Eijar winced, the pain was growing more intolerable and the cold less bothersome. Something had stirred within him and Frey had awoken it. By the time they reached Grunier, he no longer needed his cloak.
Norn and some of the others had been discussing what they had done to Eadra’s village. They even laughed about it. Laughed about the way the villagers screamed. He even had the nerve to speak about what he had done to…
No, don’t go there. Just thinking about it made the pain worse. Now he was forced to watch as Bodvar trained Frey. They were in the training yard of the Rangers former lodge. Viktor had kicked them out and turned it over to the Blades.
From the front doors, the lodge sat with a full view of the city and what passed for a road at the main gate. Grunier was different without the Rangers, the mood in the air was somber and less lively. Of course with the Blades around that wasn't hard to imagine. Viktor’s men kept them in check, but those who were too ‘undisciplined’, as Bodvar put it, were the ones Eijar had to deal with.
Replacements were few, so not everyone could be disciplined so easily. But Viktor had promised to purchase some slaves from Absion to train as recruits. It was doubtful most of them would survive Bodvar.
As it stood, with how he felt, Eijar would prefer to have someone to deal with. Norn above them all.
I can’t keep living like this. This curse will kill me before Sokoras ever does.
He looked up, keeping his eyes focused on Bodvar and Frey. She was angry, which good. Is she were to start crying there was no telling how Bodvar would react.
“No, ya stupid tart, you don’t hold a skeggox with both hands!” he shouted. “That axe is meant for one hand, like this!”
The Blades’ leader quickly demonstrated, by striking at one of the practice dummies in the yard. Watching Bodvar brandish his weapon the way he was only made Eijar tense. He was frustrated and the former Inquisitor knew that never led to good things.
“The axe is too big,” Frey complained.
She wasn’t wrong. While the size of a skeggox can vary, Bodvar has chosen the largest one of its class. Wielding it one handed was a bit much for someone Frey’s age.
“Oh, is it?” Bodvar sneered. “Perhaps I can get a hatchet instead, that way you enemies are guaranteed to kill you!”
Frustrated, Frey screamed and threw the Skeggox. Eijar wanted to laugh at the horror on Bodvar’s face as the axe narrowly missed him and miraculously buried itself in the practice dummy’s chest.
“I hate you!” she screamed and then ran off tears in her eyes.
After overcoming his shock, Bodvar turn to the dummy, then look back toward Frey as she ran off toward the Lodge and smiled. “That’s my girl,” he replied following after her.
Eijar shook his head and sighed, then jumped, nearly drawing his sword as someone placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Easy, Outsider,” Ylva smirked. “Don’t pick fights to can’t win.”
Eijar narrowed his eyes, beads of sweat dripping down his face. “As I am now, all I need is one touch, Ylva.” Seeing her step back warily was comforting. She wasn’t stupid. Eijar smiled. “Something wrong?”
“You’re dangerous to keep around,” she commented. “Bodvar is a fool for it.”
Eijar nodded, surprising even himself. “For once we agree.”
Ylva simply laughed, then reached for the wineskin hanging from the belt loop on her hip and took a drink. Eijar noted she was looking at the brand on his arm. It was an encircled eye with marks radiating out from it. They were meant to signify light emanating from the eye. It symbolized its ability to see truth.
“I’ve never seen that before,” she commented.
“It’s the mark of an Inquisitor who passes from the rank of Clergyman,” he replied.
“By the tone in your voice, you make it sound important,” Ylva observed. “I assume it means you held considerable station among them.”
“I did,” he replied. “I commanded fifty Laymen and four Clergymen.”
Her expression changed, something was off. It seemed as if she were considering something. “Here, drink with me,” she said offering the wineskin.
Eijar cautiously took the wineskin. “Why are you being kind to me?” he asked, looking back up at her. “What do you want?
Ylva smiled. “Change is coming,” she replied. “You get to choose which side you will be on.”
She was telling the truth, at least she believed what she was saying was true. Eijar sensed no deceit in her words. Eijar took a breath and focused on her. Each person had a certain amount of awareness or understanding of right or wrong. It was this sense that Inquisitors used to determine the guilt or innocence of a person.
It was alarming how underwhelming she read. It should be quite the opposite. She had willing helped Bodvar kill those villagers. Yet, it was as if her mind wasn’t her own. Eijar frowned, his concern deepening.
“Eijar?” she asked.
He blinked, pulling himself back and took a drink. The wine was good, but there was something bitter in the taste, almost coppery. Eijar handed the wineskin back to her. “It has an unusual flavor.”
“Really,” she responded, sounding surprised taking another drink. “Tastes fine to me.”
He sighed and glanced toward the town. What are you really after?
“You’ve never met Viktor before, have you?” she abruptly asked.
“No, Bodvar always kept me away from him,” he replied. “Whenever he could come to Grunier, Bodvar would send me off on some errand.”
