The next morning came with silence. The Priory members had already gotten up and left for another day of field work. Light barely passed through the small holes and windows of the hut leading me to believe that the sky was still just as gray as it was the day before.
Beside me I could hear the soft breathing of Ragnvaldr who had a terrible time getting to sleep in the first place. I was no better at it and had been awake for most of the night. Every hour or so, I would nod off for a few minutes but wake again very suddenly. If he was sleeping well now, that’s all I could have asked for before we set off on our journey again.
If life in Divinity’s Reach felt days away when I arrived in Hoelbrak, it felt years away now. A lot of people talk about how it feels like yesterday that they’ve met the love of their life but I couldn’t understand it. Hoelbrak seemed so long ago and my meeting with Ragnvaldr felt like ancient history.
I wiggled my fingers between his. My hand spent the night in his again. It was calming for the both of us, I’m sure. I tried to keep my thoughts positive through the night and though it was difficult I somehow had convinced myself that this journey would go off without any more days like yesterday’s.
I turn on my side and buried myself into Ragnvaldr’s chest. He instinctively wrapped his arm around me and pulled me closer. I found myself wishing again that I could stay in his chest forever, except this time I knew just how impossible it would be in the current situation. I couldn’t wait for a day to just rest and spend time with him. I hoped that day would come soon.
I yawned and enjoyed the time I had with him now while we were alone. There was no telling when a chance to sit here and cuddle with him would rise up again during our journey.
I would like to see what his sister thought of us now.
This feeling of complete love for this norn overwhelmed me every time I gave myself time to think about it. Even if he was a different race, I loved him and nothing would ever change that. I could feel the love he had for me as well. The fact that he did worry about me so much showed just how much. I never expected him to break down in front of me the way he did. I always saw him as a gentle giant; he was strong but caring, but it never prepared me to see him so wrought with grief.
Running my fingers through his hair, I thought about how lost I would be without him. How could I have ever survived this journey alone?
His embrace tightened around me and he kissed the top of my head.
“Sorry, did I wake you?” I whispered and looked up.
“Not at all,” he smiled, “Good morning.” My heart skipped a beat.
“Good morning,” I responded and smiled in return.
“Should I make breakfast?” Even though I was looking forward to his food as always, I had to deny him. I wanted to stay here like this for a bit longer.
“No… I just… I want to stay here for now… like this,” I looked away and responded shyly.
“I can do that, too.” Glee possessed me from the sound of happiness in his voice as he said it. He freed a hand and turned my head back towards his. He leaned down and kissed my lips gently.
If there was ever a time I didn’t want Angel, it would have been now.
“Lovebirds, up, now.” She demanded as she burst into the door and left just as promptly. I groaned and rolled over.
Ragnvaldr leaned over me, “I wasn’t finished.” He kissed me again and I gave into my desires and kissed him as well. I think that perhaps we both needed this.
Minutes later I was already putting my boots and coat on and heading outside with Ragnvaldr. Angel had been waiting by the door for us to come out.
“I don’t know want to know what you two were doing in there,” She scoffed with a disgusted face.
“It wasn’t anything like that,” I tried to plead but she was way ahead of me.
“Right, you’re a human and he’s a norn. Nothing like that could happen between you two anyway,” Her smirk told me that she never thought anything had happened between us but rather than she was reminding me to stay in my place. I was instantly reminded of Ragnvaldr’s sister again. Angel walked up the hill and looked back to see if we were following. We picked up the hint and joined her. Around a campfire overseeing the land around us sat a few Priory members, including Klatt and Klarra, as well as Tobih. Above the fire was a large pot on a grate.
“I cooked breakfast this morning.” She sounded proud as she lifted the spoon from the pot, “It’s my own creation: I call it omelette in a pot.” A smile played across her face, “Fresh scrambled moa eggs with crumbled wild boar bacon, dolyak cheese, and a dash of my secret blend of spices and broth.”
I sat down and took a bowl, as did Ragnvaldr. Her food looked like a bowl of slop and I didn’t have very high hopes for it. Ragnvaldr and the others looked skeptical as well. In an attempt to not seem as rude as she was, I took the first bite. To my surprise it was on par with Ragnvaldr’s cooking, though his certainly looked a lot better.
“Is there anything you don’t excel at?” I questioned her and took another spoonful.
“Anything involving communication skills,” Klatt chuckled and dug into the meal as well.
“Magic, too.” Tobih added.
Angel glared at each of them but I caught her attention again, “It’s quite good though.” A genuine smile formed across her lips and she perked up. Perhaps earlier she was so rude because we were taking our time getting out to taste her food. Or perhaps she was just being herself and took it too far.
“Thanks,” She cheerfully responded after careful consideration. Klatt and Klarra looked at her in disbelief.
“I think I get it. Somehow this runt is stronger than her and while I originally thought the runt was the hostage, it’s the other way around!” Klatt deduced with a playful smirk. Klarra giggled.
