Heather had just read the last word when she noticed the tears on the paper. She wondered where they came from. They couldn't be hers. It would be an outrage to cry for him. Dagur may not have killed their father, but he had destroyed her village and killed her mom and dad (the man and woman who had raised her, whom, blood or no blood, she could think of no other way). How could she cry for the enemy of the only family and tribe she had ever known? Yes, he shared her blood, so she had refused to harm or kill him, but she could do no more for him. Wouldn't it be a betrayal to mourn him? Nothing he said, nothing she learned could undo what he'd done...
But he has paid for it, she realized. Giving his life to save hers and all her friends'... surely that more than paid the blood price for her parents? Yes, by all their laws, in the eyes of all the gods, his actions today atoned for all his crimes against her. He had redeemed his honor. There was no need to hate him anymore. She could cry for him as much as she wanted.
Heather let the tears run down her cheeks with no effort to hold them back. Because he had saved her. Because he had loved her. Because she had misjudged him. Because if she had let them listen to him, he wouldn't have needed to do it – if it hadn't been for her, he would still be here. All her restraint had been for nothing – she had caused the death of her brother after all. What could she do but cry?
For a while, all she could see before her was the smoke and fire that had swallowed him, as if she was searching it for some glimpse of him, some sign that he had escaped, that he would return. But no matter how many times she watched his final moments – moments she would never forget – the scene never ended any other way. It never would.
As the last threads of a foolish hope snapped, she returned to the present. The first part of the outside world to penetrate her senses was the sound – a fast, persistent rattle mixed with the roar of a Night Fury. Slowly, she recognized them as the sounds of a thunderstorm. She looked up and saw the sky had been completely hidden by thick, gray clouds, drowning the island in a steady downpour.
The sight and sound of the rain soothed her. It seemed right, as if the heavens themselves were crying for the soul that had been lost today. Did it mean the gods would welcome him? Would his soul find its way to its resting place without a funeral pyre? Or would it wander the earth lost and restless, haunting her because she hadn't helped him? But what could she do? There was no body to burn. There were no personal possessions to send on with him. Although he had successfully saved the seven of them, they hadn't won anything – they had simply managed not to lose their lives; there had been no great victory to celebrate, nothing for historians to record to memorialize his sacrifice.
There was nothing she could do for him, and there was nobody else who could. He had no family besides her, no tribe or people left to care about him or his fate. There was no one to tell his story, no one to listen to it, no one to recognize his final, great act. Only the rain sang for him.
She leaned against her doorway for support as the rain fell all around her, overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. He had died a hero's death, the noblest death a Viking could hope for, and there was no way they could give him the farewell he had earned. The one thing she still could have done for him, the one duty it wasn't too late to perform, was completely beyond her power. She had no way to help him on his journey, no way to say good-bye.
The rain, the music of the gods, pounded harder and harder against the roof, drawing her eyes back to the sky. He would have loved this storm – he'd be glad to know his death was commemorated by thunder and lightning, two of his favorite things. Had the Storm King her mother told her stories of when she was a child sent it all for him? She wondered if he could see her brother from up there. Where was he now? If only they could have stayed to look for him... if only she could have seen him... She hated to think of him lying at the bottom of the sea or on some rocky shore, all alone. Of course, that was better than the thought of their enemies finding him. What would happen to him in their hands?
Please protect him, she prayed. Watch over him as you watched over me. Surely this rain meant the Storm King was looking down on him. That he had come to guide him safely home, he who her mother said shielded children from the rain and snow he sent. The clouds went on with no end she could see – they must cover both her and him, wherever he was; she liked to imagine they were a shield that would protect all of them, including him, from any more harm.
Heather dropped her head and sighed, trying to remind herself there was no need to worry about him now. He was gone. There was nothing left to do, nothing left to hope except that his soul would rest in peace... she couldn't help him with that... the way she had helped the frightened children of her village on stormy nights like this one...
The words she had used then, that her own mother had used to calm her when she was frightened or sad, spontaneously came to her. As they mixed with her memories of today and the sight of the storm before her now, different words took their place. Eventually, as if yielding to some unconscious instinct, she opened her mouth and sang softly:
The thunder roars
And the lightning strikes
As the Storm King speaks
From the sky tonight
It wasn't much, but it was the only tool she had to work with. The only thing left she could possibly give to him. The only way she could say good-bye.
Let everyone hear
The Storm King's call
As over the world
His tears, they fall
She wanted her voice to stay perfectly steady. She couldn't say good-bye with tears in her eyes and tremors in her throat. She had to be brave. She had to be strong. A warrior must go into battle without flinching. There could be no shameful signs of weakness...
Big brother, sleep
Sheltered neath his wings
As he gently sings
Her voice didn't falter until the last line.
Sleep, big brother, sleep