Bian -23- No Lunks

Conversations, divine and inane...


Book 2 - The Reluctant Princess

by Erin Halfelven


Chapter 23 - No Lunks

The Green Gosling Inn made a rectangle with one of the long sides on the street and the gate we had entered by in the middle. The walls of the compound held up two-story buildings surrounding a courtyard in the center. The street-side structures were a tavern and a stable. Next to the tavern, making the short end of the rectangle on that side, a kitchen building stood with baths alongside on the ground floor and two dormitories above it for women, I learned later.

The construction methods varied with the front buildings being half-stone with some brick and timber while the newer looking construction in the back was mostly split plank with some plaster covered walls.

The back wall of the compound held latrines, the innkeeper’s family rooms, and storage buildings. The other short side had a smithy, more storage and a dormitory for men. The courtyard in the middle included two small garden plots and a chicken yard. A pair of large, furry, black-and-white dogs, named Snout and Wagger, did impromptu comedy sketches in all the open areas. Usually involving tripping someone.

Hubricht, the innkeeper, showed us to rooms and shooed the dogs away when they followed us upstairs. I shared a room with Kilda at the top of a flight of stairs, and Lillakatye got a smaller one next down the hall. These were above the innkeeper’s own rooms and those of his family. Valto, Rotgar and Zenner had rooms above the common area in the front building facing ours across the courtyard, and Lang and Cordle got bunks in the men’s dormitory above the smithy.

My room was smaller than either of the rooms Alenna had back in Moleena, big enough for a bed, a table, a chair and a keldringer/wardrobe and not much else. Katye’s room was even smaller. Both rooms smelled nicer than I expected, though; most of the construction was of cedar or some other fragrant wood, and the keldringer and bed had herbs and flower petals sprinkled inside and between the linens. Rushes covered the floor. I wondered if the guys’ rooms got flowers, too.

I felt a little guilty for flopping onto the bed while Kilda bustled around putting some of our stuff away, but it had been a long hard ride and my tiny body was exhausted. My mind reeled a bit, too. A lot had happened in not much more than 48 hours.

Kilda didn’t seem to mind me flaking out at all. “Let me get things put away, and I can ask for a mid-day meal be prepared.” She beamed at me. Having something to do always seemed to make her happy.

I nodded agreement and closed my eyes, so I didn’t have to watch her bustling around. I still felt guilty but being an adelsdochter came with privileges and at the moment I felt inclined to take advantage of them. Just knowing that I would not have to get back on a horse in a few minutes made the cramps in my thighs and butt I had endured for so long relax into an almost pleasant ache.

It seemed ridiculous that it had been barely two full days since I saw the naked girl in the fountain in Los Perdidos, California. So much had happened.

First of all, instead of a nearly forty-year-old male Sheriff’s Deputy named Gus Gallant in the 21st century, I was now to all appearances Alenna docht Adelwalt, a fourteen-year-old runaway bride in what seemed to be an alternate timeline of the 10th century. Or thereabouts. No one seemed to know a calendar I could recognize.

After much struggle and some strife along the Bright Road, I had reached the relative security of Lundenna, this world’s version of London, a free city where Alenna’s father and prospective husband could not legally compel me. And I had friends, my companions on the trip:

Kilda, my maid and confidant, the only one here I had told about being Corporal Gus Gallant.
Rotgar, my noble guardian, appointed by Alenna’s father, Adelwalt.
Valto, Alenna’s half-brother and nearly a physical double of my old male self.
Zenner, a spy from Rema, charged by the Dux of Song Isle with returning me to Alenna’s mother.
Katye, a strange woman-warrior and healer who may also be a displaced person from another reality.
Lang and Cordle, hired swords who went through battle with me and my friends.

Everyone speaks a version of Old Norse called Bloddingr or Bloddish, but I understand it because… because magic works and the gods are interfering busybodies.

Just thinking about the situation made me feel exhausted. I closed my eyes, determined not to think of the death and destruction we had dealt to the ambushers night before last.

* * *

I guess I fell asleep, not too surprising considering all that had happened. The bed was soft enough and the room while not toasty was warm in comparison to the early spring weather outside. Kilda bustled around quietly and at one point, pulled my cloak off the back of the door and threw it over my legs. I was tired, safe and cared for. No wonder I slept. Or maybe I had another sort of help.

At first, I became aware of dreaming of being in high school. Only instead of being Gus, I was Alenna: a high school freshman girl with ponytails and a satchel full of books. I hurried through corridors that looked familiar but were not any of the schools that I had actually attended. I felt ridiculous and a little worried, knowing even in the dream that I was not Alenna and that someone might notice.

