It took Fjiorn most of the day to get back to his farm.
The goats enjoyed the leisurely trip and wandered off repeatedly to forage on a varied assortment of green delicacies.
Fjiorn stopped soon after setting out, to craft an improvised crutch to help keep the weight off the injured foot. It was roughly made and a shoddy job, but better than nothing.
The sky remained overcast, though mercifully it did not rain. Nevertheless, he sighed with relief when he finally came within sight of his home.
His was not a wealthy holding. The hut he shared with his wife was partly dug into the side of a rise and, though it was lined with timber on the inside, what was visible on the outside was mostly turf. The roof was a mix of timber and thatch, and only the entrance wall was made entirely of wood.
The smoke oozing through the roof told him that Åsa was inside.
Of course, he thought sluggishly, where else would she be.
He tried to imagine explaining to her what had befallen him, only not really knowing himself, he could not imagine what he would say.
The goats’ bells made enough noise that the door soon opened and Åsa emerged.
“Fjiorn!” she called out. “What happened? Why so late?”
As he did not have the breath to answer, he remained quiet and focussed on bridging the distance that still separated them. She marked the wooden prop and the struggle of his gait.
“Odin save me! What happened to you?” she cried more urgently, and ran towards him, eyes wild with concern.
She slowed down a short distance away and brought a hand up to her mouth.
“All-father keep us, Fjiorn. What happened to you?”
“Inside,” was all he managed to say in response. She rushed to his side and replaced the walking staff with her body, lifting his arm over her shoulder and holding him around the waist.
Fjiorn looked into her eyes and saw a confused mixture of relief, anger and fear. Tears ran down her cheeks as she half-carried him into their home.
She guided him to their bed and eased him down.
Finally, able to rest, he responded monosyllabically to her questions.
Was he hungry? Yes.
Was he thirsty? Yes.
She touched the burnt side of his face and traced the lattice of fern-work that travelled down his cheek.
“How badly are you hurt?” she wanted to know.
Fjiorn could not answer. He just shook his head helplessly as his eyes began to droop shut.
“Wait!” she ordered, startling him back into wakefulness. “Here, you must eat and drink before you sleep.”
Within moments she brought him half a rabbit with potatoes and poured him a cup of the good mead that they kept for special occasions. He ate and drank, with eyes shut more often than not.
As soon as he finished, she took the wooden cup from his fingers and assisted him in lying down.
He fell asleep immediately.
Åsa felt his forehead and was troubled to find that her Fjiorn was on fire. She covered him with the bear pelt and lit a fire on the hearthstone to help him sweat out the illness that had claimed him.
Although loathe to leave him alone in this state, she knew she had to.
Åsa donned her cloak and went outside. She coaxed the goats into their pen, secured the door with stones, grabbed the lantern, and then made for the forest path that led towards Klaramach and to Stigr’s house.