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  • Writer's picturePatrick Deveney

3. Deceit of Midwinter

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

I


The crackle of the fire echoed through the trees, cutting through the silence of the darkening night and softly illuminating the lone traveller, he had found a relatively comfortable spot propped up against a tree. He pulled his cloak tighter as he sheltered from the freezing cold which by all accounts he should have gotten used to by now but in truth the harsh environments of Azlaria still managed to pierce him as he sat there shivering. His mind was focused, perhaps this was the only reason he carried on, he had a purpose that fuelled his resilience. Rurik had once again found himself alone on the road but he couldn't shake the feeling of dread, he did not like the idea of where he was heading or what his purpose was. It was a path he was wary to go down. He had left the city of Atana far behind him many months ago for a reason but after everything he had been through and everything he had done he couldn't stay, but he now found himself on the road back to the capital. He had decided to take Elara's advice and seek out the four men that were with him during the Battle of Atana to see if they were experiencing similar symptoms as he was. Fortunately, the only symptoms he had experienced so far was a strange sense of youthfulness but he wasn't sure if he was extremely lucky or this was only the beginning but either way he needed to assess the larger picture. As he sat there nestled against the tree and his horse Beau, who seemed to have drifted off into a deep sleep, he pondered what he would be walking into. When he was there last he helped a prince become a king but as soon as the throne was claimed he abandoned said king, he of course had his reasons but he wondered if he would he be welcomed back like an old friend or if there would be an icy reception, much like the one he was experiencing now, out in the wilderness. His thoughts raced, he couldn't sleep. The closer he got to the city the more the fear and anxiety took over and he was now only a few days' ride away. Rurik was still debating whether he would ask for the king's help in searching for the four men or to carry on as he almost always had, alone. As Rurik continued to stare blankly out into the cold, dark night the fire began to subside, he hadn't noticed he had drifted off into a dream.

He dreamt of the campfire and the freezing cold as he continued to stare blankly out into the night but his attention was quickly brought to the escalating darkness. It began with the stars that filled the night sky as one by one they began to blacken and turn to nothingness, then it came almost like a wave as it passed over the land shrouding the forest in shadow, suffocating any sign of light as it swept through the trees and the snow, covering it all the same. As it approached Rurik, he could see this darkness, it oozed closer in the form of a thick black substance devouring anything in its path, growing closer to the fire, it too began to darken. As the last breath of light and warmth held onto existence a bright flame burst from the ashes illuminating Rurik's surroundings and he noticed he was no longer alone. Standing on the opposite side of the crackling fire stood a figure, a tall pale figure dressed all in black as he smiled through broken, blackened lips as the same black substance oozed from two black voids where his eyes should have been. Rurik tried to speak but to no avail, he could only watch as the figure slowly began to raise his arms. Rurik could feel this darkness cling to his legs as it slowly moved to cover him, his breathing increased exponentially as he tried to break free of its grip but there was nothing he could do, it moved to cover his head and everything turned to black but a strange feeling of calm washed over Rurik and he felt at peace.

Rurik awoke with a start as his body jolted, which caused an aching sensation that rushed down his body due to the uncomfortable sleeping position. Beau was already awake and just quietly digging into the snow as he began to take in his surroundings. It seemed the forest was already awake as well, he could hear birds singing and the odd delicate footsteps of animals trudging through the snow. The sun had barely risen when Rurik awoke but the warm orange glow that was beginning to cover the land was comforting, having just spent the night freezing half to death. Not long after sitting down to grab a small bite to eat of hardening bread and moulding cheese, Rurik set off through the snow-covered forest. His supplies were running low but for a change his coin purse wasn't, he took a hit when he gave up his earnings from the kelpie but he felt the townsfolk that were victim to Lambert's scheme deserved the money more than he did, luckily he still had plenty left over from the money he had taken from Katia's house just a few weeks prior, after leaving her with the ghost of her sister, which wasn't the strangest thing to happen to him in the last few months. He knew he was coming up to a small town soon and was eager to resupply there before setting off for the final stretch to Atana.


