Chris urged his horse to a faster walk when he saw the chimneys above the trees. The others followed eagerly behind. As they neared the town the snow that was threatening all day began to fall. Chris was never so glad to pull up in front of the cottage they called home. He was surprised to see smoke coming from the chimney and an inviting glow emanating from the windows. Chris jumped off his horse and moved over to Josiah. Buck had already beaten him there and Josiah was handing Vin down to him. The mustached mercenary had his hands full as Vin started coughing violently. Chris quickly pulled back the hood from Vin's face so he could get some air. Vin's sweat soaked hair sent mist tendrils swirling into the cold night air. The coughing fit ended and Vin's head slumped against Buck's neck.
"Let's get him inside," Buck said. "He's shaking like a leaf."
Buck quickly head for the door. Nathan was already inside getting the extra room ready. Josiah and Jaydee took the horses to the livery. Chris followed Buck inside and they headed for the bedroom. The ex-mercenary was startled when he heard a scream from behind him. He turned to see Mary staring wide-eyed at him and backing slowly towards the kitchen.
"What's going on?" Ezra asked as he ran from the kitchen.
"The wolf!" Mary exclaimed in a frightened voice.
Chris forgot all about the black wolf. He glanced down to see it standing at his side regarding Mary with a thoughtful expression. Chris could understand Mary's reaction. The wolf was larger than normal and powerfully built.
"It's alright, Mary," Chris assured her. "He's a friend."
"A friend," Mary gulped.
"Come, Mary, I shall do my best to explain as we finishing preparing the diner you so thoughtfully started," Ezra said as he led Mary back to the kitchen.
Chris was glad Ezra took Mary in hand. He didn't have to explain the situation as he hurried to the bedroom. When he walked in he found Buck and Nathan stripping the unresisting elf. The hearth was burning brightly and Chris knew it would get hot quickly. Once they had Vin striped Nathan covered him with a light blanket.
"Damn it Nathan, he's shivering," Chris said as he went to throw a heavier blanket over Vin.
"I know, Chris," Nathan said as he stopped him. "We have to get his fever down. I'm gonna need some cool water."
"I'll get it," Buck offered and left the room.
Chris moved to the side of the bed followed by the wolf. Mystra was already curled on the pillow next to Vin's head. The wolf was about to jump up when Nathan stopped him.
"Oh no you don't!" Nathan yelled. "I need to cool him down."
The wolf regarded the cleric with his golden eyes. Chris watched in amusement as they both tried to out stare each other. The wolf finally compromised and jumped up to lay at Vin's feet. Nathan nodded his approval and grabbed a towel from the nightstand. He took the towel and began to dry Vin's hair. Vin didn't like it and tried to push him away.
"Easy, Vin," Chris said grabbing his hands.
"NO!" Vin yelled. "Let me go Eli!"
The half-elf struggled in Chris's grip until a coughing fit wracked his body. Vin struggled to draw a breath. Nathan grabbed Vin and sat him up. He told Chris to hold Vin as he began to slap Vin on the back to loosen the congestion in Vin's lungs. Vin was finally able to catch his breath and settled down.
"Here's the hot water you required." Ezra said as he walked in.
"Thanks, Ezra," Nathan said as he propped Vin up a little. "Can you pour some into that bowl."
Ezra did as Nathan asked as he watched the others make Vin comfortable.
"Josiah and Jaydee finished with the horses?" Chris asked
"Yes," Ezra answered as he handed the bowl to Nathan. "They're in the kitchen eating the fine repast Mary has provided."
Chris nodded as Nathan crumbled dried leaves and flowers into the water. A fragrant scent began to spread throughout the room.
"Here, Chris, put this on the table close to the bed," Nathan instructed.
Chris placed the bowl on the table an after a few minutes Vin was breathing easier. The fragrance seemed to relax the elf as he settled deeper against the pillows. Chris picked up a cloth and began to wipe Vin down.
