Bian -22- Blondie

Out of the frying pan...?

by Erin Halfelven


Chapter 22 - Blondie

My little group of comrades closed ranks around me as we moved through the open space within the gate. This was the New Temple Gate Square on the northwest corner of the city. Niuhofgatt Vorkael, in Saxon-accented Bloddish. One side of the square was the city wall and the gates behind us—the north segment of the Saxon wall, only about sixty years old I found out.

To the right were the stables and barracks of the City Guard including a sort of open area where a troop of guardsmen took turns swinging those vicious-looking armored clubs at head-high posts serving as practice dummies.

To the left sat the Gotthoff den Tiw-Waz, the temple of Tyr. I heard Kilda beside me sniff; she must have recognized the upright stylized spear symbol. I almost smiled, but Tyr was not really a laughing matter. His name in Bloddish meant something close to Gift of Godhood. Another of his names was Rothand, Redhand, because he let the monster-wolf Fenris devour his right hand rather than betray his promise to protect the Earth.

Kilda might prefer Baldur who died an innocent, but I thought it was telling that Tiw-Waz’s temple was across the street from the local copshop. At least, the Deputy Sheriff Gus Gallant part of me found it interesting.

On three partly-enclosed platforms above the gates sat machines like giant crossbows, the scorpions I had heard described. The one above the City Guard enclosure was so large, I mentally nicknamed it the Lobster. It was the only one manned, by two guardsmen, and it was protected by a moveable canvas roof. The other two were not strung that I could tell from a distance and seemed to be liberally smeared with some sort of grease. The medieval equivalent of Cosmoline, perhaps.

I kept looking around, rubber-necking like a country rube in the big city, which was more or less true. Neither Alenna nor Gus had ever seen anything quite like Lundenna. Or smelled it either. Only the cold weather made the stink bearable, I decided. The gutters ran down the middle of the streets, gathered in one place and disappeared under the western wall. With the rain, they were overfull, and I didn’t try very hard to identify the objects carried in the flood.

But maybe the city had seen me before. Several people had pointed me out when I tossed back my hood, as if I were some local celebrity. “It’s her,” they told each other. I wondered who they thought I was? The news spread among little groups, and some even pointed at me. A few people stopped what they were doing to simply stare. I was tempted to make rude gestures at them, but I refrained.

Directly across the square from the gates, several markets seemed to be operating. One sold green stuff, scarce at this time of year but they had scallions, leeks, kale, cabbages and some herbs I didn’t know. Also root vegetables like onions, turnips, and a reddish lumpy thing I did not recognize. Carts from outside the city seemed to be stopping there to sell produce, with a few of them moving on, perhaps after not getting the offer for their goods they wanted. People buying veggies put their groceries into baskets or bags and circulated on. Other markets sold live fowl, sausages, small clay pots, and gloves.

“There’s your gloves, Zenner,” I said. “You can maybe get a better pair now.”

He scoffed. “Not likely this close to the city gates, I can see from here that the goods are poor. I’ll find better at one of the shops deeper in the city.”

I smiled, thinking I should have known, Zenner would like to nourish his inner dandy even if his practicality often got in the way. A complex, interesting man, I thought, smiling his direction again and wondering vaguely why Rotgar and Valto were frowning at him.

“’Tis not market day,” Kilda commented beside me. “Else this square would be filled with stalls selling effenmuch.” I thought that last word had been English slang for a moment but realized then that it was Bloddinger for “all kinds of things.” As opposed to effenowt, “nothing at all.”

Lillakatye chuckled. “Those birds the one fellow is selling look like they’ve traveled a harder road than we have.”

They did look scrawny and ill-used, most of them caged but the presumably prized specimens hanging upside down by their feet, peevish and quarreling. I thought of the Trial of Wedna that Kilda had told me about and stopped smiling, suddenly sympathizing with the birds.

“I like not this crowd we are gathering to us,” said Rotgar.

I glanced around and realized that there were more people looking at us than there were just going about their business. “Vad gedden?” I asked. What’s going on?

Lilla and Valto moved close to me on either side. “They’re all looking at you, cupcake,” said the big blonde woman.

“They don’t act like foes,” said Valto, “but there are more and more of them, and they are blocking our way out of the square.”

Four streets opened off the square and a couple of narrower passages that might be considered alleys. Past the copshop, the street that direction went between a livery stable and a large tavern/inn in the style of the inner buildings of the weghusen we had used on the road. Another street passed between the market and the inn.

Paralleling the other wall, another street in front of the temple led toward what looked to be more temples and perhaps administrative buildings which was certainly what sat across from Tiw-Waz’s digs. The Stedgattkantoren was the name for the place Rotgar supplied when I asked: City Gate Offices. A mix of Saxon and Bloddish in the name, I realized. Gatt was the same in both languages, but sted was Saxon for city; that would be borg in Bloddish. Kantoren meant offices in Bloddish, literally counters. I didn’t know if Saxon had a word for office. Hof maybe? Which meant court, plaza or temple in Bloddish. I didn’t know much Saxon and was surprised that I knew any.