II


The sounds and smells of the market were her home. It had been that way her whole life or at least for as long as she could remember, not that it covered a particularly long period of time though being only ten years of age. She was quite short for her age with a rounded face which was slightly dirtied, her sandy blonde hair hung loose beneath a tightly fitted hood. She wore layers of scruffy, put together clothes and a scarf that wrapped around her neck which covered the bottom half of her face leaving her clouded grey eyes to peer out blankly. Her eyes had grown cloudy when she was born and she had been blind ever since. She had no memory of her parents, no memory of any life before the cold and snow-covered streets of the small town she lived in where day by day she would beg on the streets. There wasn't a soul in the town who didn't know who she was but no one really 'knew' her, not in any way that mattered. To the people of the town she was just another victim of homelessness who had garnered sympathy from the townsfolk but under close inspection that sympathy was more respective of being patronising.

She sat in her usual spot as she did everyday just beside the baker's store so she could smell the bread and the various cakes and pies being baked as the warmth that emanated from the baker's helped fight the snow and the cold. That being said the cold was never really an issue for the people born in the snows of Azlaria, having a particularly strong resilience to the cold but even still she wore several layers to shelter from the harsh conditions. She did enjoy the company or as much as she could even if she couldn't stand all of the sympathy or people feeling sorry for her, it all somehow made her feel worse. Passersby would always greet her or have a chat, most would even drop a few coins into the bowl she had sitting in front of her but it all seemed superficial. No one really knew her and she never really knew anyone save for the local innkeeper who let her sleep under his roof and eat for a small portion of her daily takings. The rest she saved up. When she wasn't begging in the market or staying at the inn, she spent her time at the stables. Although at first the smell was a bit too much for her, she soon learned to get used to it. She loved spending time with the horses and ponies, she even had dreams of buying one, with a pony she could go anywhere she wanted and not only would they be her eyes but she could finally say she had a friend. As she sat daydreaming, hearing the odd coin clatter against the others in her bowl she heard the familiar sound of trotting and the sound of reins. The stables were far on the other side of town so she knew they had to be a traveller, buzzing with excitement she jumped straight up and carefully ran over to where she could hear the horse several feet away from her, she was careful to listen out for anyone walking around her when she finally approached the horse.

“What's your horse's name?” she asked curiously as she reached out and began petting the horse.

“Beau.” a man replied in a low gruff voice which slightly startled the girl but she was reassured when she felt Beau's face nuzzle against her.

“She's lovely, except maybe the smell.” she said as she covered her nose while giving Beau a pet.

“That might be me, we've been on the road for a while, we could both do with a bath,” the man said as he jumped off of his horse and began walking, taking Beau by the reins. “But first I need a drink.”

“Oh! I'll take you to the inn, I know the innkeeper, come on!” she said as she turned to run off before stopping herself to recount her steps and turning to face in the right direction, she grabbed a hold of the man's hand and began pulling him down the busy street.

“Are you an adventurer?” she asked, wide-eyed and gleaming.

“You could say that.”

“Where is the strangest place you've been? Oh have you ever seen the city of Atna… no… Atuna…”

“Atana?”

“Yes! Atana, I heard there was a big battle there, everyone talks about it, it's easy to listen to other people's conversations when they don't pay attention to you.”

“That's a good skill to have but you should be careful, a little thing like you needs to look out for yourself. What's your name?”

“I'm not little! Well, I may be small but I'm not little, I’m ten. My name is Orla.” Orla said with a hint of an attitude.

“You have my apologies but it's good to meet you, name's Rurik, you've already met Beau but call this an official greeting.” Rurik replied with a small laugh.

They continued down the busy street, the town itself was rather large and this being the main market street most of the townsfolk could be found here. The street was incredibly wide as rows of shops or houses sat on either side as several stalls were littered down the center. As they grew closer Orla ran off ahead without so much as a warning as Rurik and Beau chased after her. It wasn't far to the local inn, the sounds of laughter and shouting, even some very off key singing signified she was in the right place, she waited for a moment, waiting for Rurik and Beau to catch up as she heard their rushing footsteps crunching through the snow getting louder as they approached.

“Here we are, as promised.” she said as she gave a huge smile, taking a chance by extending out her palm.

“You have spirit, little one. Here, don't spend it all at once.” Rurik said, giving a rough chuckle and handing over several coins to her delight.

“I'm not little!” she retorted as she heard Rurik tie Beau just outside the inn and begin walking inside.

“I'm sorry kid, you're right it takes a big person to help strangers, thank you.” Rurik said as he walked.

“Umm, could I… could I come in with you?” she said as her voice grew quiet and nervous.

“Why not, I could use the company.” Rurik said as a burst of happiness came over her.

