Rulavan watched as Trevvis was being handed down to Lorron by Tjoren. Tjoren himself was being helped by Johan, who then rashly took down the horse’s tack, send her to her stable and threw in an armful of hay. Then he returned to steady his guest on their way in. Rulavan sighed as he followed them. If only they’d come here in time for Trevvis. He knew that he and Tjoren could rest now, but for Lorron there was still work to be done. Wondering, or rather, fearing, when this would proof too much for the young man he watched as Lorron turned sideways to get through the door with his load. Not once on their way up had he talked to Rulavan about the others. About what happened, yes, and often. But never anything beyond that. He’d stayed calm when he had had to tell Trevvis. He’d even found words to console him. But Rulavan had known him all his life. He knew Lorron wasn’t as calm as he pretended to be. It was more like a shocked, frozen state he was in and strong though he was he must have used up his reserves by now,too, going with little to no sleep, carrying, worrying… Rulavan dreaded the moment all this was going to take its toll.
‚I mustn’t add to his troubles‘, he thought, as he pushed himself from the wall he’d been leaning on while Lorron squeezed through the door. ‚Only a few moments now, you can make it‘, he told himself. ‚You’re not as young as them anymore, right, but all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other… you did it all the way up here.‘ His vision was a bit clouded, but he managed to smile at Johan’s family, who came to help them and show them where they could stay.
Tjoren gasped as he saw a fire merrily dancing in the hearth and he wished for nothing but to stay there.
Johan helped Lorron to get Trevvis out of his soaked cloak and boots and into bed while his wife Margit gave a startled cry and raced to fetch some dry clothing and such. Suna, the daughter, pushed a cup of something hot into Rulavan’s hands and followed her mother.
Rulavan leaned back against the wooden boards of the kitchen wall and closed his hands round the cup, savouring the warmth it spread. It was as if an own small world had been created by that warmth and he stood in it and looked at all the things that were happening in the other world. He saw Suna talk to Tjoren, take care of him as he waited for the fire to thaw frosted buckles so that he could get out of his armour, he watched Margit heat something over the fire and carry baskets with materials out the door into the next chamber, from where he could hear Lorron talk to Johan. He was making ready to set the worst of Trevvis‘ bandages right.
„I’ll be able to do more tomorrow“, he heard him say. „When we’ve had time to make some salves and medicine. I just hope he didn’t catch cold on top of it. With his ripcage in that state, a violent cough is the last thing he needs. What he needs most now is a cozy bed to stay in, away from the unsteady road where his wounds got torn open time and time again.“
‚Yeah, the same goes for me‘, thought Rulavan and sipped the soup in his cup, trying hard not to just let it slip from his fingers and faint dead away. ‚Damn, am I tired… must be the warmth…‘
„Sir, you’re shaking…“ Suna’s worried voice startled him awake. He blinked at her and tried to steady himself. Margit had looked up at her daughter’s words. She hurriedly put down the pile of bedclothes she had been carrying and ran over. „I’m sorry, sir!“ she exclaimed. „I should have seen to you earlier. Did no one tell you you could feel at home here? Come, no use in having you sit down here now, it’s straight to bed for you.“ She took the empty cup from him, passed it to Suna and took him by the arm. „Can you walk?“ He wasn’t sure, but he nodded. She led him to a small chamber where a place to sleep had been prepared for him and ‚tsked‘ as she took off his jacket. „I’ll just get rid of the wet thing and bring you something new“, she said.
He bit back tears and had no idea where those had come from.
She was back a moment later, with Lorron in tow, and left some things for them on a chair. „Call me if you need anything“, she said and disappeared again into the kitchen.
Lorron started to apologize for not having found time earlier while he helped Rulavan with his clothes but his voice trailed away as he let his eyes wander over Rulavan’s bandaged chest and laid a hand on his forehead. He drew in his breath sharply.
