Pinn and the others decided to stay with Arania in the big tent, and Trell also stayed with the travelers, under Karenski’s watchful eye, but he wanted it that way.
“No offense to the village,” Pinn told Vincas and her father. “But I feel some of us need to stay with the travelers.” Venislav said he understood, but Flern thought that someone needed to stay to be sure they kept a good watch for the Jaccar. It would not do if the Jaccar came and surprised them.
After the boys settled in, and the girls did what they could to help prepare the feast, mostly under Vinnu’s urging—Thrud taking every opportunity to get lost and hide—everyone returned to the common house for the feast, and a number of travelers came as well. It was as the young people expected, the food tasted great and proved plentiful. Vilder got to tell the story once again of the fall of their village and their escape to the south. This time, though, he managed it without as much finger pointing at Flern, for which she felt grateful. Flern imagined Pinn got to the boy, and she appreciated having such a good friend in high places. Karenski told of their encounter with the Jaccar, the time he lost his wife and Arania’s mother, and the villagers appeared deeply touched by his words. After that, the room broke down into smaller conversations. The men discussed what they could do to fend off the Jaccar, and the women talked some about the men and some about domestic matters, some villagers and travelers even exchanged the equivalent of recipes.
“So, you like him?” Thrud asked and Arania’s face reddened, just a little. “Can’t be that much. You’re not nearly as red as Flern when we talk about Kined.”
Flern nudged her friend in the arm. “Not a fair comparison. My red hair just makes me look redder.”
“No, it’s fair.” Pinn teased from across the table and as if in response, Flern’s face flushed.
“But I do like him. Trell and I share so much in common, and we share so many ideas, the same.”
“I never knew he had any ideas,” Thrud said.
“Thrud!” This time both Flern and Vinnu scolded her.
“Okay, okay. Sorry.”
“Don’t pay attention to Thrud,” Pinn said. “You go ahead and like whoever you want.”
“You don’t mind?” Arania looked at Flern and asked straight out. Flern felt surprised at first, but soon felt the need to encourage the girl.
“Be my guest,” she said. “By all means. He is all yours.”
“Oh, good,” Arania said, sweetly. “Because I think I am going to have him ask me to marry him.”
The others paused.
“A bit quick, do you think?” Vinnu suggested, but Arania just smiled and bit her lower lip a little and shook her head like it was already a done deal.
“So that leaves just Fritt and Tird,” Flern said softly.
“So you can concentrate on Kined.” Thrud looked for the red face, and Flern obliged.
“Vinnu has Gunder, and Pinn has Vilder. Why don’t you pick on them?” Flern responded.
“Because we are not going to have to pry them apart with a big stick,” Thrud said. Flern’s jaw just dropped.
“Maybe Pinn and Vilder,” Vinnu said, and they were all more shocked by the fact that Vinnu said anything like that at all, than they were by what she said. Even Pinn put her hand to her mouth, while it became Vinnu’s turn to blush. Vinnu could not believe the words came out of her own mouth.
The rain stopped for a time after the sun went down, though it rained on and off all night. During a lull in the storm, the girls repaired to the Traveler camp. Their conversation did not change, but Flern wanted to be sure the travelers had watchers out as Karenski promised, and she easily enlisted Pinn to help her check.
“I think they will be there, since it to their benefit to be forewarned if the Jaccar show up,” Pinn said.
“Agreed,” Flern responded. “But not everyone takes threats the same, and this is just a possible threat. Karenski only promised to put men out for three nights because he said if the Jaccar had not arrived by then, they were not coming. If these watchers believe the Jaccar are not coming, they might not really be watching.”
“I understand,” Pinn said. “And you know, you have gotten smarter about things like this lately. Vilder and I discussed the situation, but we never thought to check on the watchers, obvious as that is.”
“I’ve never fought anyone,” Flern responded in all seriousness. “But the Princess, Diogenes and Doctor Mishka have all been in war. Trust me, I am not getting smarter, I am just leaning on other people’s information.”
“Other versions of you,” Pinn said. Flern did not deny it; she just pointed to the left while she went to the right.
“It was a dark and stormy night,” Flern mumbled to herself. It would be hard to see much with all the cloud cover. Even if the moon came up almost full, as it did for Wlvn, it would do them no good in watching for Jaccar. She found one man, Borsiloff by name, who seemed to be vigilant in his watch. She talked to him for a bit and found out that he lost loved ones in the last Jaccar attack. She assumed most of the travelers had.
