Magnus and Brandt were brothers and Princes of Vesfalruk. Magnus and Brandt were very much alike physically. Both were large men, well over six feet tall, fit and muscled from years of training in the martial arts and decades of fighting the kingdom’s enemies.
In temperament and personality, the brothers parted ways. Magnus was quick to anger, a skilled schemer and manipulator, and possessed an immoral character. He was greedy, vain, and jealous. Many thought him an inferior leader and were glad his reign was brief.
Brandt, on the other hand, was level headed and patient, a good judge of character, and even-handed.
Magnus was a skilled swordsman, warrior, and capable general. Brandt was a little taller and leaner but just as strong. Brandt was the more skilled swordsman, though, more so than his brother and eventually more than anyone else in Vesfalruk. Both brothers were said to be as strong as a tundra bear. But Brandt possessed a quickness and agility few could ever match.
Magnus was the older brother and crowned Magnus III, King of Vesfalruk when their father passed away. He was crowned king two years before the War of Twenty began. Magnus led the kingdom during the protracted war, but his brother and advisors kept the king from making severe mistakes.
By the end of the War of Twenty, Brandt was widely acknowledged as the best swordsman in the kingdom. King Magnus perished in the last battle of the war, and Brandt became king. Brandt was a competent ruler. He was already a renowned warrior, a hero, and beloved ere he ascended the Blackwood throne. Brandt was a ruthless defender of Vesfalruk and outspoken in his criticism of the Erhand. He was also a skilled teacher and mentor. His like has not been seen in Vesfalruk to this day.
Nickus, Chronicler of The King’s Court in Abstention
The small band was dispirited. Heads hung low, tempers were frayed, and the usual friendly banter was nonexistent. They were only about thirty skots, two days ride out from the village of Itra. Leaving Warden Bax behind had been a blow to them all. They would miss his skill and his steady, confident leadership. They had managed to physically recover from their recent clashes with the Narasists and the Dark One, but no one knew when they would run into them again.
Fridya’s new mount snorted, tossed its head, and pranced sideways. She quickly got it under control. The hardy mountain horses from Itra were feisty, excited, and high strung, but it was good that they could all ride again. And the new warm winter clothing and fresh food stores they had purchased in Itra somewhat boosted their low spirits.
However, the ambush of their camp still weighed on everyone. They had lost a good friend and capable scout to the Narasists, and others had been severely wounded. The terror of the Haugar still troubled their minds.
As he rode, Brandt’s mind drifted. He wondered where Princess Yfiria was now. She was a seer and trained with the Druid Aravin in the Shadow Lands. But she was a princess of Radnja, and she could be in Helvig, the capital of Radnja. He’d last seen Yfiria over two years ago at Reave Hall. She’d told him she loved him. He thought he loved her. But, his memory, mostly lost since he’d come to Vesfalruk and Reave Hall, was not fully recovered. Some days he swore it was much better. Other days, it was as if he’d not made any progress at all.
At Reave Guild Hall, Brandt had completed his Sword, Axe, and Forge Trials, and he’d done it almost a year earlier than anyone else in the entire history of the Halls. Fridya, his best friend and classmate at Reave Hall, had been a great help with the other students in their half-year group, Red Band. She’d also helped him come to grips with his own identity as the last of Clan Rodull, and an unrecognized Prince of Vesfalruk. Now, Vesfalruk had no king.
Yfiria had told him via a dream that the abandoned Fortress Brod was overrun with Trolls. This was a significant threat to the Kingdom of Vesfalruk, and he’d decided to act on Yfiria’s vision and travel to the abandoned Fortress Brod to investigate if Trolls were there.
A small band of friends, scouts, and warriors had accompanied him from Reave Hall. The group was led by Erika, a professional scout, and Narasist hunter. She had been tasked by Grand Master Ivar of Reave Hall to protect Brandt. She had brought two additional scouts, Bosse and Alfar. Warden Bax of Tanic and a warrior friend of Ivar’s, called Horace, also accompanied Brandt. Finally, there was Fridya, his friend, and the daughter of the Chancellor of Vesfalruk.