The widest street passed between the Gate Office and the market, Breidgata which I translated as Broadway. That seemed to be the way we were going.

All of the streets were laid with stones near the buildings but were nothing much more than muddy ditches filled with brown water down their middles. Still, on horseback, we had no trouble pushing our way through the crowds; murmuring and grumbling, they got out of our way.

But what I heard them saying disturbed me.

“It is her, the Beauty of the North,” was the clearest expression of the main sentiment. I didn’t like that much because they kept indicating they meant me. Well, the word in Bloddish for beauty as in a beautiful woman is the same as that for a blonde: skaynheta. With some of the Saxon accents, this came out as ‘shernhed’ often as not. Then again, almost all of us were blond, except for Zenner with black hair, and Cordle with brown. Rotgar with ginger-streaked locks was still considered a blond by the locals. Even my horse is blond, I reflected.

A few called me “vana kvinna,” fair lady or just lady. And more than one addressed me as “Hochadelsdochter.” Roughly translated, Princess or maybe Countess? Did they know Alenna’s father was Orley of Molina? I didn’t think so.

Our marching order was three or four side by side, with Valto, Rotgar, and Zenner in front, followed by The Gray, Kilda, me, and Lillakatye. Cordle, Lang, and the two packhorses brought up the rear.

Being surrounded by large horses ridden by aggressive men kept the crowds off, and we made our way down Broadway. The guys had discussed renting us a “burghus,” a townhouse in the Adelvorkael, the Noble Quarter and we were making our way that direction. I had nothing useful to input to that topic so followed along, bemused by the growing tumult surrounding our island of horseflesh.

“Den Skaynelkin fur Kongsdochter!” someone in the crowd shouted. “Heyra den Unze Svota Skaynelkin.” Blondie for Princess! Hurrah for Our Sweet Blondie! The whole loony mass of them took up the cry, shouting it over and over. Some of them supplemented the madness with “Narthenkael den Evich! Narthlings Reygelen!” Northcorner forever? Northerners Rule?

Mystifying and I didn’t like it at all. “I’m nobody’s sweet blondie,” I complained to Kilda.

Lillakatye snorted then said, “Oh shit! It’s Easter next week!”

I did a double take because she had spoken in Bloddish and Easter was the same word. Well, close.

But you could almost see lights go on over Rotgar and Valto’s heads. They both turned to look at me, grinning. “The city holds a Greenfeast on Easter,” Valto shouted an explanation. “The different quarters of the city each choose a maiden to try for Princess of the Feast. And the crowd has chosen you to be theirs!”

“Oh shit,” I said in English.

“It’s quite an honor,” said Rotgar, his grin so wide he looked like a South Park Canadian.

“It’s a friggin’ beauty contest,” I muttered, again in English.

Kilda had not quite understood me. She shook her head. “Not Frigga. Idunn is Goddess of Easter.”

Idunn! Oh, Lord, or Lady, rather, one of my patrons among the violent crew of Norse gods, and the one who had granted me the power to speak the languages here. At least, I thought she had. I’d met her three times so far, and I was evidently one of her favorites.

“I’m going to win this thing, aren’t I?” I said. Not vanity in the slightest, more like despair.

Someone heard me. “Heo diger skall vinna!” She says she’s going to win! The crowd took that one up, too!

“Craptastic,” I muttered, and Katye snorted again.

Cups and pots of ale appeared in the crowd, some of them being passed overhead. Our guys around me refused to accept anything handed to them but our progress slowed to almost nothing.

An inn ahead on the left looked like it might offer refuge. At least it had a wall around it, if we could get in. People in upstairs windows and even on roofs waved and shouted. One fat guy right across from us on top of a bakery screamed, “Blondie, do you love me?”

I wrinkled my nose at him and he yelled. “I am slain by love!” He staggered as if he had taken a heavy blow, hugged a chimney to keep from falling, dodged back and yelled, “Love burns!” before we got far enough ahead that I could no longer see or hear him without looking back.

“Never look back!” Katye advised and I nodded.

“Vante! Ad vante!” Zenner called in Remice. “Sempre ad vante!” Always forward.

When the innkeeper apparently realized we were heading his way, he opened the gates of his establishment and sent out a dozen men armed with cudgels to keep the crowd off us till we could get inside. A few lucky, or unlucky, enthusiasts made it in with us but promptly got heddunkeln, head knocks, and tossed back out.

“Welcome!” another large fat man proclaimed. “Welcome to The Green Gosling! The finest walled inn on Broadway in the Northcorner!”

“Probably the best one run by a fat guy with wine stains in his beard, too,” Lillakatye said under her breath.

Rotgar started to speak to him but he had his eyes on me. “Princess, you give me pride to serve you. Call me Hubricht, say your wish and it will be done!”

“Ikka den ikka," I agreed. "Rooms away from the walls and stabling for our beasts,” I said. “Don’t let him cheat us, brother,” I added to Valto. I wanted Hubricht to know I had family here, even if Valto was Alenna’s kin and not mine.

Zenner helped me dismount and I shivered. The noise of the crowd outside the walls had not lessened. What had I gotten myself into now?

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