Freya dressed as quickly as she could and joined the others. As the group was led through the halls to the Baron, the events of yesterday swirled in Freya’s head with her newly unanswered questions.
Who are we dealing with? Why would they help us? Or me? What do they want? Can they be trusted?
Instinctively she reached to the sheath at the small of her back for comfort. It was empty, the dagger now in the sea. A flash of her struggle with the octopus came to her mind. She felt the pressure of it’s tentacles around her as she had slipped into darkness.
Then she saw her sister’s eyes staring back at her.
Freya clenched her jaw. She didn’t bother to place another dagger into the empty sheath. Not only did she not have another one to replace it, but she didn’t want to. The dagger had been a gift from her sister. She had lost it, like so many things in her life.
The sheath was empty, but it still had a purpose. That purpose was just different now.
Another flash of her sister came to her, this time smiling and laughing when they were children.
She let out a deep breath as she remembered collapsing on the wet sands. She had almost given up. Even now, her sister was saving her life.
Freya ran her hand over the sheath, it’s worn leather a comfort. It represented her now. She too was empty on the inside. Her sister was gone and there was no replacing that void. She was just an empty shell, waiting to be useful again.
She thought of everything she had been through.
I’m still useful.
She had promised her sister that she would live free. She would be damned if she wasn’t one to keep her promises. Tracing her hand over the empty sheath one last time Freya knew that she still had a purpose.
It was time to figure out what that was.
Freya was so lost in thought that she hadn’t noticed James come up beside her. She immediately let go of the sheath as if she was a child that had just been caught touching something they knew they shouldn’t. Freya felt a slight rush of heat go to her cheeks as she fiddled with her belt pouches trying to avoid his gaze.
“Freya,” his voice drifted over her as she looked at him. “Are you alright?” His concern was clear, etched into the fine lines of his face.
She turned away from him and stared at the back of their companion’s heads as they walked. When she had first seen him after the attack she had ran to him. She had been filled with joy. She had wanted to tell him everything; how she was sorry, how she had never meant to hurt him, that she had almost given up, about how she had never stopped loving him.
But she couldn’t. That moment had past.
They were no longer kids and she wouldn’t keep holding him back. She didn’t want him to look at her the way he had on the beach, when he had realized she had stolen the potion. The disappointment in his eyes had crushed her. The mistrust had almost destroyed her. Freya was tired of dragging him through the chaos of her life.
“I will be,” was all she could manage to say.
She saw the slight slump of his shoulders. “You can always talk to me you know,” he said as they continued down the hall.
“Thank you,” she said as they rounded a corner. The others were laughing at something Aikos was saying. “But I’m fine.”
“Of course you are,” James said as he tightened his grip on a book he had in his hands. His voice was back to it’s Captain tone, formal. Freya wasn’t sure if he believed her or not, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t say anything more about it.
Glancing over Freya noticed the book James held was rather small and leather bound.
“What’s that?” She asked as they continued down the hall.
James didn’t answer right away. She saw the struggle on his brow as he decided what to say. “We found this among the dead draugr last night.” He handed the small book to her.
It was a simple book with a leather binding, worn smooth in some areas from being handled. Freya looked closer at the cover and noticed some symbols that she didn’t recognize. The symbols were fluid and elegant, showing a care to their inscription. They were simple, but beautiful in appearance. The craftsmanship alone was enough to get her attention.
She handed the book back to James. “This book was well cared for. What are those symbols, Elvish?”
“Unfortunately, no,” he stared down at the book. “It’s a language I’ve never seen before.” He turned the book this way and that as the voice of the page could be heard informing Samson that they were almost there.
“We can worry about the book later. Right now I’m concerned with why we are here,” Freya glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one was there.
“We are here because of what we did last night,” James said, his gaze straight ahead.
“Which was to help Aggramon and it’s people,” Freya started to fiddle with her pouches again. “So, again, why are we here? What does this Baron want with us?”
“I’m not entirely sure, but after his healers saved your life I believe we can at least hear him out,” James’ words were clipped. He was getting angry and she saw his jaw clench as he stuffed the book into a pouch.
“What aren’t you telling me?” She asked as he adjusted his bow.
He didn’t answer as the group came to a stop outside of an ornate set of double doors.
The page turned to them all, “I will announce your presence to the Baron. Please wait here.” He opened the doors and a faint argument could be heard. There wasn’t enough time before the doors shut for Freya to catch what was being said.
Samson and Aikos were telling each other stories of battle. Boom stood patiently waiting next to them not saying a word. She was starting to feel trapped. Was she the only one concerned with who they were dealing with? They were about to walk into the heavens only knew what and James wasn’t telling her everything.
“James, please. What aren’t you telling me?” He remained silent. She grabbed at his sleeve and forced him to look at her. “James!”
