Chapter 3: Food and Conversation
Hallsassring ate with gusto. Belltros ate casually, and did the bulk of the talking, starting with his family history. Hallsassring had heard about kamaris’ pride in their families and their tribes so she was not surprised that Belltros went on at length. She was also happy to be the listener rather than the talker. It gave her more time to devote to her food, which was every bit as delicious as it looked.
Belltros had started describing their arrival in Tarnath when he was interrupted by the shouts of several young voices. Turning, Hallsassring saw three small Kamari racing toward them, an adult not far behind.
As Belltros stood, two of the children charged into him, almost knocking him over. They playfully pounded his chest, demanding that he wrestle with them or admit defeat. Hallsassring got the distinct impression that this was not the first time Belltros’ children had greeted him in this manner, and she very much approved.
After a few moments of tenacious squirming the two were lifted high into the air, squealing in delight as their father declared victory. The third child, the oldest of the three, held back from the assault, clearly wanting to separate himself from the childish behavior of his siblings. Hallsassring guessed that this one, their oldest child, was a teenager, but she was finding it hard to judge ages for these tree-ish beings.
As she watched Belltros playing with the wriggling bundles in his hands, Hallsassring sensed she was being watched. She saw the other adult Kamari approaching, and guessed that she was Belltros’ wife.
“Welcome, stranger,” said the Kamari.
Belltros paused his wrestling match to catch Hallsassring’s attention, “Hallsassring, this is my wife, Orranos,” he said. “She is my life’s companion, the mother of my children and I the father of hers, and they are Tressos, Keetoless, and Shaffen,” motioning to his children in turn from oldest to youngest.
Orranos gave Hallsassring a warm smile, seeing her husband had already decided she was their guest. She was carrying a basket with an assortment of plump brown biscuits, thin yellow wafers, and some kind of reddish purple jam. She looked at the table and back to her basket and frowned slightly, apparently worried there would not be enough food. She quickly got to work adding the contents of her basket to the table’s already considerable feast.
The children were immensely curious to see such a strange-looking creature. The youngest looked up at her father and asked, “Papa, is this a Nossring?”
Hallsassring laughed, and Belltros was glad she had taken no offense at his daughter’s hasty question. Before he could speak, Hallsassring answered for him, “Yes, I am indeed of that folk. I have come from my home many miles west of here, deep in the Rimmel Mountains. There we walk on rich earth and live alongside the woods and streams, and we sometimes climb high into the mountains’ peaks. My name is Hallsassring,” she said proudly.
“We have a woods!” the young one returned with great enthusiasm.
“Ah, yes, I see, and it seems a very good woods,” Hallsassring responded. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Orranos smile approvingly and Belltros nod in agreement.
“Shaffen, it is time now to sit and eat.”Shaffen reacted with a quick scowl, which immediately dissolved into a delighted cry when she saw the biscuits her mother had set out. With that, the family enthusiastically sat down at the table and, grabbing plates, heaped them with as much food as would fit.
Hallsassring was delighted for the additional company and decided it would be impolite not to join them, so she helped herself to seconds. For the first time since she had left home she was with a family, and she realized how much she missed her own. Her thoughts quickly led to Alliss, but she pushed that away. There will be a time for those thoughts, and the rage that goes with it, but now, she decided, was a time to enjoy what was in front of her.
The conversation was fast-paced, touching on every topic from the state of the crop in the farm’s wet field (too much rain lately), to a fresh undergrowth in the woods that would need clearing, and, finally, the new room arrangements in the house. This last topic quickly led to an energetic discussion between Shaffen and Keetoless as to whose room was biggest. Hallsassring was happy to listen, and occasionally interject a knowing nod or smile of agreement.
The young ones soon dispatched the contents of their plates, and, with the permission of their parents, Shaffen and Keetoless dashed off into the woods, with Tressos ambling after them.
Now it was just the three of them; two Kamari and a young Nossring.
With a nod of agreement between herself and her husband, Orranos turned to Hallsassring. “If you are willing, would you tell us about the journey from your homeland?”
