Chapter 13

Nadie rose early the next morning and by noon had made it to a resting stop in the trail up the mountain. She stayed warm by bundling herself up from head to toe as she wanted to save her hot drinks in case she met with an unfriendly foe. Familiar with the mountainside she was confident in what she might cross paths with, she remained cautious. At one point Nadie had tracked a pack of zinogre on this mountain to see if she could integrate Thunderclap, but since the local pack made their home in freezing weather and Thunderclap was native to warmer climates, it didn’t work out. Nadie had tried to get him used to the cold, but he wouldn’t have it. Despite his low tolerance for snow, she was somewhat positive that Thunderclap had some pups; every breeding season he’d disappear for months and she always assumed he’d found a female straying far from her cold comforts. 

Nadie always took special care to watch out for the albino alpha male that lead the zinogre pack. He blended in too well with the snow and she wanted to make sure they didn’t cross paths. He was far too beautiful and rare to get into a battle with. She also knew to look out for a khezu that made its home nearby, assuming it was still alive. She wasn’t too worried about him, but kept her guard up anyway. 

Up the mountain trail she climbed, slowly, higher and higher. The winds picked up and before she knew it a blizzard was upon her. Her cart felt heavier as she fought the winds, but she was determined to get to a cave she knew she could seek shelter in. Every step she took forward was countered by a half step back as the winds beat against her. Nadie growled under her breath, the trip might take longer than she had hoped. Normally her sense of direction was impeccable, but in the complete white of the storm, she could only guess the direction she needed to go in. As she slowly fought her way through, she saw a glint in the corner of her eye. She stood still as best she could until she saw it again and began moving towards it. 

Led by a faint light, Nadie slowly came closer and closer until she entered a cavern. It wasn’t the cave she had hoped to reach, but it was a welcome sanctuary in the storm. A fire was lit inside and a man sat beside it warming his hands. He became startled as she pulled her cart into the cave.

“My, you are a lucky one!” He said with a large smile on his face as he got up to help her. “Let me help you with that” He motioned for her to let him pull the cart further into the cave, but Nadie was reluctant to let him help since he had a hobble. He was insistent so she agreed. As she removed her thick top cloak she quickly examined the cave for anything moving. 

“Is there room for two by that hearth?”

“By all means, warm yourself!” He briskly walked to the fire and waved her over. “It’s not much but it’ll do until the storm passes. Name’s Farmon, by the way, where are you headed on this terrible day?”

Nadie removed the switch axe from her back and sat, “Errands in town, just picked a bad time to do them.” There was only one town remotely nearby so there was little need to say ‘Trésor’. She looked him in the eyes, he seemed like a kind and jolly old man. Then she looked past him to his cart and could tell immediately what his trade was.

“It’s late in the year for a merchant to be traveling up this trail, isn’t it?”

He laughed and nodded his head, “Yes, yes, but I also have business in town. Visiting an old friend…” He trailed off.

Clearly there was something on his mind and a deeper reason for his travels, but being complete strangers Nadie just nodded, “I see.” She looked around the cavern more closely now that her eyes had adjusted.

“You don’t have to worry, Missy, I may not look like much now, but in my prime, I could ward off some monsters.” It was obvious to him that she was a hunter; her stance and movements gave it away. He laughed again, “Now mind you I wasn’t a hunter, like yourself, but being a merchant can be quite perilous! Traveling to and fro, town to town, through deserts and up mountains….yup, I’ve seen some action.”

He patted his left upper arm, “Got a mean scar here from a narga attack! I was lucky that day…that thing almost took my arm clean off!” He then pressed his hand against his chest, “Good thing my ribs are in top shape, cause I’da been killed dead by that crazy barroth’s tail. Left a mean mark though.” He lifted up his pant leg, “Ah, but I wasn’t so lucky this day,” he knocked on a prosthetic leg. “Half my leg was removed after a vicious Chameleos attack…even had to remove the knee.” A wave of sadness fell over his face, “Bugger took something very precious from me that day….”

Out of respect Nadie sat quietly to give him time. He shot a glance to her and his frown quickly became a smile, “That invisible thief stole my most prized talisman!!! Can you believe it?! What does he even need it for?” Nadie tried not to laugh, but she ended up chuckling at the absurdity of his humor. 

