Soon, the fire beneath the tub went out and the tub’s water grew cold, but Bregðask couldn’t feel it as his thoughts spiraled out of control. A while later, he heard someone enter the bathing chamber and felt their hands helping him out of the water while he was sure he would never find the strength or will to move again.
He was warm, but something in him was frozen colder and deeper than even that deep loneliness that had pushed him to run off Viking’s Cliff. This was different and he didn’t like it.
Gods, he didn’t like this. Would it always feel like this? What if he had to kill again?
I don’t want to, he thought and clenched his fists, But what if I don’t have a choice?
What if it was a matter of his survival? What if it was to protect someone else?
Whoever had come to retrieve him steered him out of the bathroom gently with a voice that was low and warm, but completely unfamiliar. It was soothing. The hands guided him through getting dressed in clothes that fit pretty well and helped him to a table where a mug of something fragrant was placed beneath his nose.
He heard the voice and Kjeld’s voice speaking, but he couldn’t make sense of the words through the haze.
“Bregðask?” Kjeld’s voice called and he looked up at the man, lost and confused. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. Are you hungry?”
He frowned but nodded eventually, the feeling of his rumbling stomach wouldn’t be ignored much longer.
Food appeared before him, and he looked up at the waif of a man who stood beside him. He was clearly older than Bregðask, but they had relatively the same build: more skin and bones than anything else. He had deep brown eyes with dark hair and a warm smile on his slightly tan face.
“Hello, Bregðask,” he said softly.
“My name’s Rikard. How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know,” he nodded slowly, “Thank you for the food.”
“Of course,” he said.
Bregðask picked up his fork, but before he could sink the fork into the cut of meat, he swore he saw the mage staring at him in his mind’s eye.
Eyes open and dead– blaming him for cutting his future so short, and Bregðask dropped the fork as a wave of nausea overtook him.
He felt Rikard’s hand on his shoulder, “It’s okay. Deep breaths.”
“I-I killed them,” he breathed, his hand carded through his hair as his breathing picked up. It felt like his chest was constricting. “I-I killed them. I killed them.”
“You also saved over fifty people’s lives,” Rikard said.
“I killed them,” Bregðask said, “I’m not a killer, b-but I killed them.”
“No,” Rikard said and kneeled beside him, “Killing does not make you a killer.”
Bregðask looked at the man who smiled at him warmly, “You killed to save people. That makes you a defender, a protector, Bregðask. It doesn’t excuse the fact that you killed them, but it should give you some peace that you saved someone’s life because of your actions.”
He swallowed thickly, “I… I’ve never killed anyone before.”
“The first isn’t necessarily the hardest, and so long as you aren’t a killer, it never gets easier, but perhaps it will become easier to see what killing someone has achieved rather than just the act itself.” Bregðask shuddered, and Rikard rubbed his back, “Can you try and eat something?”
He nodded and picked his fork up again. Kjeld smiled.
“Thank you, Rikard.”
“Any time,” he said and stood, “I’m going to head to the infirmary. They’ll probably need the help.”
“Don’t let them work you too hard.”
Rikard grinned at him and left soon after. Bregðask managed a few bites before Kjeld spoke.
“You did a great thing today, Bregðask,” Kjeld smiled. Bregðask nodded, but couldn’t force himself to say anything, “Tell me what happened, as much as you can.”
Bregðask heard himself speaking, but he couldn’t be sure what he was saying as Kjeld took notes. From the look on Kjeld’s face, it looked as though he wasn’t surprised.
“And you’re sure that she won’t be coming back?”
“Mages are not my area of expertise,” Kjeld hummed, “If this is becoming a practice, we have to warn Freyr and coordinate accordingly. Can I expect that you’re going to take the mage track?”
He nodded, “If I can…”
“Good,” he said, “I’m glad. Your father didn’t seem to understand that the Bjørn of now is not the Bjørn of his youth, and I doubt my brother will find a reason to inform him of such let alone bar you from your interests.”
Bregðask chuckled weakly and pulled the blanket tighter around him, “He doesn’t realize that other people change even when he doesn’t.”
Kjeld chuckled, “I told you fathers can be assholes that way. Have your fill and rest while I go report to the hilmir.”
Bregðask nodded, “Thank you… for not mentioning me.”
Kjeld shrugged, “You are not the first person with a secret on Bjørn, but just because you are not directly known does not mean you will not be directly rewarded.”
He ruffled his hair and left the house. Bregðask didn’t feel like he should be rewarded. He’d killed twelve men, but he sat at the table and choked down the meal he was given because he’d made a choice that would haunt him for the rest of his life, but not one he could regret.
It had to be done, he thought, There was no choice.
Ivan hummed and remained silent after Kjeld delivered the report, “…and this mage is not of Freyr?”
Kjeld shook his head, “He asked not to be named directly, and I am respecting his wishes.”
“Give him the treasure from the mage and whatever else he may want,” Ivan said, “Though it is not enough to thank him for stepping in. Hopefully, one day he will allow us to thank him properly, even if he is simply passing through. How are the merchants?”
“Recovering,” Kjeld said, “They should be just fine, including that stubborn woman.”
Ivan chuckled, “She is her father’s daughter. You can’t fault her for that.”
Ivan sighed and leaned back into his seat, “And what of young Bregðask?”
Kjeld smirked and shrugged, “He is definitely not the run of the mill þjóðann. I think he will find that his time here will not be as long as he first thought. Hel, he may move here permanently.”
Ivan nodded, “That is good. I am glad he is settling in well. Svein refused to explain his issue with the young man, but I have a feeling that it is an issue that is deeper than a terrible sense of humor.”
Ivan picked up the roster of classes that Bregðask was taking, “He’s an aspiring mage or an engineer?”
“I have a feeling a bit of both,” Kjeld said.
Ivan chuckled, “Perhaps, we’ll find out answers sooner rather than later. His Aunt Hilda has told me that he is quite inventive.”
He smiled at the letter that had arrived soon after Bregðask’s arrival on Bjørn. While it didn’t explain why Svein felt the need to leave him on Bjørn, it did shed some light on how capable Bregðask was as well as how far along in his training he’d come under her wing. From what she said, he was well-prepared to take his rightful position on Calder as the erfingi.
It was a shame that he could formally adopt the young man, but perhaps he would be able to do so informally.
At least until she’s old enough to learn.
The thought made him sigh wistfully and look at the old photo on his desk. Seeing his late wife’s face had always given him a boost of strength. The same was true now.
With the number of changes that had happened since he’d signed the formal truce and alliance with Freyr, there was so much to do. He needed an heir who was old enough to conduct business, but his daughter was all of two years old and Kjeld’s son had been dead for several years. Had he lived, he would have been just about Bregðask’s age. Kjeld had given his son a proper funeral, as well as his wife. They stood together at their father’s funeral, and he told Kjeld that he would never ask him to do what their father had.
Be with who makes you happy, Kjeld. We have lost enough for him.
It had taken a year for him and Rikard to hash out their issues and start dating again. Kjeld had never seemed happier than in the days since.
“I’m sure that’s not all she said,” Kjeld said.
Ivan chuckled, “It’s as if you’ve met her. Just keep an eye on him. He hasn’t even been here a week yet. We may find that he’s simply plotting his escape.”
Kjeld laughed, “We’ll see about that.”
“We’ll hold a debriefing this evening before dinner, so people can return home for dinner if they’d like. That should be enough time to know where we stand.”
Kjeld nodded and took his leave.