Frey felt helpless as Arald trained the others. His methods weren’t nearly as cruel as Bodvar’s. At least he was more patient. He was pairing them off, teaching to fight in skirmishes against one another. Unlike Bodvar, who insisted on real weapons, they were using practice ones.
Still, the look on the other kids’ faces was as heartbreaking as it was to watch. It was one of complete acceptance. At least that’s how Eijar had described it. They had given up and with nowhere to go, accepted their fate. Budir had been burnt to the ground, their families and friends slain, and lives uprooted.
Not all of the children taken from the village were here. The oldest ones, those who were closest to being adults, had been left behind at Rauld to work the plantation’s Fern fields. Those who were left were only a few winters older than her.
Frey couldn’t remember their names. Her chores had always made it difficult to get to know any of the other kids. Most of her friends had been the adults at the bar. At the time, they had seemed enough.
She clenched her small fists. They don’t deserve this! Eijar had warned her to keep her distance. The protection from the man he called Viktor offered, only extended so far. At least, that what he had said.
She glanced over her shoulder. Two of Viktor’s men stood nearby. Their eyes ever watchful for anyone who got to close. She touched her skeggox where it was fastened to the loop on her belt. It was strange, sometimes it was hard to remember it was even there.
“You stupid pile of yak scriv!” Arald shouted.
Frey snapped her attention back to the present. Arald was stomping through the snow toward one of the kids closer to her age.
“Do you want to die!” he shouted. “Do you want to lie in a heap while your guts are spilling into the snow, mixing with your own blood and piss!”
Frey grabbed the haft of her skeggox, squeezing it. The boy looked like he was about to cry. He flinched when Arald pulled his arm back to slap him.
“At least you understand what happens when you don’t listen,” he said lowering his arm. “This,” he added, grabbing the small sword the boy held, “is what keeps you alive. A dead Blade is a useless Blade. You watch your Blademate’s back in battle.”
The moment the boy relaxed, thinking he had avoided punishment, Arald swung. The boy spun around falling facefirst into the snow, his wooden sword landed a few feet away.
Frey jumped to her feet, skeggox drawn and shield ready. She felt a warmth, starting from her chest, begin spreading throughout her small body. When her steely gaze met with Arald, she could only hear screams.
Her eyes stung, her heartbreak deepening. He’s hurt so many! Killed so many.
Arald turned after noticing her. He wore a wicked smile and curved across his face. “Is the little princess angry?” he taunted. “Has she come to fight ole Arald?”
Frey gripped the haft of her skeggox. “Leave him alone!”
Arald smiled wider, revealing some of his rotten teeth. “So, after a couple of months of training with Bodvar, you suddenly think you can take me on?”
The heat in her chest was building. The screams of his victims growing louder. Is this what Eijar hears? “I think you have hurt enough people!”
He started laughing, his eyes showing how little he cared for her words. “Go sit your hairy yak rump down you little tart!”
Frey took another step closer. I’ll show you what I’ve learned. Arald’s laughter was suddenly cut short.
She stopped and turned to find Eijar shoving his way past her guardians.
“Don’t,” he said. “You can’t do this.”
“But, Eijar… He…”
Eijar knelt down and pulled her close. “You aren’t ready,” he whispered into her ear. “I know how you feel, but you can’t. This is not why I am teaching you these things.”
“Then why are you teaching me?”
“To make you strong,” he softly replied. “Strong enough to survive until your mother comes.”
“How touching,” Arald sneered. “Not take that scriv elsewhere! I have Blades to teach!”
She felt Either suddenly pull away and looked up as he stood. His face was hard, like stone, but there was a frightening fire in his eyes.”
“Arald, you should know when you keep your mouth shut!” Eijar said.
Arald curled his lip in disgust. “You never did know your place, Eijar,” he commented, drawing his sword.
“No, I do,” Eijar replied casually lifting up his right hand.
It was hard to tell if Arald saw it or not, but Frey saw a small flame in the palm of Eijar’s hand. The cruel man was clearly afraid though, the way he held his sword was unsteady.
“Nothing to confess,” he replied, a half smile on his face. It was clear by the tone of his voice he was lying.
Even looking at Eijar’s back, Frey felt as if he was smiling.
“Good,” he said turning his back. “I don’t waste my time with cowards anyway.”
Arald narrowed his eyes, anger radiating in them. Eijar turned his back to the man and as soon as he did, Arald charged with his sword held high. Eijar quickly spun, grabbed him by the arm and tossed him to the ground.
Frew stood there in awe at how quickly he moved. The former inquisitor was already on top of Arald with his hand pressed to the cruel man’s face. “There’s a saying in Absion, Arald. Confession is good for the soul!”
Frey’s eyes opened wide as she saw Eijar’s hand suddenly wreathed in flames. The look on his face though was nothing short of joy. “Eijar! No!”
Eijar paused, the flames around his hand slowly dying.
“There have been enough people hurt,” she said. “Punishing him won’t bring them back.”
Eijar looked down at Arald, Frey could see it on his face. Letting him go was torture. It was as if it were against his nature. “Then, I will leave him with this…”
Frey watched as he pressed his index finger against Arald’s forehead. The cruel man screamed as smoke rose from it. He fought against Eijar, trying to stop him, but it was futile. Eijar didn’t budge.
“You’ve been marked, Arald,” he said. “Where ever you go, people will know you for the murderer you are. You will never find peace for the rest of your days.”
He rose to his feet, leaving Arald laying in the snow, tears streaming down the man’s face as he touched his forehead. Eijar strode toward Frey and held his hand out to her.
“What…did you do?”
He looked down, his eyes showing the struggle raging inside him. “I gave him a Mark of Mortum. It is one of the things we are taught as Inquisitors,” Eijar replied. “Now, anyone who looks upon him will know he has murdered others. He will live the rest of his days as a pariah.”
Frey reached out taking his hand. “What’s a pariah?”
“An outcast,” Eijar answered as they started walking back toward the hall.
Frey glanced over her shoulder, Arald was still laying in the snow. He was whimpering now. The other children were simply staring at him. Some seemed expectant. It was as if once Arald came to himself they would start again.
Mama, when you come, we should take them with us.