He laughed after she finally cracked a smile, “Good to see you smile. It’s always good to smile.”

They were silent for a bit but the old man couldn’t keep from telling more stories, “Yeah, being a lone merchant is hard, but I wasn’t always independent. I used to travel with caravans when I was a young, strapping man.” He sat up straight and puffed out his chest with pride as his eyes fogged over, thinking of a younger version of himself. He slouched over slowly as he continued talking, “But in the end, I discovered I preferred doing things at my own pace. Have a friend who is like my brother and we used to travel together a lot…those were the golden years! We traveled the old world together, yup just him and me. In all of our adventures, there was only one time I thought our lives were over…” 

As he was reminiscing he started squinting his eyes at Nadie. By the time he trailed off, he was deep in thought while outright staring at her. She cocked a brow and shifted her position farther away from the light of the fire.

“I know you…” He started then trailed off again.

Nadie’s mind rushed a bit, but she remained calm and just shrugged her shoulders, “Maybe you saw me in town.”

He nodded his head while looking off into the distance, “No, wasn’t in town…”

She wished she’d kept her hood on, what were the chances someone would recognize her here and now? Her heart raced a little as she uncomfortably sat, waiting for him to piece his memories together. How she longed for the storm to end right then and there so she could be on her way.

It was then his eyes widened as much as they could and he jerked his head up from the fire to stare her in the face again. There it was, the spark of recognition. “You! You’re her! You!” He clumsily stood up and rushed over to her. Nadie cautiously looked up at him with only her eyes. “Yes, it’s you!” Without warning he took her hand and squeezed it in between his own, “You saved us that day, the day the deviljho attacked! The day I thought our lives were over!”

Nadie’s heart stopped racing and she remembered the time he was talking about; it was the day she took One Eye’s one eye. 

“Ah, so you were the one with Torsten.”

His mouth dropped, “You know Torsten?”

She nodded, “He works on my weapons when I go into town.”

He began to wobble, “How could he not tell me? I had always hoped I’d meet you again, to properly thank you.”

She smiled and patted his hands with her free hand, “There is no need. I was in the right place at the right time.”

He nodded his head, letting her hand go and backing away, “Of course, yes. To you it was just a day…regardless, thank you.” He grinned widely, “You really saved our hides!” He sat back down again, “If I recall correctly, it wasn’t too far from here, was it?”

She nodded her head, “Not far at all, eastern woods.”

He snapped his fingers, “Yup, that sounds about right! That ‘jho came outta nowhere and attacked! Our carts were unsalvageable, I was badly wounded and there was nowhere to run anyway…then the zinogre came and we thought we were through. But then we saw you riding on the zinogre and just stood in a stupor!”

“I remember, Torsten had a chance to run, but wouldn’t leave your side. Your bond together is admirable.”

He smiled, “I lost consciousness shortly after you arrived…but I never forgot the face of the woman hunter who came to our rescue.” His eyes misted over, but due to the low light only he was aware. “If only…if only our paths had crossed at an earlier time…I could repay you….in truth, I’m making my final journey.” He clenched his fists, it had always weighed heavily on his heart that he never had the chance to settle his debt with her.

Nadie thought for a while as she listened to the old man’s woe. It was unnecessary for him to feel so anguished, but she understood his kind of gratitude. “Maybe there is a way you can help me.”

The old man was stopped in his thoughts and waited for her to continue.

“Let me see your leg again.”

Without question or hesitation, he lifted his pant leg up as high as his knee and brought it closer to the firelight. It was an astonishing piece of work with mixed wood and metal joints and gears to mimic how a knee would bend.

“Who made your leg?” 

“Torsten put it together initially, but over the years I’ve had to make adjustments and repairs. I helped design it, so I knew the basics of what to do.” 

“It’s beautiful work.” She reached in her pouch and pulled out a roll of papers. “I am traveling to Trésor for Torsten’s assistance on a particular project. A boy has been gravely injured…he will need a leg brace for him to walk again. Maybe forever, maybe not.” She handed him the papers and he looked through them. He looked at each page carefully as she continued. 

