Astyr Tyr didn't know everything about being Aesir, but she had learned enough in last two years to know that she needed to run. The branches of trees whipped past her face as she zig-zagged through the dark forest. She could hear Gunnar's breathing as he ran near her, even over the pounding of her blood in her ears. They had been running for at least two hours and she could tell from the sound of his breathing that he was starting to run out of energy. A feeling of panic tried to claw its way up her spine at the thought of Gunnar being helpless in front of the men chasing them.
Something sang as it flew inches from her head but she didn't stop or turn around to see what it was. She made another sharp turn and angled toward Gunnar. They had both been warned about what would happen if they were caught, and Astyr wanted to make sure that she did everything she could to protect her best friend, and herself.
The moon was just bright enough so that Astyr could make out the dark forms of trees as she ran by them. Most were fir or spruce, their needles sighing in the soft breeze. There was an occasional silvery flash as the pale bark of an aspen flew by. The ground was a soft blanket of dead plant matter that somewhat muffled her footfalls as she ran. The cool night air was faintly perfumed with the vanilla scent of the Douglas firs. Astyr loved the forest that she had come to know since she moved to the mountains with her parents, but she was scared that this might be her last run through her beloved trees.
Even as she ran she couldn't help but remember her last conversation before she went out to hunt deer with Gunnar.
Her father had been standing beside the large fireplace in the gathering room of their house looking into the flames, deep in thought. He looked up as Astyr and Gunnar walked into the room with their bows in hand, arrows stowed in quivers slung across their backs. Tyr's eyes lit up as he looked at his daughter. Astyr had not changed a bit since she turned sixteen, but she had the full-grown beauty of a woman. The fact that she looked so much like her mother never failed to please him. Tyr took in her warm, dark clothes, sturdy hunting boots, and weapon and his brows creased in thought.
"I'm not sure if tonight is good for hunting, Astyr," he said in a low, tired voice.
Astyr frowned in disappointment. She had been cooped up in their majestic mountain lodge for two whole weeks and she really wanted to get out for a bit. Gunnar's arrival seemed like the perfect chance.
"Dad," she pleaded. It still gave her a thrill to be able to call him that. "I'll be with Gunnar and we'll stay on this side of the mountain. Please. I really need to get out and get some fresh air."
"I know, Astyr," he said kindly, "but I'm worried about what might be out there. I've heard some strange things from my contacts and I'm not sure what's going on."
Astyr stopped herself from rolling her eyes. She wasn't in the habit of behaving disrespectfully to her father. She walked over to him and put her hand on the soft sleeve of his gray sweater. She could feel the solidness of his muscles and the warmth that radiated off of him. It made her feel better to touch him, to reassure herself that he was really there. There for her. They had lost so much time.
She smiled up at him warmly and squeezed his arm.
"Dad, I know you still worry about me," she tried to sound understanding but firm. "But I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm fully grown and capable of protecting myself. You have to try to remember that."
Tyr tried to suppress a smile at that but the corners of his mouth betrayed him. Astyr caught the slight movement and grinned, knowing that the battle was won.
She pressed her case while Tyr was disarmed. "Dad, I'll be with Gunnar and we won't be more than five miles from the house. If we see or hear anything unusual, we'll come straight back. I promise." She held her breath waiting for him to acquiesce.
Tyr closed his eyes and covered her hand with his own large hand. He opened his eyes and looked down at his precious little girl. No matter how old she got, he would always think of her as the little girl that he had been deprived of for so long.
"Fine," he breathed out reluctantly, "but no more than five miles. And I want you home before dawn whether you find any deer or not. Understand?"
Astyr reached up and kissed him on his cheek in excitement and gratitude. She couldn't keep from grinning widely. This house had started to feel like a prison and she couldn't wait to get back out into the forest again.