Chapters 38-42

Chapter 38. Eskil is Worried

The atmosphere was tense like a high-strung bowstring. Eskil knew that it would not take much for this bowstring to be fired. It was a good thing that courtesy demanded that weapons should be left outside a hall. Although Eskil’s confidence in his big brother Erik was unshakable he couldn’t help that his throat felt dry when he looked at the crowd that was gathered in his father’s great hall. Everything was at stake now and it all depended on if Erik could convince this crowd. There were families whose loyalty could be counted on, others that shouldn’t be too hard to convince but he could also see faces of men who made him feel uneasy.

Birger raised his hand. “I am glad to see so many of you gathered here today. It is my painful duty to confirm the rumors that most likely have reached you. Not only is it true that Prince Alexander has abandoned his bride and the throne but it is also true that the King, my dear brother, is seriously ill and bound to his bed. Although this is very sad we must plan for the future of our kingdom.” 
The brawl that followed made it impossible to hear anything more.
  Scattered words that Eskil could pick up confirmed that there were those who believed that the rumors about his family’s involvement in Alexander’s disappearance were true. He thought he could also hear someone whisper the word “poisoned” about the King. Deep down not even Eskil was certain that the rumors were not completely false. Erik looked relaxed and self confident as if he did not realize that his future might be at stake. It was only the firm muscles on Erik’s cheeks that told Eskil that Erik probably was just as tense as he himself felt. Erik’s self confidence was just an act.

Their father, Birger, looked at Erik and nodded. Erik raised his hand and the room silenced enough for him to make himself heard. “I think that now is the time for everyone to think about their own future. King Knut was not happy about how his daughter was treated by Alexander and would not support those loyal to Magnus. My uncle Karl has sworn his loyalty to my father and me. Thus we stand strong and would reward those who are willing to give us support.”

A deep and strong voice was heard from the back of the hall. “This is outrageous, the king is still alive and we don’t know what has happened to Alexander. Is there anyone else than me in this hall who would like to know what happened to the Prince? Is it not strange that first Alexander disappears and then Erik is going to marry his bride?” It was Torstein who had raised his voice. Torstein was a big experienced warrior, a man that people tended to listen to.
  The murmur in the hall confirmed that Torstein was not the only one who would like an answer. The fact that Erik was going to marry Princess Alde was also news for many of them.

Erik smiled, but this time his smile did not look relaxed. It looked like a wolf’s smile and his eyes were narrow. “Torstein, we all know what happened. Alexander got cold feet and ran away from his wedding. The shock was too much for the poor old King. Even if Alexander would come back, which I find most unlikely, do you really think that he would be a suitable king after this?”

“Alexander is not known to be a coward. I find it highly unlikely that a Prince who is known for his bravery in the jousting tournaments would be afraid to face his bride. Maybe you think it’s unlikely that he will return because you know more than us about his disappearance.”

Erik’s cold blue eyes were fixed on the man who had spoken. “Torstein, I know the Prince well enough to know that he’s a weak coward who puts himself before his duties. I am happy though that you spoke your mind so freely because I will not forget your words.”
  Eskil felt how the blood left his face. Erik was carried away and had taken everything much too far. It was too early for this, there were still people who hoped and believed that the King would recover and that Alexander would return.
  Torstein did not turn his eyes away from Erik’s gaze. There was a murmur in the crowd when finally someone spoke and Erik could find an excuse to turn his eyes from Torstein to the young man who had raised his voice.
  “I think that you have spoken well Erik. We do need to plan the future for this kingdom and you will have my loyalty.” It was Erik’s and Eskil’s cousin, Karl’s son, who had spoken.
The majority raised their voices to let it be known that they agreed. But there were also some that were silent with grim faces.

Torstein’s strong and deep voice was once again heard. “This will mean war and you know it. The farmers will not like your ideas about how this country should be ruled. They have always supported Magnus and if there is going to be a new king they would like to have a word about it too. They have always kept their weapons sharp. No one can deny that the kingdom has prospered under Magnus’ reign or that the King’s strategies have given his people peace and wealth.”

Erik did not even try to hide his despise. “Troublemaking farmers are the result of Magnus’ politics. Maybe they have grown too fat and wealthy under Magnus’ reign. If war is ahead of us, so be it. Our gods reward brave warriors who die an honorable death on the battle field. Only a coward fears war. After all, that is what all Jarls have been trained for since we started to walk. If a farmer believes that he can go into battle against us let the fool try. Let the gods send ravens to feast on those who are against us! Glory awaits those who are brave.”

