The next morning after Patrik and Galena had arrived in the village just outside Lycentia, the stable master assured the innkeeper that attaching an entirely-new wheel to the wagon was better than repairing the old one. As the replacement was made, Galena casually looked around the stable for the little girl. But she was nowhere to be found. And except for them and the man repairing the wagon wheel, the square was completely deserted. Patrik was not concerned about the girl's whereabouts and reminded Galena that one of the first things they would do once entering Lycentia was to find Franck.
Patrik gave the stable master a few silver coins and thanked him for his trouble. He and Galena then climbed on the wagon and proceeded to head back down the narrow road for the capital city. As the wagon approached the first curve outside of the tiny village, Galena pointed at something in a clearing just to their left.
“What is that? It looks like a bunch of people,” she said.
“Yes, it's a small gathering of people,” Patrik replied but then refused to even look in the direction of the distraction.
“Father! Stop the wagon! I want to find out what they are doing over there!” She grabbed the reins and pulled back on them,
“What are you doing? We need to be in Lycentia!” Patrik yelled as she leaped off the wagon even though it had not come to a complete stop. “Galena!” But it was no use. Instead of arguing with her, he coaxed the horses to move as close to the edge of the road and then also exited the wagon. By the time he had gotten off, Galena was already standing next to the small gathering of people. They were standing in a circle around a large pile of wood. And on top of that woodpile appeared to be a small body.
“It's a funeral,” she whispered to the innkeeper as he walked up to join her.
“Funeral? For who?” Patrik asked. Galena tapped the shoulder of a man who was close to her and asked who had died. The man replied so quietly that Patrik couldn't hear the response. “So, who is the funeral for?” Patrik asked Galena again.
“The man said that it's for a little girl,” Galena replied. A solitary tear made its way down her left cheek. “A girl who was only five years old,” she added with a quiet sniffle.
“What did she die from?” Patrik then asked. The man who Galena had talked to heard the question moved away from the small gathering and walked over to the innkeeper.
“Food poisoning,” he said. “At least that's what we're supposed to think.”
“Poisoned? How could – “ Before Galena could finish her question, the man turned around and walked back to the group. A few minutes later, the same man who had talked to them picked up a torch, lit it and walked up to the woodpile. Surrounded by near-silence, except for the chattering of a squirrel high above them, he thrust the torch into the woodpile, the dry tinder nearly exploding into orange and yellow flames.
“Why are they burning her?” Galena asked. “Why didn't they just bury her like people in Noran bury their dead? Like we buried Uncle Pieter?” Patrik shook his head.
“I don't know,” he replied. “I just don't know.”
BTW, two more chapters to go before Lycentia: Harrak's Scrolls is drafted! Woot!