The feast was glorious.
At least, as glorious as it could be coming on short notice in a modest village in the middle of winter.
The word had gone out that two cows would be on the fire and various families had added to that luxury three tilakkos and a large hog, not counting any number of chickens, rabbits and yenwips cooked at home and brought. Families also brought a selection of winter dishes, including dense pies stuffed with meat, root vegetables and gravy, casseroles of pasta, cheese and preserved tomatoes, dense stews, quiches, wheels of cheese, fermented and pickled vegetables and more. Desserts largely consisted of fruit and murako-nut pies, with some special fruit-ices and ice-creams. For drinks there were kegs of ciders, meads, beers, and wines and cauldrons of mulled fruit juices heating over their own small fires.
All of it was laid out on and around dining tables people had dragged out of their houses, lined up in rows, and surrounded with chairs, stumps and overturned crates. Cups filled with stamped steel cutlery covered the ends of rows along with piles of glasses, steins, mugs and fine stoneware dishes waiting to be filled with good things. Oil lamps with glass chimneys also sat along the serving tables and on each of the dining tables, with larger, brighter, ones mounted on high stands placed around the square, giving the whole scene a warm glow in addition to that from the fires.
“Isayh,” Ean asked, “Are all these people from Sara’s Rest?”
Isayh shook his head, cutting the air with his big horns.
“No, your highness. People have come in from all the surrounding villages, too. Anyone who has relatives in town or could find somewhere to stay for the night. Even if there wasn’t the promise of a live Garagran to meet, the roast cows would have kicked this off anyway. Not much to do in the winter, and a little generosity will go a long way.”
Ean heard mismatched notes and spotted a band tuning up with a lap harp, a chime set, several drums, a pair of flutes, a clockwork organ and a half-payano someone had brought out with the tables. More instruments joined the group as he watched, including someone with a gut-bow and a steel hand-saw. If they all managed to get on the same key it would be an exciting collection to hear.
He searched the crowd for Danya and found her surrounded by people, still looking like she was about to faint. Once she had made her public apology to all those assembled, and he had announced that the Crown was covering her debts and that she was a free woman under his protection for the night, half the people had rushed off to put their weapons away and bring out the food and tables while the other half rushed up as one to talk to “the real live Garagran”.
If Trin hadn’t been holding her upright Ean imagined she would have buckled under the attention.
Now she was being lead around from table to table as the older wives of the village made sure she met every single family there, her hands filled with a large plate of finger food that was probably long gone cold and a continual ring of children clinging to her legs like a living skirt.
Ean looked for his sister and found her kicked back at a table with a plate of meats and pie drinking cider out of a giant stein with some of the soldiers and local militia.
“You should do some eating yourself, your Highness,” Isayh said. “Enjoy some time with your people.”
“Their loving nature lifts my heart, Elder, but I think if someone doesn’t take charge of our guest soon she’s going to fall down from fear and starvation before she gets the chance to eat any of the food I bought for her.”
Isayh laughed and nodded, then pushed his way through the crowd toward Danya. Ean followed, moving around the Shaldan to take the young woman by the arm and lead her to a table in a quieter part of the square where she could sit down.
She shot him a look of gratitude when she was finally in a chair.
“Stay here, Lady Firrisskahv,” Ean said. “I’ll get you something to drink and some food that hasn’t gone cold.”
She nodded, and he saw color and composure returning to her face in the small circle of peace that surrounded him and Isayh. Danya was an object of fascination, but Ean and the giant elder had authority, which kept the curious from pressing in.
He left for the tables and heard Isayh calling for several of the young militia members to come keep people at bay so the lady could eat in peace.
Ahead of him people moved as soon as they saw who he was, making way so he could grab up plates to fill with food. One young man, a tall Manalein with a green kren-armor militia helmet on his head, tapped Ean on the arm and offered to hold his plates for him.
Ean glanced down at him.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Tierce, your Highness. Fifth-rank del, Sara’s Rest militia. I can give you all the advice on what you want off that table, too.”
“Thank you, Tierce,” Ean said and handed the plates over to the Delver.
They travelled that way along the tables, Ean loading while Tierce told him which foods came from the best local cooks and which he should probably avoid.
Ean returned to the table with four full plates and several steins to find Danya relaxing by herself with two forbidding Lilta men standing nearby warding people off. He set the mugs on the table, then unloaded Tierce’s arms and sent him off with thanks. A quick glance showed that Danya had already finished her first plate, and she was started on the second before Ean even made it around the table.
He took the seat opposite her and sat down, grabbing the plate he had picked as his own before his hungry guest had an opportunity to devour the food off it as well.
They ate quietly for several minutes, largely because Danya didn’t seem to be interested in anything else. She went through three more full plates in the time it took Ean to finish half of his own.
At last she pushed her fourth empty plate away and took a very long pull off a mug of some dark, rich beer that Tierce had highly recommended. She set it down with a thump and sighed happily.
“Where does it all go?” Ean asked.
Danya jumped like she had forgotten he was there.
“What? Oh. The food?”
She glanced at the four empty plates and absently ran a hand across her still flat belly, then looked back up at him.
“I don’t really know,” she said. “I guess it goes to my full body until it’s not hungry anymore.”
Ean shifted uncomfortably as the physics problem she represented twisted his engineering senses into wobbling corkscrews, then cut off the train of thought. Garagrans relied on magic, at least in part, and although theology and history said it wasn’t at all a very good magic, it was still beyond anything that could be pinned down scientifically. The idea that food she ate in one body passed immediately to the larger one, which apparently didn’t exist at the moment, was something he would just have to accept.
The other implications of her statement were simpler.
“So you’re still hungry?”
She looked embarassed.
She eyed the nearest table, still covered in pies, meats, and cheeses, then looked back to Ean guiltily.
Ean got the attention of one of the two table guards.
“Please bring two more plates of meat and other solid fare for the lady.”
“Yes, your Highness.” The militia member gave him a hand-to-forehead salute and left for the tables.
Danya watched him go, then looked back at Ean with renewed focus in her eyes.
“Will that do it?” he asked.
“It will help,” she said.
“So it won’t, really?”
She studied him for a moment, then nodded.
“I haven’t eaten enough for… many weeks,” she admitted.
“How much will you need, then?”
“At least another cow, I think. I’d need to change back, for that, though.”
Ean nodded. Some of his references on Garagrans and Alleji had said similar things. Once their large body was well fed they could subsist on smaller meals in human form for months, but if their large body was starving when they changed, that hunger would pull at them constantly until they satisfied it.
“Then I’m glad I had one set aside for you. You should probably wait until everyone else goes to bed before eating it, though. I still want to avoid them seeing you at your scariest while people get used to you.”
Danya fell apart.