One rarely appreciates the warmth a simple hearth can give unless you spend a whole day walking around in the freezing cold. Mercifully, it did not snow, but there had been a chilly, biting wind that had forced the three of us to huddle deep into our warm clothing.
Even now, after a warm meal and a few ales while sitting close to the fire, the cold was reluctant to release its icy grasp on my body. It was almost as if it had settled down in my fur and would take a Blood Legion army to drive out.
“I see, it was a good plan to bring the warm clothes, Kumara,” Garron said with a slight shiver.
“Yea, although even this clothing only goes so far.”
“Aye,” Svart said, nodding sagely. “You do have warm clothing, but a few furs would make it so much warmer,” he said, patting the furs that were a part of his attire.
“Well, we are going to buy furs, as the store we work for ran out of them,” I said.
“Oh?” Svart said. “I suppose that makes sense.”
“Yes, yes. So, what is our travel plan for tomorrow, Kumara?” Garron said.
“I want us to cross the peaks and head into Skradden Slopes. There should be a haven there we’d reach by nightfall. Hopefully.”
“Yes, Podaga Steading. A fine establishment,” Svart said with a faint smile.
“They buy your ale, don’t they?”
Svart just gave me a broad grin in response.
“Passing the peaks?” a voice rang from behind.
Turning around, I saw a female norn waiter, who had brought us our ale and food previously, look at us with some worry.
“Yes, yes, that seems to be the plan,” Garron said.
“I wouldn’t do it, if I were you.”
“Why not?” Svart said.
“The other side of the mountain is harassed by a strong blizzard, reaching out across the mountain pass. Travelling that path is suicide.”
“Bah!” Svart said with a dismissive gesture. “What is life without some danger!”
“Good luck on your own,” I said.
Sven stared at me for a few seconds before he scratched his throat.
“Well, there is a fighting pit nearby. We could just sleep in tomorrow and look at that.”
Both Garron and I did not suppress a chuckle.
“Say, Kumara?” Svart asked as the waitress walked off.
“Hmm?” I said as I took a sip from my ale.
“With fighting the dredge and all, I could not help but notice your bow.”
“It’s a bow of exquisite craftsmanship, not to mention an effort just to pull the string! How did it come into you possession? Such a fine bow must have a marvelous story!”
Gently rotating my ale around the mug I stared over it at the norn. From the corner of my eye, I could easily see that Garron’s ears pricked up as well. It was, in fact, a bow that could easily attract attention, as it was plated in richly decorated iron. Still, I felt little for divulging information.
“Why do you want to know?” I asked pointedly.
“I rarely see weapons that have such an obvious story to them. And, I’m norn!”
The strange thing was, that for me, the exclamation of ‘I’m norn’ made perfect sense. He saw a story and wanted to hear it, most likely all in absolute innocence. However, even if he means no ill with it, him being a travelling merchant might take the story much further that I would like.
“You see, Kumara,” Garron said in a low, soft and guttural voice that any non-charr would have great difficulty deciphering, “I get the feeling that you don’t like sharing things about yourself, but how could this information harm you?”
“Oh,” I replied in a similar voice, “I can think of several ways.”
Garron responded with just a dull glare.
“Fine,” I sighed in the more common voice. “It was commissioned for me by my warband the day I officially became a scout.”
“Surely, there’s more to it than that?” Svart said with a glimmer in his eyes.
“Yes, yes, like why is there a red iris depicted on it?”
With a shrug I said, “I like the flower and we were trained in tracking down human separatists. Allia thought it was funny if they got shot by a bow featuring the red iris, and in the end, I agreed with her.”
“Allia?” Svart said.
“Legionnaire of my warband.”
“Don’t you charr usually have a second name, one you get from your warband?”
“Oh?” I said, arching me eyebrows at the norn. “Have you had many charr drinking buddies?”
He gave a wide grin, but did not divert his eyes, drilling me with a questioning glance.
“Let’s just say that my ‘band name is no longer relevant,” I said, sighing deeply.
“I’m sure that there’s another heroic tale behind that,” Svart said, reclining in his chair and turning his attention to his ale which was as good a signal as any that he would pry no further.
