Valkyrie Chapter 34
“I suppose it’s time,” Henrik commented, casting a glance at his plate.
Jormund nodded. There was barely anything left on the old Thran’s plate save or a few rib bones and a smattering of potatoes.
The grand hall was quiet except for the crackling of wood in the hearths at each end of the building. Most of the servants and his warriors had been dismissed so the two of them could talk privately.
The emptiness of the hall was a bit unsettling. The dozens of empty tables and chairs made it feel more like a crypt. Normally it was filled with drunken laughter and the sound of comradery. Jormund felt a little thankful that the ruckus had become such a comfort.
Henrik had only just arrived a few days ago. The old Thran was adamant in teaching about everything that was important about his domain. It was still strange to think of the man as his father but by oath, they were family now.
The most shocking news was the gold mine the old bastard had managed to keep secret for so many decades. It did, however, explain how his men were always so well equipped. His domain was closest to the Coldfire Mountains and he controlled one of the few safe passes leading through it to Absion. The nations bosted some of the best craftsmen one could find within its borders.
“Grunier is a long way, but I’m not sure if it’s wise for us to travel together. It might send the wrong message.”
A devious smiled worked its way on the old Thran’s face. “Or the right one,” he replied. “Let them speculate what they wish. I’d rather keep the others on their toes.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t end up being used against us.”
Henrik curled his lip in disgust. “They aren’t that stupid. Well, Savar is, but still,” he replied. “Besides, I need my men to see you’re with us. You will be their leader one day.”
Jormund nodded. The words were still hard to hear. “Speaking of Savar,” he said. “ I have word he is making a show of his support for Viktor.”
The scowl on the old Thran’s face said enough. Henrik already knew.
“All the more reason for us to show up in force,” he replied. “The other Thran will do the same.”
“Illhiem will definitely bring his orcs. He relies heavily on the strange visions of their tribal leaders.”
Henrik laughed. “Is that contempt I hear, Henrikson?”
Jormund frowned. “Only speaking honestly.”
“Just because you can’t understand a thing, Jormund, doesn’t mean you should so casually dismiss it,” the old Thran replied. “The power the orcs wield is more than simple soothsaying, keep that in mind.”
“Either way, Henrik, if everyone makes a show of this, it could turn ugly fast.”
The old Thran went to say something when the large doors to the hall opened. Jormund turned toward the doorway as one of his men stepped into the hall. “Forgive me for bothering you, great Thran, but an emissary from Yggsid is here to see you.”
The warrior nodded. “He said he will only speak to you and Thran Henrik, Sire.”
It was unusual. The druids always used snow owls. It was rare for them to deliver messages personally. “Send him in.”
The man placed his arm across his breast in salute, bowed and disappeared into the doorway. A moment later a tall reed-thin Shaylin entered. His hair was cut short and shaved as if someone had covered his head with a bowl and clipped away everything else. It made his ears and sharp angular features more pronounced.
He was dressed in furs and if not for the tattoos on his face, it would have been easy to mark him as someone just passing through. The tattoos were done like scales, covering the entire left side of his face and worked their way down his neck. They likely covered his entire left side.
“Greetings great Thran,” he said with a bow. “I know it is unusual for one of us to come in person but of all the rulers in Sokoras, the Elder thought you would be the most reasonable.
Jormund glanced back at Henrik. Curiosity was written all over the man’s face. “Reasonable?” he asked, turning back to the druid.
“Ygsidd needs your aid,” he replied. “While I wasn’t told everything, I was entrusted with enough to hopefully convince you that change needs to take place for the betterment of Sokoras itself.”
From the corner of his eye, Jormund saw Henrik lean forward. He could sense the suspicion wafting from the old Thran. He had propped his elbows on the table and folded his hands together. “Since when have the druids ever taken anything more than a neutral stance in this nation’s affairs?” he asked, resting his chin on them.
“Since we recently learned that Viktor had deceived us,” the druid replied. “He came to us seeking knowledge about various growth and harvesting techniques for the Fern. We had no idea what his true intentions were until recently, but he used what he learned and perverted it. With this knowledge, he could destroy us all.”
Jormund suddenly felt uneasy. If Viktor had deceived to the druids into sharing some of their knowledge, he obviously did it under the guise of bettering Sokoras. Yggsid had always been focused on helping the people, regardless of who ruled them.
“That was not communicated to me,” the elf replied. “But I have word that the Elder would rather speak of it face to face.”
Jormund glanced back at Henrik. The old Thran was staring at the elf but his eyes showed he was elsewhere. What are you thinking?
Henrik suddenly blinked, then looked back at him. “We should hear her out,” he said. “If Viktor is making a move, I will not step into things blindly.”
Jormund nodded. “There is a place,” he said, looking back at the druid. “It lies fifteen miles south of Grunier. It was once a village six years ago before Viktor’s Blades burned it down.”
