The chalice rested on the stone plinth between them. She took a sip first. Once she’d placed it back down he picked it up and sipped. Some of it dribbled down his chin. As he caught the droplets on his newly smooth skin she caught the drop rolling down the side of the hammered pewter.
“Thanks,” he said, watching her check none had been spilled. She only nodded. She hadn’t spoken since they had entered. He wasn’t sure if it was some sort of reverence. There was no rule saying they couldn’t speak, he had asked. That had raised, well, it couldn’t raise eyebrows. The monks had none to raise. As supplicants neither did they anymore. His legs felt strange without any hair. Like his wife’s on their wedding night. Sweat beaded on his head. He knew it was going to roll into his eyes. He looked down at the long muslin tunic he had on.
“If you want to wipe your head with it you can.” He flinched when she spoke. “I’m sure the monks have seen much worse than sweat stains.” He pushed aside where that comment took his imagination and used the hem.
“I was more concerned with how you would feel.” She shrugged. He glanced at the entrance to their cavern. The byre was just inside, keeping them warm and able to see. He wondered if it was replenished during their vigil or if it was left to burn out. He checked the ceiling to see if any small creatures lived up there. She stood up and began to stroll around, stretching her arms out and rolling her shoulders. He sucked in a breath and glanced at the entrance again.
“Shouldn’t you sit down?”
“Hmmm?” She placed her hands on the wall, sliding them with fingers splayed, across the surface. She moved along the wall around the front of the cavern then came back towards him, her eyes closed.
“You’re going to trip over something. What if you hurt yourself? Will you have to start again? I don’t know the way out of here to get you help.” She smiled but continued back and forth.
“The only thing I could trip over is you.” He crossed his arms and shifted on his seat. A painful tingling began in his toes then moved to his heels, up to his ankle. Looking down he couldn’t see anything but would have sworn that it felt like insects biting him. He brushed his hands over his bare feet and winced as the pain was momentarily stronger. She opened her eyes at some noise he must have made and came to him, hands outstretched.
“Come over here.” He shook his head, hands holding the stone plinth rigidly.
“It’s better over here, I promise.” She prised the fingers of one hand off, then the other, slowly pulling him to his feet. He hissed at the pain in his legs and wondered if there were tiny insects they hadn’t been warned about. She pulled him closer to the byre. She twirled around like when she had danced as a young girl. The hem of her tunic swept closer to the byre. He reached for the hem, grabbing her to hold her still as he looked for flames catching the material. When he found no sparks, he checked for smoke marks.
“You shouldn’t dance so close to the fire.” He knelt, still checking. She stopped trying to dance and laid herself across his back.
“You always look out for me.”
“I have to,” he grunted. She was heavy on his back, he could feel the strain on his knees.
“That’s not true.” She sighed and it felt like she became heavier. “You didn’t have a very good example either.” As he tried to push her up movement from the entrance caught his attention. He was half grateful for some help and half expecting a reprimand, but it wasn’t one of the monks. It was a large grey wolf. It looked between the two of them. He couldn’t breathe. She whispered a soft “oh” and the wolf looked at her.
“Don’t move,” he replied but she was shifting and suddenly sliding off his back. As she landed she didn’t appear to try and break her fall. One hand was stretching out towards the wolf. The wolf dipped its head and stepped closer.
“No, no.” He grabbed her arm and dragged her up off the floor. She ended up kneeling but sank into a sitting position. He went to grab her under her arms and stumbled. He couldn’t feel his legs. The wolf was stepping closer. Another had entered the cavern behind the first. He put his arms around her, pulling her back and flipping them over. He realised as he did so that he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. She was limp in his arms. He tried to drag his legs over hers and covered as much of her body with his own as possible.
The soft scuff of paws on the sandy floor came up on either side of them. He watched as the lead wolf snuffled at his face. It licked him with a tongue that was more rough and dry than he had expected. He felt pressure on his back. One had climbed on top of them. It kneaded his back, testing its weight. He sensed another behind his head, investigating them. The one at his face crouched down and shuffled closer to his sister. A noise erupted from his lips. It was meant to be a shout but he couldn’t move his mouth. The wolf pricked up its ears and flicked a glance at him. But it showed no more concern and its attention was soon back on her. The wolf on his back clambered down to join the lead wolf. Then he felt something on his waist. A nudging, then a scrape of something sharp. The belt around his tunic tightened. The last wolf was pulling him off his sister. He tried and failed to move, another noise coming from his throat. A fourth wolf had joined the group and was laying down along his sister’s side. Once he was several feet away the wolf who had removed him stepped over him, returning to the others. He screamed as best he could, a breathy noise that soon died as he lost control of himself. The wolves all glanced at him. The lead wolf snorted and as one they reached for her with their mouths open. His sight was dim, purple around the edges, getting tighter every second until nothing. The last sound he heard was a wet noise.
The next thing he heard was the rustle of material and soft murmuring. His body felt tired but his mind was suddenly clear. He tried to listen for his sister’s morning singing. She usually did it when she thought no-one was listening, so he always stayed in bed a little longer, so he wouldn’t disturb her. But this morning she wasn’t singing. The wolves!
He shot up in bed, gasping. He was in a white tent, the sides billowing gently in and out. He was on a cot high up off the ground. His sister was sitting on a similar cot next to him, feet hanging over the edge, a mug in her hand.
“Hello,” she said brightly. He leapt off his cot and aimed to embrace her but his knees couldn’t support him so instead he grabbed her upper arms and looked her all over. Then he shook her gently.
“Are you hurt?”
“Only from where you dropped me. The sand was only thin on the ground so now I have a bruise the size of a house on my hip.” She held up the mug. “Sweet tea. You need to drink.” Slowly he took it, continually glancing at her trying to see if there were any cuts or nicks on her skin. She was back in her travel clothes. They had been cleaned. “Sorry the tea’s cold. You didn’t wake up as soon as I thought you would.” He barely tasted the tea. Giving her back the empty mug he moved to sit back on his cot. She grabbed his hand and guided him to sit next to her. He realised he was still in his tunic. At his neck was a leather tie with a small remembrance on it of a polished stone wolf. He looked at her. She had a leather tie with two remembrances, one a polished stone wolf too. “They were a gift. I didn’t buy them.”
“Did you know about the wolves?” She shook her head.
“They aren’t what usually appear to help those grieving. The monks said they came for something else.” She gave a small smile. “We’re very lucky to have seen them.” He made a noise that disagreed but weighed the remembrance in his hand. He went to ruffle her hair but patted her instead. His arm draped around her shoulders.
“Would you have come if you had known?” She was playing with the other remembrance. It was some grey fur tied with a thin piece of leather. After a moment, he nodded.
“Yes. Did you get what you needed?” She gazed up at him.
“Yes.” They smiled at each other and it was like seeing her after a long absence. He had missed his older sister. He took her hand and pressed it to his heart.
“Good. Can we please go home now?”
This was written for the Flash Fiction chllenge Ten More Titles Round Two over on terribleminds.com. The picture is by Sandra Petersen and from Pixabay.com, used under Creative Commons Licence.