Author: Maelstrom

Chapter 2
Chapter Two

            The glow from the grand hall was visible all the way across town, gleaming against the black backdrop of the lake’s dark waters, fires sending shards of arcing, orange reflections across its rippling surface. The festivities were already in full swing by the time I arrived, the party breaking out from confines of the grand hall to spill out onto the grounds in front. Impromptu bonfires roared around the stone steps, accompanied by heaps of folks drinking, dancing, and laughing. A chorus of disjointed instruments struck up a chaotic tune, fiddles, lutes, and Jotun-style drums beating at the night without a semblance of harmony.

            Along with the regular crowd, I noticed a plethora of more faces I was unfamiliar with, probably more from the caravan. A few were sharing animated stories with some elven hunters around a fire while another group was giddily spinning in a drunken circle with some of the other villagers to the raucous music. Drink and food was everywhere; being eaten, being cooked, being thrown… My stomach growled at the scent of elk and pig sizzling over the fires.

            I pushed past them all, greeting a few faces that popped out of the crowd to see me, heading up the stone steps to the grand hall’s massive double doors, the feast inside just as insane as the one without. The cavernous hall was packed full with people, the air humid with the amount of bodies stuffed within. Three long, oaken dining tables stretched across the length of the hall, not an open seat to be seen. Dishes upon dishes sat upon them, turkeys glistening with bastings, pigs popping with fat, fresh fruit filling the otherwise sweaty air with a sweet fragrance… my mouth began to water. It had been so long since I had a proper meal, let alone this.

            On the far side of the hall, atop an elevated stage, sat the village’s leaders, made up of mostly the eldest and wisest people in the village, save for some of the towns biggest business owners and the mayor himself, a stately, if dry, elf named Morlen. I saw Skarl, with a pained expression, sitting as far away from Morlen as he could while still at the table. Then I noticed at once that Ellovendir’s seat at the head table was empty and I scanned the crowd to find her small Dwarven frame.

            She was not hard to find, with a rose red dress with pink trimmings and dancing without a care in the world. Systematically, she targeted every willing dwarf she could find and attacked, dragging him onto the floor with the determination of a mule. I laughed as I watched a glee-filled Ellovendir spin the town’s smith, Corvün, into a server, spilling her tray of beers all over the both of them.

            Ello’s girls were sifting through the crowd, serving mugs of mead and Jotun brewed spirits. Morlen regularly paid Ello for her girls to help cater at feasts, which worked doubly well for her as her girls often wound up taking customers back to the brothel to make even more money. I looked through the crowds for a moment, trying to pick out Fael, but I managed only to see a flash of inconclusive black hair before it disappeared into the throng.

            Again, more smiling faces assaulted me, greeting me, barraging me with questions about my trip, but I just waved, asked how they liked the feast, and pushed past them to the awaiting tables of food. Unable to find an open seat, I proceeded to grab a plate and stuff as much food as I could onto it before marching over to the edge of the hall, where the crowd thinned. As I leaned up against a wall, happily cutting away at a half charred piece of venison, I noticed a group of children circled around a woman unfamiliar to me, engrossed in her story.

            She was an elf, that much I could tell from her pointy ears, high cheekbones, and tapered chin, but she wore the strangest cloths. The only elves I knew were Morlen and the collective of hunters that made their living like me, out in the wilderness, separated from most contact with people. They were always dressed in somber, bland attire, tough fabrics that wouldn’t rip and blended in with the forests, but this elf was different.

            Around her head she had wrapped a white-and-red striped skull cap, tucking under the edge of her ears. A leather jerkin was tied over a blaringly white blouse, showing off a very lean figure that shot down to the long, lithe legs covered by a pair of jeans, patched with all manner of conflicting colors. Another thing that struck me as odd was that she was smiling. The elves that I knew barely smiled, or at least vary rarely. Your basic elf was normally a humorless individual, serious and dull with a few exceptions here and there, but this elf… she seemed bright, energetic, lively. Despite myself, I found myself listening in, just as she was beginning another tale, the children already secure in her captivating grasp.