„A little sleep will set it right, lad…“ Rulavan mumbled. Lorron sighed, for he knew it wasn’t so. „I neglected you today. I’ll see to this now and then go back to Trevvis.“
„No.“ Rulavan took the hand that had reached out for the bandages. „Tomorrow.“
„…too tired now… let me sleep, lad.“ He laid back as he said this, closed his eyes and exhaled. „Ah, this is good…!“
Lorron gave the hand that still held his a squeeze. „I know how hard it was for you to keep up. Thank you.“
He pulled the blanket up over Rulavan’s shoulders and stood watching him a moment, deep in thought, until Margit sent him off. „You can see to your other friends, Lorron. I’ll stay here and take good care of him, don’t you worry.“
Yesterday he’d been so happy they’d arrived here, so relieved that someone else took charge, that everything had been fine. He’d stretched out beside Tjoren by the fire and slept soundly for the first time in days.
Reality waited for him this side of sleep.
„Trevvis?“ He came awake with a start and looked around. There was a fire burning in the hearth again and he was rolled up in a bedsheet, but Tjoren wasn’t there anymore. The kitchen was empty. From the next room came the voices of Johan and his wife. They were talking about Trevvis. ‚So that’s what woke me‘, he thought and stood up to join them. His heart hammered in his chest. ‚Please don’t tell me something went wrong with Trevvis last night…‘ His eyes darted to the still form on the bed as soon as he could look through the door. ‚Great good ancestors, he’s breathing!‘
„Good morning“, nodded Johan. „We hadn’t expected you to be up and about so early, but it is good you woke. My wife already set things aside and did what she could, but this looked like work for a professional and I understand you were at least taught by one?“ „I was. I’ll need the use of your kitchen and, Margit, I’ll need an overview of the herbs you have so that I know what I can work with.“ „Of course,“ she said. „And you’ll need a breakfast, for it won’t help if you neglect yourself. You got helping hands around you. Just tell us what to do.“
He had decided to see to Rulavan first, because it would take hours with Trevvis and the salves he was preparing together with Margit needed to cool down before they could be used.
In between he had taken care of Tjoren’s old bandages. That had been an arduous task. They had taken him to a small chamber that had been used as bedchamber once but had meanwhile been declared as storeroom. Johan had freed the bed that had once belonged to Margit’s brother by stacking the crates stapled on to it elsewhere but still there wasn’t much room in there for several people to move. Other than Trevvis, Tjoren had had bad luck and really caught a cold. Lorron cursed the armour he’d insisted on wearing, and he seldom cursed at all. The thing hadn’t kept him warm and frozen as it had soon become it had prevented everyone from taking care of everything that was beneath. Tjoren was far more bruised than he’d let on and especially his leg was in a bad shape. A long cut all down his thigh was festering. The bandages, such as they were, were those Tjoren had applied himself the first day after it had happened. There were places where his clothes had stuck to the wounds and he had had to be cut out of them. Now those crusty things needed to come off, and to be able to achieve that Lorron had soaked them with antiphlogistic tea and waited.
It was afternoon when he had dealt with Trevvis and felt ready to start on Tjoren. Luckily, the man had been sleeping up until now.
He came awake though as Lorron started treating him, and he clearly hated it to be woken by pain. The first thing he did was punch the source of his discomfort, then yell at him. „We don’t have any narcotics, I’m sorry“, Lorron apologized, rubbing at his chin. „You’ll have to somehow bite it down and cope, I need to work on your wounds now.“ „You need to get out of here“, Tjoren snarled. „Leave me be!“
Lorron frowned and anger crept into his voice. „Don’t be an idiot! This must be treated.“
„Who’s calling who an idiot? It wasn’t me who fell for the trap!“
„I’m just trying…“
„Yesterday you seemed happy to be here. You…“
„Yesterday was different, yes, yesterday you were lucky that one of your plans worked. You were lucky, hear me? This could have gone very, very wrong! It’s been wrong all the way! It needn’t have happened at all, if you pompous ass hadn’t insisted on charging their bait!“
„I… it seemed the right thing to do, to get rid of one group first…“
Tjoren snorted and fixed eyes burning with hatred on to the flustered man before him.
„It may have been a mistake,…“ Lorron started.
„Yeah, quite so!“ Tjoren interrupted. „But nevermind. You’ll get home, you’ll build up a new company and just try again, eh?“ His tone was so icy it seemed to frost over the bed, the covers, everything in the room. Johan stared at them and didn’t dare move.
