• Matt Brown

Chapter 65


The human was quick, his skill with a sword surprising. At first glance, one might have taken him for a sniveling coward. The air about him that gave such an illusion. Yet, he stood his ground.


Maybe it was because of the one Eadra called Bodvar. Perhaps fear overruled his reason and natural inclinations. Regardless, Mrina fought guardedly, like most warriors in the north he was wearing woven chainmail, while she was not. The armor was a mix of hides and padding for warmth with chainmail worked into it.


“Arald!, hurry and finish the elf!” Bodvar shouted as he fought off both Ylva and Eadra. His arm had to be aching from the blows he was deflecting with his shield. Ylva was strong, her great blade multiplying the force of every strike.


Seeing Eadra fight was like watching beast unleashed. Even when they trained, it was clear she had been back. Her attacks precise and calculated. It was like watching the Bladedancers back home. Mrina felt a chill, her Sister’s face was devoid of emotion, but her eyes burned like fire.


“Where are you looking girl!?”


Mrina snapped back, parrying his strike angled at her abdomen before it could connect. He was keeping his distance. Using the reach of his sword to make fast probing attacks. Her own ironwood blades were shorter by comparison, but he was behaving as if he knew something she didn’t.


Arald would step in, attack, parry in response, then fade, the distance was always the same. Whenever she went on the offensive, he was there batting aside her attacks and returning with his own.


Why are you so wary? A memory not her own suddenly came to mind. Against his armor, my blades are like clubs…


Mrina let a wicked grin slip. Arald tensed and she came in. The feel of every motion, every stroke, all that she had learned, exploded from within. Everything Vala had taught her burst to the forefront of her mind. With it, came more of the ancient Aethar’s memories.


Vala’s fears, hopes, desires, even her regrets. Her heart ached at how similar they were. They both hated war and conflict, hated that lives were taken so carelessly by the cruel. Vala had hoped to spend her Twilight Years tending her garden but feared her duties would keep her from it far too often.


Mrina gripped her ironwood blades, her mouth drawn taught, jaw locked. She batted his sword away and began her assault.


Forgive me human. Part of me wants to take joy in this fight, but that part isn’t me, not completely. Vala always held a deep respect for her opponents. I can only grieve.


Arald seemed to be slowing, his reactions lagging. Then, it dawned on her. He was always this slow. It was she that had been holding back.


Panic was strewn all over his face, the cowardly impression she had read from him came bursting to the surface. He was fighting out of desperation, each backstep an attempt to flee, her blades as they whirling around his defenses, seeking an opening. In his flight, as he parried the assault, Arald misstepped.


Mrina felt the blow reverberate through the grip as the ironwood sword in her right hand connected with his side. He screamed, her sharp ears picked up the sound of bone cracking. He tried to parry her followup to his right side but was too slow. The blade slipped past his defense and Arald screamed a second time, spitting up blood.


Kala, what did you enchant these with?


He narrowed his eyes, grinding his teeth, face brimming with determination. It was like he had accepted that death was coming.


Mrina winced. “Stop, Arald, please. I can still heal you. It isn’t too late.”


Arald smiled, his rotten teeth showing through. “Once a Blade, always a Blade, elf!”


He came in, his bearing down with a forward thrust. Mrina spun parring it away, connecting one of her swords with his sternum, then whirling about with the other angling it at the base of his neck.

Mrina knew that he was already dead from the first strike. The crunch of bone at the back of his neck only cemented as a certainty. She stared at him, a sharp wind billowing through the market and reached for her cheek wiping the tear she found there away.


“I’m sorry,” she said. Arald’s corpse, however, offered no response as he lay on the sparsely snow-covered stone at her feet.


*******************************

The years had been kind to him. Bodvar may have looked older and weary, but he fought like a beast. His defense was on point. His shield was a wall, stopping even the harsh blows from Ylva’s great blade. If they were taking a toll, he wasn’t giving any sign.


Everything was a furious blur. From the goblin’s ambush to the chaos raging outside the market’s walls. In her heart, Eadra was worried for Mrina. She put on a good face, but deep down the young druid was scared.


Her oaths were ever constant on her mind. She had sworn to be a healer, a caregiver, not a warrior. Her oats were one of peace, not of war. Yet as Vakari she was war. Vala was the same. She never wanted this life either.


Eadra dared to glance in her sister’s direction. Mrina was struggling against Arald. He was pushing her back, a wicked leer on his face.


“Where are you looking!” Bodvar shouted.


Eadra snapped her attention forward, bringing her shortblade up, catching the hooked edge of Bodvar’s skeggox, before it could connect with her neck. She winced from the stain on her arm. It was like trying to stop a charging yak.


Ylva shouted, drawing attention, her great blade clapping down on him with the force of a hammer. Bodvar lifted his shield deflecting it, but was forced to shift his weight to keep from being overwhelmed.


It was enough to ease the pressure he was applying with his skeggox and Eadra pushed him back, unlocking her shortblade from his axe. He sneered, bringing his shield to bear before Ylva could sever his arm at the elbow.


“I’m disappointed,” he grunted pushing her back, leaving her left side exposed. His axe came in at a wide arc, angled for the opening.


Eadra stepping in turning both swords to intercept the blow. “There’s a first, Bodvar. Usually, I’m the one saying that.”


“You scrivving cow!”


Even provoked, he gave little room for error, his shield became a weapon, battering them both with skeggox following close behind. Bodvar was pushing them back using the narrow avenue to his advantage. Most of the merchants and sellers were cowering in their stalls to avoid the fight.


