Lorron fervently hoped that this was the last night they would have to spend outside. He had persuaded them to leave the protection of the cave behind and dragged them through snow and danger all the way up here. A wild cat had attacked them and a snowslide had nearly taken Trevvis with it as it started from under his stretcher. If he’d not been bound to the strongest of the travellers and if Lorron hadn’t had the good luck to find a secure rock to hold on to they both would have gone down. No, it was in no way a secure thing, this ascend into the mountains. But the cave, dry as it was, had not been a place in which Trevvis would have found healing. Lorron felt sure he wouldn’t have stood a chance if they’d stayed there. Tjoren was getting weaker with every passing hour, too. Rulavan wasn’t up to hunting or fighting. How could one man alone have cared for three more in that cave? He would have had to hunt, to collect wood to keep the thing moderately warm, the smoke from the fire in the stony halls alone would have been a problem for the sick and he’d have had to wash out the bandages, get them dry, get his own clothes dry, prepare medicine and salves, look for herbs outside, protect the cave against wild beasts… and somehow sleep a little while himself. He couldn’t see how that could have worked out. He needed the help of the settlers, the protection of their walls, the heat from their fires, the use of their hearths to make medicine and keep the bandages clean. And there was no other way but up since the flood had drowned the lowlands.
He shivered as a cold wind snatched his cloak and yanked at it. They had reached the summit today, finally, and now they were able to get to the settlement before nightfall. But they weren’t there yet. Right now, this was the coldest night of all. They had found no other protection here than a blackthorn thicket that grew to the side of some flat rocks. It shielded them from the harshest winds, but sometimes a breeze would make off from the rest and shake the branches and come whirling round the other way, flinging small snowcrystals at them that stung his eyes.
He sat back to back with Rulavan and each had cocooned one of the more severely injured ones, enveloped in their blankets and cloaks. Tjoren’s teeth had been clattering for a long while before Rulavan had drawn him close. He had fallen into an exhausted sleep by then. Not even Rulavan had dared touch him before. His temper was getting more and more beastly.
At least now all that Lorron heard at his back were evenly drawn breaths. His companions were sleeping. He couldn’t. Not with all the pictures in his head. Not fearing that some enemy might find them here. Not as long as the cold threatened them. They hadn’t managed to get a fire burning. They mustn’t sleep too long.
The whisper of a voice, a short name only, but it pierced Lorron’s heart like no other thing could have done.
He sighed and cradled Trevvis closer. ‚I mustn’t weep, I mustn’t give in to sorrow now‘, he kept repeating.
Trevvis stirred, opened his eyes and turned his head in an attempt to define what was happening. „Lorron?“
„Right here. We’re having a short break. Try and go back to sleep, hm?“
But he wouldn’t.
„Where are the others? I… have a feeling there’s only the four of us every time I wake. We’ve been left behind because I’m too badly wounded, haven’t we? Has Aerwald taken the others ahead to get help?“
No, please no, not now…
Lorron didn’t answer.
„Captain? Will we follow them?“
No, the ancestors forbid, no!
„The others…“ Lorron’s voice shook. He stopped and took a deep breath to steady himself. „There are only the four of us, Trevvis. The others have indeed gone ahead… in a way.“ He paused. „We cannot follow them, we will not.“ Another pause. „They would want us to live.“
He could feel Trevvis holding his breath and then starting to tremble. He made a small, inquiring sound, as if not believing what he’d heard.
„I’m sorry, Trevvis. I couldn’t protect them. I’m sorry.“
In the east, a faint shimmer of purple heralded the dawn but the deep black sky above them was still full of stars. Lorron looked up at them and wondered for the hundredth time what it really meant when someone said that those who had died left the boundaries of the world. Did they remember who they were? Did they think or feel anything anymore? Was the end really the beginning of something new? Did they meet their forefathers?
Right at the moment, he didn’t know what to believe. All he knew for sure, and very acutely at that, was that this life as he knew it only lasted as long as he was here. Time was very precious, but maybe, for the horrified man sobbing in his arms time was running out. He didn’t want any more harm to come to any of his friends, but he couldn’t know yet if that was at all possible.
Why again hadn’t he been able to stop himself and distract Trevvis? Had it really been necessary to tell him and startle him like that? Tjoren would be all the more angry because of that tomorrow, and maybe he’d be right.
But it had been necessary. He just couldn’t lie about something like that, Trevvis had asked and deserved to know the truth.
He was a friendly soul and utterly heart-broken now, but to have him hope for Aerwald’s return, to have him wait for their rescue… that would have been more cruel in the end, or so Lorron thought.
„They would want us to live“, he repeated, „…and to cherish the time we have.“ Only, right now, life wasn’t very enjoyable. Trevvis leant his head against Lorron’s shoulder and wept. And all that his captain could do to ease his sorrow was to hold him and let him cry himself to exhaustion.
Lorron found it easier than expected not to break down himself. Trevvis needed him strong now, he needed someone to lean on to, he needed this small piece of his world intact.
He remembered the first time he’d witnessed one of them die, Bronwor, who’d been badly injured in a fight, and he’d run in terror from the Healer’s tent straight into Trevvis‘ arms, who’d held him just like Lorron did now for him.
„They lived their lives well“, he told Trevvis softly, but what he couldn’t say was that they had lived to the full. The fact that hurt most was that their friends had been deprived of their time on this earth. „They will always be a part of us, as long as we remember them. That way, they will be a part of our future, too.“
Lorron as a child had not wanted to hear such words. „I will never again have fun at anything! Bronwor won’t ever again ride with me on big old Brownie!“ he had exclaimed angrily and wriggled free of Trevvis‘ embrace to stare at him. Trevvis had sighed, knowing this full well. „But he did ride with you, and you enjoyed it, and no one can take that from you. I can teach you to ride, too“, he had promised. „I know it isn’t the same. It’s going to be different, but you needn’t fear tomorrow, child. It still holds so much for you and you will laugh again, some other day.“
„Bronwor won’t“, Lorron had answered, but he’d let Trevvis scoop him up again and felt comforted by the fact that someone was there for him.
Words didn’t help. They couldn’t reach the lost ones and held scarce meaning for the bereaved. But the voice served as reminder that someone cared. There always were two sorrows when someone died: for the departed and for oneself, because tomorrow wouldn’t be the same, and the latter at least could be eased.
„I’m here with you“, he whispered above Trevvis‘ hair. „And I won’t leave you and no matter what happens tomorrow, you need not fear. You won’t be alone.“
The purple of the morning spanned half the sky now and slowly replaced the stars and the darkness. Eventually, Trevvis stopped weeping. He turned his head to look at the sky, then sighed deeply and leant into Lorron as he watched the colours grow brighter ever so slightly.
Lorron felt the warmth of his body and no matter how he’d fear for him when they were on the road again, right now he was glad to know they both had survived.
He was here now. Lorron didn’t want to think about tomorrow.
Rulavan had kept very silent. So Trevvis knew and was coming to terms with it. Well and good.