The townsfolk would stare at him as they passed the training yard. If she were honest with herself, if not for the things he had been teaching, she might have done the same. Eijar had been wearing nothing more than a long tunic and trousers for most of the morning. He had placed his armor and furs on the wall beside her.
Before leaving the hall, where the Blades had gathered to eat morning meal, Eijar had mentioned feeling hot after passing by Bodvar and Arald. Frey touched her chest, she had felt it too, but it was brief. They were up to something.
Eijar had said, that for some, if the intent was strong enough, the flame inside would flare up. It wasn’t something that happened often, but it was a warning to be wary of the people who had caused such a reaction. Once they reached the training yard, he was already burning up. Sweat beaded down his face and steam wafted from his body.
Frey pulled her legs up on the wall, crossing them and wrapping her furlined cloak around herself. She fidgeted, trying to get used to her shield on her back. Eijar had adjusted the straps so it was more snug.
As the morning carried on, the look in Eijar’s had grown more intense. He seemed oblivious to the world around him as he went through his routine of sword drills. At times though, he seemed to waver. He had begun dropping his right arm a bit lower.
He’s thinking about something.
His weapon wasn’t the longsword he normally carried. Rather it was something called a gladius. There was no crossguard and the tip of the blade was slightly wider, almost ‘spaded’. It looked sturdier, a little wider in width, and just a hair shorter than his other sword.
Eijar had said training with it reminded him of home. Beside his Inquisitorial tabard and chain armor, the gladius was the only other thing he had managed to keep before fleeing here. He never wore armor or the tabard though. It would make him stand out too much.
It must be so lonely, Eijar. You ran from home and mine was taken.
“He looks so focused.”
Frey jumped, turning to see Ylva standing behind her. Heart pounded as she stared at the Blooded woman.
“Your face says you want to fight, little girl,” she commented. “Are you sure about that?”
Frey clenched her fist. She had hurt people. She was there when they burned the village.
Frey glared at her. “No…” She turned away from Ylva. Just looking at her was making her stomach churn.
“You’re lucky to be alive, Frey,” she said. “I don’t think you’ve quite realized this.”
Frey heard Ylva’s boots crunch in the snow as she moved closer and easily slipped over the dividing wall, taking a seat beside her. Something was different, her eyes were distant and expression contemplative. The hard look she wore was like a shield with cracks on its surface.
“Bodvar doesn’t train people,” she said. “Most never survive his methods or he kills out of impatience. If they got hurt then they were too weak and not worth his time.”
Frey shuddered. “I thought he was trying.”
“No,” she replied. “When Bodvar tries to kill someone, he follows through. He never hesitates or holds back.”
Frey pulled her legs against her chest. So, what does that say about me? She felt a gentle hand on her head.
“Your face, don’t wear it so,” Ylva said. “You’re alive, you survived.”
Frey pulled her legs tighter against her chest. “Mama once said: learning to survive in Sokoras, is learning how to live for tomorrow.”
Ylva smirked, turning her attention back toward Eijar. “They say a bear that’s been half-starved and caged is a dangerous animal indeed,” she commented.
Her face is harder now, but why is she crying?
“I don’t have to look at you to know you don’t understand, but for now, stay close to Eijar,” she said. She reached to the wineskin handing from her belt and took a drink. The confusion in her eyes faded, her expression hardening as she stood. “Tell Eijar he needs to get ready, Bodvar expects him to watch the market today. It was his request, after all.”
Frey nodded. “I will.”
The looks on their faces were nothing new. It was almost humorous than any of the townsfolk were still surprised to see it. Though, it wasn’t like they would understand. How could they?
Eijar winced, the flame was burning especially hot today.
It’s getting worse.
The heat had continued to build, like a raging firestorm. It had spread throughout his body like a wave. The drills helping and the cold, in its own strange way, made it easier to envision a cage to pen it in.
Eijar focused his breathing and closed his eyes. Mentally, trying to maintain control was growing exhausting. It was as if flame inside him demanded that it be set free.
He gripped his gladius firmly, moving between each form. The blade was meant to be an extension of himself. Warrior and weapon were meant to be one.
Unlike the Absion’s legionnaires, members of the Inquisition were taught to fight without the rigid formations their forces were known for. Each member trained rigorously to make themselves living weapons. As enforcers of Absionian law, they needed to be. The emphasis was on unit cohesion, members of a Coetus would spend hours training together.
“You’re getting distracted.”
Eijar paused, opened his eyes and turned toward Frey. Behind her, Ylva was walking away.
Eijar broke his stance and walked over to the wall where she sat. He caught a glimpse of the morning sun peeking over some of the buildings. It’s already been two motions?
He took a seat beside her. “How would you know?”
“Because I have been watching you since we came out here,” she replied. “I noticed it in a couple of the forms you repeated, you’re dropping your arm too low.”
Eijar shook his head and grinned. “Suddenly you’re an expert on Absonian fighting technique?”
Frey simply shrugged. “It’s what I saw,” she replied matter-of-factly.
He reached out mussing her hair. “You, scamp.”
She giggled trying to fight his hand away. “Eijar?”
“What is it, little one?”
“How are you able to be out here with only your trousers and tunic?” she asked. “It’s so cold.”
“It’s the flame inside. It keeps me warm.”
She looked concerned, her eyes softening. “Will it happen with me? Will it burn inside me too?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. That depends on you. I only taught you enough to keep you safe, but you are a long way from being prepared.”
She turned her attention to the snow on the ground at the base of the wall. “I think about it a lot,” she said. “What you’re teaching me. Sometimes I wonder if the fire is alive.”
“It’s only a thing, a tool like anything else.”
She nodded in response. “Ylva told me to tell you that you are expected to be at the market.”
He glanced up at the street. Ylva was long gone, but it was hard not to wonder. “Did she say anything else?”
Frey bit her bottom lip. “Something about a half-starved bear in a cage being dangerous.”
It was an odd thing to say, but something about it pricked his instincts. Eijar thought about the inquires he had done in the past. The feeling nagging at him now was the same then.
I’ve done nothing but run away. I’ve been denying everything, just to survive.
He paused, looking down at his left hand. Frey had reached out him, gripping it tightly with her own.
“She had tears in her eyes,” she said. “I think, she might be the caged bear.”
Tears…Ylva never cries. He thought about Bodvar and Arald this morning. How the flame had heated up after passing by their table in the hall.
“Frey, whatever happens, I want you by my side from now on.”
She smiled warmly, squeezing his hand even tighter. “Then you’re leaving with me.”
“I don’t care!” she shouted. Her expression said everything, including the tears. It was pointless to argue. “Mama will rescue us both.”
His vision blurred and he wiped his eyes. Eijar reached out, pulled her close, and hugged her tightly. Frey had begun sobbing and he felt his heart breaking.
“Sasa, Sigurd, the village. They’re gone,” she said. “I don’t want you to leave me too. You’re like the Da I never had.”
Eijar smiled. It was hard to keep it in. To fight back the tears and keep strong for her. The flame raging inside lessened as the wintery chill around him brushed against his skin. “You think better of me than I deserve, little one.”