Helplessnes filled Eijar’s heart when he stepped into his room to find Frey fast asleep in his bed. She was curled up into a ball, her shield covering most of her like a blanket. Only her part of legs and feet poked out from underneath it.
Did you wait for me all day, little one?
A twinge of guilt pricked him. They had spent very little time together since the other Thran and their men had begun arriving. Eijar sat on the edge of the bed and reached out gently brushing her blonde hair away from her eyes.
It had only been a few months, but looking at her now, she seemed taller compared to the day they had first met. Frey had grown. There fire in her eyes had become brighter. She had heart as well, it wasn’t easy for one so young to find her footing.
Eadra, something tells me you’d be so proud of her. I doubt she’d be here if not for how you raised her.
Frey stirred bringing a soft smile to his face. “What kind of girl will you be ten years from now I wonder?” he whispered. Frey rolled over, her shield slipping from her grasp. Eijar quickly caught it before it could crash against the floorboards. He took the shield and leaned it against the bed, his smile widening. “Such a handful.”
Eijar stood and walked toward the stove in the corner. It was one small amenity the room offered. Every room in the lodge had one and each was attached to the main stack that vented the smoke out from the roof.
Placing from cloth strips and wood inside, he took a spark stick from the cradle on the stove’s leg and began working to make a fire. It took a moment, but after gently coaxing the small flame it slowly devouring both cloth and wood.
“Eijar?” Frey groaned.
He glanced over his shoulder as she sat up rubbing her eyes. “Shh, don’t worry it’s me.”
She softly smiled, slid from the bed and groggily walked over, hugging him around the neck. “I’ve missed you.”
Eijar hugged her back. “I’ve missed you too, little one.”
She pulled away, her soft smile widening. “Eijar, she’s here! Mama came!”
Eijar froze, caught off guard by her sudden outburst. Frey was practically glowing with excitement. Her behavior had been a gentle reminder of her age. Most children couldn’t keep a secret to themselves for too long.
“Mama is going to take me…”
Eijar quickly came to his senses and covered her mouth. “Shh, keep your voice down!” he commanded.
Frey didn’t fight back. Her excitement faded, the jow draining from her expression. She understood the situation perfectly. He pulled his hand away, the twinge in his heart returning. Frey had begun to tear up.
“I’m sorry, Eijar. I was just so happy,’ she softly replied.
“It’s okay, I’m sorry if I startled you. We just need to be careful.”
She nodded. “I know.”
“Now, tell me everything.”
Eijar sat down with the stove at his back. Frey followed suit, wiping her eyes as she sat. The fire in her eyes returned along with the excitement.
“Well I went to the market,” she began. “I was bored. Everyone is so busy keeping watch there’s been nothing to do. Still, not having Bodvar train me is good.”
Eijar smiled. You could see it when you looked at her. In her mind, she was retracing every step of the day before explaining it all. “Frey, how do you know she’s here.”
Frey frowned. Clearly, she wanted to talk about her entire day. “Fine! Aegring told me. I’m supposed to meet him in two days to pick up a weapon he’s making for me. He called me, Little Sprite. Only mama calls me that.”
Two days, smart Eadra. Everyone will be busy preparing for the banquet. Bodvar especially. “So you think it’s your mother’s way of telling you to meet her at his booth?”
Frey nodded emphatically a wide grin on her face. “I do!” she answered. “ Will you come with us?”
The twinge grew, its was like a hot knife sliding deeper. It was a beautiful thought, leaving this place and its problems behind. But it would only invite disaster. Bodvar wouldn’t allow it and because of their deal, neither would Viktor.
“I can’t, little one, you understand why.”
“Bodvar…,” she replied.
“Among other things.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “You should Purge him! He’s a bad man, then you can come with us!”
Eijar reached out and pulled her close. “Shh, Frey. You can’t say that about someone, even if they deserve it.”
“But, Eijar,” she sobbed, her voice slightly muffled as she buried her face in his leather breastplate. “He’s hurt so many people. If he’s not here then you can be free.”
“It’s not that simple. In time you’ll understand.”
Eijar felt her reach around his waist and gently squeeze. “Mama used to say that sometimes,” she said.
“It’s a sad truth about growing up. Life tends to be more complicated than it should be.”
She squeezed tighter, a long silence following. Eijar simply held her as she cried. Eventually, she stopped and he tilted his head to see that she had fallen asleep.
