Winter – Chapter 24 – 05

            Cameron shook his head and turned to Thordin.  “I’ve had this feeling in my gut about where I’m supposed to be.  We’ve been chasing that, for better or for worse.”
            “Well, that does sound like destiny.”  The big man smiled.  “Either that or foolishness, and since you don’t seem the type given to it and I know she’s not, I’d have to say it’s what she said.”  He nodded to the river’s bank.  “North or south?”
            “South,” Cameron said without thinking.
            Thordin nodded.  “Mind if I lead for a little while?”
            “Not at all,” Cameron said.  “You’d probably know better where good places to cross would be than I.”  He squeezed Neve’s hand again as Thordin turned his mount to the south and began to walk it along the muddy bank.
            She nodded toward Thordin’s back.  “Better get moving before he starts going any faster and we lose him.”
            Cameron chuckled softly and nodded.  “Right, right.”  He let go after one last squeeze and nudged his horse into motion.  Neve followed, her horse falling into an easy sway next to his.  He dropped his voice low enough that only she could hear.  “Who is he, anyway?”
            Her brows went up.  “What do you mean?”
            “He’s like you,” Cameron said.  “So who is he?  Where is he?”
            The ghost of a smile crossed her face.  “You already know, Cam.  You’re smart enough to have already figured it out.”
            “I didn’t think—”  He stopped, frowning.  “You said he was dead and he said he got better.  How the hell does that work?”
            Her brows knit.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it before.”  She shook her head slightly, fingers tangling in her reins and tightening around the saddle horn.  “I was beyond the veil when he was killed, but Phelan was there.  He saw it happen and he couldn’t stop it.  He told us about it when he returned to us for a time.”
            “What happened?”  Cameron asked quietly.
            She took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, eyes focusing on something very far away.  Her voice took on a weary, almost dreamy quality as she spoke at a level just above a bare whisper.  “It was in the eighth century.  The…old religions…were already well on their way to giving up the ghost to the newer monotheistic faiths across the continent.  Most of us had retreated beyond the Veil, back to our Otherworlds where we might escape the worst of all of it.  A few stayed.”
            “Like Phelan?”
            She nodded.  “And Thordin.  He and a few of his brethren were still hunting in the deep forests of northeastern Europe, feeling as invincible as the day they were made.  It was probably their downfall, that.  You see, there was this tree in a village up in the hill country in northern Germania.  Someone told me once that it was an offshoot of Yggdrasil linked to the lives of a couple individuals.  It was this huge, old, beautiful oak so big that three grown men couldn’t wrap their arms around it if they tried.  I saw it when the tree was young.  It was huge even then, and beautiful.”
            Cameron reached over and squeezed her hand again.  This is hard for her.  I suppose I can understand—he was killed somehow, even if he “got better.”  “You don’t have to tell me, Neve.”
            “No, I do.”  She smiled weakly.  “You deserve to know, and I don’t think you want to ask Thordin.”
            “I wouldn’t tell him,” Thordin called with a measure of decidedly forced cheer from ahead of them.  “I’m going to ride on a little.  If I find a spot to cross, I’ll wait for you to catch up.”
            “Ears like a bloody bat,” Neve muttered as they watched Thordin urge his horse onward, widening the gap between them.  “I should have known that he could hear us.  He could hear flies break wind at twenty paces.”
            “Thirty!”  Thordin called back to them, then laughed.  Neve just shook her head.
            Cameron smiled.  “The story?”
            “Yeah,” she said.  “The story.  Well…”  She exhaled quietly and shook her head again.  “There was this man that Rome sent named Wynfryth.  He was on some kind of miniature crusade to turn the last holdouts of the old ways to Christianity.  He came to the village with an axe and power unlike anything Phelan had ever seen, a power that he’d never witnessed in anything before or since—not even his friend Bréanainn had power like that, and Bréanainn was a powerful, holy man.
            “Wynfryth walked up to that oak and swung the axe once, twice.  While he was doing that, a dozen men were attacking Thordin and his party in the woods.  They’d just taken down a boar and were starting to butcher it when they were attacked.”
            “I’ve heard this story,” Cameron said quietly.  “I remember it.  Except it was Boniface.”
            Her eyes slid closed and she nodded slowly.  “Then you know what happened.”
            “I know that there was some kind of supposed miracle and the tree was knocked down by a great wind.  And that a certain thunder god didn’t show up to strike Boniface down where he stood.”
            “That could be because he was busy being vivisected a hundred miles away.”  Neve’s fingers tightened.  “I don’t know if he was able to fell the tree because Thordin was being killed or if Thordin died because the tree was felled.  Either way…I never expected to see him again.”
            “His presence is a welcome surprise, then,” Cameron said, his head spinning.  Screw it all sideways.  I can’t believe who we’re following.
            “Yeah,” she said softly.  “But don’t…he’s just a normal guy, Cam, as we all go.  More normal than my brother, anyway.”
            Cameron smiled faintly.  “I’ll try forget it.”
            “I don’t think he’s got much of his power left.”
            Good to know.  Cameron nodded.  “We’ll have to rely on what you and I can muster.”
            “Mostly what you can muster,” Neve said.
            “Aye,” Cameron said.  He let go of her hand and reached up to brush hair away from her face.  “I’d die to protect you, Neve.”
            Her hand covered his.  “Don’t,” she whispered.  “I’d rather have you with me than lose you.”
            “I guess I’ll just have to stay alive then.”
            “Good.”  Her fingers tightened briefly.
            “Found a place to cross!”  Thordin called from beyond a hill.
            “Well,” Neve said.  “I guess we’d better get a move on.”
            “Yeah.  We should.”
            They kicked their horses into a trot, chasing an erstwhile, once-dead thunder god up a hill to cross a river headed toward collective destiny.

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