The Way West #6

This is my NaNoWriMo project for August 2012.  I’m posting one chapter at a time however many words I’ve written.  To see earlier chapters click here.  All comments welcome.  Story copyright Jemima Pett.

Chapter 6: Mists of Time

In which Hywel feels poorly and Humphrey turns to stone

“I’m not feeling well,” announced Hywel, as they finished breakfast.  He was holding his arm but also bent over his stomach. Betty had noticed he’d stopped eating some time earlier and his cawffee was only half drunk.

“Is it internal?” she asked, seeking confirmation.  Hywel nodded.

“People have been going through that door and coming back a few minutes later.  Let’s investigate.”  She got to her feet and moved round the table to help Hywel up.  He limped with her through a doorway nearby.

Freya toyed with the empty plate in front of her.

“How did you do that?” she asked, still looking at the plate.

Humphrey looked at her, not understanding.

“You could have got four, however you did it.  You’re so stupid.  And selfish,” she continued, tapping the pass. “Get us three more.”

Humphrey looked down at the plate.  He had been surprised the way the visitor’s pass had appeared in front of him, so casually, as if he’d left it there.  He wondered whether he could ask for three more.  Well, no harm in trying, he thought.

“I need three more passes,” he muttered quietly.

“What did you say?” asked Freya, her impatience showing.

Humphrey looked at her stone-faced. Sometimes he resented the way Freya spoke to him. She reminded him of the selection panel at Arbor.  They thought he was stupid too.  His tutor hadn’t thought he was stupid.  Betty didn’t think he was stupid.  He knew lots of things.  He just didn’t know how to do anything much.

Betty returned by herself.

“I’ve left him there till he feels better.  I’ll check on him in a little while.  What are these?” she added as she bent down to pick three pieces of paper from the floor.  “Humphrey, are you printing these or something?”

“What are they? No, I’m not printing anything,” he replied, straining his neck to see what she’d picked up.

“I don’t believe it,” Freya said taking two from Betty, then, as she read them:  “Oh, you are so stupid!  These both say ‘Humphrey of Fortune’ like your first one.”

“We’ll just have to all be called Humphrey then,” said Betty, calmly.  “Well done Humphrey, however you did it.”

“Oh, he’s so stupid,” Freya repeated.

“Freya, he’s got us four passes.  Thank him.”

Freya glared at Betty and then grudgingly thanked Humphrey, who, not knowing what to say, said nothing.

“Will Hywel be okay?” asked Freya.

“I hope so, but I am a little worried.  Why should he suddenly take ill?  Is it connected with his arm wound?  Strange if it is. I think we’d better leave here,” she added as she realised that most people had left and the attendants were clearing up.  “You two go outside and see what the castle has out there, work out where things are, I’ll sort Hywel out.”

She crossed the hall to speak to one of the attendants who was clearing and wiping the tables.  Humphrey heard her explain her friend was ill and needed medical attention.  Freya got up from the table.

“Come on then, Useless,” she said as the attendant told Betty how to get to the medical centre.

Stupid, no, but Useless, maybe, thought Humphrey as he followed Freya out of the doorway that everyone else had left through.  I still got her the stupid passes though, he added, with a rebellious glint in his eyes.

The previous day’s low cloud had descended into the courtyard.  The place was thick with fog.  They could just about see across the courtyard, which was bustling with morning activity, but looking up at the walls, the towers of the castle disappeared into the murk.  It was cold, much colder than it had been for the past few weeks.

“Those are the people from Dimerie we saw in the breakfast line,” Freya said.  “We’ll follow them.”

They crossed the courtyard and followed the Dimerie pair up some steps, round a corner and into a long corridor.  Every few metres a door, most of them open, gave onto a small room.  The Dimerie pair went right along the corridor and through a double door at the end.

Following them, Freya and Humphrey had to stop suddenly when they found the pair standing just inside the door, talking to someone with a ledger.

“No, we’ll be leaving this afternoon,” one of the pair told the ledger person. He thanked them for their visit and the pair moved off.  The ledger person looked at Freya and Humphrey.  Freya looked at the Dimerie pair walking towards some long low beds that lined the room, and came to a conclusion just in time.

