‘Gunther. Gunther tried to feed him to the lindwurms. Gunther tried to sacrifice Kor to the monsters in the Wood.’
— Halden, “Sacrifice” They Come at Night
Mother Dagrún sits Korik on a stool, and sets about cleaning every inch of him. Kor doesn’t flinch, doesn’t respond at all, he just sits there as lifeless as a dead tree as she cleans the mud and filth from his body.
And it has to hurt—to sting—there’s no way it doesn’t with injuries like—
His legs and arms are covered in shallow gashes as if he wandered lost in the Wurm Wood for hours getting clawed at by branches. But that doesn’t explain the deeper length-wise ones along his back. Or the bruises and split lip. Unless he took one monster of a fall.
But the most confusing marks of all, are those running horizontally across his body. Halfway down his upper arm and across his chest, then again across his upper thighs right below the cloth we wrapped around his hips.
“Where did you go, Kori?” Mother asks. “We were all so worried when you didn’t come home last night.”
He says nothing—stares at nothing—as she continues to clean his wounds.
“I know you didn’t try to run off. Because I know you went to Master Gísluson’s. If you had intentions to leave Ditchwater, you would have taken the money and run. So what happened?”
Her hand pauses on the strange wounds. “Who gave these to you, Kori? You can tell me. I promise, whoever it is, I will protect you.”
Kor shivers, but he still says nothing.
Someone did this to him…?
My gaze flicks over him again taking everything in. Both of his antlers are broken, one almost completely. And the mane of his tail has been shorn so close to the scales it looks like a river eel ready for the pot.
This couldn’t have happened from just wandering through the Wood. And what of his clothes?
Mother sighs heavily and goes back to her cleaning. And I think she’s given up, but then.
«Did he do this to you, Kori?» she questions in Grand Dragotic and Korik finally looks at her.
She sucks in a sharp breath, her hand darting out to clutch at his fine-boned shoulder.
«What did he tie you to, Kori?» she asks frantically.
Tie him to?
And then I realize with a sickening twist of my stomach where I’ve seen those marks before. They’re the wear patterns rope makes when it rubs against another surface. When something or someone tugs hard against it.
Someone tied him up. Naked?
«What was it?»
Kor remains silent, his gaze drifting slowly around the room.
Mother sighs and gently strokes his head. «It’s alright, bright star, you don’t have to tell me.»
It’s almost too awful to be true. But I know that it is.
“But he did,” I say without really meaning to.
Mother looks over at me.
“They stripped him to the skin and tied him to a tree out in the Wurm Wood. Just like you would a fawn. Just like a sacrifice.”
I swallow. “Just like in that story you used to read us.”
Her head snaps quickly back to him. “Korik?”
It’s the first time—I think—she’s ever called him by his full name.
He doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t look at her. Or at me.
“Oh…” The tears start spilling down her cheeks as she throws her arms around him.
And I know who tied Korik to that tree but I don’t want to say it aloud.
None of us wants to say it.
Because he slept under the same roof as us for six years and we called him Nimbus.
Gunther tried to feed him to the lindwurms. Gunther tried to sacrifice Kor to the monsters in the Wood.
Note: dialogue in Guillemets— sideways double chevrons « and » —are in a language other than Dragotic the common Dragokin tongue.
Damn…is Korik going to be alright? And isn’t Hal forgetting something important? Like the fact Kor’s stolen blade is under his bed?
Find out in the next episode of They Come at Night!