Storm Warrior, Storms of Magic Book 4
By P.T. Hylton & Michael Anderle
“An Arcadian, two Barskall, and the captain of the Holdgate city guard walked into the woods. Sounds like the beginning of a damn joke.” Roald’s voice dripped with disdain, as if he couldn’t believe his life had come to this.
Fannar clapped him on the back. “Cheer up, my friend. It’s a beautiful fall day, you’re armed to the teeth, and the possibility of battle hangs in the air. What do you have to be glum about?”
Roald just shot him a look.
Fannar tried not to take it personally. He’d been in Holdgate nearly three weeks now, and in that time he’d grown accustomed to the strange looks he got while walking down the street. Not from everyone, since there was nothing about his physical appearance that made it obvious he was a Barskall, though he was a bit shorter than most men in the city. But people talked.
It was one thing to have Barskall Storm Callers on the stormships. The people knew the Storm Callers had been held against their will and forced into servitude by King Elias. But having Barskall warriors walking free in the city was something else altogether.
And Fannar wasn’t the only one. While most of the Tall Grass Raiders had elected to return home to Barskall after their escape from Gren, Hekla and Sigmund had decided to stay with Elliot. Three Barskall warriors now walked the Holdgate streets.
For Fannar, it was still a time of trying to figure out where he fit into things. He wasn’t a sailor. Perhaps with time he’d be able to learn, but even the thought of a rocking sea made his stomach roll. He was a fighter.
So it was that he found himself out patrolling the woods east of Holdgate with Benjamin, Hekla, and Roald, the captain of the Holdgate city guard.
It had been Benjamin’s idea, of course. They knew Barskall warriors were hidden somewhere out here waiting for their chance to strike, so why not use friendly Barskall to find them?
They’d been walking for a few hours, investigating a number of tips from local lumbermen about possible Barskall sightings in the area. So far they’d come up empty.
As they walked, Fannar said, “It’s impressive to see a captain out here. Many leaders relax and make their soldiers do the hard work.”
Roald scoffed. “Maybe that’s how they do things in Barskall. Not here. A leader who doesn’t lead quickly loses the respect of his men. He keeps it up too long, he’s likely to get his throat cut some night while he’s sleeping.”
Fannar glanced at Benjamin. The blacksmith had been silent almost the entire journey. It was clear he wasn’t a big fan of Roald, but the Holdgatesman seemed oblivious to everything but his own disdain.
After they’d been walking for a few more minutes, Benjamin spoke. “Hekla, Fannar, tell us what you think. If a Barskall army were gathered in these woods, what would their approach be?”
Hekla let out a chuckle. “I should probably let Fannar handle this one. I haven’t been to Barskall in more than a decade. I will say this: it took the Tall Grass Raiders a long time to come to terms with the approach of raiding small villages. That’s not our instinct.”
Fannar nodded his agreement. “I won’t pretend to know what the warlord Eril is thinking. I’ve never met the man. But from everything I’ve heard, he conforms to the typical Barskall ideals. That means he’ll want to make a big statement with a large-scale attack, especially because he’s waited for so long. And that means Holdgate is the most likely target.”
Roald grunted. “The way I understand it, they had some sort of arrangement with Dahlia. Now that she’s dead, maybe they’ll sit in those mountains for years waiting for a return that will never happen.”
Fannar chose his words carefully. He didn’t want to act disrespectful toward this man who already disliked him so much. “I don’t believe that’s the case. It’s a miracle they’ve waited this long.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” the captain of the guard allowed. “I suppose you can’t expect a bunch of drug-addicted savages to act rationally.”
Despite the crude way he said it, Fannar agreed with the sentiment. The Barskall would have brought a limited amount of seiderdrek, and they had to be running low by now. They’d save a supply for their big attack, but it wouldn’t be easy. Fannar knew from experience that the drug was almost impossible to resist. Ever since he’d drunk it during the fight at the palace in Gren, it had been in the back of his head like a strange song, calling him to find more—anywhere.
He hadn’t spoken about this craving to anyone, but he knew that if he’d had any seiderdrek on hand he wouldn’t have been able to resist it for long.
Roald nodded toward something up ahead. “This must be it.”
They approached a small clearing just off the trail and found the remains of a campsite. The logger they’d spoken with had reported a group of ten men who’d camped there two nights previously. He’d claimed they were Barskall, but Fannar was skeptical. After all, how would he know that just from observing the smoke from their fire?
“Well,” Benjamin said, “if they were trying to cover their tracks, they did an absolute shit job of it.”
Fannar couldn’t disagree. He spotted the bones of three rabbits that must have served as a meal.
Benjamin turned to Fannar. “Let’s assume for a moment that they were Barskall. What would they be doing here?”
Fannar considered that a moment. “They’d be scouts. Perhaps searching for the best route to bring a large group of warriors to the city? The logistics of moving an entire army through those mountains… I don’t even want to think about it.”
Roald sighed. “That’s all well and good, but I’m not sure what we are going to learn from a campsite. Except that whoever camped her has a taste for rabbit.”
Hekla bent down and picked something up off the ground. “Perhaps this would help?”
She held it out to Roald. Fannar was shocked to see it was a rolled piece of parchment.
“It was sitting on top of that pile of bones there,” she said, “like someone wanted it to be found.”
Roald’s face was grim as he read the parchment. When he finished, he wordlessly handed it to Benjamin. The blacksmith looked no more pleased as he read.
“Well, that answers the question of who camped here,” Benjamin said. He handed to the parchment to Fannar.
The Barskall’s eyes immediately went to the beginning of the block of text on the page. Then they went to the end. What he saw made him grimace.
The note began, “Let this serve as warning to the people of Holdgate.”
It was signed, “Eril, Warlord of the Barskall and future ruler of Holdgate.”