Bolverk knew this sensation. It seared and held on tight, digging as deeply as it could, and he roared in unexpected pain.
The little arrow wasn’t so buried in his shoulder after all; Bolverk sat upright and nearly dislodged it from its place. He shrugged the thin frost off his bare arms, covering them in his bearskin cloak and growled, expecting a fight.
Finding a girl.
Her feet were solid in the deep snow, and her face showed no signs of intimidation. A bear would retaliate against the attack, Bolverk knew, but her bow faced the ground and she made no further effort to draw. In this ice-quiet place, sounds muffled by peaceful snow, Bolverk was at a loss for how to respond. He grasped the arrow, tearing it out of his skin.
“Your arrows are weak.”
“My aim is worse,” she said back, rigid as any tree in the clearing. “I’m not cut out for hunting. Thought I’d give it a try.”
“A bear,” his unused voice growled, “would have eaten you.”
“No,” she stated, “but it’s unlikely I would be eating bear. Hopefully there are other creatures to hunt in the forest that I am more accustomed to.”
She wasn’t as young as she seemed, with her hair tucked back with ribbon and her arms wrapped in thick leathers. The girl, though a woman after all, shrugged at him. “You’re not a bear.”
“You know so little, girl. I’m more bear than varl. And you’re no hunter. A tiny human has no hope of hunting either.”
“Clearly.” Her gaze dropped to the pack slung across her shoulder and rustled around to withdraw out a tautly-wrapped handful. She tossed it to his feet; neither of them flinched. “Salve and a cloth bandage. It helps.”
“Why would I need that?”
“I might have shot you in the shoulder just now, if you’ve forgotten.” She closed her bag and shouldered her bow. Unafraid–like a smile on a stone wall.
Bolverk glowered, stepping forward and covering her in his shadow. He kicked the leather package past her and growled, “Are you trying to tame a bear?”
“Are you trying to threaten a woman?”
Snow filled the silence.
“I’m due to tend my family, chores await.” She turned away, “I’ll shoot no more bears.”
Bolverk watched her cut a path through the gentle snow, making the only sound for miles. She knew her way around the forest, even if she couldn’t tell the difference between a bear and a berserk.
Not his problem.
He tucked the leathery gift under his bearskin cloak and lurched further into the woods, feeling the icy wind on his bare chest and in the hole of his shoulder. Using civilized goods went against the nature of his rite and of this journey, but damned if he’d be taken down by the wayward arrows of a girl.