Savar stood on the prow of his longship the subtle thrum of the drumbeat resounding in his ears. His arms were arms spread wide as the cold northern winds buffeted him. There was no greater feeling the freedom of the open sea. Even as dangerous as the Peridith sea was, it almost felt like home.
I must get that from you, Gran. Too bad I didn’t inherit The Roar in your blood. A slight smile crept onto his face. It had been a while since he had thought about her. Even in her old age, Gran had been fierce. When the Roar overtook her, she was unstoppable.
The red glow of her eyes was almost otherworldly. It was a trait common to all Feraldiath, Mother had inherited it too. Both loved the open sea and hated being on land for too long, it was the one thing Savar had in common with his heritage. Even so, at heart, he was still Sokoran and a Thran.
“It will be several hours yet before we arrive, great Thran.”
Savar turned and eyed the warrior who had spoken. His name was Gren. “Must you interrupt me when I am enjoying the moment, Gren?”
Gren immediately lowered his head and looked away. “Forgive me, Lord,” he replied. “I thought you might want to know of our progress.”
Savaren sighed. The rest of his men were keeping a good pace at the oars. He then turned his attention to the other longships following close by. “Signal them to slow the pace and let the Skied catch up,” he replied. “I want our larger warships to make a show of strength when we arrive at Hurn. Supporting Viktor is the wisest move for all of us.”
Gren nodded, but Savar saw the doubt in his eyes.
“Is there something you wish to tell me, Gren?”
“No, Lord,” he replied. “Your will is law.”
Savar drew his seax, overtaking Gran before he had time to react. Gran froze as the knife was pressed against his throat. “Doubt breeds weakness and uncertainty in the men, Gran,” he said. “Speak your thoughts before there are none left to express.”
“You shouldn’t have to beholden to anyone, great Thran,” Gran stammered. “It should be you ruling Sokoras, not some peddler of the Fern.”
Savar smiled. It was good to know where the man’s loyalties lay. Devotion was one commodity that cannot be bought. “Well, spoken, Gran, but a spider is patient as we must be.” Savar released him and he stumbled forward between the rowers after losing his balance. “Gran, take note and remember this: In order to become strong, there are times when one must serve those who are stronger until they are no longer needed.”
It was almost time. Kala had said she would return for him in the morning. Eadra felt as anxious as she was angry. True to the story, like the scorpion had done to the fox, Issfang had stung her.
He hadn’t said a word or moved from his spot on the floor. Instead, the dragon stared into the hearth where the sun orb sat. He had complained on occasion when they first arrived about the warmth it gave off. But through the night he said nothing. It was as if he was forcing himself to endure it.
What are you thinking? What were you thinking? Did you expect them not to react?
“Do you know what it’s like, Lady Eadra?” he suddenly said. “To feel alone and separate from the rest of the world?”
He turned away from the hearth facing her, his expression empty, and eyes hollow. “Of course you do,” he interrupted. “You are alone too.”
“But I’m not. I have Frey and another…”
“Do you?” he replied. “I have been alone these past five hundred years. I have killed many giants in that time. I tortured them, stared into their eyes as the life slowly drained away. Yet, in all the time, one innocent child has made it all suddenly seem empty.”
“Is that why you did it?”
“ Perhaps. I have no real answer, even as I think of the ones I have already given, I question them,” he replied. “The only thing I am certain of is that I saw a child who deserved better. So I made her better and stronger, even if it was selfish to do so.”
“Do you think I’m selfish then, for taking in Frey?”
The dragon smiled. “I think she is a balm. A means to exonerate yourself of the past,” he replied.
Eadra narrowed her eyes. “Frey is much more than that.”
“Perhaps now, but then what did you really feel?” he asked. “What was it in that moment that made you turn away?”
“Is this another test of my resolve, dragon?”
“No, the tests are over,” he replied. “Either way, we are more similar than I first realized.”
So you think.
“In my home, or rather in the tomb, you saw an opportunity in me and took it,” he said. “Or have you forgotten our bargain?”
“You think I’m using you to get what I want?”
Issfang smiled. “Isn’t that how this world works?” he asked. “People using each other to get what they want? Isn’t that part of the social trade in relationships?”
“I made a tactical decision.”
“Did you?” he asked. “Or was I a tool to save the object of your perceived redemption? He leaned forward. “The one good thing you’ve done in your life?”
