This scene is one that I originally planned to write into Book #3. In fact most of Part #1 of Dolor and Shadow was originally planned for Book #3. I took the advice of a dear friend and included it for Book #1 instead. I can not tell you the amount of joy I felt seeing these scenes for seven years and finally being able to write them. I can’t wait. This is Chapter 7 of Dolor and Shadow. Enjoy!
Bergen sat on the steps of Gunir’s keep. Resting his arms on his knees, he supported his hunched back and shoulders. In one hand, he clutched the Sklavinian egg until his fingers were numb. In the other, he loosely held the neck of a bottle still full with mead.
Sklavinian artifacts are notorious for curses.
Rune’s words echoed back as Bergen stared at the stone courtyard bathed in moonlight and blood, Swann’s blood. He recalled Zabbai’s bronze body glistening in the sun of Râ-Kedet, naked and pure and perfect and chained. For two years, he had thought of little else.
Swann’s death brought everything from Râ-Kedet flooding back.
The bottle slipped from his fingers and struck the stone with a thud. Red mead flowed down the steps of Gunir. Bergen didn’t move to stop it.
He could still smell the death on her.
And then their mother—
Bergen sat up. Like he, Rune looked beaten down and broken beneath the grief that had penetrated the city. Everyone felt the effect of Swann’s death. No one was immune to that loss. And Caoilinn’s death, at least that was one they could explain.
“Did you find him?” Bergen asked. The sound of his own voice felt foreign to him.
Rune shook his head as he watched a drop of mead cling to the lip of the bottle still resting on the steps. “Geirolf is looking with Torunn,” Rune said. “They haven’t seen him since…”
Rune dug his fingers into his eyes and Bergen stared at the city, too grief stricken to cry, too tired to sleep, too much death to live without hate.
Bergen turned his thoughts to the fire that burned in his chest. That was something he knew and welcomed it. He would need it where he was going.
Bergen shoved his hand through his short black hair and rubbed the back of his neck, then took up the bottle from the steps and shoved the egg into his pocket.
“And what of Mother?” Bergen asked, rising to his feet. “Has her body—” Bergen lost the words in his throat. There was no more room for grief, no more room to feel anything anymore.
Rune shook his head and wearily climbed each step to the great oak doors of the keep. “According to Geirolf, Father’s orders were to leave her.”
“We can’t just leave her,” Bergen said. The hate swelled again.
“What will you have me do?” Rune said, turning back to his brother. “Swann is dead…and Mother. Father is missing. After finding their kin slaughtered…the hundreds that lay dead…” Rune rubbed his hand over his face. “The Dokkalfar will want answers. They won’t stand for this, nor should they.”
Rune continued up the steps.
“Why should I concern myself with their misery when it was their kin who started this?” Bergen asked.
Rune gazed down upon his brother.
“When it was they who took our Swann from us?”
“Would you have war?” Rune said. “Would you see more dead? The Dokkalfar are strong.”
“We have numbers.” Bergen took a step closer.
“They have a witch, Brother. A Seidkona.”
Bergen’s face fell and assessed the Dokkalfar’s strength against their numbers.
“One Seidkona doesn’t make an army,” Bergen said and turned away, but Rune’s hand flew to Bergen’s arm.
“They have weapons,” Rune said. “Forged from a steel the likes I have never seen before. If there is war…” Rune shook his head and left the thought unfinished. “We can’t win this.”
“There are others,” Bergen said. The rising darkness within him blanketed his face as his thoughts turned to the mountains.
“What others?” Rune asked.
Torunn stood on the steps of the keep. Her dainty shoulders sagged from the insurmountable grief they all bore these past few days. Her long black hair, always so neatly twisted and fastened to the back of her head was disheveled, making her appear almost crazed.
“Your father,” she said. Her lip quivered. “He’s here.”
* * *
“I’ve never seen him like this,” Torunn whispered as Bergen and Rune entered the corridor behind her. “He came in, mumbling such madness. It’s like he’s gone. I can’t get him to talk to me. He won’t speak to Geirolf.”
“Where is he, Torunn?” Rune asked as she wrung her hands together.
Torunn stopped before their mother’s bower. The door was open just enough to make out the endless babble that accompanied the utterings of a mad man.
Rune pushed on the door and entered with Bergen following close behind. The candles were unlit. The hearth was cold. The queen’s bower was dark save for the streak of bedroom light that spilled into the sitting room.
The smell of death grew stronger as they drew closer to their mother’s bedchamber. The inane ramblings became clearer until they approached the threshold where they could hear the words.
“Please forgive me…Caoilinn? Please…I didn’t mean to—I didn’t mean…”
Rune pushed open the door. On the bed, his mother lay. And on the floor, by her side, sat his father. Weeping, Tryggve clutched his wife’s cold hand.
