He was so mean, so angry. His dark eyes empty and callous. Frey could feel herself shaking, but not because of the cold.
How could mama have ever loved him?
“Get it right!” he shouted. “Hold your axe and shield proper!”
She had been trying, but the axe was so heavy. Her father had shortened the haft, but the skeggox felt heavier, like it was off balance. The shield was smaller too, but still, Frey found it hard to hold them up.
“It’s too heavy!” she shouted.
Her father sneered. “Too heavy, she wines,” he replied, mocking her. “Then get stronger!”
Her eyes stung, which only made Bodvar angrier.
“No child of mine will be in tears!” he growled stepping toward her and raising his hand.
On reflex, she lifted the shield and heard his footsteps come to a halt in the snow.
“Better,” he said.
They had been at this for an hour. Bodvar had tree branch he had cut up to use as a sword and strike her. Frey could still feel the pine needles against her cheek where she had failed to stop him.
Frey missed Eijar. He was the only one that had ever been kind to her. All of the other people here were mean and some frightened her when they stared at her. Bodvar had beaten one man for even talking to her.
He swung the branch again, and struggling, Frey lifted her shield to stop it. She then awkwardly swung the axe around like he had instructed, but lost her balance in the snow and fell.
Even through the thick furs keeping her warm, she could feel the sting of the pine needles as he hit her across the back. She cried out, screaming at the top of her lungs as he kept swinging.
Mama, where are you?
“Don’t…you…get it!” he screamed angrily. “You’re dead! I just killed you a dozen times!”
Frey could only lay there sobbing. Her back felt like a badger was digging its claws into her. “I hate you.”
“Good, at least we are getting somewhere with that,” Bodvar replied. “Hate me enough to fight me, Frey. Hate is all you need.”
She felt his fingers slide into the braids on her scalp, gripping them tightly like a handhold.
“Look at them,” he said, lifting her head up so she could see the villagers as they passed the low dividing wall of the lodge’s training area. “They are like sheep; weak and useless. They live small pathetic lives, Frey. No daughter of mine will become one of them!”
She was shaking, her heart pounding. Mama, please save me. Frey felt her stomach turning over as feelings she had no words for raged inside of her. Her scalp felt like hundreds of needles were piercing her skull and her head began throbbing.
Bodvar pulled her close, staring her in the eyes. Her small chest burned when she gazed into them. His eyes were empty. There was no love in those hazel orbs only a hollow emptiness and deep pain.
“In time, you will understand,” he said. “As I said, hate me all you want. It will only make you stronger.”
He let go and Frey fell to her knees, dropping her shield, but keeping a firm grip on the skeggox. Somehow the axe felt less awkward in her hand; its weight seeming to matter very little at the moment.
Frey stared at his back as he walked away. The sick feeling in her stomach was growing as were the storm of emotions. Her chest burned. She wanted to hurt him.
“Your mother was a disappointment,” he added. “Something I hope you won’t become.”
Frey blinked, her hand feeling light and empty. The sound of Bodvar shouting angrily drew her attention. He was on his knees. The skeggox was buried in the shield strapped to his back.
“You little scrax!”
He stood, eyes narrow and face red. Frey shrank back, scrambling for her shield and held it up. Bodvar tore it from her grasp and grabbed her by the collar of the fur-lined hauberk he had made for her.
“If you plan to kill me,” he said. “Make sure you do it right!”
Frey shifted her gaze to his left hand as he balled it up into a fist. Moments later there was a flash across her vision and everything went black.
Eijar cautiously stepped toward the door of his room. It was just barely open and as drew closer, he could hear someone sobbing inside.
He pushed the door further open, allowing it to swing in on its hinges. Frey was laying on his bed with her face buried in his pillow. “Frey?”
She looked up and he clenched his fists. Her face was covered in bruises, her eyes bloodshot. “I want to go home, Eijar,” she said. “I want mama.”
Eijar moved toward her, sat down and pulled her close. “I know,” he replied, squeezing her tight. “She’s coming don’t worry.”
She wrapped her small arms around him and squeezed.
“I hate him,” Frey replied. “I hate Bodvar, he’s not my Da. He can’t be.”
Eijar bit his lip and pulled away, quickly shutting the door. He turned, his eyes meeting with Frey’s. “He isn’t,” he said, sitting beside her. “Your mother lied to him to save your life.”
She wrapped her arms around his left and rested her head against it. “He would have hurt me if she hadn’t,” she said.
Eijar nodded. She was perceptive for one so young, but most Sokoran children were. The land wasn’t kind to anyone, especially them. “You can’t hate him, Frey,” he said, staring out the window. “You mustn’t.”
She squeezed his arm tighter. “I don’t know what else I should feel,” she replied. “He says things, some of it I don’t understand.”
Eijar pulled away and pushed the nightstand by the bed toward the door. The room was small and sparse, but it had cleared enough room on the floor. He sat down on the floor and looked up.
“Come here,” he said, motioning for her to sit across from him.
Frey winced, her arms shaking as she slid from the bed. Eijar tensed when he caught glimpse of the bruises across her back when her tunic brushed up against the bed.
Your sins continue to mount, Bodvar.
“I’m going to try and teach you something, it will be hard though,” he said. “I don’t know if can do it, but it was what my teacher taught me as a boy.”
“Will it keep Bodvar from hurting me?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “It takes years to master, but every new journey begins with a single step.”
“He’s afraid of you,” she said. “Bodvar I mean.”
