Maybe his name was Jenko. Jenko was a good name. Solid, yet jaunty. Responsible, yet not dour. Nevvic yearned for a bit of not dour. And for a name. Uncle ruled the family and never called him anything but nevvic - nephew. Uncle approved of little, including loose talk and direct questions. Uncle would not approve of his trip to the inn, but he was so unlikely to approve of anything else Nevvic did that there was really no reason to avoid the trip.
The family lived deep in the woods, far from proper roads. Woods or not, the
whole area was an odd mix of rounded hills and upthrust rocks, partway up a
spine of mountains that reared up sheer cliffs a couple of days' walk further
west. Having tall peaks to the west made for cool springs and falls and cold,
The mountains sent down rills and streams in a net of wandering meanders.
Salmon sometimes ran the streams and sometimes didn't. Dried salmon was a cheap
staple that would keep through the winter. Uncle didn't approve of cheap so
much as he despised spending any cash or trading anything away. He didn't
approve of Nevvic wandering about, checking to see if any of the streams were
running salmon, but the latest hive of charcoal had been sealed and was
Nevvic's hands weren't particularly needed for marking the next trees to fell
and definitely not needed for watching the hive and tamping the cloak of soil
that had been heaped over it to smother the flames and cause underburning, an
action near to burning, but that left charcoal instead of ash as it finished.
The boy had big feet, but was weedy and had no weight to push down with.
Better to keep the task with his own sons. Better that they worked the
knowledge and skill of charcoal making in through their hands and feet. Better
that they develop the eye, the nose, the feel of wood making itself to charcoal
underground. Better that they stay in the dense woods, away from the sight of
dragons. Nevvic had been told yo stay under cover since he had come to the
household as a toddler. If he didn't make use of what he'd been told, that was
his own load.
If Uncle had been the sort to visit the in to lift a mug and trade talk, then
it would have been risky to go there, instead of up and down across the
hillface. But he wasn't. Nevvic could go to the inn and offer work for trade
and if the salmon were flying, someone at the inn would tell of it.
Sometimes Nevvic traded sweeping or scrubbing or fetching water for a cup of
soup and a bit of bread. Sometimes he would brush and comb a horse for a
traveler, for a copper. Sometimes he would haul bales or barrels of goods into
the storeroom, for the innkeeper or for a merchant. That was the hardest work,
but the innkeeper would add a cup of ale to the soup and bread. If the merchant
was important, or paid well, there might even be butter.
The inn was built of stone. It had started as a slab of upthrust that had split
from its brothers and fallen between them. The held it up, making a tall roof
on the top side of the slab and a low roof on the broken side, with plenty of
overhang. That was a heavy enough hat to keep any dragon out. Over more years
than was accurately remembered, the innfolk, and others, had carried stone to
be worked into walls under the slab. The walls wandered a bit, having been
raised at different time to different purposes.
There was a path near the inn, circling through a line of upthrusts thick
enough to give decent cover. Over years it had been widened into a road, one
that could span a wagon pulled by a team of horses or oxen. There was just
enough traffic to keep the inn in profits. Folk came to live near the inn. Folk
who fished the streams or panned it for gold, which was scarce, but which came
down in flakes and grains and occasional nuggets from the high cliffs during
spring floods. These folk lived in upthrusts not very near to the inn. Crowding
the inn would have been endangering it.
Other folk lived in the woods. Most of those hunted or raised tusked pigs or
gathered wood to sell at the inn. The family was one of two who made charcoal,
which was lighter than wood and could be sold down the mountain with a
hand-drawn cart. Nevvic had once made the mistake of asking if it wouldn't be
better to go to the inn and sell the charcoal to a drayer who had emptied his