TG Universes & Series:
What happens to someone when they become the thing they most fear and loathe?
Armsman of Joth
by Penny Lane
Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2014 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.
[Note to readers: the events in this story begin during Somewhere Else Entirely chapter 90, although nobody in that tale will be aware of them for some time, if ever. Specifically, the 20th day of Bretherin is the day Garia demonstrates trusses to the Guildsmen of Blackstone.]
20th day of Bretherin, Year 1174 since the Great Flood, sometime after midnight
"Eh, Sarje, there's someone in the ditch!"
"Down there, see?"
The armsman was already sliding down the bank toward the edge of the ice-rimmed water, a lantern held high in order to help him find his footing.
"Is he dead?" the Sarjant called.
Ferrond knelt and placed his free hand on the neck of the body, looking up at his sergeant.
"No, he's still alive. Do you want him out, Sarje?"
"Aye, we'll need every man we can get. Kennan, go help Ferrond, that looks like a big sod for one man to pull all the way up here."
The two armsmen each took an arm and dragged the unconscious man up to the road, where their Sarjant glanced down at him. The man was wearing a rumpled nightshirt over black tights, not unexpected given the circumstances. No, not tights, leggings, the man was barefoot, his feet stuffed into simple thong sandals which were far too small.
Poor bastard, the officer thought. Probably dragged from his bed at sword-point and driven out of his house in what he stood in. Well, one day we'll take back what is ours, and then we'll require justice.
The face looked handsome, though slack now there was no animation in it. The hair was almost blond and longer than Jothans customarily wore it. The Sarjant wondered who the man was, some merchant's son, perhaps? Good shoulders, narrow waist, but soft, somebody with a sheltered life before today. Well, that was about to change! To answer those who had stolen their city Joth would give reply. Only first...
"Any chance he can walk?"
Ferrond bent down and gently slapped the fellow's face, attempting to bring him round. There was movement, the head rolled and then righted itself, the eyes fluttered open. A groan came.
"Oh, God! What happened? Oh, my head!"
The accent was strange, the words slurred. The man's hand reached toward his brow.
"Sarje, looks like he had a bang to the head. I don't think it would be a good idea to -"
"Aye," the Sarjant interrupted. "He'll have to go on a wagon or we'll be here all night." He pointed. "That one! I don't care who's on it, they'll have to make room for another. We're still too close to Joth should those... unmentionable bastards decide to attack."
* * *
"Those slippers! We have to get them off, Stammand. They'll cut into his feet if we don't."
"Aye, my dear. I guess he looked for footwear in the dark and those were the first he found. Must have belonged to his wife. Let me..." A shake of the head. "They are on too tight. Darmon, have you a knife? I'll have to cut them off."
Stammand's manservant handed over his small knife and the merchant gently inserted the tip of the blade under the taut strap, trying not to cut the man's foot as the wagon jolted. Eventually he slid it far enough and severed the strap, allowing Stammand to remove the sandal. He repeated the operation with the other foot. The night was cold so Stammand's wife pulled a piece of sacking over the man's feet to keep them warm. She looked up to find the man watching her.
"You're awake! How do you feel?"
"Terrible," the man said. "Thank you for removing those... shoes. They were beginning to hurt." He winced. "I have a pounding headache. Where are we? What's going on?"
"We are running away from Joth, master," the woman replied. "Do you not remember? Those of Yod came at dusk from the river and expelled all who were in our city. Some may have been killed, we do not know." She remembered her manners. "Oh! I am Rathinda and this is my husband Stammand."
The man looked confused. "Joth? Yod? I don't know those names. Come to think of it, I can't even tell you my name. No, there's nothing there at all. Only pain." He winced again.
"Just lie there, if you can, and we'll try and find a healer when we stop. Stammand, we are going to stop, aren't we? We can't keep running all night, surely."
"Depends if they are chasing us, my dear. No doubt the Sarjant will let us know when it is safe to stop." He turned to the man. "Do you remember where you come from? You have an accent I can't place."
But the man had fallen asleep again.
* * *
Early morning, and a hastily made camp in the yard and nearby fields of a farm along a country road. Awnings had been stretched and anchored to the motley assembly of wagons and carriages. Between the wagons fires were burning on which a scratch breakfast was being prepared for the refugees. Under several of the awnings lay those who were injured or otherwise unable to function normally.
