"Y'know, I'm a little creeped out by this village. Is it just me?"
"These people ain't normal," Melantha agreed.
They chatted cautiously about the village and about Roman, whom they both considered to be slightly peculiar as well, and eventually Melantha had her turn in the water. It was cold, but did the job of sluicing off the layers of accumulated dirt. Nadya even lent her a comb.
A fire had been built in the center of the village, and the people sat around roasting bits of meat and passing mead.
"So, foreigner," a villager turned to Roman. "From where do you come?"
"The town of Threshold, to the east."
"We do not know of this place. Who is lord there?"
He wasn't sure if they meant the baron or the duke. "Baron Halidane, and of course there's the duke."
"Duke? Vellis has also spoken of this duke. Is he a great conqueror? We have never heard of him."
"It's been longer than I've been alive."
"We have little word from the outside world, and this makes us greatly afraid," the villager explained.
"Our independence, meager though it may be since our town was destroyed, may be wiped away entirely."
"Honestly, I don't think you have much to worry about. As far I can tell nobody even knows you're here. We didn't know you were here."
"It may be that the world has forgotten us. It has been some time since our glory."
Some time meaning centuries, apparently. "What happened to your village?"
"It was sacked and ravaged."
"We cannot remember."
Roman blinked at this unlikely answer. "Do you know how long ago it was?"
"We cannot quite remember that either. Norov says he can remember it." Norov was an obviously elderly man, but could he be that old? "Sometimes Norov doesn't know what he's talking about," the villager went on in a quieter voice.
"I understand," although he didn't.
"So it is an object of great confusion to us, also. Tell me, this duke, is he a servant of the Three?"
"Ah. To be conquered by unbelievers, no less! It is a tragic thing," he shook his head. "But you recognize the Three?"
"Yes, of course I do. Everybody does."
"A good sign, a good sign." That seemed to cheer him up a bit. "We had a temple here once, to them, but no longer. We have also forgotten that."
"Forgotten... where it is?" Forgetful lot, these people.
"If you could find it, you and your friends, we would be most grateful, and reward you to the best of our ability."
"Was it near your town?"
"We think so. So much has been destroyed."
"If we find it, we'll definitely tell you. We have seen nothing so far, other than ruins of your town."
When the women returned, Roman didn't recognize Melantha for a moment. She was still in the same ratty old clothes, but hiding under all that dirt had been a startlingly attractive young woman. Her hair was revealed to be a thick, dark blonde, and her features were strongly Thyatian. Kant stood up and doffed his cap.
She looked behind her for a confused moment, then went somewhat red; fortunately the firelight concealed that. Nadya was miffed, but used to it. Men tended to react more to her size than her looks. The villagers showed them to a building that still had part of its roof, and the three went to sleep.
They had a few days to kill before the Night of Fire. After breakfast, Roman filled his companions in on what the villager had told him the previous night, about the lost temple, and how the villagers appeared to have forgotten their entire history. They came across the place where Kant and Vineleaper were digging pits, more or less at random, in the ruins.
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Copyright © 2000 David Twiddy et al