Assenting ovations was heard all around in the hall but Torstein was not impressed. “Maybe the farmers will not be alone, and don’t forget that they by far outnumber the Jarls. There are those of us who have sworn fealty to Magnus and who believe that such a promise is sacred. Don’t fool yourself and believe that your keep and the stone walls that you are building will keep you safe. I value my honor more than my life. The gods know the hearts of men and reward those who are worthy.” With these words Torstein turned his back to Erik and walked out of the hall. A small group followed him.

The faces of the men leaving the hall were unmoved and hard as stone when Erik laughed and shouted after them “Look at those cowards fearing war against farmers!” Roaring laughter echoed in the hall. It seemed as if Erik had won this battle but he had also made enemies today.
Eskil didn’t like to think of himself as a coward but an honorable death on the battlefield was not something that he longed for.



Chapter 39. A Bed of Leaves

Thorundur was thirstier than he had ever been before and his chest hurt. That was strange! He would have thought that he wouldn’t feel pain anymore. It was a huge effort to open the eyes but when they finally were open he found that it had been worth the effort.

He was looking into the depth of Roe’s yellow eyes. Was she too dead? He felt happy that she was here too but he didn’t know if it was right to be happy when someone had died. But there was something that was wrong. Roe was mortal so she shouldn’t be here if he was dead. Obviously he must still be alive. That would explain the pain and the thirst that he felt. His head was resting in Roe’s lap. Her skin was warm and suddenly everything felt right. He studied the pattern that surrounded her eyes and the red stone on her forehead. He knew her so well that he would have been able to see every detail of her face even with his eyes closed. She was beautiful beyond comparison. Her smiled seemed so sad. He tried to tell her to not be sad but no sound would leave his lips.

“Don’t worry, just rest,” she said and stroke the hair from his forehead. It felt soothing and good. He tried to smile but didn’t know if he succeeded. She stopped stroking his hair and he tried to tell her to continue but still no sound would leave his lips. Roe lifted his head carefully and put a bowl with water to his lips.

“I thought I was dead,” he said and finally he managed to get the sound to leave his lips.

“You were not far from it when I found you,” she replied. She stroke his forehead tenderly and looked at him with a sad smile. “Don’t talk more now. You need to rest.”

But he didn’t want to be quiet. “How could you find me?” he said.

She smiled and he could see a hint of the glimpse in her eyes that she always had when she teased him. “That was easy enough. The track that you left would have been easy for a baby to follow. Don’t you know that you should never follow your own track when you go back? For once I’m glad that you did though, because it saved me a lot of time. ”

“I’m so glad that you found me. It was stupid of me to go after the human with a sword”.

Roe’s face hardened “I hate that human for hurting you.”

The words made him feel warm, but after all it wasn’t the human who had hurt him. He had been a total failure and even managed to get seriously injured without actually being hit by a weapon at all. What a lousy warrior he would be have been if he’d been alive during the time of the war. He considered the possibility to let Roe believe that he was a brave warrior who had been hurt in fight. But no, this was Roe, his best friend. There shouldn’t be any secrets between them. He wanted her to know everything about him. Embarrassed he told her how he had fallen off the horse and that the branch must have penetrated the old and rusty chainmail.

She stroke his forehead again and looked down into his eyes. “I’m glad that I found you in time. If you had died I would never have been happy again.”

Carefully Roe put his head down from her lap. He realized that he was lying on a bed of leaves that Roe had made over a skin that she had spread on the ground. Obviously she had also removed his tunic and put some green leaves under a bandage on his chest while he was unconscious. Instead of the silk tunic he was wearing a leather loin cloth like the Forest people.

Roe hesitated before she started to talk, “I have to get us some food because we have to stay here for a while until you get your strength back. I will be back soon. Don’t you dare die on me while I’m away!” She started to walk away but then she stopped, turned her head and looked at him. “Stupid elf,” she said and smiled tenderly.

He looked at her as she walked away. She moved gracefully and the slender muscles were tight under her dark skin. He had never seen anyone who could move like Roe.

Thorundur smiled and closed his eyes. Everything was fine now.


Chapter 40. Moonlight

She was sitting on the back of the black horse without any reins or saddle. Roe and the horse moved in perfect harmony as if they were the one and same creature. She was magnificent. Swiftly she jumped to the ground but when she saw him she looked alarmed.
  “I told you to rest, you’re not strong enough to sit up yet,” she yelled at him. She rushed to him and looked at the bandage. Obviously she was pleased with what she saw because she relaxed and sat down next to him.

