In the previous episode, Karyna was in the stables caring for Stig when a mysterious shadow disrupted the quiet. Readers voted that Karyna goes after the shadow as it runs off to find out what, or who, it is.
Karyna stalked slowly towards the stable door, peering out into the darkness for any signs of movement. She had seen the shadow disappear off towards the trees some distance to the north, but her instincts were cautioning her from recklessly charging forward. And yet her curiosity kept her feet moving, propelling her out into the heavy rain and wind, looking for the mysterious shadow.
Knife brandished in her right hand, left hand on the hilt of a second, she passed into the ring of pines that stood on the edge of the village. Instantly, she felt the wind die, the screaming of the storm muffled by the thick pine boughs. Each deliberate step brought her further into the darkness of the trees, out of the storm but into some other peril. She scanned the darkness around her for movement, any sign of life.
“Do you wish to know the truth?”
She whipped around once more, pulling her second knife free as her good eye fell upon a tall, cloaked figure holding out a lantern. No fire flickered within the lantern, only a soft unearthly glow that could only be compared to captured moonlight. This was no mortal man that stood before her, but she could not see his face, only the glow of the lantern reflected in his eyes.
“Who are you? What truth do you speak of?”
“I have many names, but most call me Einar. I have come to warn you, Karyna Blood Rose. The Wolf Slayer is not what he claims to be.” The stranger’s voice was the same as it had been when she heard it echo in the stable. It was empty of emotion and unaffected by the thunder and lightning still raging outside. Unblinking eyes watched her closely, waiting for her to speak.
“What do you mean?” Karyna repeated warily. “Who is he if not the Wolf Slayer?”
“The son of Imrich is not the slayer of Eyulf. Be warned, Bloody Rose. A web of lies waits to ensnare you in the chief’s hall. Do not be fooled.”
A sudden gust of wind broke through the barrier around the pines, making Karyna’s hair dance wildly free of its bonds once more. She reached up to brush it out of her eye, but it was too late. Einar was gone. The wind continued swirling around the pine grove as she anxiously searched for a sign of the stranger’s passing. But she found none. Where he stood was only a soft patch of moss, with no lingering trace of footprints anywhere except those made by her own boots.
Einar’s words hit her with renewed force as she stepped from the pines, braving the wind and rain stinging her exposed flesh. Garik was not the wolf slayer. His reputation had been built on that claim. Why had the cloaked figure appeared to tell her this? She could not escape her own destiny, even if the stranger’s claim was true. And there was no proof that it was. A web of lies waited in Imrich’s hall. Whether it’s true or not, she must be wary.
Seeking answers, Karyna made straight for the Hall. By the time she reached it, she was soaked to the skin, the chill of the biting wind making her shiver involuntarily. But she would not show such weakness in front of others. Taking a deep breath, she forced her mind off of the cold and onto her fate that lay just on the other side of the intricately carved wooden door of the Great Hall. She ran her finger across a carved wolf motif. It was time to face the Wolf Slayer and his own pack of wolves.
Head held high, Karyna entered the Great Hall. Music, laughter, and the sounds of clanking tankards filled her ears. Mead flowed freely, so very few people even noticed her arrival. Those that did made little indication that they cared. Still dripping from the rain that soaked her clothes, Karyna strode around the edge of the hall, seeking out her uncle and her future in-laws.
The large hall was clearly built as a sign of power and wealth among the people of Birkholm. Intricate carvings like those on the door decorated every inch of the walls and support beams. Her eye caught one such engraving, that of Odin riding the eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. She paused for a fraction of a second as her eye met his. There was no reason for her to feel any particular devotion to the god apart from the respect and adoration all Norse people did, but at that moment, she felt a strange kinship with the Allfather. They were not so different. Warriors they were, with a predestined fate. She felt like her own Ragnarok was coming.
“Ah, the Bloody Rose graces us with her presence.” Karyna turned to see Chief Imrich striding towards her, arms open and a drunken grin on his face. “Look at you, dripping water all over my floors. Not trying to run away, were you?” There was a chorus of hearty laughter as the men nearby enjoyed their chief’s joke at Karyna’s expense. She ignored it, however, her face fixed in a stony indifference.
“I wished to see the extent of your lands, Chief Imrich,” she lied easily, talking over the continuing laughter and jeering. “Your island is indeed rich and powerful to maintain control of such vast land and wealth.”
“None would dare set foot on this island without my permission,” Imrich said proudly, taking the opportunity Karyna had given him to boast about his greatness. “Not even the gods would challenge me.” The clap of thunder that shook the hall shortly after his statement made Karyna certain that Thor disagreed with this claim. She hoped that should the god decide to take revenge on Imrich for his blasphemy that he would wait until Karyna was no longer standing next to him.
“Come, girl, you must meet my son. The Wolf Slayer is impatient to see his future bride.” Vote below on what will happen next or if reading in email click Take our Poll.
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