AR 1217-06-07 More on Bjorn the soon to be king and his children

It was the day after the festivities at Golden Eagle Keep. Everyone was sleeping in but Bjorn; the soon–to–be King of Thunder Rift could not sleep. He found himself walking the dwarven tunnels thinking back on the last several days. He was glad to see Lena, his eldest, taking an interest in that nice young cleric, Sardi. Apparently, the lad was a proper priest at such a young age. What times they all lived in!

Anyway, her attentions to Sardi hopefully meant she would stop trying to mother the other kids, as he knew they were chaffing at her behavior. Ever since their mother, Greta, died two years ago, Lena had been riding her siblings something fierce.

Bjorn would have to warn Gunnar about that Rissa character, whom he danced with most the night before. Sowing your oats was one thing, but picking a wife that was wild was another. Gunnar, and for that matter Tomas, needed to find something in this new place to keep them busy and expand their knowledge.

Most likely, Lena would be picked by the crown when he passed on to Valhalla. It glowed slightly for her when she touched it, and did not at all for his other children.

Helga, he was not worried about. That young Craig, who had come with them, seemed to have an understanding with her. Oh, she had danced once with that nice Matt who had just graduated, but Craig and Helga had spent the rest of the dance together. Bjorn was sure once things settled down, that the two would marry and he would get some grandchildren to brighten his life.

His footfalls echoed against the walls. It was so strange to be underground this far. Off and on, the others of his party had expressed the same thing to him. From the talk of the Silverbriar fighters, it sounded like it was going to be at least three months before the ‘big push’. Bjorn wondered if his people could handle staying here; but, where else could they go until this ‘Master’ fellow was taken care of? To go straight into Melinir seemed like suicide. He prayed to Frigga as he walked, that he would find the right answer to his questions.

He rounded the corner and found he had walked into a large room. There were a few kids sitting around tables, eating breakfast. Bjorn’s stomach rumbled; he looked around more and spied Yari sitting by himself. Bjorn wondered at first why he did not have his lovely wife Elsie by his side, and then remembered she had left about an hour into the party to be teleported back to New Haven, so that the Syndicate would not get wise to her being a spy for the Silverthorn. Bjorn was going to find another seat instead of bothering the apparently–deep–in–thought young man, but he felt a slight pull toward Yari, and wondered if that way lead toward answers to his questions.

Bjorn approached Yari with purposeful steps so he would not surprise the young priest–knight. ”I have been dining with King Kendric most mornings,” he said amicably, “but it is too early and I am hungry. Is the food good here, and do you mind if I join you?”

Yari’s brown hair was disheveled, and dark circles hung under his eyes. As he slowly poked at his breakfast, occasionally lifting a bite to his mouth, the young priest portrayed the very image of a man who had not slept. Or, who was perhaps hung–over.

“You shoulda seen the other guy,” he mumbled in answer to a question that was not asked, without lifting his gaze. Then, his current reality slammed into focus, and he started, spilling some egg bits to the floor. “Oh, your Majesty!”

Bjorn smiled graciously, but said nothing. Yari continued, “Uh, yeah. Yes. Please, I’d be honored if you joined me.” The cleric attempted to stand in respect, failed utterly, and plopped back down to the bench. “Sorry, your Majesty. I, uh… heh… don’t tell anyone, but I kinda broke a promise to my wife last night.”

“I don’t know how you and Zen do it. Seeing your wives go off into the lions’ den, so to speak. I used to cringe when Greta would go hunting with me, but this is far worse!” Bjorn called over to the servers and ordered a couple of eggs and bread to give Yari time to compose himself. Then looked back at the young man, “But I also know there is no holding them back if they have their mind set to do something.”

“Only too true,” Yari mumbled. His initial flare of energy at the approach of the king had faded quickly, and he was back to absently poking at his eggs, occasionally taking a tiny bite. The two sat in silence for a while, until the king’s food was delivered. Bjorn, ever–gracious, took a few quiet bites, waiting for Yari to explain himself.

“Made a prom’se to my wife, years back,” the young man finally said, “that I wouldn’t ever gi’tso drunk’s I was that one night. Meant to keep it, too.” His voice was penitent, but matter–of–fact, making no excuses. A beat passed, and then Yari’s face alit with a toothy grin. “But, my oldest youngest brother went on and graduated from Golden Eagle; so we had to celebrate!

“To family, your Majesty!” Yari exclaimed with another sudden surge of energy, holding his mug of coffee up, and smiling like a lunatic. “May they ever surprise you for the better!”

