“So you sailed to Gaupne,” Solomon said. He drew his dagger and propped it up on their table. With a flick of his wrist he spun the handle at his fingertips.
“We did,” Mordechai confirmed. His head nodded slowly. Calmly, he folded his hands over one another and breathed deeply. Breath was as wind passing through pine needles. “I hadn’t seen the city in years. There were people still there, stragglers. Now, they are all gone.”
“That was the price your father paid. He didn’t know it at the time. I don’t think anyone knows the cost of that kind of power. We vowed that it was time to return, but he had changed. What little of your father remained was not enough for—”
Solomon jumped in his seat. Mordechai’s hands unfolded, losing his train of thought. Behind him, a rugged man had called out to them both. His voice was gravel and pitch, as worn as his own leathery skin.
“That’s my table!” the barkeep continued. “Don’t go carvin’ your name into it like you own ’t. Bloody savages…”
Solomon grunted in disapproval, putting the knife away, setting it down on top of wood shavings, beside the groove he was carving. His eyes went low, skulking.
“Why go to the ice flows?” Solomon asked. Mordechai expressed his confusion, at a loss for words. “There’s nothing out in the wastes; nothing of value anyway.”
Mordechai stared blankly to the side, lost in thought. His eyebrows lightened, and eyes opened in recollection. Scooting forward in his seat, Solomon inclined his ears in anticipation.
A candle beside them flickered. It was a slow burn, erupting from a mountain of drizzled wax. Mordechai nudged the candle gentle with the back of his fingers, sliding the dying light before him.
“It’s good warmth,” he remarked. “As fire meets ice there is clarity. They oppose one another. You know the stories? The gods at war in the final epoch burned this land with ice and flame. These people, the people of this land, they teach their children that we walked away from the battle unscathed.
“It’s rubbish, and I don’t believe it,” Mordechai added, pushing away from the table, his feathers ruffled. “That’s what happened to us. Marauders came, the bishop’s men, the very men that sit in this room right now.”
“The Bishop?” asked Solomon. As he said the words, his skin became stale. A cold wind breathed down his neck. He felt the eyes watching him, from everywhere.
“His men ambushed us. Your father struck them down. I found myself caught in the explosion of power. Face down in the snow, I managed to raise my head and I saw him, your father. In his hands was a relic of untold power. It came from the time before. I knew that for sure. But there was something dark about his way.”
Solomon looked away, his lip quivering. A tear escaped, rolling down his cheek. He imagined his father up on the ice flow. A stark, swarthy man surrounded in electric flame, his cortex dilated, open and ready to receive the power that consumed him. Floundering lackeys sprawled out over the ground, begging for mercy as he shut them down to oblivion, he saw Mordechai in his mind. He saw his terror.
“That was when you killed him.” Solomon said in a quiet solemn voice. He grabbed the glinting dagger before him and shoved it back into his cloak.
“He was no longer anything as your father was,” Mordechai confirmed, leaning back in his seat. “And I saw nothing there in his eyes that the relic had spared. So I did what had to be done, before his power was fully matured. I stabbed him. I killed him with a dagger I no longer own. I cut him down before he killed all of us. The Bishop’s men, well, they all fled, what was left of them. But I stayed. I stayed with your father until the end.
“He thanked me.”
Around him Solomon sensed the body’s rise, the lackeys sent to dispatch him for knowing the truth. But he did nothing as they took him, as they pried from him his weapons and possessions, as he watched Mordechai fade away into darkness as the final candle was snuffed. Solomon did nothing. He was paralyzed. There was something in the drink. But who?