Two faces loomed over the man as he woke.
"How do you feel?"
"I don't... I'm not sure. My head was pounding earlier, I think. What time is it?"
"Just after dawn. Can you attempt some food? I'm sorry, it will not be as you are accustomed to eat, but it will fill you."
"Thank you, yes." The man squinted as one of the figures moved to allow in more light.
"Ah," said the other, a woman's voice. "I have seen this before. Can I examine your head, master? I think you may have a wound we have not discovered."
The man pushed himself up by the elbows, wincing at the effort. "Go ahead."
The woman gently probed his skull, finding no bumps, no wet places. She drew back, puzzled.
"I can find no lump or wound, master, but it looks like you have concussion. What do you remember of last night?"
The man shook his head, then wished he hadn't. "Nothing. I don't even know what my own name is, anything." He looked up at the two, troubled.
"Is there anyone else with you? You appeared to be wearing your wife's shoes when you were found. Where is she?"
"I don't remember a wife. It's all a blank."
A younger woman appeared with a bowl of stew, consisting mostly of vegetables in a watery soup. She knelt down and handed it to the man, along with a spoon. He fumbled with the spoon to begin with but the presence of the food kicked in an automatic response so that he began eating with more and more assurance. Soon he was able to hand back the empty bowl and spoon to the younger woman.
"Thank you. That's better. I... feel cold."
The man grimaced. "I wouldn't wonder, being thrown out of your house with just your nightwear! There are several in our party with attire no better than yours. It is almost winter, I am not surprised you are cold. No doubt when we may organize ourselves, we will provide clothing for those who are without. Rest you here for the while, we will find something to cover you while those who know better decide what to do."
The man sighed and closed his eyes.
* * *
"Try these." Lunchtime, and a man and a woman had arrived carrying armfuls of clothing. "I'm sorry, it's all mis-matched and some of it is old, but it will be better than freezing to death."
The man tried several of the tunics until he found one that fitted comfortably. He kept the nightgown on underneath, on the other man's advice, for extra warmth. The leggings he was wearing were judged thick enough for now, but appeared to be of a material which wouldn't stand up to much abuse in future. Already there were two tears in the fabric from knocks gotten along the way.
His feet had to be wrapped in sacking strips secured by twine made from straw, as there was a shortage of suitable footwear. It was agreed he would continue to ride on a wagon, so the footwear would cause little difficulty. A small sack, with the open end rolled up, made a makeshift hat. Another sack could be wrapped around his hands if they felt cold.
Lunch was more of the same kind of stew, or more likely more of the same stew that had been kept simmering since breakfast. It seemed tasty enough, though the flavors meant nothing to the man. He felt well afterwards enough to assist with cleaning the bowls, spoons and knives used by the various diners. When everything had been cleared away a meeting of the party was called.
"Calm down, there! Can you hear me at the back? Good. I'm Captain Jarbon, late of Joth's Town Watch. You'll be pleased to hear that Duke Wallesan, Duchess Fanis and their children have gotten safely away from the city." There were several cheers. "As far as we know, there don't appear to have been many killed by those of Yod, only some of the Watch down by the waterfront when they attacked. They seem to have just wanted everybody out of the city rather than blood." He looked angry. "By the Maker, I'll tell you now there will be blood when we take our city back! Honor demands it!"
There were several shouts of "Aye!" and "You bet!" and similar sentiments.
Jarbon continued, "We can't stay here, this was just the first place we could find to stop and tend our wounded, give everyone a hot meal and so on. We'll have to move on this afternoon since there's no more food the good farmer can spare us. It wouldn't do to let him and his family starve throughout the winter, would it? Life is hard enough in the countryside as it is."
He looked around and then pointed a direction. "We're eight marks from Galdarin and they've sent a rider to tell us that there should be shelter there when we arrive. It won't be anything fancy but you'll all have roofs over your heads and it will be warm enough. Once we've settled in and we know who we have and what state we're in I'll send to the Duke and ask for orders. Any questions?"
"Aye, Captain. What about those of Yod? Do they pursue us?"
