The three of them arrived in the courtyard in front of Wulfhall as the last of the sunlight dropped behind the peaks of the Alps. Mairyn was glad they had arrived because she was cold and exhausted and the town was cold even in the highest of summer once the sun went down.
The courtyard was cheerful with many torches lit to light the way for the home coming. Several of Wulfgard’s men were waiting outside for them. One of the men went inside to announce their arrival. The other men gathered the torches and put them out as the group advanced on the entrance. Petre entered first and held the door open for Mairyn. She walked in and Wulfgard followed her and the men entered after them.
Mairyn stopped a few paces from the door. They were in a large hall with several fireplaces. Doors at the back led to what Mairyn thought were sleeping quarters. The walls were hung with large tapestries that helped block drafts and the damp from the stone walls. There were three large trestle tables with benches in the middle of the hall. Off to the right was the entrance to the cooking hall. On the trestle table nearest the kitchen, wooden bowls were arranged with horn drinking cups. A loaf of fat brown bread sat on a cutting board with a dish of sweet butter. Petre led Mairyn over to the table and showed her to a bench. She sat down and Petre joined her. Cook came out of the kitchen carrying an iron pot steaming and smelling tasty. She ladled a thick stew into three bowls, each one full to the top; she smiled at Mairyn and then went back to the kitchen. Petre broke off three large chunks of bread. He took his personal knife from his belt and used it to lather a thick layer of butter on each slice. Mairyn’s mouth was watering from hunger and from the unusual aromas coming from the food. Mairyn had rarely had butter during her lifetime. The last time may have been as long as two winter solstices ago. Petre handed Mairyn one of the slices of bread, placed one at the bowl across from her and kept one for himself. Mairyn look at Petre. He lifted his slice of bread and chomped a big piece out of it and began chewing with a heavenly look on his face. He nodded encouragement to Mairyn. She took a large bite herself, closed her eyes and chewed slowly. The bread was light and yeasty. The butter was sweat and melted in her mouth slowly. She kept the flavors in her mouth as long as possible before swallowing. She took a deep smell of the bread and butter before taking another, smaller bite. It smelled as good as it tasted. She tried to hold the taste and smell in her mind so that she would never forget them. She finished the bread and butter then realized she had nothing to eat the stew with. She looked at Petre. He was dipping his bread in the gravy of the stew and sopping it up enthusiastically. He used his knife to spear bits of meat and vegetables.
“Grab yourself another piece of bread,” said Petre. “Don’t be shy.”
She wasn’t used to having access to all of this food, let alone getting more when she wanted it. She reached for the loaf of bread like it was gold. She ripped a piece off, not as big as the first one Petre had given her. Petre handed her his knife and for the first time in her life, she buttered her own bread. She took her time covering the whole surface from edge to edge. Petre cleared his throat. She was taking too long with his knife.
It was as she was handing Petre his knife back that Wulfgard returned from where ever he was. He sat down across from her and handed her a beautiful knife with a black handle carved with runes and nature designs and a green stone in the pommel. She took the knife and it fit comfortably in her hand. It seemed familiar to her.
“That knife is now your personal knife. Tomorrow you will receive a kirtle with a sheath for it. Now, dig in to that stew before Cook finds out we have not finished and she’s ready to bring us seconds.”
Mairyn was happy to comply. The three of them ate quietly, finishing rather quickly once they began to concentrate. One of Wulfgard’s men poured them wine from a skin. Wine was something Mairyn had never had. She sipped at it slowly and decided it was something she could learn to love. Cook came back out with the hot pot of stew. Wulfgard and Petre took another full bowl each. Mairyn was so full from eating more food at once that she had never had before. She tried to tell the cook she couldn’t eat anymore. Finally, Wulfgard put a stop to the tug of wills. He told Cook that now would be the time for her little welcoming gift for Mairyn. Cook smiled and bounded out of the hall. Mairyn wondered what could be better than what she already had.