His gaze filled her with pain. “The truth is that you almost died Freya!” His eyes were on fire as he spoke. “I waited. I waited for you to live or to die!” His voice became calmer, more matter of fact, as he continued. “This Baron helped all of us last night. He helped save your life. Without his healers you would not be here. For that, I will speak with this man and I will not assume that he is only out for personal gain.”
Freya started to speak but James held up a hand to silence her. “I know that you don’t trust him. I know that you don’t trust anyone,” his voice was heavy with pain at these last words. James sighed heavily as if the weight of what he was about to say was too much. “Which is why you won’t have to.”
She took a step back from him, wounded by everything he had just said. “What do you mean?”
His body tensed at her reaction. He had hurt her, but he continued. “After what happened last night you are free to go,” his voice held the authority of his station. “Consider your debt paid Freya Nightingale.” He turned on a boot heel and faced the doors.
The page returned, opening the door and gesturing inside, “The Baron will see you now.”
James looked at the others, “As Captain of the Guard for the City of Aggramon this man has earned the right to speak with me. So I am going in there,” he started to walk forward. “You are welcome to join me or go home.”
James disappeared behind the door.
Freya stood unmoving as the last moments replayed in her mind.
Boom was the first through the doors, gliding in past the page, seemingly unphased.
Aikos coughed, “Well then,” he stated. “I’m just going to…” and then he rushed through the doors.
Samson moved forward but turned to face Freya before he entered. “He cares about you more then he will say, love.”
Freya sighed, choking back all of the emotions she felt, she looked away from him. She put her hands on her hips and paced around the room.
“If you don’t believe me that’s fine. But trust me when I tell you that he would do anything for you.” Freya snorted her disagreement. “Right, you don’t trust,” Samson moved closer to the door as Freya glared at him, wounded.
“So that you know, which you didn’t hear from me, James kept trying to be by your side while they attempted to heal you.” Freya glared at him in disbelief. “He was almost taken away for it.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Freya moved a little closer to him, her arms folded in front of her chest, defensive.
“Look, love, I’m not sure what the two of you did or didn’t have in the past. But he hasn’t let go of it.”
She just stared at him unsure of what to say.
“Sir?” The page said from the door. He gestured again into the large room beyond.
Samson held up a hand to the page. “We have no idea what this Baron will ask of us. But if it keeps the people of Aggramon safe then James will do it. He doesn’t want to drag you into the chaos. From where I stand, him telling you to go is the only way that he knows that you’ll be safe.” Samson moved to the doorway. “From what I know of you, you’ll be fine on your own. Good luck, love.”
Samson disappeared into the room.
Freya stood there shocked. So much had just happened. Firstly, James had set her free from her contract. She was free! She could leave, go anywhere she wanted. She was no longer in debt to the city, or with James.
But wasn’t she?
He had set her free to save her. She had always wanted to be free and he had given her just that. Frustration bloomed in her chest. Of course! He had given her the one thing that she wanted most. But how could she just leave knowing what her freedom had cost him?
Her freedom wouldn’t be her own. She would always feel that she hadn’t earned it.
She touched the sheath at her back. She thought of her sister and the promise she had made to her. She thought of James giving her her freedom, no matter the personal cost to himself. She thought about how empty she was and how she wanted a new start.
Freya’s eyes welled up with tears at the realization that she would always be alone. Why do I do this?
If you didn’t care about anyone too deeply then you could never be broken. She clutched the sheath tighter. But you would always be empty.
The page started to close the door.
“Wait!” She shouted.
The page stopped, the door halfway open. “The Baron is waiting, my lady. Are you coming in or staying out?”
Freya’s mind flashed to her sister.
She couldn’t do that if she left. She would feel nothing but regret and that was no way to live.
“I’m coming in,” she said as she wiped away her tears. She took a moment in the doorway to compose herself and then entered the room. The page shut the door behind them and walked with her.
The room was large, with a great hall stretching out before her. The ceiling climbed up at least thirty feet high. There was beautiful cut stone for the floor in greens and purple and the columns to the ceiling had simple yet elegant carvings in the stone. It was a place that Freya could only ever dream of.
As she came closer to the end of the room she saw a few stairs, made of the same stone as the floor, leading to a platform. On it there was a great oak table set up, with chairs all around it. Some of those chairs were taken by her companions. However, on the far left, at the head of the table, sat three individuals she did not recognize. There were two men and a woman.
Samson saw her first and a small smile played upon his lips. He gestured for her to sit next to him. She made her way around the table and sat in the seat he offered. Aikos had taken the seat at the far right head of the table. He raised his mug to her as she sat next to him. While Boom and James sat across from them, their backs to the door from which they had entered.
James stared at her as she took her seat but she didn’t look at him.
“You decided to stay,” Samson’s smooth voice played in her ear, a whisper.
“Yes, I did,” she whispered back, looking over to him.
“Well that is wonderful, love, because I still have yet to show you my skills.” His smile widened and he winked at her.