"Here's the water, Nate," Buck said as he carried in a bucket. "Sorry it took so long. I had to break the ice off the well."
"Damn that's cold," Nathan said as he put his hand in the water.
"I anticipated you might need more hot water," Ezra began. "There is another kettle on the hearth in the kitchen. I shall retrieve it."
"Chris why don't you go get something to eat," Buck suggested. "I'll help Nathan with Vin."
"I'm alright," Chris said as he continued to sit next to Vin.
"Here's the water you need, Nathan," Jaydee said as he came in carrying a copper kettle.
"Where's the bard?" Buck asked.
"Josiah made him stay in the kitchen and eat something," Jaydee replied. "He sent me to fetch you also."
"I'll get something later," Buck said.
"He told me I wasn't to take 'no' for an answer," Jaydee replied as he grabbed Buck's arm and pulled.
"Look, Kid, I'm bigger than you," Buck threatened. "Don't make me hurt you."
"I ain't afraid of you, Buck," Jaydee said as he continued to pull. "I'm more afraid of Josiah."
"Why?" Buck asked confused.
" 'Cause all you can do is pound me," Jaydee explained. "Josiah can turn me into something unnatural."
"He's got a point," Chris chuckled. "You better not cross Josiah."
Buck followed Jaydee grumbling under his breath. Once Nathan got the water to a temperature he liked he handed some cloths and a bowl to Chris. Nathan pulled back the sheet and threw a towel across Vin's hips. Nathan began to bath Vin's legs while Chris did his chest and arms. They had just started when Josiah walked in carrying a large tray.
"Nathan you get out to the kitchen and get something hot into you," Josiah said as he placed the tray on the table. "I can bath Vin just as well as you."
The cleric knew it was useless to argue with the big magic user. He gave the cloth to Josiah and headed for the door. Josiah moved to the opposite side of the bed and grabbed Chris's hands.
"I want you to go over there and eat," Josiah instructed pointing to the tray.
"I'm fine," Chris said but was betrayed by his stomach growling.
"Go on get," Josiah scolded. "Before I turn you into something unnatural."
"How'd you...?" Chris asked.
Josiah pointed to the rafters where Shadow was preening himself. The magic user laughed as Chris walked away muttering about nosy familiars. Josiah took over bathing Vin as Chris ate. Despite the warmth of the room Vin's shivering got worse. Josiah decided to stop and covered Vin with a layer of thick blankets. The wolf carefully inched his way up the bed until he was stretched out along side Vin.
"Nathan isn't going to approve," Chris commented as he ate the stew.
Josiah shrugged as he placed a wet cloth across Vin's forehead. Mystra wriggled under the blankets to get closer to Vin. When she finally settled all that was visible was her head lying across Vin's neck.
"Josiah has Vin ever mentioned an Eli to you?" Chris asked.
"No, why?" Josiah said.
"He's just been calling out that name and another one, Mira," Chris said.
"Vin hasn't revealed much of his past," Josiah said he toweled off Vin's hair.
"Doesn't matter," Chris said. "We all have things in our past we'd rather forget."
"True," Josiah smiled.
"Besides I trust him," Chris said with confidence as he looked at Vin.
Josiah smiled at Chris's blind faith in the half elf. Ever since they had saved Nathan from being hanged a bond formed between them. Chris finished the food and moved over to the bed.
"I'll stay with Vin," Chris said. "Why don't the rest of you get some sleep."
Josiah nodded and took the tray before he left the room. Chris continued to wipe Vin's face and neck to cool him down. When Chris would get to Vin's neck Mystra would raise her head then put it back when Chris was finished never taking her eyes off what Chris was doing. Nathan came back a few minutes later with a pottery mug. He wanted to try and get Vin to drink a potion to help with the cough. The used the technique Ezra used back at camp and hey were able to spoon in half the mug before Vin refused it. They settled the elf back on the pillows and Chris pulled up the covers. Nathan stood by the nightstand preparing more of the aromatic herbs.