They had encountered assassins and ambushed them, but they had, in turn, been ambushed in their hilltop camp by the Emorie’s Narasist assassins and an Illr-hrae, an undead monster called a Haugar. One of their scouts, Bosse, was killed, and Bax and Erika were wounded, Bax severely.
They drove off the assassins, and Brandt had fought the Haugar and injured it. It retreated, and the small band had escaped to the village of Itra. There they had regrouped, recovered, and resupplied. But Bax had been left in Itra to recover. Now, they were heading north again, trying to reach Fortress Brod before the winter snows descended on them and made travel impossible.
The unknown location of the Dark One and the capabilities it commanded was a grind on their spirits, though. The negative energy from that unknown entity still affected them and acted as a drag on the group’s morale, ostensibly dampening their wills and making all of them jumpy and ill at ease. No one in the group wanted a repeat of that creature’s attack. But, they all knew it was likely inevitable.
Erika returned from scouting the trail ahead and steered her horse alongside Brandt’s. He nodded to her and asked, “All clear ahead?”
“Yes, I went up the trail a few miles. Listen, Prince Brandt, we did not have much time to talk after we got to Itra. That creature, a Haugar, you called it. How do we fight it?”
Brandt was the only one that fought the Haugar, and his encounter, while shocking and frightening, left him knowing what was in store for the next round. He answered, “The more I think about it, the better I feel. Maybe that is naïve on my part. But I have had time to ponder the fight and come up with a better attack plan. I am confident I can beat it.”
“I hope so. We must be ready for it.”
“I will talk to everyone tonight when we stop.”
“Good, another matter though, I need your help. I am doing my best to lead the group and handle most of the hunting and scouting. Alfaar is gradually working back into the rotation. But, without Bax, I need you to step up and take over the leadership tasks.”
“Sure, Erika, I can do that.”
“Good. You will lead the group in my absence. You are in charge of watch schedules, security for the rest breaks, camp setup, and the other logistical tasks. Everything that Bax helped me with. That will free up the scouts and me to focus our efforts on hunting, scouting, and getting some rest. It is a brutal chore to try and scout out potential ambushes, keep the group moving in the right direction, hunt for food, and lead the group.”
“Besides, you still have a lot to learn as a leader, and the king you must become. This will give you some real experience, not just Reave Hall training.”
They rode in silence awhile, then Brandt said, “I realize I am faring better than the others because I have actually overcome my fear and faced the monster.”
“Could be. The rest of us ran when it showed up. I have never felt such things before. I was overwhelmed with feelings, terror, and fear.”
“I think my training with Aravin and the Druids helped me, and my magical attack using SwordBreaker worked. I drove it off.”
“Can you teach us those things or at least explain them?”
“I am not sure, but I will try. I thought about it at Itra, and I realized we can prevail against the Haugar. It is not unbeatable, and it isn’t as if we are utterly defenseless against its powers. I just wish I could remember more of what I learned from Ridynar and Aravin about fighting the Dokköndi.”
“I am sure anything you can share will help.”
After Erika rode off, Brandt thought about his recent dreams, and what he felt was the dark aspects of his use of archania. He was concerned and didn’t know what to do about it. Should he not even try to use the magic? His dreams were plagued with premonitions of shadowy events and suggestions that often seemed logical, but upon further introspection, led him to conclude they were likely bad choices. He had no one to talk to about his powers, and he felt he needed to keep this information secret. But he knew he had to be very careful because the consequence of using magic wasn’t something he could understand yet.
That evening’s camp was in a small meadow by a brook in the notch of two hilltops. One side of the clearing had a twenty-foot cliff that bent like a horseshoe. The stream flowed into the crook of rock and formed a small pool. The clearing was sheltered from the brisk autumn winds, now blasting off the mountains to the north. It was an excellent place to camp. Erika had previously checked the area and declared it safe. She even permitted a small cooking fire since the campsite was sheltered and hidden.
Brandt took his new duties seriously and organized the group for the evening’s tasks. Fridya started a fire and went to get cooking water. Meanwhile, Brandt and Horace laid out the bedrolls and tarps and took care of the horses. The scouts went to check their back trail, try to find some game, and provide the first security watch.