She was welcoming and warm, and the children had been an emancipating delight. It gave Hallsassring the freedom to drop her guard, at least some of it, and share her story.
“I come from Merring City. That is the center of my folks’ lands, which you know as the Nossring Nation, though some call it a Kingdom. It is found between great ranges of the Rimmel Mountains that are far to the west of this place.”
“Very far west, if I am not mistaken,” Orranos inserted.
“Yes, hundreds of miles.” Hallsassring was pleased that she and Belltros knew something of her folk.
“Did you walk all this way?” Belltros asked.
“I did. You must realize, though, that Nossring are accustomed to walking in the mountains and woods. We travel frequently, and a journey of many leagues is not uncommon. In our youth we spend weeks or months at a time exploring the reaches of the Rimmel, both nearby and far away. Because of this we are used to steep climbs and rough lands where we live from what grows in the woods. We travel through every part of the Rimmel’s territory, since it is our responsibility to tend the lands and the life that lives on them.”
She told them about the journey she had begun over thirty days ago. She told them of the valleys and mountains she had crossed during her travels and of the many creatures, both harmless and dangerous, that she had met.
Orranos and Belltros listened with great interest, and when Hallsassring completed her tale, they appeared in awe at her accomplishment.
After a short pause Orranos spoke. “Your journey was long and most impressive, Hallsassring. Clearly the skills of the Nossring folk are great.”
Hallsassring was flattered and gave a courteous nod in response.
Orranos continued, “If I may, Hallsassring, I wonder why you would take upon yourself this long journey to such a different land from your home?” Her voice was again soothing and caring, and seemed genuinely so. Like all Nossring, Hallsassring had an intuitive sense of when folk were speaking honestly or when they were deceitful. She felt no lie coming from Orranos, and so she offered something of a reply.
“The destination of my travels is just down this road,” said Hallsassring, pointing in the direction of Tarnath. By saying it she discovered that she did not mind the question, and, in fact, was relieved to speak of it, as if some of her burden was lifted. “There I hope to find something that was taken from me and from my homeland. I can say no more of what that is, but it is something I cherish greatly, and is the reason for my travels.”
Orranos and Belltros both nodded. They seemed to understand Hallsassring’s loss, and her unwillingness to explain further.
“It is clear to us, Hallsassring,” said Belltros, “that what you seek is of great value to you, and we will ask no more of this private matter.”
Hallsassring was happy that her trust had been well placed.
Belltros redirected the conversation, “Do you know anyone in Tarnath? It is a city where many kinds of folk live. In some places you may find friends and in others it is good to be wary.”
“I have been told of a place where I may begin my search. It is called …”
“Bill’s Bar?” said Belltros before Hallsassring could complete her sentence.
“Yes, indeed.” Hallsassring had also been given the name of a Heolas who would befriend her, but she chose not to not mention that.
“That is a good place, and the right place to begin a search for something lost. Bill is a fair-minded folk,” replied Belltros. “He knows most of those who live in Tarnath and those he does not know he is always eager to meet. He can be most helpful when he is of a mind to be. You may tell him, if you wish, that you met Belltros and his wife, Orranos, and shared a meal with us.”
It was kind of them, and she offered her thanks. Looking up at the sky, she noticed that the day was moving on, and reluctantly decided that she must be moving on as well.
Orranos would not allow her to leave without a cloth filled with leftovers from their meal. “In case you get hungry along your way.” Hallsassring smiled at how clearly useless it would be to protest this gift, and gratefully accepted. It seemed to her that the Kamari and the Nossring were similar in many ways.
The three of them parted, taking care that all courtesies were obeyed. Hallsassring had a sense that a friendship had begun. Her first in Tarnath.
As Hallsassring walked away, Tressos rejoined his parents. “I like her,” he said to them. “Yes,” they each agreed.
Belltros then turned to his oldest son and said, “Tell your Uncle Arinos that she is coming and will arrive soon.”
“Yes, papa,” and with that Tressos stepped into the deepest part of the woods to do his father’s bidding.