Seventh Circle (Chapter 8 - Sky Warrior, page 1 of 12)


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Tom hunted through a pile of cloaks and found one that almost fitted. But there was nothing amongst the selection of tunics and other garments that came anywhere near to his size. There could be no doubt about it: he was a big man amongst small people. Alison was more their size.

He threw the cloak over his shoulders and one of the girls of the guard helped him fasten it with a silver brooch. She said he looked great and gave him a poke in the ribs. Tom asked her about the duties of the guard. She said they were there to protect the queen and attend to the needs of guests. Tom said they were both honourable undertakings and received another poke.

He followed Thunder outside. A crowd was gathered. Men, women and children in brightly coloured clothes stood around waiting to see him. Tom felt scruffy in his faded denims. The people in his new realm might be primitive, by some standards, but their dress sense was superb.

'Sky Warrior!'

A cry went up. Tom liked his new name. It added to his status, as did his escort of female warriors. With a girl on either side he went to meet his admirers. Men with swords raised their hands in salute. Women with pendants thrust their bosoms towards him. He watched their bobbing breasts and heard Thunder.

'They want you to honour the images of the Holy Mother that they have hanging about their necks. Do so by touching the Blessed Lady with the extended forefinger of your right hand. Don't touch anything else.'

Tom wasn't one to play the tame monkey, particularly for a cocky little man who smelt of stale urine and clearly had a bladder problem. He strode forward and grasped the pendants, holding them long enough for the women to kiss his hand. Nearing the Great Hall, he stopped to talk to a group of warriors, admiring their weapons and congratulating them on their appearance. Thunder hurried him up the steps.

The huge building was constructed from massive timbers and set on a stone base. Inside, the air was charged with the smell of resin from the many firebrands, which burned in iron brackets on the walls. The central aisle was flanked by long tables. Charcoal fires glowed in pits between them, attended by boys roasting pigs on spits.

The hall was packed with flamboyantly-dressed people who rose when he made his entrance. At first Tom thought he was going to get a standing ovation. Then he realised his fellow diners merely wanted to get a better look. The girls marched him to the end of one of the tables and set him down beside a raised dais.

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