Valkyrie Chapter 24
She was pacing, her thoughts consumed with worry while soaking in the warmth from the fireplace. It was hard to focus since the letter’s arrival hours ago. Shuet hadn’t given much detail ave for the fact that he and Wulf had an argument. He also mentioned that her husband had resigned as Huntsman.
Kala turned to the stacks of papers piled onto the table. It was a list of the annual requests for by each of the Thran. Part of her responsibility was making sure each was met.
With the harsh winters, it had always fallen to the druids to help ensure enough food was grown in the brief planting season they each year. While each village worked hard to grow what food they could, it fell to The Grove to ensure there was enough.
Kala walked up to the table and sifted through the requests. It didn’t take long before her fingers grazed the letter Shuet had sent by snow owl. She picked it up just as a knock came from the door and it opened.
“Have you found him?” she asked turning around.
The young elf shook her head. “No Elder, we haven’t, but we are still looking.”
Kala clenched her fists in frustration. This was so like him! Running off whenever he disagreed with something.
She looked up, nothing the Shaylin girl in front of her seemed a little nervous. She smiled and gently placed her hand on the elf’s cheek. “Forgive me, Mrina,” she said. “My husband can be frustrating at times.”
Mrina smiled and bowed her head briefly in respect. “It has been my experience that human males often are,” she replied.
Sometimes it was hard to remember that Mrina was nearly one hundred winters. She looked barely twenty. It was one of the differences between Shaylin and humans. They matured more quickly mentally at a young age than humans.
Kala smiled. “Impulsive and brash I think were the words you have often used.”
Mrina grinned. “Yes, but there is still a beauty to the candle while it burns brightly.”
Kala nodded. I suppose I should be thankful that his still burns.
Wulf was always so stubborn, insisting there was a way of things. His distrust of magic often made things difficult. But, peel away the layers and you saw a big heart. He believed strongly in doing right by others.
Difficult as he could be, she still loved him, no matter how hard they fought. Kala knew he felt the same, even if he wouldn’t always admit it. There were times, she wondered if it was because of the connection to her totem that made her feelings for him so strong. Some of the other Elders had gone as far as teasing her about it. On occasion, they even called her ‘Lioness’.
The nickname stuck after an altercation with Viktor. Part of her wished she had clawed his gut wide open. His last request for grain was the most ambitious by far this year. He was always commenting that the druids served him alone. In the Thran’s mind, he was the rightful ruler of Sokoras.
Kala looked up.
“We will find him,” Mrina said. “We haven’t been searching long, but owls have been sent to every member of our Circle.”
Kala sighed. “I know, Mrinna, but Wulf often makes reckless decisions when he gets angry.”
“You both have your responsibilities,” she replied.
Kala sat down at the table and moved the requests to one side. “That we do,” Kala replied. “Wulf is gone for weeks at a time because of the demands of the Rangers.”
Mrina grinned. “You both want the same things, give it time and you will find a middle ground.”
Kala sighed. I hope you are right. She looked away, briefly catching a smirk from the young Shaylin out of the corner of her eye.
“Sometimes, Elder, you humans do overly complicate things.”
Kala frowned, folding her hands together and looking back at her. “What do you mean?”
“Many among my people simply accept the role they are given, they follow the rules, more or less, and that is that,” she replied. “Others, choose a different path, regardless of station, rank, or what they might lose in order to gain something more.”
“So you are saying if all comes down to a choice?”
“Aren’t choices the only real freedom we have?” Mrina answered.
Kala looked at the requests on the table. “So what do I choose?”
“The answer your heart has already chosen,” Mrina replied.
“Mrina…” A loud horn sounded, its blare rushing in through the glass window. Kala felt her heart rise into her throat. It was a warning; They were under attack!
Ygsidd seemed out of place when compared to the pines as they descended. The grove was large and spread out over, covering at least a square mile. The huge evergreens were woven together with druidic magic, forcing them to grow into each other to create a protective canopy.