You have lost a lot of blood and the wound is not healed yet so you need to be very careful so it doesn’t start to bleed again. Please lie down and rest while I make you something to eat.”
  Thorundur didn’t protest. It was true that he was very week and the pain was really bad.
Roe must have seen the tension of the muscles in his face because she said, “I wish I could take the pain away. But I’m afraid that medicine that kills pain may be dangerous before your wound is more healed. I cannot risk that you would lose more blood.”
   “I can stand the pain if you’re here to keep me company,” he answered. He could see that she smiled before she turned her head away. It felt so good bee friends with Roe again. They talked continuously with each other about numerous little things. She told him how she loved to ride on the back of the horse and how she had caught a rabbit with her sling while she had left him to get food.     “If I had been as skilled as you with the bow I would have got us a deer,” she said. It was silly, but her acknowledgement of his skill with the bow made his chest burst with happiness.
She put his head in her lap and fed him a rich soup that she said would be good for his blood. “You might be well enough to be allowed to get up tomorrow considering how quick elves heal,” she said.   “I doubt that any other creature would have survived the blood loss that you suffered but you are already surprisingly brisk.”

She slept close to him with her arm over his body to keep him warm. Not that he really needed any more warmth. The summer night was warm enough and he had thrown of the skin blanket that Roe had put over him. He knew that it would be natural for the Forest people to share their warmth with each other but he was an elf and not really used to such closeness. It felt good but this was dangerous. No matter how close friends they were he had subconsciously always kept their friendship to a certain limit. But he was wounded and her closeness felt so good. He moved even closer to her. After all he had almost died and returned to life thanks to Roe. Tomorrow he would put up the limit between them again. He put his hand over hers and felt the tight muscles under the warm and soft skin of her arm under his own arm. He studied the contrast between his pale skin and her dark in the week moonlight. He didn’t need to see her arm to know that it was completely smooth without a hair while his own arm was covered with fine almost white hairs. Her breaths were deep and even and he could feel her chest moving and her warm breath against his neck with every breath that she took. She was soundly asleep but he didn’t believe that he would be able to sleep much this night. Tomorrow is another day he thought as he squeezed her hand gently.

Roe had been right, Thorundur’s wound looked better next day and she allowed him to sit up and even walk carefully supported by her.
“I went home when I left you sleeping yesterday to tell my parents not to worry. They are not very happy with me but I will make it up to them,” she told him. “It’s amazing how fast the horse can travel.”
“I’m sorry to keep you away from your family Roe,” Thorundur said. “You’ve been so kind to me and I was so terrible to you before I left to go looking for Aliendre.”
“No, it is I who was terrible,” she said and looked down. “I’m so sorry that Aliendre chose the human.  You must be so very sad.”

Thorundur chook his head, “No, I was stupid and confused. When I travelled together with Aliendre I realized how different we are. It didn’t take me long to realize that her company bored me. She’s wonderful and beautiful but I mistook admiration for love. Obviously I will still have to wait a very long time to find the love of my life.”
“But I thought that you risked your life to rescue her because you loved her so much.”
“No, that was not the reason. I like her very much and don’t want her to die of course. Don’t laugh at me Roe, but the real reason was that I thought that if I could bring her back home I would be a hero. It sounds really stupid now, I know. She has made her choice and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. But now that she has left, you and I will have much more time together. Think about all the good hunts we will have this autumn.”

Roe didn’t look as happy as he had expected. She looked down and swallowed and when she looked up her face made his throat thighten, and then she said the words that he had always known would come one day.

“I will not be able to see you anymore after this summer,” she said.”I’m going to move to Bear to become his spouse.”

Thorundur’s reaction took him by surprise. Of course he had always known that Roe would take a husband of her own people some day, but somehow it had always been something in a distant future. Now it was reality, Roe would not share his life anymore. It couldn’t be possible. He couldn’t stand the thought of Bear being more important in her life than him.

“But you don’t love him, you said so yourself. How can you take a husband that you don’t love? You said that this wouldn’t happen until next Forest people meeting.”

“I’m not an elf like you Thorundur. Forest people don’t think about love like you do. Bear will be a very good husband and we will share a good life together. It’s time for me to grow up.”

“I don’t believe that you don’t care about love. Everyone does. You’re not that different from me Roe. Do you truly believe that you will be happy with Bear?”

