There wasn’t much left of Haejenyar. The snow had done a fine job of covering over the sins of the past. A few buildings still stood out, at least what was left of them. Eadra shuddered, it was almost as if they were standing out as an act of defiance. Even if the people could no longer scream of what happened, the very stones would cry out for them.
She took a breath, shoving aside the memories of that horrible day and turned after feeling Mrina softly touch her shoulder.
“You aren’t Her anymore, Sister,” she said.
Eadra smiled and placed her hand over Mrina’s. “I know, but being here now isn’t easy.” Eadra glanced over toward the treeline. The hovel she had found Frey in was long gone save for the bits of foundation the fires of that night hadn’t burned away. “I found my daughter there and my life has never been the same.”
“The Dantaus has his role to play in The Cycle, Whereas his mother, The Lady, gives life and the Keeper takes life, He renews what was taken, so that new life can begin again.”
Eadra smirked. “Are you trying to make me a convert?” she teased.
Mrina winked, “Maybe a little.”
“Thank you though, Mrina, I do feel better.” Eadra glanced up noting that even though Kala’s focus was on the horizon to the east, the elder druid was keenly aware of the conversation.
Wulf stood with her, his attention focused on the ruins, while Issfang simply leaned against one of the ruined buildings nearby. It was strange though, as much as he tried to hide it, the dragon kept looking west toward the grove.
Eadra smiled. You can’t fool me, dragon. There’s a heart deep within you, even if you don’t want to admit it.
The call of a snow owl drew their attention. “He comes,” Kala announced as the owl flew away from them and toward the west.
Issfang immediately tensed, becoming more alert and Wulf dropped his hand on the hilt of the Aetharian sword he had taken from the tomb. Kala had pulled her fur cloak over her shoulders to hide her hands and arms.
Eadra glanced toward Mrina. “Are you ready?”
Mrina nodded. “I suppose I have to be,” she replied, dropping her hands to the hilts of her ironwood swords.
Eadra looked toward the horizon just as a line of dire wolf riders came into view. After a few moments, she thought her heart might stop when she realized Jormund was riding with them.
“I know, I’m just curious myself,” the elder druid replied.
As they drew closer she counted close to one hundred riders. The wolves were wearing heavy barding to protect their most vital points. Still, their hides were thick enough to resist most arrows from sinking too deeply. It was clear both Henrik and Jormund were planning on making a statement to Viktor.
Once they were closer, Eadra saw the men under the command of both Thran were well equipped. Their hide armor had chainmail woven into it. Even their weapons were of higher quality. Eadra could tell they had been forged with Absonian hands.
Henrik looked so much older and worn than she remembered. His beard was as white as the snow and his brown eyes showed the long years of battling frost giants on the border. They were eyes that gave no pity to an enemy.
Kala bowed as both Thran dismounted. It was then Eadra noted only of the handful of men here belonged to Jormund. Curious.
“I’m grateful that you have given me an opportunity to meet with you,” Kala said as he rose to look them in the eye.
“Viktor’s actions always draw attention, as do his ambitions,” Jormung replied. “And who might the rest of your little band be?”
Kala turned toward Eadra and held her hand out. “I will let them speak for themselves.”
It was ironic, Eadra could shake how intimidated both Thran made her feel. Henrik especially. I’ve faced murderers, frost giants and everything else Sokoras has to throw at me. Yet these two… She took a breath. “I am Eadra, former Blade and Second to Bodvar.”
At the mention of Bodvar and the Blades, Henrik’s eyes shone with curiosity.
“Former Blade,” he mused. “Now that is a tale I would like to hear, young lady.”
“The man beside you needs no introduction, Eldar,” Jormund commented.
The acid in his tone was clear. Wulf frowned but said nothing. What could he say? The Rangers had broken their contracts.
“I’m sure his presence here means he has an explanation, Henrikson,” Henrik responded. “At least, it better be.”
“Everything will be explained, in its proper order,” Kala chimed in as mrina stepped forward next.
“My name is, Mrina, I’m a Tender of Ygsidd Grove. Eadra is my sister and fellow Vakari.”
Eadra glanced back toward Issfang. To the others, he might have appeared uninterested in the conversation, but Issfang was keenly aware and alert.
“I don’t have to introduce myself,” he replied. “Especially not to humans who hide their true numbers.”
Eadra smiled. Clever, Isssfang.