She only nodded, took another drink, then handed the wineskin to him. Eijar took it and drank. Ylva smiled as he did and Eijar felt the hairs on his neck stand on end.
“You know Viktor doesn’t know about you,” she said. “You are Bodvar’s little secret.”
Eijar smiled. Keep talking, Ylva. “Why hide me?”
“Because, if Viktor knew of you he would want to make use of your abilities,” she replied.
“Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want an inquisitor serving them.”
“Former Inquisitor,” he reminded her. “What makes you think I’d serve him?”
“Because you are a survivor, Eijar and what better way to relieve your curse than serving someone who is the proper rule of law.”
He handed the wineskin back and looked down at the snow. This whole country needed some kind of order. It wasn’t even a country by civilized standards, even Absion didn’t see any value in expanding into Sokoras.
The Coldfire Mountains weren’t easy to traverse, which was what made Sokoras a choice place for criminals to flee to. Those that survived, could eke out an existence in exile over imprisonment, slavery, execution or the gladiator pits. If anyone could call living here surviving.
“What kind of law?”
“The kind that makes Sokoras the nation it was meant to be,” she replied. “Something better than this with its factions and border disputes. A place where frost giants aren’t a constant threat.”
Viktor’s making a move…
It made sense with all the plantation visits. He was checking his supplies. Wars cost money after all. “It will depend on Viktor. I make no guarantees if I attempt to Purge him.”
“You need a release,” she commented. “Pick someone.”
“You know the rules, Ylva and Bodvar already warned me once.”
She knelt, touching his face and turning his head to look into her deep blue eyes. “You let me worry about that fat pig,” she said. “Now, choose.”
“Norn, if anyone needs to be Purged, it should be him.”
The dark smile on her face was chilling. “I never like the way he looked at me anyway,” she replied.
“I’ll need Issfang to fly me out there.”
Eadra half smiled as the dragon craned his neck around to inspect Wulf’s legs. They were standing outside near the tower and he had opted to return to his true form.
“I see nothing wrong with your legs, you can walk,” he replied curtly. “Eadra can ride on my back where ever she wishes.”
Wulf shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Do we have to do this now?”
The dragon grinned. “Do what?”
Eadra rolled her eyes. “Issfang?” The dragon turned giving her his full attention. Wulf seemed only to get more aggravated that he had been so casually dismissed. “Wulf has a point, with that thing out there at night he wouldn’t make it far.”
“What, Skolven?” he replied.
“It has a name?” Wulf chimed in.
The dragon nodded. “It does, though he’s never bothered me,” Issfang replied. “Not that he can hurt me anyway.”
“What is it, this Skolven?” Eadra asked.
The dragon yawned. “Just something the Dakren summoned when they invaded a long time ago. At least that’s what Mother said Great Grandmother had told her.”
His apathy was a little annoying. “Can it be killed?” she asked.
“I do not know,” he replied, sounding almost curious. “I never bothered,” he added. “I simply ate whatever he froze to death when I happened across it.”
“The perfect watchdog,” Wulf commented.
“Exactly!” Issfang replied, taking his large hand and softly patting Wulf on the head. “See, I knew you were are smart human.”
Eadra laughed, though it made her feel a little guilty seeing as it only seemed to encourage him.
“Don’t worry I’ll make sure to feed you properly,” he added.
Wulf’s face turned bright red. Eadra honestly felt sorry for him. “Issfang…”
The dragon stopped and looked at her. “What?” he asked, grinning ear to ear.
“Stop antagonizing Wulf,” she said.
The dragon rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he groaned, then muttered something about ‘spoiling his fun’. “Skolven wanders a small area, I’ll fly him as far as that or to the closest village.”
Wulf sighed, but it almost sounded as if he were relieved to be rid of the dragon. “Fair enough,” he replied. “It will longer but I can survive the wilds on own.”
He reached for his pack and secured the Aetharian longblade he had kept to it. Eadra stared at it for a moment. She recognized some of the glyphs. The blade had belonged to one of the Vakari.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
Eadra shook her head, but he frowned as if seeing right through her disapproval. “It’s just that the sword belonged to a Vakari.”
“But weren’t the ones at the heart of the chamber Vakari?”
“They were last of their generation,” Eadra replied. “That sword was from another. Being buried here was a high honor, very few Aetharian males were entombed down there. This place was primarily reserved for them and the royals.”
“So, you want me to put it back?”
Eadra stared at the blade, then looked up at him. “When this is done, yes,” she replied. “It wasn’t meant for you to wield.”
Wulf didn’t argue for follow up with some quip. He simply nodded. “As you wish,” he said. “We have a chamber of our own in the Rangers. A place where we bury our fallen after we burn their bodies so I understand.”
“You wouldn’t want anyone taking their effects either.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” he said.
Issfang let out a long sigh. It made him sound like a giant bellows. “Can we go now?” he chimed in.
Eadra nodded, turning to him. “Let’s, we’re losing daylight.”