The Nature of the Beast - Page 5

“Are you really going to let me lead the battle?” he asked fervently. “Do you really think I'm ready for that?”

“You read for yourself that the runes said you were the key to victory, did you not?” I reminded him. “Do you suddenly doubt the runes?”

“No!” he protested, his faith shining like a beacon. “But you said only last week . . .”

“I know what I said!” I interrupted him before he could finish chewing over the rest of his words. “And you are one of the sorriest excuses for an apprentice I've ever had.” I smiled to soften the sting of the truth and continued, “But even the sorriest of apprentices must graduate some time, and this battle is your final test . . . from me, at least.”

I never lie either, and when I was a callow youth I prided myself on the cleverness of my ability to deceive without lying, but now it's a skill that just makes me weary. To cover my feelings, I tousled his amber hair, causing his youthful features to beam with pride.

Ah well . . . the Valkyrie don't pick them for brains, and who knows? The boy might get lucky, end up getting a Valkyrie blind in one eye, and find himself feasting at Odin's table yet.

“So you'll be watching then?” he asked eagerly.

I sighed to release some of my exasperation. “Of course, I will!” Idiot boy, I added mentally. “From the hill. When the time comes, I shall become as a beast, just as I taught you to do.”

“But I am to become as a beast first, and win the battle, yes? I understood the runes correctly, didn't I?” A flash of doubt crossed his features, but didn't stay. If he only had more doubt and the time to develop it, he would have had the beginnings of wisdom.

“The key to victory,” I reminded him, searching his face for any traces of comprehension.

As always, it was a fruitless search.

Page 5

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