“Swann…Sweet Swann,” he muttered, smiling at Caoilinn’s lifeless eyes. “With silver eyes…” he said. “…so like yours. They glisten like pearls. Can you see them, Caoilinn? See them.” His lips quivered and his face turned down with anger. “Won’t you look at me? Look at me. Please look at me, Caoilinn. Please? It’s because I killed them, isn’t it? That you won’t talk to me?”
Bergen stopped at the door beside Rune and both brothers watched, unable to speak.
“I killed them…” Tryggve said. He stroked her golden hair. “I killed them all…every child…every mother…every soldier…I killed them all. I had to. They killed our Swann…our precious…” Tryggve pursed his lips. “Please talk to me, Caoilinn. Talk to me…Won’t you speak to me? You’re mad at me. Because I couldn’t…Forgive me? You must forgive me. Please forgive…”
Bergen turned without a word and stomped back through the sitting room to the corridor. Down the steps into the Great Hall, he ran, not bothering a glance to the empty throne seated between the High Seat pillars engraved with wolves.
His hands struck the great oak doors and Bergen ran down the steps, past the stream of mead into the courtyard to the stables around the west tower.
Bergen paid his brother no mind.
“Bergen!” Rune was already closing in on his heels, but Bergen kept walking. “Where are you going?”
“To the mountains, Brother.”
Rune stopped at the stable door as Bergen began saddling his horse.
“The Dvergar,” Rune said. “Bergen. You can’t go. They’ll kill you.”
“Their enemy is my enemy,” Bergen said. “They will help us.”
“They will kill you!”
Bergen growled stepping in so that he stood face to face with his brother.
The soft sob at the stable door quelled the argument and drew their attention to Torunn. A beam of moonlight flooded her reddened face enough that they could see the fresh wave of tears. He knew that shadow that clung so desperately behind her eyes.
“The king…” she spoke between sobs. “Your father…he…”
Shaking her head, Torunn turned. Hugging her arms, she wandered back to the keep alone.
“No!” Bergen screamed and lunged right into Rune’s fist. Bergen fell back, shook the initial shock off and returned a punch into Rune’s jaw. Before Rune could recover, Bergen slammed himself into Rune who dropped his hands hard onto Bergen’s shoulders and held him there.
“He isn’t!” Bergen growled and Rune dropped his brow to his brother’s. “Not Father! Not…” Bergen’s breath punched the air as his head spun as if desperate to find something to cling to.
His chest throbbed with that pain that twisted his insides.
Rage burned his skin from the inside out.
“Breathe, Bergen,” Rune said.
“No!” Bergen shouted and shoved Rune back. “I will go to the mountains!”
“Bergen, they will kill you,” Rune said.
“I have no choice!”
“You always have a choice.”
Bergen shoved his hand through his hair again and again, each time he saw Zabbai then Swann then Caoilinn…
“Do I?” Bergen gasped. “What choice is there? To stand here and watch you die? Do you call that a choice?”
“It’s a risk I must take as king,” Rune said.
Bergen studied the silver-blue eyes so like his. Apathy was taking his brother, the king. Bergen knew the signs well. Rune, who spent his youth training for this day. His brother, Rune, king of Gunir. Choice and risk were two things Rune would never have the luxury to exercise.
“I am not king,” Bergen said. “I don’t have to risk.”
“There is another way,” Rune said. “War isn’t our only option.”
“Isn’t it?” Bergen said. “And will you be here when the Dokkalfar find their dead and they come to tear down our walls? Will you stand there and lead our people to their deaths? Will you stand by, idle and ready to negotiate while they carve open your back and tear out your ribs? And would you stand there and calmly wait while wrath enfolds?” Bergen shook his head. “No, brother. I will not be one who stands and fights to die. You said yourself that their weapons are too great and they have a Seidkona.”
“The Dokkalfar will come and we will defend ourselves,” Rune said.
“They started this!” Bergen shouted. “When they took Swann’s life from her, they took the very spirit from this city. Just like Zabbai!”
A familiar cold plunged itself through Bergen’s rage as he realized what he had just said.
“Bergen.” Rune said.
Bergen’s throat clamped shut and he turned his attention to his hate and the saddle.
“Bergen, what happened in Râ-Kedet?”
“I’m going,” Bergen said.
Bergen raised his eyes to his brother and shook his head. “I can’t stay here.” He pulled himself into the saddle and pulled back the reins, steering the horse from the stall. “I’m going for help.”
“Goodbye, brother.” And snapping the reins, Bergen sent his horse cantering out of the stables.
Bergen didn’t look back.