She looked like she was going to yell back at him, but then her face smoothened and she told him calmly; “I will miss you very much Thorundur and I will always remember you, but when you have healed enough to leave this place we must say goodbye forever. Besides you’re wrong, you and I are very different.”

This was even worse than he had expected.
“Roe, how am I supposed to be happy if we cannot be friends?” He didn’t try to hide the despair in his voice. 

Her face was filled with sorrow when she answered. “You know that it will happen anyway. You’re immortal and I’m not. I will age and die and you will live forever and forget me.”

“Never,” he protested violently. “I would never forget you. But you’re just going to throw me away and replace me with someone better than me.” 

She flinched when she heard the anger and accusation in his voice but her own reply was calm. “I’m of the Forest people and have to live with my own kind. Time is hunting me like you cannot not imagine. You have a great gift Thorundur but that gift is not mine. You cannot expect me to give up the chance to have a family just because time lasts forever for you.” She rose and walked away to prepare some food, but he suspected that it was just an excuse to leave him.

Of course everything Roe had said was true. He had no reason to be angry at her. But what would he do without her? They belonged together. It was impossible to deny any longer what he had always known deep down. He loved her more than his own life and a life without Roe was impossible to imagine. All his happiest memories involved her. One thing he knew, he woulwould not let her know exactly how quick elves healed. He needed more time.


Chapter 41. Roe Tells her Tale

Roe thought that she could almost watch Thorundur’s wound close under her eyes when she changed the bandage. The speed of healing almost seemed unreal. She could still feel the panic and fear that she had felt when she found him deadly pale in a pool of blood and the desperate hope when she had noticed a faint breath. A deep wound in the chest was always bad and he had lost more blood than she would have believed possible to survive. But his wound had almost healed and his pulse felt strong again. Yet he was still extremely week and complained about pain. He felt dizzy when he walked on unsteady legs and had to lean on her for support. Maybe it was the blood loss that made him so weak after all, even if all physical signs told her that he had recovered. Elves were very different so perhaps their physics was not like other creatures’. She seated him comfortably near the camp fire and left him there to complete her latest task that would be a surprise for him.

The blue cloth was soft under her fingers. It looked alive in the sun, reflecting the light in so many shades of blue. The delicate embroidery had silver woven into the thread. But it was not all blue or silver. Shuddering Roe stroke her finger over a dark stain. Half of fabric had been drenched in blood and no matter how she had tried to clean it there was still an ugly stain. She closed the tear in the fabric with a final stitch and inspected the result. It didn’t look good at all. Roe frowned. Obviously stitching fabric was not the same as stitching wounds. Thorundur’s grandfather’s silk tunic had seen its best days.

As much as she wanted him to recover she feared the day when he wouldn’t need her cares any more. She must not let herself forget that these were the last days that she would spend with him. She had made a sacred promise to The Mother, the spirits and to herself. She would grow up, live with Bear and behave like a normal woman of the Forest people. But sometimes it was so easy to forget that everything would change. They were best friends again. Sometimes Thorundur seemed to have changed though. He had moments when he was quiet and thoughtful and sometimes she could catch him watching her intensely. Did he suspect that she had been involved in Aliendre’s disappearance?

Thorundur laughed when she placed one basket after another filled with delights from the forest in front of him. “This is enough food for a village. It looks delicious.” He took a handful of raspberries and tilted his head. “Roe, you look so sad sometimes when you don’t think that I see you”, Are you sure that you’re making the right choice? Will Bear make you happy?”

“There’s not much of a choice for me to make actually. What else can I do? Besides you’re wrong I’m happy to become Bear’s spouse. He‘s very strong and kind. We’ll have a good life together.” She put on a smile that she hoped looked happy.

“Does he make the blood rush faster in your veins when you think about him?”Thorundur smiled as if he was teasing her but there was a tension in his voice that contradicted the smile.
“I don’t want to talk about this. You will not understand anyway because you’re an elf. Tell me about elves instead. Has it happened before that an elf has made the choice that Aliendre did? I mean to live with a mortal and become mortal.”
He shook his head slowly. “No, that was unheard of and unthinkable. Aliendre is the first to make such a choice. When I first heard about it I was horrified and sad because I thought that she’d chosen death before life. I know better now. Her choice was actually quite the opposite, she chose life because she’s happy know and more alive than she was before.”

