Looking at the way people treat his three companions, Helge-Dag is left with no doubt about their status here. Everybody and their grandmother wants to shake their hand and clasp their arm. Or leg, if they can't reach the arm. Yes, even small kids crowd them. Actually the small kids are just as likely to attach themselves to him, so it is a safe bet they are just caught up in the frenzy. Even some of the adults try to talk to him, but of course they all speak gibberish.
All the attention makes Helge-Dag very uncomfortable. Being dragged all over the landscape like a sheep was OK - well, it wasn't, but it was an improvement over being chained in a dungeon - but all these people make his shyness return in force. He has to restrain himself to try to act normal, to not run away or hide behind his hair. Strange how that hair seems to have a will of its own, inching forward strand by strand to block more and more of the view.
"Komeos" says the shoulders guy, tugging at him again. Evidently that's the word for "c'mere" in Gibberish. They are making their way, as rapidly as the orbiting kids allow, towards a house at the outskirts of the village. As they approach, more and more of the followers slink away, as if the house scares or at least awes them. Helge-Dag can't see any differences between this and the other houses, but then they all look weird to him.
The door is closed, but there is a small club and a gong of black metal hanging beside the door. The pearl armswoman takes the lead as usual, striking the gong cleanly three times. Or rather two times plus one, for some reason. Almost at once, the door swings open, and they enter.
The room is large, easily two thirds of the whole house. Daylight flows in through the round-cornered windows. From outside, the membranes in those windows had looked murky, semi-transparent at best; Helge-Dag had assumed some kind of thin parchment or some such. But from inside, they are clearer than any glass he has seen - the windows might as well be open for all he can see. Suddenly this whole world seems a lot less medieval than he had thought.
A tall, lean man sits on a bench. He looks to be somewhere in his fifties, and is dressed in simple blue robes. Yet there is an aura of dignity about him, somewhere between that of a monarch and that of a grandfather. Someone who knows a lot more than he lets on. Nor does he rise when the guest enter, as common courtesy would demand of most people. Then again, who knows what is common courtesy in a different world?
As the young women launch into a conversation with the man, Helge-Dag doesn't even try to understand a word. Instead he just watches them, and tentatively admits that the blue-robed man could well be an older relative. He has the same startingly pale complexion, the same hair that could be described as sand-colored, teal or even blue, depending on the light. He even has the same long slender fingers. The two girls, despite their different shape otherwise, share those traits. The boy does not, though. His hair and his eyes are all the same color: A deep brown like ripe hazelnuts with a bare hint of golden honey. And he has visible body hair on his wrists and what can be seen of his arms, while the older man is no more hairy than the girls. The young boy's hands are also shorter and much broader.
But then, thinking back, Helge-Dag realizes that the boy stood out just as much in the crowd outside. Men, women and children all had the same pale skin and even the same hair color, he thinks. Now he curses himself for being so preoccupied with *not* looking at them. But then again, he could have risked meeting their eyes. He never does that. The very thought creeps him out.
The seated man has listened to the girls mostly, only asking a brief question occasionally. Now he looks at Helge-Dag and asks him something. But it is in gibberish. He seems to be talking about some kind of snack, which plainly makes no sense. "Sorry, I do not understand a word. Do you speak English? Sprechen Sie Deutsch? ..." But the man no longer looks or, probably, listens. He rises to his feet, for the first time since they came, and walks over to a wall that is stacked with chests, cupboards and cabinets, and above them shelves almost to the ceiling. The man starts to look through some of those hiding places. The young ones keep respectfully to the other half of the room, and Helge-Dag is all too happy to stay with them. He even has a nice side view to the curvy girl. Now, he is nominally a Christian, and probably shouldn't look too hard; but it's not like he is actually planning to ... She suddenly turns her head and looks at him, and he hurriedly looks away. Dang nab it, his face is hot again. She almost caught his eyes!
Mostly the three are looking at the middle-aged man, though. He has found various components from different hiding places: A green stone of some kind, a brass metal chain with a small plate, three diamonds that must be worth a fortune each. He arranges the objects on a table, the last action being laying the green stone on the small brass plate that is fastened to the chain. Now he grabs an intricately carved wooden staff that shood by his bench, and lifts it. He beckons to the youths, and they lead Helge-Dag with them till he stands in front of the table. The robed man smiles grimly, a thin smile that is neither friendly nor hateful, just ... determined? Suddenly he moves one end of the staff towards Helge-Dag, who automatically shies away, but the bear-strong grip of the young boy holds him back. None of them seem worried, at least not about him.
Then, as the staff almost makes contact with his chest, there is a ... pulse? Something seems to rush all around him, and the small hairs on his body stand on end. The staff blooms into blue fire, almost transparent. He cringes, but the fire does not burn him, not even hit him. Instead, the man rapidly turns the staff to the objects on the table. Searing light envelops them. Helge-Dag shields his eyes, but colored flecks already dance before him, even with his eyes closed. He hears the man chanting in an even weirder language than the one he spoke in. There is a weird feeling all around him, like he is in the middle of an electric wind. Not that such a thing even exists, but that is the closest he can get. The man keeps chanting. The hands keep holding Helge-Dag in place. And then, slowly, the chant fades and falls still. The light fades too, and he dares to look again.
The thin brass plate has been bent around the green stone, covering much of it and locking it in a brass cage. The man reaches out, takes the thing by its chain, and gives it to the pearl girl, who without any formality puts the chain around Helge-Dag's neck. The pendant is no larger than a matchbox, but heavier; not heavier than you would expect from that amount of metal and stone, though.
"Now" says the man, "let us see if you understand our language." Or rather that is what Helge-Dag hears. The movement of the man's mouth does not match at all. It is as if reality has been dubbed. "Yes. I understand." The man nods. The young ones cheer. "Welcome to our world!" says the pearly girl cheerfully. "Let me introduce us. I am Xarya, Thumb of the third Burning Hand. This is Theelene, our Traveler. And the werebear is Birni, of the Berryhills clan." "Werebear?" "You could not see?" says the big boy with a grin across his round face. "Uhm, actually I did not know that werebears existed." The three laugh at that, not in a mocking way really but in delighted surprise that there can be so exotic places that people don't have werebears. Or at least that is how it sounds. When the laughter dies down, Xarya continues: "The mage is Entandil, commonly known as The Great, being the foremost mage among the tribes of Stone Elves." "Or so my villagers say" replies the man drily.
Helge-Dag notices them all staring at him, and looks down. "Uh, my name is Helge-Dag Jordvegfaret. My friends just call me HD." "Understandable." "Uh huh. And, uh, thanks for rescuing me from that crazy Cneko guy."
Suddenly the rooms reverbates with unrestrained laughter. Even the mage grins; the others are literally doubling with laughter, clutching at each other for support. As the din subsides enough for a voice to be heard, Helge-Dag adresses the mage: "What was so funny?" "We did not rescue you from Cneko" the man replies, still grinning. "We rescued you for Cneko."Chapter 4.