Kya leaves the young man at the forge to his work, not wanting to interrupt and get in the way.
She chases after Chuul toward the firewood.
"So how'd you learn to speak Common so good? Did you grow up around alot of humans?" She asks the orc. "I mean, I've been learning for maybe like eleven years or something, and did you even know that lettuces is an actual word?" She shakes her head in disbelief.
"I am not especially good with languages," says Chuul as they approach the wood pile. He begins setting up logs, turning them upright and filtering out those that will be difficult to split because of limbs or knots. "I grew up speaking Common Tongue. As an orc among humans, I found it best to give the other children few excuses, so learning the syntax and speaking seldom and well was best. Of course, my human father made certain I could speak the Orc language." He sounds a touch bitter about it, accented slightly with the sound of exertion as he swings the heavy maul and splits the first log.
"An orc among humans," Kya repeats. "Was it weird growing up with humans? The ones I knew when I was little were mean and didn't like to share. Master Kenro says that they are all like that in the big cities, but my best friend is a human, so I know they're not all like that...I mean, we're not...well, you know"
She begins arranging the newly split logs into a neat pile.
"Weird." Chuul tastes the word for a time while he splits another log. "It was... less than desirable." Another split log. "We lived in a borderland. Orcs and humans, sharing too small a space, being shitty to one another." Another. "Killing each other." Another. "Burning each other out." Another. "Each constantly asserting that they deserved the land more." Another. "And proving it through savagery." Another.
Chuul pauses for a moment to catch a breath. Neither his tone nor his expression have changed through the whole exchange, as though there were nothing special or personal about the topic. "There was meanness, yes," he says as he lines up another series of logs.
Kya mulls Chuul's words over and nods understanding as she adds another piece to her meticulous stacks of wood.
She is content to finish this task and meet back with the others for dinner or whatever is next on the schedule.
For his part, Avar stays quiet busying himself with chores.
Garren is cheerful as he does the work. Farms like this feed everyone in the valley, and part of their mission is to ensure they remain operational. With the extra hours left in the day not spent traveling, he is happy to put them to some productive use.
Sunset, 14 Verdil, 973 IRFifeleah SteadholdMereflow Valley
After a couple of hours, everyone is pretty hungry, so it comes as a relief when the call to supper rings out from the kitchen door. The oldest of the Fifalls men is first to have his hands and face washed using water from a rain barrel next to the door, and a burly half-orc woman greets him as he steps into the house, "Is halooshky again, Master Harder. With salad and beer."
She sounds vaguely apologetic, but Harder just claps the woman on her shoulder and replies, "Good. I like halooshky!" He strolls through the kitchen into a large hall, where he seats himself at the head of the table. His family members soon join him: a short, slender woman with graying auburn hair, whom he introduces to Kya as his wife, Lina, his sons, Wisym and Hamas, Wisym's wife, a mousy-looking woman who's probably four months pregnant, and a slender, auburn haired woman who is obviously his daughter. Malia Fifalls is tiny like her mother, and seems delighted to have company tonight, plopping herself unceremoniously down next to Kya. At the head of the table, the man of the house pours himself a glass of beer from a jug.
As the last few people are getting seated, old Harder raises his voice to address the assembled company, "Please, all of you. Be welcome in this house. We'll take a moment to say a few words over the meal, and then we'll dig into supper. We use simple manners at this table, as we're all ranchers and retired soldiers here."
Once you're all seated, he raises both his hands in benediction, and intones, "Praise to thee, Merthia, whose eternal marriage with the All-Seeing brings forth beast and harvest. Bless this meal, for the nourishment of our bodies, for we take it not in wantonness but from need. Charioteer, light our way tomorrow and all the days to come, until our spirits and those of our ancestors join thee on thy brother's ship and voyage to the reward that no man knows. Let gate, hearth, and moon's glow shield us until that glorious day." He takes up his beer glass, dribbles a few drops of the contents onto the floor, and his wife and children mutter, "Drink thy fill, worm. We keep the faith."
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Kya washes and seats herself for supper.
"Hi there," she greets Malia as the girl plops down next to her.
She looks to Garren for cues during the prayer and simply copies doing whatever he does, though her eyes widen at the end as the beer is being offered and a look of shock or confusion crosses her face. Again she turns to Garren to see what he does.
