Eadra stopped short of the first step leading down to the Grey Beard’s main room. She glanced behind her at the far door at the end of the hall. Issfang wasn’t in his room.
It was likely he had risen early. She bit her lip. He knew his role, but hopefully, his quest for revenge wouldn’t blind him. More than likely he was hidden away watching the giants and their dragons at a distance.
I hope you remember what’s at stake.
She descended the stairs, pausing on the last step to take stock of the inn’s main room. Kala and Wulf were seated together at one of the tables. They were tenderly holding hands. Kala appeared worried. Wulf simply leaned into her in response, resting his head against hers.
Eadra smiled. It was hard not to watch the two of them together. She felt a twinge in her heart, her thoughts turning to Sigurd. Taking a breath, she pushed it down, but the thought still lingered in the peripheral of her mind.
Are you still out there waiting?
A series of hash guttural grunts, followed by a set of high pitched shrieks sounded in her ear. Eadra turned to see her goblin ‘protectors’ apparently squabbling with each other two tables over. One appeared to be mocking the other, his expression riddled with contempt.
She sighed and shook her head, gazing back out at the other tables. Twenty druids sat scattered about the room, some solitary, while others sat together. The hearth was full, a fire blazing inside it.
With all the discussion, a final decision had been reached. Grenden felt the best role the druids could play was tending to the wounded. The Grey Beard’s central location made it the most sensible choice. The wounded could easily be brought in and hopefully saved.
It had also been decided that Thulm’s men would be protecting the Grey bear while the fighting raged outside. He only had a handful of men with him in comparison to the Thran. It only made sense that they should be responsible for protecting the place since they were all staying here.
Eadra tensed, glanced over at Wulf and Kala, then toward the bar. Tavrik had been too preoccupied to hear. She waded through the crowded room, grabbing a chair and taking a seat.
“Are you prepared for this?” Wulf asked.
Uneasiness filled her stomach. It was ironic, even after so many battles. One might think that it would be something you got used to. But, it was always the same feeling before one began.
“As ready as anyone else.”
“Even with banquet taking place is this evening, Grenden sent word for everyone to be prepared,” Wulf replied.
“Makes sense. Right now everyone is tense. If something happens between now and then we’ll need to act quickly.”
As if almost expecting someone to walk in, he glanced toward the front door. “We can’t afford to let our guard down if something goes wrong. I’m going to make my rounds this morning, just in case. I’ll be checking in with my Rangers. Shuet and Eirik are doing the same.”
“So the battle plan is set?”
He nodded. “Grenden is coordinating things with the other Thran. You’re to be one of Kala’s attendants tonight. Mrina will be the other.”
“Speaking of preparations,” Kala chimed in. “I need to add some guests to the list, it will take time to prepare.”
“Be safe, love,” Wulf commented, reluctantly letting go of her hands as she stood.
Kala smirked. “Why Wulf, has that hard exterior you use as a shield finally being cast aside?”
He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Don’t start with me.”
Kala flashed a brief smile then leaned forward kissing him on the forehead. “I love you too,” she replied, before turning to leave.
“When are you going to get Frey?” he asked.
“Midday. Mrina is scouting the market.”
His expression grew dour. “You know, if things go wrong, we can’t help you.”
“I know, but I need to get her to safety. Eijar will be at the banquet which means there won’t be anyone to protect her.”
He looked away, eyes scanning the room. “I spoke to the innkeeper. He has a trapdoor leading to a saferoom, behind the bar. He’s agreed to hide Frey there.”
“Tavrik’s a good man, I hate having to lie to him about who I am.” Eadra glanced over at the bar. The old innkeeper was busy topping off the mugs of some of Thulm’s men. She turned back to Wulf after feeling a gentle touch on her hand.
He gripped it, a warm smile on his face. “It’s to keep him safe. Though I suspect he can tell what’s coming.”
“He’s no fool and like many, he has no love for Viktor.”
“Who do you think Grenden will choose?” he asked.
Eadra folded her hands together, her attention shifting to the room. “Whoever he chooses is irrelevant. Anyone here could be named king, but it won’t matter unless they are chosen by the Vakari.”
Concern eked its way onto his face. “There’s a lot you aren’t saying,” he commented.
Eadra frowned. “There’s a lot I don’t understand. I just know that I will meet my king once this is over.”
A loud crash drew their attention. The two of them turned, along with the rest of the room, to see Eadra’s protectors wrestling on the floor over something. The pair were shouting and squealing like children in their guttural tongue.
“Your illustrious guards,” Wulf commented, glancing past her.
She sighed. “I feel safer already.”
“Illhiem seems to trust them,” he replied.
“I’m cautious at best, they are more feral than the goblins I remember as a little girl in Absion.”
