Iriella tried to open her eyes with some hardship, her right eye would only open halfway and her vision through it was blurry; her left eye was so swollen and bruised it wouldn’t open at all. She could feel something cold on her forehead and she could hear voices. She felt nothing else for some time, the voices came and went, the cool compress was moved to her cheek and she slipped from consciousness again. She regained her own will and could hear the voices again, the cold was gone, she felt nothing, darkness took her once more. She had no idea how long was passing between each time she was able to rouse herself enough to think, the voices became a little clearer, Faendal? Hod? Gerdur shooing them away, her eyes would not open at all, her head began to hurt. Pain, this was good, this meant she was still alive. Sleep took her, and dreams came and went. Dreams where she saw Rune, saw him as a pup playing in the snow with other pups, his kin. Suddenly an ominous hooded figure appears, the pups disappear, and Rune is alone, he cries out, but no one answers. She saw her father, trudging through the snow with a deer on his back, almost tripping over the little Snow-wolf pup that was covered in a sprinkling of snow where he had been led still for so long. Gentle hands pick him up, he’s too hungry and too tired to be scared. He’s warm again, in front of a fire, the man with the big red beard has given him food. The little girl with the red hair cuddles him and tells him she will always love him, and they will always look after one another. The little girl lets him sleep on her bed.
“Good night, Rune” she calls to him. He sleeps in his new home, lucky that the kind man found him. He vowed from then on to take good care of his child, in return for saving his life.
Iriella was finally able to open her one good eye and appraise her surroundings. She was in one of the rooms at the inn, Sigrid was sitting in the chair in the corner darning some stockings. She tried to sit up, and immediately ceased the effort owing to the pain it caused.
“Oh, thank the divines you’re awake!” Sigrid exclaimed, having noticed the movement from the bed; she deposited her darning on the chest of drawers and came to Iriella’s bedside. “Now don’t you try moving, you hear me? Wait right there I will fetch Gerdur and we will sit you up.” Sigrid bustled out of the room, returning a few moments later with Gerdur in tow. With great care and a lot of painful wincing on Iriella’s part, they sat her up in bed so she could look around the room.
“Everything hurts” her voice was hoarse, for the first time she realised her nose was running and her throat was terribly sore. “Do I have a chill?”
“Well you were led outside for some time…” Gerdur tailed off after a pointed look from Sigrid.
“Just you never mind about that now, let us get you some food and some drink, you’ve not eaten in almost 3 days you need to eat before you starve.” Iriella opened her mouth to say something but was silenced by Sigrid’s authoritative tone; “Ah, ah” she waggled a finger at her, “once you’re fed and watered you can talk and have visitors, but not before!” The two women smiled warmly at her and left the room.
Iriella took stock of her injuries, her left eye didn’t open at all, her left leg must have a hefty cut, she could feel the bandage tightly wound around her calf. Her head wasn’t as painful as it had been, but it was still pretty sore, her face must have been covered in bruises, it felt like a mouldy apple to touch. In fact, she felt like her whole body was bruised, gently lifting up the blanket with what little strength she had confirmed this feeling. Still, she was alive; whatever had attacked her must have left her for dead. She tried to remember what had happened, but her memory was fuzzy. Perhaps she would think better after some sustenance. She winced again and laid her head back on the soft pillows supporting her and closed her good eye. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright, quite ignoring the pain it caused her; where was Rune!?
After some stew and a large glass of fresh apple, Iriella felt her strength return somewhat, her head stopped pounding from dehydration and was just sore from bruises. She had eaten alone, Gerdur had brought the food in on a tray and left her to eat in peace. Feeling a little more replete she sat up and waited for someone to come. She could feel anxiety blooming in her chest, where was Rune? She remembered looking for him before the first blow came. She hoped he had not been injured too. She thought of her dreams and saw Rune as a pup in her mind’s eye, lost and alone; she shook her head, this was nonsense. Rune would be just fine; he was probably staying with Faendal and being over fed and pampered.
Eventually Sigrid returned and smiled at her.
“You are looking so much better, some colour in your cheeks makes a big difference.” Iriella nodded graciously and thanked her for looking after her.
“You’re welcome, it was the least we could do after what you have done for us, and what you went through…” she stopped short, as if she had more to say.
“Sigrid, what happened? How did I get in here?”
“I think it best if you speak to the men about that; are you feeling up to moving?” Iriella nodded, and very gingerly, with Sigrid’s help she made her way into the main area of the inn where the others were waiting. She sat in a chair and Gerdur brought her a pillow and a blanket. Faendal, Hod, Alvor and Orgnar sat in the chairs around the fire pit; Delphine was back and bustling about fetching drinks and clearing plates, with Sigrid and Gerdur helping her.
Faendal was first to speak.
“How do you feel? Can you remember anything at all?”
“I feel sore, and I can remember bits of what happened, but I’m afraid I cannot remember much after something hit me on the back of the head outside the stable.” Alvor and Hod exchanged glances and Alvor shifted in his chair.
“It was our dog Stump who found you the next morning” He began; “When you had been gone an hour we feared the worst, a few of us got together and went out too look for you but the weather was so bad we couldn’t see our own hands in front of our faces, much less find someone on the floor. We tried again a few hours later when it seemed like it was dying down, but it was so dark we gave up again.” “I was out all night?” Iriella asked incredulously “In that rain?” The men nodded, and Hod picked up the story;
“When morning came the rain had gone, at first light we all went out to look for you. We found Rusty in his stable, but we couldn’t find you anywhere at first. It wasn’t until old Stump began whimpering and pawing at where you were, we realised it was you. We got you in here right away and the women took over. They were taking it in turns to watch over you”
“You were so feverish” Sigrid interrupted; “you had been out all night; your clothes were soaked right through. We changed you, and dried you, and kept you warm. You were mumbling about some things we couldn’t make out, part of the fever I expect.” Sigrid paused and bit her lip, Iriella saw her chance to speak.