As Fridya came back to camp, after fetching cooking water from the brook, she announced, “I found a hot pool. It is next to the cliffs and is fed by a mineral spring. It is quite lovely, and we could all take turns bathing in it. I really need to clean up.”
Everyone agreed, and they took a few moments to check out the camp and the hot spring. Everyone commented that they were looking forward to a bath later and to cleaning off a moon’s worth of sweat and trail grime.
Fridya chopped up some root vegetables and tossed them into the pot along with some seasonings. Alfaar had foraged earlier and found some wild onions, and they also went in the cookpot. Erika returned shortly after that and plopped a brace of wild game birds called gallofez down by the fire. Fridya and Brandt quickly plucked, cleaned and butchered the birds and added them to the pot. A couple of hours later, they ate a delicious hot stew.
After the evening meal, Erika and Fridya gathered up their available spare, clean clothing and went down to bathe in the pool. Brandt figured he would follow later that evening. Alfaar had the watch now, and Horace was sitting by the fire smoking his pipe. Brandt cleaned up the pot, cooking utensils and stowed away the gear, and then checked the horses. Then he sat with Horace and gazed into the fire, waiting for the women to return.
Thoughts of Yfiria suddenly came to his mind. It felt as if she was nearby for some reason. Strange, he’d never felt such a premonition before. He looked up but only saw Horace and Alfaar. The women returned from the hot spring, and Fridya went to check the stew. He watched Fridya as she stirred the pot, and hummed a jaunty tune quietly to herself. She did that when she cooked, he noticed.
Fridya looked up and saw him staring. She blushed and stopped her humming. He knew they were close friends now. He liked Fridya and enjoyed her friendship, their camaraderie, and her playful banter. After being together for so long, they instinctively knew how to help each other in a battle, They did well together, and he would take her shield and sword over anyone else’s in a fight.
They frequently fought in a loose rhythmic tandem that was surprising and devastating to their foes. Their remarkable style of erratic and nonlinear attacks was hard to combat. While Brandt would move diagonally into a set of opponents opposing her, she would swing over to cover his flank and rear. Ivar had told him it was a wonder to behold the two of them fight together as a team.
But, Brandt missed Yfiria. It had been a few years since he’d last seen her, except in visions and dreams, and their separation weighed deeply on him and haunted his thoughts. As his memory improved, Brandt would dwell on bits and pieces of their past. He tried this often in his spare time. The significant difference was now he could recall the substance of these memories
This reminiscing helped him reconstruct much of their previous life together. The memories gladdened him, but remembering them also saddened him. He now knew what he and Yfiria had together and what they were missing. His melancholy feelings lessened somewhat, and he felt again as if Yfiria was suddenly nearby. It was bizarre, he swore under his breath. What was with him tonight? Moping and getting sad and gloomy about things he had no control over.
At that moment, he looked up from his bowl of stew. The sun was down now. He rose and went to his meager pack and rummaged through it, looking for some clean clothes. After finding some Brandt headed for a turn in the hot spring. Fridya, of course, had a saucy comment or two for him as he strolled by, but he was in no mood now for her usual ribald banter. He found the pool in the dark, undressed, and quickly slid into the warm water.
The last bath he’d had was over a moon ago, at Reave Hall. It was good to wash off the grime and dirt that had accumulated, and the hot water was doing wonders for the saddle sores and cramped tired, sore muscles. It was amazing how sleeping on the ground all the time, and a few quick stiff fights could put a hurting on one’s body. It was dark now, but the water gave off a strange soft luminescence, and steam rose from the pool into the night air. The glow was just enough to light up the immediate surrounding area faintly.
As he soaked, someone walked up and sat on the boulder where he’d laid his clothes. It was a slim feminine figure in a hooded cloak, and he assumed Fridya was back for more teasing. She just would not give up. “Fridya, peace girl, I am not in the mood tonight!” he exclaimed.
From the darkness came a somewhat surprised feminine voice, “Oh really, in the mood for what?”
