Kala balled her fists as she stared at him. The urge to punch him overwhelming. You stupid oaf! Wulf new better, there could have been another way…
Both Wulf and Thulm were laying on pallets on the floor. The herbs they had been given for the pain would ensure they remained sleeping for several hours. It also ensured both men didn’t get any other stupid ideas.
They had lost a lot of blood. Thulm would have a nasty scar on his left shoulder. The incants and herbs helped aid the mending process.
Wulf’s wounds had added more to the collection of scars number already decorating his body. Kala winced, touching her chest. It was painful to think about how close she had come to losing him. She had almost lost him.
She glanced at the window. Thulm’s men had been standing guard outside at the inn’s entrance. Not that it mattered for any new guests. Tavrik, The Grey Beard’s owner, had seen to that.
Eadra had been true to her word. Tavrik had provided lodging for them. He’d even gone as far as to remove some of his guests to accommodate the other druids who came with them.
Thulm’s men had paid for everything, surprisingly. Which Tavrek happily accepted. Still, the tale the Issfang had spun about Eadra was extraordinary. As liars went, the dragon’s ability to deceive was a gift, but it was also unsettling.
Tavrik hung on every word, it was as if he saw Eadra as his own daughter. Truth be told the man was old enough. Kala found her thoughts turning back to Issfang’s stories. He told of the things she had done in the last six years since her disappearance. Of the people she saved, and beasts she slew to rescue him and others.
His recount of her fight with a frost dragon was especially dubious, but the old man ate it up anyway. The tale finished with Bodvar and his blades catching up to her for abandoning them and how she died to protect an innocent child. He even told Tavrik where she was buried.
By this point the man was in tears, offering whatever they needed in Eadra’s memory. Kala frowned, it wasn’t right lying to such a good man. It was easy to see from the pained expression on his face how much Tavrik had loved Eadra.
She sat at the table by the window, her fingers unintentionally brushing against the hilt of the Aetharin blade Wulf had used in the fight. She recoiled, pulling her hand away as a deep sense of displeasure washed over her. It was like a cold lingering chill had penetrated her spirit.
You don’t like me, do you? It was strange, but it was the only thought that made sense. As if the sword were jealous. She closed her eyes and took her hand, hovering it over the sword.
The flow of magic coursing through the blade was overwhelming. It was like surging tide. The energies were much different from those she knew as a druid. They were primal but raw. Natural, but not. There was a hint of the rigid, ordered nature that was so often associated with the arcane intertwined within it.
Even so, one thing was clear. The sword was alive, aware and connected to her husband. The displeasure Kala sensed moments before suddenly shifted, transforming into anger. The kind of anger one would feel if their privacy were being intruded upon.
Kala thought of crypt Eadra had spoken of. Where the ancient Aetharian king was entombed. Husband, I pray to the Lady that this thing doesn’t connect you to all of that.
There was shouting coming from the window. Kala turned her attention toward the world outside of it and saw Thulm’s men arguing with members of the Blades. Viktor stood with them.
He stepped forward, his expression was hard and unyielding. Unlike the others, he wasn’t shouting making his voice wasn’t inaudible. Regardless, whatever he had said was enough to make Thulm’s men stand aside to let them pass.
Kala narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Why you here?
She stood, making her way out of the room and toward the stairs at the end of the hall. Viktor she saw Viktor and his Blades step into the inn’s main room. A wave of relief wash over her after noting that Eirik and Shuet weren’t present.
Wulf had told her about what happened to Ylva, Eirik’s daughter. It was sickening. She locked eyes with Viktor, the urge to vomit welling up from her stomach. How do you sleep?
He smiled wide upon seeing her, approaching with his arms held out invitingly. “Ah, Elder Kala!” he said with genuine excitement in his tone. “I’m so happy to see you.”
Kala politely grasped his hands and fought her way through a smile. “And you as you well.”
“I heard of the terrible business between Thulm and your husband,” he replied. “I pray that The Lady has shown them favor and that the Keeper’s shadow doesn’t hang over them.”
“They well, good Thran, thank you for asking,” she replied, giving his hands a gentle squeeze. “Thulm nearly lost his arm, but thanks to our efforts, it was saved. He’ll have a nasty scar, however. My husband will also have some of his own to add to his growing collection.”