“We need four beds, please,” she asked him, just as he was beginning to wonder why they were there.

He checked his ledger. “Passes?” he asked.

He looked at Humphrey’s and muttered ‘Fortune’ under his breath and, “Four, five, six and seven; how long for?” to them.

“A few days,” said Freya, “we’re not sure yet.”

“Are you staying for the festival?” he asked.

“Oh,” said Freya, “when does it start?”

“Day after tomorrow.  You can get a schedule at most of the kiosks in the square.”

“Oh, nice!” said Freya. “Would we be able to stay for the whole thing?”

“Yes, most people do.  Will you be entering?”

“We’ll take a look at the schedule, I think.  Are entries allowed this late?”

“In some classes,” said the ledger person. “There are also informal sessions, like poetry. I’ll need to reallocate your bunks if you aren’t staying. Just confirm tomorrow morning, if you will.”

He moved away and left them to it.  Freya looked at Humphrey, her mood transformed.

“There’s luck, Humphrey. Probably a whole week with bed, board and entertainment courtesy of White Horse!  I haven’t been to a festival for years!”

Humphrey nodded at her and relaxed slightly since she looked positively happy.

“Does ‘four, five, six and seven’ mean we stay there?” he asked, pointing at four bunks with those numbers painted on them.

“Yes, you daftie,” she said.  “Come on, let’s explore some more places.”

~~~

They spent the morning wandering round the castle, or at least the part that was accessible from what Freya called ‘the outer courtyard’.  She took Humphrey up to the gates to the inner courtyard to show him what she meant, at which point he asked her how she knew it would be there.

“The castle’s the same pattern as Powell and Hallam,” she said. “More or less, anyway.”

“Where are they?” asked Humphrey.  He liked being with Freya when she was in this mood.

“Powell is over to the north west, on the way to Buckmore, which is the biggest place, well the most important anyway, except for Vexstein.  You’ve heard of them, haven’t you?”

Humphrey nodded, although he wasn’t sure whether he had or not.

“Hallam is not far from Vexstein, a little further north.  Hallam makes most of the metal things.  Well, they make the metal and other people make things out of the metal.”

“Oh yes,” said Humphrey suddenly recognising the name and matching it to his store of books. “Molten steel and foundry activities. Tempered steel for cutting edges and weapons.”

Freya shot him an amused glance. “Okay, already! What are you, an expert in manufacturing all of a sudden?”

Humphrey fell silent.  He thought this was what Betty had described to him as teasing and not to get upset by it.  Betty had told him this after his first week under the hill, when he had clearly not been used to being teased. He remembered the conversation and looked up at Freya and smiled.

“You are teasing me.”

“Yes, sweetheart, I am.  You’re rather fun to tease. Anyway,” she continued, “lots of castles have very similar patterns.  I’ve not been to many, of course.  But I have been around a bit.”

“Where did you grow up?” It was probably the first conversational question Humphrey had ever asked.

“What would you say if I asked you where you grew up?” she shot back.

Humphrey looked as his feet. He didn’t want to talk about growing up.

“No,” Freya said, nodding. “You don’t want to think about it, do you? We all want to leave our past behind.  Anyone in exile that hasn’t told you their life history in the first ten minutes of meeting you doesn’t want to talk about it at all.”

They looked into the inner courtyard and Humphrey noticed a pattern drawn on the gates in a fancy twisted wire.  It was a strange version of a horse.  He looked about at other doors and realised he’d been seeing the same pattern all around him all morning. That must be why Freya had said something about enjoying the festival ‘courtesy of White Horse’.  That was good.  That was where the stall person had said there was a good king. Or something like that.  He thought of replaying that conversation in his head but decided he didn’t need to, and anyway, Freya was talking again.

“We can probably go into the inner courtyard during the festival, or if we have some good reason to,” she said.

“Good reason?” Humphrey echoed.

“Yes, people are going in and out of the gate, look.”

They were indeed, the guard on the gate asking them their business as they went in, and pointing in different directions if they needed guidance.

“What’s inside?” Humphrey was intrigued.

