The Dark Shore (p3)

Jattel sat for what felt like hours in the steam, forgetting about the harsh winter outside, and a new sense of life seemed to fill him. The grime of the sea was wiped away and he was beginning to feel human again. His senses, which had previously been dulled by the crushing exhaustion of being at sea and fighting against the frozen spray of the wintering ocean. Sleep, at sea, was more arduous than being awake.

As his senses returned, a gnawing pain grew in his stomach. So much so that he began to feel sick. How long had it been since he had eaten even a scrap of bread? Three? Perhaps four days? He doubled over, closing his eyes and holding his stomach. Suddenly a weakness came over him and his muscled turned to jelly. He fell forward onto the slats of the floor in pain and felt the hot steam swirling around him. The pain gripped him like a knife cutting through his intestines and he lay there for what felt like hours. Eventually, though, the pain began to recede, but he remained motionless, not wanting to induce another spasm. He lay there and let the moments pass until finally he dared to move again, slowly and on guard for another wave of pain, but the pain didn't come, just an emptiness in his gut.

He stood and lifted the seat of the bench he had been sitting on and there were linens folded neatly inside. He let a smile creep onto his lips. The pleasure of seeing such a simple, beautiful thing as clean, white linens washed over him in a wave. He felt out of place here, but was willing to take full advantage of his hosts in their kindness. It was the first time he had seen clean cloth in years. He felt almost guilty as he wrapped one of the heavy linens around him. It clung to his body and he felt for a moment like a king with such niceties. The smell of lemons filled his nostrils again. Not only was the steam scented, but the towels seemed bathed in this lemony scent.

By the door exiting the little out-building was a stool. On it lay fresh clothes, neatly folded, and on a peg by the door hung a heavy wool cloak that had not been there before. Jattel hurriedly helped himself to the clothes, tugging them on. The fabric was a heavy wool that wicked away the steam and sweat that had already begun to form again on his skin after he had removed the towel. There was also a belt, which he strapped around his waist to keep his new trousers secure. The quality of his new garb was such that Jattel had never felt before. It was like a breath of fresh air after wearing the same scraps of cloth as he had for years. Under the stood there was also a slightly worn pair of boots, which he was happy to see pulled on snug, but not too snug.

The aching in his gut intensified and he worried that it would result in another bout of spasms. So he quickly threw the cloak around his shoulders and rushed out into the frozen air.

He was surprised to find that his new cloak kept all of his warmth close to him, and he didn't have to rush quite as much to get back inside with the family that had rescued him. He still walked quickly, hoping to beg for a scrap of bread from their table. They had been so generous already, but begging was not beneath Jattel at this point.

When he entered through the kitchen door, once again, a blast of heat hit him like a wall of bricks. It was a dry heat, unlike that of the steam room. He pulled his cloak from around his shoulders before he started to sweat again. It was odd to worry about sweating in the midst of the coldest winter he had ever felt.

“Jattel! Good boy. Come now, you must fill that empty belly. My husband here is loathe to wait another minute to eat, though his belly is already too full.”

She chuckled and patted her husband's belly, smiling with her sharp, blue eyes.

“Oh come now, woman. Let's eat. I am hungrier than the wolves this year!”

They were both smiling and Jattel could feel himself smiling along with them. Hrothr came bounding into the room a minute later.

“Fobürbrek umger?”

“Da, ygevang.”

Gym sat down by the fire in the great stone hearth in the main room of the house and it was then that Jattel noticed plates and utensils laid out around the fire. Four sets of cutlery and he didn't hesitate to take a seat between Gym and Hrothr, who were already reaching for the steaming bowls of meat and tubers sitting on stones by the fire. Jattel sat patiently, though his stomach protested loudly and threatened more waves of painful spasms.

“Come Jattel of Svartyr. Don't hesitate. My husband and son will eat everything here if you let them.”

She held out her hand and Jattel gave her his large, pewter plate. She swatted away her husband's hands from the meat bowls and dipped a healthy serving of meat onto his plate, then tore a large chunk of black bread from a large loaf, then filled the remaining space on his plate with tubers and carrots before handing his plate back to him.

The smell of roasted pork and vegetables filled his head with a dizziness that made him sway just a little. He decided it would be best to start with the bread. He took a bite from the large hunk of bread and the sweetness of it sent shivers down his spine. A warmth filled his belly and he couldn't stop himself from tearing into the bread like a wild beast.

“I may have misjudged my hunger, wife, it looks like our guest is hungrier than the winter wolves. Slow down now, Jattel of Svartyr. You'll be sick.”

Jattel tried to slow down, but the impulse to chew and swallow is a hard thing to stop when you are starving. He did eventually get his impulses under control and tried a bite of the dripping meat. The grease, the sweet joy that radiated through his mouth sent his head spinning again and he found himself swallowing before he had chewed the meat. Eventually, he was able to control himself again and he sat there taking more measure bites. Hrothr was laughing and gym smiling. Theila has a motherly concern about her, though she too was smiling.

“I'd say our guest should like something sweet to drink with all of that food. Hrothr, fetch the mead. It will do the boy some good after his travels.”

“Gym.” Theila looked disapprovingly at her husband. “Perhaps that should wait until he has recovered. Look at him, he's starving.”

Gym let out a guffaw and his smile only broadened.

“All the more reason to fill him with such a sweet nectar, my wife! It will help him sleep tonight, anyway!”

Hrothr came back carrying a heavy, clay pot with a cork in the top and handed it to his father. Gym proceeded to pour out a golden liquid into pewter cups, handing one to Hrothr, one to his wife, and finally one to Jattel. The aroma that hit Jattel was sweet, but also a little sour. He took a tentative sip of the liquid and fire rushed down his throat and filled his belly. It was so sweet that his tongue felt like it was about to burst and instantly dizziness hit him. His eyelids felt heavy and his smile came easier. His second drink was deeper, so deep in fact that he drained his cup. When he looked down at his plate, there was a piece of bread left, but before he could reach out to take it, he felt darkness closing in and sleep rushed in like a tide rising.