“To family” The king replied and touch his mug with Yari’s.

They ate in silence for a bit, “I hear you went to school here for six years. However did you adjust to being under so much stone? I don’t know if my people can handle this for three months while we wait for the push to take out the Master.”

“Hmf,” Yari answered after a moment of thinking. “What’s the average size of families back where you come from, sir?”

“That really varies. Many have six or more. Some only a couple. I know of one family that had an even dozen. Why do you ask?”

“I grew up in a large family; first born son, but second born child, after my twin. Rissa an’ I’ve three other siblings, two brothers and another sister, that we basic’lly helped raise. On top of that, our house was a veritable hostel for all sorts of folk our parents took in. It was loud, and frenetic, and I absolutely loved it!

“‘S been my experience that, with large families, th’kids tend to ignore their surroundings, and focus more on the people around them. I had a large family. I don’ see the stone walls here – I see the good people that move around me, frenetic and loud. It feels like home, your majesty. That’s how I handle it.”

The young man smiled broadly, then lowered his eyes and took another sip of coffee.

“Very wise words from one so young. Do you mind if I share them with my people. It might help them cope living here for the next three months.”

“Heh,” Yari mumbled quietly to himself, still looking down into his mug of coffee, and blushing fitfully. “Technically, I’m actually supposed to be older than I look.”

He rolled his eyes, muttered something about the sidhe, and then said in a louder voice that addressed the king, “Of course, your Majesty. Just, if y’would, leave out the part where I was hung-over when I said it.”

The king gave a kindly chuckle, “I wouldn’t dream of mentioning it.”

They ate in silence for a bit and, as the last person filed out of the room, the King looked up from his now empty plate and very slowly, very quietly spilled his heavy heart out to Yari.

“I have to confess Father Yari, I really have no clue what to do, or if I even can do this. Oh sure, when I have the crown on it feels like I was born to be King. If the dwarves who found me had not insisted I put it on before coming here, I would have never left my home. Never ventured for over six months to get here. Would never have dared to bring my family and friends so far from the home they grew up in and loved so much.”

Yari looked up and realized the crown was not on Bjorn’s head. His face showed his concern, and Bjorn quickly said, “Oh, the crown is perfectly safe! King Kendrik has three of the dwarves guarding his safe where he locked it behind several locks, and even more traps his father set. They feel it is only safe with those who have been protecting it for the past years, until I can be properly coroneted. I have not been wearing it most of the trip, as it might attract undo attention from those who might not want the rightful person on the throne.”

Bjorn paused, but Yari, even in his slightly addled brain, understood that the king needed to get something off his chest, and waited for him to continue. The king stared off to the side, into some place only he could see.

“I was never one who spent much time at my distant cousin’s court. My lands were not even under his control. I inherited them from my parents when they died about fifteen years ago after they were killed by a party of invading giants. My father disliked growing up at court and once he made his fortune adventuring, he married, staked out a claim for land that was still wild and free. He wanted no interference, and brought up myself and my much younger brother to be independent. So, I feel like I am stumbling along, not really understanding how kingship should work. Oh, I have spoken to King Kendrik who started his own kingdom, but he worked toward that his whole life, where I have been thrust into it.”

He stopped again, lowered his head, and continued.

“A part of me wishes the dwarves had never found me. That I was back in my own home with my brother, Cedrik, by my side. I will most likely never see him again, but I know if anyone can continue our homestead, my brother can. We did talk about Cedrik coming with us, but the crown did not light at all for him. He has always been in my shadow and this will let him shine on his own. I could not demand Cedrik to come with us, just to live in my shadow again.”

Bjorn raised his head and looked directly at Yari.

“I took your oath of fealty the other day, but probably shouldn’t have until I assume the throne. Hopefully you can see your way into giving me assistance in how to best get to know the people of Thunder Rift. How Thunder Rift’s feudal system works. And while you’re at it, maybe you might have ideas of someone I could trust my two sons with as squires, as they need training as well.”

The room was still empty as Bjorn came to the end of unloading his burdens to Yari.

“If we do our job right, Your Majesty,” Yari said, intensely holding the king’s gaze, “Thunder Rift’s system will work however you wish it to.

“If’n you want information about how it has worked in the past, I can offer my observations; however, I am rather young, as you’ve already noted… actually, I’m even younger than that, but that’s a story for later, I guess… anyway… Professor Ulfred is a much better historian than I am.” Yari fiddled idly with the hem of his sleeve as he mention Ulfred, and failed to meet Bjorn’s gaze for a few long moments.