“He will need to be able to hunt with it on…” She stopped because she anticipated the kind of reaction that might come. He stopped looking at the designs only for a second after her statement, but then began looking at them in a new light.

“Then this will never work. “ he leaned the paper into the light and pointed to some parts of her designs. “It’s a great start, but won’t give the proper movability. Don’t worry I can modify these to give your boy what he needs. A hunting brace, huh? This will be a challenge!” He smiled, “I couldn’t ever dream it possible. Not only have you given me a chance to repay you, but you also gave me a new meaning to the last moments of my life.”

Nomad rustled through Nadie’s private room in a seemingly impossible attempt to locate a specific book. Days passed since Nadie left, Kid was overexerting himself and there was nothing Nomad could say that would make him stop. ‘It is here I know it, and I’ll find it’ he kept repeating in his mind. His brilliant scheme to keep Kid occupied and rested depended on this book.

Kid listened as Nomad rummaged, he was half tempted to change his direction and walk over to the door to peek in, but knew Huntress wouldn’t approve. He sighed as he put his full concentration on taking a single step without needing to shift his weight from the pain. Just as he was about to take a step he heard a triumphant, “Ha-HA!”. It distracted him enough for his leg to give out a bit and he quickly leaned on his crutch.

Nomad emerged from the dusty room and patted his chest fur to dislodge the spider webs. He blew the thick dust coating on the book’s cover and wiped the rest away with the backside of his paw. It was just as he remembered. Flipping through a few pages he noticed there were more entries from when he had last seen it. Nomad diverted his attention from the book and onto Kid, “Come, come! This is a treasure that only Nobody and a select few have seen!” He knew he had to catch Kid’s attention somehow, and it worked. Kid, using his crutch, quickly hobbled over to the bed where Nomad had settled.

“This book contains the secrets of Nobody’s calls. If you practice and memorize these, you will be able to understand what she’s saying on the battleground and even say something back without using a single word. Kid’s brow furrowed and Nomad sighed, “Here, take this one for example.” He pointed to a page that had notes, pictures, and strange doodles on them. “See, here is the signal to flank, with the person making it heading right of the monster, which means the person receiving should go left.” He pointed to the drawn picture, “This is what the end result should look like,” he said as his paw shifted across the page, “and this is what the whistle should sound like. See this scribbled line? It mimics the length and tone of the sound. And these marks here tell where it’s elongated and cut short.” In his excitement, he forgot that it was a lot for Kid to take in all at once.

“I know it seems like a mess, but just listen as I make this sound and then I’ll move my claw down the mark so you can match it with the sound.” Nomad cleared his throat and then stretched his mouth. “It’s been a while, so excuse me while I prepare. Ah, yes, this should do.” He positioned his paw in front of his mouth and made a distinct whistling sound. He repeated the whistle while moving his claw along the mark. He repeated again. “Do you see?”

Kid nodded his head slightly. It was still confusing, but his mind was already fantasizing about hunting alongside Huntress as an equal. He smiled and thought to himself, ‘Huntress will be so impressed when I surprise her by knowing these.’ “Ok, let’s do it….I have to learn them all. Can you teach me?” 

Relieved, Nomad nodded, “Yes, I can teach you all the ones I know.” He flipped to the back, “Hmm, there are new ones now. Looks like Nobody added quite a few more.”

The fact that Huntress wrote the book hadn’t sunk in until Nomad said that. “Huntress really wrote this?”

“Yes! With help, though.” He couldn’t say anything about Adira’s part, so he stretched the truth a little, “Of course I was there to assist.” He had been there and he had helped, but the book was really a collaboration between Nadie and Adira.

Kid sat in astonishment, he hadn’t thought it possible to be even more impressed with Huntress than he already was.

Nomad coughed to get Kid’s attention, “However, there is one condition.” Kid focused all of his attention on Nomad as he continued. “We can’t say anything about this to her.” Even though they were family, Nadie would consider Nomad helping train Kid as stepping out of bounds. 

