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Old 06-20-2015, 11:36 AM   #1382
Galadriel55
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Join Date: Oct 2010
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Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.Galadriel55 is wading through snowdrifts on Redhorn.
During the Hard Winter

Ledwyn has not left Theolain’s side since he stopped breathing. She has barely left him when he was still alive. She sat by his bedside for days while he first became hot and then slowly, day by day, became frighteningly cold. First he shivered. Then he became completely limp. And then he stopped breathing. As if his life left him bit by bit, seeping out slowly, that one could barely tell when it was finally gone.

She had vague recollections of people talking to her. Someone brought her food, but she did not eat. Later, Saeryn draped a cloth over her shoulders. She did not realize until later that it was Saeryn’s own shawl. For the first time in weeks she did not even feel cold.

The men wanted to take him away. He must be buried properly, they told her. His body should be laid in the ground. But she would not let them. Do not take him away from me yet, she said – or maybe she just thought; she was not certain anymore. It is so cold out there. The ground is frozen stiff. On the morrow, they will warm it with a fire to dig a grave, like they have done for the others. And then the ground will freeze again, and he will freeze with it. Let him be warm for one last night! Just one more night! But, in spite of the blankets and fires, Theolain remained cold and remote in his stillness, as if to show that no warmth in the world can stop that which is inevitable.

Ledwyn did not know how much time passed. She simply suddenly became aware of herself. Maybe she awoke from a doze, but she did not recall sleeping. The Hall was quiet around her, and it was dark. When did everyone go to bed? How late was it?

She slowly stood up, her legs clumsy and stiff from sitting all day. She wandered through the Hall like a wraith, Saeryn’s shawl dropping slightly on one side on top of her own. She walked around the Great Hall, occasionally putting out a hand to brush the long tables. After a while, she found herself at the door to the kitchen.

The last coals in the hearth were still smoldering slightly. There were not too many now, since dry wood was scarce in Scarburg and had to be burned sparingly. Ledwyn lit a candle from one of the remaining spots of glowing red. Theolain would have liked them once, she thought. Securing the candle on a table, she turned away from it and began rummaging in the store of eating utensils.

***

Hilderinc's sleeplessness had returned with the winter. It did not add to his mood that had already been affected by the sour prospects of the Hall, just like everyone else's. However, Hilderinc did not become gloomy as Scarburg's hopes dimmed. Instead, he became very stern, observant, marching around the Hall and wading in the snow around it day and night, or so it would seem to its inhabitants. He really did not sleep much, and on very cold nights of midwinter, he was even secretly happy about it. For, as death began creeping into the Mead Hall, Hilderinc began reflecting on it, and came to the conclusion that he did not want to pass away in his sleep. Not ever.

That particular night, he again could not sleep. Instead, he paced around, wrapped in his blanket on top of his clothes and a spare cloak. He had spent a long time outside, as if hoping he could find any dry firewood or spot a rabbit, or at least a squirrel. Not a chance. As he headed back to the Hall, it was already deep night. Everyone was asleep, or so it seemed, until Hilderinc noticed bright gleam of candlelight coming from inside the kitchens. Wondering who might be up at this time, he walked to the door, removed his glove and cursed silently under his breath as the cold air hit him violently. He put the glove back on, clumsily opened the door and quickly jumped in, leaving the winter outside.

It was warm inside the kitchen, and a lone shape sat by one of the tables. Ledwyn. Hilderinc recognized her light brown hair and her countenance; now, after several months of winter, she looked even more thin and fragile than usual, like a frozen reed. She did not seem to have noticed him entering, nor heard him opening and closing the door. In one heart-stopping moment Hilderinc thought she had frozen to death, but then he noticed a small movement as she clutched one of the kitchen knives, staring at the blade, as if she were studying the reflection of the candlelight on it. She turned it slowly this way and that. If not for her face, she might have been playing. Then, still turning the knife, she lifted it higher. Her hands froze, with the knife pointing straight at her.

Startled, Hilderinc took a few quick steps to her side, but her hands again rested on the table, still holding the blade.

"Ledwyn?" he spoke. She did not answer, just stared at the knife in her hand.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Hilderinc continued. Ledwyn stirred. She nodded very slightly, but she looked past him, like she did not understand where his voice was coming from.

"What were you doing here?" Gently but firmly, he took the knife from her hands. He looked down at the blade and frowned. Did she just... He examined her face. She seemed not to notice her surroundings, but just stared into the distance with her far-away look, as though she was seeing something beyond the wooden walls of the kitchen. She was definitely not asleep, but Hilderinc was not certain that she was awake.

She has gone through a lot in the last few days, Hilderinc thought, on top of this terrible winter. Poor Theolain.

"Listen," he said aloud. "Everyone is asleep. You should go to sleep, too. Sitting here at night is not what you should be doing..." He felt clumsy, he was never particularly good in talking to women. In fact, he never had to, not like that.

"I understand," he added, while he was not sure it was true, "I understand it must be hard, Theolain..." He vaguely tried to remember anything about the lad; realizing he had barely known him. "Your son was a good boy," he finished. "But you already said farewell to him, we all did. And while he is gone, you are still here." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "If you are just listening to your thoughts, you will start thinking about weird things."

"He's not my son," Ledwyn said in a quiet, dead kind of voice. She was not looking at Hilderinc.

He inclined his head, slightly confused. "Do not say that. He has passed away, but he still..." He stopped, as if his train of thought was interrupted by a sudden idea. His eyes once again shifted to Ledwyn's face, pale in the candlelight.

"He is not my son," she repeated firmly, despite her lost look. Did her mind wander astray in a memory? Who was she seeing? Who was she talking to?

She stood up and turned to look at the fireplace. The last of the heat was fading away, leaving the coals dead and ashen. The small specs of redness were fading away. Only a few were still dancing and breathing in the night air. By sunrise, none would be left.

Very slowly, her eyes became alive. She looked around her and only now noticed Hilderinc standing behind her. She did not give a start, but she seemed slightly confused. Seeing the knife in his hand, she said, "I simply wanted to cut a slice of bread from the stores. I have not eaten today." However, instead of breaking her fast, she disappeared quickly behind the kitchen door, her shawls trailing slightly behind her.
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