Eijar blinked. It was a little surprising to hear. He had never given it much thought.
“I saw it in his eyes yesterday when I talked about how kind you are,” she said.
So perceptive. I wish I could have noticed sooner. “Your mother was a good teacher when it came to reading people.”
Frey smiled. “She was always asking me questions.”
Maybe this will work. “Do you trust me?” he asked. Even just asking the question made her visibly tense, but she nodded.
Eijar pulled a small knife from its sheath on his waist and began carving into the pine floorboards. “I feel like a visual will help you more.”
Frey giggled when he finished. “Is that supposed to be a person,” she asked looking at the carving.
“I never claimed to be an artist,” Eijar replied, glancing down at the rough outline he had made. He took the knife and pressed it onto the figure’s chest until it made a small hold as he twisted it. “Pretend this is someone’s heart,” he added. “I’m going to teach you how to see into it.”
“Like how their eyes give them away?” Frey asked.
“It’s a little more than that, but in a way yes,” Eijar replied. “Call it magic if you want, but it’s something deeper. It’s an understanding of truth and looking past the veils others wear.”
Frey furrowed her brow in concern. “Is that why you are always in so much pain?”
Eijar nodded. “What I teach, has a double edge,” he said. “But you are years away from that blade.”
“Will it make me hurt people?” she asked. “Like how you hurt Norn?”
Eijar felt helpless. How could he even begin to explain it? Would she even understand? “Norn did really bad things to people and Bodvar refused to do anything about it.”
Frey looked down, Eijar could tell she was thinking. “How do you know if a person is bad or not?”
“Their heart tells me,” he replied. “It whispers the secrets locked behind the veil they use to hide it.”
“So if I know what’s inside a person, I can tell if they are bad or good?” she asked.
“In a way,” Eijar answered. “No one is perfect, but you will know if they have taken a life or stolen, lied or are lying to you. You can know if they have hurt others and to what degree.”
Frey looked back down at the carving. “So how do we start?”
“First, let’s get you to a healer, then we build a fire,” Eijar replied.
“You’ve been quiet for two days now,” he commented.
Eadra looked up from the table. For once Issfang was wearing actual clothes. While she allowed his tricks to affect her, she was still wary.
He wore a red long-sleeved tunic and matching wool pants. The belt he was plain with a simple buckle. Eadra fought against smiling. He clearly wasn’t very comfortable.
“I was thinking about Frey,” she replied.
He simply nodded. “I assumed as much.”
Eadra turned her attention away from him toward the ‘room’. The druids had dug under one of the larger evergreen trees then shaped the roots to create the chamber. Judging by the thickness, it must have taken at least a hundred or more winters to coax the tree with magic for it to grow like this.
Most of the other buildings in the grove were constructed in typical Sokoran fashion with lower floors dug into the earth. The druids had used their magic to make it more natural and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The canopy outside was also thicker, no doubt shaped over time as well.
“I wonder if I could learn to do this?” Issfang commented, drawing her attention.
“Why would want to?” she asked curiously.
“It seems useful, fashioning a home this way,” he replied. “Though I bet I could do it faster.”
Eadra smiled. The dragon’s confidence was ever astounding. “Maybe you could,” she replied. The sarcasm was clearly lost on Issfang as he smiled wide.
“So when do we leave,” he asked.
Eadra tilted her head at him curiously. “Leave for?”
“To mount the rescue?” he replied matter-of-factly.
Eadra sighed. “It’s so simple with you isn’t it,” she commented.
“Of course,” he replied. “What human weapon can harm me?”
Eadra smiled, unsheathed her the Aetharian longblade and placed it across the table. “Human weapon, hmm?”
The nervous smile on the dragon’s face was priceless. Eadra quickly sheathed the sword, noting how relaxed he became. It’s good to know he is afraid of something.
“I want to leave, to rush in and find her, but that might only get her killed,” she said. “Bodvar is unpredictable and dangerous.”
“What about this Viktor, Wulf spoke about?” Issfang asked.
“He’s no better,” she replied. “If he were to capture me, he would use Frey against me and force me to decipher everything in that library.”
“Then kill you once he was finished,” Issfang added.
Eadra nodded. “You’re perceptive.”
“It simply makes sense,” he replied. “Why bother with a captive that you have no use for?”
“I have to trust Eijar will keep her safe until the time is right,” she replied.
“When is that time?” he asked.
“When the Thran gather. Bodvar will keep her close and Viktor will want him and his Blades to keep an eye out for anyone trying to stop his plans.”
“Can you really wait that long?” he asked. “Frey might be dead by then.”
The sound of the dragon squealing caught her as strange, but the fear in his eyes was even more startling. Eadra found herself sitting over Issfang with her Aetharian shortblade at his throat while she had him pinned him to the dirt floor. She dropped the blade and shrank back, noting the table was overturned.
The panic melted from the dragon’s pale elven features and was replaced by a wicked smile. “Now that, was interesting,” he said.
“Forgive me, Issfang, I don’t know what came over me.”
He smiled wider, touching the cut on his neck. “What’s to forgive, Lady Eadra. Now simply know the depth of your resolve.”
Eadra tightened her jaw. He was testing me. “And if my resolve was lacking?” she asked.
“Then I would have killed you and abandoned this venture,” he replied. “I have no time for a mother who would isn’t willing to give everything for her child.”
He’s up to something. The story of the scorpion and the fox came back to her. She could almost feel the water at her neck now. I swear if you sting me, dragon I will take you with me.