It was not Fridya sitting there watching him bathe in the pool. Was it Erika? No. It was a young woman’s voice. Thank the gods, the steam obscured everything. That voice was familiar but different. A little huskier, sultry, richer, and more mature than what he remembered. Could it be? Surprised, Brandt started to stand when he realized who that voice belonged too, but he remembered he was naked and quickly sat back down. “Yfiria, is that you? Am I dreaming?”
“Yes, it is I. You aren't dreaming, but you did not answer my question, Brandt. What are you not in the mood for?” she asked again. She sounded a little peeved now.
It was Yfiria. Erika had been right, and Aravin had found them in the Wilds. His premonitions earlier were telling, real. Brandt realized how his original comment, directed at who he’d imagined it was, may have sounded.
“I was talking about her endless questions and pranks. She can be so annoying, much like you used to be when we were younger. I meant nothing more,” Brandt answered.
It was amazing how he could get so mixed up, whenever these two women came into the same conversation. No matter how much time he had spent with Fridya, even though she was not the one his heart desired, he felt some guilt trying to explain himself to Yfiria. Even though he had not seen Yfiria in over two years, he knew his relationship with Fridya would always be an object of contention in their relationship.
“Jan Brandt, I was worried about the two of you, and it has been so long since we last saw each other and talked. We didn’t formally commit to anything or one another when we were together last. The fear that you and Fridya would eventually get together was with me constantly while I was away. So, I would understand if it did happen.”
He sputtered, “Nothing happened. I love Fridya. But, it is like how a brother loves a sister. We have spent years training, learning, and helping each other. She was my only friend at the Hall for a long time. No one else liked me, but we are friends and not lovers. Besides, I thought we did have an agreement. You would give me time?”
“I believe you. I could always tell when you were lying. Aye, I did agree to that, you are correct. I guess we do have a lovers’ pact of sorts.”
Lovers? Lana’s Lutes, she had said that! “Good. I am glad. We understand one another. So, you’re here now? How? I am glad. I have missed you, but how?”
“Aravin has his ways. We knew. We both saw it and came as fast as we could.”
“Right, I guess he could make it happen.”
“So, that is all settled, are you sure you can’t handle just more one little prank?” she asked playfully. Brandt could tell it took all her self-control not to burst out laughing. Obviously, she had tricks up her sleeve. It was good to see the playful teasing Yfiria again.
“For example, what if this pile of clothes accidentally on purpose like fell into that deliciously enticing warm pool? What would happen, I wonder?” she purred.
“Well, I am confident a certain young lady may catch an eyeful of something she would rather not see, and,” he paused dramatically “she may even end up soaking wet as well. After she gets tossed into the wonderfully warm water.”
She laughed, a lovely rich, warm laugh, “Brave words Jan Brandt. I can imagine that is one outcome. You are very quick, I have noticed. I would be an easy catch for a big strong man like you. But, the image of you chasing me through woods, at night, naked may be too much for me to pass up!”
He laughed, “Gods, I have missed you, Yfiria. You are too much!” He sobered, though, “It is dangerous to be around me these days. We are pursued by Narasists and a Dark One as well.”
“Aye, that is why we are here! Aravin brought another Druid as well.”
“I don’t know. I mean, I am terribly glad you are here. I have missed you. But the danger is genuine.”
“Aye, well soon, there will be no safe refuge for any of us. If one Illr-hrae can roam the land, then soon others will come as well. And, they can reach the Shadow Lands now as well. So, we may as well join forces and face these things together. I would rather try it this way and fail than be apart. And, to not know what is happening to you during this dark time is too much to bear. I feel it is best to be together to help and comfort each other as best we can.”
It was quite a speech, and it touched him deeply. He said as much and asked Yfiria to turn around. He clambered out of the hot pool, quickly dried off and dressed behind her. Then, he went up behind her and touched her shoulder. She turned and stood, and he pulled her into his arms and hugged her. She came willingly. He’d never hugged her like this. Like they were close friends, or something even more, much more. She smelled good, wonderful, the same heady perfume he remembered from their last time together.
