Chapter 2 - A hearty meal

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When Cornelis woke again, the fire had returned to the middle of the room, where it belonged. It sent a wave of smoke through the hole in the thick straw rooftop and created long shadows on the wood-framed walls. Opposite the wild flames, he distinguished the silhouette of a young girl. He let his eyes rest on her for a while. She seemed to be stirring the contents of a small kettle, pausing every now and then. He sniffed, but he did not recognize the smell of what he supposed would be a healing potion. Instead, the much heartier and fulfilling notes of roasted fish drifted through the room.

A second, lengthier shadow accompanied the first. Cornelis tensed as he recognized the metal-strip armour, the plumed helmet. A Roman, approaching the girl from behind. Cornelis pushed himself up, glancing left and right. His sword leant against the stone wall, at his feet. But his vision started to blur even before he reached for it.

"He's awake!" the girl's voice sounded strangely muffled, but he could still make out the unbridled enthusiasm.

"Great, I think this is ready too."

They moved in front of the fire, the Roman and the girl. Side by side. The girl reached him first, beaming at him with her pale green eyes. Hair black as coal, she made a strange picture of dark and light. Cornelis was sure he had never seen her before, but he thought he remembered the somewhat raspy voice. His eyes fixed on the soldier next to her. An Optio, if he was not mistaken, judging by the helmet in combination with regular armour. Smiling. Which was always a bad sign.

"How do you feel?" The girl paid the soldier no special attention, fixing her eyes on him instead.

How did he feel? Dazed. For sure. In less pain than he realistically knew he should be. There was a Roman Optio in his hut. He took a deep breath, trying to chase away the black spots clouding his vision. He realized he was in fact, not in his own house. The walls stretched too far, and herbs dangled from the ceiling to dry. He was in Raghnall's house. Which meant there was a Roman in Raghnall's house and that was even worse.

He narrowed his eyes at the pair of them.

"Can he eat something?" The soldier again. Such an odd question.

"I have no idea, why don't you ask him?"

"Because you gave him three potions and I don't know what exactly they do. Neither does he."

"Well, one of them was supposed to make him sleep so....."

"Hey!" Cornelis's voice made it one booming syllable before the spots returned with doubled vigour. Unconsciously, he rubbed his eyes.

Tiny hands pushed him down. He gazed at the girl's narrow face, finding the situation made no sense at all.

"Are you in pain? Bonny checked the potions so they should be fine. But you are big guy....If the sleep potion was miss-dosed....."

Cornelis shook his head, momentarily distracted by the mention of Bonny's name. He knew her potions far too well. As well as her magic. She never failed.

The girl sighed in relief. "I'm Phyllis." She pointed towards the Optio. "Marcus."

The Optio took off his helmet, shaking his curly hair as he did so. Cornelis squinted his eyes. The Roman looked in a bit too young for his rank. He nodded at Cornelis and held up a wooden plate for the girl to investigate.

"Roasted fish. Lighter on the stomach than meat..."

Phyllis ignored the plate, standing on tip-toe to sniff the soldier's neck instead.

"Smells delicious," she grinned.

Marcus rolled his eyes, but he smiled back at her. "Do you think he can have some?"

"If he manages to keep his eyes open...."

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