As the two continued to fight, Tavrik rushed from behind the bar, cudgel in hand. Both goblins paused after noticing him, parting just enough for everyone to see their hands clasped around a roast one of them had apparently bought.
“Take it outside!”
Like pouting children they sat up, hands still clutching the roast and stared at the floor. The one of the left tried to casually pull the roast out of his companion’s hands, only to get a stern look for the attempt from him.
“Are you deaf, greenies?” he said. “I said take it outside!”
Both goblins shifted their attention back to the roast they were clutching in their clawed hands. Each appeared to be waiting for the other to make the first move.
Eadra smirked and stood, walking over to them. “May I help?”
“Please,” he replied with a dejected sigh.
Reaching for the table they had toppled and righting it, Eadra drew her shortblade. She took the sword, pointing it at the roast. “On the table.”
The goblins stood, albeit awkwardly as they clutched the roast between them. As one they set it on the table, muttering something to each other and releasing it at the same time. Taking her shortblade, she cut cleanly through the roast splitting it into separate halves. Both goblin’s eyes opened wide with delight, each snatching a separate half of the roast for themselves.
Tavrik relaxed, looking a bit relieved. “Many thanks,” he replied, glaring at them and then heading for the bar. “No offense,” he called out. “But make sure you take them with you when you leave.”
One of the goblins childishly stuck his tongue out in response. Bits of meat fell from his mouth and onto the floor. Eadra shook her head, turning away from them and returned to her seat.
“I guess that counts for morning entertainment,” Wulf commented. “I suppose I should start my rounds.”
“I should get going as well.”
He reached out softly patting her on the hand. “Be safe, Deshara. Don’t get yourself killed.”
He stood, but as he walked toward the door, a strange feeling came over her. A strange sense of familiarity filled her when her eyes drifted to the Aetharian longblade hanging sheathed on his hip. With this sensation, another followed. It was as if the sword belonged there and nowhere else.
Karien, I know you aren’t one for prayers, but in this battle to come, let us be the victors.
Gunnar sat with his back to the wall, knees pressed against his chest, thoughts swirling like a winter storm. Morning had come much too quickly. He shifted his weary eyes dungeons main chamber, then to the large grate at its center.
Two more souls…now soon a third. He glanced at the blood on his hands and seax. Some whisper that the Keeper has a special place for betrayers and murderers. At one time, such stories seemed ridiculous, but now, it was hard to shake the feeling of a looming shadow at his shoulders.
What will you do, Gren? What choice will you make?
Savar’s right hand knew everything now. He understood the man he served was gone and a shadow of his former self. The rage on his face was apparent but so was the surprise as he watched the throats of the men guarding him split open.
The sound of the main door to the chamber opening drew Gunnar’s attention. Finnes stepped into the chamber, followed by one of Viktor’s men. He looked nervous, but eager, as if he had some secret to tell.
The guard who had brought him simply nodded and closed the door, leaving the two of them alone. Finnes seemed oblivious of the blood. His attention was elsewhere as if imagining his reward for the news he desperately wanted to share.
“Another failure,” Gunnar mused. “It seems we have yet to learn the secret.”
“What do you mean?” Finnes asked.
“Nothing,” Gunnar replied, his eyes still focused on the bloody seax. “You seem to have discovered something?”
“Oh yes!” Finnes beamed. “Gren will betray Viktor. I must tell him immediately!”
Gunnar paused, studying him. He was shaking like a fern addict. “Viktor already knows. In fact, he is angry. you have failed him.”
Horror showed on the man’s face. “No! I adore him! He is everything! I exist to serve him!”
“Are you willing to do anything to appease his anger?”
Like a child ready to appease an abusive father the man nodded sheepishly. “Anything!”
Gunnar stood and stepped toward the mechanism that kept the grate in the center of the room closed. He turned the crank, the sound of grinding metal ringing in ears. The grate was like some macabre metal coffin opening.
“If you adore him, Victor says to jump in.”
Gunnar fought back the bile in his throat as the man smile wide and casually stepped up to the opening. Even at a distance, the putrid smell from inside wafted in about the room.
Finnes looked up, his face shining in delight. “My life for Viktor,” he said and stepped off into the darkness.
At the sound of Finnes screams, as the Hungering Ones began tearing him part, Gunnar released the latch. The grate came together, slamming shut, signaling the finality of what he had done. Even with the bile rising in his gut, Gunnar forced himself to listen until all was silent.
“This will be my last betrayal, Keeper. I can stomach this no longer. I saw the future I wanted, ignoring how high a price it was.”
He pressed his back to the wall and slid to the floor, closing his eyes. It was time to rest. There was nothing left but to wait until it was all over.