Valkyrie Chapter 25
Wulf stared at Svaren’s main gate, his breath frosting as he sighed. Eadra and Issfang had dropped him off about half a mile from the small city. They couldn’t risk causing a panic, though Issfang had a look in his eyes that he might enjoy doing just that. Either way, the long walk gave him time to think.
He knew he had been too rash and let his anger get the best of him. Shuet and Eirik were doing what they thought was best for everyone. The Rangers were family; that was how it had always been. The thought didn’t make him feel any better about turning his back on them and walking away.
Shuet wouldn’t say much, but he was the forgiving sort. Eirik however, was different. He was giving up, his name, family and everything else. It didn’t make the guilt any better with all that he is giving up, would be the hardest to earn forgiveness from.
As he passed through the gates, with the city guard keeping a close watch on him and the handful of others, Wulf found it hard not to argue that Viktor had the right idea though. Sokoras was too divided.
With the exception of Illheim and Henrik, the remaining Thran had only been in power for a couple of decades. Viktor was the most recent as of ten years ago and he was the last person they needed sitting at the head of the table. His ambition, ruthlessness, and greed were dangerous. Now that he had a means of controlling others, it only proved Shuet right for being wary of him when he first became Thran.
Wulf looked about the snow-covered streets noting a handful of Rangers checking out some of the local shops. Each wore armbands bearing the standard of whom they served. Guilt set it when he saw one bearing his own.
I wonder what Shuet has told you.
The Ranger turned, eyes wide when he saw Wulf. “Huntsman Wulf!” he ran over, eyes wide and brimming with excitement. “I was told you might not be able to make it!”
Wulf smiled graciously. Wise as always Shuet. “I managed to finish my contract sooner than expected,” he replied.
The young Ranger smiled. “I’m glad to hear!” he said. “So do you know what this is about?”
“Not enough,” Wulf answered. “Shuet has a habit if playing his hand close to his chest.”
The young Ranger nodded. “So I have heard.”
Wulf paused, looking him over. He was young, probably twenty-one winters. His clothes said he had been lucky enough to garner contracts profitable enough for their cost.
“I something wrong?” he asked.
“Tell me, how long have to been one of mine?”
“Since last winter,” the Ranger answered.
Wulf narrowed his eyes. So young and green. Shuet I hope you don’t get us caught in some blood filled war. “Who scouted you?”
“Fafnil,” he replied and then abruptly smiled. “he warned me about you, Huntsman.”
The Ranger nodded. “He said if I ever met you to tell you that you need to ‘loosen up’.”
Wulf grinned. That sounded like Fafnil. He was always complaining the standards were too strict on potential recruits. “Tell him, when you see him next, that my standards are in place to keep kids from dying.”
“I almost did if I were honest,” the Ranger replied. “He unclasped his cloak and undid the buttons of his wool shirt to show a nasty scar across his chest.”
Wulf stared at the claw marks. Snowbear.
“I know how bad it looks, but I’m actually grateful for it.”
Wulf looked up at him. “Why?”
“Because it taught me how dangerous this life can be,” the young Ranger replied. “I always dreamed of joining, to earn my place in this harsh world we live in.” He paused looking toward the group he had been with as they stepped into a tavern. They were all much older than him.
“In my village, the Rangers are like a legend,” he added. “A group of them saved us from a Frost giant riding in on one of their dragons from the Northern Isles.”
Wulf regarded him curiously. Frost giants usually attacked in groups of three when riding dragons on a raid. “He was alone?”
The young Ranger nodded but still smiled. “He was, but he was also drunk. We were fortunate though. There were four Ranger’s passing through that day on a contract. They taunted the giant and in a drunken rage, he forced his dragon to swoop down at them.”
“How many lost their lives?” After facing off against Issfang it wouldn’t be surprising if one of them died in a strafing run. Issfang was too worried about disturbing the tomb in their fight.
“One lost his arm,” he replied. “It was grazed when the dragon spewed its frosty breath at them. They had to amputate it after the fight.”
“What of the giant and the dragon?”
“They crashed ingloriously. He couldn’t pull up in time,” the young ranger answered. “The dragon broke its neck on impact with the ground. The giant broke his right arm, but even drunk it was a hard fight.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Ten years,” he answered. “Ever since that day after seeing how they risk their lives for just a small number of people, I’ve wanted to become one of you.”
Wulf smiled. He’d forgotten what youthful enthusiasm looked like. “What’s your name?”
