The large man spoke with a smile. His form was menacing, but his smile was kind and welcoming. Jattel slid down from the horse and stood there, not sure what the smile meant, though the words the man spoke touched upon some lost memory he could feel just beyond his own reckoning. They were familiar like an old song of childhood.
Jattel nodded. Not sure what he was agreeing to, but the cold had already begun to freeze his joints. He figured it was better to go with the large beast of a man than it was to freeze outside.
The door to the mound-house creaked open as they approached.
The voice belonged to a woman who stood almost at tall as his captor. She wore her fiery-red hair down to her waist and had the fairest skin Jattel had ever seen. Her eyes were a dark emerald and sharp. She had a playful look about her, though her voice was calm and passive.
“Ygevolath, yeskur echthu et ruthavonga. Vofo kak yn vofa lid.”
She responded to him in a kindly manner. Though Jattel didn't understand them, he could tell that they were familiar, perhaps partners. She was still talking in that musical tone as she stepped back away from the door and ushered them both into the house.
Jattel stepped through the open door and was met with a blast of heat that cut through his thin coat and trousers. His boots had worn through at the toes and he could feel the heat through the floorboards of the small home. And it was a small home, relatively speaking. The front door opened right
into the central room. An ax leaned against the jamb and his hand brushed its smooth handle. They walked into the room on a heavy, wool, intricately woven rug and snow fell from his coat to melt immediately, leaving dark spots on the rug. The man and woman both chattered in their lyrical tongue while Jattel stared around the room. It opened from the end of the rug into
a larger circular room with a blazing fire at its center.
The fire was en-caged with an elaborate mesh of iron wire. The wire curved and cut, almost randomly in patterns that suggested artwork rather than utility. There were three large logs sitting to the side of the fire and a poker that was laying to the side of those logs. Around the fire was another
rug that was woven in a circular design and just as intricately so as the entry rug. The floorboard looked to be solid ash, and so were the walls, those they were stained lighter than the flooring. Small, though this house
seemed, it seemed to be constructed of only the finest of materials.
The woman's voice was kind and Jattel heard the universal turning up in her words that told him she asked a question. He was at a loss because he didn't speak their language, but he answered tentatively.
“I'm sorry, ma'am, I don't understand.”
Both man and woman frowned. She turned her head slightly, in confusion, then looked at the man and began speak quickly again. There was urgency in her voice, but not anger or fear.
“You are called what?”
She mouthed the words with a heavy accent, but Jattel was taken back that she knew his language. This was a land unknown to most of the world that he had grown up in and he had never heard of anyone who spoke as these people do.
“I am Jattel of Svartyr. And you?”
A smile spread across her face and she looked at the hulk of a man beside her and said something short to him. He continued to frown and Jattel could only guess that her short words were some sort of accusation.
“I am Thielathugra, but my husband calls me Thiela.”
Then she looked at the man with a stern eye and he sighed.
“Hello, Jattel. I am this woman's husband and they call me Gym.”
Though their accents were heavy, they spoke fluently. Jattel was at a loss, but Thiela didn't let him sit in silence long.
“You are welcome here, Jattel. My home is your home. Are you hungry? I have dinner. But you look cold. You must bath first. You are my guest, but even my guests will not dirty my home.”
She smiled a warm smile. Jattel then realized how he must smell after being at sea for so long, and as he thawed out on their rug, he dripped sea water.
Another, smaller voice sounded from behind Jattel.
“Ygo ete, vyndr?”
“Speak in his tongue, Hrothr; don't be rude!”
Gym's voice was gruff, hard, but the frown painted on his face was soft. He was a kind man, Jattel could see, even when he is being firm. The voice belonged to a boy who could not have been much younger than Jattel himself, perhaps a boy of 20 or so.
“Okay, father. But who is he? Why are we speaking in such a crude tongue?”
Gym turned to Jattel.
“Excuse my son, he is not well mannered.” then back to Hrothr, “Come now, show our guest the bathhouse. He smells like you after you've been mucking out the shed. Go on now.”
Hrothr rolled his eyes and said something in their language that Jattel didn't quite catch and began walking through the house.
“Go on, Jattel, follow him. He will show you where to clean and get ready for dinner.”
Thiela's voice was kind and motherly, a stark contrast to the gruffness of her husband's.
Jattel hurried through the house, barely taking in all of the intricate woodwork. His joints seemed to have frozen as he stood there near the fire and they felt like they were cracking as he hurried after Hrothr. A blast of cold wind struck Jattel in the face as Hrothr led him out a back door.
They approached a shed around the side of the house. Steam or smoke billowed out of the top of the shed through a small vent. Hrothr pulled open the door to the shed. It was dark inside until he lit a candle. It was odd how easily he
lit the candle with a small wooden stick with a black tip. When he struck the stick against the wall of the shed, it flared up into a small, blue flame. Jattel had never seen anything so... magical. How odd it was. Jattel had never used anything but flint and steel to start fires.
The light cast by the candle illuminated an open room. There was a long bench that wrapped around three of the walls of the shed. The floorboards were spaced out so that you could almost see through them and steam rose up through the gaps of the flooring.
“Where does the steam come from?”
“Do you not have the Fjadytha Springs in Svartyr? With a name like that, I would assume its people know of the springs.”
“A name like what?”
“Svartyr, of course! That is an old Vytha dialect. My da' would know better, but it sounds a little like svetr, which means darkness. I would imagine the name of your forest must come from our language. I don't think any words really resemble it in the language you speak, and I know it resembles
none of the words in the Docouveran tongue. They sound like they are slurring all of their syllables together when they talk....”
He stopped and looked at Jattel, inquiringly.
“I don't know. No one ever talks about the history of Svartyr.”
“Well, either way. The hot springs under the earth are everywhere. You'll see entire towns built around the springs. But you need to take advantage of this and clean up. You look like you haven't bathed in months. Mother doesn't put up with dirt. She'll likely have me scrubbing that rug you and
da' dirtied until sunrise. Anyway, I'll go get you some clean clothes. There are towels under the benches.”
Hrothr smiled, then turned and left Jattel to it.
Jattel began to strip off his tattered shirt when he felt a stabbing pain on his right shoulder blade. His shirt stuck to his back where blood had dried. His trousers weren't much different. They also stuck to his legs as he peeled them away. He was covered in blood. Then he took a seat on the bench at the far wall and breathed in the sharp scent of lemon. It was a steamy scent. Steam rose up beneath the boards and swirled in front of him, the smell of lemons filling his nostrils with every breath. It was pleasant and the steam formed sweat all
over his body almost as soon as he had taken a seat. There was a long, wooden tool sitting on the bench beside him. It looked like a tool to help scrap the grime away, and Jattel picked it up and bagan doing just that. A months worth of blood and sea salt, all broken up and forming a sort of slime on his skin by the steam, easily washed away with a single swipe of the wooden scraper.