Chapter Fifteen - The Amendraig
As the nonda just dumped their stuff and meandered up towards the main house, I just stood there, a bit stunned, I suppose. “Come on,” Carodoc said. “We’ve got to tidy up the quad… then clean the kit and put it away… and then we’ve got to get ready to wait at table for the nonda.”
I was about to tell him what I thought about that idea but decided against it. I mean… he was trying to be nice to me and I was going to need as much nice as I could get if I was going to survive in this crazy place.
And, as I was struggling back to the storeroom with a pile of wooden swords, Zalibar walked past me. “Not too bad, ” he said with a nod, “after that first embarrassment.”
“That,” Carodoc said when he was gone, “is high praise indeed from him.”
When we were done with all the kit, we hurried over to wash our hands in the water trough… then we hurried into the kitchen.
It was a large, low beamed room, broader than it was long, with rough, heavy flagstones on the floor. In the middle was a long table, which looked as if it got a lot of scrubbing, and there were huge pans hanging from nails in the ceiling above it. There was an enormous, black cooking range in the back wall and, to its right, there were shelves with herbs and spices with knives and things hanging from hooks below.
But the most striking thing about the room, as far as I was concerned, was the delicious smell. When I saw a large pot of soup and plates of meat and cheese at one end of the table, I was reminded that it had been a long time since breakfast. “That looks good!” I said, my mouth watering.
“I’m sure it is,” Carodoc agreed with a rueful grin. “Shame it’s not for us.”
There was a lady, putting a last basket of rolls onto the table. She was short and quite old and basically ball-shaped. “Have you all washed your hands?” she asked. “Let me have a look!”
So we all held out our hands for inspection like five year olds. “Not good enough, Bryn. Go and do it again.”
“Should I do the soup, Cookie?” Carodoc asked, going over to some pegs behind the door and putting on a white apron.
“Yes, please, love,” the cook answered. “Get someone to give you a hand.”
“You can do that,” Carodoc told me, chucking another one of the aprons in my direction. “Put this on and grab the pot.”
I picked up the heavy pot and followed Carodoc up a flight of stone stairs in the corner. Behind us, the cook was organising the rest of the tyros. We went through a heavy wooden door and found ourselves in a small alcove, hidden from the rest of the room by a curtain. On the far side, you could hear people gathering.
I looked through the curtain at a huge dining hall. Two long, dark, wooden tables ran the length of the room whilst another was set on a dais at one end. Most of the chairs were quite simple but the ones at the top table were elaborately carved and, in the middle, dominating the room, was one that looked a bit like a throne. The place was quite dark because there were only windows on the courtyard side… none in the other walls.
It took me a couple of seconds to work out that the elegant young people who were gathering there were the nonda who’d just dumped their stuff out in the courtyard. They’d obviously been washing and changing and generally relaxing whilst we’d been tidying up after them. The wave of resentment and jealousy that I sort of expected was smoothed down to a slight twinge by my implanted node and, because of this, I could see that I wasn’t really jealous of the fine clothes… or even the food. I’d never been all that bothered about that kind of stuff.
But if the world was going to be divided into the weak and the powerful, I knew which side I was going to be on
Carodoc nodded at two of the older boys who were standing like guards on either side of the door. “They’re the Amendraig and the Armenclethyfur,” he told me in a whisper.
The Amendraig was quite short with oiled back hair and was wearing a deep red coloured jacket. The Armenclethyfur was taller and wearing a dark jacket and his long, fair hair was held back by this silver coronet which was decorated with one of their geometrical motifs. In fact, as I glanced round the room, I saw quite a few of the nonda were wearing coronets like that.
“Do those names mean something?” I whispered back.
“They’re the titles given to the best swordsman and, well, the second best rider in the academy,” he explained.
“Second best?” I asked. “Who’s the best?”
Carodoc gave a smile. “I’m just a tyro so I can’t have the title,” he explained.
I was about to ask what the ‘tyro’ thing was all about when I was silenced by a sudden glance from Carodoc as Zalibar walked into the room. The Amendraig turned round and struck a gong which was hanging on the wall by the door. At the sound of the gong, the nonda jumped to their feet and stopped talking. The Amendraig struck the gong twice more. On the third stroke the Armenclethyfur shut and bolted the door.
“Miss the third stroke and you have to go to Cookie and beg for scraps,” Carodoc whispered. “Zalibar doesn’t like people being late.”
The nonda remained standing in silence as Zalibar marched to the high table followed by the Armenclethyfur and Amendraig. Only when he had taken his place did they sit down and carry on with their chatting.
“Let’s go!” Carodoc said, pushing the curtain aside and marching into the room.
We got on fine at first. All I had to do was hold the soup pot whilst he doled the stuff out. But then, as I was walking behind the Amendraig, he started telling some stupid joke and swinging his arms around. I just about managed to avoid throwing the whole pot over him but I bumped into him pretty solidly.
I winced as he sent a little slap in my direction but of course it just slipped harmlessly off my mother’s bracelet. He must have noticed though because I could feel him pulling in his will for a more serious blow.
I jumped to throw up the protective tower thing that Psion had shown me. I managed to get something up by the time the blow landed, but the structure was really wobbly and I scrambled to support it with my mind. This had the effect of bouncing the blow back towards the Amendraig with a little extra kick. He was obviously not expecting this and the blow struck solidly home.
