He knew the minute he caught sight of her coming. She could see it in the way his shoulders sagged and he pulled his face into a consolation prize smile. She took her time dismounting, and he played with Huanling while she hobbled Scatha.
His big paw of a hand tapped her shoulder and commanded her attention, and she met his eyes with shamed reluctance. His expression was firm as his hands said, “It’s good to see you. You’re not hurt?”
She carried on apologizing with her eyes as her hands plodded down the well-worn rut of this particular conversation. “A couple dings and nicks, but no good scars.”
“Brought me any presents?”
She paused a moment. What could she say? That she’d not brought him the one bloody thing he wanted in the world? That the witch causing all that troubled turned out to be some sodding coward of a man-witch who hid behind a ball of lightening and probably spent his free time wanking to pictures of the Eye? Instead, she pulled out two stuffed saddle-bags full of conscience-sops. She’d traded her skates for a fludding dragon’s trove full of things to make this moment seem less like coming back without a shield.
A matched set of parkas, each one beautifully embroidered in dyed mammoth fur and lined with silky silver fox. Peikko-fur coverlets big enough for the massive bed it took to contain her brother and his wife. Mukluks dyed icy shades with the warmest of warm interiors, and furry-fine mittens to match. And there were dried fish, of course, along with a keg of that salty brown sauce the Lossoth used. Scrimshaw jewelry and a box full of curiosities ranging from tacky necklaces of beads carved in the shapes of mammoths, moose, and peikko to a particularly fine ulu. Broddi made a fuss, eager to make her think he didn’t mind, and that he was just happy to have her back, and who knew fur was so cheap up North that his sister could afford it?
“Ceci will be glad to have her feet nice and warm.” He could hide a lot, but he couldn’t hide that pained, haunted look as his fingers caressed the letters of her name as if he could keep her with him by signing just a bit more carefully.
Cynewynne’s own fingers moved with ponderous care as she asked, “No better?”
Broddi shook his head.
“B-Bear, I’m so so…”
He cut her off with a sharp cut of his hand and signed angrily, “Don’t you dare apologize for a sodding thing.”
“Cut it the fuck out. Either the witch wasn’t there, or she ran off like the bloody coward she is rather than face you. Maybe both.”
Cynewynne snorted and signed, “I don’t think the thought of me keeps her up nights.”
Broddi replied staunchly, “Then she’s a fludding idiot.”
They sat looking at the pile of presents glumly for a bit. Broddi’s hands were hairy, she noticed. Flud, if he wasn’t looking more and more like Da every time she saw him. She hoped he hadn’t noticed. After a bit, he wrapped an arm around her and gave her a good, hard hug, then freed his hands to say, “Stay to supper?”
She looked over the Ost Forod campsite where Leofryn’s dwarves wandered about and around Broddi. There were polite nods, but he’d not had nearly long enough to strike up camaraderie with the lads. The locals’ harsh gazes rebuffed the obviously foreign pair with their bright red heads and their pale speckled skin. Cynewynne knew better than to accuse her brother of loneliness, but she knew that tonight, at least, she could do something to make his life a little less awful.
“Tell you what.” Her hands moved in sisterly affection. “Let’s wrap Ceci up in her new blanket, then let’s see about some fishing. Just us, eh? I’ll show you how to do up a Forochel fishball.”
Broddi yanked her ponytail affectionately and signed, “Thanks, Sis.”
Cynewynne kicked and stomped her guilt off somewhere where it wouldn’t get in her way, and headed off determinedly to help her brother make do.