Malia picks up on Kya's confusion, and says, "The beer's spilled instead of blood, as a sacrifice to keep the Eater of Light sleepy," as if that explains everything. Her mother passes her a large bowl of salad, and she offers it to the young woman first.
Across the table from her, Hamas is as stone-faced as he was when Alannah first rode into the farmyard, albeit much improved by a good washing of his hands and face to remove the soot and sweat of the forge. Wisym, at Harder's right hand, comments, "It's an old way of prayer. Grandfather's father brought it with him when he settled here."
"May we receive the blessing of the gods as we have from this kind family," comments Chuul in a voice loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to be unobtrusive. "Amen." Chuul waits silently for his hosts to fill their plates before taking from their bounty.
"Oh, yeah," Kya nods,"the blood spilled part I know but I couldn't remember if it was to get his attention or keep him minding his own business...I guess that would be a good thing to remember," she looks in Wisym's direction, slightly embarrassed.
Kya smiles warmly at Malia and takes the salad bowl, holding it steady for the girl.
"Here, you take all you need first and then I'll have some."
She avoids taking food for the most part, or takes it in small quantities until she is sure that there will be enough and the family is well fed, as Master Kenro would instruct her if he were here.
She is happy to talk to Malia about pretty much anything on the girl's mind.
Hamas's demeanor finally thaws a little, as he speaks across the table to Kya, "It's no fault in your memory, is the point I think my brother's trying to make. We're old-fashioned here, and we keep to old-fashioned ways. I've never heard anyone in these parts use great-grandpappy's prayer. Or seen anyone pour a libation for the Devourer, for that matter."
"Neither have I, until now," Kya shakes her head and smiles with relief that maybe she actually remembered something the right way this time.
Alannah looks disquieted over the discussion of Welerus, "Let's leave further talk of the Worm for another time away from a meal, it's going to ruin my appetite. We've had to suffer enough of his work of late, I would hate to attract further attention." She takes only the smallest portions of any food offered and only picks at what she does serve herself.
As before, Avar lets the tribute to Welerus go by without comment or question. Preferring to eat lightly as well the paladin takes small portions. He talks even less but will banter to some degree if spoken to directly.
Into the slightly uncomfortable silence that follows Alannah's objection to the topic of discussion, a high squealing noise intrudes through the open windows on the northern side of the house. Harder cocks his grizzled head to one side, listening, and comments, "Sounds like your Fluffernutter's getting right down to business, Master Chuul."
Kya nearly chokes on her food and covers her mouth with her hands to do a terrible job at concealing her laughter at the old man's remark.
"How's your appetite now, Lady Alannah?"she inquires not so seriously upon the change of topics.
Alannah rolls her eyes at the girl and sighs, "I suppose horse breeding is an improvement over the previous topic, but still not something I'd like to cover with much more detail over dinner."
Opting for another change in subject, she asks, "You said the farmer we met on the road was Belford? Why is it a bad time for him to be away?"
Fifalls scowls, "There're so many reasons I hardly know where to start. Most immediate-like, I expect, there's the gentry riding out of an evening to hunt. Which'd do for any sensible man or woman all by itself. But there's been news from travelers since you folks were here last, and none of it good. Your tale about goblins was accurate, sounds like. Not that I doubted you." He pokes at his dumplings, glumly, and continues, "And from the news I've gotten, it sounds like the shorties're gettin' the worse of it. They'll scatter like water on a smokin' skillet if the fightin' really turns hard against 'em, and then we've nothin' to keep the wolves from our doors except ourselves. So it's doubly a bad time to be away from your land and your kindred."
"Is there talk of who is doing the fighting?" Avar asks casually?
Fifalls takes a drink of his beer, frowning in thought, then offers, "By name? No. But I guess it's probably the taoiseach Ahern and all the rest of his clan. They have the grazing rights on a big strip of land off east of Winterhome. Never had much to do with 'em myself. I know the westerners better, for obvious reasons, and they're all kind of shiftless."
Avar reapeats the words, more to himself than anyone seated at the table, as if committing the words to memory.
The paladin offers through a smile, "Well, thats a bit of good news. Maybe the goblins will lose thier fire and retreat permanently."
Quietly, Hamas replies, "'Shorties' is slang for halflings, Sir Avar. My father is telling you that the halflings are losing." He shovels a last couple of bites of food into his mouth, clearing his plate, and chews only a couple of times before bolting it down, then looks to his father, "If I may, father, I'd like to be excused to check on that mare."