"If he starts to have trouble breathing again just pour hot water into this bowl," Nathan instructed. Nathan had come in carrying a small kettle that he'd placed by the hearth. "I'll relieve you in a few hours."
"Nathan what are his chances?" Chris asked as he turned haunted eyes to the cleric.
"He's strong," Nathan hedged.
"That's not what I asked."
"If we can get the fever down he has a good chance," Nathan admitted. "But it's up to Vin to want to fight this."
"Oh he'll fight," Chris assured him. "If he doesn't I'll kick his ass."
Nathan smiled and wished Chris good night. Chris turned his attention back to the elf. Vin was usually pale but the fever gave him a flushed look. Sweat was beading on Vin's upper lip and Chris dipped a cloth in the cool water to wipe Vin's face. Chris took the cloth from Vin's forehead and placed it in the water. He wrung it out and put it back. Chris sighed and looked at the wolf. The black wolf regarded him with his golden eyes.
"If you happen to speak to your mistress put in a good word for him," Chris commented. The wolf raised his head and looked at Chris. Chris could swear he was smiling.
Vin's fever raged for three days. One of his friends was with him at all times. Nathan had to constantly badger Chris to take a break. If he didn't he was sure the mercenary would have stayed around the clock. They nearly had a disaster the day before when Vin woke in a panic. The half elf was delirious and thought they were enemies. Chris and Ezra had been watching him. Vin didn't know who they were and began to cast a fireball spell. Ezra quickly grabbed his mandolin as Chris tried to disrupt Vin's spell. Ezra began to sing a sleep spell. Normally elves were resistant but in Vin's weakened state he succumbed quickly. After that incident Nathan was forced to keep Vin asleep using herbs. Josiah even cast a silence spell over the bed so Vin couldn't talk. It was eerie watching Vin calling out names but hearing nothing.
It was now the forth day and Chris sat next to the bed watching the sleeping elf. Vin's fever started to come down that morning and Nathan decided to stop giving him the sleeping herbs. Josiah even removed the silence spell and Chris could hear Vin's breathing wheezing in and out. Chris tensed as he saw Vin begin to stir. The fighter got up and sat on the edge of the bed. Mystra flew into the room and landed next to Chris. Chris watched in amusement as she walked across the thick down comforter and kept sinking. She finally settled on Vin's chest and watched his face. Vin's eyelids began to flutter and Chris waited expectantly. He didn't wait long when a pair of familiar blue eyes opened and tried to focus.
"Chris," Vin croaked.
"Hold on a minute," Chris said as he poured Vin a cup of water. "Drink this."
Chris lifted Vin's head and placed the cup to the elf's lips. Vin drank greedily and Chris was forced to take the cup away as Vin began to cough.
"Easy, Vin," Chris said as he eased Vin back.
"My leg?" Vin asked weakly when he could.
"As good as new," Chris assured him. "Nathan took care of it."
"How long I been sick?" Vin wheezed trying to catch his breath.
"Quit your talking and just lay still," Chris scolded. "You've been delirious for the passed three days. Had a high fever that only started to come down early this morning. Caught yourself a good case of lung sickness."
"Hurts to breath," Vin admitted. "Can I sit up a bit more?"
"Let me get Nathan," Chris said.
Chris made Vin promise not to move before he left. He turned back at the door to see Mystra rubbing against Vin's chin. Chris left and returned a few minutes later with Nathan to find Vin sound asleep. Nathan listened to his breathing and could hear he was congested.
"Next time he wakes we'll sit him up," Nathan said. "Did you get him to drink anything?"
"He took a half a cup of water," Chris answered. "Drank it too fast and started coughing."
"When he wakes again we can try giving him some broth," Nathan explained as he tucked the blankets around Vin. "Needs to get his strength back up."
