Magnus awoke to the smell of a crackling fire and fragrant stew.
‘Drink, you stupid ox!’ muttered a familiar voice, and he realised something was being pressed against his lips. Obediently he drank the warm broth, and cracked open his eyelids enough to find himself in Heimdall’s cabin. Kendra was frowning down at him with a mixture of irritation and worry. She was such a bad-tempered woman. He loved that about her.
‘How did I get here?’
‘How do you think?’ she huffed. He might have thought her angry with him if she didn’t take such care to blow on the spoon before offering it to him. ‘The sledge helped,’ she admitted, and then pushed another spoonful into his mouth. ‘I put ropes around you, and dragged you along as if you were a plough. You might have a couple more bruises though…but it’s your festering wound that’s my greatest concern. I’ve packed it with herbs and moss to draw out the poison, and this broth should help bring down your fever.’
He glanced down at her stomach, his chest tight as he struggled to wheeze out the question. ‘Are you and the babe well?’
‘We are fine.’
‘The child… Is it really Heimdall’s?’
Later he would tell himself it was the fever that had caused him to ask for a second time… The fever and wishful thinking.
Her eyes locked with his, as grey as storm clouds and seals. ‘I told you…I was already with child when we lay together. I would not have risked it otherwise.’
Yes, she had told him that. He sighed and sank back into the straw mattress, exhausted.
He was a diversion, a night of pleasure and nothing more.
‘Why did you ignore me? Did I do something wrong?’ he slurred, hating how pathetic he sounded, and not only because of the illness… Why did he torment himself with these questions? No good would come from the answers.
She smiled down at him with a kindness that strangled his heart. Placing a blissfully cool cloth against his forehead, she said, ‘You did nothing wrong.’
‘Then…why?’ he croaked, his mind fighting against the sleep that was trying to consume him.
‘There is no future for us.’ Her voice became firm. ‘I still see no future. If you came to…seek more, then I am afraid you will leave disappointed. I want to be left alone.’
He could feel himself slipping into a dream. ‘That’s not why I came.’
‘Why did you, then?’
But he could not answer. The darkness had closed in and his body burned.
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