Nimmian pushed past the flap over the hut’s entrance. The cold air outside felt like a punch in the teeth. Angry murmurs were thrown his way as the cold air invaded the hut. He wrapped himself in a battered cloak and tried to walk as fast as possible. Everyone in the hut shared the single cloak for the unsavory walks to the latrine pits and sentry duty.

Why don’t the bloody Runts dig the latrines inside the bloody huts?0 he thought even though he knew the reason. The fetid humors would be dangerous in a man’s dwelling.

Frozen grass crunched under his feet. The chill went through his hide leggings and jabbed into his soles with every step. The sun had already set. Twilight would be descending before he completed his business.

It seemed forever before he reached the barren depression where the latrines had been dug. Some of them seemed freshly made. How could the Runts dig through soil that was frozen solid? he thought miserably.

Now came the moment he hated most. He hesitated before he thrust his hands out of the fur cloak to unlace his breeches.

“Thought it was time we had a talk.”

Nimmian jumped, stumbled and almost fell into one of the latrine pits. He felt heat wash over him as if he were doused in scalding water. Nearby, leaning on a shovel, stood Niomir, watching him.

Nimmian had pointedly avoided his brother ever since his group of tribesmen had entered the settlement. When Niomir had taken Setimika to the ground and the head Runt was punished for it, Nimmian had stood at the back of the group, avoided being seen. But here, there was nowhere to hide from his brother’s gaze.

Niomir had not changed much. He wore one of the precious few fur cloaks used by the Runts. Frost clung to his leggings up to his knees and yet he appeared not to be cold. He was definitely leaner since the last time he’d seen him, the result of hard labour and living on that disgusting flatbread. The bones in his face were more pronounced but his gaze lost none of the resolve. Nimmian was used of being shielded by that resolve. Every time the other tribesmen would enjoy putting Nimmian to shame, Niomir would be there, his iron will forcing them into silence.

It was terrifying to see that resolve turned against him now.

Nimmian swallowed and somehow found his voice. “If you’re here to…”

“We both know what really happened that day,” Niomir said in a voice that made Nimmian’s spine feel too weak to support its own weight. “You might have fooled Flat Face and everyone else but none of them are here now.”

Niomir paused, looking at him. Nimmian could not stand his gaze and turned away. The thought of running away never dared to enter his mind.

“It was a brilliant move, I’ll grant you. Didn’t see it coming at all.” Niomir grinned. It was the most terrifying sight Nimmian had ever witnessed. He came this close of dropping his evening load with his breeches still laced on. “But this deception can only work for so long,” Niomir went on. “The only thing you achieved was avoid being Runted this time. What will you do the next time Flat Face decides the fields need more workforce? You only had one brother to step onto.”

Nimmian stared in silence. Ever since his brother had taken his place among the Runts, he managed to convince himself not to think about the future. Now, Niomir shattered that denial and thrust reality into his face.

The despair must have been obvious on his face. Niomir smiled – strangely, it wasn’t a victorious smile. “You are joining me in misery, brother, whether you like it or not. And when you do, you are on my home turf again. No one survives as a Runt without friends. I’ve already gained their respect. If I tell everyone you are not to be trusted, they will believe me. What will you do? Run to Isurion’s outcasts? We both know I was your only chance of getting there. So you see, dear brother, your future depends entirely on my good will.” Sweat erupted under Nimmian’s cloak. He swallowed nervously. “You would be wise to get on my good side and do it fast,” Niomir said. “You could, for example, start right now.”

Nimmian sighed in resignation. “What do you want me to do?”

Just for a moment, Niomir hesitated before he answered. “I want you to bring me your spear.”

Nimmian’s eyes widened. “That’s not allowed.”

“True,” said Niomir. “But you will bring it to me none the less.”

“My spear has poor charms,” Nimmian blurted. “It will not fly well, you know that.”

Niomir smiled patronizingly. “If you’d put so much effort into hunting as you put into making excuses, you would’ve been a better hunter than I.” The smile vanished. “I want that spear.”

A panic gripped Nimmian’s throat. “If Flat Face finds out–”

“Then it would be best for both of us if he doesn’t find out.”

Nimmian stood there, wordless and defeated. Instinctively he looked to his brother for help but realized the stupidity of the thought. There was no remorse in Niomir’s eyes, no sympathy. And I have only myself to thank for that, he thought glumly.

Niomir picked up the shovel and walked around the latrine pits. “Bring the spear here tomorrow at sunrise,” he said over his shoulder as he went past Nimmian, “or the deal is off.”