As Nathan fussed with the blankets the big black wolf sauntered into the room and lay in front of the hearth. Chris shook his head as the snow and ice sticking to the wolf's fur began to melt.
"Just be thankful he didn't jump in the bed," Nathan smiled.
"I think he knew not to," Chris said starring at the wolf. "Why do you suppose he's still here?"
"My guess is he's Vin's new familiar," Nathan guessed.
"Can he have more than one?" Chris asked puzzled.
"Not usually, but when one is given to you by a goddess you can hardly refuse," Nathan laughed.
"I know Vin will be happy," Chris joined in the laughter.
"Yeah he loves to pick up strays," the cleric said as he left the room.
Chris sat with Vin for a few more hours when Josiah relieved him. Vin didn't wake again until around midnight when Ezra was on duty.
"Well I see you decided to join us again," Ezra commented. "Nathan has left instructions to give you some broth. Think you can manage some?"
"I suppose," Vin smiled.
Ezra moved to the hearth and took the lid off a small pot suspended over the logs. Ezra ladled out a cup ad brought it over to Vin.
"Here you are," Ezra said as he lifted Vin's head and placed the cup to his lips.
"Tastes good," Vin said after he drank his fill. "Feels good going down."
"I'm sure it does," Ezra said as he placed the cup on the table next to the bed.
"I feel as week as a colt," Vin sighed as he tried to pull his right arm from under the blankets.
"May I be of assistance?" Ezra asked as he lifted the blanket and pulled Vin's arm out.
"Thanks Ez," Vin said sleepily.
"Had the strangest dreams while I was sick," Vin yawned. "Dreamt Myshalla visited with her wolves."
"It wasn't a dream," Ezra smiled.
"What?" Vin asked confused as Ezra pointed to the fire.
The wolf looked up and saw Vin was awake. It gracefully stood then jumped on the bed to settle next the half elf.
"I don't believe this," Vin said in awe as he touched the wolf.
"He wasn't the only one," Ezra explained. "It was a whole pack. They led us to you and guarded us as we slept. The pack followed us back to the village then left. This one stayed."
"Still can't believe it," Vin sighed as he fought to keep his eyes open. "Ez I had ya some geese. Wanted to sur.....prise.....you."
"You did my friend," Ezra said as he put Vin's right arm back under the blanket.
As Ezra pulled the blankets higher he noticed the gold torque around Vin's neck started to move. The golden dragon raised its head and regarded the wolf. Ezra knew the torque as magical but had no idea it was animated. The golden dragon seemed satisfied by what it saw and settled back around Vin's neck. The wolf lay its head across Vin's stomach staring at Ezra.
"I suppose you wouldn't want to explain that?" Ezra asked as the wolf just looked at him. "I didn't think so."
Ezra went back to reading his book. Being a bard he was incredibly curious about the wolf. Now the dragon torque was something else to ponder on.
+ + + + + + +
The next couple of days Vin just slept and woke for short periods. Whenever he was a wake Nathan forced him to drink the broth. On the second day Vin had gained enough strength to begin fighting them.
"Don't want any more!" Vin exclaimed sullenly.
"Well you don't have a choice," Chris said as he held the mug.
"Yeah I do," Vin protested. "I ain't got to drink it."
"Fine," Chris yelled in frustration and left.
Vin bit his bottom lip in remorse realizing Chris was only trying to help. Could he help it if he didn't like being fussed over? The main reason he didn't want any more broth was because he was hungry. The broth just wasn't filling him up. Vin was also grumpy because he wanted a bath. Nathan refused when Vin asked earlier. The elf sighed as he slumped back against the pillows.
"Damned elf," Chris cursed as he walked into the kitchen.
"He starting to fight you?" Josiah asked with a smile.
"Yup," Chris smiled back. "Isn't it great?"
"I would say so," Josiah laughed.
"But the fool won't drink the broth," Chris growled.
"Nathan figured he might not," the magic user said. "So he said Vin could have some porridge."
