Rory sighed at the complaining of his warriors. Neither he or Brastic were chained, but the rest were bound in manacles. The fact that they still live was little consolation. Btastic had been getting a laugh at their moaning over the circumstances. They already did not like the man so there was little harm to their camaraderie. There would have been more confined with them, but they valued a glorious death than a wise survival.
A knock at the door caught their attention. When it opened, Rory recognized the officer in charge of their captors. Behind him were a number of men carrying food. The shackled men were in the process of complaining, but the smell of food reminded them of the time since they had last eaten. The men bearing the food were cautious, but still passed it along to their captives with grace.
Rory looked at the officer. His features were so different that it was difficult to tell his age, but made the guess that he was slightly younger. The slight brown hue of his skin was nothing Rory had seen before. The face held a pleasant visage; there was no indication of cruelty or arrogance. His manner was affable, and Rory returned to the suspicion that the man could understand the conversations between himself and Brastic.
“How do you know our language,” he hazarded.
The man grinned widely.
“Was it so obvious?”
Rory grinned. “Just enough to be suspicious.” The man’s laughter was genuine and unaffected.
“My name is Fahil. I am responsible for these men and, to answer your question, the Netani seem to travel everywhere. I learned it from traders who used to come to my village.”
Rory nodded, realizing that Brastic was doing the same. “But you cannot speak their tongue,” he said, indicating their comrades.
“Not at all,” Fahil admitted.
“Good.” Brastic seemed satisfied at the answer.
Fahil looked confused, but did not comment.
“Later I must take you to my superior, so you would doubtless like an opportunity to bathe.”
Rory and Brastic both sighed, smiling at the thought. Fahil chuckled.
“I see the prospect is appealing.”
“Absolutely,” Rory said, “but we’ll possibly have to hurl them into the water.” He waved his hand at his shackled warriors, who scowled in response.
Ulstig scowled. “What are you saying,” he demanded.
“Exchanging pleasantries,” Rory said, “as well as the prospect of bathing.” He knew they would recoil. His cousin’s people were not the most fastidious when it came to cleanliness. This practice disgusted both Rory and Brastic, both originating outside King Garnock’s country.
“Oh, calm yourselves,” he continued, “an occasional bath won’t kill you, no matter what the priests tell you!”
Brastic laughed at them, scorn dripping from the sound. He stood slowly, with a meaningful look on his face.
“Shall we go?”
Fahil led them to a series of springs, steam visibly rising from the water. The relief on his face and the satisfied grin spoke volumes. There were other men already bathing, relaxing with drinks in their hands. Rory began stripping off his clothes, showing a finely built body. Speech stopped as everyone gaped at the state of him and the scars that criss crossed his body. Brastic followed suit, his physique matching his master’s.
Fahil spoke, respect evident in his voice.
“The pair of you are impressively constructed. I’ve never seen someone with so many injuries that had survived.”
Brastic shrugged. “When you’re a head shorter than the people around you, it pays to be always prepared for a fight.”
Behind them was a great deal of whining from the others. For such tall people, they were evidently terrified of the warm waters.
“Fahil was puzzled.
“Why do they react like this?”
Rory smiled, but was unamused. “Their priests teach them that bathing robs the body of vitality. Their homes reek of their filth and that of the animals that are sheltered inside.”
The other man shuddered at the thought. He shed his own clothes and joined his prisoners in the water, ducking for a few moments, running hands through his hair.
The other men were taking turns between bathing and assisting one another. It was all very efficient, keeping a constant rotation. Men brought them basins of fragrant soap and a strange, spicy tea. Rory and Brastic thanked them, with Fahil translating.
“Gentlemen, why were you coming through the valley? Do you know who those mercenaries were that attacked you?”
Brastic snorted. “Those were soldiers from Lortan. Why they bothered to disguise themselves remains beyond me.”
Picking up the conversation, Rory said, “We were sent a message from our king to perform a task for King Albert, investigating the intrusion of strange people from the west.”