By mid-day the blizzard finally let up long enough for Nadie and Farmon to escape the cave and travel to another, assuming they needed to seek shelter again. Nadie walked slower than she normally would so Farmon could keep up; his cart wasn’t especially large, but he was old and ill. With every shift in the topography she planned how she would defend in case a monster attacked from behind, reaching Farmon first. She already told him to listen for a specific signal, and if he heard it to drop everything and run towards her.

They were lucky to make the steep trek to the other cavern before the winds picked up again. She motioned for her to go in first to scope it out, it was mostly safe, though there were fresh traces of khezu. They made a small camp to wait out the winds again. Farmon rubbed his thigh all the way down to his calves, it was normal for his leg to get stiff and he joked about having two metal legs if he’d live past the new year. Nadie found his jovial realism refreshing. He had just started telling her another story when she stood quickly, grabbing her weapon. He quickly fell silent and hobbled behind her, slowly moving towards their carts.

She motioned with her hands for him to stay low and still while she moved farther into the cave. There it was, a khezu waggling about in the dim light. She allowed her eyes to adjust and threw a rock in the opposite direction to lead it away from Farmon. The rock clattered against the far wall and ground, which caught the khezu’s attention. It clumsily lumbered towards the sound,  stretching its neck as it sniffed around. Nadie threw a second rock farther away and once the khezu turned in that direction she quietly darted into the open cavern. She just needed an opening to clip its legs to bring it tumbling down. And as long as she kept the tail from anchoring to the ground, she wouldn’t have to worry about any electric currents making their way towards Farmon. 

Before she could reach the khezu, it let out a high pitched scream that echoed through the cave; Nadie had been prepared and rolled at the perfect time, giving her the opening to hack at the khezu’s legs and tail. It kept trying to lunge at her, but she was too quick and knew its attacks well. In no time at all the khezu tired and could barely keep on his feet. Eventually, she let the khezu jump to safety on the cavern ceiling and slink away. She had no desire to kill it, only chase it farther inward so Farmon and she would remain undisturbed near the mouth of the cave. She sheathed her weapon and returned to the fire to motion all was safe.

“For a second there I thought we were eating well tonight!” Farmon laughed as he sat by the fire again. 

She looked back towards where the khezu escaped to, “Khezu meat isn’t that tasty…”

“Khezu!” An acquired taste for sure, but a khezu hide is as soft as they come! Could have made some nice blankets.”

Nadie laughed lightly, “I don’t plan on sticking around long enough to tan that hide.” She looked outside, “But on the other hand, the blizzard might differ. We may need to stay the night…I can keep watch.”

Farmon cleared his throat loudly, “Now see here, I ain’t completely useless! I can keep watch with the best of them! Besides, this old mind of mine is hard to turn off, I’ve been thinking of your brace issue all day and need to get these ideas down before I forget!”

Nadie studied the old man’s wry smile, he wasn’t hard to read, however, he was hard to turn down. His body was aged but his eyes still had a spark of youthful determination. She sighed and nodded in agreement, “Alright, you take first watch, but wake me in four hours; you also need to be rested for the journey.”

He motioned his hand in the air as a sign of compliance, but he was already pulling out papers to work with. Nadie grabbed a pack for a pillow and her cloak for a blanket, situated herself at a safe distance from the fire, and lay down to sleep. As she dozed off she heard faint sounds of scribbling and fire crackling.

“Nadie…”

The light slightly blinded her as she opened her eyes, and groaned in pain. “What happened?”

“You twisted your ankle, don’t you remember?”

All at once she did, “Oh, yeah.” She looked to her wrapped leg; even though she knew it was hers she felt very disconnected from it. Adira was sitting beside her; she realized it was a dream. 

“Adira…let’s follow your dream.”

Adira cocked her head, “What do you mean? You want to abandon everything you are working towards?”

“Yes, let’s just find that island.”

Adira laughed, “We can’t afford it yet!”

“Yes we can, I have tons of zenny…well I did. I have lots of weapons to trade-in.”

Adira laughed harder, “Since when?”

Nadie looked at her hands, they were still young. Too young to have made any impact on the hunter world yet. She sighed. “What if I told you…you die because of my dream?”

Adira’s laughter stopped and a strange smile grew on her face, “Is it a good death?”

“What?”

“Does my death mean something, anything?”

Nadie’s eyes began to water, “Why would you even ask that?”

