There were more Blades than expected. Something was wrong, she could feel it. Eadra scanned the market, her senses ignited. Eijar was patrolling the interior. Ylva was keeping watch over the stalls further out.
Unlike other areas in the city. The market had a wall built up around it. There were only two entryways and four Blades stood at each. Atop the wall stood a dozen more around its perimeter along the narrow walkway. Each was armed with crossbows.
They traversed the walkways with careful precision while keeping their attention sharply focused on the market below. A set of stairs sat built along the side of the wall as their only means of getting up or down.
The merchant stalls were set up similar to city blocks, with each merchant given a certain amount of allotted space. Viktor charged a high tax so only the most successful could afford him and the space they needed. Aegring was one of the more fortunate merchants, though inconveniently, his stall was set in the middle of the market.
Bodvar…what are you up to?
No sooner had his name come to mind when she caught a glimpse of him by the northern entryway. He leaned over, whispering to the four blades standing there. Arald was with him. She felt a child and not from the cold. Arald always did remind her of a skulking rat.
The way he stood, just at a distance behind Bodvar only added to the impression. He lifted his eyes, seemingly turning his attention from the conversation. Eadra froze, then breathed a sigh of relief. It almost looked as if he had been staring at her.
She followed his gaze, lining it up with Eijar, then Ylva, before returning to the conversation.
No, you can’t be serious.
She took a short step forward just as a hand touched her shoulder. “No, not yet.”
Eadra reached for her shoulder thankful that Mrina had shown up when she did. “They are going to kill Eijar and Ylva.”
“Is Ylva not our enemy?” she asked coldly.
“She is, but she isn’t. Viktor has made her his slave.”
Mrina tightened her grip. “Then are we to save her, even if we reveal ourselves?”
“We save Frey and Eijar first, Ylva is secondary.” Inwardly she winced, disappointment filling her heart.
The decision on how to proceed hit too close to home. Her old self would have said something very similar. The only difference was that Ylva would have been a necessary casualty. She softly touched the grip of her Aetharian blade, a soft calm filling her.
“There are at least twenty-six Blades in the market,” Mrina said. “The twelve on the wall, the eight by the entryways and six more scattered around the stalls. Your Eijar and Ylva I do not count in that number.”
Eadra smirked looking back over her shoulder.“Sister, you sound almost disappointed there aren’t more.”
Mrina frowned. “I think the part of me that is Vakari wishes there was,” she replied.
The part of you that’s Vakari…It was an odd choice of words, but Eadra nodded. The feeling was the same. The buzz of excitement that came before a fight. It was alluring, almost intoxicating. In the past, Eadra knew it would have frightened her, but now eagerness had taken its place.
She turned to the sky, even with the clouds the sun shone through enough to reveal it was close to its zenith. Aegring was busy tending to his stall, the axe and shield he had promised Frey lay within reach.
“I have been watching your friend,” Mrina said. “Did you notice the sword he carries?”
Eadra glanced at the blade on his hip. It was gladius. The markings and script were of Absonian origin. It detailed the rank of its owner as well as honorifics earned before being appointed.
Deeds were everything in Absion. Your lineage set the standard. If it was poor, you fought to attain the honor you seek. Many became soldiers to find it.
The Inquisition was no different. Those who seek service and are chosen were held in high esteem. To sacrifice everything, even their very lives if need be, and devote it all to the state in the name of truth, held no greater honor. Only politicians, in their service to the people, came in as a close rival.
Eijar’s sword said he was one rank from being numbered among the High Inquisitors. If he was wearing it, then something was very wrong.
“Eadra, why are you crying?” Mrina asked.
She reached up wiping her cheek. “Because I see someone who has been done a great dishonor.”
“Then, we will avenge them,” she replied coldly.
Eadra touched her chest. Mrina’s resolve echoed through their bond and in its wake, a sense of understanding followed. “Frey should be here soon, we had best move in, and appear as if we are browsing the stalls.”
“Be safe, Sister,” Mrina responded.
“And you as well.”
The heaviness in the air was like a weight that dragged you under. There was an intent hovering within it. One of murder. The Flame had begun to spark in response.
Eijar surveyed the stalls. The market wasn’t its usual bustle. Aegring was busy, however. Several people had come to see them work he had been commissioned to do. Some were basic tools while others came to weapons, armor or both.
Part of his success came from the agreement made with the city’s other smiths. He acted as a storefront for them and in turn collected a percentage of the shards for the sales. It was a smart move on his part and ensured he was the only merchant for his profession with a stall.
Eijar turned toward the crossbowmen atop the wall, there were more than usual. It was as if Bodvar was expecting something to happen… Oh, no…
“Something wrong Eijar?”
He turned toward Ylva. She was sweating. “No,” he replied, veiling his emotions. “Everything is fine.”
She leaned closer. “My cage is open.”
Reflexively he reached for his gladius, his gaze shifting casually toward the market’s entryways. Bodvar was there. So was Arald.
She turned away, heading down the opposite avenue. “Braudr is here somewhere. Guard yourself.”
Eijar tensed. If Braudr was here, then he had come to kill. A man like him didn’t make the Inquisition’s Judicum List so flippantly. As an assassin, he never had failed to kill his mark.