“Anyway,” he started again, regaining himself and looking back into his king’s eyes, “This, that, and th’other,” he babbled, desperately seeking an organic way to avoid talking too much about his old professor. Yes, Bjorn was now his king; however, the secret Yari held about Ulfred was mandated by his father, and that superseded all other authority. It was an awkward situation the priest-knight suddenly found himself in, and his heart raced.

Luckily, the king was too distracted with his own feelings to really notice Yari’s momentary lapse; or, if he did, he likely attributed it to the young man’s indiscretions the previous night.

“We’re taking up as many people as will come into our little hidden city of Silverbriar,” Yari said. “Accommodations are sparse, but clean and safe. Most of our townsfolk hail from Klein, though we do have a fair representation of the types of folk you’ll find in all of Thunder Rift. It’s not perfect, but if you play your role right, you can gather valuable information about the way your subjects think there. Maybe Rissa could give you acting lessons, to blend in better? I don’t know; maybe I’m just rambling… sorry…”

He took another sip of coffee. By this point, the liquid was only moderately warm, so Yari took another, longer sip, because he could. Yari focused his thoughts through the annoyingly sluggishness of his hangover, speaking aloud his random fancies as he did: “I’ve only just met your kids. The one seems enamored with my best friend, so that’s cool. Sardi’s a good man, and he’ll treat her right. The other seems to have been caught up in my twin’s spell…

“... don’t misunderstand, despite herself, Rissa is one of the most reliable, trustworthy people you will ever meet – NEVER tell her I said that, by the way! – but she is still… um… herself…? I guess? I don’t know; it’s hard to describe my sister. Point is: Watch her around your sons. She could easily, accidentally break their hearts, and never realize it…

“... but, yeah… like I was saying, I’ve only just met your sons. I’d need to spend more time with them, before I could properly offer advice as to which person would be best to take them on as squires. Y’know, everyone learns differently, an’ all that…”

Bjorn was deep in thought about what Yari had said, when suddenly a large group of students came into the room and sat near them, then waved for food to be brought. “I do believe that is my cue to leave,” he said. “I will think about what you said and let you know my decision later today. Until then, Father Yari.” He tipped his head in respect to the young priest, got up and walked out the door.

He walked around the halls for another hour, and then went to visit Professor Ulfred. With classes suspended for a couple of days because of the graduation, the two were able to talk all morning without interruption. They continued to talk for several hours after Bull made them lunch, which Bjorn found to be as scrumptious as he had heard from Rissa during one of their dances, and after, Bjorn thought he had a better idea of how to handle taking over the kingdom. He left and went straight to King Kendrik. He watched while the seasoned King handled various issues. It did not seem that much different from running his old keep, and even though he didn’t have the crown on, he felt confidence seep into him that he could do this.

Once King Kendrik was done, they talked privately for hours, Queen Shar eventually joining them. At some point, dinner was brought in. It had the most wonderful taste, which Bjorn found out was from a rare dwarven mushroom called the Rose. He knew someday he would have to pay dearly for it but in the meantime, he enjoyed the taste it added to the food.

~

It was late when Bjorn went searching for Yari, and he found the priest praying in the temple to Odin that was set up in one of the smaller side caves. Not wanting to disturb him, Bjorn started to back out when Yari said, almost automatically, “Please come in and be welcome.”

Bjorn stopped. The words were rote recitation, but they still carried enough earnestness to give the king pause. ”I did not want to bother your prayers,” he said to the hunched mass of robes before the altar.

Yari’s young face looked up at the sound of Bjorn’s voice, and the priest motioned to a pew nearby him. ”It is not a bother at all,” he said awkwardly. ”Come. Sit.”

“Thank you,” Bjorn said, and sat in the rock seat. It was not as cold as he would have thought; in fact, it was actually quite comfortable. The dwarves were an amazing group of craftsman.

“I have come as promised to discuss what I have decided,” spoke the king of Thunder Rift. ”Please let me know if you see any issues with it.”

He paused to get his bearing then proceeded. ”I am planning on staying here for around two weeks with my daughter Lena, to sit with King Kendrik and King Rogi as they deal with issues of their clans. To learn as much as I can from their expertise as Kings.

“Also, Lena and I will spend some time with Professor Ulfred learning more history.