Jormund narrowed his eyes, his cheeks flushing in anger. “You dare say I’m here under false pretense.”
Issfang smiled, then faded, becoming partially transparent. “I have been watching you from the skies,” he replied. “Not all of your men are mounted. There is another group following you from a distance and not from the camp you left behind.”
Henrick turned. “Secure the perimeter and send a scout to find out who is following!” his wolf riders quickly sprang into action about the village ruins. One of them sped off in search of who had been tailing them.
Kala closed her eyes. She was about to summon an elemental when Eadra saw Jormund reach out to stop her.
“The ones following are not with us, but it is true we did leave those who were not mounted to make camp until we returned.”
“I would not have thought you were out to deceive me,” she replied. “I simply intend to be prepared for who may be coming.”
“Humans,” Issfang sneered. “ I’ll just kill them all.”
“Issfang! No, now isn’t the time!”
His illusionary form sighed. Whether it was an expression of his thoughts or not, Eadra wasn’t sure. “Please tell me I’ll get to fight something soon, Eadra,” he groaned.
Henrik laughed. “For a crafty Shaylin, you seem to like direct confrontation,” he commented. “I like this wizard of yours, Eadra.”
It was Issfang’s turn to laugh next. “She still owes me frost giant blood,” he replied, then commenting in Aetharian. “If he only knew what I was.”
Henrik smiled. “If you are that eager to kill those brutes, you are welcome to visit my domain as much as you please, wizard.”
One glance at Issfang and one might have thought you had offered him his life’s dream. Eadra shook her head and signed. He’s going to be hard to live with now. Even if having him take contracts for the Rangers was originally the plan.
Several minutes passed as Henrik’s scout came into view speeding toward them. Issfang’s illusionary form had solidified, but whether he was actually standing there was the real question. If it was an illusion, it was still powerful enough to make you believe it to be real.
Kala had summoned an elemental but had hidden it in the snow. Mrina was guarded with her hands on her ironwood swords. It was comforting to see she was less afraid of them. In their sessions, Vala’s training had begun to show. The young Shaylin was slowly accepting who she had become.
Wulf stood protectively in front of Kala, while Jormund and Henrik took to the front line of their riders. The faces of both men were as hard as iron. It was hard not to think that Viktor had somehow gotten wind of their meeting and had come to investigate.
“It’s Dag!” the scout shouted once he was close enough.
Both Thran looked at each other, then over their shoulders at Kala.
“I never sent word, I wasn’t certain if he would listen,” she replied.
“It seems, that you might have the opportunity to try, Elder Kala,” Henrik replied.
Dag scanned Haejenyar’s ruins. They were prepared to fight. Henrik had placed his men around the outskirts to flank the moment something went wrong. Wulf was here as well, along with Eldar Kala. The others weren’t familiar.
“I think it strange that we meet in such an inhospitable place,” he commented. “And under Viktor’s nose.”
Henrik strode forward on his dire wolf. The brute’s gray-white coat and ominous dark eyes focused on him. “Do you plan to tell him, Dag?” Henrik asked. “It seems these days there are many suddenly seeking his favor.”
“That depends on you and Jormund, Henrik. These days we have to do what we must to protect our own.”
Jormund dismounted and approached. Dag eyed him warily as he held his hands out as a sign of peace. “That is why we’re here, Dag.,” he said. “For years he has spoken of a united Sokoras un one rule. Some like Savar have heeded his words and thrown their lot in with him. Others have resisted. This time, however, I fear that whatever make come, change is on the wind.”
Dag glanced at Wulf, “You speak of change, why not ask that man, there, of change? Ask him about the jeopardy he and his own have placed my people in?!”
The Shaylin dressed in white robes sneered. Dag bit his tongue, the pain acted as a restraint for his anger. The blonde woman near him held her hand out to him as she scolded him.
“You have something to add, elf?”
The Shaylin in white laughed. “How typical for a human to resort to slurs to show his disapproval with someone.”
“No more typical that for your kind to show how arrogant and dismissive they are!”
The elf opened his mouth when the woman held her hand up as if she meant to slap him. The elf in turn simply frowned and leaned back against the wall of one of the ruined homes.
Dag shifted his attention to Elder Kala as she stepped forward. “Wulf has his reasons, just like we all have our reasons for being here,” she said. “Viktor has greatly deceived us.”
Dag narrowed his eyes. “How?”