“Why not? You started it.” Adira looked towards the billowing clouds. “Life is too short…I learned that the day my parents died. I guess…we all hope for a long life, but that is all we can do, right? Hope? And plan?”

Nadie sat up as much as she could, “No, that isn’t all…we can live.”

Adira’s face fell serious all of a sudden and the blue sky turned grey, “Are you?”

Nadie’s brow furrowed.

“Are you living? The Nadie I know would never hide like a coward on a cliff, letting life pass her by. Where is the ferocious tenacity to never give up and never be outdone?”

Nadie’s hand reached for Adira as her image faded into the wind like a mirage. In an instant Adira was gone, once again leaving Nadie alone.

“I’m not…hiding…” she bit her lip in frustration, “I’M NOT HIDING!” She yelled at the top of her lungs into the turbulent winds, but her voice was completely drowned out. She was older now and her leg had long since healed. Nadie stood on a cliff overlooking a huge monster engulfed in flames. Her eyes widened as she breathed in its distinct smell; she could never forget that particular scent of burning tar. It lifted its head to the heavens and roared so loud the tar on its body bubbled and burst. Nadie looked at her hand and saw she was armed with her favorite weapon. She looked herself up and down and was wearing an appropriate armor set. Backing away from the cliff’s edge, she closed her eyes, “For Adira.” After taking a deep breath she let out a battle cry and ran off the edge to bring her blade down on the monster’s head.

Nadie’s body jerked awake, the heat of the monster was only a dream. She cleared her throat as she sat up to see if Farmon had noticed her movements. He was too preoccupied with his designs to even notice she had woken up. She sighed in relief and collected her things to place back on her cart.

“My shift,” she simply stated as she walked past Farmon.

“Eh? Already?” He looked to the cavern entrance to see the night was slowly fading away. “Time really flies don’t it?”

She smirked and nodded.

“Ok, ok, I gotcha. I’ll rest up now.” He gruffed while putting his papers in a protected pouch.

Nomad was impressed by Kid’s progress and was relieved that his plan had worked. While Kid still pushed for full rehabilitation of his leg, his focus was equally spent on trying to learn how to communicate with Nadie on a hunt. Randomly throughout the day, Nomad would make a calling noise and Kid would try to decipher it; some calls were very similar in sounds which made it harder for Kid to identify the correct one. Still, for only spending about a day and a half learning them, he was doing pretty well.

“Nomad” Kid started as he tried walking without a crutch, “Do all hunters have calls and signals for hunts?”

Nomad was grinding herbs for mixing and half paying attention, “Many do, yes.”

“Are they like Huntress’s?”

Still half paying attention, “No, hers were definitely unique…she had a very distinct hunting style.”

Kid thought to himself, but verbalized it outwardly, “If she has calls like this it means she hunted with someone.”

Nomad stopped for a moment and then continued, “That is a very logical conclusion.” He dared not say more, but he could almost hear Kid’s mouth open to inquire further.

“Did…” He knew he shouldn’t bother asking, but he seemed to be able to pry information out of Nomad from time to time. He was an old whiskers after all and loved to reminisce about the past. “Is that person…still alive?”

Nomad didn’t answer, but by the expression on his downcast face Kid didn’t need one. He knew whoever that person no longer lived.

“Is that why Huntress is so hard?”

Nomad snorted under his breath, he forgot how much kids understood even without verbalizing. “I’ll say this, she would be a different person today if things had gone….differently.” 

“Oh.” was all Kid responded with. He wasn’t sure what Nomad meant by ‘things’; which things? How many things? He was sad to think that Huntress lost someone important, but at the same time he was a little happy that they had some things in common. “Do you think she’ll ever be happy?”

Nomad raspily sighed, “I hope so.” 

“Was the person very important to Huntress?”

Again Nomad sighed but didn’t answer. Kid was trying to get a read of him but was unable to. Nomad remained silent as he continued grinding the same herbs well past the point in which he meant to, but his mind was elsewhere. Kid was almost about to say something to him about his finely powdered herbs when Nomad spoke, “Have you ever heard of the ‘spirit’s song’?”

Kid’s brow furrowed as he shook his head ‘no’. 

