• Matt Brown

Valkyrie Chapter 3

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

Chapter 4

Wolf stepped into the lodge, the grand hall was just as he remembered. The hearth across the room was larger than life with great logs that Shuet had no doubt hauled in from around back. He looked at the banners hanging from the rafters and smiled.

Two arrows intertwined with a longsword. It was their standard. One that had made the Rangers well known throughout Sokoras. His own hung on the far wall, along with Shuet’s and Eirik’s. Shuets hung higher than the rest, this was his lodge after all. It was a simple warhammer with a bushel of white fern standing behind it. The banner itself was blue, a dye not easy to come by this far north.

Eirik’s was a stag’s head. The head was black and the banner a drab gray. Eirik was always one for simplicity. Judging by the faint smell of roast bear, he was in the kitchens.

You always were the best cook I ever knew. Wolf turned to his own banner. It was red, with a wolf’s head emblazoned on it. He never wanted one, but the laws of the Rangers were absolute. All the leaders were required to have one.

He glanced at the tables. There were ten in the central area, with two more up the stairs at the far sides of the hall. Judging by their placement Eirik must have brought them in. They were meticulously placed and evenly spaced. I bet I could get a tailor’s thread and wouldn’t find them a centimeter off.

It was strange to see so many had been brought in; no less than twenty Rangers ever sat here at evening meal, if that. As it looked, the hall could fit eighty four. Shuet was up to something.

“Wolf! How have you been, my old friend!

Wolf turned to face Shuet. He’d grown fat, though he was sure that wouldn’t impede his prowess with the warhammer hanging from his belt. Hints of grey showed in his friend’s beard and hair.

“I’ve been well, old friend. I see there are more trophies than I remembered.” The broad smile on his friend’s face said that he was still fit enough to hunt.

“I can’t take all the credit, Wolf. We help the townsfolk as much as they help us,” Sheut replied.

It was true, that was their way. People came from all over Sokoras and beyond to the Lodges scattered across the country. Trackers, hunters, and Bounty Men. These were just some of the jobs the Rangers did. In Sokoras, trade was the currency. Abroad, gold was the price and a high one.

“So why all the tables?” His friend’s face grew grim.

“I’ve sent out Calling.”

Wolf thought his heart might stop. “You did what?!” This is beyond absurd! While there had to be a reason, it still didn’t change the fact of how stupid such a decision was.

Shuet held his hands up and stepped back. “Wolf, please calm down!”

“You know how the other Thran will react to a Calling!” he replied. “We aren’t an army or the Blades. We hold allegiance to no one. Our neutrality between the ruling Thran is what allows us the autonomy we fought for centuries ago.”

“Wolf, shut up and listen to the man!” That was definitely Eirik. Wolf turned toward the door leading to the kitchen. Eirik was just as tall as he remembered, but looked as if he had gained a bit a muscle. He was dressed plainly, but wore an apron, his pale white skin a tell-tale sign that he was Blooded.

The blue tribal paints normally adorning his face and arms had changed. The paints were a practice among the people of his village. Wolf read the markings and bit his lip. He’s in mourning.

“Don’t even utter a word about it,” Eirik said, his white, frosty eyes hard and empty.

Wolf nodded. “So why was this decision made without me?”

“We couldn’t get a message to you, we had to send one of our own to track you,” Eirik replied. “The laws state we only need two for a ruling in a crisis.”

Wolf looked to Shuet. “Crisis?”

“Viktor has called the Thran together. He has also requested the druids and Rangers be in attendance,” Shuet explained.

Wolf felt the hairs on his neck stand on end. “How many are coming?”

“All of them,” Eirik chimed in, taking a seat at the closest table. “He is claiming that he has made a discovery that will benefit all Sokorans and that it is time the entire country stand united.”

“With him as king I assume?” Viktor has been trying for years to find a way to make himself ‘High Thran’. A title the warlord made himself. Everyone knew he sold White Fern to whomever would buy it, distilled or not.

“We’re certain that’s his motive, he’s already expelled every Ranger from his domain,” Eirik commented. “He’s even taken my Lodge!” Eirik slammed his fist on the table, an audible crack sounding.

Wolf winced, it was hard not to imagine a man’s skull breaking under that fist. Eirik was what his own kind considered ‘Pure’. Their ancestry in relation to frost giant’s was the strongest. Pure were rarer than the Blooded themselves.

