Valun had long since worked harder that day than he could recall ever working in his life. They had spent the entire day repairing things, but the work had taken much longer than usual because the smith had been patiently explaining every step to Valun as they went along. Once, however, he had accidentally given his order in Ronair rather than Corridane, which caused Valun to take the wrong step in the process, ruining an entire project. For that he had been slapped hard in the face and sent to watch from a corner while the smith began the long process of redoing the job without explaining the steps. However, after some time, Valun had been allowed back and they had started on a different task.
Since this smith was one of the best in the city and had his shop close by one of the main gates, he worked with both swords and armor and farming implements, and as a result was visited by both squires and foremen from the plantations of those who lived outside the city walls. Whenever any asked about the presence of Valun, the smith always answered in his own language, so Valun was unable to make out what he was telling them. The strangers always left without asking any more questions, so Valun began to think that perhaps the man was not telling them the truth.
Darkness was beginning to close in when the smith finally indicated that they were finished for the day. When they had replaced all the tools on the rack and made sure that the woodbox for the forge fire was well stocked, they stepped outside and the smith locked the building. As they made their way back toward the smith’s house, Valun asked him why his house and place of business were separated, since this was not the case in Corridane. The smith answered as if he could not believe his ears.
“A smith’s forge under the same roof as his family? My boy, you are asking for trouble. There would be too much danger. A man’s home and his work must be kept separate. Then if he must lose one, he can take that loss without losing the other and so start a new life.”
“What we will do tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow I shall have to repair that sword you ruined. It was nearly done and the lord will be coming to get it any day now.”
Valun bristled at the implication that he was at fault. “You did not use Corridane. I cannot be expected to learn every word of Ronair as I work. If I am to be an effective assistant you must be sure I can understand.”
“Aye, you have a point, boy. This is your first day. I slipped. However, in my house, you will hear no Corridane at all; you must make the best of it or I will throw you out.”
“Thank you. That is the most I could ask. Where shall I sleep?”
“Where you like on the floor. We shall not make space for you for a while yet.”
Valun did not reply to this statement, and neither said another word until the reached the man’s house, where hot food was waiting for them in the main room. Valun was greeted enthusiastically by the smith’s children, who led him to the table almost the moment he entered the door. He took the chair they indicated, and then sat quietly as the family took their own places.
The food was delicious, and Valun expressed his appreciation of this in the most obvious way he could think of; asking for more. When he indicated that he would like the dish to be filled a third time, the children began to giggle while the smith just glared at him as if he had done something wrong. Meanwhile the man’s wife actually fetched the pot off the fire, bringing it over to him to show that there was none left.
Shocked at his own tactlessness, Valun begged the family to accept his apologies and the promise that he would be content with less in the future. At the end of this little speech, Valun could tell that the smith was translating the Corridane for the benefit of his family, who all looked toward him and gave little bows from their seats. Thus Valun got his first real lesson in Ronair.
After that incident, it was not long before the children, with Valun helping, had cleared off what dishes there were while the smith and his wife retired to another room, into which Valun followed them a few minutes later, finding the one contentedly smoking a pipe and the other sewing with a loom. Stopping just within the doorway, Valun asked if he might have something to lie on to soften the floor. Directing what sounded like an amused remark at his wife, the smith rose from his seat, went into another room, and returned with a thin blanket in his arms and a dog at his heels. Handing the blanket to Valun, he indicated to the dog that it should follow this stranger. Valun thanked the smith for his assistance and went to take his place by the hearth, which was still giving out some heat as the embers had not yet died. Laying his full length on the floor, Valun wrapped himself up in the blanket like a sausage and indicated to the dog that it should lie down beside him, which it did willingly enough. Thus equipped, Valun turned himself to the task of sleeping on the wooden floor.
Richard was in his element. He enjoyed nothing more than performing in front of others, and now he had an entire hall waiting on his every word. Having finished what was set before him, he rose and moved around to the center of the wide space between the several tables laid out for all the occupants of the manor. Bowing with a flourish toward the dais he had just left, he began.
“My lord, and lady, and various assembled people. I am honored to have been chosen as your next entertainer-in-residence and that I have been asked to perform for you on my first night inside your walls. I will now tell you a tale of Corridane which my father learned from his father, who probably learned it from his father. Whether it is legend or history no one can now say. All one can say is that it makes a good tale.” With that, he began the tale in earnest. It was the story of a hero who had gone traveling all over the world but had never found a man who could best him in any kind of contest, until one day he came across a hermit who was able to drink him under the table. When the hero had recovered from his stupor, the hermit revealed that they had both been drinking plain river water the whole time, which the hermit had stored in used ale kegs. The hero, who had caught the old smell, had not noticed the difference and had therefore gotten drunk on water.
By the time he got to the end of the story, Richard had drunk several flagons of stuff himself, as his enthusiastic performance left him parched. But even as he performed, he could see that the old man who was to be his trainer hardly took a drink at all, but still kept pace with him word for word. Richard decided that this was probably because the old man was not the one moving about and adding expression to the telling, and so found himself tired far less often. At the end of the performance Richard bowed again to all sides of the room, as hearty applause signaled the audience’s reception of his abilities.
Feeling slightly full of himself, Richard returned to his seat and asked his new mentor “Well, didn’t I tell you I could perform?”
“I suppose you can, but you should not make such a show of knowing it. A man can make enemies that way.”
“What, here? Where I was brought just to show off what skill I have? I don’t believe it.”
“Trust me. If you take my advice you’ll live longer for it.”