Nomad chuckled as he finally stopped grinding. He just looked in his mortar at the fine powder and sighed. “It is widely believed that every soul has a unique song and sometimes people we meet along the way resonate with us. It’s like when instruments complement each other and form beautiful music. Sometimes we meet people and become friends easily while others rub us the wrong way; that is all because of our individual spirit songs. Some songs repel and others attract.” Nomad stopped to see if Kid was following along. “There are those lucky enough to find a person in the world whose song is so in tune with their own it’s like….they merge to become a single song. These people are commonly referred to as your “Henosis”. When, if you meet your Henosis you would be so in tune with each other you don’t even necessarily need to speak your mind, the other person will somehow know. They can feel how you feel.”

As Nomad finished speaking Kid’s eyes were downcast. He had never realized there were relationships so deep until now. 

“Nobody never believed in spirit songs or a Henosis, but anyone could see that they were one in mind and soul.”

“Can there only be one?”

Nomad cocked his head, “Hmm?”

“Henosis…is there only one or could…” Kid didn’t know how to word his question without sounding disrespectful to the memory of the departed.

“I have seen a few who were lucky enough to find two. A Henosis doesn’t necessarily mean you will be romantically involved, your Henosis could be like a brother…or sister, only closer. There could very well be another Henosis for Nobody, somewhere out there…it would just be a different kind of relationship than…” Nomad heard himself sigh yet again. He was saying too much. “Anyhow, I believe in spirit songs and I know that the reason Nobody couldn’t get rid of you, Scrapper, is because your songs resonate with each other.”

Kid smiled and looked to the sky, “I believe in spirit songs too.” 

“Good, just don’t go blabbing about it around you know who, she’ll think it’s all nonsense.”  Nomad cleared his throat, “Let’s get you into the hot springs so you can do that leg some good and rest it.” Kid knew he was trying to change the subject, but he didn’t mind. They both had a lot on their minds.

Farmon and Nadie reached Tresor just before sundown. The blizzard let up just long enough for them to reach the road leading into town. The winds quickly picked up and howled, so Farmon signaled with his hands for Nadie to follow him. Slowly they were reaching their final destination. 

Torsten put more wood on the fire as he stirred a pot full of stew. Satisfied he walked to the chair by the fire, but before he could make himself comfortable he heard a rap rap rap at the door. 

He growled under his breath, “What is it?” He paused, listening for a response.

Knock knock knock.

“I don’t need wood, got plenty.” He yelled as he walked to his door. In a lower voice he grumbled to himself, “What do you think that I don’t know to stock up after all these years? I’m not that senile….” He sighed again and yelled through the door, “Who is it?”

“Farmon!!” He heard a voice almost swallowed by the wind.

“Farmon? Farmon!?” Quickly he unbolted the door and opened it a crack. 

His old friend peered in, annoyed, “You gonna let us in or what? It’s freezing out here!”

Torsten opened the door open only wide enough to let a body pass through; the house was just getting warm. Torsten rushed his friend in and was surprised to see another person follow. His excitement to see his friend was quelled by the curiosity of his second guest. 

Nadie removed her hood, “I’m sorry to impose on you.”

Torsten recognized her right away but was in a slight stupor so he only could respond with a head nod. Never could he have imagined this female hunter under his roof, and with Farmon for that matter. Once he regained his composure he waved them over to the fire.

“You two sure can pick your travel days…” He grumbled as he took their packs and lay them in the corner close to the fire for them to dry out. “I have hot stew on the hearth, it’s almost done but help yourselves. Ah, bowls!” He rustled through his cupboards until he found three bowls. Torsten was a man of simple needs and he was grateful that he still had three bowls. As he made his way back to his guests they were decloaking and situating themselves by the warmth. 

Farmon offered a chair to Nadie, which she declined as she made herself comfortable on the floor. 

Torsten pulled up another chair, “Please take this seat.”

She smiled and nodded, “No, thank you. I am perfectly fine here.” 

He cleared his throat but didn’t dare retort, “…ok…”

Farmon cackled, “I never thought I’d see the day when you’d back down so easily!”