“In the meantime, I would like to send the rest of my people with your group to Silverbriar, where they can train with your people for the final push. I will assign my eldest son, Gunnar, to you as liaison to my people. I will have his younger brother, Tomas, act as his helper. This should give you a chance to observe both of them for the potential of who to put them with as squires.

“I would appreciate if, for the moment, we do not mention my existence. When I come to Silverbriar, I would like to meet folks and get to know them before we announce that I am their king.

“Oh, and Helga will stay here even longer. She has expressed an interest in learning to cook as well as Bull does. I have granted her request, and she will remain here during the fight to retake Thunder Rift. If everything goes completely south, King Kendrik has promised to have Professor Trent teleport her back to live with her Uncle. Mind you, she does not know this latter part, but I wish to spare her the ugly part of battle, as she has never been one for killing things other than for food. She seemed to have picked up more traits from my mother than hers.”

He paused after spewing his plans then said, “So thoughts about my plan?”

Yari had been fighting to keep his expression neutral, and it showed. He took as much time as he could to gather his thoughts, leaning on his station as an official priest for even more precious moments, before finally clearing his throat and saying, “As mayor – or, er, I guess co-mayor… whatever; it’s not like Zen actually cares about the town like I do. Anyway…! As mayor of Silverbriar, I need you to know that my town is at your disposal. You are king, and we are your vassals.”

He trailed off a bit, and worked his lower jaw silently, before continuing to speak. “My thoughts are many, and I worry you have already set things into motion such that my cautions against any actions will be null-and-void.

“Whatever.”

Jarl Hastae swallowed hard, and after glancing down a moment, held the king’s gaze. “Also, there are no appropriate mentors for your sons here. I needn’t bother with observing them to know that,” he said, voice full of matter-of-fact regret. “I will look after them as best I can, but I cannot help train them to be knights, and I know of no one who can.

“I can train them to be priest-knights, mind you; but, that is a very different station…”

The priest – more boy than man – let his final statement curve in the air to insinuate a question.

“My family has always followed the gods but our priest, who we left with my brother, was as they say, more of a lover than a fighter,” answered Bjorn. “So my sons have never seen priest-knight as an option before. I do not know if they would be interested or not. I think it would be fine to start their training that way. By the time the Master is defeated we can talk about other alternatives if they or you find they have no calling for it. If that works for you, I will speak to them about it.”

The young priest smiled ruefully, and said, “I suppose it will have to, your majesty.”

As the king stood to leave, so did Yari, moving out of the king’s way and back over to the altar. “Send them to me tonight, if you please. The foundations of a priest-knight are built upon unshaking faith, which is itself built upon prayer. Similar in scope to a paladin’s training, though very different methods. We’ve a long way to go and build up to, and if I am to do this thing for you, your majesty, I would like to get started right away.”

“I will send them to you just as soon as I can find them. My thanks Father.” The king took his leave and sought out his sons.

Just as he suspected, Gunnar was with Rissa, and they were tasting various dwarven ales. Rissa had her back to the approaching King, so did not see him coming, but his very observant son did. Bjorn was happy to know his son had not indulged in too much ale yet.

Gunnar stood up as the King approached “Father come join us, the dwarven ales have such a diverse taste. They are amazing artisans, even in brewing!”

Rissa stood as well, then curtsied respectfully. “Your Majesty, Prince Gunnar is right, these ales are exquisite. May I pour a tasting for you?” The girl gestured toward an empty chair, entreating the king to join them.

“Another time perhaps.” Bjorn looked warmly at the charming lady his son was with, “Rissa, you’re looking lovely this day.”

Rissa smiled brightly, “Thank you kindly, sir.”

Bjorn found he had a hard time turning away from her; he understood why his son was so taken by her. But turn he did, and addressed his son using what his kids always referred to as his ‘father voice’.

“Gunnar I need to interrupt your tastings. Please come with me.” Bjorn softened his voice and looked at Rissa, “Young lady, you will just have to share such delights with Gunnar another time.”

Sensing this was important, Rissa nodded. “Of course,” she replied politely, a tinge of disappointment in her eyes. “He’s all yours, sir.”

Gunnar turned to Rissa, took her hand and kissed the top of it, “Another time sweet lady.”

As they walked away, Gunnar whispered to his father, “I hope this is important. I don’t think Rissa is very happy about me leaving her.” Gunnar was not very happy either, but there was no denying his father when he used that tone of voice.

