Please note: This edition is unedited.
This is the opening chapter of Lorlenalin’s Lies! Enjoy!
Borg fell to the floor of the stone room painted in streaks of flickering orange light cast by the torch secured to the wall. Wincing, he curled into the pain gouging his ribs as warm blood flowed from the gashes on his brow. The hurried step assured him that his wardens were not yet through.
Forcing a steady breath, Borg opened a swollen eye. His commander stopped at his feet.
“What did you tell them?” Aaric said.
Borg studied the black markings on the high marshal’s neck. The symbols and runes scrawled on his neck slithered up to his ear and hair line making him look far more menacing there in the dungeons.
“Have you no idea how close you are to death, Nidingr?” Aaric said.
“Go to Hel,” Borg spat and Aaric’s foot slammed into Borg’s face. There was a crack and another wave of pain followed as blood pooled onto the stone.
“Sweet Aaric,” a woman’s voice purred. The sensual rustle of silks and soft fabrics came with a gentle step that matched the voice.
The air thickened and soothing warmth filled the room easing Borg’s nerves. With aid from the familiar spell, he breathed through his shattered nose. A number of foreign odors all as appealing as a familiar spice, a warm fire, a simmering stew, clouded his mind with euphoric care and, Borg raised his eyes in time to see a woman glide down the steps into his cell and across the room in her soft gowns.
He spat the blood from his mouth and gazed upon the slender face framed by the long black hair. With eyes encircled with golden light glistening like rumored gems, she looked upon him with a compassion he knew to be false. He had known her too long to think she could be sincere.
“Is that anyway to treat a guest?” she said to Aaric.
“He’s not a guest, Fand. He’s a traitor,” Aaric said.
“If you want a man to talk, then you have to make it worth his while,” Fand said.
Smiling, she knelt down beside Borg’s mutilated form and slid a slender finger down his broken face. Borg studied the distrust in Aaric’s eye, concluding that the acting monarch didn’t like the goddess any more than he.
Borg flinched at her gentle touch and Fand met his fear with a girlish chuckle dripping with venom.
“Shh,” she hushed and caressed the cuts on his brow with just the tip of her finger.
Gold threads of light flowed from her hand and, like a tailor’s needle and thread, mended the wound, closing it the instant she touched her flesh to Borg.
Fand finished one cut, and then another, taking a lax amount of time as she moved her hand to each wound.
“Sing and skip over fairy mound,” Fand sang in play while repairing Borg’s wounds and restoring his energy.
“Fand!” Aaric growled and Fand ended her song. She continued her work as she gazed over her shoulder at Aaric.
“Don’t!” he said.
Ending her song, Fand finished her work until only the stains of blood remained as evidence to the wounds.
“There now,” Fand said. “Now… What were you about to tell us?”
“Tell you,” Borg said, gasping with relief.
“How long have you been helping the Ljosalfar?” Aairc said. “What information have you traded them?”
Borg looked to Aaric, who could cut into him as many times as he wished, then to the Fae witch able to conduct her spells.
“You seek to end this war,” Borg said. “You wish to save the queen.”
His words accused, judged and damned.
Fand omitted a laugh, but Borg’s gaze was fixed on Aaric, who stared at Fand with such loathing it confirmed Borg’s suspicions: the marshal was not on her side.
“I desire nothing more that the death of Queen Kallan,” Fand said. “As for this war…” Fand shrugged and permitted a soft grin. “If it’s a war you want, I’m sure I can lend my aid.”
Borg shifted his attention from Fand to Aaric. Whatever deal was made, he doubted very much that Aaric would support it.
“What did you have in mind?” Borg asked, deciding to follow the will of the witch.
“Continue the machinations you’ve started,” Fand said.
Borg blinked back surprise. “That’s it?”
“Tell no one,” Fand added.
Borg looked from Aaric to Fand.
“If this is what you want, then why not leave me to my intentions?”
“Because, pauper,” Fand said, “You need to know that we are here—watching—and that, should you fail, it is your death that will redeem your failure.”