“Stop your sass, Farmon, you have some explaining to do! What possessed you to come visit this time of year? You know how these winters get!”

Farmon coughed into his hand, “About that….”

As Torsten served them stew, Farmon told him of his disease and how he made up his mind to see him one last time. Torsten took it all in and he was visibly troubled, but also understood that he and Farmon had fewer days left with each passing year. 

“I see.” Was all he responded with at first. “Stay as long as you’d like.”

Farmon laughed to himself. “Well, that was the plan, Torsten.” They both smirked at each other at the same time. Farmon’s smile faded and his eyes narrowed, “You never said anything about knowing…knowing..” Farmon’s eye bulged when he realized, “Forgive me, I never got your name.” 

Nadie pretended she was chewing meat from the stew; when was the last time she even spoke her name? There was silence as her continued chewing would seem suspicious. After she fake swallowed she looked up to them both who were still in anticipation. Finally, she uttered, “Nadie. My name is Nadie.”

Torsten crossed his arms and Farmon reclined; they both knew the meaning of her name and wondered if she was trying to conceal her identity or if she was being sincere.

Torsten broke the silence with a gruff guttural cough, “Well, you both should finish eating and get to sleep…I’ll go prepare places for you.” 

Farmon and Nadie were left to continue eating, though Nadie was nearly done. 

“Pleased to meet you, Nadie. Thanks for sticking with me during the climb. Hope I didn’t slow you too much.”

She nodded, “It was a safe place. If it had been just me I might have pushed myself to brave the blizzard and could have gotten lost. Again, there is nothing to thank me for.”

Torsten hustled over to them, “Nadie, you can take my room. It’s not much but at least you will have a door.” He could see that she was about to protest, but before she could he sternly went on, “And I’ll not hear a word about it. No lady will sleep on the floor in my house, hunter or not!” He raised his brow at her until she conceded with a nod, “Besides, I already put your pack in there. Farmon, you and I will take the corner. I already put the blankets down.” He muttered as he pointed to the far side of the room.

“Just like old times, eh?” Farmon laughed.

Nadie finished her stew and before she could get up to clean the bowl and spoon, Torsten swooped over to take it from her, “I’ve got these, here let me show you where you’ll be sleeping.”

“Well, actually I have some business I’d like to discuss if that is all right.”

Torsten stopped in his track, “Business? A weapon?” 

Farmon chimed in, “A leg brace for a hunter to use. Don’t worry missy, I’ll give him all the details. You just get settled and let us old dragonbones take care of it.”

Nadie had never spent a lot of time with elderly folk and was unaccustomed to their brassy behavior. “I leave it to you then,” was all she said as she motioned for Torsten to lead the way. 

The room was visible from where they were sitting, but Torsten wanted every opportunity to be as courteous as possible to his guest. 

“Here is a candle if you need, and there are extra blankets. The chamber pot is here and there is an outhouse, but you might not want to venture out there again.” He looked around his sparse room for anything else to point out. “It’s, it’s not much like I said.”

“Thank you, this is perfect.” She smiled reassuringly.  

Nadie sat on the bed and just stared into the darkness of the room so she could take a few moments to unwind. She removed her boots, lay in bed and looked up to the ceiling. Then around the room; how long had it been since she slept within four walls? The sounds of the harsh winds beating against the wood made a low-pitched whistling noise. She closed her eyes and could hear Farmon and Torsten talking about Kid’s brace.

“You going….to stay here….all night?” Nadie was out of breath when she finally found Adira sitting underneath a dead tree with only a few pieces of her doll.

Adira nodded, “I don’t want to go back there.”

Nadie leaned on her hose, “You have a place to go back to?”

Adira shook her head, “My parents died and I have no family.”

“Lots of kids don’t have family,” Nadie sat down across from her, “I never knew my parents…grew up here. All the kids back there also have no place to go.”

“They’re mean.”

Nadie shrugged, “Yeah, and?”

“I was taught to treat people like you want to be treated…”

“Hah, seriously? So that’s what parents teach, huh? What else do they teach?”

Adira thought about it and started smiling, “They teach about…love and things that make you feel warm..and safe. Good things….happy things.”

“And your doll reminds you of those things?”

