• Matt Brown

Valkyrie Chapter 23

“Forgive me, Illhiem, but the tribe’s shaman is certain.”

Illhiem frowned and shifted uncomfortably on his throne. He touched his long gray beard, stroking it out of habit. “I already suspected,” he replied. “Still, I had hoped.”

Grazigs nodded. “I know the portent doesn’t please you, great Thran, but the orc tribes owe you too much of a debt to risk dismissing the shaman’s vision.”

“How long has it been, Grazigs, since we got everyone to the table?” the old Thran asked. “How many petty squabbles did we have to endure?”

“Perhaps forty winters, Sire, maybe more,” his advisor replied.

Illhiem nodded. He was much younger then, ambitious and full of vision. Now, as the years toiled on, ambition waned and a desire to peace took its place. Orcs and goblins from all over Sorkoras had flocked here to live peaceably.

They had bolstered his ranks. While internal squabbles between them and his own people still happened on occasion happened, none dared to risk the stability their combined strength offered.

He looked to his other advisors, Volkim and Gegnar. Volkin had been elected ‘High Chief’ by the goblins, a title he was very proud of, but in reality, meant nothing. Still, illusions and diplomacy were the order of the day when dealing with him.

Gegnar spoke for the people. As a human, his position ensured that the people each felt they had an equal partnership within the region. He was smart and above all, he was loyal.

“What say you two?” he asked.

Volkin smiled wide as he adjusted the crown fashioned from yak bones on his head. His yellowing pointed teeth unnerving to look at. “Far be it from me to argue against any ill-portents,” he replied. “We know Viktor has asked the other Thran to a meeting and that he and Savar are thick as thieves.”

“If what the shaman says is as accurate as we have heard, then it seems our only option is to attend,” Gegnar chimed in. “Savar will use every advantage he can to gain the upper hand over us.”

“My scouts have already sent word that Savar is moving his men by sea around the coast toward Yodnar,” Volkin added. “He’s making a show of force as part of his support for Viktor.”

Illhiem bit his lip. “How many warriors?”

“Three hundred,” Volkin replied.

The old Thran sneered. “Let us hope the Feraldiath raiders roaming the Perideth Sea are in a mood favorable to us this time of year.”

“Only if they have grown bored of harassing the frost giant’s on the northern isles,” Gegnar commented.

“One can hope…” The old Thran muttered. The Feraldiath were pirates and raiders. They had a reputation that extended as far south as the nation Charnoe leagues away.

Supposedly they lived on the sea and were organized in clans. They rarely bothered any of the coastal towns, opting to focus their attention on Norenhiem and its neighboring islands.

“I think action would be more prudent than hope,” Volkin commented.

Spoken like a goblin.

Illhiem eyed his advisor for a moment. Volik was taller than most goblins by a hand length, but by the way he stooped, you wouldn't have known. He wore a bright red tunic that extended past with waist and matching wool pants. His cloak was made of yak hide.

“Do you remember the Tinker’s proposal about making fire that burns hotter the more water is added to it?” he asked.

“A ridiculous notion!” Volkin replied. “More mad rantings!”

“If I recall, didn’t you say the same thing about those ancient ballisti we unearthed in the caverns below our feet, Volkin?” Grazigs commented. “‘They will never work,’ are the words I believe you used.”

The goblin king frowned, though with his pitted nose, overly large eyes and scraggly hair he looked more like an ugly, pouting child. Illhiem smiled. Volkin hated the fact the Tinkers were allowed to build and experiment to their hearts’ content. Even though they were his own people, they were seen as mad by the goblins of the Warrens.

Even if they were and most of what they made was prone to a random malfunction, their brand of madness had managed to keep Savar at bay. The ballisti were one such example.

“They have their uses, I will not disagree!” he snapped, his yellow eyes wide in frustration. “But, they lack the same sensibilities that we do as goblins or any other. Given too much freedom and they might do something truly insane!”

Again, no one could with him. Illhiem had seen some of their requests. One was so disturbing he had the journal it was written in burned. The goblin who had made the request wanted to dissect a few humans and orcs for study to cross-breed them into a new race.

“Which is why they are watched instead of butchered,” Grazigs replied. “This madness you claim they are born with isn’t something they can help.”

