The gloomy great hall had no windows, so Lew could only tell time from the spots of light that filtered through and hit the floor. Now that the biggest light spot, shaped a bit like a gob of mashed cassava, shone directly beneath its respective hole in the roof, the Sun was at its zenith. That meant that it was five past sunfall. This was a time for Pandoans to enjoy their well-earned midday meals. Fire-roasted or mashed cassava for most, with egg and a bit of salted chicken or boar pork for respected members of society such as Riders and the Metalsmith, and fresh meat for Elders, Greenwardens, and their families. “Whozat?” asked the prisoner when a knock came on the door.
“Lunch,” blurted Lew.
“Oh!” the prisoner exclaimed as Lew’s empty stomach flipped, “look who’s talking normal!”
Lew put her head down and snuck to the door, where she saw Bat-face with an iron hinge-box. “Miss, I’m so sorry. I -” he began, but Lew grabbed the hinge-box out of his hands and shut the door.
Back in the center of the hall, Lew flipped the latch and opened the box to find an enormous blob of steaming mashed cassava. She shook her head in disbelief and sniffed at it. No meat? No spices? This couldn’t be for her. She stole a glance towards Tofur.
“You got food?” he asked.
The food could be for him, she considered. You’re not supposed to talk to him, she admonished herself, but this was just a confirmation. What could it hurt?
“Did you get breakfast?”
He didn’t answer for a long moment. Then he said “Well, I dunno if I’d call it breakfast, just a blob of some funny kinda mashed potatoes. It’s all dey feed me, I-”
Lew interrupted. “Well, I didn’t get any breakfast, so this is just for me.”
Tofur slumped back to the ground. “Well, thanks for talkin’ at least.”
Lew nodded, then regretted it. She scarfed down the bland cassava like some kind of peasant. Kallen couldn’t force her to eat this swill. “Francis?” she chittered. No answer. Until she could get a message out, she would have to eat whatever they brought her.
Tofur spoke again, his voice tremulous.“Say, what are they gonna do to me?”
Lew did not answer.
The hours wore on, and she daydreamed of salted meat. What is cheese, she wondered. Maybe someday she could leave Pando and find out. She shook her head. The penalty for leaving Pando was death, so there was no point wishing. She should focus her mind while she was here. She made a mental note to order Bat-face to bring her Annotated History of Pando book next time he came by.
Lew sneered at the high vaulted roof of the great hall. She inspected the taxidermied gryphons standing on the low stage in the back. Even stitched crudely together over a wooden frame, these creatures were awe-inspiring. The two here stood half-again as tall as Biffy, both in mirror images of the same prowling pose, head down, shoulders high, mouths open in a silent screech. They’re probably looking for another baby to eat, Lew thought with a scowl.
Experimentally, she put her whole hand in the open mouth, and indeed, it fit without issue. No trouble for a mouth that made bracelets for Meden Rider’s thick biceps. What a terrifying place Pando used to be. Thank goodness for Father’s reforms.
The terrifying gryphons grew dull, and Lew returned to her chair. She propped her hands on her knees and held up her head. She considered stretching out on the cool dirt floor and reminded herself: do not fall asleep. Still, she didn’t have to be uncomfortable. As she lay herself down, she realized how sore she was from her chaotic ride yesterday. She sank into the Earth and let it accept her weight.
“Hey, are you feggin’ snorin’? Is that another language?”
“Huh?” Lew blinked. “No.”
“No, you’re not snorin’ or no, it ain’t another language?”
She yawned, “Neither.”
“Ok, buddy. Hey, how old are you? You sound like a yoot.”
Lew said nothing. What is a yoot?
After a silence, Tofur continued. “I’m fourteen. Maybe dey don’t mind killin’ kids out here, but if dey do, maybe you could do a fellow yoot a favor and mention it to ya grandpa.”
There was so much wrong with this sentence that Lew could not help herself. “I am twelve years old, and I don’t know what a yoot is or what they sound like, but I am not one. We do not kill kids. We do not kill anyone. Kallen is not my grandpa, thank goodness.”
“Oh, yeah, yer a yoot alright. We yoots gotta band against da gaffahs. Don’t let ‘em kill me!”
“I do not understand your meaning, Stranger. We do not kill people. We just send them away.”
“So what are dey gonna do with me?”
“We’ve never had a prisoner, so we’ve called a council to decide what to do.”
“Ah you part of this meetin’?”
“Do you think dem gaffahs gonna say,” he put on a haggard accent, “‘hey, dis feggah’s loined his lesson, let’s let him go.’”
Lew didn’t answer. Another several seconds of silence passed, and Tofur answered his own question. “I’m a dead man.”
Lew groaned, and Tofur let out a long, ragged sigh. “You know I can’t be too mad. We knew what we was gettin’ into. We just – we got nothin’ up there.”
“Up in Demon’s Pass. The mines, they got no more palestone. The miners went outta jobs, so nobody had any money ta give to da bahs. Now ya can barely find a good beer an’ cheese pie anywhere.”
“With salted meat,” Lewellyn added.
“Yeah. Say, you had a cheese pie?”
“You know an awful lot about ‘em.”
“No. I just repeated what you said earlier.”
“Oh. Yeah, dey the best thing in Demon’s pass.”
Lew said nothing, remembering abruptly that she was not to speak to Tofur. Then again, the man who told her that was a “gaffer,” sworn enemy of the “yoots.” Whatever that meant. Tofur was sentenced to death. She’d convinced Kallen to do it, but she didn’t want to admit it to the man himself. Why not? Who cares if he knows he’s going to die?
“Hey,” said Tofur, “ya know, my life bein’ almost over, I been thinkin’ about my legacy. I wanna, eh, tell my story, ya know.”
Lew said nothing.
“You da only person here who might listen.”
Lew remained still.
“Could you come a little closer?”
Lew thought about it. She crept forward. Not so close that Tofur might grab her, but close enough to see him clearly. He was so pale that he looked ill. It might be just how he looked. His hair was thick, curly and black, like no hair she’d seen among her neighbors, except Meden. It was hard hair that stuck out in rough curls on his chin. His watery eyes were a green so deep they looked like they had a forest inside them. The only thing she could smell was the bedpan this man was forced to sit next to. It was tolerable only while she forgot about it. Lew retched, and her heart rose in her chest. This was no way to treat a person.
“Heh,” the man said. “You’re a pretty one. Not bad for the last face I’ll ever see. I wanna give you something, if that gaffah didn’t take it already. I dunno if you guys read, but in my bag, there’s a book. Once upon a time, we was all allies, right? We woiked together and fought off the demons. I don’t expect you to read a couple chapters and realize ya gotta save my life or anythin’, but just look at it.”
Hanging on a peg several handspans out of Tofur’s reach was a leather satchel. Not pig-leather. Thick, strong leather. She couldn’t recognize it. It was also hard to believe that a book could fit in such a small satchel. The only one she’d ever seen covered her whole desk at home. She reached in and her hand found a stick of salted meat. It was the biggest chunk she’d ever seen, and darker. What animal was this from? She tossed it behind her toward Tofur.
“Feg, yeah! That gaffah didn’t know what he was missin’.”
Tofur pulled the meat to his face with his manacled hands and tore off chunks with his teeth. Then Lew found the book and lifted it out. So small and light, it was like nothing more than a bound sheaf of paper. She pulled her night jar out to read the cover.
In strange, regular script so neat that she could not imagine the hand that could write it, it read.
The Rise of the Good People and the Fall of the Demon King
Sir Balder Woodson
High Historian of Wizardton
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