She was here, now, and he still couldn’t believe it. She was the same and yet very different from how he remembered her. She was taller, but he could see little else in the darkness. He felt the differences, though, as he held her close.
The night insects chirped and buzzed around them, and an owl hooted nearby. He soaked her into his skin and bones. He felt at peace for the first time in years. She sighed, and he felt her relax against him. The tensions, pains, and fears all vanished. She pressed into him, and it felt right. So he held on to her and never wanted to let her go.
After several minutes he said softly in her ear, “I agree wholeheartedly then. It is better to face our destiny together and whatever it brings. It is the right decision. You are so much smarter than me about these things.”
She tilted her head up and looked into his eyes. He could feel her breath on his face. Her eyes, a faintly luminous sea-green, held his. He bent his face to hers and kissed her for a long second, and that same explosion of passion, desire, and joy burned through him and left him dizzy and gasping for breath. He kissed her again, and their kiss deepened and intensified. He poured all his feelings, built up over the last few years of their separation, into this kiss. It was too much for both of them.
“Gods!” she exclaimed as they broke apart, “That was amazing! Do you remember what I told you years ago under the witch hazel tree about kissing a Radnjan noblewoman? She will expect the promise of a kiss to be kept! I will hold you to it, Jan Brandt.”
“I would marry you tomorrow if we could. Even though I can’t remember all of my past, I know it is you who is in my heart and dreams. Would you have the prickly scout or the forgetful old Druid perform the til hȁndril ceremony?” he teased.
“Clever. You are learning. You have spent too much time around Fridya. Let’s head back to the fire. I want to see you in the light. I imagine you never got that haircut I told you to get. Every time I see you, I get the impression of some great shaggy wolfhound.”
He laughed and ran a hand through his shaggy mane. Then, as Yfiria turned away, he caught her hand in his and held it. She turned expectantly back to him. He said, “I remember something about an orange flower, and I remember that I owe you something. I wish I knew all of it. I know I have hurt you somehow, and I wish I could take it back and make it better.”
“I know you do Brandt, and when you remember more, we will talk about it,” she replied excitedly. “Your memories are returning! That gives me hope.”
“Aye, when it comes back, if it comes back, but in the meantime, I don’t want to lose you while we wait for my blasted head to fix itself.”
“Brandt, what exactly are you asking me? Lose me?” she asked with some confusion. “How could you lose me?”
“I don’t know what I mean, Yfiria, never mind. I get so confused,” he said dejectedly. He wished he knew why his mind seemed to balk when it came to their future. One minute he was sure of his heart, and the next, he was wondering about some forgotten memory that might never return. One thing he did know was that he had never felt more whole and at peace than when he was near her.
When they walked into camp, Brandt saw Aravin and an older woman sitting at the fire. She was dressed similarly to Aravin but with much cleaner and more elegant clothing. Must be the other Druid, he thought. He gave greetings to them both and learned the woman’s name was Cori. Erika and Fridya were bedding down for the evening. Horace was about to take the watch, but Brandt told him to go to bed. He planned to sit up and talk with Aravin, Cori, and Yfiria anyhow. He wanted to hear all their news and discuss the situation and the Haugar with Aravin.
Horace readily agreed and went back to his bedroll. Brandt moved his bedroll closer to Yfiria and the Druids. That earned him a hostile look from Fridya, but he ignored her. Erika, in question to his seeming preference to the newly arrived girl, just raised an eyebrow at him. He would deal with them both tomorrow.
Brandt had not seen Yfiria in years. He was not going to let anything take away from this reunion. He had so many questions for her, but Cori interrupted, muttering, “Not too close to the girl, prince. You are not man and wife yet. And you won’t be until the time is right.”
Brandt flushed but just nodded and added another foot of space between their bedrolls. He then went and sat next to Yfiria on the ground by the fire but close enough to the Druids that they could talk in low voices without disturbing the others. Yfiria brushed Brandt’s long reddish-gold curls out of his eyes and said, “I was right. You didn’t get it cut since I left Reave Hall. It is so long now. You look like quite the sight, almost like a girl! You should let me put it in the warriors braid, at least.”
