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I slept for a long time as we went back into the forest. Being carried wasn’t comfortable even though my twin was being as careful as he could be, and the dull ache from my wound was still there making nothing easier. It didn’t feel like a long time before Rune was telling Storm and Scout to stop.
“Guys, we need a break…”
Storm stopped walking. “Hm? Why?”
“The goat’s not moving…”
Storm sighed. “Alright, we can stop for a minute.”
Storm put me on the ground, but stayed behind me to hold my torso up. I opened my eyes and looked over at Rune, who was kneeling on the ground. The goat’s legs were limp against the ground, and its eyes were closed. Rune looked like he was about to cry.
“Did the blackberry leaf tea fail…?” I asked. My voice was a little bit hoarse but it didn’t hurt too much to talk.
“I- I don’t know,” Rune said quickly. “I thought that- I thought that it would work, and that- I mean, we’ve never had the blackberry leaves not work, right…?”
“Maybe there wasn’t enough,” Storm suggested. Scout was watching us all, but staying mostly silent.
“I made plenty though! It just didn’t want to drink it, but even so, the vapors, and the steam, they should have helped!”
“And maybe they did,” Scout finally said. “But maybe it was too late already… or maybe it helped, but not enough to prevent this…”
Rune hung his head. I could see his ears, flat and turned down, even under his hood. We sat in silence for a little while.
“Perhaps… we should get going again,” I said. The air was sharp with the cold around us, and seemed to bite at every piece of exposed skin. The snow season was already preparing to bear down on us hard, as it always did. “It’s cold and we need more food.”
Rune nodded, and looked sadly down at the goat. “...Do you think its meat is safe enough to eat?”
“I can check when we get back,” Scout said. “I have to admit… I’m glad we found the goat, even if it didn’t make it back. If we can salvage anything from it, it could help us for the season.”
We all nodded. Storm began to pick me up but I shifted so that he couldn’t. “We’re not too far off now, Storm. I can make it.”
“That’s fine, but at least let me help you stand up…”
I nodded. We stood up, Rune carrying the goat as he had when it was alive, still hanging his head. I watched him for a moment, and sighed. But I couldn’t say anything, not while we were still travelling and in danger at least. Storm and Scout had noticed too, but we didn’t try to talk him out of the grief he was feeling. Though… dead animals were nothing new, and everyone considered it a blessing when their meat was fit to be eaten and there was enough fur, hair, and bones to use in tools and clothing. So I had a feeling it was deeper than just the goat’s death that was getting to him.
The moment the guards at the gate of the Village saw us, they let us in, and sent for Sentinel, and for our mother. All of us entered- even Scout, though I suspected it was only because he hadn’t been quick enough to hide before the guards noticed him. Rune handed the goat to the guards so that they could cut it open and check the meat.
“It’s good,” the guard said, half in amazement.
“It is?” Rune asked.
“Yeah. It looks really good. Did your siblings hunt it?”
Rune looked away. “...Kind of. I wanted it to stay alive but, well… it didn’t.”
The guard nodded. “Still. It’ll be as useful dead- if not more useful.”
Rune nodded, but there was strong doubt in his eyes. I put my hand on his shoulder… and a strong pang of pain from my wound shot through my torso and arm and shoulders. I winced, and turned to the guard.
“The healer will be coming with Sentinel, right?”
“Yes,” the guard said. “He was visiting her. In the meantime, we can start guiding you towards her house…”
“We’re here,” I heard my mother say. Their footsteps were growing near. I looked up at my mother, and the concern in her face. She was carrying Silk in her arms, as she looked around at everyone. “What’s the matter?”
“Gray was hurt while we were out,” Storm explained. “It was a dust storm- we were in shelter but it wasn’t the best and she sat so that her back was blocking the dust…”
“I can walk at least,” I said. “It’s not bad. I’m over the sickness, I think…”
Mom nodded, putting her hand on my shoulder. “Can it wait until we get to the house then?”
“Alright. Thank you.”
And then my mother turned towards Scout, who hadn’t gotten an opportunity to run away without anyone noticing. Even had he run, people would have understood, and not hated him- we all knew why. But something in his eyes told me that, even if he was terrified of my mom seeing him… he didn’t want to run from her.
Mom smiled softly at him. “You have more scars on your arm, and it looks more painful. It’s more swollen than last time I saw you…”
“It’s… not as bad as it looks. Really.”
Mom walked towards him, and he looked down. “Are you sure about that, Scout…?” He was silent. “I worry about you a lot, Scout… it’s not safe outside of the village…”
“I’m used to it,” he said. “Shadowforth, I… don’t want you to worry about me. And I don’t want… I don’t want to scare your kids…”
Shadowforth glanced down at Silk. She was looking at Scout intensely, and reached out her arm in his direction. “Silk doesn’t look afraid of you,” she said. “There are other men like you in the village, Scout, and they don’t always hide indoors… they’re not going to be afraid of you. I don’t think so, anyway.”
Scout blushed, and looked away for a second.
“Besides…” Mom kept talking. “You’re the only other person who has really acted like a parent towards my children. Even the ones we don’t think you fathered. You care about them all a lot and I know it.”
Scout nodded, turning his head towards her. For the first time since the dungeon fell… I saw tears in his eyes.
“Thank you…” he said. Mom didn’t waste even a second, stepping forward and wrapping her free arm around him in a hug. He lifted his good arm to hug her back. Silk didn’t flinch away from him even a little bit, and when I looked at Storm and Rune, they were both watching and smiling.
“We told him,” Storm said, glancing at me.
“We did, but I’m not surprised it took mom to convince him,” I whispered to them.
“You know…” Rune said quietly so that only Storm and I could hear him, and then paused. “I… I’m really upset that I haven’t gotten anywhere in my research, and when you got wounded, Gray, I felt like I had made a mistake by wanting to do it. But… this has honestly made it worthwhile.”
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