A slight desperate hope rose within Roe. “If no one has ever made such a choice before, how can you then know that she will become mortal and die?”
“Oh, everyone knows that. The elder told their children about the ways of the elves and the children in turn told their children. It is also written in our sacred books. The knowledge of the elders has never proved to be wrong so there’s no doubt that she will become mortal. You remember when I told you about why elves worship the sky and the stars? That is because our first home was out there.” Thorundur made a sweeping gesture at the blue cloudless sky above them. “There was a disaster and our people were stranded here. The first elders are now all gone and they were so filled with sorrow after the disaster that they could never speak nor write about it so today no one know exactly how we came here or why. It is known; however, that time is different here than in our first home so that’s why we became immortal. We don’t really belong here but if we would choose to share our life with a mortal we would become part of this world and become mortal to.”
Her last thin slice of hope died. Roe had never heard Thorundur talk so much about the beliefs of the elves. He had never been religious and had always seemed more interested to learn more about the beliefs of the Forest people than to speak about his own religion. She was not convinced that Aliendre was better off being mortal although it would have been such a relief to believe so.
“But how can you say that she has chosen life if she’s going to die? It must be wonderful to live forever.”

“Is it really, if you’re not truly alive? You know how everything freezes in the winter, but in the spring life comes back. Elves are like the winter, frozen, but in contrast to the earth we become more and more frozen with time. There’s no spring for us. Instead we become more and more distant from the world we’re living in the older we get. Except for Aliendre, she was like the spring when I saw her, much more filled with life and happiness than I’ve ever seen in her before.”
Thorundur was truly changed. He had never been thoughtful or philosophical before.
“You’re not like the winter,” she protested. “Frozen is the last thing I would call you.”
“Maybe that’s why I never seem to fit in among my own and maybe it’s thanks to you that I’m so alive,” he said. Roe had expected him to smile in that teasing way when he said the last words but he still looked very serious and thoughtful.
This was no good. She had to change subject before she forgot that she soon would have to part with Thorundur forever. Before she could think of something to say he leaned forward to help himself to some more food and his forearm touched hers. He leaned back and looked at her. Now his knee rested against her leg and she found it difficult to breath.

“Roe, I miss your smiles. You’re so pretty when you smile so that the tip of your fangs shows.”
Surely Thorundur must hear her heart beat. She mustn’t forget that it wasn’t possible that Thorundur could love her more than as a friend or a sister. Not that it would make any difference. She would never let him become mortal. Love between immortal and mortal was impossible, she knew that now. Why did he have to say such things?
She got up on her knees to rise to put some more wood on the fire. Not because there was any need to have more fire but she needed to have some more space between her and Thorundur. But as she tried to get on her feet she could feel his hand closing around her wrist holding her back.

“Please sit down with me Roe. If you’re going to leave me forever when I’ve healed at least you can give me some time with you.”
She sat down because she couldn’t think of anything else to do or say. He was even more beautiful than usual now when he looked so serious and his eyes were so intense.
“Roe, you never answered my question about Bear and don’t tell me that I don’t understand because I’m an elf. Am I your best friend or not?”
Why did his eyes always make her so weak?  He was making everything so hard for her. “What question?” she said although she thought she knew.
“Does the blood flow faster in your veins when you think about him? Can you talk with him like you and I talk? Does he understand you like I do?”
These were new questions, if he had asked this before she would remember. What was she supposed to answer? Before she could think of a good answer to make Thorundur stop asking about Bear he continued to speak.

“Has it ever occurred to you that some people might believe that a woman and a man that spend time together like you and I are more than friends? Have you ever considered the possibility that we could have been more than friends?”
Oh, no! This was not fair. Why did he have to say such things!
“You’re an elf and I’m mortal so that wouldn’t be possible. We’re brother and sister.” She looked down because she could not bear to meet his eyes.

“Roe look at me. We’re not truly brother and sister. You always used to protest when I said that, and I always said it to tease you, but also because I was afraid to admit other possibilities. Roe I cannot not imagine life without you. If you have the smallest affection for me, please at least give me a chance. I’m sure I could make you happier than Bear would.”
The despair in his voice made her heart beat so hard that she couldn’t think. He loved her, he must love her but she loved him too much to let him die like she would. Besides she had made a sacred promise. She had told so many lies to so many people but she could not look Thorundur in the eyes and say that she didn’t love him. He knew her so well and they had no secrets for each other. But that was not true! She had a terrible secret, a secret that would make him hate her forever. It was better that he hated her than that he would become mortal. The time that she had dreaded for so long was finally here. She could not escape anymore.