He grinned and started to speak, but Cori cut him off, “Enough of this foolishness, Yfiria. I had hoped you got it all over with at the creek. We have more important things to talk about now.”
Aravin chuckled and said, “You will wish for pretty gentle Yfellia as the princess’s chaperone ere long Brandt. Cori will not brook any sentimental displays from young lovers. She doesn’t have the patience for it.”
“Old fool, be quiet. We should have never allowed you to keep these two by yourself all those years at Talfur. Who knows what damage you have done?”
“Oh, I had my reasons, Cori. Only time will tell which of us was right. Now, as you said, time is short, and we need to get on to business. Go ahead, girl, seek him.”
Yfiria took one of Brandt’s rough, calloused hands in her hand and looked into his eyes. Was she using her sight on him?
“Uh, what is she doing?”
“Quiet Brandt, it will not harm you.”
Yfiria was lost in the ether, and it was strange watching her stare at him but not really see him. He didn’t understand her powers.”
After a long moment, Yfiria’s eyes refocused. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “The darkness is still there and stronger than last time, at Reave Hall.”
She frowned and gave Aravin a quick nod, “I looked harder and deeper and thought I saw something new this time. There is a faint tendril of darkness that seemed to rise above him, going off into the sky.”
Aravin said to Brandt, “How have you been feeling? Is your memory getting better? Anything odd you want to tell me about?”
“No, Aravin. Everything is about the same. I can remember more than before, but it is still spotty and sporadic. It takes a lot of work. I try every day to pick up new things.”
He looked hard at Brandt. His eyes were questioning, and Brandt wondered what he was asking. Was he asking about the darkness that stole upon him and threatened to overwhelm him? Did Aravin know it was more powerful, or that when he faced the Haugar, it threatened to engulf him?
Aravin just nodded and said, “The Dark One you fought, you learn its’ name?”
Brandt looked to Yfiria and whispered, “Haugar.”
Cori let out a low hateful hiss, “They are vicious, cruel ones. I wonder you are still alive.”
Brandt said with a hitch in his voice, “It…it was a real close thing, the closest yet.”
Yfiria looked terrified. She grabbed his hand and intertwined her fingers in his and squeezed hard.
Aravin asked, “How did it happen? Take me through it, Brandt.”
Brandt recounted it all in a haunted tone, “Almost a sennight ago we ambushed several Narasists. We knew they were following us. Bax and Erika found a perfect spot, and we surprised them. We killed two or three ere they fled.
“We slipped away, put some distance between us, got off the trail in a secluded spot, and set up camp. No fires or anything, though. Looking back on it now, we suspect they were just pushing us forward while another group got ahead of us and prepared an ambush. There were at least eight Narasists and the Dark One in this second group. They came at us in the middle of the night. Bosse was on watch.” He choked up a bit and paused, “Bosse managed to get a warning out before he went down. It was dark and total confusion when they attacked us.”
Yfiria stroked his hand. He stared at her lovely face. He realized she was no longer an adolescent girl but a woman full grown. He gathered strength from her presence. Just looking at her seemed to fill him with energy and resolve. In a more confident voice, he went on with the story. “We were up in seconds, but they were fast. Alfaar was quickly wounded but able to fight on some. Horace kept them off Alfaar. Bax was injured and Erika as well. In the dark and the confusion of their attack, they must have overlooked or missed Fridya and me. We got them from behind and surprised them, and went at them hard and fast and killed a couple. That took the pressure off the others and allowed us to regroup. They came again, but this time we were ready and got two more pretty quick.
“Then, they hit Bax and Alfaar again. By now, I knew something was coming down the hill towards the camp. I could feel it. It was bad. I told Erika to take the wounded out of there while Fridya and I held them off. We checked Bosse, but he was dead. We both took a few minor wounds but took down another Narasist and wounded another. That broke them, and they fled.
“That was when it arrived, and I could sense it would be bad. Fridya grabbed some of the gear and followed Erika and the wounded. She could barely function with it so close. The fear and the power that emanated from that thing was terrible, unnerving. By the time she gathered a few items and followed the others, Fridya was crying and shaking, coming apart.
