Wulf winced after leaning back in his chair. It was hard to think against fog from the herbs Kala had given him. It made it hard to focus.
Thulm sat beside him at the table, a deep scowl on his face. Kala had already threatened to thrash the man if he didn’t behave. If not for his long beard, he probably might have looked more like a pouting child.
No one had spoken to him or Grazigs of the alliances that were forming. Though that might change if Illhiem speaks with Dag and the others. The trick would be convincing Thulm.
Eadra was sat at the table with them, along with Illhiem’s orc advisor and three of his warriors. Grazigs had been discussing the vision his tribe’s shaman had given him. It was the only reason Thulm was being remotely civil, outside of Kala’s obvious threat.
Grazigs interpretations of the vision were chilling, yet logical. He didn’t know about Issfang and had probably assumed it would be one of the frost giant’s dragons that were be roaring after seeing them.
Eadra had said very little as she listened. It was clear she was analyzing every word.
What are you thinking? Are you just as bothered that I’m mentioned in the vision alongside you and Issfang?”
What was worse, is that according to the vision, it seemed the Aetharian king could still break free of his prison. Wulf shuddered at the thought. A land crawling with undead elves bent on slaughtering everyone at the behest of their mad king.
“With your permission, Lady, I want to ask Volkin and his goblins to look at after you,” Grazigs said.
“I won’t hide,” Eadra said. “I came here to stop Viktor and save my daughter.”
Her eyes were fierce. Wulf cut a slight smile. I remember that gaze in the Tomb. Her words had caught the innkeeper’s attention, though he didn’t seem like the type to run off and report them.
Grazigs seemed curious about her response. “But if you die, all hope is lost,” the orc replied. “I’m certain of it.”
“Then I won’t die.”
Eadra’s face hardened. You would have thought Grazigs to have frowned at her or become insistent in response. In typical orc fashion, however, he simply laughed.
“If it weren’t taboo, I’d take you as my wife, Shaylin!” he said. “You have the heart of a warrior.”
Wulf snickered, it was different seeing Eadra caught off guard.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Eadra replied curtly.
I wonder what he would say if an illusion weren’t hiding her true appearance.
“You should!”Grazigs commented. “I don’t often give others praise.”
Eadra smiled slightly. “Then you honor me,” she replied in orcish.
Grazigs laughed again.“Perhaps some taboos are worth breaking.”
Eadra smirked.“Get in line, my heart belongs to another.”
Understanding them was rough, but not impossible. My orcish isn’t as rusty as I thought.
Wulf leaned forward, folded his hands and placed them on the table. “So what are Illhiem’s plans Grazigs? We know he can’t stand alone.”
“I won’t know until he had met with the other Thran, Huntsman Wulf,” Grazigs answered. “All I can say is that he will be fighting. One way or another.”
“Do you think he would try to contract us to aid him?”
The orc curled his lip, revealing the pointed canines behind his tusks. “He knows your rules, Huntsman. You don’t take part in wars,” he replied. “You value your autonomy too much. The Rangers look after themselves first and foremost.”
Grazigs’ eyes radiated his opinion clearly. Wulf felt a slight twinge in heart as it mixed with the slow burn of anger. The orc had essentially accused him and the Rangers of cowardice.
Thulm suddenly burst into laughter. “At last someone else who speaks sense!” he roared.
“Thran Thulm…” Kala chimed in from where she was sitting at the bar.
Wulf shuddered, a chill pricking his spine. Her tone was all too familiar. A wise man would recognize it and close his mouth.
Thulm curtly glanced over his should at her. “Threaten me all you like woman, but facts are facts.”
A low growl came from the bar.
“Elder,” Mrina said, speaking up. “Please be calm.”
Wulf heard his wife sigh.
“Fine,” she said.
Grazigs seemed to find the exchange amusing enough to lighten his mood. “As I said, we know we are on our own.”
“Not as much as you think,” Eadra said.
“Because you’re going to kill Viktor?” he asked.
Eadra leaned forward. “If that’s what it takes to save my little girl.”
A dark toothy smile crossed the orc’s face. “Had anyone else said this to me, I would have called them a fool,” he responded. “But you…I believe.” He glanced around the room, his smile never wavering as he turned to Kala, then Mrina. Wulf saw a fire in the orc's eyes when their gazes met. “You’re going to help her aren’t you?”
Thulm’s expression quickly changed. He was genuinely intrigued. “Is this why the Rangers abandoned us?” he asked. “You’ve been plotting to kill Viktor from the very start.”
Wulf glanced at the bar. Tavrik had stopped cleaning it, his attention drawn to the conversation. The innkeeper simply nodded and left for the kitchen.
I can see why you trust him, Eadra. He understands things clearly.
“We were the first to learn what Viktor was really up to,” Wulf replied. “Eirik was actually the first and he has more of a vendetta against Viktor than anyone.”
