Chapter Eighteen (part II)

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The prospect of the feast that night was rather more terrifying than anything else. I twisted back and forth all day between longing to see Edgar again and dreading to see the Ravens again. I hadn't quite resolved myself or resigned myself when Edgar turned up at the door.

I greeted him with few words and followed him out through Wolcott's lanes. Almost no one was about. Like the Notherners and the Baelgast, the Wolves were gathering with loved ones, to shelter round the fire through the long night and mourn their dead. Cottages puffed out smoke, and warm light danced in their doorways, but outside, the world was still and gray and lonely.

"Eadie." Edgar's knuckles grazed my hand. "You're so quiet."

"Oh..." I wrapped my cloak tighter round my body. There was a hint of rain on the wind. "I'll just be glad when this night is over. A feast with the Ravens... Ugh."

"You must get used to them, if you're to be their queen."

"Ach, I know. But what do I do? What if I offend them? I don't want to start a war before I'm even queen..."

Edgar chuckled. It must have set him off-balance, for his hand bumped mine again, rather firmly. "Shall I tell you the terrible secret of the Ravens?"

"Please. I need the help."

"They're people. And they want what people want... A full belly and a warm bed and love and children."

I laughed. "That's not all people want... What about wealth and legacy? And power and fame and purpose? Some people don't want children, at all..."

Edgar raised an eyebrow. "Is that what you want? Wealth? Power?"

"No... I want love and lots of fat babies. And a bath now and then. Good and hot."

Edgar chuckled. "See?" His knuckles grazed me again, then his fingers curled round mine. He gave my hand a squeeze. "We're all people."

I murmured, "I suppose so" -- or, at the least, I meant to. Whether any words came out of my mouth, I did not know. All I knew was that Edgar was sweet and good and glorious, and he wanted love, and he wanted children, and he'd taken my hand in his and warmed my whole heart with it... And that seemed quite enough to know for the moment.

Alas, the moment was not to last long. Mere paces brought us past the walnuts and within sight of the east wall. Rothgar waited for us there at the gate -- rather, he waited sitting atop the wall near the gate. He hopped down as we neared, crying, "Eadgar Wolf-brother!"

I leaned close to Edgar. "Can he do that? Can he just come over the wall?"

Edgar grunted. "He can go where he likes."

Rothgar trotted over the grass to meet us, grinning broadly. He clapped Edgar on the shoulders and kissed his cheeks, and then he led us -- walking hand in hand with Edgar, swinging his arm like a child -- out the gate, over the meadow, to a village of tents and lean-tos.

It was a strange sight to behold. Boys chopped wood, men turned spitted pigs over open fires, mothers nursed babies, and children played or whined or squabbled... The axeheads were made of black stone, the cloaks hanging up to dry were woven from dry grasses, and most everyone was more or less naked, but on the whole, it was all so astonishingly ordinary.

Rothgar led us to a great hut at the heart of all, tall and round and made entirely out of wooden poles and deer skins. He grinned, waving us in. Edgar waved at me, and I ducked through the low doorway.

The air inside was warm and stuffy, thick with smoke and beeswax and pitch. Gardrut and a wrinkled old woman squatted in a circle of stones and bones and figures drawn in the dirt, chanting over a little stone lamp. Gardrut held a clay jar in her hands. The old woman had a bundle of long sticks.

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