Soon little one, you will be free. Even if it costs me my life.
Bodvar stood before the door shaking. Red formed across his field of vision and he clenched his fists pressing them against the wall beside him. The pain was the only think helping him to remain focused. Eadra’s alive!
It didn’t matter how, though it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. He stared at the door to Eijar’s room. Every impulse screamed that he should simply break it down the cleave the fool in half.
He pulled his fists from the wall noting there was a bit of blood on it and his knuckles. Bodvar glanced back the door, the entire exchange between Frey and the former inquisitor playing out in his mind. First to make yourself her personal bodyguard! Then you make a deal with Viktor concerning her! Now, this!
Bodvar took a breath and quietly stepped away from the door. “We’ll see, who takes who in two days Eijar,” he muttered under his breath. “Frey is my daughter! No one, not even Viktor, will keep her from me!”
He made his way from the lodge’s living quarters to the main hall. Arald was sitting at one of the tables drinking his fill from a pitcher of ale. Lately, it was growing more difficult to look at him, let alone stomach his presence.
It had something to do with the scar on his forehead. The one Eijar had given him. It was like the things a person hides, who they were, was being brought to the surface.
Like any other Blade, Arald had done a lot of bad things in his life. Being made aware of it constantly was like being pricked by a thorn repeatedly until you snapped. Many of the Blades had begun distancing themselves from him because of it.
He turned his head, revealing a swollen left eye. “You should make him remove it,” he commented. “This thing he’s done to me.”
It seems the story about the fight with one of Viktor’s guards was true.
Bodvar felt some of his anger dissipate at the sight of the man. Arald looked so pitiful and weak. Even for him.
His dark hair was disheveled and his brown eyes were sunken in. He obviously hadn’t been sleeping. Still whatever Eijar had done was new. The former inquisitor had never mentioned he could do this to a person.
Fact was, Arald didn’t deserve this.
Bodvar frowned. Even if it was motivated by fear, you have always been loyal, old friend. He came up to the table and sat down, his gazed fixed on such a sorry state of a man. “I was going to until I learned how deeply he has betrayed us.”
Arald’s eyes lit up. He always loved hunting traitors.
I thought you might enjoy this bit of news.
“What has he done?”
“He sold himself to Viktor. Even though I have tried to keep him, and his abilities, hidden from our benefactor, circumstances seem to be working against us.”
Arald nodded. “Ylva,” he said.
You sneaky rat…
Arald grinned. “Don’t look so surprised, Bodvar. I never really trusted her to be honest,” he said. “In the past she has spent too much time with Viktor. Even now she spends too much of her time with him.”
It was true, her behavior since his arrival in Grunier had proven that much. She’s always near him. His men even answer to her. “We’ll need to deal with her as well.”
“So what is your plan?” Arald asked. “We can’t kill him before he removes this mark.”
“I’m going to assign Eijar to keep an eye on the market over the next two days. I’m fairly certain he was going to ask to be given the duty anyway.”
Arald furrowed his brow out of curiosity. “How so?”
“Because Eadra is alive. She’s coming to take Frey from me in two days.”
Arald reached for the pitcher and poured himself more ale. “How?! We burned her home to the ground with her inside it.”
It was good to see him angry, it almost made his cheeks look as if the color were returning. “You know how resourceful that woman is.”
A sudden understanding flashed in Arald’s eyes. “You don’t think Eijar suggested she be burned with the house because he knew she would survive?”
Bodvar frowned. Arald might be right. They had spent a lot of time together. I’ve been soft. His abilities may be invaluable, but not so much that he can’t be made an example of. “If so, then he has been playing us for some time now.”
Even a little inebriated, Arald’s face hardened enough for him to be taken seriously. “So, again I ask,” he said. “What is your plan?”
“I’m going to ask Viktor to give me the responsibility of watching the market. I want you to pick the men.”
Arald glanced as his mug, sloshing the ale inside around. “You don’t think it strange he’ll be suspicious of the change?”
“We’ll add Ylva to the detail, that should placate him. If she sees Eadra alive it might entice her to fight the woman herself.”
Arald winced. “We could just shoot them, crossbows would be simpler.”
Bodvar’s chest tightened and he took a breath. “And what of my daughter? What if your simpler method gets a bolt stuck in her?”
Arald shrank back. “No. No, you’re right,” he said. “We wouldn’t want anyone hit that didn’t need to be.”