Cook came back carrying a small platter. Petre moved Mairyn’s empty bowl and Cook placed the plate in front of Mairyn. Mairyn stared at what was in front of her. She had no idea what it was. Mairyn looked at Cook, Wulfgard and Petre. They just looked back at her. The plate in front of her contained small pieces of something in a color she had never seen before.
“Go on, take a piece,” said Petre.
Mairyn took a small piece of the food gift and sniffed it. It had a smell she had never smelled before, like an exotic flower. She popped the morsel into her mouth. It was sweet and sour at the same time. She sucked on it and it slowly melt on her tongue. She moaned in involuntary pleasure. Cook laughed and clapped her hands. Mairyn tasted honey but she couldn’t figure out the other flavor.
“What is this little bit of heaven?” Mairyn popped another piece into her mouth.
“That,” said Petre “is candied oranges. Cook makes it from the rind of oranges that Uncle Wulfgard has shipped in once a year.”
“Cook is amazing, is she not, Mairyn?” Wulfgard patted Cook on the arm.
“Mmmmm,” said Mairyn. She finished the last piece of the candied oranges. “Thank you so much, Cook. I have never had more wonderful food than what I have had today.”
Cook left very happy and proud. Mairyn had won her over easily with her simple happiness and appreciation of Cook’s food.
“Now, I think it is time for you to retire for the night,” said Wulfgard. “You have had a very busy, exciting, traumatic and difficult day. You are to sleep as long as you like tomorrow. Do not rush out of bed.”
“I do not know how I will be able to thank you for all of this.”
“Hush, girl.” Wulfgard was gruff. He was touched by her appreciation. “This is your home now. Where is Roban?” Wulfgard asked this to the room in general. A girl about Mairyn’s age came into the hall from the kitchen. She came over to the table and stood by them.
“Mairyn, this is Roban. She will show you to your room and she will be your companion, helper and chaperone. She will sleep in your room with you. Roban does not speak and can not hear, but I am sure you will find ways to get your meanings across. She seems to understand everyone else although I don’t know how she does it. Petre tells me she can read people the way you can read a parchment.”
Roban took Mairyn by the hand and helped her rise.
“Sleep well,’ said Petre. “I will see you in the morning.”
“Have a good night’s sleep,” said Wulfgard. “We will talk on the morrow.”
Mairyn tried to stutter out her thanks again but Roban was gently pulling her along to the back of the hall where the sleeping quarters were located. Mairyn’s room was the third one from the right. There was a large fire burning in a fire place at the back of the room. The bedrooms were carved into the mountain and were the oldest part of Wulfhall. There was a small table with a bowl for wash water. Two stools stood beside the table. A chest was to one side of the door. When they entered the room, Roban closed the door. On the back of the door were clothes pegs and from one of the pegs hung a light wool sleeping gown. A large bed covered in furs and feather pillows was the only other piece of furniture in the room. The walls here were also covered in tapestries but Mairyn was too tired to notice their designs. The floor had several fur pelts on them to keep the cold off of the feet. Mairyn slipped out of her wooden clogs and walked across the furs. She climbed onto the bed and lay down. Roban tapped her on the knee. Mairyn sat up to see Roban holding the sleeping gown. Mairyn took her torn dress off. Roban took it from her and laid it across the top of the chest, folding it neatly. Mairyn had put on the sleeping gown and it flowed smoothly over her skin like a dip in the lake. Mairyn pulled back the skin blankets and climbed into the bed. The low flickering light from the fire place was adding to the hypnotic effect of the good food and warm cloths to make her very tired. She was almost asleep when she wondered where Roban was sleeping. Wulfgard had said she would sleep in Mairyn’s room, but where was she? Mairyn sat up and looked around. She didn’t see Roban. Mairyn climbed back out of bed and found Roban laying on one of the sheep rugs at the foot of the bed. She lay curled on the rug with another fur over her. Mairyn padded barefooted across the warm soft rugs to where Roban lay. Roban had her eyes closed but before Mairyn could touch her she was up and looking at Mairyn with a question in her eyes. Mairyn held out her hand palm up. Roban furrowed her brow. Mairyn pointed to Roban and then she pointed to the bed. Roban shook her head. Mairyn pointed to Roban again and then to the bed and nodded. Mairyn then reached down and took Roban’s hand and pulled her up and to the bed. Mairyn held her arms wide apart over the bed, pointing out how wide the bed was. There was no way Mairyn would be able to sleep if Roban was on the floor when the bed was so large. She gestured all of this to Roban and Roban understood. Roban pointed for Mairyn to get in. Mairyn obliged, scotching over to the far side of the bed. Roban climbed in after her. They pulled the sheep furs up to their chins, settled into the feather pillows, looked at each other and grinned. Mairyn was sure life didn’t get any better than this. The last thought she had before sleep completely over took her was to wonder where Gideon was. She had not seen him since she had arrived.