“I could tell she didn’t want to leave me, but I made her. I used my archania and pushed her to go. She went. An instant later, it was in the camp. It was gigantic and covered in ancient rusted mail and a cloak. It had the stink and aura of death all about it.”
“You were not afraid?” asked Yfiria.
“Well, I was, but it did not affect me like it did Fridya, I guess.”
Aravin solemnly nodded at this. He motioned for Brandt to go on. Cori looked at him with a strange look.
“Well, it was kind of silly now that I tell it, but I felt the urge to talk to it, I cursed it. I don’t know where that thought came from, but I did. I asked its name, and it told me it was Haugar. I gave it my name and cursed it for the fell dead thing it was. It didn’t like that and attacked me. I cursed it again and told it to leave. We fought, and it was terribly strong but not too quick. Each blow, though, felt like five men were swinging that massive great sword. It hit me across the back once with a glancing strike, and luckily my armor held up. But even the power in that partial blow knocked me across the clearing of our camp, a good fifteen feet.
“Once I got back up, I was able to hit it a few more times, but it had no effect. I suddenly got the urge to use archania on it and did so with all my skill. I used Brotnjar to break its sword and managed to strike its shoulder. That did some damage, and it fled. I don’t know how I knew what to do or if I could do it again, though.”
Yfiria asked, “Who is Brotnjar?”
He had not wanted to mention Brotnjar. That was a mistake. Resigned, Brandt picked up his sword from the ground next to him, “This is Brotnjar. We have known each other for a long time. We talk to each other, and he helps me train and when I am in combat.”
Yfiria had a skeptical look on her face now, “You talk to your sword, and it talks back? Are you sure about that? You have never told me about this, Brandt.”
“Well, it never really came up,” he evaded. “The sword is my father’s, although I don’t understand how I obtained it. I still do not understand everything about it. Our lore and records are strangely silent in this regard. But I know that the sword has helped me to grow my skill as a warrior and has a purpose in my path forward. Great things are being asked of me, some that I do not understand, but I know this sword will play an important role, and for the time being, it has served me well.
“Maybe, that is important information. And, I don’t think you should tell just anyone else about this,” Yfria grumbled. “Aravin and I have discussed this, and I’m certain this sword is not a good thing for you.”
“We don’t talk out loud like we are talking now. It is sort of like projecting at each other. Perchance it is more like how you can feel or sense a thought from someone?”
“Aye, maybe, but I have never been able to do that with a sword or any other object. It only works with a living thing or with spirits,” Yfiria protested, clearly exasperated with his justifications.
“Yfiria, please, I am not a little boy now. I know what I know.”
She huffed, “Fine, if you say so, Aravin has told me what or who resides in that blade. I am not comfortable with this.”
Aravin interrupted then, “Yfiria, he is correct. It has been long understood that the gods made these weapons. I think that what Brandt is saying is his sword helps him and gives him an advantage in battle. That is all.”
“Aye, that is right. I can feel Brotnjar’s presence. He gives me advice and a definite advantage. He is even aware of you, Yfiria. He shares his opinions of situations and likes to give me advice about things from time to time.”
“What?” she said, her voice rising dramatically. “This creature in your sword knows about me and talks to you about me? What does he tell you?”
“He,” Brandt vacillated, “ah, maybe I should not have mentioned that. Forget it.”
“Forget it?” she sputtered, “Jan Brandt, you will tell me what it says!”
Cori interjected gruffly, “Leave it be, girl. I can envision who this Brotnjar used to be and what he would say to another man about you. It is not something a lady should have to entertain.”
Yfiria kept silent but glowered at the sword with certain distrust and anger.
Aravin said, “Agreed, but what is important here are two, no three points. First, Brandt can communicate with Brotnjar. Even your father could not manage that feat. He would use words of command to force Brotnjar to do certain things. That you can communicate and ask for help is amazing. When did this communication begin?”
“It started about when I found myself in Tanic for the first time.”
“So, it was after your memory loss. That is interesting. Now, the second point, how did you know to curse the Haugar?”
