“I need clothes, and I need help with my boots. And where is my weapon?” He walked to the door. His grandparents may have exchanged glances.

Aenguz walked out of the room and to the head of the stairs. He braced his right hand against the wall and started navigating down the stone steps.

Hertha hovered at his left side. Dahlward slid past ahead of them. He disappeared into the first of three doorways at the base of the stair. Aenguz reached the hall and shrugged his grandmother back. She turned back up the stair.

Vague hints of dusk came in from the clotted rooms. The spring day was receding and shrinking the world further. Racks of barrels were stacked within. Hocks of cured and smoked meats dangled here and there. Their piquant salty flavor mixed with the wood and filled the hall. There were baskets and sacks of rough milled grains. Sturdy fabrics and leathers were piled in the last room. This food and the aged ales would have been the most prized items that his father would have assembled for the son of the Ruler of the Akkeidii and his bride. Sairik must have been assembling these things here for weeks and preparing the ales for months. The joy they all must have shared hiding such a rich hoard for the wedding feast.

He felt his father here, and his grief only dilated. The constant reminder for his grandparents of their loss and also Aenguz’s failure. He had to get clear of it.

In the familiar dining room, everything seemed to lean to the right. The long, wooden table was pressed up against the wall. High-backed chairs were lined alongside it. The room seemed like a captain’s mess canted by a fatal wave. On the table was a dark wooden box bound in black iron. His father’s coffin. A box for his bones. A bolt of rich black cloth, limned in purple, was folded meticulously beside it. Before it lay a tooled mahogany leather sheath. It was empty and awkward. The montmorillionite weapon was long gone beneath the glacier and the Earth.

This was one of the last stops for Sairik’s remains on his final journey to the Cairngorm. There to be interred with the clan lords of old and the heroes of the Last Battle. A trek that Aenguz might not now get to see through. Another chamber filled.

Dahlward came up beside Aenguz and steadied his grandson with the sturdy pillar of his own denuding grief. He bore a bundle under his arm. He placed a hand on Aenguz’s neck, careful of the edges of the wound, and squeezed.

“Has it been returned? Is it intact? Did any of the metal take?” Aenguz’s words were labored but reverent as he touched on the fringes of his sacrilege.

“Some. A splash. Most lies splayed on the floor and walls of the smithy. Yes, his skull is at rest.”

“What of the loremasters? What punishment do they consider?”

Dahlward took long breaths before answering. “They are still trying to unravel what you have done. They believe the montmorillionite is exacting its toll. And with Sairik’s death and your pain… Some feel that it is punishment enough. Others are considering other penalties.”

The question Aenguz really asked himself was what would his father think about what he was planning? The choices left to him led Aenguz into the face of every rule and tenet of the Akkeidii, of Warriorhood, of the Sidors, and of their former leader. In the narrow space left to him, it was the only place where he could find answers, in things forbidden. In order to save what he lost, what he was losing, Aenguz had to adopt an utter rejection of everything Sairik had tried to build for the Akkeidii and had tried to teach him. Always, his father asked, ‘How would your choice impact the Akkeidii? How would it impact the Sidor Clan? Your family? And now with Selene – your mate? Only after all of those considerations, and answered in that order, could Aenguz think about his own needs and wants. What would his father say about the plan he was formulating in the maelstrom of his bereavement?

Aenguz looked to the bundle at Dahlward’s side. The Lord of the Deerherds unfurled a docent’s robe. A single pale cord dangled from the fabric.

At first Aenguz thought this was an out, Dahlward’s answer to the question of Aenguz’s survival. Aenguz could have been a Deerherd. He knew the lore from his grandfather. He’d learned about their responsibilities as a child before he’d chosen the Way of the Warrior. Tending and herding the roe deer. Birthing, healing, caring, and culling them. Commanding the herd hounds to manage them. He knew how to see the earliest signs in the turning of the seasons and the ways of the moon. He could even discern between viable and dead seeds. A way to see around the curse of the blight. He could have passed the Deerherd’s Rites of Passage with ease. But Aenguz’s course was set at birth. The only son of a clan lord would be a Warrior.

But then he understood Dahlward’s gaze. This was a disguise. And more than that, the sharp look told Aenguz that his grandfather meant to help beyond the robe. “Your clothes were ruined.”

Hertha came up with Aenguz’s boots. She set them down and helped Dahlward get the robe over Aenguz’s shoulders. The fabric scored and burned. Aenguz groaned and gritted his teeth. There was no way to straighten the burned arm. In the end, they just draped the robe over his left side.

Dahlward’s brow worked. And after a moment, he sent Hertha back for some bandages.

When she returned, Dahlward took the bandages and tucked them in carefully around Aenguz’s mottled limb. Then he drew the robe around the arm and cinched the single cord. The red glistening wrist looked like a birthed fawn head poking out from the robe.

He stepped back and said, “Deerherds often bear newborn fawns in their arms when the mother dies. Sometimes the mother dies.” A forlorn regret bent Dahlward’s tone toward the memory of Aenguz’s mother. But he quickly returned to his purpose. “It is out of season but not unheard of. And all the roe deer must be counted.”

The strain sapped Aenguz. He staggered to a chair in the corner and lowered himself down carefully. “Where is my weapon? It must be here.” Hertha and Dahlward went back to the packed rooms and rooted around for Aenguz’s weapon.