The warmth in his chest suddenly flared to life. It spread through him like wildfire, completely filling him.
Cautiously, without giving himself away, Eijar moved through the avenue. The merchants he knew well enough, but his attention was more focused on their patrons. Braudr, or rather Methias, was a master at keeping himself hidden when he didn’t want to be seen.
He had managed to elude detection for a long time, even from the Inquisition’s sharp eyes. It had always been a mystery and something the higher ranks never spoke of often.
Some suspected he had discovered a way to mask himself from to keep from being viewed. Not only for himself but others of his guild as well. Such things were considered heresy. To imply that it was possible was too unthinkable.
“See what cannot be. Perceive that which is shrouded. Unveil all falsehood,” he mumbled under his breath.
The heavy furs he wore were becoming too much. The flame was burning hotter. Eijar took stock of the intersection, none of the patrons here gave warning to his senses. Everything looked as it should.
He glanced at the entryway where Bodvar and Arald had been. It was hard to tell if they were still there from where he stood. Some of the stalls were blocking his line of sight. The view wasn’t clear.
Ylva had disappeared among the varied avenues. Her words were haunting, but for some reason, Eijar knew that he could trust her. She was different, the hard mask she wore was no longer there.
This feels like a trap. If Bodvar knows about Eadra, then he might suspect…
He glanced up. Through the overcast, the sun sat its peak. He turned down another avenue. The stalls had more patrons here, yet none pricked his senses.
Where are you, Methias…
Eijar rounded the end of the avenue. The feel of his gladius’ grip in his left hand was calming. He breathed, taking a few short steps before the Flame’s intensity suddenly heightened. Someone was literally broiling with murderous intent.
He scanned the avenue, but the sensation vanished like smoke on the wind.
“But Lady Frey, we cannot. Our instructions are very strict.”
Eijar turned toward the western entryway. Normally Frey’s pursed lips and pouty annoyed expression would have been adorable. Line of sight to her guards was blocked by the large canopy and goods of the potter’s stall, but there was a small enough window to see her.
I’m out of time…by Fire’s Light, Eadra, you had better be here. It’s about to ugly.
The haze had cleared, though it was still hard to focus. Ylva narrowed her eyes, her heart racing. It was frustrating, this sense of fear. Fear for a child yet to be born. Fear for its safety.
The nausea was worse this morning. Perhaps it was because the truth of what Viktor had done hit so poignantly. Now, for some insane reason, Bodvar had murder on his mind.
Whatever the motive, survival was paramount. Even if the child was Viktor’s, he would never lay a hand on it. Only a blade would greet him and his manhood. What little of it there was.
She drew Skerana from its sheath. The great blade felt good in her hands. The grip was extended, making easy to hold with one hand or two.
Some of the patrons nearby gave her wide berth. Even the crossbowman along the wall seemed nervous. She smirked, their fear offering a bit of comfort.
One day little one, I will tell you a tale of where your mother fought against murders and thieves. Against a man who abused her and defiled her honor. I will tell you of a path carved in blood and how his head was mounted on a pike.
Casually she glanced at the northern entryway while making it appear she was simply watching the market. She had a clear view through the stalls. Bodvar and Arald were lurking just past it.
It wasn’t certain from the angle, but Arald seemed a bit too eager. He was fidgeting, as per his usual habit when he was impatient. Bodvar would occasionally glance in her direction, his hand dropping to his skeggox.
What are you waiting for?
It had been several minutes now. Ylva followed the avenues giving the appearance of patrolling. It was rare for someone to steal here, but Viktor was thorough and eager to make public examples of those who did.
As she passed a stall belonging to one of the local jewelers, Ylva noticed two Shaylin women. It was unusual to see elves so far north unless they were druids from Yggsid. Still, one of them felt familiar.
The swords she carried on either hip were of exquisite make. The style was definitely elven. Her companion had two blades of her own, each made of wood. The craftsmanship seemed unnatural as if they had been grown or fashioned without ever being cut. The design and lettering were elven as well.
“Finding the market to your liking?”
The Shaylin with the finer swords simply smiled. Her expression stoic, and demeanor passive. “I find it adequate,” she replied. “Human hands can only manage. Shaylin hands are much more nimble.”
The girl beside her snickered, but quickly regained her composure.
The jeweler frowned, her eyes screaming bloody murder at the insult. “Scrivving elves! Go take yer yak sodden faces elsewhere!”
The young Shay’lin tensed anger radiating in her eyes at the slur. Interestingly enough, her companion didn’t even bat an eye. It was very unusual. Shaylin despised the word elf.
“Come Mrina, I hear there is a smith worth seeing in this knothole.”
Mrina, as she was addressed, smiled, and quickly followed after her. The pair continued browsing along the avenue, as they navigated their way toward Aegring’s stall.
Mrina’s companion stumbled as if overcome with nausea. It was subtle, she had deftly used the young Shay’lin for support, hiding the fact something was wrong. The casual observer or untrained would have never noticed.
Ylva continued through the avenues, Skirana still firmly in hand. She made her way toward the western entryway just as a familiar voice caught her attention.