“Well, that is harder. I am not sure. I just thought of it suddenly.”
Aravin thought it over and then said, “Ridynar spent many moons teaching you about the Dokköndi and the most effective curses to use on them. It was likely a memory of that instruction. Unfortunately, curses don’t affect the Haugar. It usually just makes them angry,” he finished with a chuckle.
“This is not funny, Aravin!” scolded Yfiria.
“Right, a jest in bad taste is a jest best unsaid. Anyway, the third point is, what did you project at the lich? What feeling or thought or command did you use?”
Brandt was afraid this would come up. He wished it hadn’t, “I’d rather not say.”
“Ahh, is this more of what Mistress Cori seems to think is such a waste? Am I correct, Prince Brandt? Too embarrassing to tell with the lady by your side?”
Brandt couldn’t help it and reddened horribly. He hoped the firelight hid most of it. Yfiria laughed next to him, and he knew he was found out.
“I bet I know what he was projecting,” she said with a coquettish lilt in her voice.
“Aye, you are both right.”
“I knew it,” she laughed.
Cori looked very intrigued by this conversation but remained quiet.
“I knew of it the night it happened. I think it a unique approach and likely effective. It was simple, honest, and compelling. It may be the most basic and intuitive of all the archania. Any magi or Druid nearby would have felt it as well. I am not sure if it could kill the Haugar, though.
“The usual way to destroy a Haugar is to dismember it and burn it. That is very difficult when it is so strong and swinging an eight-hand sword at you. If not done in that manner, it will likely keep coming back.”
“Great,” muttered Brandt.
“Anyway, you did very well, or you were extremely lucky. Mayhap both, and that may be the best possible result here. We will discuss it more tomorrow.”
Something was still bothering Brandt, so he asked, “Aravin, what exactly is a Haugar?”
Aravin was silent as he pondered the question. Eventually, he said in a low voice, “The Dokköndi are the servants of Hraezlan. They are spirits of the dead, but not just of anyone. Only certain black souls go to the Void, the cursed dead, the souls of the forsworn, the foulest of men and women, oathbreakers, murderers, defilers, and the black-hearted. Those souls inhabit the Void.”
Yfiria shuddered while Aravin went on, “They reside there for eternity. It is a just punishment for their foul deeds. But, the Dokköndi are those that Hraezlan can twist to his will. They feed off of the other cursed souls in the Void. They are Hraezlan’s servants and soldiers. They hate every living thing and want to see the world consumed; the people dead and cursed like themselves.”
Brandt said, “Fridya and I found a metal wall of images and descriptions of Illr-hrae underneath Fortress Reave.”
Aravin looked surprised, “I know of it. Druids created it a long time ago, to catalog the Dokköndi and to train warriors to identify and combat them. Next time we go near Reave Hall, we must look at it. It will be essential in the coming conflict. I sent a Druid to Master Ivar to start researching it and training his krigers about the Dokköndi.”
Brandt nodded. It made sense. But, he didn’t feel any better knowing the truth about the Haugar or the strange room under the fortress. Yfiria yawned. The fire was dying down. Brandt thought it best to let it die out. Talking of the Haugar had reminded him they were not out of the woods yet. It was still out there, and it would be coming, coming for them until they finally destroyed it.
They had been up for a while, talking. Brandt was tired and stood up. He helped Yfiria up, and she went over to her bedroll. He followed. She shooed him away and said, “I may be a princess, but I can look after myself. Go take care of whatever you need to do.”
He walked over and checked the horses again and carefully walked the perimeter. He used his archania to feel for the Haugar and other threats. It was all quiet as far as he could tell. A few hours later, he roused Horace. Once Horace was up and ready for his watch, Brandt rolled himself into his bedroll. Yfiria stirred. She murmured a sleepy goodnight, and he replied the same to her. He felt her hand creep over his forearm and capture his hand in hers. He listened to her contented breathing. She was soon fast asleep, and soon, thankfully, so was he. It was deep refreshing sleep for him, the best in many years. It was the first time since they were children that they slept side by side.