Still, his remark had cut deep, much deeper that I was willing to admit. If that particular story had been heroic, I would have had no difficulty telling it. The truth, however, if far from heroic, in fact, it was truly disgraceful and as such I hated even thinking about it. Hated myself for it.
Svart seemed oblivious to my internal struggle, but as I returned my attention to the world around me, I saw Garron looking at me with what I thought was a mixture of interest and sympathy. On one paw, it felt good to receive some sympathy, but on the other paw I did not want to appear weak, and more importantly, I did not feel like I deserved it.
Turning my head away, I drained my mug.
“Good morning!” Garron said, as I descended the stairs.
He seemed to be in the middle of devouring his breakfast, as a sliver of meat was stuck to one of his claws and halfway to his mouth. In fact, judging by the bowl in front of him, he was nearly finished.
“Yes, yes, you see, it’s an inherent advantage of culling the amount of ale.”
Frowning as I sat next to him, I snorted.
“Perhaps,” I said, “but it helps drown memories.”
“Yes, yes, but so does thinking about other, better memories, and busying yourself with the current company.”
“Never was much of a social charr,” I said.
“I noticed,” Garron said, grinning.
“So, what’s eating you this morning?”
Raising an eyebrow, he said, “Not what I had expected. We have enough, surely?”
“We do, but if we want to afford the trip back, we’ll either need to earn some more money, or cut back heavily on the ale.”
“Not a great prospective, that,” Garron said, contorting his snout.
“No, but who knows, maybe we’ll find a way to earn a bit of coin between here and Hoalbrak.”
“In the mean while we should lay low on the ale,” he said, looking at me with a faint smile.
Rolling my eyes I flagged the waitress over for breakfast and a single ale.
After our breakfast we headed to the fighting pit Svart had mentioned previously. Since Svart was still snoring away and neither Garron nor I had the patience to sit around waiting for him, we asked one of the haven’s Lionguard to point us in the right direction, which she happily did.
“Not too shabby,” Garron said looking around upon arrival.
It was a large open area, with cages placed in a semi-circle around it. Inside the cages were all sorts of wild creatures and monsters and further away were fences behind which people were rooting for their champion. At the moment there were two norn sparring in the ring. Although, sparring was a generous term as one of the two was getting his snot beaten out of him by a large, burly norn wielding a wooden great sword.
“Well,” I said, taking it all in, “it’s no Bane, but all things considering, it’s still impressive.”
“Ah, yes, yes, the Bane,” Garron said. “I never had the pleasure of seeing it myself, but I heard it is grand.”
“It sure is, yea…”
“Have you ever been to the Bane, Kumara?”
“Hmm? Oh, yea, regularly, in fact. One of my ‘bandmates loved to watch the combat there.”
“Ever had the pleasure of competing there?”
“Ha, yea… That bandmate I told you about seriously offended another warband during one of the matches, and their group of four challenged the two of us to a fight in the Bane—“
Before I could finish my story, the now-victorious norn in the middle bellowed, “Ten gold to whoever can defeat me!”
Hearing the promise of quite a lot of gold, I turned my attention to the norn.
“Remember what I said about looking for a way to earn money?” I said to Garron.
“Well, yes, yes, but what about your story? I was rather interested.”
“How about I’ll show you,” I said with a sly grin.
Garron grinned in turn and gave me nod. Seeing that, I started off towards the norn, taking big strides to close the gap as soon as possible. The onlookers noticed me fairly soon and moved to get out of my way. The norn in the middle was turning in place, looking for a challenger and soon saw me. The moment he did, he arched an eyebrow.
“A kitty is going to play with me?”
Knowing that using my real weapons would not be appreciated too much, I had left them at the haven. Walking past the rack of training weapons I quickly grabbed both a sword and an axe and continued walking towards the norn.
“Ten gold coins, huh?” I said, eying him up and down. He was severely muscled. “Make it twenty, and I’ll use the weapon you want me to.”
“Oh, look everyone! This kitty doesn’t know what he is getting into! Very well, kitten, Berund the Breaker will accept your offer on the condition that you give me five gold coins if you lose.”
Even thought that would be a severe blow to my purse, I guessed it was no more than fair. Besides, I always functioned better while under pressure.
“Fair enough,” I said after my consideration.
