Chapter Seven - Moving North
Inge sat on one of the remaining horses his brother’s army had at their disposal. It was a black gelding, the hair along his saddle rough and spread from the received in the past month. His brother had kindly given him the best horse their family had, seating himself upon a brown horse instead.
“It’s the least I can give you, Inge. You’re the one who’s lost something. We march for you.”
Eirik had told him that he should rule once they won the war, but Inge objected. He told him that a mage should never rule, especially a mage like himself.
“When a mage rules, the common man fears for himself, Eirik, and when a man rules the mage fears. A mage and a man should rule together, that is the only way for there to be balance.” Eirik agreed to rule the continent, with Inge advising him, Inge did not want the burden that came with the title of king.
Inge had been hesitant to march north for his daughter. He loved her truly, her green eyes reminded him of the other half that created her – his late-wife Freja. He remembered the way Freja’s black hair lay divided across her face as the bastard Norsom heir Damien burned her alive. Her hair was the first thing to ignite. The fires seemed to skip past her clothes and target her hair. She was holding an iron sword at the time which she quickly dropped, looking down at her hand and seeing the skin singed and melted. Her screams came after that - the screams that still haunted Inge’s dreams. He heard the screams every time he was alone.
She had been a powerful mage, the best Inge had ever seen. She had taught him most of what he knew, despite the fact that she used granite. Somehow she knew so much of the primal world and bestowed her knowledge onto him.
He took a large swig of his seawater when he saw what was happening to Freja. It took its toll on his body, of course. This was when his vein burst and became a scar, crusting over and dry. His face was constantly dry, his skin flaking off frequently. He often tried to convince himself, that he did everything he could to help his dying wife, but the avoidability of her death made it hard to convince himself himself. In the end, the battle left him with two functioning veins and a life of regret.
He tried constantly to douse his brother’s army in as much water as he could channel. At first, the water would boil as it made contact with the skin of the army. The screams increased. Eventually the screams died down as the water began to stop the fire, but what was left of the army terrified Inge.
The soldiers’ were skeletal, their faces were covered with burns from the boiling water he’d tried to cleanse them with. Some of them had pieces of flesh and skin hanging loosely off of their arms and faces, nearly all of them no longer had hands or the capacity to hold their heated weapons.
He couldn’t forget the way Freja looked at him. Her skin peeling back, her hair gone completely. Her clothing and the armour on top of it, heated to an extreme and in that moment, Inge stopped channeling. He realized that sacrificing himself to save the army was a waste. Nothing those soldiers could do after that battle would be more valuable than what one man could. Her green eyes were all that distinguished her, looking up at him as she fell to the ground, clutching at her armoured with maimed hands, dying.
By stopping his channeling, the seawater flowing through him quickly subsided within him. He stood staring at the charred bodies of the army briefly. His wife, dead on the ground. Down from her, his sister, dead also. All of these people he couldn’t save. A dwindling army remained, men and women without the ability to hold their swords or fire a bow. Men and women whose bodies they abandoned.
Inge doesn’t remember much after that, besides his brother, who was somehow untouched by the fire grabbing his hand and pulling him to run with him. They ran south as fast as they could, fleeing the main road and running through forests.
He snapped out of his trance and glanced over at his brother on the horse beside him. Each day of the road brought them closer to Shalonsbury, and with each day he saw a greater look of determination growing on his brother’s face. They were going north from Shalonsbury because of Eirik’s fear of the main road - because of the bitter memories that came from their defeat.
“Only a few more days until we can get more supplies.” He’d kept saying to the growing army behind them. Supplies. It was always supplies that he used as his excuse for avoiding the hellish road that killed their family and friends. They had a good supply of food still - they could last nearly another week if they had to. If they’d taken the direct route, they likely would have been able to go directly to Dawnsend.
It wasn’t common knowledge within the army that the two brothers planned to rule the kingdom together. Everyone treated Inge purely as the king’s brother. To the common families that marched with them, he was nobility, but not worth dying for. Inge was happy with this, though. Despite the fact that this march was to rescue his daughter, Inge still didn’t want anyone to die for him.
Beside him and his brother rode the father and daughter of the neighbouring town of Troutson. The town was little more than a fishing village, but they raised some of the best soldiers in Olander. The father, Hugo Gringolet, was a bold man. He had no magic, and yet was still able to fight as well as any granite mage. The Gringolet family was the family to which Freja had been born. Hugo had one remaining daughter, Elyse, who rode to Inge’s right. By the first mages, she was beautiful.