“I am so grateful, to all of you. I do not deserve the kindness you have shown me. Nor the time and effort spent nursing me…” she tailed off; why were they all trying not to look at her? “I remember getting Rusty back in the stable and I am glad he is alright, but something is really bothering me. Why have none of you mentioned my hound? Where is Rune? You’re all trying not to look at me, I can tell there’s something you’re holding back; now tell me where my boy is!” The silence was deafening, Iriella could hear only her own heart pounding in her chest. She looked from one person to another, imploring them to speak. Faendal got up and came to her side, he knelt down and took hold of her hand, he was shaking like a leaf, and his eyes were brimming with tears, what on earth was going on? The Bosmer took a deep breath before looking up at her.
“Iriella, I’m so sorry, he’s gone.”
She stared down at him blankly.
“Gone? Where has he gone?” She shifted uncomfortably and withdrew her hand from Faendal’s. “Why are you crying?”
“Iriella, please try to understand, we looked everywhere…we thought he had disappeared and then yesterday Alvor found…” Faendal winced and tailed off, unable to articulate anything further. Iriella looked around the others, all of them mirroring Faendal’s sadness, and suddenly she understood.
“I see.” She said coldly.
“Iriella, please” Faendal began.
“Take me to him” She said sharply, and Gerdur stepped forward
“You’re not well enough” she said, her hands clasped to her chest, her eyes filling with fresh tears.
“I said, take me to him!” Iriella raised her voice this time, and Faendal jumped. Alvor moved silently to Iriella’s side and reached out his hand.
“Come, I will take you.” He offered. She took his hand and gingerly, with help from Faendal, got to her feet.
They took her out of the inn and up toward the stables. There were three stables, two had their top doors open; one of them had Rusty’s head poking out as he grazed lazily. He whinnied to Alvor as they approached. The third stable had both doors closed, Iriella and Faendal stood aside for Alvor to open the door.
“Iriella, you don’t have to…” Faendal looked at her, almost imploring her not to look but he knew she would.
“Yes. I do.” She replied quietly and nodded to Alvor. He unbolted and swung back the top door silently, the bottom door gave a mournful creak as it was opened. Iriella left Faendal’s side and hobbled into the stable alone.
It was the stable they stored the spare bales of straw in. She looked around at the yellow bales, and her eyes rested on one on the far-left wall. There was a deer skin on it, covering a familiar looking shape. She hobbled over and reached out her hand to pull the pelt back and gave way to a short gasp upon the sight of her beloved hound as he lay lifeless upon the bale. Kneeling down next to him, Iriella could barely feel any of her injuries; her heart ached so heavily it outweighed any physical pain she bore. With steadier hands than she felt she should have, she stroked the soft white fur and smiled in spite of herself.
“We’ve had a good life hound” she whispered softly, twirling his fur around her fingertips, as she used to when she was a child.
Outside Faendal and Alvor stood silently, after some time Iriella hobbled out of the stable, holding a leather object, Rune’s collar.
“They will pay for this.” She muttered. “As soon as I am fit enough, I’m going to get it back” she said through gritted teeth, her knuckles white as she gripped the collar.
“Get what back?” Faendal asked as he prepared to help her back to the inn. Alvor gave him a sharp look, then remembered he had not been there when the wolf had been found.
“His head.” Iriella replied grimly. Faendal stood dumbfounded for a moment, before recovering himself. He reached out to help her, but she hobbled straight past him, a look of renewed purpose in here eyes. He went to follow her and felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Let her go, Bosmer.” Alvor said before turning back to re lock the doors.
Iriella returned to the inn to collect her belongings, despite the protests of the women, who wanted her to stay put.
“I want to go home.” She said matter-of-factly. There was nothing either Sigrid or Gerdur could say to make her stay. Alvor and Faendal returned and looked on as Iriella painstakingly packed her things into a deerskin. Sigrid handed her a package containing some food, Iriella nodded gratefully and took it. She hoisted the skin bag over her shoulder and winced.
“I will walk you home” Faendal stated, a little more authoritatively than usual. If she would insist on going home, he would ensure she got there in one piece, he didn’t care if she said no. She surprised him by nodding in ascension and handing him the bag to carry.
They walked in silence, Iriella leaned on Faendal for parts of the journey, particularly over the rougher terrain, her bruises were causing a lot of discomfort, but she did her best not to show it. Now was not the time for weakness, driven by anger she stumbled into her hut with her back to Faendal. He put her belongings down on the small wooden table and opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it again. He walked to the door and turned back to Iriella who still had her back to him.
“I will leave you be.” He said after some moments passed and it was clear she did not want to talk. He had expected more of a reaction than this and her muted behaviour made him uneasy. When he got no response, he started to close the door behind him.
“You’re a good Elf, Faendal.” He turned to see she had still not moved.
“I’m so sorry, for your loss, Iriella.” She turned and nodded to him,
“I appreciate all you have done for me, for us” she said quietly.
“If you need anything-” he started
“We…I mean I, will be fine” she smiled weakly, a smile that did not touch her eyes. Faendal reached out and took her hand, he gave it a small squeeze and left without another word. She watched him walk down the hill towards Riverwood. The sun shone in through the window, you’d never have known there had been a storm not more than four nights before. Iriella turned back to the table and unpacked her bloodstained armour from the makeshift deerskin bag. She felt angry, but as she picked up Rune’s collar the anger faded and a deep sadness took her; grief overwhelmed her heart, unable to do anything else, she sank to the floor in despair and wept.