“You will have to keep your ears open,” Flern told him. “And don’t be afraid to shout for others even if you are not sure what is making that sound. Don’t wait until it is too late.”
Borsiloff nodded and went back to his late supper while Flern crawled out from beneath the wagon and started down the row. She felt good about this watch and just hoped every man stayed as alert as Borsiloff, though she suspected they would not, when hands came out of the dark and grabbed her from behind. One hand clamped firmly across her mouth, and Flern could hardly breathe. The other hand grabbed Flern by the arm near the shoulder and squeezed her muscles until they hurt, as the man shoved her toward a nearby tent where a single blanket laid out. Flern’s eyes went wide. She felt the sweat break out in salty little beads on her forehead. It matched the sweat on the man’s hand. Flern had not yet struggled, being surprised, and since it all happened so fast. It happened much too fast, and yet, at the same time, it happened in a kind of slow motion as one might see in a movie. With that, Flern felt a kind of detachment from the whole event, like she was merely watching it happen on a big screen. Flern got shoved on to the blanket, and the man slipped around to land on top of her. He pushed the air from her lungs as she fell and forced it out her nose along with whatever else might have been in her nose. Not a pretty thought. It covered the man’s hand while still attached to her nostrils. It got hard to breathe with the weight on top of her. She could hardly move, but then she caught sight of her assailant. Bunder, on top of her, kept one slimy hand across her mouth while he pawed at her breasts with his other hand.
“No!” Flern screamed a muffled scream that would be hard to hear from outside the tent. The screaming in her head sounded much louder, almost deafening. She tried to bite Bunder’s hand, but Bunder seemed too excited or too drugged up by something to feel it. He reached down to pull up her dress and at the same time, with his one free hand, he tried to pull down his pants. He tore at his rope belt and tore the front of her dress to expose her breasts.
“No! No!” Flern bit and screamed and felt something well up inside of her. “No!” She said that last to herself. For all of her fear and pain, she did not want to be guilty of frying Bunder with the gift of Odin. Something else bubbled up, though, and just as her dress became shredded, and it looked like Bunder’s rope belt might finally come loose, Flern found her hands against Bunder’s chest and her small reflection of the strength of Thor rose up. She shoved with all of her strength. Bunder flew straight up, pulled the tent with him into the air, arched over the nearest wagon and fell outside the line of wagons altogether, probably terribly hurt. Flern could not think of that right then. She got too busy screaming, crying, and trying to breathe, and she did not know what really happened until she felt Pinn’s hand take a cloth to wipe her nose. She felt humiliated and tried to cover herself as well as she could without having to look at anyone at all. She wanted to die in that moment.
By the time the men arrived, Flern had calmed down a bit. The watchers on the wall of wagons said they found where the boy landed, but he must have run off. The men started a search through the village and the traveler’s encampment—no one condoned rapists in those days—but as Flern and many suspected, they turned up nothing. “He won’t get far on foot.” Several of the men assured her. “We will surely get him in the morning.” Then Kined came in, but he hesitated. He did not know how to react or what to do. He could not hide his rage, but for the rest of it, he looked afraid to so much as touch Flern. Flern solved his dilemma by grabbing him and holding him as close as she could. She cried into his shirt, chest, and shoulder. She may have cried for an hour without stopping, and Kined stayed wonderfully patient that whole time.
When Flern let go, she let go all the way and backed up to wipe her eyes and nose. She turned her back on Kined, felt self-conscious, and wondered if he would think badly of her. She felt ruined by the whole event and wondered if they might all think terrible thoughts about her. Could she have done something to avoid this? Did she somehow ask for this? She felt so powerless, so hopelessly overwhelmed, and in a way, so dirty. It seemed very hard to explain just what she felt, but through it all, she knew one thing. Maybe she did not feel this way at the moment, but she felt certain the feeling would return in time, so she voiced her one certainty.
“Kined. Don’t ever leave me.”
“I won’t,” Kined said. “I will always be here for you, Flern.” And Flern felt that then and there he wanted to tell her that he loved her, but something in him said it was not the right time, and she probably could not have heard it right then. Poor Kined. He got stuck, back between the place where he wanted to hold her and comfort her and tell her that everything would be all right, and at the same time, not touch her for fear that she might break altogether. “I must go,” he said at last, and quickly left the tent. With that, Flern cried some more. She ached for Kined, but she dared not touch him as well. She felt afraid to touch any man and felt withdrawn into her secret self where no one could ever find her. So, she just cried some more, and all of the girls cried with her as well.