Settling him in the chair nearest the hearth, I stood to the side, chewing my thumbnail and staring at his emaciated form. My thoughts spun like a whirlwind. This could not be Olin. The arms of the man I knew bulged with muscles sculpted from lifting heavy bags of grain. This man’s spindly arms dangled lifelessly at his sides. Olin took pride in his appearance, keeping his chiseled face clean-shaven and his hair neatly shorn. There was no way he would allow a beard that ragged to mar the face that beguiled many maidens into acts of impropriety. Unless he had crawled through the bowels of the underworld.
His whispered request spurred me to action. The preparing table rested along the wall to the left of the trestle table. An assortment of clay bowls, mugs, and jars lined the table in order from largest to smallest. Baskets dangled overhead from twine attached to the wooden beams of the thatched roof. Linen and woolen cloths sat in neatly folded stacks on a shelf hanging on the wall.
Selecting a mug, I dipped it in the bucket of water occupying the table space furthest from the hearth. When offered the mug, Olin snatched it from my hand. Water dribbled on his whiskers as he emptied the mug in one gulp.
“Easy,” I said, taking the chair to his right. “You’ll make yourself sick.”
A spark of indignation ignited his eyes when they met mine. There was the Olin of old, disdaining feminine admonition. But the spark dimmed as quickly as it came. When I placed a hand on his arm, he didn’t shrink from my touch.
“What happened, Olin? The last we heard, you had reached Fort Pelko.”