“Go!” Eryk said, giving each of the boys a nudge with his boot.
They stumbled forward, bumping into one another, grabbing at each other’s sleeves. Then they staggered down the path, arms held out before them as they careened from tree to tree.
Eryk kept the darkness swirling around their heads until they were a few hundred yards away, then he let it go. Lev released a sob. The boys stared at each other in shock, then bolted toward camp.
“I’m not done with you,” Lev yelled back at him.
Eryk’s heart was pounding. He’d had to use his power before, to show that he wouldn’t be picked on. But if his mother really meant for them to stay, he’d just made three enemies, all of them older and much bigger than he was. And he’d managed to anger the Ulle’s son. Maybe they wouldn’t be welcome to stay at the camp at all. He sighed and turned back to the sisters warily, ready for them to turn and run too.
They were both still in the dirt, staring up at him with startled eyes.
Then Sylvi said, “I want to learn to do that.” She sprang up and waggled her fingers at the nearest tree. “I am Grisha! The shadows do my bidding!”
Annika watched her dart off, her expression a little wistful. “She still thinks she can learn to be Grisha. One day she’ll figure it out.” She pressed her palms against her eyes. “It’s been so hard since we came here,” she said. “Thank you.”
He blinked in surprise. “I … You’re welcome.”
She smiled up at him, and without thinking, he offered her his hand. It was only in the second that her fingers closed over his that he realized his mistake. As soon as his hand touched hers, her eyes widened. She drew in a sharp breath. They gazed at each other a long moment. He pulled her to her feet and dropped her hand. But the damage was done.
“You’re an amplifier,” she said.
He glanced at where Sylvi was pouncing on another helpless tree, oblivious, and gave a single, frightened nod. How could he have been so stupid? He would have to tell his mother now, and she would insist that they leave right away. If word got out, they’d both be in danger. Amplifiers were rare, hard to find, harder to hunt. Their lives would be forfeit. Even if they got away, word would spread. He could already hear his mother’s voice: Foolish, careless, callous. If you don’t value your own life, show some concern for mine.
Annika touched his sleeve. “It’s okay,” she said. “I won’t tell.”
Panic crowded in. He shook his head.
She slid her hand into his. It was hard not to pull away. He should. He was breaking his mother’s fundamental rule for keeping them both alive. Never let them touch you, she’d warned him.
“You protected Sylvi. I won’t tell. I promise.”
He looked down at their clasped hands. He liked the unfamiliar pressure of her palm against his. She didn’t seem so frightened by his power now. And she was brave. She’d defended her sister even though she knew Lev was stronger. He had so many secrets. It felt good to share one.
“Stay,” she said. “Please?”
He didn’t say anything, but he gave her hand the barest squeeze.
Annika smiled, and to Eryk’s surprise, he found himself smiling back.
They spent the afternoon practicing by the stream while Sylvi made up songs and hunted frogs. Annika even helped Eryk with his Fjerdan. The thought that there might be more days like this seemed almost too wonderful to believe, and as it grew later, he worried over what his mother would say about what he’d done to Lev, that she would change her mind about staying. But when he got back to the hut at dusk, she wasn’t there.
He washed his hands and face of the day’s grime, then made his way to the long hall, where most of the camp were already gathered for dinner. They sat at tables that spanned the length of the lodge, eating from platters heaped with deer meat and roasted onions.
He saw his mother seated beside the Ulle at the elders’ table. They both acknowledged him with a nod.
Eryk scanned the stretch of tables and spotted Lev’s red-gold hair. His eyes narrowed when he met Eryk’s gaze. If Lev hadn’t told, it was only because he wanted to take revenge against Eryk personally. All he’d have to do was wait and set an ambush, restrain Eryk’s arms so he couldn’t summon. He probably wouldn’t even need his friends. Eryk could fight, but he was half a foot shorter than Lev.
“Eryk,” Annika called, waving him over as Sylvi bounced on the bench beside her. Maybe Eryk wasn’t such a bad name. It sounded all right when she said it.
They ate in silence for a while. The food of the north had never held much appeal for him, and he found himself moving the onions around his plate.
“You don’t like them?” Annika asked.
“What’s your favorite food?”
He dragged his bread through the leavings of his meal. “I don’t know.”
“How can you not know?” said Sylvi.
Eryk shrugged. No one had ever asked him. “Um … anything sweet.”