Dozens of druids and their followers poured from the grove’s cave-like entrance. Issfang roared in response, forcing to her grip the spines on his back harder to keep from falling off. Some were already cutting into the makeshift harness she had made from the straps of her pack.
Judging by the dragon expression, Issfang he seemed pleased that they were ready to wet themselves. Eadra sighed, she was suddenly reminded of the story her father had told her as a child. The one about the scorpion and the fox. Ironically, even if she was riding on his back, she felt like the fox.
A few of the druids had transformed into snow bears, though they were larger than normal. No doubt they had used their magic to make themselves appear more imposing. Others held spears.
“Oh look, they are kind enough to serve us food, Eadra,” Issfang commented as he stared at the shapeshifted druids.
Eadra frowned. He was speaking Aetharian and judging by the inflection in his tone, Issfang was uncomfortably serious. “No, that’s not how we make friends,” she replied sternly.
“Friends? What a silly notion,” he replied. “Oh and you can get off my back now,” he added.
Moments later the snow behind the druids shifted, taking earth and stone with it. Eadra reflexively dripped her longblade as the elemental took shape. Once it was formed the brute stood nearly fifteen feet. It let out an earthy roar, like the rumbling of stone and ice in an avalanche.
“Eadra, my back,” Issfang reminded.
Eadra maneuvered around his spines and slid down his left wing. The dragon promptly transformed and crossed his arms once she was clear. His frosty eyes appeared to glow as he stared druids down.
“Issfang, behave,” she warned.
He sighed, “You really aren’t any fun.”
“State your business!”
Eadra turned to see a tall woman, dressed in furs, and holding a composite bow step past the other druids. There was a Shaylin following closely behind her. She had her hands suspiciously tucked inside the arms of her robes.
“I am Kala, one of the Elders of the grove,” she said.
“I wonder if that’s his wife?” the dragon whispered in Aetharian.
Eadra glanced at him and rolled her eyes. Issfang simply grinned. “My name is Eadra, I came to speak with the Elders about a threat facing all of us.”
“Sokoras is full of threats,” Kala replied, glancing past her to Issfang. “You stand with one.”
“The lady is too kind,” the dragon replied with a flourishing bow.
“I’m well aware of the dangers our home has to offer, but what I have to say is greater than any of them we have known thus far.”
“Speak here, we have no secrets among our Circle,” she replied.
Eadra took a deep breath. “Viktor is planning to enslave you, using a distillation of White Fern not seen since the time of the Aethar.”
“How is this possible?” Kala asked. “For that matter, if this is true, how did you come to learn this?”
This is no time regrets, Eadra. She gripped the hilt of her longblade, steadying herself. "Because I have devoted many years of my life to collecting knowledge about the Aethar and their culture,” she replied. “I through my own carelessness, helped him discover its true purpose.”
The Elder narrowed her eyes. “So the reason Viktor is calling this gathering is to use this new concoction on us?”
“From what I know and have learned, yes.”
The Shaylin with Kala leaned forward, whispering something to her. Kala pulled her fur hood back, anger clearly showing in her eyes. “Then we have also been foolish,” she replied. “Viktor came to us a year ago, he claimed to have discovered a safer distillation process for the fern.”
“And you helped him,” Eadra replied.
Kala nodded. “We did, though reluctantly. Even if it is Viktor, the fern offers many benefits for surviving the cold.”
“Only if it’s properly treated,” Eadra said.
“Only if…” she replied. “Come inside, we will talk more.” Kala then turned her attention to Issfang. “You can stay out here,” she said.
“And if I decide not to,” he replied.
“Then I will make you.”
Eadra smirked at the nervous look on the dragon’s elvish features as Kala stepped forward and summoned another elemental. She also noted the Elder’s eyes briefly turn cat-like.
“I’m pretty sure that’s Wulf’s wife,” he commented.