The blonde woman spoke up, drawing his attention. “Because years ago I left something in his possession I should not have,” she said. “Viktor plans to use these tomes influence this meeting of the Thran in his favor.”
Dag frowned. “And who might you be that I should listen? We all know that the reason everyone is attending this farce is for show. No one except for Savar will do anything. We will talk, argue, drink and go our separate ways. Nothing has changed.”
The woman curled her lip. “Everything has changed, you foolish idiot! Viktor has a drug in his possession that can enchant the minds of those who imbibe it. They will be totally enamored by him.”
Dag clenched his fists. Very few have spoken to me like that and walked away.
“If you must know, My name is Livia Servius. My father was Aegest Servius. Though my Sokoran name is simply Eadra. That was the name Bodvar gave me when I joined the Blades.”
An Absonian and a former Blade. “You hide your accent well, Eadra. You must have come here at a young age.” It was most curious how she managed to survive Bodvar’s judgment. Rumors of what he does to deserters were legendary. “How praytell did he come by such a thing?”
“My father was an apothecary, he loved knowledge in all its forms. He was particularly fascinated by the Aethar. He made it a hobby of collecting or recovering any tomes believed to be owned by them.”
Dag glanced at Jormung and Henrik. Both men were intently listening to what she had to say. “Such tomes would have long decayed by now.”
“The Aethar were highly skilled in both magic and what some call science,” she replied. “Their most important works of knowledge were crafted to survive for millennia. In my pursuits to continue what my father started I scoured Sokoras for such tomes.”
The regret on her face was genuine. Liars came and went to the gallows but this woman, she was telling the truth. “And Viktor managed to figure out this potion of yours from these tomes?”
“That is partly due to us,” Elder Kala chimed in. “We had no idea he was perverting the medicinal uses of The Fern for such a terrible thing.”
“She speaks truthfully, mighty Thran,” the other elf cut in. “My name is Mrina, I am a Tender at Yggsid. I am one of many who care for the fields at the Grove. We are taught many different techniques both magical and practical in nurturing plants to grow.”
“So you taught Viktor these secrets?”
She nodded. “We taught him only what was necessary. Yggsid has sworn an oath to aid the people and their leaders. Until Eadra, Issfang and Wulf came to us, we had no idea what he was really planning.”
Dag turned to Wulf. His stance was guarded and his hand was one a strange sword. It was definitely of elven make. The lines were too smooth and perfect to be anything else.
“Is this why you abandoned your contracts and left my people t offend for themselves?”
“One of our oldest traditions was invoked,” he replied. “I thought Shuet was mad at first, but Huntsman Eirik has already confirmed what we know first hand. Viktor has enslaved Eirik’s daughter and beds her often.”
Dag felt his stomach turn. “He has done what?!” His thoughts drifted to his own daughter. It was hard to contain the rage.
Wulf simply nodded calmly. “Viktor has also cast out the Rangers from his domain, we are not permitted to enter unless given his express permission. Eventually, if he has his way we will cease to exist.”
Dag looked at the others, concern was written all over both Jormund’s and Henrik’s faces. Clearly, this was the first they had heard of this. “Some might argue that the way in which the Rangers operate is a bit rogue.”
“Only those who fear to lose what little power they have,” Wulf replied. “We have our oaths, we live and die by them. They are the guarantee we will honor and serve those who call on us.”
Dag sighed. Something was missing, there was definitely a larger part that they weren’t saying. For now, this was still a great deal to take in. “What else do these tomes contain?”
“Advanced building techniques, mathematics, art, history, magical knowledge, botany, medicinal remedies and more,” Eadra replied. “I spent hours pouring over them and learning their secrets. Sometimes Viktor was with me, but even then I didn’t fully trust him. His grasp on the Aetharian tongue is rough and rudimentary.”
“Can he make some of their weapons?”
“Possibly,” she answered. “If he has spent years focusing on this one thing, he may not have fully turned his attention to such thing.”
Dag furrowed his brow. “But he could?”
She nodded. “He could.”
Dag looked up at the sky. Dusk was only a handful of hours away. “I need to think on this. Jormund I know all of your men aren't here, did you make camp somewhere?”
The Thran nodded. “We did,” he replied.
“Then we should encamp together and discuss this more.” Dag turned to Eadra. “I want to know everything, Including the parts you aren’t telling me.”
“Once we get to Jormund’s camp, I will tell you everything you wish.”
“Then we had better hurry, dusk is only a handful of hours away for those of us on foot.”