The girl that followed Lord Haldor Hjörtur's horse seemed tired, yet still she kept her chin up. She seemed to wear a mask while she walked but she kept her eyes hidden from view behind choppy white hair. Haldor stopped and his three sons watched from their horses as he dismounted.
"On your knees," he took the rope that bound the girl's wrists and forced her to her knees, "You have broken the laws of the king, in his stead, I sentence you to death. Have you anything to say before you die?" The girl looked up at him.
"I will drag you with me to hell," her voice was low and even. Haldor looked slightly surprised. Then his eldest son laughed. Conor was the only of Haldor's other two sons not to join in, though it was unlikely that Sten knew why he laughed.
"So be it," Haldor took his long sword in hand and touched it to the girl's neck. He lifted the blade.
"Wait," Conor had scrambled off of his horse and now he stepped between his father and the girl, without knowing why, "what was her crime?"
"Move Conor," Haldor's voice was a growl. Conor shook his head and the girl muttered something in a language he didn't recognize.
"What did she do?" his voice was low now, his gaze hard.
"Fine," Haldor lowered his blade after a moment, "the girl was caught gutting one of the king's own deer. When confronted, she attacked and killed one of my men," Haldor's voice lowered, "She has committed crimes against the king and your own father. Now move," Conor didn't budge.
"Who told you what happened?"
"Who told you?"
"My men. They're honorable men, Conor-"
"Máni killed that man," the girl cut Haldor off, her voice quiet. Both of them turned to her where she sat on her knees in the snow. Conor crouched before her.
"Who is Máni?" She wouldn't meet his gaze.
"He did it to protect me," her voice shook slightly and he lifted her chin so that she met his gaze. Tears welled in her pale red eyes.
"Why did he need to protect you?" she shook her head, "Where are you from?" she blinked.
"The wood, we needed to eat," she trailed off and Conor climbed to his feet.
"Here," he offered a hand and helped her up before turning back to his father, "Don't kill her." Haldor glared.
"It's an execution, she broke the laws," he growled the words.
"She didn't know the laws," he paused in thought, "Let me teach her," he spoke without thinking, but the way the girl seemed to hide behind him, clutching his coat, he didn't try to take it back. Haldor seemed to hesitate before giving his answer.
"Fine then, but you have to keep an eye on her. She breaks one more law, and she will be right back here, on her knees," Conor nodded.
"Thank you, father," Haldor muttered something unintelligible before he turned away.
There was a celebration that night at Castle Hjörtur. It was one of the at which Conor Edur would normally be glad he was the bastard son; there was no one to limit how much he drank. That night was different though, Lady Edith Hjörtur had made the condition that 'Conor's pet' would remain in the cells if she was to be allowed to spend her nights inside. The conversation had left Conor in a bitter mood for the evening. His mood had made the food and drink less appetizing and it took only a few remarks in jest to send him out the doors of the great hall. The snow was falling outside and Conor stopped to watch the heavy flakes drift past. There was a howl in the distance, such a lonely sound. He listened for a reply but when it came, it was closer than he'd expected. He looked towards it, listening while he tried to place its source. After a moment Conor started towards it, careful not to lose his footing in the deep snow. Then he did exactly that, the snow collapsing under him. The howl broke off as he slid down the rocks. The following silence was deafening. Conor opened his eyes slowly, half expecting to see a wolf above him, or worse. The Albino girl glared down at him from atop the freshly uncovered rocks. She wore no shoes and ragged clothes, and yet she didn't seem to mind the cold.
"Was that you howling?" Her red eyes seemed to glow in the dark as she bared her teeth.
"Why did you help me?" Conor stared at her a moment before replying.
"I don't know," she shook her head.
"You saved that man's life," she spoke simply.
"What?" Conor swallowed as the girl started to walk away, "Hey, wait!" she was gone. He struggled to his feet and tried to climb the slick rocks. He swore under his breath as he started to slide back down, but someone grabbed his wrist and hauled him up. "Thank you," he paused when he saw who had pulled him up, "You came back," he couldn't keep the surprise from his voice.
"I wasn't going to leave you to the animals," as she finished speaking, there was a startled cry and both of them instantly searched for the voice's owner, "there," the girl bolted into the dark. Conor followed more slowly, less sure of his footing than she.
Lord Haldor's youngest son had slipped off of the old stone bridge that crossed the Fidens River. Luckily, Sten didn't land in the rapids to be washed away. Rather unluckily, he had hit the rocks at the edge. It had been the albino girl who waded out into the icy water to retrieve him. Sten, barely conscious at the time, had asked if she was a Valkyrie come to carry him to Valhalla as she lifted him and waded back. It had also been her that carried the boy back, sending Conor ahead to find a doctor. The guards took Sten from her at the door, hurrying off to carry him to the infirmary. The girl was left alone, her ragged clothes dripping onto the stone floor, curling her toes in the water. It was there that Conor found her standing in a steadily growing puddle of ice cold water, finally shivering.
