“I thought Hoelbrak was closer than this,” I muttered, apparently loud enough for the others to hear.
“Well,” Holf replied as he slowly turned the spit that hung above the fire, “it isn’t far anymore. But the dolyak was tired, and it would have been a waste not to eat the moa you shot, charr friend!”
-Sure,- I thought, -your dolyak got tired.-
Unlike Kára and me, this norn was not in the best shape, condition-wise. He obviously loved his meat and mead more than taking a walk every now and then. As for the moa, I saw the creature some way off from the road while walking behind the rest. There were moas in Ascalon as well, so I guess it was mostly curiosity; I wanted to know if the moas here tasted the same as the moas back home.
The word lingered in my mind for a while.
-No, that is no longer my home,- was the conclusion I found. -I have no home.-
The concern in Kára’s voice snapped me out of my melancholic pondering.
“I was just thinking,” I replied dismissively, putting extra effort into avoiding her stare.
“Bha!” Holf boomed, “A charr who thinks? Now I have seen it all!”
The norn was laughing hysterically and even my dark glare didn’t break him out of it.
“The road seems safe so far,” Kára interjected.
“They are safe.”
“Oh?” she said with a scrutinizing glance, “why are you so sure of this, Kumara?”
“Because,” I replied whilst baring out my fangs in a sinister grin, “Holf here would have attracted all the dangers there are in this area.”
It appeared as if Holf was suffocating in his own laughter, coughing and cussing at the same time. Once he regained his breath, he squinted and waved a single finger at me.
“By bear!” he said. “You crack me up, charr friend.”
“Just call me by my name, norn.”
“Bha!” he boomed again, returning his attention to the dead moa.
The aroma of the cooked big bird hung heavy in the little homestead we were in. Built somewhere along the road to Hoelbrak, its residents provided beds and fire for all weary travelers who knocked at its doors. The two norn who owned the place kept their questions to themselves, as long as we brought our own food. But, as the time passed by and the grease started to glitter on the surface of the moa that was slowly turning a delicious golden hue, I saw the owners steal glances at our soon to be dinner.
“What are you going to do in Hoelbrak, friends?” Holf asked out of the blue. “You don’t look like merchants.”
It was an intrusive question for sure; had he been a charr, I would have shoved his snout into the fire pit. But this was no charr, he was a norn. His eyes remained fixed on the moa and he had an air of innocent curiosity about him.
“We may not be merchants,” I replied slowly, “but we do have some business there.”
“Ha!” Holf guffawed. “You are an eloquent speaker, especially for a charr!”
-Was that a compliment, or an insult?- I wondered.
“Take is as a compliment,” Kára said as if she was reading my mind.
It seemed more likely that my confusion was written all over my face as I wore my heart around my paws, or as humans would say, I wore my heart on my sleeve.
“Kára, why have you been so quiet?”
“Oh!” she replied seemingly taken off guard. “I have been thinking a lot.”
“That can’t be good,” I said softly.
She shot me a dark look.
“Well, the food is ready!” Holf interrupted.
Maybe it was a good thing he did, as it allowed our minds some distraction from the serious matters that lay ahead. But the change in Kára’s behavior had me worried. Back at her homestead, she never was as quiet as she was now. Although, out of the two siblings, she was the thinker. She was just as loud as any other norn, but with every step we took on the road to Hoelbrak she seemed to quiet down and become absorbed in her own train of thought, so much so that even I started to notice. However, I would not ask her about it. She was entitled to her secrets and hidden thoughts, just as she gave me room for mine.
“It tastes great, Holf!” Kára said, obviously trying her hardest not to be too drawn back.
The male norn beamed as Kára dug into one of the moa’s wings. I slowly stood up and towered over the spit-roasted beast. With a swift gesture I sunk my claws into the meat and ripped the two legs clean from the body. As Kára’s eyes grew wide and Holf’s mouth dropped I strode towards the owners of the homestead, holding one leg in each claw. Passing one of the owners, I shoved the legs into his hands.
“Wha-?” he stuttered.
“Here, enjoy,” I replied.
“You didn’t have to do this,” the norn replied.
“No, that’s true. But it’s the least we could do to repay your kindness.”
I could see that he was still unsure, but he was also a norn and he eyed the meat eagerly.
“Thank you,” he said as I had turned around to walk away.
Kára was looking at me intensely when I returned to the fire pit.
“What?” I said with a frown while slicing off a chunk of meat for myself.
“You have a kind heart.”
“Do I?” I retorted.
The words left my lips before I had realized it, but thankfully, Kára let it slide.
