Indenuel always knew Mountain Pass was small, but it was affirmed every summer when they entered Tavi. There was an order to this town instead of a dozen or so houses scattered around farmlands. The dirt roads were marked, and the main street had shops and inns. There were even rows of houses all next to each other. Despite the awe at the organization, Indenuel felt uncomfortable looking at it. The houses were far too close together.
Tavi always seemed so loud. So many people talking at once, so many carts and horses. It was the middle of the afternoon, yet the town was alive with noise. Indenuel tried to ignore his anxiety. These people were not going to hurt him. Not with Martin here.
“There is an inn closer to the main road,” Martin said. “I stayed there before making my detour to your village. We’ll see if the innkeeper is willing to-”
Martin jerked his head around, searching for the source of the sound. Indenuel, confused, looked around at the people coming and going from the shops and markets. Martin threw the reins in Indenuel’s lap and leapt out of the cart. Indenuel fumbled with the reins, trying to see what was going on.
“Api!” It was distinctively a woman’s voice, closer this time.
Martin’s eyes were lit with happiness. “Adosina! My dear Adosina!”
There was a woman running toward Martin, practically leaping into his arms and laughing as Martin squeezed her tightly in a hug. Indenuel lead the horse over to the side before stopping the cart.
The woman, Adosina, broke away, tears streaming down her cheeks. “We came to surprise you, but they said you’d taken a detour in your travels to help a small village,” Adosina said. “Ami is still in Santollia City, but she sends her love. Nathaniel and Rosa are here with their boys. They’re at the inn. I simply could not wait. I sensed when you were a way off. I’ve missed you so!” Adosina gave him another hug, and Martin hugged her back. Indenuel waited patiently, a trait he picked up after being forgotten so much, but he didn’t mind. It gave him a moment to study Adosina. She was shorter than Martin with rich brown hair and the Santollian green eyes. By the way she held herself, even with the informality of talking with Martin, Indenuel could tell she was of high class. Her pale-yellow traveling dress alone was made of some of the finest material he had ever seen. This was definitely one of Martin’s daughters. Again, Indenuel was struck with the odd realization that not only did Martin have a family, but his daughter was young. If he had to guess, Adosina was in her mid-twenties. She was beautiful, but Indenuel had the feeling it was because he had rarely seen upper-class women before. There was something about the upper class that seemed so alluring and terrifying at the same time.
“Api! Is this blood on your cloak?” Adosina asked, sounding alarmed.
“Never you mind,” Martin said, breaking away from the hug. “I am anxious to hear the news from home.”
Adosina smiled as she dried her tears. “As soon as you promise to not volunteer for these yearlong travels anymore. It is too long!”
“Ah, Adosina, you know I can’t promise that,” Martin said. Adosina pouted, and Martin smiled. “I won’t go again until I have fully recuperated.”
Adosina shook her head. “I know you, Api. You insist on staying until the job is done, even if it means catching your death. An impossible snowstorm to save a small village is exactly the kind of way you would leave this world.”
“Only if God allows it, dear girl. Besides, staying until the job is done is exactly how we get blessed beyond measure,” Martin said before beaming at Indenuel. Indenuel tried to smile back. He got off the cart while still holding the reins.
Adosina turned as though just noticing Indenuel. The fact that she noticed Indenuel at all was unusual, but he tried to pretend like young women didn’t glare at him in disgust. Again, Indenuel became distinctly aware of what Adosina was seeing when she looked at him. Threadbare clothes that hardly fit him well. Not just scrawny, but dangerously thin from surviving a blizzard for a month. He didn’t even know what he looked like after traveling for a day. Adosina didn’t seem to notice any of that. Instead she smiled and gave a curtsey. “Please forgive me for acting so informal around my father, good sir. I have not seen him in over a year, and I missed him.”
“Oh, no need to apologize.” Indenuel gave a hasty bow. “A year is-” a lump came to Indenuel’s throat that he didn’t expect. He cleared his throat before continuing. “A year is a long time to not see a parent. I am Indenuel, son of Lucia.”
If Adosina had any negative thoughts to the lack of a father’s name in Indenuel’s title, she did not show it. “I am Adosina, daughter of High Elder Martin and Sara.”
Indenuel gave a small bow of acknowledgement. Not only was Adosina one of Martin’s daughters, but since she said the name of her parents instead of a husband, she was still unwed.
