The Weight of Rubies
Broc stared at the lifeless woman and quickly analyzed the wound. It took mere seconds for Broc to fully process what happened to the girl. Broc turned to Vidar, “I think there may be a traitor amoung us.” He then turned his head toward Sanna, “Woman, you were at her side. What say you?” Broc eyes narrowed at the second statement.
“I found her dead,” Sanna answered Broc. She held his stare, unintimidated. “All of us shared watch last night, not just I. Even you.” Her own eyes narrowed. “Even you, Broc.” From the way she said it, he could hear her scorn for a man who had spent so much time away from the North Redding.
“Watch your tongue, woman,” Broc responded quickly. He turned his head to look at the others. “This woman was murdered in the cold night.” Broc then held up his finger and pointed to each one, “Not one of you would want to be killed like a dog, in the night and in your sleep.”
The others looked at one another, uneasy, questioning. Jarl rubbed his jaw and considered each of them, then looked to Broc. “I would not kill the woman this way,” he said firmly. “Nor can I think that any of us would. It is not the way of our people.”
Ingvar, Gunther and Sanna nodded and murmured in agreement, but Vidar – who had stopped close to Broc – lowered his voice and said softly, so no others could hear, and with a note of uncertainty, “What of Thora? She is not one of us.”
Broc looked at each member of the group. After a few moments, he continued, “Jarl is right. Our people would rather die and kill in battle. Not in deceit,” Broc said with satisfaction. “But what of you Thora? What of your people?”
Thora jerked visibly in surprise, eyes widening as the others turned to stare at her. “What …? What do you mean? Do you think I did this? Why would I do something like that? What … what earthly reason would I have?”
“Calm yourself, wench. I’m not accusing you … now. I’m asking about your people,” Broc says sternly. He then looks over to Jarl and Vidar. “Jarl, take Gunther and Vidar and do a perimeter search of the camp.”
Jarl nodded, waving Vidar and Gunther away with him. Sanna and Ingvar still watched Thora suspiciously, and the woman – who had lived among them for two years – shifted uncomfortably. “What … what do you want to know about my people?”
Broc’s piercing blue eyes met hers, unflinching and unblinking. “Tell me…everything.”
Thora blinked, a disbelieving expression spreading across her face. “Exactly how many generations do you want me to go back?” she asked scornfully. “We don’t have time for me to tell you ‘everything’ about the clan that outcast me.” She looked at Sanna and Ingvar. “For two years I have fought with you, and I stood with you before the orcs. Do I need to remind you which of my scars,” she lifted the edge of her leather vest to show a jagged mark across her belly, “I got there?” She turned back to Broc, defiant.
“Your scars don’t impress me,” Broc said just as defiantly. “Nor does your self-proclaiming loyalty.” Broc stepped closer to her. “I have seen people, who were more loyal than you claim. I have seen them fight for years alongside their ‘friends’. And when the time suited them, they stabbed them in the back.” Broc took another step closer. “Now, I want you tell me about your clan. And I want to know it now.”
Thora stepped back as Broc stepped closer, and opened her mouth to speak. Then her eyes narrowed. “You’re lying. And you’re not doing it well. Why are you so determined to direct attention and blame to me? What else have you lied about?”
“I’m trying to see what you’re about woman,” Broc snapped back. He took another step closer. “You haven’t said much about your clan to anyone.”
“I haven’t said much about my clan to you,” Thora corrected. This time, she stood her ground, though it took a visible effort. “Ingvar, Sanna, even Jarl – I have told them. Long ago.” She shot a glance at the other woman, who had a look on her face that spoke volumes about her unease. “It’s not my doing that you were away so long, that you don’t know of me. By now, you are more outsider than I am!”
At that, Sanna did step forward, to stand at an angle to both of them. That final statement had obviously resonated with the scout, she who had chafed under Broc’s commands, she who had clearly believed he did not merit such deference from the others in the clans. “Stop it, Broc,” she snapped, putting one hand on his arm to nudge him backwards.
Broc paused. He looked down in silence at Sanna’s hand on his arm. Moments passed, with nothing more said. Tension and uneasiness from all parties were evident and present. Eventually, Broc looked at Sanna, his eyes to hers and then over to Thora. A few more moments passed in silence till Broc finally spoke, “You think I abandoned you and our clan for selfish, petty reasons. But you do not understand.”
Broc turned and walked a bit away. He stopped and continued, “It’s my destiny to do what I am doing. You do not understand the pressures laid upon my shoulders. To follow and even surpass my great great grandfather. The legendary hero, Hegart.” He pointed to Sanna, “You of all people know the stories. How great he was and what he did for our people, even when he was not present for our people.” He pointed over to Thora, “Even you should have heard of Hegart. For he was crucial for all the people of North Redding. I have to go and do this, you do not know this therefore you don’t understand.” Broc paused while looking at both of them and continued, “Everyday and night, since I’ve been back, I regret for what has happened to our people. My … father who lost a leg. Jarl, lost an eye. You think I’m happy about this. I have let my people down. I know and accept this. But I need not be reminded at every moment.”
Broc turned away from both of them. “If you wish to follow no more, then go. At least what I can do is have revenge for my people.” Broc turned to them again.
“The choice of what I do is yours,” Thora said. “I never said I would not follow you.” Next to her, Sanna frowned, obviously still all-too-ready to question Broc’s authority. “But I will not stay if you insist on questioning me and my loyalty.” She pointed to the body on the ground. “Do you think I did this?”
Broc looked at Thora and then the body. “I know not who has done this. We will leave it at that.” Broc looked to Sanna. “A word with you…alone.”
Ingvar raised one eyebrow, and waited to see if Sanna was willing to speak with Broc alone. But Vidar’s sister gave him a short shake of her head, and followed Broc. “What do you want to say to me?”
“We are going to battle soon. We cannot have this contention anymore. For we must work as one. This attitude you have will disrupt this. So, you either stop it now or go back to the village.” Broc looks at her eye to eye, “I do not need be reminded of my failure anymore.”
Sanna’s face was hard, and her eyes flashed. “I care not for your glory, or for what blade you carry, or your desire to be the Winter Wolf. Here, today,” she tapped the end of her longbow on the ground, “you are Sigurdson. [if that’s spelled wrong, fix it]. Prove yourself worthy of your father’s name, and I will follow you to the hells and back. But regardless, I will not leave my brother, even if I do not have the starry-eyed adoration for you that he does.”
Broc gave a little smirk. “I will prove it….and if we must go to hell and back, then so be it”. Broc clasped her shoulder hard with a tinge of gentleness. He turns and heads back to the fire to warm himself and await for the others to return to make plans to enter the orc’s domain.