Jarbon shook his head. "As far as we can tell they just hold the city, no more. We have no idea why they attacked or what they may intend but perhaps the Duke knows more."
"Captain, have we sent for help?"
"Aye, we have sent boats downstream to warn our neighbors and ask for help. Of course, it may be days before we have any answer. Until then we must assume we are on our own." He looked around. "Any more? No? Right, let's get our things packed up and leave these good people in peace."
* * *
Ferrond gestured at the hay loft.
"Tis a good enough place to lie, if you have no other," he explained. "There is so much fodder above that there is barely room for the two of us, but the feed will ward off the cold," he grinned, "as will the warmth from the animals below. I hope they won't be too noisy tonight. I could do with the sleep, given what last night was like."
The man stared at the animals. They looked... wrong, somehow. There was something familiar about their shape, but strangely distorted. From what? Even that thought caused a spike of pain.
"Your head still giving you trouble?" Ferrond asked sympathetically.
"Just now and then," the man replied. "Everything all looks kind of strange, like it's in a kind of dream. Do you know what I mean?"
"Aye. This whole day seems a dream, or maybe I should say a nightmare. What are Yod thinking of? I doubt they know themselves. Why attack at the start of winter? 'Tis madness."
The man let the words flow over him, they meant nothing at all. He continued, "What I mean is, every time I see something, it seems almost right. Then I try and remember what it should look like, and that's when the pain comes."
"Ah, I know what you mean." Ferrond grinned. "Maybe after I've had a few too many jugs in an evening! Still, the Captain ain't going to want you to do nothing in your state. Are you even any good with a sword? Bah! Stupid question, forgive me. You won't know that if you can't even remember your own name. Let's get settled in, see how you feel in the morning."
21st day of Bretherin, Year 1174 since the Great Flood
"Ah, Armsman Ferrond, good morning to you. And..? Your friend still has no name, I take it?"
"Good morrow, Master Stammand, regrettably not. I thought to call him 'Dooclor' till his brains come back, he seems to think the name good enough."
"Aye, perhaps an appropriate choice given the circumstances. Dooclor it will be, then. Goodman Dooclor, welcome to the house of my cousin Falden. Go through, both of you, you will find breakfast within."
There was a long table in a large, gloomy room. Around it sat many of Falden's household, though the man didn't know that. Falden himself, his wife Midrena, cousin Stammand and his wife Fanis would eat elsewhere, as befitted the owner of the mansion and his relatives.
"Sit here," Ferrond gestured, taking the adjacent seat. "We'll have some proper breakfast this morning, I think."
Servants brought bowls of a thick grain porridge together with a jug of milk. The man picked up one of the spare spoons and began eating, adding milk to temper the taste and texture. The rest of the servants looked briefly at them, then resumed their low-voiced conversations.
"Say," Ferrond asked the woman sitting opposite, "Any fresh news today?"
"Not that we've heard," she replied. "Doubtless we'll be told if there is any change."
"Aye. I'm itching to get back at those... people, but I know Captain Jarbon has to find out what resources we have before we can do anything useful." He grinned, apologetically. "Otherwise we're just eating your winter stores away, aren't we? I'd rather be doing something useful."
"As you say." She jerked a thumb. "What about him?"
"We found him in a ditch on the way out of the city. Looks like the... invaders knocked him on the head, his memory is completely gone. We know nothing about him, not even his name."
"Poor thing. He looks kind of confused, doesn't he? What'll happen to him now?"
Ferrond shrugged. "No idea, mistress. He can't fight, that's for certain. Healers say his memory may come back, if that happens we'll see what he's made of. The Maker knows we could do with all the good men we can get!"
"Aye." The servant woman eyed the man speculatively. "He's a fine specimen, isn't he? He'd get some attention if he was to stay round here, that I can tell you."
Ferrond grinned. "Your wish may come true, mistress. We're to stay here for the while until Captain Jarbon comes back with instructions."
"You're not going, then?" The woman smiled. "In that case, my name is Bardra. Perhaps we can get together later today, when all our jobs have been done. Can he work?"
"No idea, Bardra. He did help out yesterday, come to think of it, cleaning up the lunch things."
