They came upon the village at dusk. It was a tiny huddle of huts at the edge of a great forest. The hunters and trappers were also returning, and they had hung their kill in the trees to freeze. Fires were being lit for supper, and people huddled around them to keep the night frost off their backs. Woolen blankets were thrown over the horses and reindeer to keep them warm. When Yarrow came into view, the villagers stood in anticipation for what their Junkman had brought them.
"Did you get my pot, Yarrow Junkman?" said Siku. She was the suspicious, narrowed eyed wife of the village's greatest hunter. Yarrow shook his head.
"Your pot will have to wait. More pressing matters are at hand."
"What are you on about, Junkman?" said her husband Iluak.
Yarrow raised his voice so they all could hear. "I'm just afraid my haul is not as prosperous as past weeks, and for that I apologize."
A groan went through the village. "We depend on you, Yarrow," said Mr. Manirok, who was too old to hunt and traded instead with his aged wisdom. "We can't have you skipping weeks and then coming back empty handed. Where will we get out goods?"
Yana had stood up in the back of the sled. "You could get themselves if you weren't so scared!"
"Yana! That's enough!" Yarrow scolded, and she sank back down, but not before Mr. Manirok stopped her.
"Young lady," he called sharply. "Stand back up." Tentatively, Yana obeyed. A scarlet apron of blood coated her furs from neck to waist.
"Why are you covered in blood?" breathed Kassuq the reindeer herder.
The girl looked to her brother, and he gestured for her to sit back down. "It's nothing," he said, and made to move, but the villagers barred his way.
"What are you hiding, Yarrow Junkman?" demanded Siku, but Iluak had already circled around the sled and come upon Yarrow's haul.
"What is this, boy?" the hunter demanded. "What plague have you brought upon us?" And at his words the entire village circled Yarrow's sled, and they stood peering at the broken, gasping figure of a dying girl with fear in their eyes.
"She's an Observatory lady," whispered the wife of a trapper to her husband.
"They'll come looking for her," said Kassuq.
"We'll all be killed," agreed his sister.
Their murmurs melded together and grew louder as Yana huddled over the girl's still figure, as though she would protect her, and Yarrow fought to get through the crowd to reach them. Mr. Manirok's voice boomed over all the rest.
"Enough!" he cried, and the voices stopped and the villagers shrank way and allowed Yarrow to climb into his sled and lift his sister into his arms. The old man turned to him. "Tell us where this girl came from, boy."
Yarrow told them how he'd found her in the Grounds, and how he was sure her own people had discarded her there. This settled the nerves of many of the villagers, and they wandered back to their fires and supper until only Siku, Iluak, Mr. Manirok, and Kassuq was left.
"You found her in the Dumping Grounds?" said Siku. "Why didn't you leave her?"
Yarrow did not grace her with an answer. He turned to old Mr. Manirok. "I don't know if she's going to live, but I'm going to do everything in my power to help her."
The old man was quiet, and then he turned away and went back to his hut. For a moment, Yarrow stood dumbfounded in his sled and wondered if he had made a terrible mistake and cursed his entire village, but Manirok returned and handed him a sack.
"Use these to bandage her wounds, and work to keep her fever down. If she lasts the night, she may live. If she does, may the gods have mercy on you, Yarrow Junkman."
Yarrow swiped the sack out of his hands and jumped back to the ground. He still held Yana in his arms as he took the lead to his sled and pulled it through the village, ignoring the stares that followed him. His hut was nestled deep in the forest, deeper than any other. Yarrow felt safe there amongst the shadows of the trees; he felt invisible. He could see its metal sides reflecting the moonlight as he neared it, and he set Yana back down a few yard away.
"Go check on Yuli for me," he said. "I'll be in in a moment."
Yana raced off toward their hut and disappeared within it. He could hear her murmuring to her brother, and he saw the flickering light of the oil lamp beneath the old curtain they had hung over the entrance. Yarrow climbed back into the sled and peered over the girl.
She was still as hot as a fire, but her breaths were shallow and haggard. He thought she had stopped bleeding, but she was still soaked in red and he couldn't tell what was fresh and what was not. When he picked her up, the frozen blood crackled and crunched grotesquely with the movement. He carried her across the snowy ground and into the warmth of his hut.
Yana had peeled off her coat and was sitting before the flickering lamplight. She was a plump little girl, with short dark hair that fell into her eyes and a wide smile that emphasized her wide cheeks. She was sharing a piece of dried reindeer meat with a little boy who sat half in and half out of the covers. He was far thinner than his sister and had a sunken, skeletal face, but he shared her dark features and her wide smile.
"Yana said you brought back a princess," said Yuli, and his grin widened. "Did you rescue her from a tower?"
Yarrow tried not to stumble as he laid the girl upon his own bedding. He looked up at his little brother's gap-toothed smile and tried not to laugh. "Is that what she is? A princess?"
"Who else?" said Yuli. "Obviously she's running from an evil witch who has enchanted her. You rescued her. That makes you her prince."
"Does it? That's…intimidating." Yarrow removed the bandages from the sack Mr. Manirok had given him. They filled the hut with a harsh scent, and Yana crinkled her nose at them as she wrapped the girl's abdomen while Yarrow lifted her gently. The girl did not stir once, not even as Yarrow removed her belt and laid his blanket across her. He turned to Yuli, who was watching them with fascination.
"How are you feeling?" he said as he laid his hand upon the boy's forehead. He was only slightly warm.
"I'm fine," said Yuli, waving his hand away. "It was so boring here all day. I'm so glad you brought something interesting back."
Yarrow frowned as he sat back. He took out a piece of reindeer meat for himself, but it tasted like nothing to him. "I don't want you two getting excited," he warned. "She's very hurt. She may not last long."
"That's what they said about me last month," challenged Yuli. "She's going to live." He watched the sleeping girl intensely, his brown eyes wide with wonder. "I know she is."