            “So…” she began, holding a playful smile while her eyes darted to catch all the children’s gazes, “How would you like to hear the tale of Odin and the three Norns?” They nodded eagerly.

            “Well, Odin, god of the gods, chieftain of the Aesir… he was not like the other gods. His son Thor was obsessed with battle, completely taken over by it. His other son, Baldr, was equally obsessed with his own beauty. The Vanir, the Aesir’s allies, were consumed by their sorceries, and Odin’s last son was taken up by these teachings as well. Every god, but Odin was obsessed, or consumed, or fixated on one aspect of life, something that they controlled, that they could hold onto… but he had no such fancies.” She paused for effect and I found myself appreciating her storytelling voice, dramatic and appealing silky. She must have told this story hundreds of times.

            “No, Odin was responsible, trustworthy, and above all else, honorable. But as the gods were taken over by their pursuits, so were the nine realms taken over by strife, no longer had they had their pantheon of gods to protect them. From the realm of the giants, to the dwarves, to the elves, and to the humans, harvests fell, summers grew short, the oceans grew colder, and people despaired. Their gods had forsaken them, though they did not know what for.”

            “But Odin stayed his course, he did what he could to keep the nine realms in order, but the chieftain of the Aesir can only do so much before he is overwhelmed. He knew he could not last. So he sought out the three Norns of Fate.”

            “Now the three Norns were sisters named Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. They were of the Vanir, but they mastered a different kind of sorcery than their brethren, more like witches,” she made an comically evil face, a string of giggles following, “They could look into time itself through a magical spring and from their powers, the gods gained many of their prophecies, including the one of Ragnarök. They were neither evil nor good, but existed in relative harmony with the world around them, acting as guides for the gods and mortals alike. This was why Odin wished to see them, he wanted that power to see into the future, so he could help the mortals of the other realms live without the hardships the other gods had put upon them.”

            “As he approached them in their ancient home in Vanaheim, he was assaulted by voices, their words echoing in his head. He soon realized that they were questions and that he was meant to answer.”

            Her voice changed, reflecting something between a ghost and a ghoul, “‘Why are you not following your other immortals in their folly?’ the voice called to Odin, raspy, like a crone. Then Odin awnsered, ‘my brethren our confused and our not themselves. My people, the mortals of the realms, are suffering in their absence.’

            “Another voice then opened up, this one younger, yet still holding a measure of wisdom one could only have through age, ‘Then why, Father of the Gods, have you come to us? What do you seek?’

            “‘I seek what you have, Norns. I wish to have the power of prophecy so that I may help my people. The realms are beginning to fall into disarray, and I alone do not have the power to help. I plead with you, show me how you have attained such power’, Odin replied, the words of the last question still echoing in his head.”

            “And a third voice entered Odin’s head, the last of the sisters. Her voice was the youngest of them all, fair, soft, and sweet, not a day over sixteen years, ‘You, of all the beings of the realms, know that power is not gained without sacrifice’. In a flurry of smoke and darkness, the Norns revealed themselves, coming out of nothing with magic humming in the air like lightning.” A smile pecked at my lips, she had the children mesmerized with the imagery. She was good.

            “‘Then,’ they all said to Odin, their three voices one, ‘Look at our eyes,’ and when he did, he saw that where they were supposed to haves eyes, only dark sockets remained, empty and black. ‘You see Odin,’ they continued, ‘For one to see into the future, one must sacrifice the ability to see into the present. When you get to our spring, at the top of this hill, there will be a dagger, you will know what to do from there’.”

            Then the elf’s voice dropped, low, so quiet the kids had to lean in close to hear and I found myself doing the same, “So…” she whispered, eyes playing about her young audience, “The three Norns all disappeared in a flash, as if they weren’t even there. Odin began to think that maybe… just maybe this was a trick, that these three sisters were almost figments of his imagination. But he ascended the hill to the Norn’s spring in the face of his doubt, and just as they had said, a dagger was resting on the bank of it’s waters. So… he picked up the dagger,” the elf pantomimed a dagger in her hand, “Looked at his reflection in the water and held the blade up to his face,” she lifted her imaginary knife up, pointing towards he eye. The children were quivering, some with fear, others with anticipation. The air was tense as they waited for what she was going to say next.