"Well with all you extra bodies around the mansion His Honor will be wanting some more help. Where's Loren? I'll ask him if there's anything you and your friend can do."
* * *
"Watch them! They got a temper. You might get bitten."
Dooclor turned to the speaker, his hands holding a forkful of animal feed.
"They look strange to me. What are they called? I don't remember these animals."
"They're called frayen, Dooclor. Haven't you seen the men riding them? Trouble is, sometimes they don't want to do what we want them to do and those teeth are mighty sharp."
"Oh. I'll be careful, then."
Dooclor heaved the feed in the general direction of the manger which the animal had in its stall, dropping the bundle neatly in. The beast eyed him warily before lowering its head to the manger.
"That's it! You got a good aim. Do the rest of those down that side while I do this side and we'll be finished for the morning. Then we can go find ourselves a beer, right?"
The task of cleaning out the stables had taken all morning and a lot of energy. All the animals had been moved out to a paddock while this took place so that Dooclor hadn't had a close look until just now. Pilbar had shown him how to shovel the manure into buckets and carry it outside to a pile out the back, then wash down the floor before breaking down the compressed blocks of feed ready for the animals. It had begun to rain before this task was complete so the beasts been brought inside before they had finished. The animals had watched as the two men had doled out their lunch before going to find their own.
Pilbar slapped Dooclor on the back as they walked across the courtyard. "A job well done! How do you feel? Tired? How's that head of yours?"
"Tired? A little." A surprised realization came. "Not as tired as I thought I might be, after the last day or two. My head? Aye, I do still have a headache but it doesn't seem to be affecting me as much."
"That's good news to hear. Do you remember anything more?"
"No, not a thing. I get the feeling all this," Dooclor gestured around at the porch where they were rinsing their hands, "looks faintly familiar, kind of, but nothing more than that." He frowned. "Those beasts, frayen, they did make my headache worse."
"Aye. Well, you keep clear of them teeth, like I told you. Frayen are easy enough to look after but they can take offense, if you know what I mean. How's your feet? Them boots ain't too tight, are they?"
"No, they are fine, thank you."
Dooclor had been found a pair of canvas trousers and a heavy leather apron to protect him while they cleaned out the stable. Because the temporary footwear he had been provided with had been inadequate for work an old pair of boots had been donated. Fortunately they seemed to fit without causing problems.
Dooclor followed Pilbar into the room where the servants usually ate. This time there were wooden bowls with a warming stew of meat and vegetables, together with mugs of beer and roughly torn chunks of bread. Dooclor discovered he had a hearty appetite and concentrated on eating what was put in front of him.
Most of the food could be eaten in the hand or with the spoon so he left the two knives alone, although some of the others seemed to be using them. Occasionally, a bowl would reveal a larger than usual chunk of meat, often attached to a bone. The usual procedure was to gnaw the meat off while holding the bone in one hand or two, the eater didn't seem too bothered about being messy.
There was a different woman facing him this time.
"You're eating a lot, Dooclor," she remarked.
"I seem to be hungry, uh..."
"Renita," she answered. "What have you been doing, to be so hungry?"
Pilbar remarked, "We've just mucked out the stables, Ren. That would give any man a good appetite."
"I can tell that," Renita snorted. "You two smell like you've been rolling in it."
Pilbar looked hurt. "Don't be like that, Ren. Somebody has to do it. Anyhow, it's hard work, what he did this morning, don't begrudge him his food. Say, what's on for this afternoon, then?"
"Ask Loren, not me. Master Loren!" Renita called the length of the table. "What you got this pair doing this afternoon, then? Hope it's nothing near me, 'cos these two stink like anything!"
There was general laughter. The older man, who had handed out the assignations that morning, replied from his chair at the head of the servants' table.
"I can believe that, Ren. Pilbar's off to wash down those carriages and carts that brought Master Stammand and his party to Galdarin, that I know. Perhaps he can wash himself down at the same time." He thought for a moment, while Pilbar pulled a face. "Ah, the other one - what's his name? - Dooclor, that's right, he'd better stay in the kitchen for now, that Healer said he ought to be doing something less physical for a while."