The smell hit her first as she passed over the threshold of the bar which took up the entire ground floor of the inn. The noise of drunken patrons laughing and shouting was almost too much for her and she felt overwhelmed. It almost felt like sensory overload as she walked in from the cold outdoors but she soon felt reassured, Rurik had noticed this and had grabbed her hand and led her through the crowded bar holding her close and they soon found a place in a corner where it was relatively quieter, she sat with her back to the wall as Rurik pulled a chair over but didn't take a seat.

“Are you wanting a drink or anything to eat Orla?” Rurik said.

Orla took a second, she couldn't explain it but she felt warm and surprised, no one had ever really called her by her name and she felt her eyes begin to slightly swell as she began to grin.

“Any beer?” Orla finally said, hoping to hide her true feelings at that moment by giving a wide grin.

“Hmm, I'm afraid that's a no, water it is then.” Rurik said as he turned and left to get the drinks, leaving Orla sitting alone in the corner.

Orla sat in silence, listening to everything around her, she had calmed down significantly and could focus on her surroundings. Although her sight was gone she could still get a sense of what was around her, she couldn't explain it herself but she found that her hearing played a huge part in her being able to sense her surroundings to a certain degree. For instance, she knew that at the table closest to her there were four men, she couldn't tell what they looked like or their ages but she got the sense that three of them were enjoying themselves and one was feeling anxious and if she focused she could easily hear what the people on the other side of the tavern were talking about. It wasn't long before Rurik returned, sitting down across from her as he announced that he had returned.

“So tell me about yourself Orla, have you got any family?” Rurik said as he took a large swig of his drink, which Orla could tell was ale from the smell.

“No, my parents died when I was little and I've been on my own ever since, well not on my own exactly the innkeeper Merek looks after me.” Orla said as she hung her head.

“I’m sorry to hear that. If you don't mind me asking…”

“Have I always been blind? For as long as I can remember, I hear that a lot, people are always asking about it.”

“But there's more to you than your blindness.”

“I like to think so, but when people look at me it's like they don’t see me they just see my situation and they feel like they know me or they must know what I'm going through.”

“I couldn't even pretend to know what you're going through but maybe those people are just trying to understand you. But you know that wasn't what I was going to ask you.”

“Wait, really?” Orla sounded surprised.

“I was just going to ask you if you have any plans for the future, something you'd like to do?”

“Umm, no one has ever asked me that before, I don't know.”

“It's easy, why do you go out there everyday? I sense there's something more than survival, I mean you have this Merek looking after you, so what gets Orla motivated?”

“I can't, it's embarrassing.”

“Trust me, there's no judgements here.”

“I'd love to travel and experience new things, I want a horse or pony and they can be my eyes as I am travelling the world.”

“Travelling the world? Now that is a great dream to have, have you got your…” Rurik stopped himself.

“You were going to say 'have you got your eye on a pony' weren't you?” Orla said as she began to giggle, seeing this Rurik gave a nervous laugh in unison.

“I was, I'm sorry.” Rurik said, sounding regretful.

“It's okay, but I do 'have my eye' on one actually.” Orla said, still giggling away.

“Oh yeah?”

“Her name is Snowdrop, and I have been saving up all my extra coins and pennies so I can buy her, they know me at the stables and are holding onto her for me.” Orla said as she brought out a handful of coins from her pockets, there were several copper, silver and gold coins in all their respective shapes and patterns to signify their values, the copper coins being the largest and the gold being the smallest as they were the most valuable.

“I see you are making good headway, how long before you think you'll have enough?” Rurik asked curiously.

“Well I'm hoping I'll have enough by the Winter Solstice tomorrow, Merek lets me keep all the valuable coins, he takes all the small pennies.”


III

Rurik fought to hide the anger that was beginning to swell inside of him, his heart was beating fast and his legs began to feel numb, the last time he felt this way was his run-in with Lambert as he beat him to a pulp not too long ago. Rurik needed a second to comprehend the situation he was in but the noise of the tavern around him did not allow him to focus or concentrate. He looked at the hopeful and content face of Orla that was somewhat hidden behind her dirtied blonde hair as she began to look more and more confused at the long silence that continued between them but looking at her innocent face only angered him more. How Rurik continued to find himself in situations like this baffled him, it was far too reminiscent of Lambert taking money from the last town he had visited. Merek had been taking advantage of Orla, he was the only source of security she could rely on and he had manipulated and betrayed her, taking all of her valuable coins for himself all the while leaving her all the bronze and copper coins worth little to nothing while telling her the opposite. It was only then that Rurik realised just how long he had been silent, Orla continued to look very confused but she never questioned what was going on, she just sat there waiting for Rurik to say something.