Inge found himself avoiding looking at Elyse. She looked just like Freja and he tried to avoid rekindling memories of his wife. There were many great memories in their life, but it was seemingly impossible for him to think of any of them. All his memories were overshadowed by her death and his inability to save her.
“Inge!” Elyse called out to him. He couldn’t avoid looking at her this time. Her face had many veins, vibrant red, spreading across her brow and cheeks. Her eyes were the only difference between her and Freja: they were black, no clear distinction between the colour and the pupil. “What’re you gonna get in Shalonsbury? I’m thinking of ordering the biggest steak they have at the inn.”
That was another difference between the two of them. Elyse was incredibly light hearted. Despite her niece being stolen, she was very relaxed and comedic. Freja had never been that way. She saw her magic as a burden that overshadowed the rest of her personality. She was always serious – much of the reason her and Inge were so perfectly matched.
“Focus more on your swordsmanship than on your dinner, Elyse,” shouted her father. “You have to keep working on it.”
“Father, I have magic. I know you can’t see it, but it’s strong,” she said, pausing for a moment, eyes seemingly glowing with a heat of frustration. “I’m strong. Hell, I could cook the steak myself without starting a fire.” She laughed and beckoned her horse to run up ahead, circling back and joining the marching army once more. She was correct - her magic was incredibly potent, all things considered, but Inge worried about her discipline in her power.
It was clear that Hugo wanted his daughter to be more like Freja had been. Inge had seen his wife’s sister on the battlefield. He’d seen the fire’s she could summon and they were reminiscent of what Damien had made. She was strong enough to sit behind the rest of the army and still contribute as much as any foot soldier. She was reckless, though, Inge saw it and knew it was because of her inexperience. He hoped to work with her before any battle came about. He wished she’d had more time practicing with Freja.
“We should be in Shalonsbury before nightfall,” Eirik said to Elyse. “You should get your steak before bed.” He smiled to her. This left Inge with an odd feeling of jealousy. He felt protective of Elyse, both because she was quite volatile and because of the connection he had with her.
A boy ran forward from the back of the army to speak to Eirik.
“King, sir!” He called to him. It was the boy they’d picked up at the inn a few days earlier. “I know where we are! We’re nearly at the city. Should we be ready for combat?”
He was an eager boy, Inge knew that much. He reminded him of a younger Eirik, determined to battle but too reckless to do it properly. The boy from the inn was bound for high ranking in this army, but it would be some time before anyone was considered for upward movement.
“No, my boy. This city is ours to relax in, gather supplies and ready ourselves for a longer march north.”
Inge thought back on his time at the inn. The family had seemed very hospitable to him. He wondered if the little girl would ever discover that she was a mage, or if the family was too removed from the world to realize her potential. They clearly hadn’t tested her out yet, her veins were still white, uncoloured by their matching resource. He hoped she would work with fire, figuring that would be most beneficial for the people at the inn.
“What’s your name again, boy?” Inge asked down to him.
“What was the name of your siblings at the inn, again?”
“They weren’t siblings. I was sold to the inn. Jere and Catherine run the inn, then Kasall was the younger boy, Lor was the fat man in the back and Alida was the girl. Only Alida was born there.”
Inge recalled that there were faint veins on Catherine, as well. This gave him hope that she may someday discover her potential.
“Thank you, Sim,” Inge said, unsure of how to respond.
“Hey Sim, you ever seen a mage?” Elyse shouted to him. Inge had seen her play this game to try and size up her comrades. Clearly she was wondering just how oblivious this boy was.
“No, miss. I’m want to, though. Old Jere never took me to see a performing troupe.”
Elyse spat off her horse. “Mages in troupes aren’t real mages. They’re tricksters, doing something that anyone can do and gouging the public for their money. They do nothing more than tricks of the eye - you need to be wary of them.
He seemed confused and looked up at her.
“What does a real mage look like?”
“You’ll see what a real mage looks like when you’re ready.” Elyse called out to him, winking. It seemed like a taunt as much as it was a boast of her own power. Inge could easily see a more reckless man being provoked to attack from such words. After that, she turned her head toward Inge and made the same motion.
Inge slept with Elyse on some nights. It wasn’t something he was proud of, but some nights he lay with her out of weakness and a desire for familiarity. She was far different in the night than his wife had been, but she felt the same. He found that when laying with her, it brought him back in time to the time before his wife’s death. The only physical difference he found between Elyse and his wife was in her breasts. They were larger and felt unfamiliar to him during the nights. He tried to ignore them
Elyse was a wild woman. Inge had known this when he first married his wife, Elyse was practicing her magic and burnt down a barn behind the keep of Troutson. He was sure she was likely laying with other men and women within their army, but it didn’t concern him. He didn’t seek a wife, he sought comfort, and expected she was doing the same. Surely their being together reminded her of simpler times, as well. He was convinced that their uncouth time together was beneficial for both of them.