"As you wish, master." She inspected Dooclor a little more carefully this time before telling him, "I guess we can find something for you to do. Do you mind helping out in the kitchen a while? I guess a fit young fellow like you would rather be outside most of the time."
"I don't know... mistress. I'll do anything to help."
Renita puffed out her chest. "If you treat all women like that I can see we'll get along just fine, Dooclor." She wrinkled her nose. "Only, you'll have to have a good wash first. I'll get someone to show you the servants' bathing chamber."
* * *
"What? Here, put that knife down, you'll hurt yourself - or one of us." Renita looked sympathetically at Dooclor. "That head of your still hurting? Here, I'll get you a drink of water."
Dooclor put down the knife and stared at the tub of... somethings that he had been peeling. It was a small, round vegetable, certainly. He was also certain that he had never seen anything like it before in his life. In fact, apart from some loaves of bread and several items that were obviously cheeses, on a shelf in the pantry, nothing in the kitchen that was intended as food was familiar at all.
What had caused the headache were several carcases which the Head Cook had brought in and hung up on hooks on a wall. When Dooclor looked at them his brain supplied the word birds but these could never have been birds. There were no feathers, for a start, and they had two strange wings that looked more like those of... Ow!
"Thank you, Renita," he said, handing back the mug. "I needed that." He frowned. "What are those things the Chef hung up over there?"
It was Renita's turn to frown. "What's a Chef? Oh, you mean Possen, he's the Head Cook in Master Falden's mansion. Those what are hanging there? They're brifilis, anybody knows that."
"Brifilis..." Dooclor shook his head. "No. I thought something was coming but it's gone now." He brightened. "I might be able to help cutting them up, if that's what you do. I seem to remember I might have done that before I came here... wherever we are now."
Renita was thoughtful. "If you're offering to help, that's good, but I don't think you ought be cutting up meat when your head is in that state. You might hurt yourself."
"That's true. It was stupid to think I could do something like that."
"Not at all! If you think you can do work like that Possen will be glad of the help, I know that." She smiled. "Only, we don't cut brifilis up before cooking them, only strip the scales off and clean out the insides. Then they gets roasted on those spits, see?"
"Ah, I see." Dooclor wriggled uncomfortably.
"What's the matter? Got some friends in there with you?"
"I'm feeling warm, now. A bit uncomfortable."
"Oh, aye, you spent all morning outside, didn't you?" Renita thought, then suggested, "Look, why don't you take that undershirt off, it'll make you feel more comfortable. I'll go and rinse it, if I hang it up in here the heat will dry it in a bell or two and then it will be fresh for you to wear tonight. What about that?"
Dooclor said doubtfully, "If you think it would be a good idea..."
"I do! Come on, it will give your headache a chance to get better."
Dooclor wriggled out of the tunic, then the nightgown before putting the tunic back on. Renita inspected the undergarment carefully.
"This is strange," she remarked. "It is thinner than I expected and I can't work out what it's made of." She examined the designs covering on the outside. "These are strange, I've never seen anything like them before, either. They aren't woven in, but painted on the top. However..?"
Renita held up the garment by the shoulders and eyed it thoughtfully.
"This is cut for a woman," she said eventually. "Is this yours? Perhaps you had to grab something in the night to wear and this was the first thing to hand. Does it belong to your wife, perhaps?"
Dooclor shook his head. "I'm sorry, mistress, I have no idea. I don't remember it at all."
Renita was not satisfied. "Well, it's all you have so I'd better give it a wash, I think. Now you carry on with those chizzen or Possen will be shouting at us."
* * *
The Healer regarded Dooclor. "Apart from the occasional headaches, you seem to be fit and well, young man. I thought a little exercise and some food in your belly would brighten you up. Has any of your memory come back?"
"It's strange, mistress. Every so often I see or hear something that wants to trigger off a memory in my head, but then if I think about it too much the headaches come again. There are strange words and strange ideas, I don't know what they mean."
The Healer nodded thoughtfully. "It is as I thought, you have concussion, which will mean that your headaches will get worse for a while and then fade away. At the same time your memory should gradually improve." She turned to the other watchers. "I'm sorry, I think he ought to stay here for a few days, perhaps as many as five or six. I'll come back and examine him again in three days, see if things are improving or not. Will that be a problem?"