When they were out of ear shot of her, Bjorn told his son, “There are more important things, my son, than pleasing Rissa. I will explain once we pick up Tomas. You wouldn’t happen to know where your younger brother is?”

“When I left our cave to be with Rissa, he was preparing to go caving with Krunch, Sparky, and Wolf, to see a beautiful underground waterfall.”

Bjorn headed toward the cave his sons were staying in. They got there just as Tomas was walking out the door all decked out for exploring. He saw his father and brother headed his way with purposeful steps and sighed. “So, do I need to go take all this gear off?”

His father chuckled, “Yes, sorry son. You will have to go exploring caves later.”

Tomas turned back into the cave and while he removed his gear his father continued. “I wish you both to squire with Father Yari as priest-knights. You are to go to him directly to start your training. If you or he finds it is not your calling, then we will find someone else for you to squire with.”

Looking at his father with surprise, Tomas asked, “He follows Odin, do you think he would be willing to train me if I want to be a priest-knight of Freyja?”

“I believe so, but you will have to ask him, son”

“If I can choose”, Gunnar said, “I would choose Thor. You know father, I have always preferred the hammer to the sword.”

“I do not know what Father Yari wants you to bring for your first lesson, so why don’t you at least bring your weapon so you can show him how well you maintain it. Tomas, on the way to Father Yari, we will stop to tell your caving friends you will not be able to join them.”

The young men grabbed their weapons and the three were off.

They arrived at the temple to Odin and found Father Yari praying as Bjorn had previously found him. This time he knew it was okay, and stood waiting for Yari to conclude his current prayer.

The young man stood immediately, obviously cutting his prayer short, and turned toward the three. “Please come in and be welcome,” he said before finishing his movements. As he faced the royal trio, Yari’s face went from passive welcoming, to an unreadable blankness, and then to a genuinely warm smile. It was masterfully crafted, and most people would have fallen for it; however, Bjorn was raised around courtiers who said one thing and meant another as a way of life, so while his sons may not have, the king recognized Yari’s brief blankness for what it was: the split-second it takes to put on a mask.

Bjorn was a good reader of faces, but for some reason he felt he understood Yari’s better than most. The young man was scared, and surprised at the speed things were happening, but determined to do a good job at whatever was required of him.

“Ah,” the priest said, stepping more toward the princes than the king, though they were both standing together. “Alright then; I see it actually is going to be a longer night for me, after all.”

Doing his level-best to act twenty years older than he was – a feat made moderately easier by his height – he clasped the two princes on their shoulders and smiled warmly again. “Welcome to my temple, young sirs.

“Thank you, your majesty,” Yari added, looking up. “I’ll take it from here.” Trusting in the competence of the son of Sven, the king nodded and left. When Bjorn was safely out of earshot, Yari released the two princes, and hopped straight up onto the back of one of the pews, perching like a cloaked Valkyrie. The effect was dramatic, and caused a start from his new charges, but it also brought his eyes down to their level.

Calling his spear to his hand, and using it for adding balance, he smiled mischievously, and twitched his nose just like his father would always do. “So, you want to be priest-knights?”

The boys looked astonished at the transformation from super-serious priest to totally-relaxed. But, they had seen this reaction to their father before.

Being the eldest, Gunnar went first. “We had never really thought about it before as an option. But, I follow Thor.” With this he pulled his hammer from the harness on his back. “I would be honored, if he would accept me as his priest-knight. I know the basics of fighting and have been learning some other moves from the dwarves that traveled with us for the past six months.”

Tomas continued, “I follow Freyja.” He drew his sword from its sheath. “I would give my life in battle for her causes.”

There was a pleased looked on Yari’s face, like a small child had just offered him a shared piece of candy. “Good,” he spoke, lowering his voice down from its playful pitch, though not dropping his smile. “So, you both already have faith in the gods. That’ll make this easier; I had worried I’d need to suss out your true feelings, which would waste time.”

Still perched on the pew, grasping against his spear, Yari changed his expression dramatically again. He grew serious, and intense, and shadows seemed to grow around him as he cautioned, “You will learn quickly that honesty is the best policy with me. Anything short of the truth is very, very hard to get past me, and I am slow to forgive a deception. Tell the truth with me always, full and complete, and I’m sure there won’t be any issues.”

As he had been speaking, Yari’s eyes grew darker and darker, until they were finally pitch black. With the conclusion of his warning, they were immediately back to their normal sapphire-blue; and, the perceived shadows that had crept up to him were instantly just normal shadows – and had very likely always been just normal shadows. Throughout it all, his smile had never faded.