"Well you can take it to him," Chris scowled. "I'm tired of fighting him."
"Now, Chris, if I know Vin he's probably sorry he made you mad," Josiah reasoned.
"I know," Chris sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair. "I'll take it to him."
"If I hear anything crash against the wall I'll come running," Josiah laughed.
"You do that," Chris chuckled as he walked back to the bedroom.
Vin was surprised to hear the latch on the door open as someone came back in the room. He thought for sure they would leave him for awhile and not want to deal with his attitude. Vin was even more surprised when he saw it was Chris.
"Chris!" Vin exclaimed and started to cough.
"Thought I wouldn't come back," Chris said as he moved to the bed carrying a tray.
"Wouldn't have blamed ya," Vin admitted as the coughing eased. "I'm sorry."
"So am I," Chris smiled. "You're starting to feel better and I know you hate being cooped up. But you DON'T have a choice. Nathan doesn't want you to have a relapse."
"I know," Vin sighed.
"But I do have something you'll like," Chris said as he pulled the towel off the tray to reveal the bowl of porridge smothered in honey.
"Thanks, Chris, I'm so hungry," Vin admitted.
"Well why didn't you say something?" Chris asked exasperated as he helped Vin sit up.
" 'Cause I thought Nathan knew best," Vin explained as Chris put the tray on his lap. "You know wanting me to have all that broth."
Chris let Vin feed himself for which the half elf was grateful. Vin couldn't believe how much his hand shook as he tried to raise the spoon. It was a good thing it wasn't the broth or he'd be soaked.
"Vin can I ask you something?"
"I guess," Vin replied around a mouthful of porridge.
"Who are Eli and Mira?"
Chris watched as Vin's posture changed. The elf looked like he's seen a shade. Chris quickly sat next to him and grabbed his arm. Vin jumped from the contact almost spilling the porridge. Chris could feel Vin shaking.
"It's ok, Vin," Chris said as he picked up the bowl and put it on the table.
"How...how do you know those names?" Vin asked
"You've been calling them out while you were sick," Chris said.
"Damn," Vin sighed and let his head fall back against the pillows.
"You don't have to tell me, Vin," Chris assured him.
"Yeah I do," Vin declared as Chris watched him try to compose himself. "Mira was a good friend of mine. My adoptive parents traded with the elves. We used to visit a village made up of half elves and full elves living in harmony."
"I think I know it," Chris said. "Tascosa?"
"Yeah," Vin sighed remembering. "Just a small little town, nothing of importance, but I felt like I could be myself there. Elisar Jovaris and his sister Mira lived there also. Eli was a half elf but his sister was a full elf. Their mother was an elven noble that choice to run away with a human. When he died she married a full elf in the village. When they died Eli resented the fact that he had to care for his sister."
"It's an elven males duty to watch over their female relative," Chris said.
"Right," Vin smiled. "Well he didn't like that she was becoming overly friendly with me. He thought we were....well you know."
"I get the picture," Chris smiled.
"But we weren't," Vin declared harshly and started to cough.
"Easy Vin," Chris said. "Why don't you tell me later. Maybe you should get some sleep."
"No, I need to tell you," Vin said as he gasped for breath.
"Alright just take it easy," Chris said.
Chris watched as Vin tried to get his breathing back under control. Vin shut his eyes and slumped back against the pillows. Chris thought he'd fallen asleep and got up to leave.
"Don't go," Vin pleaded. "You need to know, just in case."
"I don't understand," Chris said confused.
"You will," Vin sighed. "Eli went looking for someone for Mira to marry. Preferably someone rich. Well he found someone, Lord Celebras. He was an older full elf that had buried four wives already. It was rumored that he was a necromancer and killed his wives for his spells. When Mira found out she ran to me for help. I couldn't refuse her."
"No you couldn't," Chris agreed. Necromancers were the most feared of magic user.