Bodvar sighed and shook his head. “We’ll have Ylva patrol near Aegring the Smith’s booth. Eadra plans to meet Frey there.”
“What about her guards?”
“Accidents happen in a fight, Arald. Obviously, Eadra killed them to save Frey.”
The dark grin Arald wore was comforting. He was in desperate need of something to focus on other than his own problems. Revenge was the most useful tool for that.
“What about Eijar?” he asked. “He’s Absonian and trained by the Inquisition.”
Bodvar smiled. “You leave him to me. Once that mark is removed, your time will come.”
Even in the late hour Eadra found sleep elusive. Her thoughts ever-shifting. There was a lot to prepare for. Missives were being sent between the rangers and the information they would gather was in turn relayed in secret to the other Thran.
With everything that was happening, it was hard not to think about Frey. It was harder, to not feel guilty for coming for her sooner. It had been so easy to compartmentalize everything. To trust Eijar would keep her safe and the lie she had told Bodvar would prevail. That his ego for leaving a legacy would keep him from killing her.
Soon, Little Sprite. Soon. Just a little longer.
She stared at the ceiling, an odd sense of nostalgia washing over her. To be here again at the Grey Beard after so many years was strange. Back then the inn had been preferable to staying in the barracks with the rest of the Blades.
Bodvar had always made clear that it was dog eat dog among the ranks. At times a few of the men had to be reminded of their place. It only took a couple of lessons, and the occasional a well-placed knife, for the message to sink in.
Only the strong were meant to survive. You were always fond of saying that Bodvar.
Eadra pushed memories of those days aside, shifting her attention from the ceiling to the rest of the room and smirked. Still set in your ways, old man.
Tavrik had always been so staunch about simplicity. He never spent more on the Grey Beard’s rooms that he thought it needed to. The furnishings were an example.
A long plain dresser with a mirror mounted on top lay nestled snug against the wall by the door. A nightstand sat between the two beds, with an oil lamp resting on it, and there was a hearth for warmth. If you wanted to relieve yourself you could use the chamberpot or the scraghouse behind the Grey Beard.
“You have been quiet,” Mrina commented. “Thinking about Frey?"
Eadra rolled onto her side glancing over at Mrina from her bed. Like herself, the young Shaylin was wearing a simple shift. Her long brown hair was pulled back which made her sharp angular features more pronounced.
“Frey was so close, Mrina. Taking her would have been easy.”
Mrina sat up, her hair falling around her shoulders. The cord she used to tie it back had come undone. “But at what cost?” she asked, tying it back up. “It was your idea to set it up the way it is.”
“I know, but it was hard nonetheless. Having to wait two days seems like an eternity.”
Mrina suddenly laughed. “You humans and your sense of time,” she said. “Always rushing.”
Eadra smirked. “You Shaylin and your willingness to wait until the last moment.”
Mrina only half-smiled in response, then placed her hand on her chest close to her heart. “Except we cannot afford to be idle, can we?”
Eadra shook her head. She feels it too.
Agrita was fading. Their sister’s spirit was being drawn into the dead Aetharian king’s darkness. It wouldn’t be long before that darkness consumed her and she was lost to them.
“You sense something else,” Mirna commented. “It is more than Agrita’s suffering. I can feel it.”
Eadra pulled herself up and rested her back against the bed’s headboard. “I wasn’t certain at first, but I think the one who is meant to take Agrita’s burden is here somewhere.”
“How do you know this?” Shock radiated in her soft brown eyes and she looked ready to leap from her bed at a moment’s notice.
There was no way to put into words. The closest thing was a sense of certainty and a niggling need to be aware of your surroundings. It had been like that when she and Mrina had first met, but at the time, Eadra hadn’t understood what it was.
“I just do. Even in her tortured state, I can still feel Agrita guiding me to our newest sister.”
At this point, Mrina jumped from her bed, grabbed her effects and rushed toward the dresser. “Then we must search the city, even if it takes all night!”
Eadra shook her head. “We can’t, at least not yet. I don’t understand how I know, but if we rush, then we can’t save Agrita from the sleeping king.”
Mrina frowned, frustration written on her face. “Now who teases who about time?”
Eadra cast a glance at the oil lamp on the nightstand as the small flame inside danced across the wick. “She will find us and soon. That’s all I know for certain.”
Mrina sighed and began dressing down. “Then we will wait,” she replied.
Eadra nodded. “One task at a time. Everything changes in two days.”