            “And do you want to know what happens next?” she asked the children, smiling wickedly, but they were to frozen to answer her. Someone gulped fearfully.

            “He took the blade and…” Then her voice rose to a startling volume, slamming her fist down into her open palm, making such a loud slap that the entire circle of jump in there seat, “Put it right into his eye! He scraped and scraped, blood and gore covering his hands, until the only thing that was left in his socket were mangled strips of flesh!”

            Some of the children were whimpering, the girls hiding behind the collars of their shirt, the boys sitting forward eagerly to hear the rest of the story. She continued, “But Odin was not done! No… for he still had one more eye to go… so he took the dagger again… lifting it high in his shaky hands…” She paused, letting the tension of the moment string out, getting tighter and tighter.

            “But he stopped,” she finally said, letting her tone soften, “And the voices came to his head again, ‘Odin,’ they began, ‘you do not have to do this, with your sacrifice, you have gained more than enough foresight to save your people. We have seen it. You can keep what sight you half left to do as you wish’.”

            Then the elf stepped back, arms open, palms out, almost as If she was going to take a bow, “And that children, is the story of how Odin lost his eye.”

            “But… but what about the people of the realms? What happened to them?” one of the children piped up, his voice meek against the clamor of the feast.

            “Oh ho!” she laughed mischievously, “I’m afraid I do not know how that part of the story ends, sadly.” The collective of children moaned, realizing that she told the story just to make it end as anti-climatically as she could. It was a rather crafty trick I had to admit, but still the children cried out for another story.

            “No, that was fourth one tonight, how am I supposed to keep my stories fresh if you make me tell all of them?” she ruffled the hair of the closest kid, “Now you children run along and enjoy the party.”

            The scamps scattered to the four corners of the hall in a flash, melting into the crowds like rats in walls. It was then that I realized she was walking towards me, having noticed my listening in. I felt almost embarrassed having been entertained the same as children, but still… it was a good story.

            “I take it you enjoyed the story?” she smiled as me, adjusting her skull cap. Her lips were thin and tapered, very traditionally elven, but they held a certain measure of warmth I was not used to in their kind.

            I chuckled unsurely, “It was very well spoken, you’re a wonderful storyteller.”

            “I do try, nothing’s as satisfying as a good story, I always say,” she held out a hand, “Name’s Kassandra, jewelry merchant by trade, storyteller by boredom. And you are…?”

            “Alec Kain,” I replied, taking her hand in a fleeting shake, “Hunter by trade, awkward listener by boredom.” I secured a laugh out of her then, light and heart felt, yet, again, not very elven-like.

            “Fancy name, for a human at least,” she mused, “Can’t say I’ve heard it before… where are you from?”

            Insightful… I thought, mildly impressed, I knew my namesake was not the traditional American fare, having been born to a Scottish-Scandinavian couple. Yet, I was still wary; it was never wise to give out to much information of yourself. It was the smart ones you have to watch out for, but she seemed a nice enough sort.

            “You shouldn’t,” I continued, “I was born a little north of New York, but my parents were from across the sea. Mostly Nordic countries, back before.”

            “Old viking stock then, if my pre-Rök Midgard geography serves me right? It’s so hard to find a complete map nowadays, so pardon me if I err. Old books can only get me so far.”

            “Well, you’re as right as far as I know, which isn’t far to be sure. I have a general idea of where I’m from, but I’ve only had story, no maps or pictures to go along with them,” I was beginning to feel uneasy with the conversation, I was never the one to divulge my past, I preferred the ignorance of staying in the present, “I take it you like the village?”

            “Normündir? It’s a quaint place, quiet, friendly, natural, it seems to just blend into the mountains. People are good, generous too. It’s a wonderful change of pace to the bustle of New York.”

