Child of Moss part 17 (19)

When they had finished their meal, Oatie began to gather the pots and leavings from their meal, but Lugh took them from her hands.  “You did the cooking, the least I can do is wash up afterward.”  He was rewarded with a lovely smile and felt good about it as he washed the pots and spoons with water and sand from the little stream.

The fire had died down to almost nothing.  Camp was laid, with Oatie already in her bed and another bed, on the other side of the fire, laid out for him.  It had been a long day, but Lugh didn’t quite feel like sleep.  After stowing the gear, he took some firewood from the pile and added it to their camp fire, stirring up the flames in the process.  Lugh laid down and looked over at Oatie where she lay.  He was surprised to see her eyes shining in the dancing fire light, he’d thought she was already asleep.

“I’m sorry if I woke you by stirring up the fire.  I thought maybe you were already asleep.”

“No,” she said, Lugh thought a bit sadly, “I was thinking.”

“Thinking what?”

“Everything and nothing,” she said.  Oatie rolled on her back and looked up at the stars. “Thanks for cleaning the pots, by the by.  That was good of you.”

“Thanks for cooking and making camp.  Was thanks for cleaning the pots what you were thinking?  Because I find that hard to believe.”

Oatie pondered the question and said nothing at first, but Lugh could she was now looking at him, her eyes, bright and avid, in the fire-light’s glow. “I suppose I was thinking you were not what I expected is all,” she finally said after a long silence.

“Why would you expect anything? Did you know I was coming?”

“Not really, I was surprised to find you sitting on my giant, but I knew you, Lugh of the Long Journeys.  What Norfolk would not?”

“Really? It has been a long time since I’ve been with your folk, and still you know me?”

“Hard not to remember. . .” Oatie’s voice trailed off in the night.

Lugh was annoyed by what seemed a riddle.   Oatie was hinting around something and it angered him for a reason on which he could not put his finger.  “And why is that?” he prodded. “It seems you have a bad image of me and are surprised, as bad as I am, that I’m not worse.”

“I meant no offense, only thanks for the help.”

“. . .because I’m such an ogre that no Norfolk would expect common decency from me?” Lugh sat up, too agitated now to calmly lie beside the fire. “What is all this?”

“We need to sleep, Lugh, please.” Oatie snuggled deeper in her bed roll, but her eyes still shone through her long eye-lashes.

“Then tell me and have done.”

“I don’t think this is the time to talk of such things.  We should sleep.”

“Should we, truly?  Then put my mind at ease and answer, what are we even talking about?  It seems I’ve done some wrong that every Norfolk knows.  It can’t be a great secret, tell me then what I’ve done or how could I possibly sleep?”

“How could you not know it?”

“How could I if you don’t tell me?  I swear I have no idea what it is you are saying so much not to say.”

“It is a hard thing.” She seemed about to say something important but instead she began in a rush, “This is not the time to speak of it.  Honestly, I don’t know why I would believe anything my people say.  We are both outcast and I prefer it so.  It is nothing, idle chatter from a tired head.  Go to sleep Lugh, we will need our strength for the morrow.”  Oatie turned her back and disappeared into her bedding roll.

Lugh had had enough deflection.  He threw off blankets, moved to Oatie’s side, and, reaching out, pulled her shoulder to turn her back toward him, “Tell me this hard thing.  You must. . .”

“Don’t touch me!” Oatie shrieked and flinched away.

Lugh had no intention of harming her and Oatie’s reaction, seeming to suggest that he could, enraged him.  Lugh grabbed her shoulders and shook her, “Tell me! Is this about Von?”  The terror in her eyes made him know that it was. “What about Von? She warned me of my brother and I fled. What happened to Von?”

“You’re hurting me,” she cried.

“Tell me what happened to Von.” He hissed and shook her again, more violently than he intended.  Cloth tore, but Lugh did not release her.

“They killed her,” Oatie managed and Lugh froze, stunned. Oatie’s eyes were wide with terror, “Are you going to kill me Lugh?” she asked, but Lugh had already dropped her and wandered into the lonely night.