He rides her hard into the night. The mare neighing, holding in the pain, bears the journey to Valhalla. Sog, a city of heroes, filled with empty halls and distant memories, is where the brave die softly. Dogs of war, returning to their vomit, they live out the transience of time, frozen in a glory that is not theirs. He rides her towards the city, and waits.
Unsettling the obscuring darkness, a beacon emerges. The watchman calls out to the stranger; the stranger answers cordially. Unequivocally, their concord commences, and they become friends once more.
Into the city, ride. Go where the men die a little, again and again.
Solomon walked Hekja into the stables by the bit in her mouth and tied her to the stall.
“Not a word from you,” he said in a low voice. “I will return soon. Make friends while I’m away.”
Digging into his money bag, Solomon grabbed an abundance of coin, too much coin for the boy in the corner who had fallen asleep at his post.
“For your health and my steed’s,” Solomon said walking towards the boy. He placed the pile of gold into the boy’s hand and closed the youth’s hand discretely around the mound. “As she lives, so shall you.” The boy quivered in fear, forgetting the money. Solomon smiled and pat the lad on the back forcefully.
Solomon did not care for Sog. It was a shallow hovel full of mischief and greed, one that retained the weight of travelers that settled as well as the bones of those that had departed. The games drew many. (That is the case with these things.) But the years had been slow. The Black were not bleak. The Fair had dimmed. The Bargainers bartered poorly. And the Valkyrja no longer sang the song of war. In stalemate, each team sat in their corner, lost at heart, and Solomon appreciated this. It would mean less distraction.
A lime-lit sign hummed above him like the burning lance of Archon, high lord of lights. Its twisted florescence illuminated his destination, The Craven Wurm, a den of thieves and malcontents. Inside, creatures stirred in the dismal formation of tables and chairs, some drinking quietly, others not so much. There in the center of them, under a crimson lamp, was uncle Mordechai.
Each embraced the other warmly, remarking one another with longing. Had it been ten years? Fifteen? But that did not matter any longer. They were here once more, together.
“Sixteen years,” Mordechai remarked. “Gods protect you. I had long ago imagined you food for the Worm.”
“I’m full of surprises,” Solomon replied. As proof, he placed his rapier on the table.
“So you’ve come for me then?” Mordechai said, sounding impressed. “I’ve been waiting for you. These old bones were getting tired.”
“All in good time,” said Solomon. “Why not have a drink first? To ease the tension?”
“Now you are speaking my language!” Mordechai exclaimed, slamming his fist down exuberantly. “Ne’er before in all my days… You remind me of him, my brother, your father.”
Solomon let the subject pass over him. Geniality, and its benign intentions, he desired most. Mordechai’s death could wait. Solomon produced a flask and emptied its contents into the dirty, crystal chalice before him.
“Whiskey?” Solomon offered kindly. Mordechai refused silently, his nose wrinkled with distaste.
“Isn’t that how this all started?” Mordechai whispered, perhaps to himself.
“I do not live in the past, but the future. I see things as they will be, and I prefer to be drunk. It will make my duty seem less egregious.” Solomon took a drink unflinchingly.
“And so it shall be...” concluded Mordechai.
“Now,” spoke Solomon, “tell me Uncle Mordechai, how it all began.”