            “New York?” I looked at her, a little surprised, “I thought the city just a ruin. You live there?”

            She laughed at my puzzlement, “Oh, it’s still a ruin all right, but if it’s one thing you humans are good at, it’s stubbornness. You’re like dwarves, just taller and more tolerable. They’ve got a good little settlement going down there, most people just live in some of the slums around the harbor, a little too seedy for my taste, though it’s better than most towns I’ve been to. But out in the bay, you can still see the tops of the buildings poking out of the water, massive things, bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. The richer folks and most of the people who can afford to buy themselves a space, merchant and business folks mostly, actually live out there.”

            I looked at her suspiciously, “You’re joking, aren’t you? Pulling my chain?” I said, voicing my thoughts.

            “Not in the least, it’s a pretty magnificent sight really. I’ve only been out to the Old City a few times, mostly for my jewelry and whatnot, but it’s like looking into the past…” she looked about the room though, almost sighing, “But it doesn’t have the same thing this place has, I have to say, there are so many people in the city, but here… it’s… it’s very… how do I put this?” she tapped her bottom lip with a finger, thinking, then finally it came to her, “Tranquil.”

            I followed her eyes, just seeing a room full of drunken dancers and songs, the cacophony of instruments raping my ears, and picked out two fights that were already in progress, one verbal, the other physical. This is her idea of tranquil? I can’t imagine what New York’s like…

            “Sounds like a… interesting place,” I lied. I preferred the stillness of the woods, where I didn’t have to worry about people, just me, myself, and world full of nothing.

            “That’s one way of putting it,” Kassandra continued, tucking a stray hair back behind her ear, her eyes suddenly darting to my arm, where my bandage was spotted with dried blood, “Where’d you get that nasty piece of work?”

            “Hunting in the mountains, had a run in with a direwolf who had the same idea as me,” I teased the wound with my finger. The pain had dulled, but it still hurt enough to make me wince. Thankfully, it didn’t feel warm; a fever from an infection is the last thing I needed.

            “A direwolf… I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure to see one before. I’ve heard they tend to stick to Jotunheim though, above the Frost Line.”

            “Believe me, it’s not a pleasure. Damn thing was hear as tall as my waist, thick and ragged, much more muscle than a regular wolf. Its fur was all matted and mangy, looked like a nightmare with teeth. It ambushed me at a stream and I put my knife in its neck, but not before it took a chunk out of my arm.”

            “You’re lucky, in all the tales I know, people who meet a dire wolf never seem to meet a second one,” she pointed out severely.

            “Well, thankfully, life isn’t one of your stories. I won’t be trying to stab out my eye anytime soon will I?” I joked.

            “Hey, you jest now, but that story was all truth.”

            “All of it?” I tested.

            She smiled deviously, “I may have taken some artistic license with it, but the story was all there.”

            We laughed, talked some more, drank a little. Kassandra was a pleasant sort, odd for an elf, but just right for a human like me. After all, you’d be hard fought to find good conversation in Normündir, the population of which was mainly made up of stoic Jotun, a group not renowned for their conversational skills, fisherman, farmers, and other people of the land; not exactly the thoughtful type. I’m no philosopher and it’s not like the village was full of idiots either, but sometimes a man wants a stimulating chat.

            I learned that she herself was from even farther south than I suspected, growing up in badlands that used to be Tennessee. She ran with caravans as a guard rat, riding on top of wagons with an unloaded gun, mostly just to scare of bandits than to fight them. Eventually, she made enough money to buy herself her own wagon and rats, buying and selling jewelry and scrap metal along the coast, moving between the fishing villages along the shoreline and New York. She wound up heading to Normündir with the other trader’s caravan after they were hit by a raider attack.