“Well, the king’s rooms and offices of course, the Seat of Learning for Agriculture, the Library, the …” Freya continued talking, but Humphrey had stopped listening to her.

The Library!

“Humphrey what are you doing?  Come on, Betty is waiting!” Freya pulled at his arm.  Humphrey became aware of her and the rest of his surroundings again.  “Come on! Whatever happened?”

Humphrey followed.  He felt quite stiff as if he had been standing still for some time.

They joined Betty and Hywel sitting under a shallow roof in front of a place serving hot drinks. Betty looked amused and he saw Freya shake her head at them as if she despaired of Humphrey.  I’ve done something wrong again, he thought.

He looked at Hywel, who was looking a little better but still holding his arm.  He thought he should say something but didn’t know what.  He sat beside him and looked at his face.  Hywel smiled.

“I’m okay for now, Humphrey, thank you for checking on me.”

Humphrey sat back, glad Hywel had understood his concern. Freya was saying something about having stood there for some time so she’d left him to it. She and Betty carried on discussing things like staying for the festival, food, the medical centre and what herbs they’d used on Hywel, and whether the dining room they’d been to for breakfast also served evening meals.

Evening! It couldn’t be more than midday, thought Humphrey.  He looked around the square.  The fog had come down again and people with little stalls set in the wall of the courtyard were beginning to shut up for the day and lights were showing in the rooms on the higher levels.  Young people ran around, playing games in the courtyard, getting under people’s feet as they did so. He looked at a clock which was chiming the hour.  It was four o’clock! He must have been standing by the inner courtyard for hours!  He wondered how long Freya had left him there and what she had done in the meantime.

“So if we can get you admitted to the library, Humphrey, you’ll be happy for a few days if we stay here, will you?” asked Betty and she smiled as his eyes lit up at the idea. “We need to help Hywel up to the hostel now. Could you help him on that side while I take the other?”

They took up their positions and helped Hywel walk to the hostel, half-carrying him up the steps and glad it wasn’t any more levels up.  Back in the long room, after settling Hywel comfortably and letting him sleep, they sat on the bunks and talked quietly about their next steps until other people entered the room.  They were torn between returning to the hill and staying in Castle White Horse.  With Hywel’s illness, they had time to see whether they might fit in.  They needed to find some sort of occupation to warrant being given accommodation.  They needed to find out what other requirements Castle White Horse had for settlers.

“I wonder how long it will take Castle Fortune to disown us,” Freya asked.

“Hopefully the festival will interrupt normal business,” Betty replied. “Maybe we’ll be clear till after that.”

“What do you think, Humphrey,” said Freya. “Have you got some special talent so you can persuade White Horse to keep you, or would you rather return to Chester and the others at the hill?”

“Oh, I think he’s got some very interesting talents,” answered Betty for him, “it’s whether he can turn them into some sort of occupation that matters.”

“Well, you’d be good at crafts and herbal lore,” said Freya to Betty.

“Castles and communities usually have many people with those talents already though.”

“Well, I’ve always had trouble working out how I could fit in at a castle.” Freya looked glum after having been so enthusiastic at staying earlier. “Maybe it would be better for me to return to Chester.”

“And Hywel?” Betty asked, looking at him gently whiffling air through his nose as he slept.

Freya sighed. “We’re two of a kind really.  I suppose that’s why we’ve been travelling together since we met.  Misfits but in the same mould.”

Humphrey wondered what sort of occupation would be open to him.  His tutor had suggested he could be a scientist or a tutor.  He had no idea how to be either of those things though.  Maybe he could find out if he managed to get into the library.

Go to Chapter 7

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One thought on “The Way West #6

  1. Aww, sweet Humph. I identify with him. I live in my head a lot and often find it hard to communicate what I think or make myself useful. It’s not so much a problem now, but when I was a kid, I met a lot of Freyas who thought it their right to mock me. Kind of a bully, if you ask me. I hope her behavior improves.

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