Debriefing

Iver walked in the middle of the procession, fearing that the stink of his clothes would draw unwanted company and wondering whether the horn he heard was only a figment of his imagination. His fingers tightened around the pine branches he was pulling upon which lay Ivan’s father.

“Iver,” Ivan whispered timidly.

“Yeah?”

“What did it sound like?”

“The horn?”

“Yeah.”

“Terrible,” Iver“I am not sure how to describe it. It sounded like pure terror,” Iver said and shivered at the memory. “I never really heard anything like it.”

“I… I think my father heard it too,” Ivan confessed.

Iver’s throat went dry and his legs stopped moving. “Wh…”

“Just as you froze, he said ‘no,’ and started shaking. He hasn’t spoken for a few days.”

“Could be a coincidence,” Iver said, hoping it wasn’t true.

Ivan shrugged.

Iver willed his body back into motion. Involuntarily his eyes sought out Nadia. She and Vor were in the front, discussing what transpired. Iver hoped not to get branded as weak or unreliable. That would make it impossible for him to find a hunting party and doom him to doing unwanted jobs like fixing roofs and digging ditches for the rest of his life.

“Gods be damned,” Vor cursed after Nadia filled him in on the events of the day. “He froze?”

“Not in battle. Haymich collapsed and Iver just stopped as if under a spell or something. He stood like that for a very long time. I even cut his shoulder and still there was no movement. Ivan helped me drag him to the side of the road where he finally came to. Said he heard a horn or something.”

“This is concerning.”

“Vor, he had my back all up until then. I really believe him when he says he heard something. No man soils himself and bleeds out of his nose and ears for the sake of a gag.”

“That’s the worrying part. I believe him too,” Vor rubbed his shaggy beard with his knuckles and sighed. “Anyway, for the grain we need to get to Kivo and soon.”

“Iver said the same thing.”

“We also need to see if any other lands were hit by the poison. Rand and his team got back today. They should be fresh by tomorrow.”

“No. Send us. You need your hunting teams. Iver, Ivan and I can handle Kivo.”

Vor sucked his teeth, mulling the suggestion over in his head. “While you are right, this mission is critical. I can’t trust Iver right now and Ivan is a boy who just lost his father.”

“Ivan wants to get a letter to his brothers and I will watch Iver. Vor, if Kivo fails, you need your hunting teams home.”

“Yeah,” the big man reluctantly agreed. “How’s married life?” he asked after a long awkward pause.

“It’s only been a day, Vor.”

“Yet you stand up for him as if he is the father of your children.”

“Isn’t that the idea?”

“Well, yes. It took Anya six years to fully trust me.”

“Who said I fully trust him?”

“The defensive tone in your voice any time you think that his actions might be viewed in a bad light.”

“Truth is truth. Though, honestly, it bothers me that I don’t know anything about him. It’s not like he grew up here or something.”

“Our traditions are not easy, I know. For a long time I suspected that the elders plucked random names out of the sky for their own amusement.”

“And?”

“What?”

“Are they amused?”

“Who knows. Want an advice from an old man?”

“Can’t hurt.”

“Look at yourself before passing judgement on him. It bothers you that you don’t know him? What does he know about you? I know you didn’t bring up what happened that day in Rinnand. He probably didn’t question why a talented warrior like yourself is not in a group.”

Nadia’s jaw clenched so hard, it hurt.

“Sorry,” Vor said quietly. “I didn’t mean to.”

Tear formed in the corner of her eye. She pushed it aside. “I know.”