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Wish That I Had Known (In That First Minute We Met)

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Hytham isn't quite at death's door after his foolish interference in Eivor's battle with Kjotve, but it's close. Or it might have been, if Eivor had not immediately put herself between the cruel giant and the fallen assassin. As she'd seen him jump into the air, his hidden blade ready to do the work it'd been forged for, she had only just held back from barking out his name — in anger, in fear.

She had not thought of the crushing weight of stolen honour it would have sent down on her head if he'd taken this from her. Her kill, her revenge. Rather, she'd been petrified by the feeling of losing yet another soul under her care that she could not protect.

So when she'd found, after the battle, that Hytham was breathing and indeed had breath enough to groan and curse his own eagerness to fall in war, she let out a sigh of relief. And then, she'd growled at the assassin that he was a fool and could have gotten himself killed, and for what?

Hytham had coughed, and let Basim bat his hands away so his mentor could examine his wounds, with Eivor tilting the torch for him to see better

"To see you succeed, Wolf-Kissed," Hytham had answered, with his lungs rattling like a box of screws.

"Quiet now, Hytham," Basim had commanded him."Save your strength."

Eivor had not known to interpret the look he had sent her then.

*

A few days later, Eivor found herself at the assassin's bedside, watching over him while Basim and Valka procured salves and tinctures for his wounds. Eivor had offered to forage whatever they needed, but they said they had things well in hand.

"Someone should sit with him, though," Basim had added, and Eivor had looked between them for a moment before shrugging. So that's what she would do, then.

Hytham was sleeping, albeit fitfully. Eivor tried to read some letters Randvi had given her and that she'd impatiently tucked into her armour, displeased to be intercepted on her way to the assassins' temporary quarters; but realised soon that she was too preoccupied. Distracted. By what, she would rather not interrogate.

So she waited, for either Valka and Basim to return or Hytham to wake up, whichever came first. When the assassin had slept for another half hour, she lost her patience with the silence that sat so heavily in the air, clouding the room like fog up on the summit. So she began to talk, first haltingly, well aware of how foolish it sounded, and then more naturally. Simply as though Hytham were there to hear her.

She told him stories, of her childhood with Sigurd — nothing of her mother and father, the memories too painful to tell someone still a stranger, even knowing that the one who had taken everything from her breathed no more while Hytham yet clung to life. But perhaps, one day, she would be ready to tell of those tales, too. For now, she told him of Dag's never-ending quest for glory, and the pitfalls (and prat falls) that came with it. She grinned, and even laughed quietly, even knowing that Hytham was very likely not hearing any of it.

A commotion from outside interrupted her — nothing worth her interference, merely a short quarrel between brothers — but it broke the spell inside the room. Eivor ceased her telling, and picked at a loose thread on their clan's armour instead.

"What happened then?" a quiet voice broke into her thoughts, and when Eivor looked up, Hytham was regarding her through eyes lidded with fatigue, but clear and unglazed with fever.

"Hytham", Eivor breathed and stood to settle on the edge of the bed instead — some of the extra furs cushioning the bedding had come from her own quarters. It was the least she could do. "How are you?"

"I am fairly certain I've been run over by an elephant, but other than that, I really can't complain," Hytham returned, raising a hand in a gesture suggesting a shrug, and Eivor swatted at it gently.

"Stop that," she commanded, but far more softly than commands should sound coming from a drengr. "Are you in pain? Do you need me to fetch you something?"

Hytham shook his head. "Some pain, but... I can manage. If you give me something now, I'll fall asleep again, and then I won't hear the end of your story."

Evidently, speaking so long at a time aggravated the pain in his chest, for before he could go on, he was beset by a coughing fit. 

Unsure what to do, Eivor reached out and carefully set her hands on his right shoulder and his chest, holding him steady so he wouldn't rip his stitches. He had external wounds as well as internal, Basim had told them, and she hated the injuries she could not see almost more than the ones that were plain underneath the bandages covering Hytham's chest. Blood was a part of their lives, as was torn skin and gashes deep enough to see the bone. But wounds inside were even more deadly and perfidious, and so difficult to find in time. It felt a lot like how Basim had described their work against the Order of the Ancients: everything lay hidden, under the surface. And all too often, no-one saw until it was too late. Seeing Hytham here, his own body fighting him, Eivor gritted her teeth and vowed to root out the corruption of that order in Norway, and beyond, if necessary.

"Are you angry with me, or with your gods for saddling you with me?" Hytham managed when his cough subsided.

Eivor schooled her expression into one a little less murderous.

"Just thinking about how the Order of the Ancients will not be long for this world," Eivor said, her voice still betraying her upset. "If you'd have me help you."

Hytham seemed almost overrun, and Eivor cursed her own impatience. This really wasn't the time.

"I'm sorry," she said, more softly. "This isn't — I should let you rest."

"No," Hytham said, too quickly, and reached for Eivor's arm as she made to move away, managing to catch her bracer by his fingertips. "No, I would — Eivor, I would be honoured. Only, let me... Let me be able to hold a pen again first, hm?"

This startled a laugh out of her, and Eivor nodded, settling her hand further up the bed so as not to lose Hytham's hold.

"Alright, assassin. You get your pen to hold to mark the map with our targets, and in the meantime, I sharpen my axe."

"Do so, brave and mighty Wolf-Kissed," Hytham said with a smile in his dark eyes. "Now, please: finish the story?"

Eivor snorted through her nose, but nodded, and settled more firmly. "How much of it did you hear?"

"I do fear I may have missed the beginning, but I do recall Dag and the mermaid."

Eivor grinned. "You know what, that one deserves the full experience. Let me start again."

So she did, and Hytham listened, his hand still resting on Eivor's armour, until Valka and Basim returned. And then still did he wish to hear more, until Eivor had nothing more to tell or sleep claimed him again.

Eivor promised she would return at first light to check on him, and that there were many more stories to be heard, just as long as he recovered swiftly.

Perhaps, even one or two about Heillboer.