The norn looked at my weapons as he himself headed to the weapons rack. Then he let his eyes slide over the weapons, glancing back at me every now and then. Finally, he picked up a large, two handed sword and threw it my way, which I caught clumsily on purpose. His grin was logical, and his choice was clever. The weapons I had chosen myself where light and agile weapons, whereas the weapon he handed me was large and cumbersome. Not only that, but he seemed to know his weapon well.
“You’ll see, kitty, why no one beats the Breaker.”
I smiled nervously, doing my best to hide the fact that I knew full well how to handle a great sword. As our instructor in the fahrar used to say: underestimating equals losing. He was not very verbose, but he excelled at getting a point across, sometimes using words.
With my claws around the grip, I remembered the previous time when I wielded a blade such as this, when I defended Kára during our raid on the grawl. Remembering that she told me she would have married me if I were a norn, brought a smile to my snout.
“What are you smiling about, kitten?”
Frowning, he said, “This is hardly the time to recall memories.”
As he was speaking, I saw that he widened his stance and lowered his body, anticipating for a charge. It was a very norn thing to do, to just charge into the battle, and even though Ash Legion accused us of doing the same, we Blood Legion charr gave combat considerably more thought than every charr gave us credit for.
After he spoke the last syllable, he charged straight at me. I changed my grip on the blade, which I had been holding casually, and lifted up the sword into a parrying position. Seeing this, the norn slightly altered the angle of his blade to get past my defenses and swung as he got closer. Seeing him swing a blow directed at my head—which I had forced by protecting the rest of my body—I quickly rolled to the side, letting his sword arc through empty air.
Lacking any resistance, the swing unbalanced the norn, forcing him to invest all his effort into not falling flat on his face. This did mean that by the time he regained a modicum of balance, I was standing behind his, launching a quick strike with a far simpler arc. The blade hit him on the butt and he let out a furious yelp, drawing laughter from the onlookers.
Above the hollering, though, were two voices shouting my name. I had to guess that they were Garron and Svart, although I had no idea when Svart had showed up, I had little time to let my attention falter.
Berund the Breaker spun around, lashing out with the back of his hand. This was a move I did not expect, and I only had just enough time to raise my great sword to parry the blow. The sound of a fist slamming into the hard, weighted wood was sickening, and I could see the norn grimacing in pain.
Another wise lesson from my fahrar teacher was that anger equals losing. Thinking back on his lessons, he really was not good with words.
Grinning, I said, “I didn’t expect that a title such as the Breaker referred to your own hand.”
This elicited another burst of laughter form the audience and I could hear Berund grid his teeth in anger and frustration.
Relieving his left hand, he now swung the great sword with just his right, which took me so much off guard that although I managed to parry the blow, I staggered backwards.
“Well,” I said, surprised, “honor where it is due. You have a really strong swing there.”
He smiled wanly and launched another strike. This time, I was prepared for it, so I jumped backwards allowing his momentum to pull him off balance, at which point I jumped forwards again, launching an attack of my own. The wooden sword hit him squarely in the side, knocking the wind and saliva out of him. He did all he could to remain standing, which he somehow did manage. However, he was swearing profusely between laboured coughs.
With great effort he lifted his sword once more, defiant of the fact that he basically had lost already. I decided that I had enough fun playing with him, so I turned the sword a quarter and swung while sidestepping his attack. His sword plowed into the snow, sending both flakes and dust upwards, and his body soon followed after my sword’s surface hit him against the head.
As he plummeted down, the audience erupted in a cacophony, although it as obvious that my name was shouted a lot. Driving my sword into the dirt, I waited for the norn to come by—I wanted my gold!—while doing my best to accept the praise and admiration with a claw in the air. As I stood there, various norn came to congratulate me, and at some point Garron was next to me, grinning so wide I saw all his teeth.
“Yes, yes, you two destroyed that other warband, didn’t you?” he said as soft as was still audible in all this ruckus.
All I replied with, was a big grin of my own.
List Of Recurring Entities:
The following is a list of characters—apart from Kumara, Thornfang and Garron—who have made an appearance before this part, sorted by order of appearance. With all the different stories on CoT, I understand it is hard to keep track of all the characters.
Svart: The norn travelling ales merchant that accompanies the group on their way to Hoalbrak.
Kára: A norn that rescued Kumara from freezing to death after his flight from Ascalon.