The War of Blood and Iron – Chapter 3

A wave of warmth rolled over Dronkhar’s face, and a crackling sound roused him from the darkness. He opened his eyes and stared up at blazing clouds in a reddish sky. Confusion reigned before his mind placed the sight as a dawn sky. The sound would be a fire. How long had he been unconscious?

Dronkhar slowly sat up and surveyed the area. A fire had been lit near him, though it had burned low. The corpses of his foes had been covered by strips of cloth. Someone had been to the clearing and had tended to him and to the fallen.

A rustling near the path out of the meadow drew Dronkhar’s attention. A petite figure slipped into view, carrying a bundle of wood, but stopped when she caught his gaze. She crept forward, keeping the fire between them. She was too short to be human, but a half a hand taller than himself. Dronkhar wasn’t sure what to make of her. Her face reminded him of Nolaara, and a pang of memory bit at his heart.

The fight had been short and brutal. The smell of blood was thick in the air, and the floor was strewn with corpses. Dronkhar spun about, looking frantically for Nolaara. There was no sign of what had happened to her. Shouts outside the tavern told him that retreat was necessary. With an oath, he threw a chair through a nearby window and clambered out, running as soon as he hit the ground.

Dronkhar blinked and looked again at the newcomer. He cleared his throat and did his best to keep his voice level. “So, I have you to thank for my treatment?”

She set the pile of firewood down. To his question she nodded, but her gaze flickered toward the covered bodies of the other two sohntar. “I should warn you,” she said, a tremble in her voice. “If you intend to cause me harm, I know spells that will paralyze you before you can reach for your weapon.”

He gave a deep chuckle. “Not sure what harm I could do in this condition, but fair enough.”

She seemed taken aback by that, and a slight blush crept into her cheeks. His point was not lost on her. To be fair though, it wasn’t every day one stumbled upon a group of sohntar trying to kill each other.

“I hadn’t expected you to awaken so early,” she said as she renewed the fire. “Your wounds were significant, and you’ll want to be careful of your side. What attacked you?”

“A bear looking for breakfast.”

His healer seemed impressed that he had escaped with just the wounds that he had. The memory of the fight drew his awareness back to the pain he’d been staving off since yesterday. Though cleaned and bandaged, it still pulsed with a muted ache. He stared absently into the fire she prodded and felt the exhaustion and weakness of his flesh wash over him. It seemed like ages ago when he stood proudly as a vanguard in the Bloodfire Legion, the strength of his brothers and the stone coursing within.

Once the fire was crackling, she cautiously approached until she was nearly within arm’s reach and sat down. “What is your name?”

“Dronkhar.”

“You are a sohntar?”

“Or so I’ve been told,” he replied, and she giggled unexpectedly at the joke. “You, however, are new to me.”

“I’m a queferi.” She frowned a little. “You haven’t heard of us before?”

Dronkhar gave a light shrug. “I don’t get out much.”

“Oh. Well, um,” she stammered, “we… we like the ocean. Very few of us live far from the coast. Others often think we’re related to the sea-clans, but it’s not really true.” She stopped suddenly, the blush returning even brighter.

Dronkhar gave a wry chuckle. “Well, queferi, you know a bit about healing, and that was lucky for me. Can’t say bleeding to death like a stuck pig would’ve been a worthy end for me.”

She smiled. “You’re welcome.”

Dronkhar let silence descend on them as he closed his eyes, trying to chart out his next move. Though he’d killed that pair of Baelrock scouts, more would inevitably follow. They wouldn’t allow him to escape with word of what he’d discovered. He thought back to the lights he’d seen on the hill the previous night. Getting to civilization offered the best chance to escape his pursuers.

But then what? Who would he tell? The Bloodfire remained scattered, the Earthbinders cared little but for shaping and crafting the bounties of the stone, and the Deepdelvers may have been part of it. And what had happened to Nolaara?

Dronkhar shook himself awake and looked at the sky. The dawn colors had faded to blue, indicating that he must have dozed off for an hour or so. He probed at his side and found it to be sore but serviceable. With a grunt, he clambered to his feet and checked to make sure all of his gear was present.

The queferi gave a start at the sound. She looked to have been meditating or some such. Dronkhar gave a snort and stretched out his arms and legs. “Well, my mysterious savior, I need to get back on the road before I lose any more time. May Iron guide your road and guard your way.” He nodded in her direction before turning to the path and striding out of the clearing.

After walking for several minutes, Dronkhar detected light footfalls approaching from behind. With a sigh, he paused and turned. “I appreciate the help you gave me, queferi, but you’d best be on your own way.”

“My name is Ilinnia,” she said as she drew alongside him. “I know this may sound strange, but I believe I am to see you safely on your travels, at least until we reach the village of Tarn.”

Dronkhar rolled his eyes and suppressed a groan. “I’m no one’s quest, nor should I be of interest, especially to anyone like yourself.” He hefted an arm and pointed back down the path toward the clearing. “The scene you saw there is likely to be repeated more than once on my course. Are you willing to be party to battle?”

Ilinnia’s lips tightened, and she appeared torn. Slowly, a resolute look spread over her face. “I have no wish to bring harm to another being, but the Ai have led me to you for a reason. It is their will that I accompany you, no matter what that entails.”

Shaking his head, Dronkhar resumed his walk along the trail. The last thing he needed was a spiritual guide trying to steer him toward the worship of any of Inoth’s deities. They’d never done anything for him, so he felt no need to show deference to them. Iron and Earth were the only things he held sacred.

Still, she had saved his life, and that counted for something.

Dronkhar beckoned Ilinnia with a wave of his arm. “Very well, if you’re going to tag along, then try to keep up. Let’s see what sort of civilization this Tarn place is.”