• Matt Brown

Valkyrie Chapter 44


The city was growing busier by the day. As of late Bodvar had been too busy for any more training sessions. Eijar as well. Frey looked about the street. There was so much distrust radiating from everyone. Even from the people who lived within Grunier’s walls.


The shopkeepers were like snow owls, their eyes sharp and ever watchful. The Blades and Viktor’s men were similar, there had been an increasing number of brawls due to their scrutiny. Frey shuddered, a cold chill creeping in. It happened every time she looked at one of the Blades.


Eijar had warned her about delving too deeply. About peering past the curtain at the sins they were hiding. The chill always came when she forced herself to shut out the noise of it. He said she wasn’t ready, but it was hard not to want to look.


The lessons were becoming easier as were the concepts he was trying to convey. Still, complete control was just out of her grasp. She smiled, thinking of the praise he had given her for being such an astute student.


Another chill overtook her. I guess it could be worse. If you hadn’t shown me, Eijar, I wouldn’t know which of these bad people to avoid.


Even shutting them out some of them still shown themselves for the horrible people they were. That lesson had been ingrained all too well, some of the Blades were truly horrible people. One of the Blades, a man named Rhien, had done terrible things.


It was like he was covered in a dark shroud. Frey felt her stomach churn as she thought about the screams she heard coming from him. He loved to make people suffer. Even shutting him out, she could see in his eyes.


They were so distant. It was as if everyone around him were less than or beneath him. Even when he looked at Bodvar, he mouthed obedience, but the look in his eyes showed Rhien was elsewhere. Frey shook her head, tearing her thoughts away from the man.


She glanced back, her bodyguards were like her shadow. Surprisingly they weren’t like the others who had been sent to watch her. “You don’t have to be so quiet.”


Neither of them responded, they simply looked at her, then back toward the crowd. She sighed, rolling her eyes and kept walking down the street. Even with the bustle, Gruiner was still an interesting place.


Apparently, it had been the stronghold of the old Thran before Viktor had killed him and taken his place. There was an area they called The Keep, which had been fortified and had a large wall built around it. It was little more than a glorified hall, but it still looked defensible.


Frey touched her chest, a twinge in her heart tugging at her. I guess I listened to you more than I thought Mama. Memories of watching her mother build onto the house or help the villagers build their homes stronger and more sturdier came to mind. The wall around the village had been her mother’s idea. Though most never really took it seriously. It all seemed silly, until now.


She browsed the shop in the market, mostly out of boredom. It had become a habit, something to pass the time. At first, those who had learned or believed Bodvar was actually her father would offer things whenever something caught her eye. It was mostly out of fear though.


“Well if it is our young Lady Frey,” a lighthearted voice called out.


Frey looked up, suddenly realizing whose stall she had wandered to. “Aegring!” It was hard not to smile or feel warm around the merchant. Warmth and delight practically flowed from him.


“Such a beautiful smile for such a lovely young lady,” he replied. “It brightens the darkness surrounding all the yak scrag around here!”


Frey smiled. He was always full of compliments. It was a breath of fresh air compared to how harsh everyone else was.


“Aegring! Mind your words!”


Frey turned her attention to Yedda, Aegring’s wife and laughed. “It’s okay Yedda, I’ve heard far worse.”


“Far worse is far too much young lady!” she replied. “A child of your stature shouldn’t be forced to endure such things!”


One of the soldiers stepped forward, but Frey unhooked her skeggox from her belt loop and cut him off. “Leave my friends alone!” she said.


The soldier frowned but stepped back.


Aegring burst into laughter, forcing him to use the table he displayed his wares on for support. “I never thought I’d see the day. The Bear’s men put in their place by a child!”

He was in tears now, though Yedda looked uncomfortable. “Keep your voice down you fool!” she said harshly. “Just because the young lady is here now doesn’t mean they won’t come back later!”


Aegring fought to compose himself, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Oh, the Forger preserve me,” he said. “It’s been ages since I laughed so hard.”


It was hard not to smile. Aegring was such a kind man. Everyone in the market seemed to love him. “Well, you should laugh more. Mama always told me a man who laughs gets happy lines around his eyes.”


Yedda smiled. “Then Aegring’s face should be an Absonian prune,” she commented, jabbing him in the ribs.


“Ever the sharp tongue Yedda,” he replied.