Somehow, the night felt colder than it should have. I lay on my side, curled up to the point that I could see the tip of my tail in front of me. The thick furs that covered me kept me warm enough, but the cold seemed to penetrate all the way to the bone. A loud symphony of snores rang through the homestead. Over the course of the evening, more and more norn entered the establishment, seeking refuge and shelter as the winds picked up once again. I tried to calm my weary mind, now overrun with memories and thoughts, but failed to do so. Sensing that lying down would only keep me awake, I rose and slowly made my way to where I had placed my belongings. They were tucked away beneath a cabinet that stood on fairly high legs. Sure, Holf had frowned at me for doing so, but I had noticed that my bow kept attracting the attention of curious norn eyes who seemed to believe that any weapon that looked special, must hold a special tale and history as well. Although they would be correct in this case, I had no intention in sharing that tale. Ever.
Once again I let the padding of my fingers feel the surface of the bow. Although the darkness made it hard to discern anything more than outlines, I knew every rise and fall on the bow’s surface; I imagined the way the thin metal plating wrapped tightly around the wood and swirled into patterns of leaves and flowers. As my paw reached the grip of the bow, it stopped in its tracks. Although the metal plating swirled around the majority of the bow, allowing it to be actually shot, the grid was plated completely with deep relief carvings to provide the needed grip, and it was that relief that made my paw stop. Although hidden in the darkness, I knew that in the grip was engraved the pattern of a red iris flower. I could not deny that in the past few weeks, my resolve to never return to Ascalon had wavered somewhat. Even so, there was no way I could turn back and I could only hope that time would kill my longing. With a heavy dose of melancholy, I glanced outside. The snow had turned into a blizzard once more, to the point that the tree I knew was no more than a few feet from the homestead. It was invisible behind this curtain of white.
As I grabbed a bit of grease from my rug sack, I felt a shiver run down my spine. Once again I gazed outside, but nothing could be seen. I shook my head to clear the feeling of dread from my mind and began waxing the string of my bow.
It had been a few minutes and my bow was in top shape once more. I could feel my eyelids shutting every now and then, although I could see no difference; the falling snow blocked out all the light. But, just as I was about to place my bow back under the cabinet, I heard the door’s hinges whine. For a while, the sound of the storm outside pushed its way into the homestead, but it was soon muted with a soft slam of the door. A few travelers had entered and had tried to do so quietly. The cold and the feeling of dread had only intensified with the new arrivals. When I turned to look at them, I could see two swords that gleamed with a dim, cold blue light.
“Why are we here?” one of the travelers asked.
“By Jormag, do I need to tell you again?”
They were whispering, but they were also norn so I had no trouble hearing them as they are loud by nature.
“Yes,” the first said coolly. “Why waste our time here?”
It seemed that there were only two of them.
“Because, if we destroy this place it will force the travelers to stay on the road, making them easy prey for Dragon.”
That was all I needed to hear. Judging by the fact that they were norn and I was able to see where their swords were, I might be able to hit them in the dark. However, if they make a ruckus they might wake the sleeping norn and this whole thing could end in a bloodbath. As I was thinking, one of the two invaders produced a torch and lit it. Its eerie blue flames gave of little light, but it was the last mistake he made. The newly waxed string didn’t even whistle as it pushed all its built up tension into the arrow that struck the norn in his throat. He chocked on his own blood. The torch he held dropped to the floor, extinguishing itself in a pool of molten snow, and the invader followed soon after.
The other took up his companion’s blade and started swinging around him. By doing this, he made it very hard for me to shoot at him and I had to think of something quickly before the invader started stabbing random sleepers. With a swift movement I threw a thick fur into a corner close to me, producing a muffled sound. At once the norn strode to where the fur landed with surprising agility and silence. Once he arrived, he thrust a blade down into the fur to only find the floor beneath it. He was just a few feet away and this new confusion was all I needed. The arrow struck him hard, hard enough to throw him backwards and pin him against the wall, throwing plates and beer steins to the ground. It was hard to judge where I had hit him, but after a pain-laden sigh, the blade that he still held onto slipped out of his hand and onto the floor. Suddenly, the creeping cold and the feeling of dread left and peace returned to the homestead.
“What was that!” the voice of the female owner boomed through the homestead.
At once, moans and grunts erupted from all over the place. The owner found a torch and lit it. This sudden light blinded me for a second, but when my sight returned I saw that I had shot the norn straight in the heart. He had worn black leather armor and blue clothes. A heavy gasp drew my attention. The owner stood next to the first norn I had shot and her eyes scanned her homestead.
“By Raven’s beak!” I heard Kára cry out. “Sons of Svanir!”
“I don’t know who Svanir is,” I said in a low voice. “But his sons are dead.”
Why the thought to speak up had even occurred to me, I did not know for all eyes were fixed on me in an instant.
“Without a doubt,” the owner said after a few seconds that felt like an eternity, “you have saved our lives.”
End of Part 4