„Not that I’m not thankful for my life“, Tjoren added after a moment. „I’m just fed up with watching utterly inept people go on to send others to their doom. You will go on, won’t you? You said you were planning to find those Dunlendings. Good luck to the poor bastards who’ll follow you, I won’t be among them. Not ever again, Reen, will I trust you to do anything right. And I will not have you touch me. Go. Now.“
Lorron could see Tjoren was aching and would have wanted to lie down and rest. But now he preferred to stay on his elbows and stare him down. „It may really be better if I come back later and leave this to Margit“, he said and backed away a step.
„Oh? Giving up so fast?“ hissed Tjoren. „Running away now, are you, Lorron Reen?“
„You’re leaving because you don’t want to hear it, do you? You lost. All but three of your men, you lost them all, and it was your fault! Your damn arrogance, your damn rashness brought us into that fix and they even believed in you as they followed you to their doom! You sicken me, not the orc’s filthy saber. You, with your total disability to accept the truth and just leave it be. Let competent men take care of the orcs and Dunlendings. Creep into some hole and never come out for all I care or learn an honest craft, but don’t delude yourself you should lead others! You cannot!“
Lorron shook his head and his voice had an edge now, too, as he answered: „Why do you try to make me hurt just as much as you do? You succeeded, by the way.“
„Oh, did I? Is it possible to hurt such a rock of a captain? Do you have any idea how much I hurt?“
„No. But I know Darren had become your mentor and you miss him. And he’d want me to be there for you now the way he would have been, but I can’t even bring you to let me treat you.“
Tjoren snarled and hurled a bowl at Lorron that shattered as it hit his head. Johan fled from the room.
„Leave Darren out of this!“
„Don’t you think I miss him, too?“
„Good! I was beginning to think those men meant less to you then you to them! You grief? Very, very good! At least you got what you deserved!“
Lorron hung his head and inhaled. He balled his fists and cursed himself. There was nothing he could do or say. Darren would have known what to do. He felt quite helpless. Tjoren was in a rage and sweating from the effort and by saying the wrong things Lorron had needlessly made him spend the strength the man could have used to heal. He shuddered. ‚I cannot calm him‘, he thought.
„I didn’t want to hurt you“, he said as he turned to go.
Tjoren wasn’t ready with him yet. „You can’t even get things right when you wish to help, Reen. You could go on, but I was long out of it and let’s not speak of Trevvis. Rulavan was halfway on his feet. You could have saved him for sure as we started out, but no, you needed to prove to yourself you could save all of us, and you nearly killed the old man along the way as he tried to meet your standards. Or didn’t you notice how terrible he felt? If we hadn’t met Johan…“
„But we did meet him, and I’m not that old.“
Rulavan had come over as soon as Johan had told him.
Tjoren went bright red in the face.
„You will stop this nonsense immediately, both of you. I won’t have you fighting each other.“
Years of being Geol’s weaponsmaster had made him capable of that certain kind of ‚look‘ and had given him the ability of a certain ‚voice‘, too.
He rarely used that tone. All the more shocking it was for the two men in front of him to hear it now. They looked at him, then at each other. Lorron bent down to pick up the shards of the bowl and brought himself out of Rula’s stare by that.
Rulavan stepped around him and peered down at Tjoren. „We’ve got enough enemies out there without you adding to them, Haldagard. You know very well that Lorron is capable of treating you right. Let him do his job. You don’t think for a moment you’ll just walk away from this, do you? No, you want this solved, too. You’ll stay on, and if not with Lorron, then with me. And I’ll need you whole, Tjoren, so take your anger elsewhere and see reason. Lorron is the only one here who can set that leg right, Margit has never done such a thing.“
„And he has?“ Tjoren dared ask. He sighed as Rulavan nodded.
„If you insist.“ He laid back and closed his eyes.
Lorron stepped tentatively to the bedside, grabbed for his tools and tried getting the old bandages off again. He didn’t say a word.
Tjoren balled his fists and they stayed thus all the while Lorron worked. He didn’t cry out.
Rulavan had watched for a few moments, then he’d limped back to his bed, but not without instructing Johan to call him again, if needs be. He made sure the two heard that ere he went.