“Over here,” Einarr called upstream at Onnir’s back. Moments later, his guide splashed out of the water and up to the great oak where a small boy huddled.
“Frigg be praised,” he breathed, and scooped the child up. He cradled the boy’s head against his shoulder as he stood up, murmuring to the boy. Onnir met Einarr’s eye and then jerked his head, back the way they had come.
“What of the brother?”
Onnir shook his head. “No sign, and Armad here needs help quickly. We can make the lodge again tonight, but not the Hold.”
Einarr nodded his understanding, but the man was already off. Einarr followed, now keeping a lookout for his guide as they retraced their steps. Given the timing, it was unlikely the Shroud was still in the area, but…
…the half-conscious child whimpered as they went through the campsite where Onnir had found his father’s knife. They paused, only long enough for Einarr to retrieve the knife they had left stuck in the ground, and hurried back toward the lodge they had left only that morning.
Armad lay stretched in his father’s bed, a thick wool blanket pulled up to his chin and a wet cloth on his forehead. Onnir had gone to the hearth in the main room and was boiling a thick porridge against the boy’s waking. Hidir was out chopping wood: Einarr wished he was. It would have given him something to do besides pace, waiting for the boy to be lucid enough to answer questions.
His fingers itched. There were ways of healing with runes, just as Singers were able to heal with their music. But Einarr’s understanding of the runes was still crude, and Melja had warned that it was not often done. Breathe. The boy will wake when he does. No good will come of rushing here.
So he told himself, but it was hard – and moreso because Father was training him to lead. Einarr shook his head and rewet the cloth over Armad’s head.
The boy groaned. Einarr sat up straighter, but his eyes did not open this time.
“How is he?” Onnir’s voice came from the door, a steaming bowl in his hands.
“Still asleep. I keep catching myself trying to puzzle out the runes to help him and having to remind myself I don’t know them. Water might bring the fever down, but even Melja says healing with runes is tricky…”
“As anxious as I am for the young lord to recover, I’d rather not risk something even a master thinks is difficult. Right now, he needs food. Help me sit him up.”
The first spoonful dribbled down the boy’s chin, but his lips began to twitch. The second spoonful was accepted almost eagerly, in spite of the boy’s continued unconsciousness. As they continued, the boy’s eyelids began to flutter. Soon, he was merely half asleep and eating as though he were half-starved.
“Gently, now,” Onnir murmured, and Einarr was not certain if he was talking to the boy or himself. As Onnir neared the bottom of the bowl, awareness came back into the boy’s eyes.
He smiled at the older man. “Uncle. You found me.”
“Yes, Armad. I found you, and brought you back to the Lodge.”
“I’m glad. I had the worst dream. A red mist came, and if it touched you, you disappeared in a flash of red light.” The boy still sounded half-asleep.
Einarr raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“It sent Father and Mother off somewhere, and it caught Gruki too after we ran, but I hid. Didn’t I do good?”
“Yes, Armad. You did very good.” Einarr could see the strain on Onnir’s face. Armad was already drifting back off to sleep.
“Wake him again,” Einarr said, feeling choked himself. “Please.”
“I don’t think you’re going to get anything clearer from him. For the best he thinks it was a dream, for now. I’ll let him hold on to that, I think, until he’s stronger.”
Einarr nodded his agreement. Probably for the best. “If the fever holds on for more than a couple days, take him to the Shrouded Village. They have a skilled healer, and… and I’m concerned the fever may not be entirely natural.” The Shroud was inextricably linked to fire magic, after all.
Onnir grunted, looking as though he had not considered that. “I’ll do that.”
“You don’t think he saw where it came from?” Einarr tried to put hope in his voice, but it was forlorn anyway. Where the Shroud went from there was a lost cause, with the sort of flight the boy would have had to have taken.
“Even if he did, I don’t think we could trust his account. He’s still caught up in dream logic.”
That was unfortunately probably true. Einarr allowed himself a sigh. “Well. It’s more of a lead than I had, at least. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stay until morning.”
“Of course. It’s the least we can do, after you found Armad for us.”
Einarr grunted and let himself out of the sick room. Mentally, questions assailed him about the boy and his ability to inherit, but such matters were none of his business. Focus on the Shroud, fix the mess you made. Even if you could do something to help their Clan, they probably wouldn’t want you to.
Dinner that evening was a somber affair. While the child would probably recover at this rate, Onnir and Hidir had just lost their Lord and most of his family. It was a hard thing, and ale flowed freely that night.
Eventually, Einarr slipped off to a corner of the Hall to sleep while the other two drank themselves stupid. He was not in mourning, and he could not afford a hangover in his hunt. Not with as cold and as faint as the trail already was.
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