            “Came out of fucking nowhere…” shook her head sadly, “At night of all times! I only had one guy riding shotgun with me, a rat, young kid too. Bam, fucking bullet right to the head, right next to me. The night exploded, gunshots, fire, goddamn swords. Eventually, we managed to take out a good amount of them and they ran off, but we lost some people too. We knew they’d be back though, that’s how they operate, attack, run, attack, run… so we changed course, went north instead of east. Eventually wound up here. It wasn’t all bad, I mean I did offload a good amount of cargo, but I’d gladly trade everything in my wagon to be back in New York,”

            “I’m sorry to hear it… sounds like you had a rough time of it. I know. I’ve been there too. Roads weren’t safe when I travelled them, can’t imagine they’re any better now.” I looked down at the dregs in my mug, the ale stinking something savage… My father was the savviest wanderer of them all, but even he could save himself. Spend enough time out there, and eventually something is going to get you. My arm was testament to that.

            “Well, here’s to having a good, fat feast in a big, warm hall and to the ones who died,” she raised her mug and I met it with mine, wood clicking on wood, then downed the rest. I cringed at the taste of it, I didn’t even know why I was drinking it in the first place.

            Then somebody cleared their throat behind me and I saw Kassandra’s eyes avert from me in direction of the sound. I had a strange, sinking suspicion of who was behind me. I arched my head back to see Fael standing there, arms crossed with a fake smile, looking fake pleased to see me talking with another woman.

            She was laced up with all the drapings of her best clothes. Her ensemble was made up of a black corset against a blood red blouse, a skin tight pair of leggings complemented with a feathered skirt. Her skin was smooth against the firelight, orange mixing with the darkness of it as her just as black hair fell across his shoulders. She was beautiful.

            “Oh, Fael, I didn’t see you there,” I tried to pass off an air of innocence, “Uh, Kassandra, this is my… friend, Fael. Fael, this is Kassandra.”

            “Friends? Alec, I’d like to think of us more than friends,” she let out a hand to Kassandra, “It’s good to meet you, I’m Alec’s friend, apparently.” She kept her disposition well hidden, but I could see she was pissed. It seemed jealously can work both ways. If Kassandra caught onto Fael’s ire, she didn’t show it, but something about her eyes told me she wasn’t ignorant to it.

            “Oh, I take it you two are a… couple then?”

            “Yes,” Fael answered just as I said, “No,” to which Kassandra raised a puzzled brow. Fael and I shot each other a look, and then we responded together, “It’s complicated.”

            She laughed amusedly at that, “I can imagine so; generally a couple is usually aware that they are indeed a couple.”

            “So, how do you two know each other? Can’t say I noticed you before,” Fael prodded, leaving just a tinge of rudeness in her tone.

            “We just met actually. I came up on the caravan with the rest of the merchants. We were just talking about it actually.”

            “Wow, you two must have a lot in common then! Alec was a bit of a wanderer himself back in the day, before he settled down,” I could almost here the “-with me,” at the end of her sentence.

            “Actually, I’m not a wanderer, I’m a jewelry merchant.”

            “Oh, I’m sorry; you didn’t seem the type,” It was Kassandra’s turn to be displeased, her smile flashing to a frown, if only for an instant. The two were now staring daggers at each other.

            Besides Fael’s discourtesy, the two had more than just me to fight over. Ever since the days before Ragnarök, elves and dark elves had always held a certain enmity between them. When the original served the Vanir as their servants, they were split into two factions, one content to be in servitude and remain in their paradise of Alfheim, and another who wished to be more than slaves. They fought a war of independence, which eventually ended in their exile from their realm into Svartalfheim. In the end, they did gain their independence, but at a price; losing their culture and homeland. Ever since, the banished elves, the dark elves, hated their fellow elves that stayed with the Vanir. They called them weak and feeble, to which the subservient elves responded by calling them traitors to their race. Much of the hate has cooled by the death of the Vanir at the coming of Ragnarök, but some families still held onto their grudges with an iron fist. Fael’s family was one such stubborn example.

            If I knew Fael, which I did, without a doubt, things were going to get ugly, fast. I had to break up this before this situation got out of hand.

            “Hey, Kassandra, I don’t mean to be rude, but if you could excuse Fael and I? I need to say something to her in private.”

            She looked at me mischievously, “Sure, I’ll just get out of your hair then so you can have a nice chat,” and got up from her seat, melting away into the crowd. Fael and I watched her until we were sure she was out of earshot.

