Gardar’s stomach flipped as Hilda went tearing out the door. He collected her wrap and her shoes and waited outside as the cheering began to die down and Sigfúss began his speech.
It would break his heart, and he was sure that Hilda would never fully recover from losing him. He heard shuffling footsteps and looked up, but what moved was nothing more than a shade of death. Soggy and pale, Bregðask looked more morose and more defeated than Gardar had ever seen him. He stood and hobbled to Bregðask as he made his way towards the Harvard clan house.
“Bregðask?” he called. The form stopped and lifted his head to look at Gardar across the distance.
Gardar swallowed and hurried over to him. Bregðask lowered his head. He said nothing knowing from the state of his clothing and his silence what could have happened. Soaking wet with a fresh set of bruises on his pale face, he was a ghastly sight. Gardar took off his cloak and wrapped Bregðask in it.
“You’ll catch your death. Come on, I’ll take you–”
Bregðask’s fist clenched in Gardar’s tunic, and Bregðask lifted his head. If perhaps, Gardar hadn’t been sure before, the look in Bregðask’s eyes was telling.
“You can stay with me tonight only if we get you out of those clothes right now.”
Bregðask didn’t reply but dropped his head and maintained a firm grip on Gardar’s tunic. Gardar moved him easily towards the Harvard clan house. Gardar was a little past shocked that he wasn’t shivering given how cold it was even beneath the summer sun. The waters around the island were cold even now. He reached for the door as it opened with a frantic Hilda about to rush out of it.
She froze in the doorway upon seeing them, and Bregðask lifted his head.
Hilda’s eyes watered, and she threw her arms around him sobbing into his temple as she squeezed him close. He was warm even through his cold and wet clothing, almost burning, and she thanked every god in Asgard for that.
He was alive.
“I’m sorry,” he sniffled low and pitiful into her shoulder, “I…”
She stroked his hair gently, shaking her head, “You don’t have to apologize for anything. I’m sorry for not realizing sooner.”
She sniffled and slowly drew back to push his dripping hair out of his face to see his glowing silver eyes like flashes of lightning looking up at her, brimming with tears.
“I love you, little one,” she said, “No matter what, you understand?”
He nodded as his jaw trembled and she pulled him back into a hug.
“Come in. Let’s get you warmed up and some food in your stomach, okay?”
Bregðask didn’t resist her walking him to the bathroom on the first floor. Hilda closed the door behind him and joined Gardar in the dining room. They heard the sound of flowing water as Gardar hung up her wrap and set her shoes by the fire.
Hilda made food and set it on the table, all of his favorites. Bregðask came out in the clothes that Hilda had set out for him, his hair still drying on the drying cloth around his shoulders. His hair looked almost black when wet. She grabbed a comb and combed it for him to have something to do with her shaking hands.
Because she hadn’t seen, because she didn’t understand, because maybe she didn’t ask enough questions or asked too many, she’d nearly lost him. Calder had nearly lost him.
Valka had nearly lost him before she even got to have him.
When she’d told Valka that she had no idea where he’d gone and the tone of the speech, the woman told her calmly to look on the beach.
Jörmungandr will not harm one of her own, she said, but Hilda hadn’t been able to think. She’d told her she would and would report back just as he and Gardar had arrived. Never in her life had she’d felt such fear and then such relief in close succession.
“Please eat,” Gardar said, “I’ll let you work in the forge all night, not a single complaint if you’ll just… eat.”
Bregðask looked up at him. His silver eyes were cold, clinical, and searching before he picked up the plate and began to eat. Gardar gasped as the bruise on Bregðask’s cheek bloomed a little too quickly for it to have been so fresh. By the time, Bregðask had finished enough food for the two of them to relax, the bruises had begun to turn that all but faded and Hilda had braided his hair back out of his face so he could work in peace at the forge.
Svein was going to pay for this one day. Hilda shuddered as she bound his hair with a leather cord. Gardar looked at Hilda and winced at her grim and angry expression.
“Where were you, Bregðask?” Gardar asked, “And why are you soaked? Hell of a time to go swimming, lad.”
“I took a running jump off Viking’s Cliff,” Hilda flinched at Bregðask’s flat tone, “Probably wasn’t the best human sacrifice ever offered.”
Gardar was stunned and a nervous laugh escaped him. Hilda set the comb down and went to find a warm blanket to wrap around Bregðask. Bregðask could swim, but Viking’s Cliff wasn’t a height anyone could jump from and actually walk away from due to the currents below.
It was also the cliff that she suspected her grandfather had thrown himself off of based on the state of his body and where he ended up. Viking’s Cliff was on the lower west side of the island. From the Harvard clan house, it was a long walk, but Hilda knew how fast he could run and how well he knew the forests. He’d timed it perfectly, so by the time Svein had started the speech, he’d already had the chance to throw himself off the cliff, drown, and probably wash up on a beach to be discovered weeks, if not months later.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Hilda asked.
“No,” Bregðask drew the blanket tighter around himself and reached for the soup, “Thank you for doing my hair and the food.”
Gardar sighed and looked at his hook of a hand, “Bregðask, I know you said you don’t want to, but please, talk to someone other than the wind.”
Bregðask’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, and the bruising on his face vanished before Bregðask finished eating. Hilda squeezed his shoulder and got him a jar of pudding. He stared at it, lost and dazed for a moment.
Hilda worried her lip, and she put a hand on his shoulder, “Kostr, look at me.”
He looked up, his eyes lost and guilty.
“She knows,” she said, “And she loves you. She understands.”
His smile was misty and weak, “I don’t… What’s wrong with me?”
She crouched beside his chair and took his hands before meeting his gaze with a smile, “You’re not where you’re meant to be yet, but you will be soon.”
“Is she ashamed of me?”
“No,” she said, “She would never be ashamed of you. You’re her son.”
“That doesn’t stop, Svein,” he said, “Why… not just let me go with her?”
Hilda sighed, “Because he needs an heir.”
“If in name only.”
“And he’s an idiot.”
He sniffled, “I can’t do this anymore.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to much longer. Can you hold on just a little longer?” She watched his throat work as he blinked furiously to keep the tears from falling, “For me, Kostr?”
“I… I can.”
She smiled, “Good. Give me a hug before you go running off to the forge, hm?”
He hugged her tightly, resting his head against her chest.
“I love you,” she said kissing his temple, “I love you so much, Kostr.”
“I love you too,” he said, “And I’m sorry.”
“You don’t ever have to apologize for the way you feel,” she said, “I wish you felt comfortable talking about it, but we have time for that. When you’re ready, I’ll be here.”
He nodded and sighed into her shoulder. Hilda met Gardar’s gaze and found that he looked as though he was regretting not drinking at least one cup of mead at the feast.
She understood. She wanted at least three.