The Nature of the Beast - Page 9

As I'd promised the Jarls, I'd watched the battle from afar and now that my apprentice was of no more assistance, it was time for me to reveal my own beast. There's no trick to it really, all people have their beasts, and most end up showing it from time to time. A runemaster's skill was no different, just more . . . literal.

Not that the Jarls needed my help, but even when I made my promise I knew they wouldn't. They'd already won the day, and would soon expand into the beastmen's territory, till fields, and feed their people again . . . for a time, provided it didn't keep getting colder . . . which it would. And when their new lands were no longer enough, I didn't need the runes to tell me that the Jarls' eyes would turn toward the bounty of the warm southern lands.

But that wouldn't be my problem either way.

There was no point to my shifting, as I tried to explain to the Jarls, but a promise is a promise, so I became as a beast – a bear to be precise, the form my apprentice insisted on imitating rather than doing something original. My beast was larger than my apprentice's, of course, and far fiercer in demeanor, but this was hardly surprising since I was more practiced in calling it.

But what neither that fool of a priest, nor my fool of an apprentice, nor any of the fool Jarls could seem to understand is that a beast is just that – a beast. A beast is only angry for a reason, if it feels threatened or hurt, for instance . . . and I felt neither. My territory was the high mountain not far from where I stood, and nothing here threatened either that or me. I was still mostly full from a good breakfast, and otherwise completely sated from good activity and rest from the night before.

Astrid was right, I wasn't coming back from this one, not for a while at least, just like the runes had foretold. As I'd watched the battle, I'd realized the problem with the beastmen wasn't in that they were too much like beasts. Beasts would never have gathered as they did, because beasts would never have been tormented by the idea of starvation and line up in neat rows over it. They'd have simply died until there was enough food for the rest.

It wasn't the beast in the beastmen that led them to their slaughter . . . it was the man.

Page 9

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