“Very well then, sir, I will. Now what happens?”
“We wait for the master of the house to leave. Then I’ll take you to your quarters and we will sleep.”
“And the next day?”
“When the sun rises I will begin your education.”
“I look forward to it.”
The entertainment and the several courses complete, it was not long before the master of the house rose to send everyone off. “My good people. It has been my pleasure to give you all this excellent feast tonight, so I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have. I am also proud to announce once and for all that I have found our next bard, and a splendid job he does of it too.” At this point the old man prodded Richard to stand up once more and be acknowledged again. As he did so, the master turned toward him and asked “What name do you go by?”
“I am Richard, son of Roland, called the Longfurrow, and I am a Corridane born and bred.” Richard said, and resumed his seat.
It was then that the lord of the manor left the high table and made his way out of the hall, his family trailing close behind. This being the signal for everyone else to depart, A line began to form from the head table according to one’s rank. Thus Richard found himself alongside his mentor at the head of the line. He moved quickly so as not to impede the path of those behind, for he was slightly taken aback by the manner of doing things in his new home. Not knowing where to go next, he stood in the corridor until his mentor realized the situation and grasped him on the shoulder, steering him off toward a stairway coming down into the far end of the main passage.
At the top of the stairs, Richard was ushered into a tower room prepared in the usual layout, only this one was wider than most and had room for two. There was a bed on each side of the entrance way, three windows, and a large desk well stocked with parchment and quills.
Richard was taken aback by the room itself more than the arrangement inside. “A tower room? After all the respect we’ve been given? A tower room is where you put your prisoners.”
The old man sat down on one of the beds and began removing his boots. “Well, if you think you are worth enough to demand a different arrangement, then I will not stop you from trying. It could be a good lesson in humility for such a performer as you are. But you should try to live here first. It’s actually quite nice. Well lit, out of the bustle and noise, and when the sky is clear one can see the countryside for miles from these windows.”
Richard set himself down on the empty bed. “Well, if that’s the way it is, I suppose it’s better than it looks. Does anybody ever fetch us, or do we come down when we like?” As he said this he spread himself top his full length and saw that his feet were nearly touching the footboard. Pointing this out, he remarked “Before long I suppose I shall need a larger bed. Can they do that?”
“If you ask them politely. No, we are generally not at the servants’ call unless there is a particular feast on, or a visitor. Of those I suspect there will be several in the coming months. You shall have to accustom yourself to being shown off like some sort of prize, for the master clearly thinks very highly of you already. When we are not performing, we will usually be up here going over everything I know.
“Shall I ever have time for myself?”
“When you can snatch it from the grasp of your lessons. You may be underestimating the time it takes to learn most of the stories and songs I know, along with the language we speak here.”
“I am up for the challenge.”
“So you think.” The old man rose and snuffed out the lantern which had until this point been providing all the light they needed to see by. As he lay there in the dark, all the excitement which had built up inside Richard to that point over the long journey and the capture and sale and finally performing his favorite story to a foreign audience whose language was practically the only one he had not learned, suddenly evaporated, and he realized that he felt lonely, even in his new position of esteem. All at once the shock of being far from home with no hope of going back for an unforeseen length of months or even years hit him like the blow of a prizefighter, and he lay speechless in the dark for many long minutes.
Conan was roused at dawn by a loud knock on the door of the hut he had been left in the previous night. Feeling himself unprepared to antagonize anyone at this early stage in his new life, he leapt up the moment he awoke and stood waiting for the knocker to enter. That man wasted no time in pushing the door aside and entering the little room. He was a different man than the two whom Conan had previously encountered, and it seemed, perhaps a nicer one. Conan noticed quickly that this man was not carrying a whip or anything other object in his hand that might be used to abuse the workers.
Conan stood patiently as the man said something at him in the local language, which he guessed was probably a question in the lines of “Who are you?” However, Conan steadfastly refused to answer. Suddenly a knife appeared in the wall beside him. It was clearly a warning which said “Talk to live.” But, holding fast to his individuality, Conan instead resorted to signs claiming that he simply could not speak, even though he knew this was a desperate move, as he was now unable to use his voice within earshot of this man for the remainder of his life if he did not want the wrong end of the man’s knife-throwing skill.
The man then grabbed Conan roughly by a shoulder and propelled him outside, where he released him and walked off. Conan assumed that he was meant to follow the man and perhaps he would be shown what his task would be. A hundred yards beyond the the shack in which Conan had spent the night, they came to the edge of a vast field , where a pair of oxen stood yoked to a large plow and waiting. The foreman told Conan, who understood this well enough, that he was to take the plow some hundred yards toward the horizon, and then come back and do the whole trek again, for the rest of that day. Conan simply indicated his understanding and took the handles of the plow firmly in his hands.
As he came toward the end of the required length, Conan became aware of a tower looming in the distance which looked as if it might be striving to cast a shadow over the field where he was working. (It was in fact the tower which housed Richard’s quarters, although due to the separation earlier that day, Richard had not yet arrived at his new home.) The first thought that came to Conan at this sight was speculation on whether the lord of that tower was as bad a master as his own. The second was to wonder how far we would have to go to reach it and escape.
“Doesn’t look to be more than a mile...I could reach it in one night...I wonder does anybody watch the border this far away from the manor? But I can’t know that can I now? Best to bide my time...” Turning the team around for another furrow, he gave all his attention to his work, but as he did so he promised himself that he would someday make his bid for escape, but not until he had first stayed long enough to relax any suspicions his captors might hold.