The power Yari manifested scared and appealed to both of the boys. They had seen friends and family die during or just after fights defending their old home. They wanted to be able to protect those they loved as well as do things to help the gods’ causes. This path might allow them to do both better.

Tomas shifted from one foot to another, “Father has taught us to tell him the truth always, though now and then we both have avoided telling him things.” He paused and then continued in a soft voice, “Like fights we had with each other.” He gave his brother a quick smile, and Gunnar playfully hit his arm, smiling warmly back at Tomas.

“Yes, we will both endeavor never to lie to you, uh… Father Yari.” Gunnar stumbled on how best to address their new mentor.

Yari fished with his tongue about the insides of his lips as the boys answered. Seeming to have finished whatever his tongue was doing, he finally opened his mouth and corrected. “Jarl,” he said, stressing the ending consonant. “Father Jarl.

“At least, that will do for now, until we get to know each other better. What shall I call you? As your father’s vassal, I would ne rude addressing you as anything lower than sirs. However, as your teacher, I have something of a station above you.

“Alright! First lesson, then: figure out how to solve this problem.” He grinned impishly, and then immediately disappeared from sight.

“Where did he go!” Tomas exclaimed to Gunnar, turning his head from side to side.

Gunnar lightly chuckled at his younger brother’s reaction to the type of magic that Father Jarl had just done. He had not seen that much magic either but just enough that he knew it when he saw it.

“I think that is something that maybe we will learn to do in the future, Tomas. Now we should discuss what we prefer to be called as Father Jarl requested of us.”

The words escaped so quickly from Tomas’s mouth that Gunnar had a hard time understanding them. “But, he just disappeared into thin air. That was amazing! Do you really think we can learn to do that? Maybe even in time for the big fight?”

“Calm down brother, and lets decide. What do you think? I kind of prefer just being called by my first name. That’s what our old mentor did. Father never was one to hang much importance on names. It was what we did that mattered, not who we were.”

“Sure that works for me too.” Tomas was still scanning back and forth in the room, trying to see if he could catch a glimpse of when and where Father Jarl reappeared.

Fair enough, Yari’s thoughts came unbidden into Tomas and Gunnar’s minds. I got what I wanted out of you two again, and again quicker than I had thought.

Yari was nowhere to be seen, and Tomas’s efforts to cast his gaze back and forth only managed to make him slightly dizzy. Again, the priest’s words entered the children’s minds, You are both religious, and you have the ability to work with each other. I watched you a bit earlier, so I know you also love each other as brothers should. Check, check, and check.

I guess I can teach you.

There was a small breeze that picked up, and tasseled at the princes’ hair. Now, relax, take your positions at the altar, and pray.

After getting over hearing words in his head and noticing Tomas’s reaction to having the same done to him, Gunnar grabbed his brother’s shoulders and made Tomas look him in the eye. “It is okay, remember how Master Torn tested us. This is Father Jarl’s test for us. We can do this Tomas. Slow your breathing like we were taught and come pray as we were bid.”

Tomas counted to ten slowly as he had been taught and did deep breathing during it. He found his center and nodded to his brother that he was ok. The two went to the altar and knelt. Each put their weapon of choice on the ground before them as they had been taught. Closed their eyes and prayed.

Unseen to them, Yari reappeared in the shadows near the entryway. With the grace of the Aesir, and his boots, he stood silently for a long while, focusing his own thoughts on the two princes. A whispered incantation, and their prayers were laid open before him. Yari hoped the gods would forgive his intrusion into the boys’ private contemplations; desperate times, and all that.

Gunnar was the first who was able to quiet his mind enough for Yari to detect his surface thoughts as he prayed. Oh great Thor hear my prayer. I am about to begin training as a priest–knight for you. I know I have never received any direct sign or calling from you, but know I have followed you for as long as I have known you exist. Please accept me into your service. Here Gunnar paused as if waiting for a response that he never sensed. Then he went on, Oh, and please, if you have some spare time, help that cute Rissa not be mad at my having to leave early.

The mind of Tomas took a lot longer to calm enough for Yari to detect individual thoughts. Tomas had centered himself, but his mind was still going in a thousand directions at once. Finally, Yari heard, I can do this, stop thinking of other things, focus, focus on Frejya. Please, please Frajya help me focus, I don’t want to fail this test. I will dedicate my life to you gladly. Peace reigned through him, though Tomas did not notice it had come externally. Yari though could sense another helping to calm his mind, and then Yari heard in his own thoughts a female voice, Protect and teach this one, he is precious to me.

