Four days to COLD WELCOME’s release, that is. But let’s get on with the story (my hands are hurting so this may be a short segment, and following the POVs may be a bit rough.) There may be other foursomes or fours in hand or other fours around in this Interlude story. You never know, and sometimes I don’t either.
“Something’s happening,” Jamis said as the crowd around them stirred. Voices in the distance, loud and forceful voices, clashed, and then the crowd moved. No longer jammed in so tightly, the children eeled along, trying not to bump into the ends of swords, or wide skirts, or elbows–Justin and Shar were both tall enough to catch an elbow. They had worked their way to the right side of the corridor, where Justin hoped to see past the taller adults into Universes and catch a glimpse of his grandmother and aunt, but the whole crowd turned sharp right into a corridor thar ran along one side of Universes, and then left around another side of it, and then, down a ramp, into a whole new area, still with the great windows along the outside. This one was furnished not in sleek black and silver, but with polished wood tables, a stone floor patterned in marble and granite and sandstone, with a center mosaic map of someplace Shar and Justin had never heard of.
“Paksworld? Is that your story?”
“Our whole world,” Jamis said. As the crowd spread out among the various tables, a tall dark-haired man in court dress called “Jamis–HERE!” and Jamis turned toward him. “Come on; I’ll introduce you. He’s Duke Arcolin, he married my mother, a widow, a few years ago, and he adopted me. ”
The twins looked around at the strange…people?… and wondered how to ask politely. They had seen plenty of humods, but these didn’t look like humods.
“Those are gnomes,” Jamis said, in a lower tone. “They wear gray or black, and my father is also a gnome prince–the only human who’s ever been one. The bearded shorter wide people are dwarves. The tall very graceful ones are elves or half-elves.”
“Oh, no. Does everyone in your books look like you?”
“No, but humods are human even though they look different.”
They had reached the table. Jamis made the introductions, and the twins produced creditable bows. Arcolin smiled at them. “I’m sorry, however, but all the seats at our table are assigned already. Perhaps I could find someone to locate your families for you?”
“We can find them, my lord,” Justin said. “It’s just that we were talking to your son–to Jamis–and people got between us.” “Excuse us, please,” Shar added.
“Certainly,” Duke Arcolin said, and turned as someone called his name. The twins took that opportunity to dive back into the crowd. Servers were bringing out platters of food for every table, now, and it smelled wonderful, very different from the foods they were used to.
“That’s a whole pig!” Shar said suddenly. “Did you see?”
“Yes, and that bird with its feathers on, too.” They spotted a nearly-empty table and scrambled for it, making it onto the benches. Immediately a server put down a platter piled with little round spheres that smelled like some kind of meat; their places were set with a sort of spike and a spoon.
Shar speared one of the little spheres and tasted: meat, spices she didn’t know, and a sweet/sour sauce that she liked at once. But before she and Justin had eaten more than three apiece, a large party approached, guided by one of the restaurant staff.
“You don’t belong here!” he said firmly. “This table is for the Sea-Prince of Prealith and his family. You urchins go away at once–I’m sorry, m’lord; we’ll have that platter replaced promptly and the grilled sea-creatures brought directly. ”
“Sorry,” the twins said in unison, backing away from the man’s glare, and then weaving among the tables, most now packed with people eating and talking from table to table. No one seemed to pay much attention to them but no one welcomed them, either. “I’m hungry,” Shar said. “We’ve been walking around for hours. Let’s go back and find grandmother.”
“Dressed like this?” Justin said. “You know what she’ll say–we might not get anything but healthy food if we go up there. No dessert.”
“Well, then…let’s go to the kitchen. We can always say we can’t find our parents and maybe they’ll feed us.”
“We aren’t babies anymore. I don’t think that will work. But look–see those tables by the service door? Those inside are putting food there, and then the servers take it to the tables where people sit.”
“It’s a buffet,” Shar said.
“It’s not meant to be,” Justin said. “But it can be a buffet for us–we just need a place to eat it after. And a way to carry it.”
The disappearance of the first basket of bread wasn’t noticed in the rush, and the roast lamb slices removed from a platter returning to be rewarmed were thought to have been eaten at the table. The sauce on the lamb soaked into the bread, but that didn’t bother the twins. They’d located a narrow corridor close to the service doors and it had an handy jog in it, too. There were doors, but they were closed. When they’d finished the bread and meat, they took the basket back to their hunting ground and quickly filled it with small fried pies, while Justin found a jug of something cold, sweet, and foamy. Shar took two mugs off a stack and put them in the basket, and they scurried back to their hiding place. Eating on the floor, something their grandmother never allowed, was a delightful change. The fried pies were filled with custard and fruit, and the drink eased their thirst with a delightful flavor.
“I don’t suppose it’s alcoholic,” Shar said after the second mug-ful, looking at it. “If it is we shouldn’t have more.”
“If it is, we shouldn’t have had any,” Justin said. “I did look for water, but there wasn’t any. I recognized the wine and the ale–this has to be for children. It’s sweet.” They finished off the pies and the jug, but felt no inclination to carry the basket and jug back. It was much pleasanter to lean against the wall…or lie down flat, even.
“We should go,” Shar said, after awhile. Justin said nothing. She looked over and saw that his eyes were closed. The light bothered her eyes, too, so she closed them.