All stood around the tables, and lowered their heads, singing grace. They sang “amen” together. Lytica pulled back the chair for the young woman and boy’s chair next to him. The cauldron stopped by Abbot Manfry’s table first, bypassing him to serve the visitors.
“I have no roll,” the boy whined.
“Be thankful for what you have,” whispered the woman.
Lytica tore his roll in half and placed it on the boy’s plate with a wink.
“Thank you,” the boy said in barely audible voice.
“Young lady?” said Manfry. “I am Manfry; Abbot of this order.”
“There is no order to be found here,” quipped Valmaas, pulling up his chair.
His jest incurred a few laughs about the table.
Manfry laughed sheepishly. “Indeed. In any case, might I inquire your name?”
“I am Astoba.” She indicated the boy beside Lytica. “And this is Uraban; both of the Magpie tribe.”
“Is not the injured man from the Magpie tribe?” said Valmaas.
Hope glinted in Astoba’s eyes.
“Not that you are not welcome, but what brought you to us in such a state?” Manfry asked.
“Have you not heard that we are at war with the Vindavians? Even as we speak, the Nusallean army fights them at the Pentraca river near its exit to the sea.”
Manfry nodded. “We were told, but two days ago.” He patted her hand. “But rest assured, we are neutral to any quarrel. You may stay with us until the war ends, or when you are rested, I could have some of the monks escort you to relatives in another region.”
“You do not understand,” she said, pulling her hand away. “The southmen are coming here. I had thought one of you could warn the king.”
Conversation quietened around the immediate table.
Manfry gaped. “How can you know this?”
“The river is flooded over,” Lytica said pensively.
By Astoba’s silence, he could tell he had assumed correctly.
“They are looking for a route north to flank our army,” Lytica continued.
“Brother Lytica was a deserter when he came to us,” explained Manfry. “Will they try to breach our doors?”
“Surely they would try to circumvent the mountains by going into Soravia,” said Valmaas.
“Possibly,” said Lytica. “How many were there?”
Astoba gaped with the shake of her head.
“100s? 1,000s? How can I know? I am merely tribeswoman.”
“If it was a smaller contingent,” said Lytica, “we could close our doors and thin out their numbers significantly; too much trouble. A larger force; they will, rather than taking another two weeks to go around the mountains.”
“I see,” said Manfry. “But I will of course, speak with the Vindavians. Best to handle this peaceably before resorting to fighting.”
“Abbot, forgive me, but you are being somewhat unrealistic.”
“Are you the Abbot of this order now, Lytica?”
Manfry’s tone sounded gentle and accompanied with a smile, yet carried authority.
Lytica lowered his head. “No, Abbot.”
“There is more,” interjected Astoba.
They all looked at her inquiringly.
“The Vindavians slaughtered all in the Magpie tribe. Me and Uruban are all that is left.”
An eerie silence settled around the table.
“I was in a field, picking mushrooms with the boy when the southmen came. They began killing everyone, starting with Uruban’s mother. By the time, I reached the next ridge, I looked back to see if anyone pursued us. They were making camp.”
“An army will move much slower than an individual,” said Lytica. “I would say they are two days behind her.”