Eadra tightened her jaw. It was hard not to hit him across the face. It was doubtful he would even feel it. It was more likely that er hand would break from the attempt. “I could say the same for you, dragon.”
He shrugged, “Who can say? Like it or not, Lady Eadra, we are similar.”
There was a knock at the door and Eadra turned on the bench she was sitting. Mrina stepped into the room, a cold wind blowing in behind her.
“The Elder has made her decision,” she said. The door suddenly burst wide open as Naya pushed past her.
“Issfang!” she shouted running up and hugging him.
Naya’s mother came into view behind Mrina in the doorway. Eadra could see the anger burning in the woman’s eyes. It was the rage of a mother who felt both she and her child had been deeply wronged.
Issfang smiled. “Hello, little one,” he replied embracing her. “Feeling better?”
She nodded. “I feel strange,” she replied. “I don’t get tired like I used to when run.”
Eadra felt her stomach turn at the pride shining in his eyes. “There will be many more firsts for you, little one.”
“Naya, I have let you see your friend,” her mother said. “We should go so that the Tender can speak with our guests.”
There was so much venom in her tone.
Issfang nodded. “Listen to your mother, Naya, she knows best; all mothers do.”
The little girl hugged him again and ran past Mrina with her mother in tow. Eadra looked up at the Tender, who closed the door, then turned to Issfang. Her sharp elven features were hard and stoic.
“Blood Oath,” she said. “That is the condition and her decision.”
“If I refuse?” he replied.
“Then you will be executed for the harm you’ve done to Naya and to the grove,” she replied.
He suddenly became hard to read, but Eadra could tell he was weighing his options. He had deceived her once and proven to be very clever. No doubt in his complex mind he was playing out scenarios.
I would probably do the same if I were in your position. The fact she had even entertained the thought, only made her feel more disgusted. I’m nothing like you.
“Your trap was well played Elf,” he replied.
Eadra turned, glancing at Mrina. Something wasn’t right.
“My trap?” she responded.
Issfang grinned, “Mark this moment well, Eadra and consider our prior conversation,” he said looking toward her. “Everyone uses each other to gain something,” he added. “Elves are no exception. They play the game of Kings better than anyone.”
Eadra narrowed her eyes. “What does he mean, Mrina?”
“She goaded me, lied to me and used me,” he interjected. “I bet she even suggested the Blood Oath to bind me into the Grove’s service.”
Mrina’s expression remained empty and stoic.
“I never imagined your delusions ran so deep,” the Tender replied. “The oath will ensure no harm comes to anyone in the grove.”
The sinister smile etching it’s way onto the dragon’s face gave Eadra chills. “Naya, ensures I do no harm to the grove. Pray nothing ever happens to her after what you are about to force me to agree upon.”
Mrina curled her lip in response. “More delusions, you acted of your own accord,” she replied.
“And you lied,” Issfang shot back. “I could sense it once the ritual began, but by that time it was too late. Naya, while low in potential, wasn’t as weak as you led me to believe.” He stepped closer until the two of them were eye to eye.
“You may have had no idea what I was capable of, or what I would do, yet you still tried to manipulate me,” he added. “ Well, you succeeded. For that, I was the fool, and deserve my fate. “You, however, are an even greater fool, and I will show you how foolish you are, little girl.”
“Did you really do this, Mrina?” Eadra asked.
Her face never cracked. Her eyes showed no emotion and her body gave no tells.
“I do what I must for the grove,” she replied. “But again, these are but accusations of a mad dragon.”
Issfang laughed. “Madness often brings clarity, child, but lead the way nonetheless. I have a little sister to teach,” he said and stepped away. “And if you’re curious, I would have helped you regardless, both for Naya’s sake and for Eadra’s.”
Mrina opened the door and stepped through. Issfang followed her, stopping halfway through the doorway and turned. “Eadra, it doesn’t matter if your reasons for enlisting y aid were selfish or not,” he said in Aetharian. “All that matters is that you see this through to the end.”
He shut the door and Eadra found herself at a loss for words. How did things become so twisted so quickly? Was Issfang in the wrong or worse, was in Mrina who manipulated him or Eldar Kala that put the idea into the young Shaylin’s mind.
It shouldn’t surprise her but for some reason, surprise was the all she could feel. Social trade, give and take. Sokoras has always been about give and take. Something has to change or we can never move forward.