Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 4.13

Posted by harmony0stars on July 26, 2009

It was clear from the noise level that dinner was not a silent affair. Around the table, Glory could hear conversations both loud and soft, and she continued to make small talk with Gwythyr as they ate, though she steered him away from more difficult questions. She was desperate to ask him about Jess and the other missing people from her world, but she didn’t want to upset him again.

Every once in a while, she would catch Neirin glaring at her from the corner of her eye before his father or the man on his left would distract him with some question or comment. At which point, his entire demeanor would change to one of casual joviality. It was downright creepy in so far as it reminder her of how Lori could fool everyone with a sweet as pie persona one instant, cutting them down to the bone the next with her words or acts. From the way Neirin was being distracted by those closest to him whenever he began to brood in her direction, they must have had some inkling of his temperament. No doubt his father thought he could change in time. Parents were like that.

Glory did her best to appear completely oblivious to his death glares. At intervals, the food was cleared away and replaced with new dishes. Courses appeared and disappeared with almost magical regularity. As they brought out sweetbread, dripping in honey, a man emerged in ragged clothes and began to sing:

Kind friends and companions, come join me in rhyme
Come lift up your voices in chorus with mine
Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain
For we may and might never all meet here again

Here’s a health to the company and one to my lass
Let us drink and be merry all out of one glass
Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain
For we may and might never all meet here again

Here’s a health to the dear lass that I love so well
Her style and her beauty, sure none can excel
There’s a smile upon her countenance as she sits on my knee
Sure there’s no one in in this wide world as happy as we

Our ship lies at harbor, she’s ready to dock
I hope she’s safe landed without any shock
If ever we should meet again by land or by sea
I will always remember your kindness to me

As he finished his song, people smiled and laughed and a bag of what Glory supposed was left over food was brought out and given to him. He left, bowing and thanking Arawn for his generosity, and was quickly replaced by a succession of beggars and bards who sang for their suppers. She listened to their songs intently, trying to fathom more of the culture into which she had been deposited. It wasn’t long before the string of what she supposed were wandering minstrels and beggars led her to wonder where they all came from instead of focusing on their words. They certainly didn’t get the same reception she’d received as a stranger. What set them apart aside from the fact that she was a living person? Were they from a neighboring afterlife, like soap bubble scum on the surface of the living world, passing between, but recognizable as belonging there by the occupants?

“Are you Pictish,” asked the woman on her right suddenly. She had the owlish gaze of someone with poor eyesight and no access to corrective lenses.

“Not to my knowledge?” Glory replied awkward before belatedly recalling the Picts as painted, hence the name given them by the Romans. She absently rubbed the cloth bracelet Dilys had given her to cover the Pictish Knot on her wrist, probably an unnecessary caution now that she‘d actually gone through the door. “I… tend to travel alone, and many of these are charms for protection.”

“Ah,” said the woman with a knowing air, “A person can’t be too careful, especially these days.”

“Why? Has something happened to make people anxious?”

“Oh, well, you know… the disappearances.” The woman waved her hand absently. It seemed to Glory that she waved in the direction of the prince, but that was probably only her dislike of the man making her see something that wasn’t intended. “It’s become unsafe to go anywhere without an escort. We ladies can’t even gather herbs without a guard. Even the Prince‘s own sister disappeared, though Dilys was always a little wild, wandering wherever she liked. She‘d take her father‘s best horse for a ride and never tell a soul, though her father could never stay mad at her. He misses her terribly. You‘re very lucky he didn‘t deal with you like the others.”

“Wh-what did he do to them?” Glory asked a little uneasily. But the woman’s husband elbowed his chatty wife in the side before she could respond. The woman flushed a bit suddenly realizing the topic might be inappropriate for dinner. She mumbled an apology before returning to her desert, not daring to look at Glory again. Gwythyr also seemed to have overheard the conversation and avoided her eye for the remainder of the meal.

Eventually the dinner party broke up and Gwythyr offered to show Glory to her room. Crickets were already chirping as the twilight deepened outside. The night air was crisp and cool on her skin. If she had still been capable of responding to her environment, she probably would have had goosebumps all over her exposed arms.

Gwythyr ushered her towards another large round house a short distance away, probably concerned that she was cold. Despite the weight of the fabric of her dress, it was clearly designed more as a summer frock than something appropriate to the spring, which she assumed it was, though why Annwn should correspond to the seasons in the living world wasn’t clear in her mind.

At the center of the building was an immense fire pit. Some servants were already curled up around its edges, and she supposed they must tend it throughout the night to keep the building warm. The rooms were arranged along the perimeter of the building at regular intervals like the spokes of a wheel. Some already had curtains hanging down to show that they were occupied. Gwythyr left her at her door, shyly bidding her a good night. She fervently hoped he wasn’t crushing on her. She had little enough experience in such situations that it was sure to be completely awkward, let alone how he would feel when she finally went back to her own world.

Inside the room was a box frame encasing a “mattress” which rustled when she sat on it. Most likely it was full of sweet rushes and fragrant herbs, replaced on an annual basis to keep parasites at bay. Hmmm, insect pests in the afterlife, the thought made her smile for no reason in particular. She supposed dead insects had to go somewhere too or were they simply constructs of expectation…. She reminded herself to try to keep on task. There would hopefully be plenty of time when she got home to examine the experience.

A chest at the foot of the bed held blankets, but she left them where they were. It wasn’t as if she planned to sleep. Glory seated herself in the middle of the bed, folding her legs up and facing the curtained door. Not that she really expected Neirin to come barging into her room in an attempt to assassinate her while she was waiting for dawn; there were far too many servant in the central room, tending the fire, for anyone to go sneaking about. Which was a relief. She had no problem imagining  Neirin skulking about, ready to kill someone in their sleep. Of course, she conceded that she was probably reading too much of her sister into the prince. He was probably just a petty jerk with a nasty temper. Plenty enough of those in any world without assuming the worst.

She prepared to meditate the night away, which is what she’d taken to calling her little mental lapses between the minute to minute details of existing. Barring any interruptions in the middle of the night, which she did not really anticipate, this moment to the next would only be as far as a blink away. And so, in the end, not too different from sleep.

to Book 4, page 14

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2 Responses to “Tattoo Book 4.13”

  1. Amy said

    Ah, this is a beautiful story that I have now spent most of my free time getting caught up on, I can’t wait for the next installment. I am addicted to reading and I love the fact that this story has enough twists already built in for it to continue on and on, I find reading to be my version of watching TV and I really like a good series where I can follow one main character through many different experiences. I hope you keep on writing and good luck with the new career that might lend you more time for your writing, and I truly hope that you or one of us fans does win the lottery so you can write to your hearts content. I wish I could find a way to get paid for reading but alas, I doubt it’s possible.

    • harmony0stars said

      Thank you. 🙂 Sadly the other job didn’t work out. I already work with crazy people (being in retail and all) without working with people who are actually certifiable. I would have been working in a halfway house of sorts, and I just don’t think I could do that. I’d be even more anxious about my health than I am already.

      I’ll just have to keep looking. 😦

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