"It'll keep for awhile longer, son," answers Fifalls, in firm tones. Hamas looks sour at this reply, but remains in his seat.
Alannah glances curiously at Hamas for a moment before turning back to Harder, "We are actually on our way to meet with the halflings. I'm sure we'll be able to lend some aid while we are there. I'm seeking Eulan Barnstead of the Behir tribe, do you happen to know of him?"
Kya polishes off her plate of food and looks up, seemingly oblivious to the current line of discussion. "Can I be excused for a minute too? I saw a good piece of wood out there in the pile that I wanted to borrow before it gets too dark to find it. Hamas can help me if it's no big deal."she shrugs.
Fifalls gives a wave of his hand, and agrees, "Well enough, Madame Kya. Hamas, please see that she finds what she needs." As his younger son is standing up from the table, the old man looks to Alannah, and asks her, "What do you know about halfling tribal structures, miss?"
Alannah gives a shrug to the question, "Not much that is helpful. I know that halfling tribal clans historically were some what more fluid and politically structured than a strictly bloodkin familial organization."
"Be right back," Kya whispers to Garren and the girl Malia as she gets up and follows after Hamas.
"We can still check on the horse if you want. I'm kinda worried about her too," she says to the young man once they are outside. "Is it supposed to sound like that?"
Fifalls wife, Lina, chimes in, "That's about right. They have sort of complicated rules about who can be in what tribe. One of 'em tried to explain it to me, once, when we took the stock up to Winterhome for the cold market. The tribe's a political association, but only certain clans belong to each one."
Harder agrees, "Right. So for instance, the Barnstead clan is one of the ones that can belong to the Behir tribe. They don't really have surnames the way we do; Eulan Barnstead just calls himself that when he's dealing with Aureshan folks, because we expect a surname."
"Anyway," he continues, "The way they arrange matters, the chieftain's word is law for his tribe. Or her tribe, as it may be. But there's no one clan that has all its members in one tribe, and for that matter there's no single tribe that has two clans in it them same as another. And it's further complicated because the clans all have their own internal politics that're decided by seniority."
Meanwhile, Hamas is saying to Kya, "Oh, there's no problem because they're not even in the same pen. We've got them adjoining, and separated by a fence. Mares just make noises when they're in heat and you leave 'em around an unfamiliar stallion. It's a mostly good sign. Means the stallion's showing interest in her." He shrugs, "I just wanted to leave the supper table."
"Oooh! Gotcha," Kya nods understanding and blushing slightly. "Well I was gonna see if I could make a striking post with those extra pieces of wood that Chuul moved aside, or maybe you have some lumber lying around that I could borrow from. I figure since we have to spend the night I could train before bedtime and before the others are ready to go in the morning. I've kinda been slacking a little lately," she admits, lowering her head. "Did you have any big plans tonight? I hope we didn't mess everything up by being here."
Hamas blinks a few times, and offers, "I imagine you upset my mother and Vluba's plans for supper, but that's alright. If mother minded, she'd have said something to my father last time your friends were here, and that would've been the end of it. We don't have company very often. Otherwise, I reckon your being here doesn't make a lot of difference. I didn't put off any chores, and I'll be up in the morning to do my usual work. We're hospitable, but the farm still demands a routine. Also, what is a striking post?"
"It's pretty much a board set into the ground, y'know, like a post. And you use it in your training to make your strikes more powerful." Kya punches the air in front of her in a terrible attempt at making her point. "I mean...I use it, but you can help me set one up...or not. I just thought it would be a good idea and it helped you get outta there, sooo...why did you wanna get out anyway?"
"The discussion was making me a little antsy," replies Hamas, quietly. He's frowning a little, and changes the subject, "Does it need to be a board, or would a stout timber like a fence post or a fence rail be alright?"
"Yes! A fence post would be perfect!" Kya exclaims upon noting Hamas's frown. "We'd have to find a good place though, where your father wouldn't mind if we dig a hole to set it in, at least 'til the morning when we head out." She runs her fingers into her curls as she thinks. "Antsy, that's like when you cant stop moving around, right?"
"That's what antsy means, yes. Restless," agrees Hamas. "Look, uh, Kya. Is there some kind of rule against your using a fence post that's already part of a fence? Because if not . . ." he doesn't finish the sentence, instead gesturing expansively at the fences that line the outsides of most of the pastures in immediate view from the house's back door.
