Abiorn awoke sitting up with the screams of his sister-in-law ringing in his ears. The corners of the floor tiles that arrived by Dwarven wagon poked into his back as he stared up at the late July sun.

It sat high as it neared its zeniSun in Homesteadsth; he touched the bridge of his nose and felt the heat. He would peel again if he didn’t put something on it. He would probably peel anyway. The journey from Dale to Bree exposed him to more elements than he had faced in the fifteen years he spent in Dale. He shed layers of his face and neck twice. Eruviel found plants along the banks of the Anduin that eased the itch and once they settled down in Bree, a healer named Cwendlwyn visited and gave him an entire shelf of pots and bottles. The round one to ease the ache, the green muck helps with the itching. The vial of blue to ease the pain. Anya painted labels on them to make sure he kept them straight.

He rubbed his eyes and pushed himself away from the stack of tile. His fishing pole lay beneath his legs and he picked it up to find the line snapped. There goes dinner, he thought dryly. Perhaps he would venture into the small market today and buy some food for a decent meal. Anya was home sporadically and she was the cook of the family. Even Eirikr could cook the meat he brought home, but Abiorn’s involvement in meals back home involved consuming them, not preparing them.

Gazing into the tranquil water of Ruby Lake, he thought of his brother. Eirikr had never been gone for more than two or three days. He would bring game and Anya would work in the garden the healer, Cwen, planted when she stayed with them for a few days. Cwen made Abiorn laugh when her wry comments made Anya blush or flee to make tea. She even made Eirikr smile when he came home, but it never reached his eyes and he never stayed. He missed the sound of their voices, especially in the evening. Now, with the sun and the lapping waves, it wasn’t too bad. But in the evening, Eirikr’s absence stretched between the remaining siblings like a chasm neither wished to leap across. It separated them; he knew Anya wanted to know more about their journey from Dale than he was willing to tell her. It wasn’t his pain to share, though, and what he told her only scratched the surface: Ninim died in childbirth beneath the dark canopy of the Mirkwood. A woodsman found them and his family volunteered to take in the baby. And with each passing mile, he knew he was leaving his brother behind in the dark forest with his dead wife.

Abiorn rubbed his chin and rounded the corner of the house. His sister was coming down the lane, smiling and humming to herself.

“Anyatka! Where were you?” Abiorn rushed forward to greet her.

She ducked the wayward point of his fishing pole and hugged him carefully. “I was visiting a friend. Did you have a good morning?” She tweaked the end of his nose and he winced. “It looks like you need a thick layer of cream, bróðir. Did you not feel yourself starting to burn?”

His hand shot up to rub his nose. “No. I fell asleep by the lake. What about you, sis? You’re all…soft looking.” He winkles his nose. “And you smell like roses.”

Blushing, Anya laughed and brushed past him to go into the house. He followed her inside and leaned the pole against the wall. Several fishing flies lay on the table with some loose feathers and line. Anya dropped her bag with a thunk and fingered a bright blue feather. “Has he been home?”

Abiorn dipped his head to hide his disappointment. “No. Those are mine. Eirik gave them to me. I tried to copy this one, see?” He pointed at a mess of brown speckled feathers and line. “Though, I can’t tie it. The feathers keep falling and I can’t hold onto it. It’s too small.”

Anya picked up the unfinished fly. The feather fell away and left the naked hook and nettle-hemp line in her grasp. Abiorn flushed and reached out to take it from her.

“Eirik can help me when he gets back,” he said as he started tucking away the bits and pieces. “I’ll clean this up.”

“He will come back, you know.” Anya stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm. When he looked at her, he saw something changed about her eyes. The pain from her separation from Anricwulf seemed to have dissolved leaving behind a calm, confident woman. Abiorn secretly missed the neurotic and anxious mess she usually was. It provided a nice distraction from the dreams.

“Why do you think he’s been gone so long this time? Doesn’t he get lonely out there?”

Shrugging, Anya began gathering items to make some lunch. “I think he needs it right now, Abbi. He will be all right. He just needs time. Besides, Eruviel went looking for him, and I think he has a certain fondness for her. He will listen and he will return. When he’s ready.”

“The tiles for the floor came. He’s supposed to teach me how to lay them.”

Anya’s brow arched over her grey eye. For only a moment, Abiorn swore they turned blue.

“Since when does Eirikr know how to lay tile floors?”

He shrugged. “He built his house in Esgaroth.”

“I guess so.”

Abiorn watched her begin to cut thin slices of cheese. “Can I help?”

She looked at him without raising her head. “All right.”

She stepped back and he took her place at the cutting board. With a look of intense concentration, he cut a jagged slice. His second slice was not much better, but Anya smiled and patted his shoulder. “Try pushing down, not carving. It’s not a chicken, you know.”

“It’s just going to be all chewed up anyway, right?” he grunted as he cut a third piece. “How much of this do you want?”

“As much as you are willing to slice, my brother. You never know, he might come home and be starving.”

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