I felt a skirt brushing around my knees but did not look down to see what I might be wearing. I didn’t want to know and it wasn’t that sort of dream. I felt hurried and harried as if I were late for a class. All of the other students were taller than me and I couldn’t see much of the scenery. A few of the boys looked directly at me and smiled but mostly everyone ignored me.

I came to an old-fashioned door with a frosted glass window and “R.T. Firefly, Counselor” painted on it. I had the idea in the dream that I had an appointment, so I pushed my way through.

A slender red-headed man sat behind a desk in one of those cubbyhole offices that school counselors seemed to get stuck with. He wore an old-fashioned suit from my world and had thick black eyebrows and a mustache painted on his ruddy face. “Say the magic woid and win a hunnert dollars,” he said. He looked like Danny Kaye doing a Groucho Marx impression.

I stood there blinking because for some reason he was hard to look at, as if he had a light behind or inside of him.

The room, the books I was holding, the eyebrows and mustache all faded away leaving me standing in front of… a person I realized must be another of the gods. Now he wore an armored coat like Rotgar wore, but his was lacquered black and red. His red-blond beard and mustache were almost as wispy as Rotgar’s too, and he held a knife in one hand and a cup in the other. Something flickered above the cup as if it held a burning liquid. The cubbyhole office had disappeared and we were in some vague space that resembled Adelwalt’s great hall.

He looked at himself then at me, smiling. “Interesting,” he said. “You know who I am?” He put the knife and burning cup on a desk that still looked like something you might find in a high school counselor’s office.

“Hlokki,” I whispered, giving the name in its Bloddish version though I had never heard it while waking. He wasn’t someone good Bloddings talked about much.

He nodded. “The others have taken an interest in you, so I thought I would see what was up.”

“Please, don’t,” I said.

He laughed softly and his blue eyes twinkled. “What do you want more than anything else in the world?” he asked. “I might be able to give it to you. Especially if it is information?”

I kept blinking. “I want to go home. I want to go back to being myself. This—“ I gestured vaguely at the slender body that I wore. “This is not me. I want to be Corporal Gus Gallant of San Bernardino, California in the U.S. Of A. again.”

He smiled. “That might be possible. But probably not soon. You’ve been given a role in a drama that is being played out. And only you can play that part because you have gifts no one else has.”

I wept a little in the dream and it pained me to do so because it came out as girlish whimpers and sobs and I felt humiliated and helpless. The scene changed while my dream eyes were filled with tears.

I saw a girl who looked a lot like me, like Alenna, and the world seemed to be my old world again. This was not high school, though, but another familiar and more specific place. It looked like the Sheriff substation in Barstow, with Alenna sitting in an institutional green chair wrapped in one of the beige thermal blankets all deputies carried around in the trunk of their cruisers.

A voice was saying somewhere. “I called Child Protective Services. They’ll send someone to take her until we can find out where she belongs….”

I knew what that meant. Alenna would be going into the foster home system where I, as Gus Gallant, had grown up.

I gasped and heard Kilda ask, “Varkensey?” Meaning, “Are you awake?”

* * *

I opened my eyes, the reality of the dream bursting like a bubble and leaving only a vague memory, like a soapy smell in the air. “Ig amst nu,” I said. “I am now.”

“Don’t say ‘ig amst’,” she said. “They say ‘ikk bent’ here in the city. You don’t want to sound like you’re from the sticks.” She grinned while saying so.

I grinned back, rolling my eyes. “Get bent,” I said in English.

“Who? I don’t know anyone named Gitt.” She frowned.

I giggled, a sound that annoyed me but I couldn’t help it. “I mean, I’m hungry. Is it midday?”

“Soon enough,” she agreed. “The innkeeper said he will serve us in a self-dining room.” She meant a private dining room, self-dining sounded weird if you translated it directly.

Someone scratched at the door then entered. Katye. The tall war-wife looked twice life-size in the narrow doorway. “I’m hungry,” she said. “Who do we have to shoot to get some lunch?”

“Lunks?” repeated Kilda, confused again.

“It’s what they call leek soup with bacon where she’s from,” I said. Katye winked at me. “And don’t say ‘ig hebst honger’; it’s ‘ikk heft honger’ here in the city.” I winked back at her.

“I’m one of those hicks from the sticks, I guess,” said Katye. “But leek soup does sound pretty good right now, doesn’t it?”

“Hicks from the sticks” was “Yugelen aff den kugelen,” and I got the giggles again.

“Are you from Wesmarch?” asked Kilda. “They eat a lot of leeks there, I hear.”

Katye just shook her head. “I’m from a lot further away than that.” She grinned at me.

I nodded. “We are going to have to have that talk,” I said and she nodded back. She held her hand up in a split-finger, Mr. Spock salute but neither of us was willing to delay eating to discuss it.

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