Falden said, "For my part, mistress, he can stay with us for the while. He is a willing worker and with so many more people here I am thankful for the help. I will instruct that he should not be overworked, and to be rested whenever a headache should strike."
Ferrond added, "Mistress, I would agree. Captain Jarbon ought not take a man in his condition, he may be a danger to the rest of us. But we should not burden this household any longer than we must, we must think about taking back what has been stolen from us and for that we will need every able-bodied man there is. As soon as he is able, he must join the muster."
The Healer asked, "You would send him to battle, so soon after such a blow?"
"Nay, Mistress. Before we may face the enemy there must needs be training, preparation and scouting. We cannot face those of Yod if we do not know where they are. There will be time enough for Dooclor to recover properly before he is asked to march forth."
"You will abide my decision?"
"Aye, mistress, as always."
24th day of Bretherin, Year 1174 since the Great Flood
"How do you feel today?"
"Nothing different, Mistress Healer," Dooclor replied politely. He added, "The headaches still come, and most of them are worse, not better. That green stuff you gave Possen for me seems to help but I have to have more of it each time. Is that bad?"
The healer's expression was grim. "Aye, Dooclor, it is. Normally it is only given for two or three days except in extreme need. If you take it for too long it will act like a poison inside your body." She thought. "There is a different potion I will ask you to take, if you would, but I must needs go to my dispensary and prepare it for you. I'll return here this afternoon with it." She gave him an encouraging smile. "Will you survive until then? You ought not take any more of the green potion today."
"If I must, Mistress Healer."
She rose. "Then I must leave you to your work and seek out some of my other patients. I will see you again this afternoon."
There was a frown on her face as she turned to leave.
"I wonder..." she muttered, more to herself than anyone else. "This seems less like the usual concussion than I first believed. I wonder if Vannet has any ideas?"
Dooclor walked out into the yard and headed for the stable. This morning he was on his own, since Pilbar had accompanied his master on a trip into Galbarin for some reason or other. This presented no problem since the work was straightforward and Dooclor had paid attention when he had been instructed previously. He entered the stable and called out to the animals.
"Ho, friends! I've come to clean you all up this fine morning. Now play me fair and I'll make sure you all get a little extra feed."
The language was Pilbar's, but the greetings and promise were Dooclor's own. He moved to the side of the door and picked up the shovel. The nearest frayen, seeing him do that, moved to one side to admit the man. The creatures were large but showed no animosity towards Dooclor.
Perhaps, he thought as he swept and shoveled, the problem is with Pilbar, not these beasts.
Another thought came as he loaded dung into buckets to carry it outside, This is crap, why don't they have wheelbarrows on this farm? He smiled at the double meaning.
There was a sudden stabbing pain. The broom dropped from his fingers and he sank to his knees, his hands clutching his head. The frayen looked at him from their stalls. If it had been possible for them to have facial expressions, these would have been of concern.
A hand was shaking him. Groaning, he rolled over, squinting at the light coming in through the stable door. It was Renita.
"Maker, you look bad. Can you stand, do you think? Come outside, get some fresh air. I came out to tell you there is a pot of pel waiting, it looks like you need it."
"Uhhh. My head."
"Maker! Stay there, I'll fetch help."
Soon there was a circle of servants surrounding Dooclor, all giving conflicting advice.
"Quiet there!" Possen fixed the others with a glare. "Can't you see he has a bad headache? Bring him out into the yard, and gently. Renita, fetch out that pel you had ready for him."
Willing hands carried him out into the yard and propped him against the side of the stable, all the while grumbling under their breaths about the stink and the mess on his clothes - and their hands, now. Renita gently brought a mug to his lips.
"There, now, drink this. Careful, it's hot."
After a few moments Dooclor recovered enough to take the mug and drink on his own. Most of the kitchen servants drifted back to the main house.
"It feels terrible," Dooclor explained to Renita. "It's like something is trying to tear my head in two, and then it just snaps back together again. What's the matter with me? Am I doomed to be like this the rest of my life?"
"I couldn't say," Renita said. "Perhaps it's one of those ailments that has to become worse before it gets better."
