Ursoth padded unhappily back and forth disregarded by the gathering company of giants. The odor of man lingered about the entrance hall, he snuffled it out from among cloaks and piles of skin, but the smell of blood, giant's blood, overwhelmed the human stink. He followed its trail, a scent like burnt copper mixed with fresh oerth, and pawed aside a bundle of hides damp with blood. He pushed and nosed till the bare floor was revealed. Beneath his paws he felt a lump of lifeless flesh cooling but not yet cold. He could not see it, though he smelled its presence.
There was a stir among the ranks of giants filling the stairwell, a gap was made, some backing down, others flattening themselves to either side, and Eadwig, came rushing down. He summoned two burly warriors from the pack and set off across the hall, heading for the outer doors. Ursoth came bounding to him; the bear brushed against the giant's legs and gave a roar as Eadwig passed him by. The sub-chief had no time for his thegn's spoiled pet. His brother must be somewhere out in the night, wounded or more likely dead.
It was Gosfrith who, stopping to pull a hide cloak over his shirtless chest, brushed a hand against the insistent bear. His fingers came away wet, and stained a dark red. He looked closer at the dumb beast and eyed the red-streaked muzzle and paws coated crimson.
"Eadwig! Eadwig!" He called then chased after the pair who'd just disappeared out into the night.
* * *
"Make way! Back to the Hall!" Thiodolf yelled to the aimless crowd. "Curse you, make way!" he pushed those standing at the top of the stairwell back down. Most turned and forced their way through. Thiodolf prodded any stragglers and sent a youth tumbling, knocking giants down the stairs like ninepins. He would have laughed but his joyless chief followed close behind.
* * *
Gosfrith ran out into the night. A steady rain was turning the path to mud, the fields around were slick and sodden already. It was some time before dawn and the cloud-blanketed sky hid the stars from view. Eadwig had disappeared completely; he needed only to run a few score of feet ahead before he was swallowed in the utter pitch of the rain-streaked night. Gosfrith turned and stared out along the path, then right across the field away from the steading, and, seeing no sign, revolved and looked out along the long wooden wall of the steading itself.
Nothing, yet he had been delayed only a moment and could be only a short way from the other two. He ran a bit further out along the muddy path then stopped again and called out "Eadwig!" in a loud frustrated shout.
From out of the dark, somewhere to his right across the marshy field, away from the steading a voice called back in glad reply, "Eadnoth! Eadnoth! Is that you?"
"Eadwig, it's me, Gosfrith. Where are you?"
"Gosfrith!" the voice, Eadwig's, called back angrily. "What are you playing at, curse you."
"Eadwig, come back to the hall. Where are you? Come back. Stop running around in the dark," Gosfrith shouted back.
From out of the night two giant figures emerged jogging across the field. They had gone far, Eadwig running out ahead chasing after the image of his brother lying gravely wounded, fallen among the rain-soaked brush.
* * *
The entrance hall was lined with giants as Nosnra came down the stairs.
Thiodolf stood talking in earnest with a pair of warriors, one turned and, at a quick pace crossed to a side door, departed on an unknown errand. Ursoth sat leaning against his leg while Thiodolf absentmindedly reached his hand down to brush the bear's head in a kindly gesture. He heard the sudden hush which first took hold behind him, then flowed across the room on a breath of silence. Thiodolf gave a dismissive nod toward the second of the giant pair who lingered for some final word, then turned to face his Thegn, bad news at the forefront of his thoughts. Ursoth turned around as well and, glad to see his master, rushed over to him in a joyful bound.
"Ho there pet," Nosnra chided his bear as it playfully rolled round his feet, rose to a four legged stance then rubbed its soft and furry shoulder against its master's legs. Its antics brought a wistful smile to the grim Thegn's lips and he rubbed a loving hand along its back, thankful for the moment's distraction from this terrible night. But the moment passed quickly by, as moments do, and raising his head he looked toward Thiodolf then gestured for him to speak.
Thiodolf blinked and cleared his throat then gave sad tidings to his chief. "Thegn, I think it is Eadnoth's body we have found."
"You think. You do not know." Nosnra said, but at his heart, which dropped, weighed down with grief, he had expected such sorrowful news.