Kya bursts out laughing. "Oh no! I thought you meant you had a spare one since you have so many fences." She lets another peal of laughter escape. "It's ok, I can do push-ups instead." She looks out into the distance. "Anyway, are you still feeling antsy?"
"Yes, but it's nothing directly to do with you or our other guests," replies Hamas, "So I hope you won't worry any more about it. I don't think we have any spare fence posts or anything like that, unfortunately. But unless you're going to smash one to pieces, it won't be a problem if you just use one that's already part of a fence. The horses won't care."
Kya shakes her head. "Alright, I'll try not to worry about why you're antsy. I was just thinking that it maybe had something to do with what that farmer with the lettuces said about your father raising a militia to fight the goblins. I don't know about you but that would get me antsy. But yeah, the fence... it's ok. I think there might actually be some kind of rule not to punch people's fences. I don't think they're springy enough anyway. Better not to risk it since you don't have any spare posts."
Alannah sits with what she's been told for a moment and then asks, "So other than what you can glean of his tribe and clan from his name, have you ever heard of Eulan Barnstead?"
"Of course. He's an important fellow," Lina affirms. "I think he's supposed to be the youngest or second-youngest chieftain on the plains. Not that he's unusually young, or anything. It's just that the last chief of the Behir was quite old, and he died just a couple of years ago." She frowns, and adds, "Oh, I wish I could tell you his age, but it's not easy with plains halflings. They spend so much time in the sun, but they also live a bit longer than humans. I have a lot of trouble. Harder, what do you think?"
"I have trouble, too," admits Fifalls. "If he was a man, he'd be . . . what, fifty? He looked about fifty at the last Cold Market, if you ignore that he's only about three feet tall. If he were a human, he'd be a right brawny fellow for fifty years old, too."
Meanwhile, Hamas asks, sounding curious, "So you punch a board, and it makes your fists harder?"
"Do you know where he might be this time of year?"
Kya examines one of her hands with the other. "Uh...that's what I thought at first when Master Kenro was teaching me, but really it helps make your punches...and your kicks or whatever, more powerful so you can do tons of damage if you hit something. I don't know how to explain it like he did, but something about it giving you feedback, like hitting an actual enemy, so you know how you're doing and your strikes get more and more effective. Though most of the feedback was from Master Kenro. I'm not an expert or anything so he always worries when I mess up." She lowers her head slightly.
The farmer considers this, then replies, "Well, I hope you get a chance to get back to your routine soon, then. I can tell it's important to you, so I'm sorry we don't have quite what you need." With a slight frown, he asks, "If you don't mind my asking, where do you come from? You've got a foreign-sounding way of talking. I understand you fine, but it's not like how people talk around these parts."
Lina Fifalls shrugs at Alannah, "He's a chief, so I reckon he travels even more than most plainsmen. If you can stand to wait until the winter, it's easy enough to get hold of him because he's sure to go to the cold market at Winterhome. Maybe someone up there would know more about him."
"Well my uncle thinks that maybe I came from the Aureshan Empire," Kya laughs, "I'm from Emerald Hollow though, up by where the river starts. I always talked Gnome 'cause that's what we talk at my house. I guess when I talk Common it comes out funny probly 'cause I learned from different people. At least you can understand me though."
She looks out at the darkening sky. "I miss home though. I think I'm missing the festival again this year." She frowns and touches the silver disc of Derena at her throat, a solemn expression crossing her face.
"Oh, yes, the musical competition. People travel to Emerald Hollow for that, don't they?" Pensively, the young rancher muses, "I guess they can't get home very easily now. Not that it wasn't already a long trip, but now it's so much more dangerous, with all the goblinoid barbarians making trouble." He pauses, and adds, "And the dragon. You believe your friends inside, about a dragon just . . . coming out of the Spirit World, wiping out Morville, and all that?"
Kya nods. "Yeah, I believe them about a dragon or else I wouldn't be here. I only met them yesterday but they said they would help me get rid of the dragon and the one who summoned it. I need to do whatever I can to keep Emerald Hollow safe with all these terrible things going on." She looks over at the farmer. "I hope I'm not making you more antsy, but that's just the way it is."
"No, you're not bothering me," replies Hamas. "It's pretty near certain a war's coming on, and I know that. And," he shrugs, "dragons are pretty terrible, too, and werewolves. But so're the faeries. There's badness in the world, and sometimes, like you say, you have to accept that's just the way things are."