“Enough of this,” Aaric said. “Answer, Nidingr. What information have you given to the Ljosalfar?”
A low chuckle rose from within Borg’s chest.
Aaric slammed his fist into Borg’s face. Another crack and blood flowed from Borg’s nose. Without a word or reprieve, Aaric turned on his heel and stomped his way up the stone steps.
“Marshal!” Borg called and Aaric stopped. Borg paced his pain with his broken breath. “I’ll give you my answers, if you answer this.”
“You think you’re in a position to negotiate?” Aaric asked.
“Where is the queen?” Borg said, ignoring Aaric’s question.
As if amused, Fand looked to Borg and then Aaric, seemingly delighted at the tension in the room.
“Taken,” Aaric said at last. “By King Rune.”
Borg coughed, then, throwing back his head burst into a fit of hysterics. Loud maddened laughter echoed through the dungeons. He dropped his head to the floor and allowed his body to shake with enjoyment as wild laughter carried his mind from his cell.
After several moments, Borg settled himself down and forced the words out between bouts of deep laughter.
“I told the Ljosalfar…” He laughed. “…that I would free their king… if they promised to take our queen with them and kill her.”
Borg threw himself back and launched into another fit of laughter, oblivious to Aaric who launched himself across the room. Mid-hysterics Aaric’s fist slammed into Borg’s face throwing him down against the stone, and the laughing ceased. Blood splattered the floor as his head ricocheted off of Aaric’s fist again and again until Borg gurgled blood, too near death to plead for his life.
“Aaric,” he thought he heard Fand say. Pain shattered the pounding in his head as Aaric released what little was left of Borg, who lay too beaten, too near death to hear the cell door close behind his captors.
* * *
“Aaric!” Fand called.
“Aaric!” she followed on his heel.
Aaric spun, throwing Fand into the wall where he pinned her against the stone with a hand on her neck, the other, raised, cradling a white Seidr flame.
“You have your way, Fae witch,” Aaric growled. “Your tree is safe. Now get out.”
“Hardly,” Fand said, smiling. Aaric tightened his grip on Fand’s neck, forcing her smile to fall.
“Kill me, Aaric,” Fand forced through her breaking throat. “And Danann will find you. You need me to hide you.”
Aaric tightened his hold.
“What will you have to say for yourself? When the goddess finds her Drui?”
The white flame doubled in size and Aaric positioned his arm to fire.
“Wherever you are, Gudrun isn’t far behind.”
The fire vanished, and Aaric released Fand, who fell to the floor coughing.
“Get out,” he said and climbed the steps out of the dungeon, unconcerned with the traitor, the witch, or the Fae.
Fand remained on the floor, rubbing her throat where Aaric had nearly snapped her neck. As the last of his footsteps died away, Fand smiled and lowered her hand. Free of pain, Fand rose to her feet and hummed herself a ditty as she walked back to Borg’s cell.
“Sing and skin o’er Fairy mound.
Over the hills and through the dalr.”
She turned the knob and pushed the door open. Stull humming, she all but pranced down the steps and approached the still breathing blood mass on the floor.
Tsking, she peered down at Borg.
“You’re a fool,” she said. The pile of blood and bones gasped. “I should let you die here, uskit.”
The breathing had reduced to a wheezing that confirmed his neck was fractured and possible a lung, punctured.
“Once more,” Fand said, placing a hand to Borg. “Ride to Gunir and finish the job.”
Bones popped back into place. Skin reknitted itself and mended as the golden threads of Seidr flowded through the corpse and repaired the damage done by Aaric’s hate.
“Y—You’re letting me go?” The words scraped free from Borg’s throat before Fand had finished mending his wounds.
“I have a message for you to take to Gunir.”
“But the marshal—”
“Doesn’t have to know.” She watched the Dokkalfr relax as she finished the mending. With disgust she watched the sluggish soldier rise to his feet then regained his composure. With a nod, he slumped toward the door with barely a limp. His head hung low with incompetence.
“And Dokkalfr,” Fand called.
Borg stopped and turned.
“This time, don’t get caught.”