“I know if it,” the druid replied. “I will tell the Elder that you will meet her there.”
“I will wait for a day,” Jormund said. “If she does not show then the matter is closed.”
“I will relay the message, the druid responded, then bowed. “May the Lady grant you long life.”
Jormund sighed as the druid left. “I suddenly feel like Grunier if going to turn into one grand battlefield.”
“Even if it does, it will all begin and end with Viktor.”
“We should begin preparations,” Jormund replied. “Your riders could easily make the trip more quickly, but my men are making the trip on foot. We’re only going to slow you down.”
Henrik smiled. “In time, they will have dire wolves of their own,” he said. “Until then, as you say, we have to prepare.”
This is madness! Viktor has gone too far! Gunnar pulled his fur cloak tighter. A harsh wind was blowing across the Peridith Sea. The fog wasn’t helping either. Still, there was a bit of comfort. Dying here would mean that the threat of becoming a mindless slave on the plantations was no longer a concern.
The other men Viktor had sent with them were equally as fearful. They were too close to the Northern Isles. If a frost giant longship found them, they were likely dead. It was folly for Viktor to even think he could reason with the brutes.
That man’s obsession with control will be the end of me.
Drums suddenly thundered through the fog. Gunnar shuddered. It felt like a funeral dirge announcing his end. He could hear shouts in the guttural language of the giants. They were excited.
The giants loved killing those not like themselves. They saw themselves as hunters and treated other creatures as mere sport. To them, everything existed for their own amusement.
When the Feradiath appeared centuries ago, it was a blessing. Their ruthlessness and brutality provided a distraction and layer of protection for Sokroas. Some didn’t even consider them human.
Gunnar had learned they were tribal and spent their entire lives living off the sea. No doubt the giants believed them to be Feraldiath on a hunt. That only made matters worse. “Grab the casks!”
The men Viktor had sent simply stared at him holding their oars. They were frozen in fear.
“Grab. The. Casks!” he repeated harshly. “Or we all die!”
One of them quickly jumped to his feet and ran to the back of the longship where their provisions were secured. He quickly undid the ropes binding four small casks of wine to the stern and rolled them between the oarsmen up to the bow.
Once he did, like an ominous beast stalking them, the fog parted enough to see a frost giant longship breaking through. Gunnar felt his heart rise into his throat. The entire ship was carved in such a way that it looked like a dragon. No detail was overlooked. It was said only the most prominent among the giants went to such lengths.
We’re going to die. The sound of a chain grinding against a spool rang out in his ears. Ballista. One shot would be all that was needed to sink them into the sea’s icy depths.
As the ship closed in, a deep guttural laugh echoed across the distance between them.
“You’re not Feradiath!”
“No, we are not!”
The giant laughed again and began speaking in his native tongue. Laughter from his crewmates followed, but then quickly went silent. The giant had started shouting at them.
“Why are you in my waters?” he asked.
Gunnar could hear the ballista turning on its pivot point. One shot and it would be over. “Because my master seeks trade with the most powerful among your kind. Something to better both our stations.”
The giant laughed, then spoke something Gunnar couldn’t make out. His ship lurched forward as their oarsmen began to row.
“What trade can prey offer to the most powerful among us?” he asked. “The most powerful among us has everything he could want.”
Gunnar suddenly felt like a flea on a mongrel dog’s back. Their longship made his own look like a poor man's rower. “Wine unlike you have ever tasted.”
“Wine?” the giant sneered. “You bring only wine?”
Gunnar swallowed. The giant sounded more than insulted. He uttered a few words and
Gunnar knew what he was ordering his shipmates to do. “Wait! I will make you a deal!”
The giant spoke something in his native tongue. His ship was close enough for Gunnar to glimpse him. Curiosity was written all over his pale face. There were tribal tattoos, very similar to Ylva’s adorning his face and arms. His armor looked like a mesh of woven metal and leather. Like his longship, the detail was exquisite.
Even with his curiosity, his expression and eyes still spoke of cruelty that was momentarily held at bay. “Speak quickly!”
Gunnar could barely glimpse the oarsmen on the other ship. But in the stillness, there was a definite curiosity in the air. “If you can drink all four casks we have brought and remain standing, then our lives are yours.”
“And if I cannot?” the giant asked.
“Then you agree to open trade with us for the best wine you will ever taste.”
The giant laughed. “Your casks, are nothing to me!”
Gunnar swallowed hard. They had nothing else to lose. “Then you are afraid?”
The giant’s pale eyes lit up. His features revealing the depth of his cruelty. “I fear nothing!” he shouted. “Give me your casks!”
“You heard our gracious host!” he growled. “Move it!”
The oarsmen quickly pulled alongside the frost giant’s ship and they lowered ropes to tie to the casks. Gunnar looked up at the frost giant’s leader, a small sliver of hope welling up inside him.
Let us pray the Fern affects you as well or we are all dead.