"There you are. I found a change of clothes for you," he held the bundle out to her. She took it, if hesitantly.
"Thank you," she trailed off, her voice quiet.
"Conor, my name's Conor Edur," she raised an eyebrow at the surname but said nothing, "and you? What's your name?" she shrugged, "You don't know?"
"Don't remember," Conor hesitated.
"May I call you Shilo?" She nodded slightly, "Shilo Reach," she blinked.
"Orphans and bastards get a set surname depending on where they were born. I have no idea where you were born and the whole area is called Read," for the briefest moment, Conor could swear she smiled.
"Well then, thank you, I think I'll go change," he nodded, "I'll come visit the boy later, if that's alright," again he nodded and watched as Shilo walked away.
Conor stood by the door to the infirmary, not wanting to go within Lady Edith's reach. She sat beside Sten's bed, weeping and begging the Gods to give her back her son. Neither of them heard the door open or close but suddenly there was Shilo, balanced on the balls of her still bare feet as she peered over Conor's shoulder.
"Any change?" Conor glanced over at her, his grim expression answering her question, "What's his name?" He found himself silently thanking her for not saying 'was'.
"Sten, his name is Sten Hjörtur," Conor swallowed the lump in his throat.
"I could save him, if you asked," he studied Shilo, surprised at the offer.
"Please," he was quiet when he finally found his voice. Lady Edith looked up as Shilo stepped closer to Sten's side.
"You," her voice was strangled, "You should have died," she spoke through the tears, "Bad luck, those eyes are bad luck," Shilo's expression darkened and the look in her eyes chilled Conor to the bone.
"You're lucky, had Conor not saved my life; had he not been kind to me, I would walk out now and that boy would awake a cripple," she spoke as if she knew it would eat away at the woman, "that is of course," she wore an innocent smile, "if he woke up at all." Shilo's words were as cold as the North, and for the first time in Conor's life, Lady Edith was silent. Shilo ignored her, crouching beside Sten's bed and pressing her palm to his chest. She closed her eyes as she found his heartbeat, and when she opened her eyes again, they were the pupil-less ice blue of the Ice People said to life in the North. Her voice was soft and the words she spoke were like a song, though the language was foreign. The room seemed to grow darker, as silvery lines traced patterns across Sten's skin, reaching out from Shilo's hand. As the song reached its end, time seemed to slow, though she knew it was only in anticipation of the pain that would soon come. It struck her like lightening, the pain of bones breaking throughout her body. She fell unconscious then, not seeing Conor rush to catch her, nor Lady Edith's look of awe as Sten opened his eyes.
The fire in the infirmary had long since burned away, after Conor had fallen asleep tending to it. Sten was asleep in one of the chairs beside Shilo's bed, refusing to leave until she woke. A rather large black dire wolf stepped over the boy as it seemed to melt from the night. He licked her hand and Shilo opened Blood red eyes.
"Hati," her voice was barely a whisper as she smiled down at him, "thank you for protecting me," Hati whined quietly before licking her hand again, "I know," she ruffled his fur, "It's not your fault I'm injured now, it was my own decision," his growl was a low rumble and Shilo gave a short laugh before wincing in pain. "Dawn is coming," When she spoke again she looked past Hati, out the window. Hati looked back at the rising sun over his shoulder and gave Shilo one more worried whine before his coat became shadow and he faded away while his brother howled in the distance.
Shilo was still asleep when the Doctor came to check on her. He had told Conor it was remarkable, like she had taken Sten's injuries for herself, and now she was healing at an incredible rate. Conor was finally coaxed away for training, but Sten wouldn't budge from his place. A hooded man came through the door that evening and sat in the other chair. At first Sten was quiet, unsure of the stranger.
"Who are you?" he finally spoke and the man looked up. He pulled back his hood and smiled at Sten after a moment.
"An old friend of hers," he gestured to Shilo and Sten's brow furrowed.
"But she can't remember anyone, just Máni," the man nodded, a sadness in his silver eyes.
"Then I'll have to hope that one day she remembers me," Sten grinned up at the man.
"I'm sure she will," the man chuckled as he ran a hand through shaggy black hair.
"Do you mind if I sit here a moment? It's been a long time since I've talked to…" he seemed to hesitate, "Shilo." Sten nodded and hurried from the room. The man watched him go before he smiled down at Shilo. "I never thought this curse would come in handy," he spoke as though she could hear him, "but then I met you, I got to know you," he smiled, "but still I couldn't show you," he hung his head, "I'm sorry Shilo," he was quiet.
"It's alright," Shilo was smiling at him, her eyes ice blue. She wouldn't remember this, the man knew, and yet still it made him smile. When she closed her eyes again, he leaned over her, his lips brushing her forehead before he turned back to the door. As he left, the darkening sky seemed to whisper to her his unspoken words.