Elyse was a far different woman when the sun set and night covered the land. She was passionate and spent as much time seeking pleasure from Inge as she did seeking advice and talking about the woes of their lives.
Some nights, he told her that he wanted to work with her and teach her some more refined and precise magic, just as Freja had with him. She seemed to always be willing to work with Inge, but she was still reckless. She needs to learn patience, she needs to learn discipline, and he knew this to be her flaw. Inge figured the best way to teach her would be to get her drunk, as he had with Clarice. He feared that it was far too late in Elyse’s life to teach her discipline with drinking and the parallel between it and magic.
The city walls were in sight within an hour. After another hour, they arrived at the city gates. The army set up their camp outside the city walls while Inge, Eirik, Hugo and Elyse rode inside. They found an inn just inside the city gates and arranged to rent 4 rooms for the night. Eirik requested a fifth room for his son, but one wasn’t available. He knew his brother and their family would be confined to one bed and Inge felt guilty, knowing one room would be made empty by Elyse joining Inge. He knew he couldn’t tell his brother, though.
They sat at the dining hall of the inn and ate steaks, much as Elyse had predicted. “Hey Inge,” Elyse called out to him. “You gonna bring that boy from earlier in and show him a real mage?” She finished this statement with a big laugh. She rarely addressed anyone beside him.
“I figure I won’t have to. Skyhull will have more than enough for him to see, and I fear he’ll be seeing them at their worst.”
He scanned the room and noticed that one of the innkeeper’s had an unnerving black vein on his face. Inge wondered how much he knew and, more importantly, what he saw on himself and Elyse.
“Innkeep,” he began.
“Call me Jor, please!”
“Jor. You ever been to Skyhull?” The innkeeper looked unnerved and beckoned for Inge to come to a more quiet area in the inn. Inge gestured for Elyse to follow. They walked down a long hallway and eventually stood in an empty bedroom to talk.
Jor smiled. “You’re asking about my face? No, I’ve never been to Skyhull. I was raised outside the city. Nobody really knows, I figure I hide it well.” He gave Inge an intimidating smile. “After all, I wouldn’t want one of the Kingsmen to see me. I cover it pretty thickly with flour – it looks stupid but some seekers don’t know the difference.”
Inge smiled. “How many seekers are in the city?”
“Just two, the minimum.”
“Are they well trained?” Inge continued.
“Thank you Jor. Can I trust you, or are you the type to poison me in the night?” He knew Elyse stood outside the door in case anything began.
“No, I wouldn’t ever want that kind of attention. Surely, we can have a gentleman’s agreement. I have no intention of ever using the power, it wasn’t something I wanted to come upon me. Have a good sleep, my guest.” Jor seemed genuine, but Inge had never been one to trust a new face freely.
Any doubt that Inge and Elyse would sleep together that night had faded. He worried that the man may try and strike against them in some way, it would be safest for the two of them to be close together.
As he walked back to the table with Elyse he held up four fingers to her. She nodded and he decided he’d retire soon to his bedroom.
After some time, the dinner finished and everyone found their way to their rooms. Inge sat on his bed for some time, waiting for Elyse to come into the room. He knew she would, he’d given her the signal the two had agreed on for such an event. Holding up four fingers, including thumb, I did what she said and she’s not come yet. He continued to wait, his mind filled with worry about what could’ve befallen her between the dinner table and the bedroom.
Inge knew his brother was stuck in close quarters with his direct family while he deprived his nephew, the heir of his family of his own bedroom. He hoped Elyse would get to his room soon, the guilt began to consume him.
She arrived a few minutes later. She seemed to be drunk. There goes my discipline lesson, he thought. She entered the room and immediately began undressing.
“Wait, please,” Inge begged. “Just wait. There’s no rush, and I don’t fully trust the inn.” She looked at him confused. She was out of her armour, standing in her undergarments waiting for him to explain what he wanted.
He sat dumbstruck, staring at the nearly naked body that so nearly reflected his lost wife. Looking at her fully made him nearly sob, as it often did. He walked over to her, held her and led her to his bed. She lay, slowly becoming naked, and he lay beside her. She was warm – he never missed physical contact, he missed the warmth of another person.
After a few minutes of laying down, she was naked, and Inge found himself sobbing. He continued to weep while she pressed his head against her chest
He slept that way until the sun rose again.