Ylva was undeterred, her face ana iron mask. It was strange fighting alongside someone who only months before had tried to kill you. How would she react if she knew?


“Once a Blade, always a Blade,” Eadra heard over the din. Moments later she caught a glimpse of Arald lying face down in the sparkly snow-covered stone of the avenue. His eyes were open staring blankly into nothing as blood came from his mouth.


“Useless,” Bodvar muttered. “I honestly expected more, Arald.”


Eadra felt her stomach turn. Arald was many things, but he didn’t deserve that. It was twisted, but part of her mourned him. It was like a piece of your life or memory being suddenly taken away. Bodvar’s apathy only worsened the feeling.


How could I have ever cared for you, Bodvar…I was such a stupid woman.


“Is there nothing of value to you, Bodvar?”


His face hardened. “There was you,” he replied, hefting his axe around in a wide arc. “Your fire was beautiful. It’s a pity that it came this far rekindle it in you.”


Ylva paused, momentarily distracted. “Eadra?”


Bodvar, took the opening, ramming his shield into her midsection. Ylva reeled, horror showing on her face, followed by rage. He stepped in, his skeggox already in motion, the strike angled at her collarbone.


Eadra intercepted, crossing her blades to block before it could find its mark. She dug her heels to the stone beneath her, sliding bu just a hair. “You would never understand what kindles it, just like you never understood then.”


Ylva pulled away swinging her great blade around. Bodvar blocked with his shield, wincing from the impact. His arm is tiring. Eadra used the opportunity, pulling on his skeggox, knocking the Blades’ leader off balance. He stumbled and she closed in, Ylva following closely behind.


“It is good you’re still alive,” she said. “I wasn’t myself.”


Eadra shifted her attention back toward Bodvar. “Then make it up by helping me kill this pig.”


Ylva’s expression hardened. “Gladly.”


Flanking him on either side, the attacked on one. Bodvar braced, intercepting and receiving the blows as he was able, his shield looking worse for the wear. In a bold move, he sidestepped exposing his right side to Eadra and rushed Ylva using his shield as a battering ram before she could bring the full weight of her sword to bear.


He caught Ylva’s forearms along its lip, bashing them against it. The Blooded woman screamed, losing her grip on her sword. The momentum sent her toppling back against one of the stalls and over the makeshift table the merchant had fashion in front of it.


With his back turned, Eadra moved to close the gap, her Aetharian blades posed to run him through. At the last moment Bodvar turned, to block, but his shield may as well have been parchment. Both swords sank down to the hilt, a loud grunt following.


Eadra could tell her longblade had connected, by the small amount of resistance she felt from the chainmail he wore. She pulled the blade free, another grunt following, but before she could remove the other sword, Bodvar moved his shield pulling it from her grasp.


His left shoulder was wounded, but it wasn’t deep. While the blade had cut most of the hide and chainmail links in its path, it wasn’t enough to render his shield arm useless.


“I’m too old for this,” he panted, a slight smirk on his face.


He brandished his skeggox, holding his shield arm up. The way he held it was unsteady, as if he were straining. His wound and Ylva’s relentlessness had worn down his defenses.


“It’s over Bodvar, this is the…” Eadra screamed, pain suddenly flooded her senses, her stomach knotting up. The world shifted and she found herself laying on her side. The feeling of the hard stone against her head minuscule.


It’s futile to fight me, Eadra. I’m coming. I will be free and death will come with me. There can be only one king!


The voice was cold, empty and haunting. It was malice defined. Madness in form. A loud roar echoed on the wind. A dragon’s roar.


Through the pain, fear overtook her. All she could stare helplessly as Bodvar lowered his shield arm and tightened his grip on his axe. He walked forward confidently his face grim.


“Sister!” she heard Mrina call out.


Bodvar turned, just before her ironwood blades could connect. He raised his shield arm to block, but when the swords connected, it shattered like glass, forcing them apart.


Through the pain, as she lay there Eadra craned her neck, Bodvar was screaming, his left arm mangled. Mrina was laying a few paces away, trying to move but in a daze. Some of the wooden shards from the shield had splintered hitting her on the face and in the abdomen. She was bleeding.


“Yak scragging cows!” Bodvar screamed using his skeggox to pull himself up. His face and beard were covered in blood, there were bits of wood shards embedded in his cheeks and cuts along his forehead. His helm had fallen off.


The Blade’s leader cradled his arm, casting a glance where Mrina lay. Stay there and bleed” he said. “I’ll be with you soon.”


He limped up to the stall where Ylva had been tossed and nodded as if confirming something. Then turned toward Eadra.


“I don’t what this is, but I guess I’ll take what luck I can get.”


Eadra tried to move, to say something, but the pain was too much. It was getting harder to breathe. The voice that had spoken before was laughing now, as if it was watching.


Eadra lifted her eyes, he was standing over her now, skeggox raised. “Goodbye Eadra…”


“No!” someone shouted in a high pitched scream.


Frey?!


It was hard to see now, the world was hazy. Bodvar stumbled, reaching for something before falling back. There was movement in the haze, then he began screaming. Someone was on top of him, he was trying to fight them, but seemed helpless.


There was a smell, one reminiscent of Haejenyar or a funeral pyre. It was the smell of flesh burning. Soon after, Bodvar stopped struggling and lay still.


Eadra fought through the haze, the laughter silent.


Another time, human. Another time.


The wind picked up and a fog was rolling in. The haze in her vision thickened and then everything went dark.

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