CHAPTER Twenty-Nine – Maren

Dan spent the next few days thinking about how he could get Heleer back. He knew that once his training was complete, he would return to Montfre, Vydar’s Citadel, before being shipped off to wherever Vydar wanted him. He would ask Vydar once more to summon Heleer. It would be stupid not to take the chance, even though Dan doubted it would work. Vydar hadn’t listened to him the first time; he doubted the second time would be any different.

Assuming that didn’t work, the next thing to consider was where he would be sent. If Vydar wouldn’t help him, it only made sense to find a Valkyrie who would. If he was nearby, he could ask Jandar or Ullar, but if not, then the next logical option was Utgar.

Once Dan started thinking about the other Valkyrie, he realized they must have all done exactly what Vydar had done: summoned soldiers from other places to fight their wars. They too had disregarded the lives of their soldiers. Dan was sure they justified it by saying they had ‘saved’ them, but he didn’t for a moment believe they were any different than Vydar. Despite what Aviir had said, Dan knew Vydar didn’t care for his soldiers, and neither did any of the other Valkyrie. If they really cared what happened to them, they would have sent them back the instant they saved them, not trained them for a war they knew nothing about. No matter. Dan didn’t expect any of the Valkyrie to summon Heleer out of the goodness of their hearts. They would need a reason.

It was at this point that Dan realized he had nothing to offer them. They had no reason to summon Heleer for him, and he had nothing to convince them with. If they were all as self-serving as Vydar – and Dan didn’t for a moment believe otherwise – then the idea that they would summon Heleer for him was laughable. He was stuck.

These thoughts circulated within Dan’s mind all during the next day, and into the night, when the commander of the Flight appointed him for the first hour of guard duty. Guard duty meant standing on top of the stone wall surrounding Llynar and trying to see nonexistent enemies in the pitch blackness, but Dan did it anyway, knowing that once he got through with his training, he would be able to leave Llynar forever.

Dan’s anger at the Valkyrie and their war silently bubbled within him as he stood on the wall, the cold air sapping the heat from his body. He watched the dark outline of the hills against the starry sky without really seeing them, anger clouding his vision.

“Wishing you were somewhere else?”

Dan turned at the sudden voice. Another guard, a kyrie, was standing nearby.

Dan turned away. He didn’t much feel like talking. His anger at Vydar was foremost on his mind. He was about to ignore the guard and walk the length of the wall, but then paused, and glanced back at the kyrie. He recognized him.

“You’re him,” he said. “Back in the bunker. They said—” he paused. “You had the letter from Vydar.” Dan thought saying ‘they said you were an enemy of Vydar’ probably wasn’t the best idea.

“Maren,” the kyrie said. He didn’t extend his hand. “And according to everyone else, traitor to Vydar.”

Dan was silent for a moment. “Are you?” he said bluntly.

Maren didn’t answer right away. “No,” he finally said, looking down. “I suppose I was once. That was years ago, though. I’m no traitor now.”

“What do you mean, ‘once’?” Dan asked.

Maren looked at him. “I suppose you’re unhappy with Vydar?” he guessed. “You wish he had left you alone?”

Dan nodded slowly.

Maren gave a painful smile of understanding. “Suffice it to say that three years ago, when I was still young and stupid, some kyrie convinced me of the same thing: that Vydar was evil and selfish. I was the son of the elder of my village, and decided it was my responsibility to convince those about me of what I had learned.” He paused.

“That hardly makes you a traitor,” Dan pointed out.

“Perhaps,” Maren admitted. “But when your words then inspire someone to relay Vydar’s positions, and Utgar’s orcs beginning burning all of Montfre as a result with no help in sight, views tend to change.” Maren turned to the wall and took a breath of the cold night air before glancing at Dan again. “You know why Llynar was evacuated?” he said. “Because of what I did. It was directly in the path of the orcs, and was almost burned to the ground.”

“Almost?”

Maren faced away from Dan, and instead looked into the black nothingness beyond Llynar. “Have you heard of Aaryglynn?”

“No,” Dan said, wondering why Maren had changed the subject.

“It’s a wellspring, a short ways north of here,” Maren said. “The most powerful wellspring. Those who merely touch the water are healed, and have the strength to slay fifty men. The one who can control Aaryglynn could win this war in a matter of months. If not weeks. And for the first time since the war began, Aaryglynn had been conquered. Conquered, and held, by Vydar.”

He paused. Dan was silent.

Maren took a breath and continued. “But because of me, he lost it. The army at Aaryglynn was closest to the orcs. Vydar didn’t hesitate, but abandoned the wellspring in time to save Llynar.”

“Why?” Dan asked before he could stop himself. “I mean, if this Aaryglynn was as powerful as you say, why would he do that?” What was Llynar compared to Aaryglynn?

“It didn’t make any sense to me, either,” Maren said, shaking his head. “It still doesn’t. I thought I knew who Vydar was. I was certain that he would draw back one of his other armies to deal with the orcs. He might lose Llynar and a few other villages, but they were hardly crucial to the war. The land could be reclaimed. Fields could be resown. Those who couldn’t evacuate, the sick and the old, would be slain, but Vydar’s armies had no use for them. It was the obvious choice to make.”

“But he didn’t make it,” Dan said.

“No. And I can’t say I know why.” Maren watched the sky absently, almost speaking to himself. “At times Vydar seems to care only about his own power at the expense of all others. And at other times… he does something like that. The Valkyrie is a mystery. I can no longer pretend to know who Vydar is, but it’s clear that he is not who I thought he was.”

For a moment neither spoke. Maren seemed in no hurry to go on.

“So,” Dan said, breaking the silence,  “how are you here? If you’re thought a traitor…”

Maren sighed. “I tried to repair the damage I had caused. I used my position to start convincing everyone I could that I had been wrong.”

“Did you?” Dan asked.

Maren finally looked down and faced Dan again. “Not really. But I had to keep trying. Those who believed me were still out there, plotting how best to sabotage Vydar. I didn’t know if Vydar was good or bad, but I couldn’t let him be undermined. Not after he saved us the way he had. I owed him that much. I assumed Vydar knew what I was doing, and had kept me from being thrown into the prisons.”

“Until now.”

“Until now,” Maren agreed grimly. “I can’t very well repair the damage I caused from here. I need to be back at Joren, where I belong. I’m far more help to Vydar there.” He shook his head and hoisted the strap of his weapon – a strange, short black sword – higher on his shoulder. “I don’t understand him. First Vydar acts like he understands what I must do, and then he keeps me from doing it. Why didn’t he just arrest me? Why send me to join his army?”

The answer seemed obvious to Dan.

“Maybe he’s trying to get rid of you?”

Maren paused for a moment, considering. “I doubt it,” he finally said. “Vydar had every reason to have me executed once he knew what I had caused. And nearly all of Anund would have been behind him, too. It would have sent a strong message to those I had convinced. But he didn’t do that. Killing me now doesn’t make any sense.” Maren turned, preparing to walk down his portion of the wall. “But then, most of what Vydar does makes no sense…”

He glanced over the wall, at the outline of the hills, solid black against the starry sky. “I need to be out there,” he said, mostly to himself. Dan heard the emotion behind his words.

Maren shook his head once more, and began walking down the wall, head down, a slump to his shoulders. Dan watched him go. He hadn’t thought it possible, but if he were to guess, he would say Maren needed to get out of Llynar as badly as he did. They both wanted no part of this war.

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