Eiriikr says, ‘Do you want to go outside? I know you like the fresh air.’
Morducai shrugs one shoulder. “I’d sail across the ocean and bang on the doors of the magical rainbow Elf island if I thought it’d help. But it won’t.”
Anyatka puts a hand on his shoulder as she looks down the hall. “Wait. No. Your room. Where is it, brother?”
Eiriikr looks back surprised. “Upstairs, I think the barman said. All right then. Let’s go.” He turns and leads her upstairs.
Eirikr motioned for Anya to step inside the quaint inn room, his face very stern. As she crossed the threshold, he took note of the dark circles beneath her eyes and the still way in which she walked. She had always had a quietness about her as she tried to blend into the shadows of their family home, but this was different. Her feet glided over the floorboards instead of tiptoed. There was an unnatural air about her that sent a shiver down his spine.
Her sudden appearance at the tavern had shocked him; serendipity seemed to be on their side. The flood of emotions that swept over him were easily masked by years of practice, though she seemed less able to control herself than he remembered. He looked down at his palm before following her into the room. The small silver bell rested on his dark skin like a shining star. He closed his fist around it, muffling the tinkling it gave off with the slightest movement.
“Now, tell me, Anyatka,” he said shutting the door behind them. “Are you well? I’ve traipsed across half the lands following your trail to find out if you were all right.”
Anya crossed to the small window and looked out of it for a long, quiet moment. A slow blush crept across her cheeks and soon her skin was apple red in the moonlight. “I am not sure how to answer that, big brother.” Her voice did not waver though she turned not to look at him. “Much has transpired since I came to these lands. I arrived here alone with nothing save the clothes on my back. I have since taken shelter in the home of an Elf who has become my closest confidant. I have befriended many a strange folk…and lost some of those same in such a short amount of time.” She turned to look at him and her soft grey eyes shone. “But I’m not alone.”
Eirikr crossed over to her and held out the bell. She looked down and took it, turning it over so that it sang. “You dropped that,” he said softly. “I can’t believe you still carry that with you.”
She smiles ruefully. “You always said to keep it close and that if I needed you, all I had to do was give it a shake.”
“But why have it out tonight? And it’s always been my want to protect you, sister. From everything that’s dark in this world.”
She scoffed slightly and turned back to look out over the yard. “Eiri, you left years ago. No one has been looking out for me since.”
Rubbing his beard, he asked, “What about that old fellow? The one you snuck out of Dale with. Father’s outraged, by the way, and I came so he would not send someone else. Someone like Sten. Rumors abound, little whelp, and they are never fair nor kind.”
Anya let out a deep sigh and closed her eyes. She leaned her head against the cool window pane and frowned. “He’s gone. I don’t know where. And he left me with more than I can handle.”
Eirikr’s nostrils flared. “He didn’t. I’ll kill him,” he promised darkly.
Anya’s eyes flew open and she turned to look at him. “What?” Realization caused her to gasp and shake her long hair until it fell about her face. “No, no, you’ve the wrong impression. He never-” her voice breaks as her cheeks flush beneath the auburn veil. “It was nothing like that, Eiri, I promise.”
He dumped himself onto the bed and rubbed his forehead. “It wasn’t? Then, by Bard’s arrow, Anya, why did you do it? Why did you leave?”
“You left!” She whirled about to glare at him. Her eyes – they flashed darkly and for a moment Eirikr was speechless. “You left us there, alone. With them!”
“You left Abbi alone with him! You know he’d sooner see him dead than alive!” Sitting up, he raised a condemning finger. “You were supposed to protect Abiorn and he’s now got no one to fend for him!”
She glowered at him, the light streaming in from the moon and stars casting her in a halo. “Abbi is stronger than you think. He’s stronger than anyone thinks and he will prove it to you all.”
“But not you. You’re not there to see it.”
She let out a small cry of disbelief. “I am nothing in that town, Eirikr! Nothing! And I will never be anything to anyone, not under his roof, not with his men shadowing my every move and scaring away anyone who came near me!”
“To a man I met once? And was twice my age?” The irony of her words was lost on her. “Some betrothal. I had no say in my own life in Dale, Eiri. Now I have.”
Snorting loudly, he gestured to her. “And what of that? You look terrible.”
She raised her chin to him defiantly. “You do not know what you are talking about.”
He shook his head. “No. I don’t.” He paused a moment and regarded her more carefully. “Come here,” he said in a gentler voice.
She resisted a moment before crossing over to him, her movements too fluid, too unlike the awkward girl he remembered. She stood before him and he grabbed her wrist to pull her to the side so the light would fall on her features.
“Anya, what has happened to you?”
Her stoic expression lasted two seconds more. Then her features crumpled and her whole body sagged. “So much,” she whispered, exhaustion and pain in her voice. “Oh, Eirikr, so much.”
He stood and wrapped his arms around his sister, all indignation and outrage faded. “Anya. Tell me,” he mumbled into her hair. He felt her collapse into him as her body started to shake with sobs. “Let me help make it right.”
Clinging to him tightly, she whispered back, “Where do I begin?”