            “So, what is it you have to say to me?” Fael asked me sweetly, turning to me with an oh-so-innocent face.

            “You know very well why I need to talk to you. What the hell was with all that bullshit with Kassandra?” I could feel the rumblings of anger beginning to build, but I managed to keep the volume of my voice to an earshot, remembering Skarl’s advice.

            Fael’s charade faded before my assertion, turning a curved smile into a flat glare, “Who are you to be pointing fingers? When we were together, you practically attacked every man that I happened to talk to. Besides, who the hell is she? Is she a friend too?”

            “You got to be fucking kidding me…” I pinched the bridge of my nose, hoping to push back down the headache that was taking place of my rage, “For gods’ sake, I was just having a conversation! I haven’t even seen the girl once before in my life and you have the bloody assumption that we’re fucking?” For a minute, I thought she was going insane, but I detected the faint smell of wine on her breath.

            “Since when do you ever hold a conversation, Alec? You’re always so damned depressing and quiet… you’re more of a rock now than ever. Hell, you still are ‘my rock’, but instead of being someone reliable, you’re just a fucking stoic, shitty representation of a life. I might as well love a statue… at least it’d have a better chance at returning the favor.”

            The headache was building, “Fael! Are you even listening to yourself right now? You’ve had too much to drink.”

            “I am fine!” Fael insisted, pointing an offended finger at me, but the wobble in her step said otherwise.

            But before I could answer her, an argument from across the room caught my attention, the shouting rising over the sounds of music and feasting. I turned to look, seeing Morlen and Skarl going at it with fervor. They were yelling again, with a flurry of pointing fingers and exaggerated gesturing, their words indiscernible from where I stood.

            Fael took me by the shoulder and spun me back around the face her as I made to head over to the two elderly men before one of hem did some they’d regret, “What are you doing? We are talking right now Alec Kain! Don’t you walk away from me!”

            “Just one second Fael, I promise I’ll be right back, okay? Then we can hash all this out.” I reassured her, evading her hold, “Just find a seat. I need to make sure those two don’t kill each other.”

            She crossed her arms stubbornly and looked crossed, muttering, “Care more about a couple of old codgers than you do me…”

            I ignored that and dipped back into the crowd, heading towards the elder’s table on the stage where the two were having their fight. The entire hall was watching them now, but the two didn’t seem to care in the slightest, all their attention devoted to despising the other.

            “You are a blind, old fool Skarl! You have your head stuck so deep into the past you can’t even begin to even comprehend the future! What do you know of progress?” Morlen’s old, but still very sharp, elven face was contorted into a grimace of rage.

            “Progress? You call this progress?” Skarl gestured out into the hall, “All this food? You call me a fool, stuck in the past, but it seems I’m the only one looking to the future! Winter is coming, faster and sooner than last season, and you’re squandering our food stores on feasts!”

            The villagers who were still eating seemed to collectively distance themselves from their plates, looking guilty. The music was beginning to fall apart, fading in the wake of the silent crowd as the dancers returned to their chairs.

            “These may just be simple parties to you, my friend, but to me they are connections! These merchants I’m throwing this feast for will see our village as a rich prospect to return to, in the next trading season they will return with more trade, and with trade comes wealth, with wealth comes happiness,” he turned to address the crowd of growing watchers, “I’m sure all of us can say they’d sacrifice a few mouthfuls for a richer and brighter future! Yes?” A few managed grumble out an agreement or something of the sort, most too afraid to have the attention shifted to themselves.

            “It’s just simple economics,” Morlen turned back smugly to Skarl, “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” I cringed at that, attacking Skarl’s intelligence was the last thing you wanted to do. Though maybe he wanted to antagonize him? Either way, it worked like a charm and I could see a flash of rage in Skarl’s normally flat, thoughtful face. I better get up there, I thought.

            I pushed my way past the crowd, jumping up onto the stage with a quick leap. Everyone’s eyes were burning into my back, but I ignored them just as the two in front of me did.