“I'm sorry Orla but where can I find this 'Merek'?” Rurik said, his voice sounding cold and almost threatening, Orla noticed this and concern grew on her face.

“Um, he is usually through the back, there's a door behind the bar, but why do you want to know that?” Orla asked timidly.

Rurik remained quiet as he stood from his chair and slowly began to turn to leave, which unnerved Orla until he finally spoke.

“I just want a friendly word with him, stay here.” Rurik said and from the tone he used it certainly wasn't a request.

Rurik's head was spinning and an overwhelming feeling of nausea was beginning to fester. Rurik felt in a haze as he slowly made his way through the tavern as people parted to let him pass. He neared the bar and sure enough there was a single door behind it, as Rurik continued to the door while outstretching his hand to grab the handle, he was interrupted.

“I'm sorry sir, you ca…” the bartender began as he outstretched his hand to grab Rurik's.

Rurik quickly moved out of the way before pushing the bartender against the wall with his arm pressed against his throat and then throwing him to the floor.

“Don't.” Rurik growled as he threw open the door behind the bar.

Rurik entered the back room, quickly slamming the door behind him, grabbing a nearby chair and propping it up against the door to block anyone trying to enter. The room itself was quite small and quite dark given there were no windows or real light sources save for a single candle which seemed to be on its last legs. It was no more than a storage room save for the fact it wasn't being used for storage, in fact it wasn't really being used for anything. At the center of the room, awkwardly placed, was a hatch leading to a wooden ladder which led down to the cellar, a dank and musty aroma wafted from the cellar that mixed with the smell of alcohol and rotting wood. The only other thing of note in the storage room was a single desk and chair making the room extremely cramped. The chair had been thrown to the side as a frightened man stood backed up against the table as paper and documents flew across the room.

“Wh...who the hell are yo...you?” the man said as he cowered in the corner.

“Merek I'm assuming? I’m only going to ask this once. What have you done with Orla's money?” Rurik said as he towered over the innkeeper.

“I'm sor…” Merek began but he was interrupted when Rurik grabbed a hold of him, throwing him across the small storage room with Merek slamming hard against the solid wooden floor before trying to crawl away from his attacker.

“I'm not asking again.” Rurik said as he grabbed him again by the collar with his left hand lifting him from the ground and forming a fist with his right.

“Okay, okay I'll talk. It's all in the cellar, all the money I haven't spent is in the cellar, but how do you know her? Did she tell you about me?” Merek said while panicking, his breathing became heavy.

“I've just met her. She came in here with me and we got to talking. It didn't take a genius to work out you've been lying and stealing from her.” Rurik said as he began to turn to head down to the cellar.

“Wait she's here, you idiot.” Merek said, Rurik stopped in his tracks.

“What did you just say.” Rurik said threateningly as he turned to face Merek who was still laying on the floor, having now propped himself against the wall.

“She can hear us!”

“What are you talking about?”

“If she is in the building, she can hear us.”

“Oh shit.”


IV


Orla sat quietly in the corner, swaying her legs back and forth as they dangled from her chair, far from touching the ground. Rurik had only been gone for a moment but she was already bored. Whenever she was bored, which she was more often than not although she never liked to admit it, she would eavesdrop on the people around her. She enjoyed the thrill that came with it, she felt as though she was spying on people but she was also genuinely interested in listening to other people's lives and stories and there was no better place to eavesdrop than a tavern. Just as she began to settle and choose who to listen in on her attention was immediately brought to the bar where she heard a lot of commotion. She couldn't see what was going on but from what she could tell she could hear an altercation between two men as one threw the other to the ground before shouting a threatening 'don't'. It certainly sounded like Rurik but she found that hard to believe, she couldn't imagine the man who had helped her and was nice to her, be this aggressive. She stopped for a moment as doubt clouded her judgement, she thought back to moments ago, there was definitely something different about Rurik, something had changed or come over him, something dark.

