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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 31

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

Not wanting to be the first person Hagen sees should he barge out of his quarters, I scurry to the main hall, which still has a fire burning in the hearth. Shadowwolves are strewn about, mostly sleeping, and the sounds of snoring mix with the crackling of burning logs. I pick the darkest corner, which is unclaimed for no doubt being colder, but all I want is space. Grabbing a stray fur, I lay down, doing my best to appear as if I’ve been there for hours. My quickened heartbeat would betray me if it could.

Shadow obliges and curls up close, partially on top of me, doing a fair job of providing cover. With my eyelids cracked, I concentrate on stilling my breath. I watch the door, listening to the notes of the room. While dim, the hall is brighter than outside, allowing me to make out details as I wait for something to happen.

One of the iron brackets flanking the door, designed to assist in barring entrance, is askew. Numerous boot prints mark the dirt floor of the entrance, contrasted by the impressions left by Shadow’s paws. They are huge. I look across the mass of black fur blocking me into the corner and Shadow lifts his head to meet my eyes, probably wondering if it’s time to get up again. My stomach grumbles. We should both eat before leaving.

The wooden latch lifts and the heavy door pushes inward, followed closely by Hagen. He’s awkwardly cradling the Founder’s Blade, wrapped poorly in a blanket, with one arm. My chieftain’s son scans the hall, scowling. I duck my head reflexively, though I need him to find me.

I see him spot Shadow, whose girth would render him impossible to miss were he not disguised as just another fur blanket in a room full of sleeping men. “Brahkis!” Hagen hisses, his gaze settling on my corner.

Forcing myself not to respond too quickly, I raise my head and inhale deeply, feigning a transition from sleep. My wolf companion lifts his head as well, his ears pricked at attention. Hagen stalks in my direction, looking angry, forcing me to reconsider the speed of my reaction.

Luckily, Shadow intervenes, snapping to his feet and growling at the intruder, who halts at the unanticipated threat.

“At ease, Shadow.” I stand and place a hand atop the wolf’s head, then take pleasure in responding to Hagen as if he’s interrupted a sensuously sweet dream. “Is something wrong?”

“This sword is cursed!” Hagen spits as if in accusation. He shifts his hold on the blade, careful to touch only the blanket around it, and extends the weapon toward me. “A plague of rats swarmed me in my sleep.”

I make a face like I understand everything but it’s beyond my power to stop, then shrug. “I tried to tell you. That’s why I wanted to take the sword beyond the borders of our territory.”

“Here,” he says, stepping closer so I can claim the weapon, but stopping when Shadow growls again. I go easy on him and reach forward to accept his offer, trying not to smile as I once more take possession of our Clan Founder’s Blade.

“I’ll leave after sunrise,” I assure Hagen. “Just let me get an hour or two of sleep.”

He grunts and looks around the room. I, too, survey the hall, noticing for the first time that almost everyone has woken. Yet, none spoke a word during our entire exchange. It’s a recognition not lost on Hagen, which seems to make him just as uncomfortable as me.

With nothing left to say, Hagen turns and withdraws from the great hall. I decide to leave the others to their unspoken thoughts and settle back into my corner after laying the Founder’s Blade flat against the wall. Exhaustion catches up with me and I quickly chase down sleep, my spot in the hall a little warmer than a moment ago.

Normally, I’m a light sleeper, but most of the great hall is awake and moving before some loud noise jars me from a dream. I long to return to my slumber, yet force myself to rise. The sooner I’m able to leave the fort behind, the better my chances of not getting caught up in another distraction.

Shadow joins me, infinitely more enthusiastic in his step as I seek out sustenance. Luckily, my hungry clansmen have made it easy, raiding the larder and laying out most of the foodstuffs in a haphazard manner. I quickly scavenge breakfast while tossing choice scraps to Shadow.

Next, I find Nertram. He greets me warmly, vindicated that his unpopular belief in me didn’t result in disaster. I am happy for his share of our victory and wish him well before making my exit. I wonder where the Grackle is, but trust he will find me when he wishes to.

It is time to start my journey to the Great Mountain. I wish I could stop by Treehorn Hall first to better supply for the trip, but I’ve run short on time. Rhiannon, the Eladrin, said she would return to Yorilis’s hill this very morning, and I’m not yet there. Hopefully, she’ll afford me an hour or two of delay, but her kind are fickle.

I relieve myself just outside the walls of the fort, then start jogging from the Golden Valley. Shadow keeps up easily and thinks our running some sort of game. He outpaces me only to fall back and momentarily lag, allowing me a modest lead. Then, of course, he just as easily overtakes me again.

For all his superfluous steps, it is I who am weary by the time we reach the domain of the Spirit Shaman. The sun has been long overhead, and I worry that the noon hour has long since passed.

“She has already gone,” Yorilis calls down the hill.

I stop to catch my breath and bend at the waist, resting my hands on my knees. Into the wind I mumble, “I’m not going to chase an Eladrin enchantress all the way to the Great Mountain,” but I know my journey has only begun.

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