"Oh, I hope not. I don't think I could survive if this gets any worse than it is right now."
"We'll look after you," Renita said confidently, while knowing nothing of the sort. "Those of Yod did this to you and it is they who will pay. Say," she added, "didn't you say that you had some kind of strange thought just before your headaches? Do you remember what it was this time?"
"I do. I thought it was silly to carry the dung out in buckets when a wheelbarrow would make the job much easier."
Dooclor braced for the inevitable stab of pain but none came.
"Huh. I thought of it again and nothing happened. I wonder why that is?"
"What's a wheelbarrow?"
"Why, a..." Dooclor frowned. Didn't they know what wheelbarrows were in this odd place? Why not? "Let's see. Imagine a wooden box about so big. At one end you have two handles sticking out so that you can lift it -"
"Why have handles at one end and not the other?"
"- That's what I was coming to. The other end you don't have handles but a wheel. That means that you're not lifting the whole weight off the ground, just supporting it and directing where you want it to go. When you get to the dung-heap, for example, you just lift the handles up in the air and tip the dung out."
"What a strange idea! Do they have these wheel whatsits where you come from, then?"
"Where I come from? I don't know where I come from. Why... how do you know I'm not from that city - Joth, you call it?"
"Because your accent is funny, that's why. That and the fact that hair your color isn't often seen in the Valley, so you must be a foreigner, I mean a traveler, perhaps someone who just happened to be in Joth when the invaders came."
Dooclor considered this information. He hadn't noticed the accent, but then people never thought their own voice had an accent, did they? It was always other people. The hair, now - he reached up and pulled the end of his hair round so he could see the color properly. Yellow, certainly, but now he thought of it most of the staff at this house had hair that was darker in color. So what of it?
"That's another thing," Renita added. "Your hair's somewhat long so I am guessing it has been a while since you last had it cut. That's another reason we thought you might be a traveler."
"It is a bit long, isn't it? I've noticed that it takes longer to clean myself up." Headache forgotten, Dooclor looked at Renita. "Do you think I ought to have it cut? It might make working a little easier."
"Maybe," Renita said, pointing out, "When they come to take you for the levies you'll need your hair much shorter anyway. I deem you wouldn't get all that under a helmet."
"I'll get it cut, then. Can somebody here do that for me?"
"Aye, I'll ask Loren to arrange it."
* * *
"There, now. Isn't that better?"
The woman who had cut his hair handed him a well-polished oval of metal. He held it up to his face, looking at the hair. It was strange, after all this time, to feel the air on his neck but it seemed to feel right somehow. His ears were exposed and that felt strange, too, though he could not have said why.
The face was that of a stranger. A broad forehead over a strong, straight nose. Two eyes of dark gray/blue stared back at him. The chin was firm and square, though for some reason indistinct. Automatically he put a hand up to feel.
"You have a good growth of fuzz there," the woman who had done the barbering said. "Must be some days since you last shaved, probably before they came and threw you out of the city. Would you like me to shave you, seeing as you're here?"
She made the word they sound like a swearword.
Dooclor felt around his face, noticing the stubble around his chin, jawline and under his nose, where it was thicker and stiffer.
"If you please," he said.
She smiled back at him. "I don't think you usually wear a beard, do you? If you did, it would be longer and thicker, I deem. Let me clear that off and we'll see what you look like." As she made lather in a bowl she remarked, "You're lucky, having hair that color. Most of the men have dark hair and it shows on their faces right away. Now, hold still while I put this on you."
The shaving took little time but Dooclor could feel the difference immediately. He resolved to have his face shaved again in the future, if it could feel this good. Somehow the soft skin felt right.
"My, you are handsome under all that hair, aren't you?" The woman smiled at him. "I can see why Renita has taken a shine to you."
"Indeed, my good fellow. Now don't go upsetting her, you hear? Do right by her and she'll do right by you."
"I will. Uh, thank you for the hair cut... and the shave."
* * *
The morning's scare meant that Dooclor was given light kitchen duties following lunch. He was to tend the joints roasting on the spit in front of the huge fireplace. There was a long-handled ladle, to lift up the juices from the drip tray and pour them over the meat while not roasting himself at the same time. Dooclor looked at the joints as he turned them and was puzzled. The shape of the meat and bones just seemed wrong, somehow. There was a faint memory of other joints, other animals roasting on spits, but this time over open pits or fires built in... oil drums. Huh?
