconnected.” Gill says clasping Niander on the shoulder. “Don’t judge him to harshly, I dropped him when he was a baby. Not my fault though, Mrs. Pile had on this thin dress and I swear you could see the forest from the trees, if you get me.”
“Gill, get back to work.” Gail says shaking his head but chuckling all the same.
The door opened and in entered the Knoll boy, sporting a blackening eye. He walks up to Niander and hands him a letter sealed with his family crest. “Your midget punched me!” he says thickly. “I told him it was your idea to curse at him and he hit me again.”
“Did you hit him back?” Niander says laughing.
“No, he told me not to move while he wrote that. Can I get my money now?”
“Alright, heres your copper.” Niander digs into his purse.
“You already gave me that one, it’s a silver now. Should be gold since he hit me twice.” The young boy says indignantly.
“Here’s two silver, there will be more if you stay useful.”
Frederick grabs the coin and bolts out of the door before Niander can change his mind. Niander turns to find all of the blonds looking at him. “What?”
“You know that boy is a little thief?” Gill says squinting out towards the street. “You should have made sure he did what you asked.”
“Letter had my family wax, and Ring-Back would have hit him. Evidence points to honesty.” Niander says opening the letter. Ring-Back’s surprisingly neat note says Aaron is off on patrol and will be back tonight for dinner.
“Odd, I never met an honest Knoll boy.” Galel says scratching his chin.
“And they have never met a hard working Mince boy.” Gail says. Glen sniffs loudly at the comment and his father adds, “ course you’re the exception to the rule little lad.”
“Yes, the little automaton does all his work. But does he have a life outside these walls?” Gill says in mock concern, “i don’t think he has ever met a young lady before.”
“I’m sorry I don’t live up to your expectations brother of mine. Not all of us can have the life goal of contracting every colored spot before the ripe age of fourteen.” Glen bows respectfully.
Niander laughs at the look on Gill’s face and his unconscious adjustment of his trousers. Galel catches his breath and says, “Dad, I’m taking Niander to Ol’ Tanker, do you need anything?”
“If’n you’re goin’, get us a bottle of three barrel spiced wine. The Figs want a Roast.” He reaches for his purse but Niander holds up a hand.
“Sir, let me get it for you, I still have to pay you for the Honeyed Roll.”
“Nonsense it’s a half dozen for a copper. The bottle will catch silver.”
“I understand, but I see it as an investment in future food.” Niander says with a polite smile.
“If’n you think you can eat that many, I’ll take two bottles. It goes down nice on a cold night.” Gail nodes and tosses his purse back under the counter.
“And I’ll have a bottle of Golden Dragon.” Gill says nonchalantly.
“Oh, and how much will you be giving me?” Niander says.
“How is that fair?” Gill asks in a huff.
“Well all you seem to offer is a chat with a young lady, and I think I can manage better conversation on my own.” Niander winks, “anyhow I’d like to not wake up itchy, if you get me.”