She laughed in response. “Sharper than the blades you forge.”


Aegring frowned at first then smiled. “You’re probably right,” he said with a wink.


Frey laughed. This was who they were. It was so odd that they could be happy here, but maybe it was because they had found a way to find happiness in such a bleak place.


“So, what can we do for you today, Lady Frey?”


Frey shrugged. “I’m mostly just looking. You know I don’t have any shards.”


His expression changed, becoming gravely serious. “Who says I am asking for them.”


Frey narrowed her eyes curiously.


“There are so few joys in the world girl, so the moments that we have are precious. Pick a weapon, shield or both. Call it payment for making me laugh.”


Frey looked at her shield, then her skeggox. Aegring had a reputation as a good smith. “Some of these aren't the right size though.”


“Ah, you let me worry about that,” he replied. “You’re too young for this kind of thing, but I’ll not have you running around wielding yak scrag for equipment either.”


Frey stared long and hard at the table. Aegring’s weapons weren’t made like some of the others she had seen in the market. There was an artistic flair about them that made the pretty to look at. There were hints of the practical approach the other smiths used, but their work seemed ‘ugly’ by comparison.


Frey pointed at one of the Skeggox he had laid out. The handle was curved, like a wave and the axehead flowed with its shape. There were designs and tribal patterns adorning it. It made her think of the smooth way that water flowed.


“Good choice,” he replied. “Give us your axe.”


Frey handed over her skeggox, watching as the smith made room on the table for it. He then took the one she had pointed to and brought it down against the head of the other.

Frey’s eyes widened as she watched it cleave through the head of her axe. “Aegring! How?”


The smith smiled proudly. “I’ve been experimenting at my forge. I folded the metal and refined it,” he replied. “It took days, but this Skeggox is the result. I’ll craft a new haft and work in a balance for the weight. Come see me in a couple of days.”


Frey moved around the table and wrapped her arms around him. “You’re a kind man,” she said squeezing him.


“Aw, now don’t go making me cry,” he commented.


“It’s true, my husband is a softy,” Yedda chimed in.


Frey pulled away noting a slight frown on the smith’s face and laughed. “I’ll come see you soon.”


The smith nodded. “You had better, Lady Frey,” he replied. “I’ll have a shield for you too.”


“Thank you, Aegring.”


“Stay safe, Little Sprite,” he replied.


Frey froze, eyes wide as she stared him. “What?”


He simply winked. “Be here in a couple of days.”


Frey nodded. “I will.”


****************************************


To stand idly by and watch. Eadra felt her heart clench. She’s so close… It would be so easy to take her and run, but it wouldn’t stop them from looking. It wouldn’t stop what was coming.


The way Frey’s face lit up as she parted ways with the old smith said everything. Aegring had delivered the message. It stung having to lie to him. Even in the old days, Aegring had been a bright star in her dark past.


He hadn’t aged well, but working so hard at the forge was probably the reason. Still, physically he looked strong as a yak. Seeing him had been a risk, even if he owed a favor. Issfang had been very clear about the enchantment. The closer she was to a person the more easily they could see past the illusion.


I’m sorry for the deception, old friend. She pulled her hood up and stepped out from the narrow alley once Frey and her guards had left. Eadra could tell the old smith was pretending not to notice as she drew closer.


He didn’t even pause from sharpening some of his work until she stood in front of the stall. “I trust things are you your liking,” he abruptly commented.


Eadra nodded. “Your wares are quite good.”


He frowned and looked up. “You won’t find better, Outsider.”


Eadra smirked. He might as well have been shouting. “Can you modify this?” she asked picking up a small hand axe.


“That depends on what you want and when you need it,” he replied.


Eadra cast a glance at Yedda who was pretending to busy herself with other customers who were merely browsing. A wide smile adorned her face as she chatted with them. Sharp as ever.


“I’m thinking more balance and a matching set,” Eadra replied. “Something I can throw with ease.”


The old smith frowned again. “I’d be better off crafting you a brand new pair,” he replied.


“I won’t have time,” she replied. “I’m only passing through.”


He sighed in response. “Two days, perhaps, I might have what you want ready by then.”


Eadra gave him a slight bow. “Two days is fine, the Lady will be pleased to hear it.”


His expression gave way to annoyance and he sighed again. “She better be and she’ll owe me.”


Eadra nodded. “Yes, she will. More than she can express.”

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