The stabbing pains came again but Dooclor resisted them, attempting to concentrate on his task instead. However, the task was a simple one and that left a lot of time for reflection. The impression of a dream, a nightmare, increased all the time and he didn't have the faintest idea why, there was only the increasing conviction that things would shortly come to a head.
Since the kitchen was hot and steamy and Possen was no tyrant, he permitted the kitchen staff to take a short break for a drink and to stretch themselves from whatever task they had been doing. Dooclor took his turn, receiving another mug of pel from Renita as they took seats at the servants' dining table.
"Not this afternoon... not anything I could call a headache, no. But everything is feeling stranger and stranger, if you know what I mean. It's like when you wake up and you're not sure if you're still asleep or not." He hesitated. "The kitchen begins to look odd to my eyes... old-fashioned, if that makes sense. I keep thinking it should all be all metal surfaces and white tiled walls. The light could be a lot brighter, too."
"Metal surfaces? In a kitchen? Where on Anmar did you live before, Dooclor? In an armory?"
"Anmar? What's that?"
Renita was beginning to become worried, now. "Where we are is Anmar, Dooclor. Here is Anmar. The world is Anmar."
"No, that's not... Oh, shit."
Dooclor put his hands to his suddenly pounding head, but before he could make contact the light faded and he slumped off the bench onto the floor. Renita immediately called for help and others came running.
"I don't know, Master Possen. It seemed really bad this time. He talked as though he didn't even know what world he was on."
It was just at that moment that the two healers came into the servants' dining hall and the onlookers parted to give them room.
"See, Vannet? He's still having the seizures. I'm hoping that the new preparation will help him."
"Aye, Junis. Is this what happens every time?"
"I don't know, I usually find out about them afterwards." Junis turned to the servants. "How long has he been like this?"
"Mistress, he collapsed barely twenty breaths ago, just before you entered," Renita replied. "He spoke of some strange things and that may have triggered it."
Vannet had knelt down to check pulse and breathing and now she looked up.
"He's still alive and his pulse is strong. Let's move him somewhere comfortable out of everybody's way."
Some time later the man revived enough to find two faces looking down at him. Things were still hazy and he supposed he had had some kind of fainting fit.
"You're awake!" one said. "Take it easy, you've had a bad experience."
"Here," the other said, "Have a drink, that may help."
A mug was thrust in his face and he took it with numb hands, the woman guiding the vessel to his mouth to help him drink. The warm fluid tasted unusual but very refreshing, so he drank some more before looking up at the two women.
"Thank you. What happened?"
His voice sounded odd, like a stranger speaking from a distance.
"We were hoping you could tell us that," one said. "You had another seizure. How's your memory? Do you remember anything now?"
The man's brow furrowed. "Yes, I think I do. Some of it, anyway."
"So," asked the other, "do you remember your name now?"
"Why yes, my name is Marilyn. Marilyn Baker," he replied, realizing that some memories had returned.
"Maralin? An unusual name for Joth, but then we already knew you must have been a traveler. Do you remember where you came from? Where did you live before you came to Joth?"
Still partly befuddled, the man smiled. "That one's easy. I'm from Chicago, Illinois."
Junis frowned. She didn't know anything much about lands beyond the Valley and she was hazy about the details of the more distant ones within the Valley.
"I don't know this Shi-car-go or Illy-noy. You must come from the far south, I deem."
The man pushed himself up to sitting and propped himself against the wall. As the woman spoke, things began to crystallize out, like a fog beginning to clear in the morning sun.
The far south? Where am I now, then? I knew Canada was different than the US, but surely it can't be that different!
Startled by that thought, he looked down and received an unwelcome jolt. The body looked all right for a man... but not for the body that Marilyn Baker had considered hers. He raised his arms and examined his hands, with sight that was now clearer and sharper than ever before, seeing the large, strong hands of a male of the species attached to muscular arms bristling with fair hairs. The shock was immense.
Oh, sweet Mother of God, no! I'm a man!
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