CHAPTER 1 (part 2)

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Chapter 1 (part 2)

So it was, that one night....

An autumn storm kept the rain rapping at the windows like an anxious neighbor as Gallen sat in Mahoney's alehouse with his friend Orick the bear, and as Gallen listened to the rain knocking the glass, he had the unsettling feeling that something was trying to get in, something as vast and dark as the storm.

Gallen had come to the inn tonight hoping to ply his trade as a bodyguard, but even though the inn was full of travelers and the roads around Clere were rumored to be thick with robbers, no one had approached him. Not until Gallen caught the eye of a fellow at another table, a prosperous sheep farmer he knew from An Cochan named Seamus O'Connor.

Seamus raised a bushy brow from across the room, as if asking Gallen for permission to sit at his table. Gallen nodded, and Seamus got up and tamped some tobacco into a rosewood pipe, went to the fire and removed a coal with some tongs, then lit his pipe. Father Heany, the local priest, came over to borrow use of the coal.

Seamus sat across from Gallen, leaned back in the old hickory chair, set his black boots on the table and sucked at his pipe, with his full stomach bulging up over his belt. He smiled, and at that moment Gallen thought Seamus looked like nothing more than a pleasant fat gut with a couple of limbs and a head attached. Father Heany came over in his severe black frock, all gaunt and starved looking, and sat down next to Seamus with his own pipe, sucking hard to nurse some damp tobacco into flame. Father Heany was such a tidy and proper man that folks in town often joked of him, "Why the man is so clean, if you took a bath with him, you could use him for soap."

Together, the two old men blew the pleasant smell of their tobacco all about until they were wreathed like a pair of old dragons in their own smoke.

"So, Gallen," Seamus said, "rumor has it that you'll be staying here in Clere now." He didn't finish the sentence, now that your father has died, leaving your frail mother a widow.

"Aye," Gallen said. "I'll not be roaming far from home, nowadays."

"How will you keep yourself, then?" Seamus asked. "Have you thought about it?"

Gallen shrugged. "I've been looking about, and I've got a bit in savings. It should last awhile. I've thought about taking up fishing, but I can't imagine any woman ever learning to love the smell of a fisherman."

"Sure, the blacksmith is looking for an apprentice," Father Heany offered.

"I saw him just today," Gallen said, remembering how the smith would pick up the horse's back foot, leaning his shoulders up against the horse's sweaty rump, "and to tell the truth, I'd rather be a horse's ass than work with my head so close to a horse's fertilizing region." Seamus and Orick the bear laughed, and Father Heany nodded wisely.

"Sure," Heany admitted, "a smart man can always find a job that will let him keep himself unsoiled." He frowned as if thinking furiously, then said, "There's the priesthood."

"A fine vocation," Orick cut in with his deep voice. The bear was sitting on the floor, paws on the table, licking out of a bowl. Some milk still stuck to his muzzle. "I've been thinking of joining myself, but Gallen here makes light of God and his servants."

"I'll not make light of God," Gallen responded, "but I've no respect for some who call themselves his servants. I've been thinking on it. Your Bible says God created man in his own image, and it says God is perfect, but then he only made man 'Good,' as in good enough? Like maybe he was lazing about. It seems to me that God could have done better with us, considering that we're his crowning creation: for instance, a day-old fawn can jump a four-foot fence-so why can't a day-old child?"

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