“Thorundur, you don’t know everything about me. I’ve something to tell you. Something terrible that will make you hate me forever.” He started to protest but she put her fingers over his lips and continued. “This is a very long story and afterwards we will not be friends anymore.”

She told him everything about her travel to the Dark elves and the human realm. He listened and his expression became more and more grim. When she talked about the Dark elves he cursed and when she told him about how she got caught by the humans he even got up and kicked his boots at a tree. It was not until later that she realized that he had shown no signs at all of weakness then. When she told him about how she had poured the love potion in Aliendre’s tea she could not bear to look at him and her voice almost broke. Finally she had told him everything and hardened herself to look up and meet his eyes. They were narrow and his lips looked like a thin line.

“I cannot believe what I’ve just heard,” he said finally between clenched teeth. “You let me believe that you were my best friend. I have no words to tell you how disappointed I am Roe.”


Chapter 42.  Roe Finds the Answer

Thorundur’s face was white as he opened and clenched his fists. “Didn’t you say that you would keep away from the Dark elves? What made you believe that Dark elves would truly help anyone? All they wanted was to hurt my people and you let them use you. I’ve always told you everything about me and you lied to me! I hate the Dark elves and I hate the humans.” Thorundur started to walk around in circles as he spoke. As he walked he was kicking the ground so that dirt, small stones and grass were flying around his feet like a whirling cloud.

“You could have died many times.  Actually you had no chance to survive and Orm and Ondina didn’t hesitate to send you to a certain death. How do you think I would have felt if you never had come back?” Then he stopped walking and kicking and a big smile spread over his face.

“This must mean that you love me Roe! You went through all these dangers because you believed that I loved Aliendre. You’re so incredible stupid for being a smart person. Why didn’t you tell me? Don’t you know that I’ve always loved you? I may not have understood it myself but I always did. You’re the smart one, you should have known.”

He was so beautiful and she wanted him so much. All she had wished for was within her reach. There was no doubt anymore, Thorundur loved her. Why was life so unfair?

Now Thorundur was his own self again. He talked fast and waved his arms while he talked. He had so much to say that he could barely finish one sentence before the next started. “We can stay here, or maybe even better, we’ll find another place further away from Aliendre and Alexander. I can build a house for us. You and I will always be together and we will grow old together”

Roe realized that she had failed. Had he not understood what she’d told him? She had killed Aliendre and he talked about growing old with her.

“You don’t really want to grow old. It will make you weak and you would hate me.”
He smiled like the old Thorundur who could never resist teasing her. “Are you telling me that you will not want me anymore when I’m old with wrinkles and grey hair?”

“Stop, don’t you understand? I killed Aliendre and we cannot live together because that would kill you!”

He still smiled when he looked at her but now his smile was gentle rather than teasing. “No, you didn’t kill Aliendre. She always loved Alexander. You only helped her to get what she already wanted. She would probably thank you if she knew. Why would you deny me the same choice that Aliendre made? Don’t I have the right to happiness just like her?”

“Aliendre didn’t make a choice, I made it for her. I’m a terrible person but do you really believe that I would be selfish enough to let you die just because I love you?”

Again he didn’t seem to get the point. He only smiled triumphantly and pointed at her. “Finally you said it! You said that you love me! Besides, I wouldn’t die. Don’t the Forest people believe that the spirits of the ancestors are alive in the other world? You and I would be together forever in the afterworld. What kind of life would I have without you, a frozen and lonely life?”

With two big steps he was next to her. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close to his chest. His breath was warm against her face and there was an expression in his eyes that she had never seen before, an expression that made her knees feel week. He on the other hand didn’t seem week or dizzy at all anymore. His arms were as strong as ever.

She was the one who felt dizzy when he pulled her even tighter to him and his lips met hers. The Mother must forgive her but she was happy and not strong enough to keep her promise.

It was still dark when Roe opened her eyes. Thorundur was staring at her with an odd expression and made a gesture with his head. She followed his gaze and realized why he looked so alarmed. He pulled her closer to him with his arms around her as if his arms could protect her from such a powerful creature.

The Mother held out her arms and smiled gently. “My children,” she said. “I am so pleased. You are a worthy child of the forest Thorundur.” Before Roe could answer mist started to slowly whirl around The Mother and her contours became hazy. She faded until she could no longer be seen.

Thorundur’s eyes were wide. “Did you see what I just saw?” he said.
Roe nodded. She had made the right choice after all.

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