There is a strange woman sitting at one of the tables at the soup kitchen, writing at a desk. Both the non-volunteer adult and the expensive electronic device are very out of place.
"It makes a peat layer that turns stuff acid."
"You sure know a lot about bogs!" he says, impressed.
"I like learning about cool stuff."
"I hope the stuff they want to teach us in Battle School is cool."
"Probably it is."
Nod. "Why'd you decide to go?"
"...if I say 'because it's thaneish' you're not going to know what that means, are you."
He sighs. "Well, it is. I dunno how else to explain it."
"What does thaneish mean?"
"It means 'like a thane'," he says, clearly aware of the fundamental inadequacy of this explanation.
"What's a thane?"
"It's a - thing - in Thule. I'm not being obstructionist, it's just really hard to explain it if you don't already know."
"I didn't think you were but sometimes it's easier to explain things if people ask more questions."
"Well - people can take an oath, the þainneið, and if you take it - if you take it and you're at least sixteen years old and it's properly witnessed and accepted - then you're a thane of Thule and you have to act like one. Like if there's somebody hurt in an accident and you know first aid you have to give it to them, or if somebody's homeless or starving you have to help them, or if somebody's stealing stuff or murdering people you have to stop them, if you can and nobody else is."
"Oh. That sounds like a good thing to be."
"And fighting the Buggers fits?"
"If there were still any to fight. I mean, if there are I will because that's thaneish too. But it's - I think going to Battle School will make me a better thane, so I am."
"Are you gonna miss your parents?" she asks, sounding very much as though this is a perfectly abstract question that it only just occurred to her that a normal person would ask.
"I'm sorry to hear that."