“Indenuel is coming with us on our journey home,” Martin said. Indenuel stared at Martin, waiting to hear what he would say next, his heart hammering. “He is my honored guest.”
Adosina smiled at Indenuel. “How wonderful! I shall enjoy this time we have to get to know each other more. But let us return to the inn! I am sure you are both tired and famished. Alvaro said he was your previous innkeeper before you left in haste for Mountain Pass.”
“Indeed. He gave me this fine horse and the good people of this town lent me the cart as well as many of the food and supplies. I shall be happy to return them now that they’ve served their purpose, but we can ride on our way to the inn,” Martin said.
Martin got on the cart. Indenuel waited for Adosina to climb up next to him so he could move to the back of the cart, but she wasn’t moving. She watched Indenuel with a smile. “There is only room for one more on the bench. I shall happily sit in back.”
Indenuel’s eyes widened. “Absolutely not. Sit next to your father.”
“As my father’s honored guest, you should be the one sitting next to him.”
Indenuel stared at Adosina, starting to feel annoyed at all this etiquette. “My importance is only because Martin’s word grants it, but I assure you, he would rather sit next to you. And I will never allow you to sit in the back of the cart wearing such a fine dress. Please do me the honor of sitting next to your father and share your news from home.”
Adosina looked at Indenuel, impressed. “You certainly know how to make everyone feel better about breaking the rules of etiquette.”
“Only to get out of following them myself.”
Adosina laughed and allowed Indenuel to help her onto the cart. Indenuel turned away before moving to the back of the cart. As soon as he was settled, Martin gave the horse a small tap with the reins.
Indenuel listened partially to Martin and Adosina’s chat. It was full of people he didn’t know, and he kept losing track of the names. It sounded as though most of Martin’s family remained in the city and took jobs of importance or married wealthy. Having a High Elder as a father would certainly help secure both those things.
They arrived at the inn, and workers spilled out, bowing so low they were almost falling over. Martin was still in an old gray cloak, which was possibly the reason why no one on the streets recognized him, but the workers would.
“It is an honor to serve a High Elder and his family,” one of them said as he took the reins from Martin. “An honor.”
“Alvaro! It is good to see you,” Martin said.
Alvaro bowed low. “An honor you remembered, sir.”
“Of course! Thank you for the use of this horse. He performed his duties spectacularly.”
“One of our favorites, sir,” Alvaro said.
“I hear you have been taking care of my family while I have been away,” Martin said.
“Indeed, sir. We have not asked for a single copper for our services,” Alvaro said.
“That isn’t profitable,” Martin said with a smile as he helped Adosina down from the carriage. “You must send word through your postman about the services you’ve given my family to my household in Santollia City. They will arrange payment accordingly.”
Alvaro kept bowing. “Martin the Healer, you are most kind. Most kind.”
Martin placed a hand on Indenuel’s shoulder. Indenuel instinctually stiffened. “This man is my honored guest.”
“Any guest of Martin the Healer will of course receive the same treatment as his family,” Alvaro said, moving from bowing to Martin to now bowing to Indenuel. Indenuel watched with confusion and the tiniest sense of horror. This man was simply groveling, and he had no idea how to react. Indenuel glanced at Martin for some sort of help, but Martin only smiled.
“Um, thank you,” Indenuel said.
“Shall I take your things to your room?” Alvaro asked, looking up mid-bow.
Again, Indenuel looked to Martin for direction, but Martin did nothing but give him an encouraging smile. Indenuel turned his attention back to the man. “Of course. Go… do that.” Indenuel winced at his words.
Alvaro somehow managed to bow even deeper before he and his workers gathered the belongings from the cart and carried them inside. Indenuel let out a tiny breath.
“I imagine it might take some getting used to, having people serve you,” Martin said. Indenuel said nothing, just rubbed his upper arm. “If you will excuse me, Indenuel, now that we’re in town, I must get back into my High Elder robes.”
“Of course. Thank you, Martin,” Indenuel said.
Martin patted Indenuel’s back before following some of the workers into the inn. Another worker took the reins and lead the horse and cart into the stable. Adosina approached Indenuel, smiling.
“Alvaro is a sweet old man. He has some rye bread he’s rather proud of. Would you like to join me in having a little bread and cheese?” Adosina asked.
“Of course,” Indenuel said, trying not to be anxious about eating with Adosina. He tried not to think of this simply being another way to make a fool of himself in front of an upper-class citizen.
They walked into the inn. Martin hadn’t gotten far. He was talking with five boys, all of various ages. The oldest looked no more than sixteen. There was a woman in her late thirties behind the boys, smiling. She had black hair and green eyes.
“That is Rosa and her children,” Adosina said. “My brother should be here somewhere. Probably helping the workers.”
Adosina gave him a smile before walking over to one of the workers, requesting bread and cheese. Adosina motioned Indenuel to sit down. Again, following the rules of decency, Adosina could not sit at the same table as Indenuel, but she did sit at the table right next to him, so it seemed like they were at the same table.
“So, you are from Mountain Pass?” Adosina asked.
“I am,” Indenuel said.
“And my father’s honored guest?” Adosina asked.
Indenuel studied her face, trying to sense if she found the idea a joke, but there was no surprise in her voice.
“Yes,” Indenuel said. “Out of curiosity, does your father often pick up people from obscure villages as his special guest?”
Adosina gave a tiny shrug. “Usually he finds men who are particularly powerful with their gift. He gives them opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise in poor towns.”
Indenuel gave a small nod but said nothing.
“What of your family?” Adosina asked.
“My mother passed away a month ago,” Indenuel said, his voice quiet.
“Oh.” Adosina’s face morphed into compassion. “May she be at peace, and may she rest with God from the sorrows of this world.”
Indenuel gave a small smile. “Thank you, Adosina. Your kindness is refreshing.”
A female worker handed Indenuel a plate with a small loaf of bread and cheese. Adosina thanked her. Indenuel broke the loaf in half and almost stuffed it in his pocket when he paused, forcing himself to place the other half on the plate. He was with Martin now. He knew when his next meal would be. He didn’t need to save any for later.
“I was hoping to speak with the town’s postman soon. I have a message I’d like to send to some of the orphan children my mother was taking care of,” Indenuel said before taking a huge bite of bread.
“Oh, of course. We can go after this. Felipe is a powerful tree talker. I personally can’t reach Santollia City from here, and Felipe has been so wonderful and accommodating,” Adosina said.
Indenuel chewed, using the food in his mouth to keep himself from talking. He was certain he’d been to this town more than Adosina, but he was also certain she knew far more people here than he did. He swallowed. “So you’re a tree talker?”
“Yes. And you? What gift has God given you?” Adosina asked.
Indenuel, who had almost took a bite of cheese, stuffed far more in his mouth than necessary, giving her an apologetic smile as he chewed, trying to think of a safe answer. He hadn’t thought about this. What was he supposed to say?
“Nathaniel! Are you here to join us!” Adosina said.
Indenuel turned to see a man in his late thirties. He was dressed in a military jacket and black pants. Whatever the badges and ribbons meant, Indenuel wasn’t sure, but Nathaniel did have quite a few of them. “Hello, little sister,” Nathaniel said. “I see you’re keeping father’s guest company.”
“Come join us! Would you like some bread and cheese?” Adosina asked.
“No, no, lunch was too magnificent, and I am full,” Nathaniel said as he sat across from Indenuel. “Father is off to minister to the town, so he asked me to look after Indenuel. Eduardo! Back to your studies, son.”
The oldest boy who Indenuel guessed was sixteen, frowned as he was about to follow his younger brothers outside.
“Api,” Eduardo groaned.
Nathaniel motioned him back up the stairs. Eduardo sighed before obeying. Indenuel was almost finished with the bread when Nathaniel turned his attention back on him, noticing Indenuel’s smaller frame. “Do you want more bread?”
Indenuel tried to smile. The two of them were obviously trying to be kind, but it was obvious now how much Indenuel looked like he hadn’t eaten for a month. “This will be fine, thanks. I was hoping to get to the postman soon. I have family back in Mountain Pass. I’d like to tell them I’ve arrived safely.” He stuffed the rest of his bread in his mouth before remembering that Adosina and Nathaniel both belonged to the upper class, and stuffing bread in his mouth was something a lower classman would do. Neither one looked as though they cared.
“I shall escort you,” Nathaniel said as he stood. “I would like to understand you better.”
There was something in Nathaniel’s tone. Indenuel didn’t know how, but somehow Nathaniel knew who he was.