Lihan Hawkhome, Part IV

Wednesday September 10, 2003 @ 05:07 PM (UTC)

The Saga Continues

Lom turned from the campfire where his men were still shaking off the memory of Woodsend, with the help of a small keg of brandy he’d hidden for just such an occasion. The boy they’d found sat on the side of his wagon, swinging his feet rhythmically. He hadn’t spoken much since they’d given him water and food, and he still looked skittish. Lom was worried he’d run off in the night at some imagined sign of Fair Folk.

“Well then,” Lom said, plunking himself down next to the boy on the wagon gate, “what’s your name?” The boy twisted his hands and looked about him, oblivious. Lom tried another tack, “You know, I’ve got two boys your age at home. Twins! How they do eat. You’ll get to meet them, and taste their mother’s cooking, if we do take you as far as Lookshy…” he trailed off. What were they going to do with the boy? Even if he were bright, cheerful and strong, there was no way he could feed another child or inflict another one on his harried Mari.

The boy swung his feet, appearing to study his boots. Lom looked towards the fire, where the men had broken out a deck of painted cards and were gambling for the remainder of the brandy. The boy beside him seemed to follow his gaze, and relaxed a little, gazing at the cards in fascination. Of course, Lom thought, there probably weren’t any cards in that little town, even if they could afford ’em.

“Want to try those out, lad?” The boy’s eyes focused on Lom’s face. “Here, I even have a second deck.” He dug out a deck he had meant to trade in the border towns. “There ya go. Want to learn how to play?” But Lihan, with a quick, curious glance at the Empress, the brightly painted wands and coins, put most of the deck aside, and began to build a house. His light eyes were intent, his movements sure, and his feral manner utterly forgotten.

“P’raps we can be introduced now,” Lom offered, “I’m Lom Hardroad, of Lookshy.”

“Lihan Hawkhome,” the boy said clearly.

“Well now, Lihan! That’s a fine name. Eh…” he scratched his bald head, “was yer whole family roosting in Woodsend then?”

“Yes,” Lihan said, a little less clearly.

“No grandmothers or aunties?” Lom hoped.

“Not that I ever heard of,” Lihan carefully bridged two arches with the Fool.

Lom sighed. “You do that real clever-like,” he said, eying the card chateau.

“It is kind of you to say so,” Lihan piped.

Lom was struck with an idea, “Can ya read?”

Lihan nodded gravely.

“Well, then,” Lom muttered to himself, “I think we can getcha settled and still feel comfortable in our hearts about it.”

Lihan grew more voluble as the journey went on, although Woodsend and his family were not topics that Lom or the other fur-traders brought up. The traders were full of admiration for his card-houses, and he slept warmly every night among the cured furs that smelled like home.

One morning they started early, as they were near their destination and all of them were anxious to see their families after such a long and stressful time. Lihan woke to the sound of knocking — Lom was banging on the wood of the secure wagon where the furs were kept. “Wake up, lad! Here are sights worth seeing!”

Lihan scrambled up to sit aside Lom on the driver’s bench just as they came to a halt on the crest of a hill.

“Lookshy!” Lom proclaimed, and swept his arm across the valley below. Lihan had never seen something so big in his life — the city covered more land than a bison herd, and beyond that, shimmering vast and steely, was the sea. The city itself had walls, not a crude log barrier, and on a scale none of the towns they had passed through had neared. He saw glints of metal and shining glass among the crowding stone buildings, and gaped in awe at the stretch of the sea, the size of the city, and the accomplishments of man.

“Like it?” Lom chuckled.

“I’m not sure ‘like’ is the right word — it’s…staggering!”

“Well, if all goes well, it shall be your home, so you’d best get over your staggerhood!”

Lom left the other traders to unload the furs at a factor’s, and led Lihan through the streets of Lookshy. Vaguely, Lihan was ashamed of holding Lom’s hand like a baby, but he realized that the city was too much for him, alone. He caught sight of Dragon-Blooded guardsmen with oddly-worked metal weapons at their hips, and saw men and women dressed in thin, beautiful clothing that made him think of flower petals, as well as some in sensible, brown clothing like his own. Hob-nailed boots trod after sandals, mailed feet, and brightly-colored slippers. Finally, Lom stopped in a quieter district, in front of a stucco compound with a carved wooden door. “Learn-ing is the task of all man-kind” he sounded out, as Lom knocked below the chiselled letters.

“Lom Hardroad for the Headmaster,” Lom said gruffly, with a little bow.

The city noises seeped away as they were led deeper into the rambling compound, and Lihan heard, instead, boys chanting repetitively in some strange language, boys shouting as they ran between the buildings, older boys arguing in a stilted, formalized way, and a piping, nervous boy’s voice doing sums rather badly. Lom and Lihan were led into a cubbyhole panelled in dark wood, and the door stoppered off the sounds behind them. Lihan eyed the window. It was small, but he was smaller. Relieved, he eyed the room’s possessor.

The man was old, that much was certain, but he seemed hale and cheerful, not bent and wistful like the few old folks he had ever met. His eyes were as beryl-bright as a summergreen’s leaves, and his smile underlined a magnificent white mustache. As he studied Lihan, scuffed boots to rumpled red hair, Lihan became sure that this man knew absolutely everything about him. More than that, this man knew absolutely everything in the wide and vasty world.

To be continued…


Sorry it’s a bit late—they wanted me to WORK today. Sheesh.

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