She sat for a moment longer as she fought the urge to follow where Rurik had gone when she heard a door slam shut, it seemed she wasn't the only one to have heard all the commotion as a deathly silence fell across the room. She wasn't sure what came over her but she decided to make her move and get closer. She slipped in and out of the crowded tavern as she neared the bar, most were too caught up or disinterested in her to notice as she weaved through the tavern. She stopped just as she got to the bar as she hid herself behind it, she could hear the bartender try to get in through the door behind the bar but he was having no luck. She calmed herself as she tried to focus on the voices coming from the room, she could only make out fragments of the conversation but from what she could tell it was not the friendly chat Rurik had said it would be.

“...only going to ask this once. What have you done…” a voice that sounded like Rurik's said aggressively.

“...all in the cellar, all the money I haven't spent is in the cellar…” the frightened voice of Merek replied, Orla was extremely confused until she finally had her answer.

“...didn't take a genius to work out you've been lying and stealing from her…” Rurik said.

Orla's heart sank, she felt as if someone had just punched her in the stomach, she couldn't process what had just happened. Her legs began to shake as she slid down from behind the bar and slumped on the ground in disbelief. He had to be lying, there was no way Merek would do this to her, he was all she had, she had trusted him, it had to be a lie. Involuntary tears began to slowly drift down her face as she cried silently, no one had noticed her or even cared at this point, she was alone, abandoned, the one person she had trusted had betrayed her and her dreams had been shattered, she once again had nothing to her name. At that moment Orla heard someone, who she assumed was Rurik trying for the door to exit the small room. Orla wasn't sure when it happened but she suddenly found herself off of the ground and running towards the bar exit. She neared the door that exited out onto the busy market street outside, when suddenly she heard someone call her name but she never hesitated or stopped as she continued out into the town.

Orla couldn't think straight, her head was spinning as a thousand thoughts bombarded her at once and she couldn't comprehend any of them. Her feet seemed to have a mind of their own as well and she wasn't sure where she was running to, she just knew she had to get away, there was nothing left for her anymore. She ran through the cold streets of her town, she snaked through alleys and side streets making her way to the outskirts, she was heading for the dense forest that surrounded her town, usually a place she was told never to venture but all rules and safety had been disregarded and she no longer cared. She was unsure if Rurik was the one who called her name and had given chase but she could no longer hear anyone following her, not that he would have a chance anyway, she knew the town like the back of her hand and Rurik was a stranger to this place.

Orla immediately knew when she had hit the outskirts of the town, the ground beneath her feet went from stone and densely packed snow and slush to fresh and untrodden snow on uneven ground. She could feel the low hanging branches of the trees whip across her face as she ran, some would even leave small cuts or marks but she didn't care. The longer she ran the more uncertain she grew, this was all uncharted territory and it wasn't long before she became lost. In the rush and confusion she never kept track of what direction or how far she had come, she was far from home, alone and frightened. She slumped to the ground as tears streamed down her face, what had she done to deserve any of this. Suddenly her heart stopped, off in the distance she heard the crack of a stick and for a moment she thought she was saved but those thoughts of hope were soon diminished when the distinct sound of a wolf growling echoed through the trees as more joined in unison and she realised she was surrounded. She could hear their low breathing as they crept closer, lightly crunching the snow beneath their paws. There was nothing she could do, she couldn't run or hide, fight or scream for help as no one would hear her, the only thing she could do was wait in the dead silence as her inevitable demise grew closer. Suddenly her ears perked up, she could hear something coming but it wasn't another wolf at least it didn't sound like it, she could hear the sound of armour or clothing rustling and the sound of heavy footsteps sprinting through the snow growing closer every second, the wolves could hear it too, she could hear the pack turn to face this new threat when suddenly a voice called out to her.

“Get down Orla!” it was Rurik, he was even closer than she thought.

Orla did as she was told and immediately curled into a ball on the snowy forest floor but she could hear the sounds of the fight around her. It began when she heard the distinct scrape and metallic ring of a sword being drawn as the wolves moved in for the kill. It seemed to go on forever, Orla couldn't move or breathe for the fright, all she could hear was the hiss of Rurik's blade clashing with sharp teeth and claws. She couldn't even tell who was winning but it was all she thought about. She couldn't shake the thought of Rurik failing and it being her turn next. What seemed like an eternity passed but Orla still could not move with fright. The forest grew silent, the only sound that could be heard was the soft wind that passed through the dense trees as the branches rustled and swayed. When the silence was finally broken Orla breathed a heavy sigh of relief, she could hear the distinct sound of footsteps approaching her but something was off, Rurik seemed in pain and was limping, Orla didn't know to the extent that he was injured she was just happy it was all over. She could hear Rurik slowly approach her, his breathing sounded harsh and haggard.