“Shut up or it’ll be you in the pot,” Angel threatened, her fist outstretched as she did. “That runt is my friend and you’ll respect her.” I couldn’t hold back the large smile from hearing her call me her friend. She glanced to me with daggers for eyes as she fell upon my smiling face.
It was true, though. No matter how awful her timing was or how she treated me or what had been done in the past, a bond had been formed between the two of us. It slowly developed since our second meeting in Ascalon. After all, we were both stuck in this situation and misery enjoys company.
I was beginning to understand Angel a little better. She was as tough as she acted and as egotistical, too. Angel actually believed in her act and always followed through. She wasn’t only tough, but strong. Even through her strife she never strayed back towards her path of evil. This tough exterior hid her true feelings towards people because she knew she would one day be without them. Angel didn’t want friends, but she always stumbled upon them. I’m sure when she found me, she knew I wasn’t the same as her old battle-mates but I could live forever with her. At the same time, I’m sure she hurts knowing that I wanted to change that possibility. Still, she goes on to forge a better path from her sins for an eternity.
I actually had a lot of respect for her.
Tobih was the first to finish his breakfast, “I have to polish my sword before we leave today.” He stood up and nodded to us before leaving. Something seemed off about him but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I looked to Ragnvaldr, who gave me a questioned looked as I gave a slight nod to Tobih. I gave it a few minutes before I also excused myself, “I’ll be right back. I need to go to the restroom.” I lied and I knew I was terrible at it, but people seemed convinced for once.
I made my way down the hill and out of sight before sneaking into the hut that Tobih and Angel had been staying in. As the door creaked open, I saw Tobih on his knees and doubled over. I thought he may have been choking before I realized that he was actually coughing. I ran to him and stooped down to let him know I was there. Placing a hand on his back, I tried to talk to him, “Are you okay? Is there anything I can get you?”
Maybe it was Angel’s food.
He pulled his handkerchief away, revealing a blood stained cloth. My eyes widened at the sight of it; Some blood was fresh while other bits were clearly days old.
“You weren’t supposed to see me like this,” He said weakly and coughed into the cloth again. I rubbed his back and watched in worry. I knew there was nothing I could do for it. I was no healer nor a doctor and I could only stand and watch.
“Are you sick?! What’s going on?!” I asked rather loudly in the sudden fear that washed over me. I helped him lay down on his side as his coughing subsided.
“It’s nothing, really,” he replied with a groan. I brought a blanket over him and put my forehead to his to tell his temperature. His skin was burning and it only made me panic more.
“How long have you been hiding this from us? Does Angel know?”
“No one knows; I’d like to keep it that way.” He sounded desperate. It was another secret for me to try to keep.
“Do you know what’s wrong?” I asked him. He obviously had kept it hidden for quite some time so maybe he did know.
“Nothing is wrong.” He replied, becoming stubborn quite suddenly. I knew he was lying and yet I knew I wasn’t going to be able to wiggle the truth out of him. I brushed his black hair from his face and tucked it behind his ears. His hand grabbed mine as his glossy eyes stared into me, “Please don’t tell anyone.”
“I need to tell someone, Tobih. You’re sick and we can’t continue our journey with you like this.” I tried reasoning with him but he didn’t seem to want to listen.
“Please!” He shouted before coughing again. “We have to keep going,” his voice became softer, “I can stand and I can walk and I have to see you and Angel get to the end of this.”
I shifted my eyes and thought about my options. My heart hurt for him and I didn’t know what I should do. He was too important to leave here and yet with him in this condition, we couldn’t take him with us. Waiting for it to end may be futile. Would he hate me if I told the others? I stared at my friend as he continued to whisper his pleas to me and wondered if I should listen to him.
His hand gripped mine even harder, “I want to keep going as if nothing is happening. I want to be thought of as strong,” He coughed again, “Not weak. I don’t want people to look back at me and think I’m helpless. Most of all, I want to see the end of this journey.”
Angel came into the door as loud as usual. Tobih tucked the handkerchief into his armor and sat up. “What’s going on here?” Angel asked this with a turn of her head as she quickly calmed down.
Tobih let go of my hand and gave a sheepish smile.
“Oh, I was just checking on Tobih. He seemed a little off when he left so I made an excuse to go check on him. Turns out he didn’t get enough sleep, probably because you were around.” I made up.
“Her words, not mine,” Tobih chuckled. He really did seem as if he was back to normal.
“Uh-huh,” Was her only response as she closed the door gently behind her, “Are you sure there isn’t something you want to tell me?” My heart leaped; had she overheard us? “Because I’m pretty sure Ragnvaldr wouldn’t like you two to be holding hands.” That wasn’t much better.
“It was a friendly gesture, that’s all,” Tobih assured her, “She was worried about me and I told her I was okay. I guess it very well could have been taken the wrong way.” He was surprisingly good at telling the truth without spilling information.
She glanced to me and I nodded in agreement to Tobih’s words, “I’ll even tell Ragnvaldr so myself.” Of course I didn’t plan to tell him the entirety of the story. For now, I would keep this a secret for Tobih. I only hoped that it would be enough.