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War-Journal of Bue Geirsteinson - Part XIII

by Jacob Skytte

Vatermont 25th continued, the year 1000 After Crowning of the First Emperor of the Thyatian Empire

As the day grew long, reports came in from the leaders of smaller bands of men. Troubling reports. My attentions were focused on the woman before me, growing paler by the minute, it seemed, but as leader I had to be responsible, listen to the reports and act on them.

The men at Norstedt had all given up arms and surrendered themselves, they were being kept under watch, but all fighting will had left them. The Smith, the dwarven weaponsmith my father had kept hidden here, demanded to see me, but I told my men to keep him with the rest of the survivors, under guard. The rest of my family were missing, I was told that they had left with a handful of men, going southeast. I would have to track them down, later. Nobody mentioned my father or what had happened to him, but they all seemed relieved to leave the presence of Asta, when dismissed.

My sister Lis sat, holding Asta's hand and wiping her brow, looking concerned. Ingibjorg sat at some distance, a worried frown marring her beauty. "Bue," she said. "What did she do? I've heard the stories of her family being sorcerers, but she has always acted as a warrior. She has never done anything like...this."

"I don't know, Ingibjorg," I replied. "She saved me, that is what matters. You should be ashamed to wear that frown, worrying over what she did, rather than over whether she'll survive. She's your friend, remember? Does it matter what she did, when she did it for a good cause?"

Ingibjorg looked startled, then narrowed her eyes. She seemed about to burst, when a weak voice halted her. "I used a magic ring to turn him into an animal."

I quickly was at Asta's side. She looked weak, but her eyes shone with defiance, and she tried to sit up. I placed a hand on her chest, holding her down. "Don't try that, your wound is too grave. You shouldn't even try to speak."

Ralf Silk-Tongue, the skald, was suddenly at my side. "No lad, you should keep her talking. As long as she's talking, she's still alive." He checked her bandages. "I think we've stopped the bleeding, but she's lost too much blood. Keep her talking and keep her still. If she's strong enough, she will still be alive at the end of the day, and I may do something to heal her."

Asta laughed weakly, cut short by a grimace of pain. "I can still hear, you needn't talk as if I wasn't here. Let me explain what I did, then. The ring was given to me by my grandmother, a magic ring containing what she called 'polymorphing' magic. When touched to another while a certain word is uttered, that person is turned into a simple animal. You need not worry about your father any longer, he has become an ordinary forest animal for the rest of his days."

Ingibjorg seemed horrified. "You have kept this...foulness on your person, next to me, all this time and you have never mentioned it before? A slip, touching me with that thing, and I could have become a squirrel, running off? It is tainted! You are not the friend I thought you were." She got up and left, turning her back on her dying companion. I shook my head sadly.

Tears were in Asta's eyes. "Would you have been my friend if I had told you?" she trailed off weakly, her words never reaching Ingibjorg. Lis made soothing sounds as she wiped at Asta's tears concernedly. I leaned forward.

"You did what you had to do to save me. Tell me more of your grandmother." I managed to get her to talk, and we spoke of many things, her attention focused on me. Whenever she seemed to lose strength, I touched her gently and had Lis run a wet piece of cloth over her brow. She was the first person I had ever felt so strongly for besides my sister.

Darkness had fallen around us, Lis and I struggling to keep her awake and alive, when she finally made a surprising request. "Bue," she started. "You are an incredible man. I don't know what could have happened between us, but if I am to die, I want you to know that over these past few days, I have been thinking of nothing but you. You've told me that the rest of your family has fled. It is your duty to follow them and find them. I have kept you from this duty, it is selfish of me."

I started protesting, but she shushed me. "Your concern is touching, but I have taken advantage of it. Truth be told it's too hard for me to have you beside me, while I die. It is painful to be constantly reminded of what I could have, if only... Your sister can keep me company, you must go. I ask this of you. You cannot refuse."

Seeing it was her wish, I nodded. "Very well, I respect your request. I will not say farewell, for you will live through the night, and I will find you well, when next I see you."

"If you do not," she replied, "please grant me a kiss that I have something of you to treasure, when I leave this world for the next." Nodding, I bent over her and pressed my lips to hers, a sweet and gentle kiss. I felt wetness on my cheeks. Pulling back, I wiped at my tears, as I turned and left the two most important women of my life behind.