“You little…” he began. He rose to his feet, his face red with fury, and the two of us stood opposite each other, kind of drawing in our wills.
We both froze at Zalibar’s word.
“I’m not minded to have my lunch disturbed by you two,” he said. He had an amused grin on his scarred face but, I noticed, there was a bit of surprise in the mind behind it… and I had to fight the instinct to protect myself as he sent a probe into my head.
“Carodoc, get her out of here,” he said, “but be careful! This little puppy’s got teeth!”
“This does you no credit,” he said to the Amendraig as I was hustled away. “It was your own clumsiness that caused the mishap. You shouldn’t blame a bad flight on the dragon and no more should you blame a servant for your own shortcomings.”
The Amendraig didn’t say anything but I could feel his eyes burning holes in the back of my head as I walked away.
The rest of the meal passed uneventfully and, as soon as we’d finished our work in the Great Hall, the tyros gathered at one end of the kitchen table. I hurried over to join them.
Most of them basically ignored me but one of them… the boy who seemed to be sharing my suffering with the halberd, sort of invited me to join him with his eyes. He was a bit older than me and was quite tall but beanpole thin. I mean… none of the tyros were carrying any extra weight but this lad was taking it to extremes. His face was astonishingly pale with an embarrassed smile and his limp hair hung down in front of his face and I sort of wanted to push it out of his eyes.
“Hi!” he said. “I’m Jenko.”
He pushed his own hair back and I got to see his eyes for the first time. They were pretty much the worst thing I’d seen since I’d been on the island - black pits which were sunk so deep as to almost disappear, giving a glimpse into the well of despair and fear within.
“I’m Katie,” I answered when I got my head back together. “I mean, that big dragon who brought me in gave me another name but I’ve forgotten it.”
“Probably Rhianadoc,” he said.
“How d’you know that?”
“You’re the only doc serving the House of Rhian so you’re Rhianadoc. In the same way my real name is Janedoc… but nobody bothers calling me that. I guess they don’t think I’m worth it. You want me to call you Rhianadoc?”
“No, I’d much rather you called me Katie,” I answered quickly. “That other name just doesn’t feel right. Why are that lot being so unfriendly?” I asked nodding to the others down the table.
Jenko hesitated before answering. “They’re not really being unfriendly…” he explained at last… “they just don’t want to get too close until they know whether you’re going to survive… and after that thing with the Amendraig…”
I nodded. I guess it made sense. “You’re not worried about it?” I asked.
“I’m not expecting to survive much longer myself,” he answered flatly. I mean… I’d have assumed it was some sort of warped joke if it hadn’t been for the pretty much solid waves of depression that his mind was sending out.
“I see you’ve already managed to make yourself a higher class of enemy,” he said. “Most people need at least a day before they get on Quaro-Deryn’s bad side!”
“Quaro-Deryn, that’s the Amendraig’s name. You need to be careful with him. He’s a prime… so he can’t formally call you out… but he’s one of the top nonda so he can make your life really unpleasant if he wants.”
“What’s this whole nonda, tyro thing all about?” I asked. “Are we some sort of servants or something?”
“You’ve not been here long, have you?”
“I only got here two days ago.”
That resulted in a stunned silence along the table - even from the group at the other end who were supposed to be ignoring me. One of them even let out this funny whistle thing.
“Only Rhiannas could get away with that,” Carodoc said as he walked up to the table carrying a bread basket. He deliberately took a seat between me and the other group of tyros.
Then Cookie appeared carrying an unfeasibly large number of bowls balanced up her arm and within seconds some thick soup and a wedge of dark-coloured bread appeared in front of me. The table went quiet as some serious face stuffing took place. I wasn’t the only one who was hungry.
“You asked about nondas and tyros…” Caradoc said when he came up for air… “if you’re a member of one of the human led Houses or Families, you can come here pretty much by right. The Council keeps Zalibar in red wine and meat for the nags so he’s happy enough with the arrangement. Those are the nonda.”
“So there are human led Houses and Families?”
“About half of them are human led. If you want to take over Rhian, all you have to do is defeat Rhiannas in a formal duel.”
“I might try it some time,” I said. That raised a smile or two but only I knew how serious I was. I took a large bite out of the course, black bread. It had a funny, sour taste but I was so hungry I’d’ve eaten anything.
“But, anyway, if one of the Families want to send a servant here, they have to pay,” Carodoc went on, his mouth full. “That usually means that they have to come and work their way through the academy.”
“Which is where us lot come in,” Jenko said.
“And what’s ‘The Council’?”
“The Council of the Edify,” Carodoc answered without looking up from his soup. “They are the heads of the great Houses who run things round here. They organise border patrols and meat raids… that sort of thing. Your Rhiannas is one of them.” He went back to scraping out his soup bowl.
After a bit more face stuffing, Carodoc sat back and started doling out orders. Some of the tyros were sent up for ‘house duty’ whilst two were sent to clean out the ‘mews’. “Don’t forget to make sure Towan’s ready for Zalibar,” he shouted after them.
“You and me can do the meat run,” he said to me.
“Hey, Cookie,” Carodoc called across to the cook who was busy tidying up around the range. “We’re off into town. You need anything?”
“Not today, thanks, love,” she answered.