            “Listen,” I reasoned, “Let’s stop this fight before it gets out of hand. Is this really the time and place for a debate, you two?”

            “Ah, Alec,” Morlen looked at me, smiling flatly, “Come to bail your friend out of another failed debate I see.”

            Just the tone of his voice reminded me of how much I disliked the man. Even for an elf he was a humorless, pretentious ass. From his rich clothes to his impeccably groomed hair, screamed politician. His face, his stance, even his voice, they were all the product of practice, a façade he put on for the public. For a second, I contemplated in helping Skarl in grilling the man in front of a crowd, but I knew that wouldn’t accomplish anything.

            “A failed debate?” Skarl stepped in, “That’s just like you, to point the blame in another direction so nobody notices what you did wrong. When will you learn you can only act so fake for so long before people take notice?”

            Morlen opened his mouth to retort, but I cut in, “Now you two stop it! You are getting nowhere like this. If you’re so keen to debate, set a time and a place and settle it like adults for once. Besides, you’re ruining the evening for everyone else.”

            The two finally took notice of the crowd, the sea of silent face looking up at them, the music gone, the dancers still, and the food sitting cold.

            “Alec is right,” Morlen finally decided, trying to salvage the situation in the best way possible, then he turned to the crowd, “People, I apologize for our rudeness. Please, don’t let our little outburst ruin the night! Musicians, start playing! The night is young!” The hall awkwardly began filling with movement as the people returned to the party, the music sputtering up again. Finally, satisfied that the hall was back in order, he nodded to Skarl, “Another time then,” and walked away, disappearing through the door in the back of the hall. Skarl made to follow him, but I caught his arm.

            “Just leave him, he’s not worth it.”

            Skarl rounded on me, “Who are you to get involved? I had him, Alec, I finally was giving the people something to be displeased about, see him for the moron he really is, and you had to get involved.”

            “Oh, don’t give me that shit. You were getting pissed, I could see it. Sooner of later you would have decked the asshole and then what? He’s the mayor, Skarl,”

            “Just because he’s the mayor doesn’t give him the right to drive this village into the ground, he has people to take care of you know!” he tried to rationalize, but the knowing looking on my face wasn’t buying it. He sighed and looked down at the floor, “You’re right Alec… ironic, isn’t it? That I was just telling you how to control your temper and I’m up here on the stage, yelling like no one’s around.”

            I laughed and slapped him on the back, “Hey, that’s what I’m here for. We watch each other backs, isn’t that how it’s always been?”

            “Yes… yes…” Skarl nodded, then looked up, focusing on something behind me, “Hey, looks like you’ve got someone waiting on you.”

            I grimaced on the inside, Fael, I thought, From one fight to another… Sure enough, when I turned around, there was Fael, standing below the stage. She was not letting this one slip away that easily.

            Skarl clapped me on the shoulder with a bear-like hand briefly, “I’ll just leave you two alone then,”

            “Yeah, you got my back alright,” I rolled my eyes as he chucked and walked off, leaving me alone with Fael. I hopped down the stage to face her. The headache was growing again, a pulsing spike into the front of my brain. It was getting hot in here as well, the crowd was pressing in and the music beating against my ears, aggravating what small hold I had on my anger.

            “So…” I began, not knowing where to start.

            “Are you ready to talk to me right now or are there some more fights that need to be broken up?”

            “Yeah, sorry about that…,” I rubbed the back of my neck, “Listen, can we maybe talk about this outside? It’s kinda crowded in here and you know how I am with people…” She nodded reluctantly and I took her by the hand, a gesture I almost regretted immediately. I was trying to push her away, not get closer!

            But something about her drew me in, I couldn’t help it. Memories of the nights we spent together, the mornings afterwards, the scent of her everywhere in my house. The times we spent at The Rock, dangling our feet off the edge over the waters of the lake… but the memories weren’t all happy, and I began to remember why what we had ended… She loved me, yet I just couldn’t love her back in the same way.

