“You look exhausted,” he observed from the bed.
Kala glanced at her reflection in the mirror. Dark circles greeted her. Kala reached up working to undo the braids in her light brown hair. She frowned when her sharp eyes caught a stray strand of grey.
“What’s that face for?” Wulf asked.
“Wise men should know better to ask certain questions of their wives,” she replied, staring back at him through her reflection.
He simply laughed. “Oh, how I love you. Now, tell me what’s wrong?”
Kala wound her fingers around the last braid, then took the brush from the dresser and began straitening her hair. Every stroke was like wading waist-deep through a lake as she moved her arms. “Maintaining the summoning is draining. I’ve never kept it up for this long, let alone for two elementals.”
He frowned, the concern on his face touching. “Then let them go, and get some rest. The hour is late and we have a long two days ahead of us,” he said.
“What if we need them?”
“Illhiem and Thulm have been discussing matters,” he answered. “Grenden is meeting with Jormund and Henrik in the morning. I know you need time to prepare, we can do that on the dawn of the second day.”
She slipped from her chair, drawing her robe tightly around herself. Even with the fire burning in the hearth, there was still a slight chill. Wulf sat up, resting his bare back against the bed’s headboard.
Kala sat on the edge of the bed and reached out to softly stroke his cheek with her left hand. “How can you be so calm?”
He smiled. “Because, as frightening as all of this is, we have to still hope.”
Kala smiled, her hand drifting from his right cheek to Wulf’s bare chest. She traced each scar she found there. They were reminders of how many times she had come close to losing him. Some of them she had healed with her magic and knowledge of herbs.
At the gentle touch of his hand on her cheek, her thoughts returned to the present. “I love you, Kala,” he said.
She reached up, taking his hand and pressing softly against her cheek. It was warm and though it was like carpenter’s paper against her skin, every callus was a reminder of his strength. Kala closed her eyes drinking all of it in.
“In winter’s harsh chill we draw close, sharing in hearth, home and that which we endear most.
Our bond is deeper than family. A bond that keeps us free.
With our strength we serve the land, with our strength we extend to the weak and frail our hand.
So that after winter’s long brutal night, all can stand strong at dawn’s first light.”
Kala smiled. It was the Ranger’s Creed. It was strange, she must have heard it a dozen times, but the tone in his voice, made it seem new. There was warmth within those words, perhaps because they spoke of the depth of his conviction.
She opened her eyes, her heart fluttering.
He smirked in response.
His smirk shifted to a broad grin. “Just wondering if this is the part where you send me to the fields again,” he replied.
“You…” She quickly backhanded him in the chest, then smiled. “What do I do with you?”
He opened his mouth to answer, but she leaned forward and kissed him before he could utter a word. “I love you, Wulf,” she gasped.
He smiled. “So different field?”
Kala grinned at him as she let her robe fall loose and slipped underneath the sheets. “Just shut up, Wulf.”
“So, they have a dragon?”
Volkin nodded. “They do, Illhiem, and he’s not one of the dumb brutes the frost giants ride.” He paused, his eyes drifting for a moment. “He has a very dangerous temper.”
So, it appears the pale elf is much more than a simple wizard. Having a dragon in the fight would be a substantial improvement. Suddenly dealing with so many giants was more realistic. It was reassuring and no less informative than the rest of the goblin king’s report.
“Tell me your thoughts on the beast, Volkin.”
The goblin king grinned. “He sees himself as superior, but not just because he believes it to be so. His eyes tell the story of one who has seen horror and been the cause of it.”
“Can he be trusted?”
The goblin king’s grin widened. “You can trust in his hatred of the giants.”
The old thran sat back in his chair. I hate it when you speak cryptically.
Illhiem turned his attention to the main room the tavern they were staying at, as he collected his thoughts. The floor of the Owl’s Feather was empty, save for the tables and chairs that had been upturned on top of them. All the other guests and the innkeeper had retired for the night.
Three of Volkin’s goblins stood guard by the front door while two of Grazig’s orcs stood ever watchful by the stairs leading up to the rooms on the floor above. The rest of the men and orcs were encamped along the walls.
Grazigs had already given his report and retired to his room. It was insightful and filled in the gaps the other Thran had not. The best news of the night was that the woman had been found.
Volkin had already dispatched two of his own to keep watch over her from the shadows. Their orders were clear. Kill anyone attempting to harm her.
Thulm was also a pleasant surprise. The young Thran had left only hour earlier. He was more amicable than expected, but with everything at stake, it was foolish not to be. All that remained was to carefully prepare and coordinate with the others while keeping Viktor in the dark.