His smiled never wavered. Kala bit her tongue, her disgust deepening. “The life of a Ranger is perilous. Wulf, Shuet, and Eirik have led fortunate lives,” he responded.
“A Ranger’s life is indeed difficult, but no more than living anywhere else in Sokoras.”
He simply nodded. “Come sit with me,” he offered, gesturing toward one of the tables. “It’s been so long since we last spoke.”
Kala frowned. “You’ll forgive me, but I don’t recall our last conversation as very pleasant…”
Surprisingly, Viktor’s smile held. “Indeed, I was a bit rash, but look around you,” he said, pulling away. “Isn’t this cause for celebration? Sokoras is about to reborn!” With his confidence peaking, he took a seat at the table. “Come, Kala, sit with me.”
Though he tried to veil it, only a fool would miss the subtle hint that it wasn’t a request, but a command, in his tone. So smug and confidant. “If you insist, Viktor.”
He turned to Tavrik. The innkeeper was visibly nervous. He had been watching the Blades ever since they had entered the building with Viktor.
“Bring us something to drink.”
Tavrik nodded and head back toward the inn’s kitchen. He reappeared moments later with a bottle containing a brackish colored ale and two mugs. Viktor was all too happy to uncork it and pour it into the mugs.
“Kala, you need to choose what’s most important,” he said, then placed the bottle on the table. “Change will happen, either for the better or worse. Yggsid can benefit greatly from my support.”
“Would that support include having us grow your precious Fern instead of food? My stance is still the same on that matter. Not one acre of the fields in the caverns can be spared. Not. One.”
His smile broke, but not by much. “Kala, let’s not rehash foolish discussions,” he replied.
Kala tensed, then smiled. Instinct gnawed at her. It would be so easy to Shift and tear his face off. None of the Blades would stand a chance or be able to stop her. “Viktor, what makes you so certain you’ll become High Thran, as you call it?”
He took a drink then placed the mug back on the table and poured himself another. “Because my rise is inevitable and only a fool would deign not to see it,” he replied. “Yggsid may provide much of the food Sokoras needs, but what would happen if the people could no longer be supplied?”
Kala frowned. “What are you up to?”
His smile became a smirk. “I’m simply implying that perhaps it’s time Fern productions was reduced in favor of other crops,” he replied.
“How would they survive, Viktor?”
“Oh, Elder, I can’t divulge all my secrets.” He was so smug, his pleasant demeanor melting away to reveal the Yak scroat beneath. “Just think about it, Kala. Together we could provide all the food the people need, but separately…” he added, leading in his chair, “…there might only be conflict.”
Kala balled her fists under the table. The urge to Shift was rising. She could feel the power of nature coursing through her veins. Viktor had basically thrown down the gauntlet. She could either join him or in time be rendered irrelevant.
Kala tilted her head, giving him a slight nod. “We will see what the others have to say at the banquet and meetings.”
“Oh, we shall,” he replied. “I had hoped to sway you beforehand, but soon you’ll see.”
He lifted his glass and took another drink. “Why don’t you try some?” he offered.
“I will pass for now, but thank you or your offer.”
He smiled, tilted his head in respect and stood. “Until the banquet, Elder.”
In response she stood, bowing respectfully. “Until then, good Thran.”
Kala watched him leave, then glanced at the bottle. “Tavrik, did he put you up to anything?” she asked looking over at him.
“The bottle arrived by one of my messengers an hour ago, Elder,” he replied. “He informed me that our Thran would be visiting and that I should serve it to whomever he was sitting with.”
That conniving bastard! “Tavrik, why did Thulm’s met let the messenger pass?”
“I run letters and such for some of the locals to make a few extra shards,” He replied. “I had to fight tooth and nail with Thran Thulm’s men to let my business continue.”
I shouldn’t be surprised, yet… Kala bit her lip in frustration. “Tavrik, if you value your life, you will pour that swill onto the street!”
“If our lord finds out that I poured out his ale…” he began.
“If your lord does anything against you I will tear his face off with my claws!” She clenched her fists, wincing after realizing hands were already partially transformed.
Kala took a calming breath, trying to stem the flow druidic magic pouring through her. Her hands slowly returned to normal and she cut herself off, centering herself and her emotions. This game is getting dangerous. I’m not sure if any of us are as prepared as we thought…