“You alright kid?” Rurik said, sounding exhausted, she tried to reply but no words came, she began to feel lightheaded before passing out.


V


Orla awoke in panic. She did not know where she was. The cold had hit her first but this did not help in any way to decipher where she was. There was a familiar sound of people walking through snow as it crunched beneath their feet, families walking and laughing together and the overwhelming sound of haggling and bartering. After taking several moments to settle herself she realised where she was. She was back home, or at least where she had deemed to be her home, back on the cold, snow-covered streets of the marketplace. She had no idea how long she had been out, she wasn't even sure how she got there or what came over her back in the forest, her mind was foggy as she struggled to remember exactly what had happened but all she could remember was Rurik and the wolves but nothing after that.

“How you feeling, kid?” Rurik’s rough low voice asked, which slightly startled her.

“Rurik? I'm okay I guess.” Orla replied sounding disheartened.

“It's alright we're back in town, you're safe. Listen, what he did to you was unbelievably cruel and I know right now it will be hard to trust anything or anyone but I want to ask you something. Would you like to come with me? Get away from this place, get away from all of this. I'm heading to Atana and I know some people who can look after you when I'm not there. So what do you say?”

That was the last thing she expected anyone would say to her, it was all she ever dreamed, to leave this place and go on an adventure but something lingered at the back of her mind and the longer she waited the more it gnawed at her, the doubt and mistrust was slowly growing to the forefront of her thoughts. It took all she could to not immediately say yes. It's not that she couldn't trust Rurik but she hardly knew him, how could she be sure he wouldn't betray her. She thought long and hard before she even made any motion to speak.

“I…” she started, not entirely knowing how she would finish her sentence.

“How about this. Give me until tomorrow evening on the Solstice, I need to sort some things around here but I will be back then. Does that sound good? I'll see you tomorrow Orla, I promise.” Rurik said as he turned to leave without another word, Orla tried to speak up or reply but her voice failed her again so she just sat there alone on the busy street.

The next day passed relatively quickly for Orla, although her night certainly did not, she dared not sleep under Merek's roof or set foot anywhere near the place, instead she spent her night at the stables, nestled in with the horses and ponies which sounded more appealing to Orla than it actually ended up being, neither she nor the horses had gotten a very good sleep. The day passed without any event, the only change was the usually busy marketplace was desolate, not a soul could be seen save for Orla. Most would spend the Solstice with their families and friends and in years gone by Orla would spend it at the tavern with Merek which was now completely out of the question.

The sun was beginning to set, Orla could feel the air getting colder. She couldn't help but shake the feeling of dread and she began to doubt Rurik on his word when she heard the sound of a horse approaching and someone jumping off and approaching her with a slight limp. She couldn't help but smile, she had made up her mind.

“Hey Orla, it's me. You don't have to give me your answer just yet, I have something to show you, do you mind?” Rurik asked as Orla gave a confused nod in reply.

She felt Rurik pick her up with considerable strength and ease, placing her on Beau who seemed happy to see her before Rurik himself jumped on as they set off. Orla had no idea where they were going or what they were doing but she never asked. The journey was short but it felt like an eternity, the anticipation and curiosity rushed through her mind, all the while Rurik stayed silent. At a guess she thought they were heading to just beyond the outskirts of the town but she had no idea why, the only thing she could think of that was of note at the outskirts were several cottages that were dotted around the outside of the town and as they came to a halt it seemed she was right.

“Where are we?” Orla asked curiously.

“Well I used some of your money and some of mine and hired out a cottage, I may have also hired a cook and there may or may not be a fully cooked meal waiting in there for the two of us to celebrate the Solstice. Oh and one more thing, follow me.” Rurik said as he helped Orla down off of Beau.

“Okay?”

Rurik led her by the hand to the side of the cottage where they passed through a locked fenced gate into a small pen.

“Orla, I would like you to meet your new travelling companion, Snowdrop, I'm sure you're already well acquainted.” Rurik said, giving a small chuckle.

A wave of happiness flew over Orla and she immediately hugged Rurik as tears of joy streamed down her face.


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