M’lady, Yari answered immediately, reverently, and earnestly, by Odin’s grace, I shall.

His brother is also known to Thor and is acceptable Freya added.

The priest observed his charges from the shadows for another long while, then silently moved to kneel between them at the altar. They, deep in prayer – and he, enchanted to never make a sound as he walked – failed to notice him for nearly a full half of an hour. During this time, Yari’s personal prayers to Odin took on the desperation of a child play-acting in his parent’s clothes, suddenly caught and forced to account for himself.

What am I doing? he prayed. I’m just taking on one responsibility after another, because that is what is expected of me. I don’t know if I have this in me!

Odin! Caelus! I need your guidance to see these tasks through.

Oh, Allfather; I know I have split my loyalties to you with the Sky. It was a stupid thing, done in a moment of childish furry and pain, but there it is. It is done, and we must make the most of it. Please, keep me in your arms as I serve out my contract with Caelus, and know that I will come back to you, fully and forever, when it is done.

Caelus. Give me your sight, that I may better see for you, here in Midgard. We want the same thing, the protection of Gaia, and I will carry out my vow to you as best I can. But, I still need your help. Lend me your power, as my god has, and together with Odin, work with me towards the protection of the Earth.

… and, my family…

… ... and, Silverbriar…

… ... ... and, Thunder Rift…

… ... ... ... and… his prayers continued in this fashion for a long while.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, Yari felt a warmth surround him. Like he was being held by something or someone who was not there, like a parent holds a child. As time passed, it slowly expanded to include the two boys kneeling next to him. He took comfort from that.

After about an hour, the warmth receded. The boys shook their heads as they came out of their prayers. Tomas was the first to speak. “That was incredible. I felt a warmth like I never have before when praying!”

Gunnar interrupted his brother, “I did too, what was that Father Jarl?”

With a slow, deliberate smile, Yari concluded his prayers. Still with the same silence he had held, he stood, turned, and moved to the first line of pews, his back to the boys. As he turned around to face them again, they noticed one of his eyes fading from black to irised-blue again. The other stayed the color of night. Lifting the hood of his robe, Yari then called his spear to his hand from where he had left it at the foot of the altar. The wooden shaft melted into existence within his grip, and the portrait was complete: Odin himself stood before them.

Of course, it was all an act. Growing up with Rissa, Yari had learned several tricks for added dramatic effect. He aimed to further impress upon his charges the importance of what had just been done: They had been presented before the gods, and accepted with open arms. A thing not done lightly on either side, mortal or Aesir. It had been decided that Yari was to be their teacher.

Fuck. Shit and fuck all. Alright, then.

Swiftly coming to a decision, and cleaning his mind of curses, the newly-determined priest cracked a slight smile and said, “Tell me, instead. Tell me what you think it means.”

“Was that some magic that you did to test us or to help us connect with our gods better?” asked Gunnar.

Tomas shook his head excitedly at his brother’s suggestion. “No, it felt like so much more than that, Gunnar! Mine had a feminine feel to it. By the gods, was that Frajya! Did she just accept me into her priesthood? Oh my, oh my, just wait ‘til I tell Father!” By this time, Tomas was practically jumping for joy.

Yari heard the female voice again, His excitement is contagious don’t you think? And, so bright a child, just like his mother who also worshipped me. She is very proud of him.

“Why do you think I had anything to do with it?” Yari asked Gunnar. “Why do you think you are old enough, or wise enough yet to be a priest?” he asked Tomas. The cleric fought hard not to smile at the younger boy’s exuberance, and silently agreed with Freya. He also fought hard at not being a little miffed that she had spoken more words to him in the past hour than Odin had his entire life.

Irrelevant. Move on.

“Explain your thinking,” he demanded, using his best teacher voice.

One moment Yari was looking at the boys expecting an answer, the next, he was standing in a large room with many man and women drinking, gambling, and arm wrestling. None of them seemed to notice or care that Yari appeared out of thin air. He turned and found he was standing in front of a large throne with Odin sitting upon it.

“So, you’re miffed I have not spoken to you. I gave you a piece of Yggdrasil and blessed it to grow in power over time. I granted you my power to help your friends. Then, I had to negotiate with Caelus for how to share you. And you have the gall to complain I have not ‘talked’ to you? Well here you are, talk, that is what you wanted after all!”

