Jarious walked downstairs from his room into the common area of the inn. The tables were barely filled, and only by the most die-hard drunks. The room stank of stale beer and sweat, the two scents competing with each other to be just offensive enough to force the patrons to another establishment. The room was dark, even though it was mid-day. The restaurant of the inn seemed to thrive in the long shadows that dominated the edges and corer spaces – a perfect environment for those who didn’t want to be seen, identified, or forced to deal with the real world.
All in all, it was the perfect environment for the wolfling unit to relax.
Torrain sat at a table on his own, three wooden cups that had once been filled with some horrid alcohol were each haphazardly on their sides on the table, like fallen chess pieces. Torrain slumped in the chair, eyes closed and feet propped against a pushed-over chair. While Torrain looked like he had retreated into a drunken stupor, Jarious knew better. Torrain was a predator, and he was always aware of his environment – threats and prey alike.
Jarious stopped at the chair that held Torrain’s feet. He unceremoniously pushed Torrain’s feet off and in one smooth motion, sat the chair back up and took a seat. By the time Torrain had opened his eyes and sat straighter, Jarious was already leaning back into his seat.
“What gives?” Torrain moaned.
Jarious looked over to Fovreh and Morrow, who were sitting at a nearby table. They both stood up and walked over to Torrain. Fovreh sat down across the way from Jarious. Morrow, who remained standing, squared up just behind Torrain. Neither of them said anything.
Torrain jerked his head to the left and then right, looking at Fovreh and Jarious with increasing alarm. “Really, guys, what gives?”
“Karsh is dead.” Jarious had run through this scenario more than two dozen times, trying to conjure of the right words to lessen the emotional blow to Torrain and, hopefully, keep him calm as he digested the reality that his friend… their friend… was gone for good.
Jarious put the bloodstained dagger that Arrious had used to pierce Karsh’s heart on the table with a loud thud. Torrain’s eye went wide with recognition.
Jarious stared hard at Torrain. “Arrious did me a great service. My soul is stained and my sense of duty is battered. Karsh was a good friend and great sword. I’m… I’m sorry Torrain. It had to be done.”
Torrain’s jaw clinched. His eyes unfocused. He grabbed the edges of the table and shoved himself up violently, pushing his chair backwards.
The chair stopped sliding when it came to a stop against Morrow. Morrow’s hands came down like 20-pound weights on Torrain’s shoulders, pushing him down and unceremoniously back onto the edge of his chair. Torrain was tough and strong like a willow tree, but the shaman was an oak – and in this case, the oak had the initiative. Torrain wasn’t going to get back up.
Torrain didn’t hesitate. His right hand, the dominant hand, leaped like a hunting cat as he tried for the crimson-stained dagger that rested on the table in front of him. Fovreh was ready. Halfway through the motion Forvreh’s left hand grabbed Torrain’s and stopped the hand a few centimeters before it got to the dagger’s hilt by using Torrain’s momentum to slam his hand on to the table. Fovreh pushed the dagger out of Torrain’s reach with his free hand. Jarious had already grabbed Torrain’s left forearm and pinned it to the armrest. Torrain kicked like a temperamental toddler, but succeeded only in upending the table and adding to the mess other patrons had made earlier. His legs continued to flail as he tried to dislodge himself from the grip of Morrow, Fovreh and Jarious, but there simply was too much weight against him. Torrain snarled like a feral cat at Jarious.
After a few seconds of futile physical protests, Torrain finally calmed down. Jarious kept his face zen-like calm, showing Torrain that his outburst hadn’t had any effect on his commander.
“You done?” Jarious asked.
Torrain breathed heavily through his nose. Jarious could see Torrain grinding his teeth and thinking about his next move. Through a furled brow, Torrain met Jarious’ stare.
“No, but it don’t look like I got a choice.” Torrain spat on the table.
“You need to calm down. Get ahold of yourself. Take a deep breath.” Jarious waited.
Heartbeats later, Torrain took Jarious’ advice and took a single deep breath through his mouth. Torrain’s head slowly moved backwards until he was staring up at the ceiling.
“Tyrant’s balls, why? WHY?!?” Torrain let the emotion he was fighting slip through his voice. There were no tears, but there was no doubt he was in pain and crying. Torrain made anguished sounds from deep in his chest.
“Arrious did the rite. Mother blessed the bed. I made the chant.” Jarious paused to make sure Torrain was listening. Torrain needed to listen and not just hear.
Fovreh interjected, “It was as he wanted; legal and conducted according to the old Car’had ritual.”
Torrain’s head rolled to the right so that he could look at Fovreh. Jarious immediately tensed up, and gripped Torrain’s left forearm a bit tighter, allowing his fingernails to dig into Torrain’s skin. It was a subtle warning to Torrain. Fovreh and Torrain’s relationship had never been the greatest. Torrain was a simple man, mostly uneducated. Fovreh was highly educated due to the forced catechism of his former Elvish masters. The only thing to two could agree on was their respect for Karsh and their wantonly love of destroying all things Imperial.
“You weren’t there either, were you?” Torrain accused.
“No, I was not. Jarious told me about the event just a small time ago. It pains me, but he did the right thing. He even passed the responsibility to Arrious.” Fovreh looked down his nose at Jarious. “It was a fool thing to do, the responsibility for the poisoned arrow was on no one but the Thrall who shot Karshik…”
“But it was the right thing if Jarious felt it was his failing.” Fovreh looked down at the table, “Jarious did right by our sword-mate and the Company’s rituals. In fact, he did more than right.”
“True?” Torrain swiveled his had lethargically to look at Jarious.
“Yes.” Jarious couldn’t meet Torrain’s eyes, and took a gamble by releasing his grip on Torrain. Torrain didn’t react to his suddenly free arm. Seeing that Torrain wasn’t going to be a danger to himself or others, Jarious stood up to get some physical and metaphorical space between him and his men.
“Karsh’s spirit dagger is yours, Torrain. Don’t dishonor him or Arrious by doing something stupid with it.” Jarious turned to go back to his room. Morrow released his vice-like grip on Torrain’s shoulders. Fovreh did the same. Torrain slumped further into his chair.
The time for Jarious to mourn was over, but his unit of wolflings still needed to deal with the death of their friend, and they needed to do so with each other. Mourning was healthy, but allowing it to fester and become grief was not. Boundaries needed to be set, and focus reapplied. Without looking at his men, Jarious set the boundaries for their sorrow, “We meet here tomorrow, same time. There is planning to do.”
Before leaving the room, Jarious put a small purse of coins on the bar to capture the barkeep’s attention. Jarious pointed behind him with his thumb, “Those three drink until they pass out.”
He then walked away. There was planning to do. Blood for blood.