The Nature of the Beast - Page 4


Fully dressed, I looked a little more dignified as I left Astrid's hut, but only a little. I'd donned pants to match my tunic, and my boots, but nothing else of significance, woefully, but deliberately, underdressed to protect me from the bite of the current winter. Astrid knew her business, and I knew mine, and it doesn't pay for a runemaster to look too sane . . . particularly me. Lacking the ability to be physically imposing, I had to rely on other methods to intimidate.

Fortunately, I had long ago grown used to the cold.

As I left Astrid's, her question haunted me though. Not about the marriage, I'd grown almost as immune to “might have beens” as I had to the cold, but her fear, however small, that her calling could ever distress me gnawed at my guts a bit. That sort of fear was southern talk, and if there was enough of it about to make an artist like Astrid doubt herself even a little, the winds of change were blowing even harder and faster than I had realized.

But not so hard that the Jarls had summoned any southern priests to help them face the beastmen, of course. Oh they'd swallow all the guilt the priests cared to spoonfeed them from the cup of their god, but when push came to shove, the Jarls, like the rest of the people, still called upon the gods of their forefathers – a failing that comes of only having such a meager thing as “faith,” I suppose. Only the weak have “faith;” the strong have knowledge . . . and trust, and you have to be strong to read the runes, because the rune never lie to you.

“Master!” my apprentice, properly bundled for the weather, shouted at me from across the way next to the great hall where the Jarls had assembled. “All is in readiness for the battle!” His eyes were almost fever bright, his smooth cheeks ruddy from the cold and the excitement of the “honor” of representing me at the war council. He thought it was because of the runes, and he was right. He thought it was a sign that he was destined for greater things, and he was also right.

Just not in the way he thought.

The runes never lie to you, no . . . but they don't bother to stop you from lying to yourself.

Page 4

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