            The air outside was a relief, breezy and freeing; and though there was still a party on the outside, it was sparser and less chaotic. The music was quieter and the twilight sky was calming, the white speckles of star filling it like snowflakes.

            We took a seat about halfway down the stone steps leading up to the hall and for a minute we just sat there silently, looking at the villagers huddling around their fires, laughing, drinking, just being happy.

            They seemed so distant from me though, so different. I’ve been in this village for more than a decade, but I still didn’t feel apart of it. When they looked at each other, they saw friends, wives, and neighbors, but when I did, all I saw were how they could screw me over when I opened up. I guess, other than Skarl, Fael was the first person I could ever really express myself with… but when I looked at her… at what she had to do for a living… I felt betrayed, like she needed more, or she didn’t care enough about me to stay with one man… I knew it was her job… but I couldn’t tell her that, I couldn’t destroy her life just to fix mine... Everything would be better if we just went our separate ways.

            “Fael,” I began, tearing my sight away from the entrancing fires, “I don’t know what else to say to you anymore. I’ve told you this countless times, but I’m running out of words…”

            “Then don’t say anything,” she turned to me, taking my hand, “I love you, Alec, and I know you love me. Why do you have to deny it?”

            “Because I can’t live like that Fael!” my tone got harsher, “I want to deny what you do, not what we are… but I can’t! I tried to tell myself it was just a side job or pretend you didn’t actually do it. But I can’t Fael, I just… I just can’t.”

            There was the beginning of tears brimming at her Faels, but she held them back, “Alec, that’s not who I am! It’s my job, not my life. None of those men I’ve been with have anything close to what you and I have! What we have is beautiful, perfect, and just everything I’ve ever wanted… why do you have to just throw it away?”

            I had had enough, she was as stubborn as she was beautiful, but I had had enough. I steeled my voice, “Because it wasn’t beautiful, perfect, and everything I wanted! Face it, Fael, you get paid to have sex with men. You’re not a fairy tale princess, you’re a whore, and I’ve never heard a story where the whore found her true love.”

            Then she slapped me, quick and sharp with the hand she was using to hold mine just a moment before. I deserved it, I knew, but I needed it to end. She might hate me, but at least we could move on.

            A tear rolled its way down her cheek. Her lower lip trembled in mixture of fury and despair. Deep jade eyes shimmered back at me with an iced over fire. Then she kissed me. It took me by surprise, I was expecting another slap, some show of anger… not this. It was warm, desperate and welcoming at the same time. I could taste the salt in her tears. I fell into it, I missed it, wanted it, but I knew I couldn’t have it.

            She pulled away from, looking me in the eyes for any sigh of a changed mind. I stared back dully, turning off an emotional switch in my head for what I had to do.

            “Anything?” she asked, dejection leaking from her voice.

            “Fael… no… just no. It’s over,” those were the words I wanted - no needed - to say, but I felt sick speaking them aloud.

            There was a moment where she just kept looking at me, running my words through her head. She was so sad. I destroyed her, kicked her heart to shreds.

            But a heart could heal.

            Suddenly, I noticed a noise in the air, pulling my attention from Fael. It was low, a rumble of sorts; something strange, foreign. I didn’t know what to compare it to, but it seemed so familiar, a very faint memory... The hair was rising on the back of my neck. This wasn’t good.

            Fael knew that disturbed look I had about me and momentarily put her tears away, “What is it?” she asked me quietly as I listened, to distracted to look at her.

            “I don’t know…” I answered, cupping my ears to amplify my hearing, “But it’s coming from the south…”

            It was growing louder and stronger as I turned to look in its direction. In the blank expanse of darkness far off to the south, a trio of bright orbs were flying down the main road, getting bigger every second. More people were beginning to notice them as well, stopping in their tracks to look, the music coming to another stuttering halt.

            Even with the rest of the world quiet, save for the crackling of the fires, the noise remained. Finally, it was clear to me what the lights were.

            “Engines…” I muttered to no one in particular, “Motorcycles…” Fael looked to me, confused. Sensing my distress, her arm found mine, clutching tightly in fear.


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