The cleric blinked and took in his surroundings, recognizing them as the great hall of Valhalla. As Odin spoke to him, Yari’s heart stopped a moment in sheer and abject terror. He had offended his god somehow. This was not good.

Then, in a fit of inspiration, the bright red flush from Yari’s face was gone, and he drew himself up, planted his spear, and squared his shoulders. Knowing that Odin valued strong warriors more than sniveling sycophants, he presented himself with as much dignity as his mortal form could muster.

Meeting his god’s eye with both of his own, the young priest stated boldly, “I have nothing I need to say, Great Allfather. It is honor enough to merely stand in your presence.”

He took a huge chance, then, and added, “But, if I am still favored in your eye, I would ask the privilege to sit at your side and share a drink before I leave.”

Odin chuckled, “So you do have balls boy. Pull up a chair and get a mug. Let’s drink to your success against the master, and ultimately the lich lord!”

Yari beamed a bright, boyish grin, and hopped to do as he was bade.

~

Gunnar was in the middle of his answer when Yari realized he was no longer drinking with Odin, “and that is why I thought you had done magic to make us feel the warmth.”

Tomas looked at Yari strangely, “Are you okay Father Jarl? You looked like you were far away for a moment there.”

“Heh,” Yari said by way of response, allowing an acknowledging look to pass over his face as he recovered from his experiences. “What has just happened affects everyone in very different ways.”

Glancing down, and smiling ruefully, he paused for a brief moment in consideration, then lifted his eyes and held the older boy’s gaze sternly. “Use that knowledge, and restate your answer, Gunnar.”

Gunnar looked thoughtful for a moment, “I believe I was wrong in my first assessment. It seems the warmth was some external affect. Can you tell us more about what caused it, Father Jarl?”

“Yes, can you?” Tomas excitedly asked, practically jumping up and down.

“I can tell you a lot,” the priest smiled, still standing in his Odin–pose. Relaxing it a bit, and leaning forward on his spear, he squinted impishly at the two and whispered with a wink, “But, where’s the fun in that?”

Resting part of his weight on the side of pew, Yari half–sat, still using his spear for support. “I know exactly what happened, and I will correct you if you are too far off the mark; but, isn’t it better to find your own answers? Don’t they mean more to you that way, than if someone simply hands them to you?”

The boys looked at each other with childish grins about playing the game. It was so obvious they were brothers, as they started to finish each other’s statements, making it hard for Yari to keep track of which one said what.

“The warmth was…”

“From inside us…”

“No, no, the gods…”

“You went somewhere…”

“Except, you were still here…”

“They called you to them…”

“So, they could tell you…”

“If they accepted us!”

They both looked pleased and expectantly at Yari to tell them if they had gotten it right.

It was no act when Yari smiled in response. “Not too far off the mark for me to correct you,” he chuckled. “So, tell me, what did the Aesir say? Have you been, as you put it, accepted?”

In unison, they exclaimed, “Yes!”

Tomas continued, “Warmth meant positive, right? Cold would have been bad?”

“It depends actually,” Yari answered thoughtfully. “My father’s oldest friend was a follower of Skadi, an Aesir adopted from the Ice Jotun. Her sign is a snow flake, and two crossed axes. Do you think she expresses her pleasure with warmth?

“But, for you two, and your chosen gods, I suppose it is fair to assume warmth means good.”

He cocked an eyebrow, then gave them a scrutinizing look. “So, you prayed a bit, felt some warmth, and feel that the gods have accepted you into their service. All well and good. Now, this is the important part: How do you feelabout it?”

“Excited,” was Tomas’s instant response.

“And scared,” came out of Gunnar.

“Thankful,” they both said simultaneously, and then smiled at each other.

“We should pray and thank our god for accepting us,” Tomas said as a statement, but then turned to Father Jarl, “Right?”

Gunnar did not wait for the answer, he turned, knelt and started to thank Thor for accepting him into the priest–knighthood.

After seeing his brother do that, Tomas went back to his spot and did the same to Frajya.

Godsbedamned, Yari thought with a rueful smile, I actually like these two. That’s gonna make it more difficult…

With a sigh that signaled his resignation to his fate, Yari walked back to the altar and knelt between the two again. I blame you for this, he said to Odin. Then, … thank you…

AR 1217-06-07 More on Bjorn the soon to be king and his children

Thraes lkjergensen