"Eli thought we were running away to get married," Vin said softly and Chris was forced to lean forward to hear him. "He told Lord Celebras and they chased us."
"Lord," Chris said shocked.
"Yeah," Vin sighed. "He was a lord of the elves."
"Damn," Chris exclaimed.
"You could say that again," Vin agreed. "They chased us and finally cornered us. I took a wrong turn on the trail and ended up at an over look. Lord Celebras lunged for Mira and lost his footing. He ended up going over the cliff. Eli was furious. I had turned my back on him and he tried to kill me. Mira jumped in front of his sword."
"I'm sorry, Vin," Chris said in sympathy.
"She said it was better this way," Vin smiled remembering. "Now she didn't have to worry about Eli trying to marry her off again. Before she died she gave me her elf stone."
"The one you gave Greylin?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Vin sighed.
"What happened to Eli?" Chris asked.
"Nothing," Vin laughed bitterly. "But he couldn't leave well enough alone. He framed me for Lord Celebras's death. Said I lusted after his sister and that I killed her also so she couldn't marry him. The elven king put a bounty on my head."
"How long have you been on the run?" Chris asked
"Fifteen years," Vin said tiredly. "I don't want to run any more."
"You don't have to, Vin," Chris assured him.
"May not have a choice," Vin said fighting to stay awake. "If the Elven king finds out I'm here it could be trouble. That's why I never stay in one place very long."
"Well you're not going anywhere for awhile," Chris said as he pulled some of the pillows from behind Vin's head. "Now go to sleep."
Chris watched as Vin lost the battle and fell asleep. Chris wasn't sure what he could do but he knew the others needed to be told. He just hoped it didn't pull them apart.
It had been almost a week since Vin finally woke from being sick. The half elf was out of the bed and walking around. Nathan followed him around making sure he didn't over do it. When Vin revealed his past to Chris the mercenary knew the others had a right to know. Vin had agreed and he let Chris tell them. Chris wasn't surprised when the others stuck by Vin. Josiah didn't think there was much to worry about since the elves had a different king from when Lord Celebras was killed. Besides, he reasoned, necromancers weren't loved anywhere.
Ezra didn't think there was anything to worry about since it happened fifteen years ago. He also explained that if the bounty were being offered only by the elves, humans wouldn't take it. So the only time they had to worry is if elves came to the village, which Ezra doubted they ever would.
Vin was glad his friends didn't condemn him. He was still recovering and everyone kept watching him until he blew up one day and told them to get lost. Buck had laughed and said he was stuck with them. Vin smiled and punched Buck.
Chris was coming back from a patrol around town. He walked into the main room of the cottage to find Vin sitting on the floor in front of the wolf. The elf had a blanket wrap around him even though the cottage was warm. Ever since Vin had been stuck out in the snow he couldn't take being cold and chilled faster. Chris knew this would bother the elf since he'd been used to going outside with hardly and protection. Chris moved into the room to see what Vin was up to.
Chris tried not to laugh as Vin tried out different names on the wolf. Every time Vin said one the big black would shake his head. When Vin said Soot the wolf even snapped at him.
"I know!" Vin exclaimed. "Blacky?"
The wolf growled and Vin threw up his hands. Chris started laughing and sat down on the couch.
"What's so funny?" Vin asked and gave a small cough.
"You alright?" Chris asked concerned.
"I'm fine!" Vin cried. "I can't even get a tickle in my throat without one of you pouncing on me."
"Soot?" Chris asked raising his eyebrows.
"I was running out of things that were black," Vin defended.
"What about ghost," Chris said.
The wolf looked at Chris and he could swear the wolf was disappointed in him. Suddenly Chris mind was filled with the shadowy figures of wolves flitting between the tress. The images stopped as a beautiful elf maid appeared and said one word, Shade.
"Shade," Chris and Vin exclaimed as one.
The wolf howled and they heard the distant echo of the pack answering his call.
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