“You play a dangerous game,” Thulm commented. “The other Thran will see it as a threat to them.”
“Some of them already know.”
Thulm seemed hesitant, concern showed on his face. Grazigs was more curious. He leaned forward, elbows propped up on the table as he rested his head in his hands.
“What has Viktor done?” Thulm asked.
“He had found a way to make a potion that enslaves others to his will. He has been planning to use it to enslave us all and rule Sokoras.”
Thulm’s eyes shone with rage. “Then the frost giants…”
“Are already his.” It was understandable to see him so angry. There was no love for the giants in Sokoras, but Thulm had a special hatred for them. They were the reason for his father’s death so many years ago.
“So one way or another he plans to rule us,” Thulm responded, his tone grim.
“He’s been experimenting, I’m certain of it,” Eadra chimed in. “The potion, drug or whatever you prefer to call it won’t be all if he’s allowed to continue. Viktor is cautious. He only bets on something when he’s certain of a win. If forced to wait years, he will.”
Thulm glanced at her suspiciously. “How do you know this?” he asked. “Who exactly are you.”
“My name is, Deshara,” Eadra replied. “I was once a member of the Blades.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” he replied, his tone filled with skepticism. “No one escapes the Blades.”
“Only the dead,” she replied. “As far as they know that’s what I am.”
“Then you either fearless or foolish for walking where they can plainly see otherwise.”
“They see what they want.”
Thulm didn’t look convinced. Wulf couldn’t blame him. The man was already weighing the risks, that much was obvious. He didn’t have much of an army, nor the funds to retain one.
Thulm’s territory sat the closest to the Northern Isles and Norenheim. So when it came to war, everyone who could fight did. It was why he was so dependant on the Rangers. Over the decades he had worked a barter system to pay for the aid he needed.
“What do you offer?” he asked.
The silence was stifling. Wulf felt like a knife had just been plunged into his heart. He blinked, realizing his hand had grazed the hilt of the Aetharian blade sheathed at his hip. A brief calm settled over him, the haze from the herbs clearing.
Wulf opened his mouth, but Eadra spoke first.
“A new beginning,” she replied.
“Empty words,” he shot back. “Unless you can back them up.”
“A kingship, then.”
Wulf could practically feel the tension in the room spike. She had no right to offer something like that! None of them would agree! Yak scrag, I don’t even agree!
“No,” Thulm replied, his face growing hard and stern. “I’m no king, nor do I want to be. I lead my people, that is all.”
Eadra smiled. “I wouldn’t serve someone who would readily accept such an offer.”
“Then my question remains,” he replied.
“A new future, one capable of facing what the vision speaks is coming,” she answered. “Grazigs is correct. Divided, we all die. Even if some of us rally, it won’t be enough.
“And you have the answer?”
Eadra nodded. “But we need to stop Viktor first or none of this will matter.”
Wulf sat back in his chair, arms crossed. She once said Sokoras needs a king, but never really explained why there has to be one. The other Thran will never agree to let someone rule them.
“She speaks the truth, mighty Thran.”
Mrina stepped away from the bar and knelt beside him. She seemed so different. It was still hard to get used to or understand what had changed her.
Kala had said something had transpired between Mrina and Eadra. That while Eadra was wracked with pain, Mrina had agreed to something. Once the two of them clasped hands, the young Shaylin fell into a trance.
Since then, there was a humility about her, one trailed by a sense of uncertainty. It was as if she saw the world and her place in it much differently than before. Maybe a better way to put it was that Mrina was scared the task was too big but had readily accepted it nonetheless.
Thulm was eying her skeptically. His dark brown eyebrows drawn together as he stared at her. “Are you saying this on behalf of Yggsid or yourself?” he asked.
“I speak on behalf of my sister and myself. Not as a druid of Yggsid,” she replied. “I speak as a Vakari.”
Wulf caught a hint of curiosity from Grazigs as he silently watched. What are you thinking?
Thulm leaned toward Mrina locking eyes with her. He narrowed them, staring intently into her brown orbs. He was studying her, looking for any hint that she was trying to deceive him.
“I agree,” he said. “But, you, Wulf, will owe me a favor,” he added, turning around.
Wulf nodded. “I’m prepared for whatever you ask of me.”
“No, you aren’t, but time will tell,” Thulm replied. He stood, then tucked the chair under the table. “I’ve decided to meet with Illhiem, Grazigs,” he said. “I trust you can lead me to him?”
“Of course, great Thran,” the orc replied. Grazigs stood, then politely bowed. “Till next me meet,” he said to everyone.
Wulf glanced at Mrina, then to Eadra. Mrina had already returned to her seat at the bar. Both women seemed consumed by their own thoughts as Grazigs and Thulm left. I can’t help but feel none of this is going to go the way we think.
He looked at Kala trying to gauge what she might be feeling when the thought suddenly occurred to him. Where’s Issfang?