Chapter Three. Stew and a Brew.
Phlebus woke early, as did Zyrina but the twins would not be roused. They slept the morning away.
After breaking her fast, Zyrina wandered the markets, talking with the locals, occasionally making a small purchase here and there. She saw Phlebus wander over and into the Hall of Learning again but did not follow him. She found a bench in the markets and took a seat to take in the warmth of the morning sun.
Finally, one of the old women of the village sat near her to rest a moment in the market before continuing.
“Morning to you.” Zyrina offered companionably.
“Mmmhmmm.” The wrinkled old woman leaned on her cane and peered over at Zyrina. “You are one of those strangers that’s here to find out what is happening to the valley, are you? What’s your name?”
“I am Zyrina, and yes I am an Outlander here with my friends to help.”
“That’s fine, I’ve met Outlanders before, some of them live here in this valley. Zyrina? Are you alone in this world?” she squinted over at Zyrina who was squirming a little at the thought of her personal life.
“No, ma’am. My family are in the lands I left.”
“Why are you here? What’s in it for you?” She didn’t hardly wait for Zyrina to take a breath between questions.
“Well, I’m helping a friend who needs help. Have you heard any of the old stories of the valley? When did this happen before?” Zyrina boldly asked back.
“Hummphffttt. Stories.” She looked over at some children running around their mother as she shopped in the early morning. “Stories are for children. You aren’t a child.”
For a moment Zyrina thought that was all she was going to say. She remained still for the longest time before going on, “Yes, I’ve heard the stories. You better speak with Matt when your friends wake up. He will tell it right.” She paused before adding, “Ask about Charlotte. He’ll know what that means.” She nodded to Zyrina and left with the young mother and her children as they moved further along the markets. Calmer now she walked with one child on each arm helping the old one to walk and both of them chattering away about everything in sight.
Zyrina mouthed Charlotte? Who’s Charlotte?
It was nearing the midday and Zyrina could wait patiently no longer. She headed back to the River Rider Inn on the north side of the markets. It was time to rouse the sleeping giants but, in the end, when she arrived, they were both up, washed, fed, and were having a little sparring match in front of the Inn, much to the delight of the smattering of youngsters watching them. After declining to join the fun, she watched Phlebus as he hurried back from the library with several scrolls tucked under his arm.
“Couldn’t resist finding more to read?” she teased him with a smile as he came into earshot.
“I’ll just be a minute while I put these away.” He said as he disappeared down the stairs to the hotel below the inn.
It was easy to find Elnoth’s. As their server had pointed out, it really was kitty-corner to the inn where they were staying. A short time later, after knocking on Elnoth’s large solid wooden door, the companions were admitted by a booming voice.
Once inside they could tell the voice was coming from up the staircase to the right of the large stone building. It was a beautifully kept home. The owner had good taste in his furnishings and even had a piano in one of the rooms.
“Please, come in. I’m sorry I’m not at the door to greet you. May I announce you?”
Phlebus shouted up the stairs, “Elnoth the Viking Elf has invited us here, to his home so we may speak with Matt, his butler. My name is Phlebus of Midgard and I speak for my party.”
“Ah yes, I’ve been expecting you all morning.”
“Interesting means of communication from a butler.” Torgin whispered to Lucy.
Zyrina shushed the twins. Torgin grinned back.
“I am Matt. Please come up the stairs and straight ahead. I’m presently in the kitchen.”
It was odd behavior for a butler, but Phlebus shrugged his shoulders and started climbing the stairs with the companions trailing him. In the kitchen they found Matt, who seemed to be frazzled and short of patience.
“My apologies for the rude greetings to you all, I am afraid I could not in all good consciousness leave the kitchen to the darting eyes and quick hands of Ivan here.” He nodded over at the hunched figure sitting at the long kitchen table. “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to take the time to explain what I told Elnoth, sirs and madams, but I found old Ivan wandering in the markets earlier and he is the one about who I was telling Sir Elnoth.” He seemed quite relieved that the group had arrived and offered them stew and ale. “Ivan told me the story in the first place, so I’ll leave you to his storytelling.”
“Sure, that sounds lovely,” Lucy nodded to Matt.
“Didn’t you just finish breakfast?” Zyrina whispered to Torgin, who nodded and licked his lips hungrily.
“Can’t you smell that stew?” Torgin countered.
“It’s Ivan’s Gran who remembers seeing the things. Most of the rest of us don’t remember that long ago but Ivan is willing to tell you the story for a pint of ale and a warm meal. I have served him his meal and ale here in the kitchen and here is stew and ale for you all to enjoy. I must get back to my duties and can speak no more with you on this topic. Please don’t leave Ivan alone in the house. Master Elnoth would be horrified.”
Shaking Ivan’s shoulder a little to rouse him from the little nap he was apparently taking, Matt shouted, “Ivan, here are the group who wish to hear your old tale.” And with that flourish, Elnoth’s butler Matt made his way into other parts of the house to whatever important duties called him.
The companions turned to Ivan who was slouched over the table with an empty mug in front of him staring curiously back at them. Ivan nodded his greetings to them as they each introduced themselves one by one and shook his hand. Ivan then picked up his ale and took a last swig of the dregs before beginning to speak in a creaky voice.
“Good Day to ya folks, I gots to get up ta the Jade Farm windmill ta fix a cog before it spews. I bin awaitin on you’s all morning an’ ain’t got time to wait any mores.” His speech was slurred but understandable. “Meet me up top o’ the mountain west of here when you’re finished your meals. Find me at the Windmill near the Jade Farm airship.”
And poof. The bent, wrinkled, and slightly gray tinged caretaker who the butler had introduced as Ivan and who seemed to be unable to even sit up straight just simply disappeared.
“Where’s the windmill?” Zyrina wanted to know.
“Didn’t he say up by the airship? That’s to the west of here up the mountain a bit.” Phlebus was studying one of the diagrams that he pulled out of his bag.
“Did you get that from the librarian this morning?” Zyrina asked him.
“Yes. There were a few scrolls that she let me take out for the day.”
The kitchen smelled like Ivan had been drinking with Matt for quite a long stretch of time and the stench of his person lingered, too. He was spry and quick, that’s for sure. None of them expected it. Lucy smiled. She liked the unexpected.
“Eat up we have a hike after our lunch.”
Torgin was already half through his stew and eyeing up Phlebus’s bowl.
“Back off, that’s MINE.” Phlebus snatched it away from Torgin’s reach.
“Oh, so you did notice the food.” Torgin’s hearty laugh rang out alongside his sister’s. “See he’s not a zombie,” he nodded to Zyrina who picked up her own bowl and bared her teeth to Torgin.
“There’s more on the stove, you fool.” Lucy said between spoonfuls from her own bowl. “Even good stew is no reason to steal from others.”
“Do you think he really knows something useful?” Torgin asked thoughtfully as he refilled his bowl and then gobbled that one too, in record time.
Phlebus nodded. “Yeah, I think he does.”
“I don’t know why everyone is so reluctant to talk about it. I tried to learn something in the market this morning. Tightlipped citizens here in this valley.” Zyrina added, “I learned nothing.”
“Let’s find the windmill.” Lucy decided, having finished her second bowl of stew and wiped all the dregs up with her last bit of bread.
“Thank you, Matt” Torgin politely bellowed, “We’ll let ourselves out.”