Mairyn’s dreams matched her reality. She dreamt she was warm and safe, with a full belly for the first time in her life. She was satisfied and happy. She reveled in being able to sleep in peace with no one coming in to wake her up to wait on them or to wait on a customer for the guesthaus. She started dreaming about what her life was like at the Lindwurm. She was asleep when she felt someone standing over her bed under the eaves, but she wasn’t asleep under the eaves at the guesthaus now. She was in an actual bed in her own room in Wulfhall but she felt someone standing over her. She hovered in that semi-conscious state between dreaming and waking. Then she remembered that Roban was in the bed with her. It must be Roban had woken and she was looking over Mairyn, but Mairyn felt uneasy. She didn’t want to wake up. She had been sleeping so well, but she kept feeling a presence hovering over her. She slowly opened her eyes and there was a dark silhouette standing next to the bed. She screamed and the shadow started to reach for her. She flung her left arm out and hit Roban, while at the same time reaching up to scratch the intruder with her right hand. Roban sat up, grabbed her pillow and swung it at the intruder. Whoever it was decided to run for it. The fire in the fireplace had gone down to bare coals so the room was dark. The intruder was out of the bedroom door before Mairyn could move. Roban jumped out of bed to follow the intruder but she reached the door after the intruder went through it and closed it in her face. Mairyn climbed out of bed and went to join Roban at the door. They opened it and looked into the hall.
A few of the men who slept on pallets around the hall’s walls were leaning up on elbows looking around. There was more light in the hall because the fireplaces were kept burning stronger than the fires in the private bedrooms. One of the men, Jonithon, who had been one of the men guarding Madame Gertrude, had a pallet near Mairyn’s door. He had woken up from all of the commotion. He asked Mairyn what was going on. She told him someone had been in her room standing over her bed. He rose from his pallet, alert. He asked if she could see who it was. She told him it had been too dark to see the person but she thought she had scratched the person when the person had leaned over her. Jonithon told her and Roban to go back to bed. He would place a guard on her door, inform Wulfgard and have the hall and grounds searched for anyone who wasn’t where they should be or for someone who had a fresh scratch. Jonithon called over Briin and told him to place his pallet in front of Mairyn’s door to guard it. Mairyn and Roban went back into the bedroom. Roban went over to the fireplace and placed several sticks on the coals. Mairyn pulled over a couple of rugs and a fur for her and one for Roban. Mairyn sat in front of the fire and wrapped herself in a fur. When the sticks were burning, Roban added some logs. Once that was done she sat one the rug and wrapped up in a fur too. The two girls sat in front of the fire warming up. Mairyn wondered who could have been in the room. The blazing fire began to take away her anxiety and she was getting sleepy again. She lay done on the rug and gestured for Roban to do the same. They lay there and looked into the flames. It wasn’t long and Mairyn was asleep.