Pain sent Annag into darkness, and greeted her in the light. No sooner had her eyes fluttered open than she was groaning. Tears erupted from her eyes. Minutes passed before she realized Greeg was with her.
"You live," he breathed, relief in his voice. "Be still. Do not move. Calm, be calm."
She'd begun to hyperventilate, and was barely aware of a grinding sensation in her leg. Lifting her head, she saw that the Orc was aligning the bones below her knee. There was blood all over...
Annag's eyes rolled back, and she fainted.
It was dark when she woke again. The pain had lessened, and she was wrapped in her fur. A fire crackled nearby.
"Drink this," Greeg said, carefully helping her to sit up a bit. He held what looked like a small skull.
Blanching, she drew back. "What is it? Lor? Con?"
"Do not worry," he soothed. "Drink. Will ease pain."
His face bore so much worry, so much care. Annag relaxed against him and obeyed. Weariness overtook her, and once more, the world faded.
Was it hours? Days? Annag's eyes slowly opened to a dim, overcast morning. A shelter made from tree limbs and what appeared to be her fur wrap stood protectively over her resting place. Nearby, Greeg was hunched over the fire, stirring the coals to life. The scent of roasting meat made her mouth water, and caused her pinched stomach to growl. There was only a dull, throbbing pain in her left leg, not the sharp agony she'd felt before.
Blinking her eyes to focus them, she saw that the Orc wore no wrap. He paused periodically to warm his hands over the fire, and shivered now and then. Yet Annag felt great warmth and comfort. Gradually, she realized he'd wrapped her well in his own larger fur.
"Greeg," she murmured tiredly. He turned at the sound of her voice, and crawled swiftly to her side.
"Are you well?" he asked, searching her face. "Do you have pain? I can make more tea..."
"No, no," she replied, weakly shaking her head. "Does tea make me sleep?"
"Sometimes. Is easing pain. Helping you heal."
Recalling the fall, and the damage to her leg, Annag hesitated to ask the question that came, her heart filling with sudden dread. "Will I... will I walk again?"
Greeg nodded readily. "Yes. Is only broken. Have set it right. Cannot walk now, but will when healed." His face twitched as several thoughts seemed to crowd in his mind. "You came," he whispered incredulously. "Thought you would leave me to die. Thought your... your hate was too great..."
"Is not my way," she replied hoarsely. "My way, Greeg. Even if it is not Orc way."
"Is Orc way," he insisted. Leaning down, he pressed his forehead to hers, and gently held the back of her neck. "Do not judge Orcs by me. Was shame to clan, not helping you. I am sorry. Forgive me, please."
"Feed me, and I will consider it," she murmured, turning her head away.
He did not hesitate to obey. Using his knife, he cut a generous portion from a strip of meat that was well-cooked, then brought it to her. He helped her sit up and lean against one of the trees that made up the shelter's supports. It was strange to be waited on by him, when for many days it was her duty to tend to his meals. Now she looked at him closely, and her brow pinched with worry.
"You are cold," she observed. He waved her concern away.
"Eat. You have slept for two days," he told her.
Annag's eyes widened. "Two days? How...? It does not seem like so long."
"It was," he nodded. "You had great pain. Would not let you wake for long. Tea also made you sleep."
The Orc's eyes were red-rimmed and dark. He could barely keep them open, and blinked often. Annag's expression softened. "You worried for me."
Greeg bowed his head, and nodded. "Gorak told me to let you die, if you failed. Rhosin reminded me that what happens during trial is secret. Between you and me. She said there would be time when I must forget Gorak's words, and act as clan Orc. She said you are Man who denies lust for diany power. This is to be honored. Your death has no value to clan." He grunted briefly, almost sounding amused. "Said Siwan is no younger today than she was yesterday. Needs help."
"You did not know which order to follow."
Again, Greeg nodded. "Gorak is towseek, and he is dehtar. He speaks, I obey. But could not stand by and watch..." He grimaced, and bowed his head lower. "But my duty... You might use power. Fight was desperate; you were losing." Raising his head, he fixed her with an agonized gaze. "I am sorry. Was my fault."
Annag closed her eyes. "I thought you believed it was deserved. That conduit deserves..."
"No," he growled firmly. "No one deserves. No one."
Glancing at his face, she saw greater pain than before. Slipping her hand from the warmth of his fur, she hesitantly took hold of his. He seemed to have difficulty swallowing for a moment, then he let out a long, shuddering breath.
"My atar was made rogue for... for raping my matar. To make me."
Helpless in her swift sorrow for him, Annag could only stare in silence. To her dismay, this was not the end of his tale. He sagged and looked away, staring at nothing and speaking in a low voice. His grip on her hand tightened.
"I am told she took herself to Bandiamatar, after I came." His eyes closed, spilling tears down his face. "They do not say, but I know. I know she hated me. Could not bear to... to look at me..."
"Greeg," she breathed, lightly tugging his hand. Freeing her other arm, she reached out to him. He hesitated, then ducked his head and leaned into her embrace.
"Am not wanted," he breathed. "Do not rut well. None will share my furs twice. Am I like him? Do I... do I rape? I don't know."
"No, Greeg," she told him kindly. "You are not to blame for your matar's passing. Was her choice." She felt his shoulders shake, and quiet sobs escape him. "Has no one listened to your pain before now?"
Struggling to regain his composure, Greeg pulled away. "Is known to cine. None speak of it."
"Perhaps they do not wish to hurt you," she suggested. "Perhaps they wait for you to speak."
"What would I say?" he growled tightly. "Only things that are known. No one would listen."
"But speaking is needed. To someone who is not cine. Does not know. Does not judge."
"Don't you?" he snarled, curling his lip. "I say how I was made. You will think I am same as... as atar. Will do same thing."
"Does Rona think this?" Annag asked, arching her brow. "Or does she only see Greeg? Not atar of Greeg, but Greeg." She shook her head. "You do not rape. You are not him."
"I rut hard," he muttered, bowing his head.
"Is pleasing to you?"
Greeg nodded, humiliation writ large upon his face.
"Do you not wish to please Rona? Do you only please yourself?"
Slowly, he looked up, his face gone slack. After a few false starts, he finally spoke. "Did not think..."
Annag chuckled. "Obviously. Your cine do not think you are same as your atar. Perhaps they think you do not care for them, and will not please them. You will please Greeg, and no one else."
Greeg lowered his head into his hands. "Want to please. Want to be cine."
"You are cine," she insisted, taking his hand once more. "Listen, as I have listened. When... when you share furs with another, listen. Know what pleases them, and do that."
He drew a shuddering breath, then nodded. "You are wise, An-... conduit. For one who has never rutted." He glanced up and smiled a little. After a moment, his smile faded. "Would have pretended I smelled nothing, if you used diany power on Men."
"Thank you, Greeg," she said sincerely. "Did not think of it, but I was so frightened." Then Annag frowned. "Smelled? What do you mean?"
"Is why I was chosen to observe. Can smell diany power." Shrugging sheepishly, he continued, "Taints air when used. Can smell it."
"What does it smell like?" she asked, intrigued.
"Hard to say. Is not pleasant. Makes me sneeze."
She couldn't help but laugh. "I will never make you sneeze, Greeg. That is promise."