Illhiem held his hand up and they immediately turned their attention to him. It was an old argument, the orcs valued life; it was ingrained into their teachings. The goblins were practical, killing or removing anything they viewed as a threat to the Warrens.

Ironically when it came to judicial matters, they fell into the role perfectly. Despite what others believed about them in Sokoras, they were strict when it came to matters of law, order, and survival.

“Find a place safe enough for them to run their tests, Volkin, please,” the old Thran said. “I want to have something to make Savar piss himself if he thinks he can set us up when it comes time to meet with Viktor.”

“There are other alternatives,” the goblin king replied, placing a hand on the hilt of his long knife.

Illhiem shook his head. “No, not unless we are at war.” That was something else goblins were good at, getting into places they weren’t supposed to.

Volkin frowned but nodded. “As you wish,” he replied.

Illhiem turned his attention to Gegnar next. “Send snow owls to Thran Grenden and Thran Dag. I want to know their thoughts on this.”

“Is there anything specific you’d like to inquire of them?” he asked.

Illhiem shook his head. “I will defer to you on this.”

Gegnar’s eyes lit up. Illhiem knew that his advisor was intelligent and had been with him a long time. Now was the time t see if their years together had taught him the meaning of diplomacy.

“I’m honored you would trust me with handling something so important,” he said.

“I trust all of you equally,” the old Thran replied. “I know I sometimes take too much on and it is time I loosened my hold.”

“We’ve come too far to let it all end,” Volkin chimed in.

“Agreed,” Grazigs replied.

“Then with the exception of Grazigs make haste,” he replied. “I have more question for him.”

Both Gegnar and the goblin king turned and left the hall, a cold wind blowing in as they opened the doors leading the outside. Grazigs waited patiently as the two of them pulled the large doors shut behind them.

“You are concerned about the other half of the vision,” he said, speaking up.

Illhiem nodded. “Perceptive as ever.”

“The shaman’s vision was vague on that,” the orc replied. “He said it was almost as if it were purposely obscured.”

“Has he ever said anything like that before?”

Grazigs chook his head. “Never, they’ve always been cryptic, but he said this was different. He only heard words, they were faint and he felt the Keeper’s shadow over him.”

His advisor looked worried, frightened even. Both weren’t something the old Thran was used to seeing. “Tell me again how he spoke the words.”

Grazigs closed his eyes and took a breath. He was silent for a moment as if making sure to recall every detail:

“Beneath our feet lies an ancient past, one that slumbers and has breathed its last. At its back comes ice and death, should the last of a great warrior line draw her final breath.

Then from a sea of white, a hungering king shall rise to claim to reclaim the land as its prize. Neither wolf nor bear, nor any who stands to fight, have the strength to resist the coming of this sleeping death’s might. At dragon’s roar the moment will be nigh to protect this warrior lest she die.”

Illhiem sat back while Grazigs simply stood there patiently. “Your shaman said he was blinded by snow in his vision?”

It was only a guess, but burning the dead had been a tradition longer than anyone knew. Illheim was no fool, he had lived long enough to learn that traditions were made for a reason.

The orc nodded.

“Send a message to the captain of the Warrens below the city. I want them to search for burial chambers.”

Grazigs looked at him curiously.

“We’ve allowed the goblins to make a home below our feet, they know those ruins better than anyone,” the old Thran replied. “If whoever lived here an age ago buried people down there, I want every body burned to ash and scattered into the wind!”

“It will be done,” Grazigs bowed.

Illheim nodded, then paused, staring at him. He had given the goblins a veritable city in the ruins beneath Bekkr, but the orc tribes had only their small settlements and the human cities within the region. “Grazigs, I ask a favor of your people.”

Surprise shone on the orc’s face as the words left the old Thran’s lips.

“Name it,” he replied.

“Tell the tribes that I am asking them to organize hunting parties for Hungerings Ones who have wandered into the region,” Illhiem said. “I understand the shamen of the tribes are skilled at dealing with them?”

“They are,” he answered.

“Tell each of the chieftains, that if they do this then the ruins southeast of Holbaek are theirs to build a city of their own with,” Illhiem replied.

“You have again surpassed my expectations, great Thran,” Grazigs replied.

“Just pray to your Creator, or whichever Immortal that might care enough, that is the first step to avoiding whatever is coming.”

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