Jorgen had worked long and hard, alongside his men and the people of the village, several had been found alive but far more had not. "Men of Islak," he addressed those male persons who were of an age and well enough in body to be of assistance, "We must find anyone who has hidden. Night will fall soon, and they will need fire and shelter. You know, better than we, where your people might have taken cover. Go and fetch anyone you can find. My men and I shall contrive enough shelter for all who come, and will share what provisions we have."
The local men disbursed quickly, having been assured that the foreigners could be trusted. Truth be told, anyone who opposed Morgyt and his fellow Berunians was considered friend. This Andriksson of Hilvard had proved himself as far as the men of the village were concerned. None could be dirtier, more soot-streaked, or more wearied than this foreign warrior.
Jorgen took a moment to converse with his men and decide which of the remaining structures would be best and most easily fixed for temporary shelter, and set teams to doing what they could. Then he stepped away from the men, and headed for the cave where the dirty and bleeding Maja had been left.
The servant, Lene, fell in with his stride. "I know the way, woman." he said, not unkindly.
"Certainly, you do," she agreed, and said no more, but kept pace with him.
Jorgen chuckled to himself. The servant need have no fear for her lady's virtue, nor for appearances. The woman was in no condition for bed sport, nor was he. Perhaps the women folk of this village had lived in peace so long they were unaware that in war time no one cared for appearances, and few would care even if he did seduce the woman—which he had no intention of doing anyway. He had enemies to find and kill, and no time for dalliances.
By the time the two of them reached the cave, they found a number of women and children had returned, some caring for the wounded, others merely trying to settle their little ones for the coming night. One woman in particular seemed to have taken charge and was directing the others.
Maja had been moved closer to the north wall of the cave, still not too far from the fire, but she could be propped up with little trouble. At the moment she lay sleeping, a small blonde girl snuggled against her.
"Jorgen Andriksson,” the woman in charge spoke with sad authority. "I must thank you and your men for your assistance. I hear you were of use to my niece."
Jorgen ducked his head, recognizing the speech of a powerful woman when he heard it. "I merely told her she would live. It was Marta there who insisted I see to the lady."
"You are modest," the noble woman insisted. "Marta has many qualities but she is of little help with illness and injury."
"That is why I fetched him for Maja." The girl agreed with a nod.
Again, the woman turned to Jorgen. "I am Asgrid Frodarsdottir, wife…” She closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. “Widow of Hjelmar Jensson."
"I am sorry for you, Asgrid Frodarsdottir. Hjelmar was a fine man, and a fierce warrior." Jorgen said the only thing he could at a time like this.
"Yes. A fine husband and father as well." Asgrid said with a tear in her eye. She brushed the stray drop away. "There will be time enough for tears later. Now I must see to my people. The cave will hold half a dozen families perhaps, but there may be others."
On this point, Jorgen was able to relieve her mind of some of its troubles. "My men are making what repairs can be made to make shelter for all for this night, and our provisions shall be shared as well."
"That is very good of you." Asgrid sat on a barrel that had not been there when Jorgen had examined her niece. "We shall open this seat of mine and drink to the dead."
"And to the living?" Jorgen asked softly, unwilling to add to the woman's pain, but unwilling also to see her give up while her support would be needed to convince the villagers of what he had in mind.
"Yes," she said, making an effort to appear brighter. "To the living. My daughters and sons are safe. That is a blessing of course. My eldest boy may speak with you about joining your men. He is injured as well as angry. He may try to sneak aboard one of your boats, though with a broken leg he will be clumsy about it."
"I shall look for him." Jorgen agreed easily. "It might be best to let him be, for a time. A son of Ironfist would be an asset to my band, even if only for a day or two."
Asgrid smiled. "My thanks once more, Jorgen Andriksson. You are wise as well as kind."
The Hilvardi leader said no more and turned to rejoin his men fixing shelter in the village.
“He has gone.” Asgrid said, knowing her niece no longer slept.
Maja opened her eyes but did not try to move. “Thank you, aunt.”
“I do not agree that it is best to keep your identity a secret.” Asgrid chided gently. “But I will do so—for a time—because you ask it of me. Here, let me take her.” Bending to take the child from Maja, Asgrid pressed a light kiss to her niece’s head. “Now sleep. You will want all of your strength on the morrow.”
Maja settled more comfortably now that she could move the arm which had gone numb from the slight weight of her little cousin. She closed her eyes and tried to block out all thought, but she could not. Where was her brother? Was he safe? Would she be able to send him word of the attack? What would he do if he knew? Perhaps it would be better only to say that she was safe. But that would never do. Surely Vakr would hear of the fate of the village, and know who was responsible. Even with Maja’s assurance of her own safety, Vakr would be only the more incensed and determined to avenge the deaths of their mother and father, and now their uncle as well.
Tears came unbidden at the thought of her fierce yet kind uncle. Hjelmar had at first frightened her, but once he had caught her sneaking a treat and sneaked one along with her, a mischievous gleam in his eyes and a grin beneath his great reddish-brown beard, she had known him for a kindred spirit and a powerful ally in any and all kitchen raids she might wish to conduct. He had even once allowed her to don his helm as they “pillaged” the larder. The only condition ever laid upon these ventures was that Maja not say a word to her Aunt Asgrid about them.
Maja curled herself tighter under the furs and fought waves of grief. She had thought there would be more time to spend with Uncle Hjelmar, riding across the meadow, screeching like a heathen as she was never allowed to do in Krossgata where she was a representative of her father and the crown of Islak. In Hjelmar’s village, though everyone knew she was the princess, she had been allowed a few brief weeks each summer to be just a child.
Maja swallowed her tears and tried to clear her mind. Aunt Asgrid was right; she needed rest. On the morrow there would be a great many decisions to be made, and she knew her aunt would require her counsel. Her head hurt less, thanks to some herbs Lene had given her, but she could not quite settle and convince her body to rest.
Forcing her breathing to slow, Maja carefully did not think about home, her parents, her brother, or her uncle. She did not think of the village either. Instead, she found herself picturing a handsome yet dirty face and deep, dark eyes, the color of which she did not yet know. There had not been enough light in the cave to see. Why Jorgen of Hilvard's face should intrude into her thoughts she could not say, nor why the memory of his eyes should be both frightening and comforting. He had not shown any sign of seeing her as anything other than an injured woman. No threat had been implied in his gaze, his questions, or his probing of her wound. Why then did she feel nervous thinking back to that brief moment when their gazes had met and locked? It had not been long, half a moment really, certainly not long enough to cause Maja any discomfort this much later.
Rather than fight the thoughts, she allowed herself to be soothed by them. She was not afraid of her feelings, only confused by them. It could not be attraction she felt, she was certain, for she had felt that before and it was a far more overwhelming set of emotions. Flutterings of the stomach, skipping of beats of her heart, and a feeling of lightness to almost giddiness. None of that did the thought of this Jorgen Andriksson give her. And when her weary mind wondered how it would feel to have his strong arms around her, she paid it no mind at all, but rather snuggled deeper under her blankets as if she truly was held and safe.
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