The Nature of the Beast - Page 6


The Jarls weren't terribly pleased when I told them I wouldn't be participating in the battle from the first, but it's not like there was a lot they could do about it; I may not be the last runemaster, but I'm among the last. It's a hard, cold path, and even at its height only a few cared to walk it; when the people we were pledged to aid and protect started calling on us less and less, our numbers dwindled even further.

As I made my way up the hill to observe the coming battle, I found myself thinking of my own master, a toothless old fellow with a smile like a newborn babe's . . . and a heart as black as pitch with bitterness.

“Knowledge first takes away your happiness and replaces it with wisdom, then gives you your happiness back and lets you keep the wisdom as a gift,” he used to tell me, but they were empty words from him, words of faith – true for me, but never for him. His happiness never returned, and that twisted what wisdom he had into perversity; he made a fortune selling false cures and curses to the gullible. “Why give them the real thing when they can't tell the difference anyway?” he asked me more than once.

I tried to tell him, but by then it was too late. He lessened himself a little more with each swindle, loathing himself a little more each time, and all so he could buy himself some warmth to shield himself from the cold. He lingered in this sorry state until the day he met someone who could tell the difference, and they led the mob that killed him with their bare hands.

I still hope that Hel found some mercy for the old coot though, because he taught me the most important lesson of all:

He taught me to like the cold.

Page 6

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