Borg pursed his lips as if tasting the bitter bite of failure. With a subtle nod, he slugged out the door, leaving Fand alone in the cell.
* * *
Aaric pushed open the doors of the war room, paying no mind to the young scribe staring into the vast hearth fire behind the table littered with maps, letters, and seals. The iron wheel suspended from the ceiling illuminated the room with nearly two dozen candles.
“Marshal?” Eilif said as Aaric approached the table.
“Ready the men,” Aaric said.
“The men?” The scribe turned to the warrior whose wide shoulders dwarfed Eilif’s wiry frame.
“We’re going to battle,” Aaric said and searched the table for parchment and pen.
“Battle?” Eilif’s round eyes widened. “B—But Kallan—”
“Is dead,” Aaric said, looking up just as Eilif turned white.
Kallan was barely older than the scribe, who was slow to mature and had always been too small for his age. He ate less than the orphans he and Kallan cared for. As Eilif’s thin lips began to tremble, Aaric saw just how much Kallan’s absence had taken its toll.
“Now, Eilif,” Aaric said.
Eilif nodded and a tear slipped down his clean pale face. He slugged toward the door and closed it with a soft click.
Sighing, Aaric sank into the chair—his back to the fire—and dropped his face into his hands. His anger was waning and with it, his strength. There, alone beneath his grief, the high marshal broke. Tears streaked his faced lined with the ancient runes only few could read. His wide shoulders shook, and the marshal silently cried.
After all this time… Aaric dug at the heat in his eyes, putting an end to his tears. After all this time… Think, Aaric willed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he recalled the last moment he had seen King Rune and Kallan.
“Take her,” Aaric had said to the Ljosalfr King within the Dokkalfar stables. “She lives. She’s fine. But you must get her out of here.”
“Why—” King Rune had asked.
“There is no time. Take her horse,” Aaric had said. “The brown destrier. He rides faster than the others.”
“I’m giving her to you now go or you’ll both be dead!” Aaric had said knowing Fand was near.
“She’s Seidkona,” Rune had argued. “When she wakes… I won’t be able to hold her.”
Aaric opened his eyes wide, and released his nose.
Rune has the Shadow.
With a flicker of hope, Aaric ended his grief.
The Shadow within Rune will have blocked Kallan’s Seidr, even from my view. Rune may have kept her alive to question her.
The more Aaric thought, the more he was certain. Kallan was alive.
That Shadow, not even Danann knows, Aaric mused. Only the Drui knew about the Shadow… and Fand. But Gudrun and Fand believe it destroyed. And Volundr… Volundr doesn’t care for anything anymore, not since Kira’s death.
Aaric took up the pen, and scribbled a note.
“Guard,” Aaric called, applying his seal. The doors openeded and a soldier entered.
“Fetch me Eilif.”
With a nod the guard left Aaric alone, closing the door behind him.
“There is still a chance…”
With the letter clamped tightly in hand, Aaric walked to the west window and gazed out at the waters of the Kattegat.
With Fand believing Kallan dead, it will buy me time enough to act. Under the guise vengeance, the Dokkalfar will move on Gunir, and I can look for Kallan, find her, and we will get out all before Fand learns of Kallan’s existence. A simple spell can make it look like I died in battle, and Fand will end her search for Danann’s Drui. If she still lives, Kallan and I will leave Alfheim. We’ll go into hiding. No one, not even Gudrun—
Pale blanketed Aaric’s face at a new fear.
Gudrun. If Daggon and Gudrun find her… if they bring back news of Kallan’s survival—
“You called for me, marshal?”
Aaric turned to Eilif waiting at the door and forced the words from his mouth.
“I have the order,” Aaric said. “Send word to the troops. Honor demands we avenge the death of our queen.”
Aaric wants to go to Gunir and get Kallan. Aaric hopes Rune may not kill Kallan. He doesn’t know. Fand thinks Kallan is dead and Aaric wants Fand to believe that Kallan is dead. If she is alive. If he can get her out and leave without Fand knowing, then they are home free.
For such a spell. He would need to see Volundr. Aaric goes back to Volundr.