Toliver studied the room as he followed Joad to the front of the hall. As he suspected he might, he saw wood on display everywhere. Wood skirting ran around the room, as did ornate crown molding. Fluted wooden columns ran up both sides of the six, large windows on each side of the room, with a carved crest at the top that Toliver couldn’t quite make out. He thought it looked familiar, but he’d think about that later. They had reached the front of the room and turned to face the stage. Joad stepped back, giving Toliver a small shove forward as he did. Toliver looked up and then further up, craning his neck to see those at the first table.
“Ser Toliver, welcome,” boomed Sawyer. “You’re just in time to join us for dinner.”
“Welcome or not, I’m here and appear destined to remain.”
“Show some respect,” Joad said, taking a step forward.
“Thank you, Joad. You may join us now.”
Joad reluctantly stepped back, turned and walked toward the side of the stage. He climbed a set of stairs and sat in the empty seat next to Sawyer’s younger son.
“It’s understandable that Ser Toliver feels confused and upset. It isn’t every day one is sold into indentured servitude.”
“Oh,” Toliver said. “Is that what this is? And here I thought you owned me.” Sawyer laughed.
“And so I do, but not forever. Well,” Sawyer paused, “just how long depends on you. Joad will no doubt explain, if he hasn’t done so already.”
“I’m sure he will,” Toliver replied, his eyes on Joad. Behind him, the clatter of forks and spoons on dishes vied for his attention with the smell of roasted meat. As much as Toliver wanted to turn and see what the other slaves, servants, slavants we eating, he turned back to Sawyer.
“As I’m sure you’ve already sussed,” the big man said, “I’m Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn Sawyer. Welcome again.”
“I see your parents had a sense of humor.”
“Very good, Ser Toliver,” Sawyer said with a raised brow and a grin. “Not many would know that reference, especially without an InnerAI.” This last caused Joad to turn toward Sawyer, but he kept his lips sealed.
“To be honest,” Toliver replied, “I’m not sure how or why I know it.” Something else, he thought, to worry about later.
“Let me introduce you to my family, so that if you should have dealings with any of them in your time here, you’ll understand to give them the same respect you would accord me, or Joad. On my right,” he said, turning in that direction, “is my eldest, Woodrow. Woody for short. Woody made a perfunctory nod, though not in Toliver’s direction, keeping his eyes on his plate of rapidly cooling food. “Next, my younger son, Ashley,” who followed suit.
“Ash for short, I presume,” Toliver said.
“Indeed. Immediately on my left sits my lovely wife, Beatrice,” which Sawyer pronounced in the Italian manner. “Next, my eldest daughter, Willow, my youngest, Rose.” Neither Beatrice nor Willow acknowledge the introduction, but Rose glanced at Toliver and smiled, over so quickly the others might have missed it. Toliver gave her a nearly imperceptible nod, as he addressed her father.
“I see your parents weren’t the only ones with a sense of humor.”
“Be that as it may, you should take your seat at the empty place and enjoy your meal before the bots clear it away. They’re really overly punctual, but what can you do? Joad will fill you in on anything you need to know.” With that, Sawyer sat and turned to his wife.
Toliver stood there a couple of moments and glanced at Joad, who watched him with laser precision. Toliver shrugged and sat down to a plate of real meat, rather than the usual ersatz substitute, with actual vegetables rather than paste. He hunched over and dug in. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten.