The deep night sky was greying. The feeble light of the sun could not pierce the ashen clouds and the wind swept smoke shrouding the land. The new party had slept a few hundred paces from where the stiffening corpses of the dire wolves littered the road. Bonnar had stood watch, while the others slept. Eva had slept near Kord, Fabre on the other side of their small campfire.
In the growing formless light Eva washed Fabre’s cook pots in the water of a nearby stream, he had handed them to her with a smile when he woke her.
“Bonnar and I will look for something to aid young Kord. See if you can fix something up for him to eat. He needs his strength,” the man had said.
Eva’s mind drifted as she washed the pots in the icy water, it made the skin on her fingers tight and blue. She looked at her small hands, and then the cut on her arm. Stitched neatly. She glanced up then to watch the backs of the brothers as they searched the landscape. Bonnar ever watchful, always scanning for danger. Fabre pouncing on bushes and shrubs only to throw aside useless stalks muttering to himself.
“My name is Dalibor Jerochim, but you may call me ‘Dal’. That is… if you can forgive me,” Dal said dropping two fat rabbits next to Eva.
Eva started at his voice, and the two dead rabbits.
“Thank you,” she said finally.
She looked to Kord, who still slept, his face pale and his dreams fitful and unpleasant. The two brothers were distant, out of ear shot now.
“Thanks Dal, this will help,” she said, forcing a smile. The man nodded. She reached for the rabbits.
Before Eva’s hand grasped the first rabbit, Dal flicked out a knife, and Eva jumped, dropping the pots and scuttling back.
Dal looked at her and frowned, as he began skinning the first rabbit. He expertly removed the hide, without tearing or piercing it.
“Relax, Eva.” He said with his crooked smile, “I do not think… clearly when it comes to dire wolves.” He paused looking at the rabbits, “Should we make a quick rabbit stew?”
She nodded and he sectioned the small animal, separating its limbs, and casting aside the innards. She fetched the pots, inspecting them quickly for dents or cracks. The was only one little dent, maybe Fabre wouldn’t notice.
She began washing the tubers she had dug up earlier, a little further up the stream from Dal. She didn’t trust this man, his skill could be useful and the rabbits would certainly help Kord’s strength. Which only a fool would not see he needed desperately. But she would breathe far more easily when Bonnar was back.
She worked quietly and quickly, lighting a fire to boil some water for the tubers. Skinning them and chopping them up, all the while watching Dal as he flicked his knife through the rabbits. He separated skin from flesh, limb from body with such ease it made Eva’s skin crawl. She cursed softly as she dropped a tuber into the fire, snatching it quickly, she dusted it off and dropped it into the pot.
When she looked back up, Dal was watching her. He seemed to sigh inwardly, and continued with the rabbits. He handed them to Eva, who took them with outstretched arms, keeping her distance.
The sun was cresting the valley walls, and the stew was almost ready when Eva heard an excited voice.
“Eva! Eva I have something!” called Fabre, hurrying back. Bonnar taking quick long strides to keep up.
In his hands he held some green fluffy leaves, Eva had never seen that particular leaf before, although she doubted she would recognise it again if she stood on the plant. She smiled up at him uncertainly.
“Oh yes of course, well, it’s called Heartsboon by some. Good for a bit of vigour, we used to use it our winter stews. Just added it to Kord’s meal,” he said excitedly, “It smells great by the way. Is it ready? I’m starving!”
Bonnar eyed the hunter sitting nearby trimming his nails with his blade.
“He brought the rabbits,” said Eva pointing at the bubbling stew.
“My thanks, good hunter,” said Fabre.
“Dal, my name is Dal,” He replied.
“My name -”
“I know yours, Fabre brother of Bonnar.” He said nodding to both men.
Bonnar remained silent. He held a few forgotten sprigs of Heartsboon in his hand, his club was in his other. His fingers flexed around the handle as he considered Dal. He took two quick steps and sat between Eva and Dal.
“I’m watching you, hunter,” said Bonnar.
“I can see that, slayer.”
“Yes that’s you, I’m called Dal,” said Dal with hand placed on his chest, and earnest eyes.
Dal continued trimming his nails as if Bonnar didn’t exist. The big man’s face grew dark and the muscles in his neck bunched. Dal ignored him some more.
“It’s ready,” Eva said and blushed when nerves made her voice pitch shoot up.
“Great, not a moment too soon, child,” Fabre said taking a steaming bowl from Eva and handing it to Bonnar pointedly.
Bonnar took it, snatching it from Fabre. Who rapped him on the knuckles with a spoon and motioned with his head to Eva. Bonnar’s cheeks flushed.
“Thank you Eva.” He said, returning his attention to the bowl he began shovelling the food into his mouth. Eva thought he might eat the bowl as well.
“Bloody cavemen,” Fabre said shaking his head at the two men,”Excuse my language Eva. The hunter can help himself I think. Come help me feed Kord.”
Eva dished a bowl for Kord. Fabre moved to the lad, propped the boy up and held his head steady. Fabre gently pryed open Kord’s mouth, and nodded for Eva to spoon in some stew. She placed a mouthful in, and Fabre closed Kord’s mouth, stroking his throat to make him swallow.
Eva paused looking at Fabre uncertainly.
“His fever will keep him asleep, Eva but he needs the strength. Let’s carry on.”
They continued to feed Kord in small bites, as he sat delirious, looking increasingly grey. Dal and Bonnar both watched each other as they ate their own bowls of stew. Glaring at each other with menace, whenever their eyes met.
“Like two dogs in a yard those two,” Eva said.
“Yes, that one might be rabid, ” Fabre said, “best we keep an eye on him, hmm.”
The two men moved to wash their bowls in the stream, standing at the same time, they both strode quickly to the stream and then started to rush. Bowl washing quickly splashing water about, Bonnar finished first with a smirk. Dal handed his bowl to Bonnar and shrugged. He walked up to Eva and Fabre, crouching down beside them. Eva tensed, pausing her feeding of Kord. Fabre leaned over Kord, coming protectively between the boy and Dal. Dal showed them his empty hands. He paused a moment, licking his lips, then smiled his crooked smile.
“I know a healer,” he said.