Chapter Eight

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Farinka woke to the smell of bacon cooking over the fire. Nemeth was sitting, again cross-legged, close to the fire, using the central flat stone as a griddle, and flipping bacon slices over with a stick. Farinka sat up, running her fingers through her fringe.

Nemeth looked up and grinned at her. "Breakfast in about five minutes," he said. "Have you got any bread left, or did we have the last of it last night?"

"A bit left – not much, and a bit stale, but it won't show once it's toasted."

"Chuck it over," he said, holding a hand out.

Farinka dug the bread out of her pack and threw it. Nemeth caught it left-handed without appearing to make any attempt to see where it was first.

"Flash beggar," said Farinka, smiling at him. He grinned down at the fire.

"Takes years of practice," he answered. "Wake Shiffih, will you? She's still out to the wide."

Farinka gently shook the sleeping Child huddled under the sheepskin. Shiffih mumbled complainingly, then said, "Okay, okay! I'm awake!"

"I'm going for a wash at the stream," said Farinka.

"Fill a waterskin," suggested Nemeth.

Farinka picked up a skin, and departed through the trees, unplaiting her hair as she went, her pack slung over one shoulder.

The stream water was cold – as always – but brought her wide awake in no time flat. She rinsed out her underthings in the stream water, and put on the other set from the pack, hanging the washed ones from a branch which had just begun to catch the sun. A stiff breeze was beginning to blow, and struck very cold on her skin.

"What's keeping you?" Shiffih called.

"On my way," she called back, rapidly tying the laces on the deerskin jacket and pulling a comb through her hair. She walked back, re-braiding her hair as she went, and found Nemeth and Shiffih tucking into bacon sandwiched between crude slices of smoke-flavoured toast.

Nemeth handed her a wedge wordlessly. He had balanced a small handle-less iron pot on the fire, and as it started to simmer added a handful of brownish lumps to it.

"What's that?" asked Farinka through a mouthful of bacon buttie.

"A mixture of chicory and dandelion root," he said.

"Smells almost like coffee."

"Really." The grin was sudden, and charismatic, and lit up his amber eyes. "I've never smelt coffee, but I'll take your word for it. Try some."

She held out her wooden bowl.

"Tastes not unlike coffee, too," she said, sampling it.

Remember coffee for me? he suggested, catching her eye.

She shut her eyes and thought of coffee, feeling the touch of Nemeth's mind – gentle but surprisingly powerful – as he shared the memory.

Some day I'd like to try that, he thought. Where did you find it?

– Back where I come from it was pretty common.

– And from where do you come? his Voice was subtly compelling – three shades stronger and it might have been considered coercive.

Not from this world, she thought, almost to herself.

I did wonder. There's something – otherworldly – about the touch of your mind. Much that is unfamiliar to me; and that which is familiar to this world has the flavour of freshly-learned about it.

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