Adira’s eyes widened and then fixated on her broken doll, “Yeah, I guess it does.”

“Your doll can’t keep you safe.” She stood back up, “If we head back now we can make it before dark. Big monsters come out then.”

“You go….I’m fine here.” 

Nadie looked around and then back to Adira, who was determined not to move. She just sighed and turned to leave, “If you are worried about the kids who picked on you and ruined your doll…don’t. I beat them pretty good…just say you’re my friend and they’ll leave you alone from now on.”

Adira looked up at Nadie’s back, “Are we…friends?”

Nadie’s shoulders fell, “Well…no, but they don’t have to know.”

“Why can’t we be friends?”

“..’cause I don’t need any. I’m fine by myself.”

“Why did you come to get me?”

“I just happened to come here. Sometimes I go hunting.” She said as she perched the hoe on her shoulder. She felt proud as she said it and thought herself very grand.

Adira just laughed, “You go hunting with a hoe? Where is your gear? Your carving knife?”

Nadie turned around, embarrassed but trying to hide it, “You sound like you know what you’re talking about.”

“I should, my parents were hunters. I even went with them on gathering expeditions…sometimes.”

“Really…” Nadie thought for a few moments. “Then we should be hunting partners…probably.”

A tear rolled down Nadie’s face as she stirred awake. Many memories were awoken by reading their journal. This particular memory was the start of their friendship. 

Torsten tinkered by the fire as Farmon slept in the corner; he had been exhausted from the journey. There was a faint noise, but Nadie’s mind was too preoccupied to sleep and instead decided to see if there was some assistance she might give to the old blacksmith. Quietly she emerged into the fairly lit room and sat across the table from him, careful not to ruin his concentration. He felt her presence but had not given any sign of it as he carefully placed metal and bolt in places only his mind filled out. She watched as the metal shape slowly began to look more like the shape of a leg.

“I know you.” Torsten spoke softly as if murmuring to his metal. “It took me fifteen years to piece it together.” He was too focused to break eye contact with the invisible form he saw on his table. “I was at the national competition when you broke every record. I know who you are…and I remember your loss” Only then did he break eye contact to look at Farmon, who had fallen fast asleep. “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”

She nodded, “I appreciate that.” 

He cleared his throat, “I’m sorry about your kid.”

Nadie’s thoughts jarred back to the now, “Excuse me?”

“You’re kid, the brace?”

Nadie snorted, “About that…” How to break it to him? “‘My’ kid is more of a foundling who wandered into my camp one day and refused to leave.” Her voice was stern, but she was smirking. “He has no name, but his friends call him ‘Kid’.”

Torsten dropped the tools he was working with and quickly looked to Nadie, “My Kid?”

Nadie nodded, “Yes, the same.”

He clenched his fists, “Is he?”

“He will live, but he has suffered a great loss…his hope.” She stared into the fire. “All I can do for him is help provide the best chance he has. If he can overcome this then he will be able to overcome anything.”

Torsten took only a moment to think and then scooped up his tools and continued working; the well-being of his Kid was at stake. He continued mentally putting pieces together, occasionally writing down some notes on a scrap of paper. Sometimes he’d write on a second scrap.

“How did he find his way to you?”

She smiled in the safety of the shadows, “Old One-Eye.”

Torsten snorted under his breath, “I told him to stay away from that behemoth, you’d think he’d listen to his elders…”

She shook her head, “It wasn’t his fault, I was hunting him and he happened upon the kid.” She thought back to that moment; it felt like long ago. “He showed bravery…and foolishness.”

Torsten smiled at the slight warmth in her voice. He knew all too well the effects Kid had on him and just nodded his head to himself. “He has that way, doesn’t he?”

Nadie, cocked her head to the side, “Pardon?”

“I’m an old grump…I know this and I don’t care what anyone has to say about it. People here let me be, they accept me as I am, but still give me my space. Maybe it’s ‘cause he was raised by Felynes, but he just wandered in and made himself at home.” He thought back to the first day Kid came around, “He…well, he doesn’t quite see the world like others…he has a way about him….” Still in his thoughts, he pictured Kid’s antics around the shop. “It’s infectious.”

She nodded, “Yes, it is.”

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