Grenden glanced at the other campfires around him. Somehow fifty warriors didn’t feel like enough. He leaned in closer to the fire he had started. The warmth was nice and he closed his eyes allowing his mind to drift away from the troubles to come.
A slight smirk crossed his face as he wondered what it would be like to bathe in the flames without coming to harm. What would it feel like? Would there be anything to feel if the fire couldn’t harm you?
How much of its warmth would actually affect you I wonder?
He almost laughed as the image of his father came to him. Grenden, you’re such a dreamer. The old man had said it often. It was true though. Dreams were what gave men hope and pushed them to reach further.
“Thran Ull,” someone whispered.
Grenden sighed. “Denmir, why do you always feel the need to interrupt me?” The confusion on the man’s face was comical.
“Forgive me, my Thran, but you didn’t appear to be doing anything,” Denmir replied.
Grenden sighed and rolled his eyes. “What is it Denmir?”
“Some of the men have been whispering, Sire,” he replied. “They wonder what you intend to do?”
“What I must to protect our homes, Denmir.”
Denmir turned his attention to the flames. “Surna is pregnant,” he said suddenly. “She told me before we left.”
“Denmir, that’s wonderful news!”
The warrior nodded. “It is, but I wonder if I will return home to see my child,” he replied.
“I’m not a smart man, my Thran, but I’m no fool either. We all know who Savar intends to side with.”
I can’t blame them for being scared. I’m frightened too. Grenden stared at the fire as it burned and devoured the pinewood into charcoal. “Denmir, take my horse and go home.”
The man mouth fell open. “My Thran…I…”
“Go home, Denmir.” Grenden kept his face stoic, but regretted sounding as harsh as he had. Still, Denmir simply stared, his face hardening.
“No, my Thran, I cannot abandon you,” he replied. “It would be the act of a coward and I could never look the others in the face once they return. I would be living my life in shame.”
Grenden turned to the other men sitting with them. There were four in all. Each held stern expressions, their eyes showing them to be resolute.
Grenden stood, then knelt.
“No, my Thran!” Denmir shouted. “You mustn’t!”
Grenden could feel the eyes of the other on him. “Mark this day!” he shouted. “A leader who lacks humility is no leader at all! I am honored to march with you come what may!”
Shouts rang out around him and when he looked up, Grenden saw that all of his men were kneeling as well. He stood and surveyed the scene. “For whom do we fight?!”
“For our homes, our families and our people,” they replied reverently.
“Even if it costs us our lives?”
“Our lives are nothing if we cannot fight to protect what’s important,” they replied.
Grenden smiled. “Stand,” he said. His men did as they were bidden, their eyes on him. “I cannot say what Viktor has planned. But know that I will not betray our people. If siding with him means protecting our homes, then that will be what we must do.”
It was in their eyes, the unease mixed with loyalty. Grenden wanted to weep for them, but everyone here knew what was at stake. If the other Thran sided with Viktor, then they would have no choice but to do the same. Standing alone meant death. Solidarity meant life.
Savar’s feud with Illhiem would only last for so long. It would be foolish to think otherwise. Still, it had granted precious time. The snake wouldn’t have an easy time invading on his own now, not without help.
Grenden looked beyond their camp and toward the horizon. Grunier lay just beyond it as did their future. Let us pray to whichever Immortal that cares to listen. I hope the other Thran aren’t so foolish as Savar.
“It’s Henrik an his Riders, my Thran!”
Dag shifted his gaze from Torgg, his Second. “Have they noticed us?”
Torgg shook his head. “No, but Jormund and his men ride with him…”
“With him?!” It was hard to believe, but these were strange days. Have they formed an alliance?! A scout had reported weeks ago that Henrik had moved a large force across Jormund’s border. What are you plotting, old man?
“Where are they heading?”
“The ruins of Haejenyar,” he replied.
Haejenyar? Why? Dag looked behind him. Forty men stood with him. They were all he could spare without the Rangers to aid in protecting the border. “Follow them, we will keep our distance. No doubt they will reach Haejenyar ahead of us.”
“Do you think they are planning something?” Torgg asked.
“I don’t think anything, Torgg, I know.”
Torgg simply nodded and ran. The dire wolves were leagues faster, but he was a skilled tracker. It was how he earned his keep.
Let’s see where the snows take us.”
The cold Sorkoras air bit through the thick furs and hides he wore. There must be a front moving in from the Peridith Sea to the north. Thulm looked back at the wagons behind him. His men looked tired, the long shifts keeping watch for frost giant incursions to the north had worn them down.
I’m going to gut Wulf for this! Perhaps Viktor was right after all. The Rangers need someone to ensure they perform adequately.
He felt his stomach turn at the notion of agreeing with one of Viktors notions, but the evidence spoke for itself. Even now there were barely fifteen of his own men with him. Every other able-bodied man, both young and old, was doing everything they could to keep their homes safe.
Thulm shuddered at the notion of going into Grunier so defenseless. The other Thran would have twice as many of their own with them, Henrik included. He gripped the reins until a groan from the yak pulled the wagon caught his attention. Thulm loosened his grip, allowing the yoke to ease up on the poor beast.
“Fear not, my Thran, we will have our answers soon.”
“Jorn, let us hope,” he replied looking to his left.
Jorn was young, barely past twenty winters. He was one of many who had answered the call to arms. Am I forced to enlist children now?
“Jorn, if there’s a fight to be had, stay behind me.”
The young man frowned. Disappointment shone on his face. “But I must fight to protect you,” he replied. “How can I return home knowing that I simply hid?”
His eagerness was touching. “Boy, if a fight happens, I fear that many of us will only end up on pyres and our ashes scattered into the wind.”
“Then is that is Karien’s wish, let the Keeper come for me.”
Thulm smiled. “You actually give homage to that fickle Immortal?”
“She is change and she is war,” Jorn replied. “I have heard you whisper of change, how could she not be part of it?”
Thulm chuckled. Ah, youth. “Then so be it. Let us hope you know how to use that skeggox of yours for more than chopping wood.”
The young man’s face hardened. “I am Sorkoran,” he said. “Life here is hard and the weak end up in the snows.”
Thulm could only nod. Truer words were never spoken.