Illhiem bit his lip. The dragon and the Elf woman were somehow connected in the vision. He could feel it. If the elfwoman were somehow harmed, the dragon might go berserk.
Volkin had said they were discussing something upon their arrival. Based on his observations, they appeared to share a sort of kinship. So many cogs in the clo…
“Great Thran?” Volkin piped up.
Illhiem’s thoughts snapped to the present and he leaned forward, folded his hands, and rested his chin on them. “I’m going to ask something very difficult of you Volkin,” he said staring at the table.
“You want me to kill Savar,” he said.
The delight in the goblin king’s voice was unsettling. Illhiem stared at the lines in the table. Careful words needed to be spoken.
“We are going to gamble, but this wager depends on your skills and may even test them. I can’t in good…”
“Done,” Volkin cut in.
Illhiem looked up. Gone was sheepish grin and amusement that so often adored Volkin’s face. In its place was the cold hard look of someone whose loyalty was unquestionable. The goblin king was clearly prepared to do whatever was necessary, even at the cost of his own life.
Illhiem found himself at a loss for words. Volkin had always played at where his loyalties lay and who really ruled. If there was ever a doubt before, all traces had vanished.
“You, have given my people more than we could have asked or wanted,” he said. “We thrive beneath your great city and have peace. Now, these scragbrained yakbeards threaten that! There isn’t a goblin in your domain who wouldn’t murder whomever was necessary to protect it!”
Illhiem cast a glance at the goblins guarding the door. The trio had the same cold look in their yellow eyes. One of them stepped forward and knelt. “We serve king, king serve Illhiem, we kill to keep peace. We kill to protect home. We protect you.”
Illhiem looked to Volkin, eyes wide when he saw the goblin king with his face bowed to the table and hands upturned.
“My life is in your hands, Good Thran. Tell us what you want and it will be done. Tell us what you do not wish to hear and it will be kept silent.”
Illhiem could only smile. Many would kill for such loyalty. He fought back the tears. Volkin would take it as an insult to his declaration if any were shed. “One the appointed day, Savar’s life is forfeit.”
Volkin lifted his head, a malicious glint in his eye. He turned toward the pair by the door and uttered a few words in the goblin tounge. Their yellow yellow eyes lit up with glee and they rushed out the front door into the snowy night.
“What did you say?”
Volkin’s familiar grin returned. “You’ll find out in two days,” he said. “All will be handled, even the things you do not wish to know.”
Two days. It all comes together in two days.
Viktor turned away from the window and the streets beyond the keep’s walls. He let his eyes linger on Ylva’s sleeping form as she lay partially covered beneath the sheets of their bed.
The newest batch was having no effect. The addition of dragon blood should have made the potion’s effects permanent. Yet, after imbibing it her demeanor remained unchanged. It was only after drinking the potion made from the previous batch that the light of devotion returned to her eyes. It was strange, she was almost a different person.
Perhaps her ancestry was to blame or maybe it was something else? Thankfully, there were still several casks full of the previous batch. Either way, It was noticeable whenever its effects had begun to fade and that, was becoming more common.
Ylva would appear confused and uncertain. It was like she was waking up from a dream. Her eyes would have a hint of anger, whenever their gazes met. It was as if she were aware, but unable to stop it.
If this Dragon’s Brew has no effect on you, does that mean the frost giants are soon to follow? It was troubling thought. Viktor felt a chill come over him. While this is proving an intriguing experiment, I cannot afford mistakes.
More frost giants were coming. They would be arriving within the week. If the effects were temporary, then they would need to be subdued, and used against Norenhiem. There was no other choice. A combined Sokoras was stronger and with the enslaved giants serving at the front lines, the scattered giant clans would struggle to defend themselves.
He slipped into the bed and gently placed his hand on her belly. It had already been close to two months according to the midwife. Blooded women need a full ten to come to term. Whatever is happening with you, I need the potion to last a bit longer before you are no longer needed.
At his touch, Ylva slowly opened her eyes. There was a warm glow about them as she slowly cracked a smile.
“Eager to see our child?” she asked.
Viktor smiled back. “More than you know, my love.”
It was so sad, the sight of the warm tender smile on her face. It was a contrast to the harsh woman she displayed outside their chambers. It was a glimmer of her weakness. A side she kept well hidden.
Her face looked so innocent or more aptly put, is was the obliviousness of a fate predertermined. Yet, as with all things in life she served a purpose. Viktor leaned forward and kissed her gently.
It truly is a pity that the Fern isn’t having the desired affect. Fear not. Your death will be painless. It’s the least I could do for the one who will bear my child.