“Bethir,” the young ranger replied.
“Well, Bethir, I will be watching you,” Wulf said. “I expect a lot from those who wear my standard.” It felt so hypocritical to say, but the boy beamed with pride.
“We are family and Sokoras is our house to protect,” he replied.
Wulf smiled. “Be safe and tell Fafnal he chose well,” he said, patting Bethir on the shoulder continuing up the street.
Each step closer toward the Lodge felt ominous. It was hard for Wulf not to picture Eirik tearing his head off. A Blooded in a rage was frightening to watch, let alone be the focus of.
He looked back over his shoulder, but by now he had traveled too far into Svaren to catch sight if Bethir. I hope it doesn’t come to war, kid. I worry about who we will side with.
After a few minutes, he reached the double doors of the lodge and hesitantly grabbed the door ring. Wulf turned, taking another look at Svaren. The whole city was built on hilly terrain, making the streets uneven and sloped with the buildings. The lodge sat on the highest hill, giving it a view of the city.
Wulf turned back to the doors and pulled, the loud sound of raucous laughter, music and the crisp fermented smell of ale flooding his senses. He could also smell the familiar scent of the spices Eirik was fond of wafting from inside the room.
At least he’s cooking. It will make it easier to slip in.
There were over two dozen Rangers in the lodge, but Shuet was nowhere in sight. Wulf pulled the hood of his cloak over his face and kept his head low. It was possible that his old friend was dutifully looking over the contracts and setting them up for assignment.
He navigated his way through until he reached the stairs leading up to the next floor. He stepped onto the first step when someone grabbed him by his right wrist.
Wulf turned, nearly having a mug of honeyed mead thrust into his jaw. The Ranger standing there was completely plastered and barely standing. He had a dung heap of a grin on his face as he shakily held the mug out.
“Sure,” Wulf replied taking the mug.
The ranger simply grinned, then nodded as if Wulf had made the correct choice, before drunkenly wandering off and falling flat on his face by the main door. Wulf glanced at the armband he wore, noting the Ranger was one of Eirik’s.
He’s lucky he isn’t one of mine.
Setting the mug on the step in front of him, Wullf ascended the stairs and navigated the hall toward Shuet’s study. He reached for the doorhandle and opened the door to see Shuet sitting at his desk organizing bounty papers. It was odd seeing his old friend wearing spectacles. It actually made the old Ranger’s years show.
Shuet’s looked up, the look in his eyes surprising. He was angry in a way Wulf had never seen before. Wulf stepped in and quickly closed the door.
Shuet narrowed his eyes, and tightened his jaw as he stood. “You’ve got balls the size of a yak for setting foot in my Lodge after what you did, Wulf!”
Wulf held his hands up defensively. “Hear me out, Shuet, please.”
Shuet curled his lip in disgust. “Make it quick before I beat sense into you.,” he replied.
Wulf took a deep breath. There was no guarantee his old friend would even believe him. He honestly barely believed it himself. “I was being a fool and things have changed, there is more going on than we know.”
“An army laying asleep underneath out feet,” Wulf replied.
Shuet frowned, his expression skeptical. “You’ve been drinking haven’t you?”
Wulf bit his lip. “No, I haven’t,” he replied. “The Aethar, the elves who lived here long before anyone, were cursed by the Dakren after they were killed off. I’ve seen a tomb where some of them were laid to rest, but they aren’t. There’s some kind of magic keeping them there, but it’s fading.”
“So you came back to tell me this?” Shuet asked. “Are you even sorry for turning your back on us? We needed you. Eirik needed you.”
“I said I was fool and a hot-tempered one at that,” Wulf responded. “I let my anger cloud my judgement.” He stepped closer, half expecting Shuet to hit him across the jaw. “You were right, Viktor has to be stopped. If he isn’t, none of us will survive what’s coming.”
Shuet sighed, he was still, but not as angry as a moment ago. “You’re certain of this? That these Aethar are coming back?”
Wulf nodded. “I have seen the tomb and met someone who can translate their writing.”
Shuet leaned back against the his desk and shook his head. “Viktor first, no matter what happens,” he said.
“Agreed,” Wulf replied.
“Good, now shall I get Eirik or will you?”
“I’ll wait outside so the lodge stays intact,” Wulf answered.
Shuet smirked. “Wise choice,” he said. “There are too many knives within reach in the kitchen.”