Laying out the Runes
Honey curled up dozing in Tod’s arms after their blood exchange; he lost himself staring into the fire. His maker had punished him frequently for acting on his human emotions but his training as a priest and a leader was deeply ingrained. He was meant to garner honor as a warrior, shepherd his people, and spiritually intercede for them. Not to be a careless murderer and thief… He didn’t want to remember the other things his changed un-natural self had done. He pushed the ugly thoughts away and concentrated on believing he could once again be the honorable shepherd these children hoped he was.
Already clean, Horse had wandered passed and flopped down on the sleeping bench at the back; soon his snores rasped against Tod’s attempt to wall off ugly memories. The girl draped across his lap stirred the darkness in his mind. So warm, so soft, so alive, everything he was not; she triggered other appetites.
A dripping Bird strolled back into the firelight just as Tod’s discomfort was fraying what was left of his self control. After rubbing his head fiercely with his tunic Bird looked through the dancing flames at the warm tableaux and grinned: “D’ya want me to tuck her in before I comb out my hair?”
He was reluctant to release the girl, but nodded to Bird who flipped his tunic and underwear up over a crossbeam before scooping up his sister/cousin and depositing her next to Horse. While he was over there he grabbed a blanket to sit on; he’d just washed, no need to sit in the dust and bits of last year’s spider legs.
Tod watched appreciatively while Bird folded the blanket and positioned it to avoid the occasional coils of smoke. He was a well built, slender man with dark hair and startlingly blue eyes, very neat in all his gestures. Nothing effete or Roman about him, the crisp patterns of inky body hair shouted masculinity.
He’d bet he was handy with a knife too, or at least experienced – given the pale threads of scar tissue across his ribs and arms. The blue veins under Bird’s pale skin suggested he’d never tan easily. Tod found himself attracted to the sanguine tracery and suspected he was still hungry.
Comb in hand, Bird went to work untangling his elf knotted mop. Tod remembered how proud he’d been of his own hair before the damned Romans had chopped it off, as proud as a red buck in his prime. If that rotten toothed pederast had wanted a girl he should have gotten one instead of sending the barbers after him with their razors and tweezers. He was doomed to an eternity of embarrassment sporting a slave’s cropped hair.
While Tod absentmindedly watched Bird untangle his hair he flexed his hands and feet, trying to get some sense of the regenerating joints. Honey hadn’t had time to massage the aches out tonight and he missed the comfort; at first the raw wounds had stung with each movement, now it was an unremitting ache combined with a crawling sensation as nerves regrew. Better to concentrate on the firelight painting Bird’s arms.
“D’ya want to talk tonight? I’ve got the runes right here.” Bird softly pitched the bag over to Tod.
Pouring the rune stones out on the floor and bemused at his impulse, Tod began to push them into groups of three.
Oh man, Bird loved these puzzles, the world of bards and their sagas was full of them!
He bent forward to study the pattern being laid out before him, blinking the smoke out of his eyes.
“These are your journey? Your past?” Indicating the runes. Tod nodded, lips pressed together, holding back the sorrow.
“The first group, you are an initiate into the Mysteries?” an even briefer nod. “A warrior. Taken from your path?” The Elder looked away, but anger bunched his jaw.
Here in the center:
Separation: O reversed
Possessions: A reversed
“Stolen from your life? Enslaved, forced to deal with darkness, held helpless while all that you were was stripped away.” Bird indicated the spot on his own shoulder where Tod had been branded. The bard had studied the runes with a master.
The last group:
Strength :U reversed –
Does this represent the person responsible for your passage into darkness? The next rune?
“The rune of transformation, is this when you were made dragur?” Tod stared at his damaged hands.
“Even though your warrior nature came to the fore, you had to trust your wyrd; you were not freed, you were still chained, bound. To your maker?”
The boy’s body twisted away and his face contorted into a mask of anger and grief; distraught at the memory of his turning he tore at his face and pounded on his legs. Why had he chosen those runes? The memory cut too deep.
Bird heard the leg bones crack as blood spattered from Tod’s retorn hands. The choked sobs, the most noise he’d ever hear from the dragur, woke Horse and Honey. Still muzzy from sleep, the pair scrambled to help.
Immediately Bird unsheathed his pendant lancet and moved to Tod’s left, Horse took a position at his back and Honey reached for the water skin hanging from a peg. Abruptly she dumped it over Tod’s head, Bird slashed his wrist and shoved it into his mouth and Horse pulled him back against his chest.
Tod’s centuries of grief and anger still macerated every fiber of his frame and clawed at his mind. They had to work at dissipating its fury.
Distraction, we need a distraction before he drains Bird. The blood wasn’t enough. Horse roughly massaged Tod’s arms, Bird was getting paler and Honey frantically searched for options. “If this works, you guys owe me – a lot.” Use the tools you’ve got!
“Tip him towards me!” In the way of women from time immemorial, she took Tod in her arms and wrapped her legs around him. For good measure she started nipping at his throat. This’d better work.
The dragur’s instincts moved him to search out welcoming pastures and ignoring the man at his back began rocking against Honey, seeking release.
It was their scent that broke through his madness; the woman smells rising from Honey’s hair, from under her arms, from between her breasts, powerful messages; from Bird’s blood in his mouth different from the warmth and richness of Horse at his back. Three hearts pounding like war drums, a cascade of scent messages all told him where and who he was with. These things pulled him out of the darkness and into the pain of his re-injured body.
When Bird read out the runes, Tod was shocked to realize how revealing his choices hadbeen. He’d been trained in the meaning of the individual pieces but hadn’t wanted to look more deeply. Seeing it all strung together had been horrible.
He and his little war band had sworn to wreck vengeance on the Romans for using their high mountains as carelessly as one of their city streets. They had defiled the Gods and the Spirits of their meadows and treated their ancient people like vermin. They would fight, they would have payment in blood.
But that was almost two centuries ago, and he was the only one who remembered the names and faces of his brave friends, sitting around another fire, swearing eternal brotherhood and blood feud against the Romans.