Wolf looked at the markings on Eirik’s face. Viktor had done something else, he wouldn’t be wearing those over the Lodge. Where’s Ylva? She’s never far from him. Don’t tell me Viktor killed her!

“You’d better keep the thoughts your face is speaking to yourself, Wolf,” Eirik warned.

Shuet sighed, drawing their attention. “Back to the matter at hand. They are all going and so are we, but not before the Calling is complete.”

“There aren’t enough seats for a Calling, Shuet,” Wolf commented. “Even my own Ranger are under contract. Thulm was very specific about keep an eye on the giant’s movements.”

“We will work it out, the village council has allowed us some leeway,” Sheut said.

“You don’t honestly believe Viktor can pull this off?” Shuet glanced over toward Eirik. Wolf looked between them. Even with the warm of the hearth, the room suddenly grew cold.

“He stole Ylva from me, Wolf,” Eirik said. The way he spoke, was as if she were dead. “The new process for distilling White Fern, if affects the mind, but won’t kill you. I didn’t even know.” There were tears in his eyes. “The bastard used that cursed plant on my only daughter!”

Wolf took a seat across from him, bile rising in his throat. “We can tell the Thran, they’ll band together and stop him.”

“No, Wolf, they won’t,” Shuet chimed in. “Think about it carefully. We benefit the most from a divided Sokoras. Our freedom, our autonomy. We can work for anyone regardless of allegiance.”

“They would see it as us trying to keep them divided for personal gain,” Wolf replied.

“They would,” Shuet said. “So we have another plan.”

Wolf’s eyes went wide. “We aren’t an army! We’re barely three hundred strong!”

“No, Wolf, you misunderstand,” Eirik said. “The Calling is to inform our brothers of the truth. The Rangers are our family and one of our own has been taken.”

“Eirik, you can’t…”

Eirik stood, grabbing the table and tossing across the Lodge, he rushed Wolf. Even at seven feet, he was fast. Wolf was hefted from the floor, his eyes meeting with Eirik’s. “He takes my daughter into his chambers, Wolf! She believes she’s in love with him!” he screamed. “Don’t tell me what I cannot do!”

Wolf looked where the table had landed, it was irreparably broken into pieces. “Eirik,” he said.

“Put me down, now.” Eirik paused, looking down at his stomach. Wolf softly tapped his knife against it.

“Stop this; both of you!” Shuet shouted.

Eirik suddenly let go and started toward the kitchen. Wolf caught himself, managing to keep his balance, and put his knife away.

“I’m not going to listen to anymore,” Eirik said. “My mind is made up, Shuet.”

It was hard to watch. Eirik’s mind was made up. “Shuet, you can’t let him, do this.”

His old friend reached out placing a hand on his shoulder. “He’s the only one who can. None of the other Thran are blooded. As a Pure he’ll be hard to stop and the only one capable of killing Viktor before he can use this new concoction on them.”

“What if he kills one of the Thran in one of his rages? It will mean the end of us. Honestly, killing Viktor will end us.”

“No it won’t,” Shuet replied.

Wolf’s eyes went wide. “You won’t…”

“We have no choice, Wolf. We will Foreswear him.”

This is too much. All record of him ever existing will be erased. His name can never be spoken, his successful contracts and achievements burned. There wouldn’t even be a grave. It was worse than death. “I refuse, to take part in this.”

“You don’t have to, the vote was cast,” Sheut replied. “Eirik is doing this for us and Ylva. When it is over we will claim we had no idea. I will tell the Thran that he had been acting strangely since coming to my Lodge. Had we known his grievance with Viktor was so great, we never would allowed him to represent us.”

“Then you can do it alone,” Wolf replied. “I resign my post.” Wolf turned his back, not even giving his old friend a chance to speak. He simply couldn’t look at him anymore. He knew the laws. A Huntsman was a lifetime position, there was no resignation. Only death could release one from such responsibility. Wolf was no coward, suicide was a weakling’s path. Exile was the only other option. He would never take another contract.

He stepped into Sokoras’ cold embrace, it was like being held by the Keeper himself. In a way it was almost poetic. He felt like he was with the dishonored dead, their cold agonizing cries like from the stories, mirroring his own heart.

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