The night was more than half over before Utgar finally managed to free himself. The soldiers had tied him tightly, but after hours of stretching and contracting his wings, and wriggling his arms, the bonds finally became loose enough for him to pull his hands free. He immediately untied his feet, and then, reaching behind him, struggled with the ropes tying his wings to the chair. Soon, they too were on the floor.
Getting out of the tent was easy enough. Utgar knew there were guards stationed at the front, but there was no floor to the tent, meaning Utgar simply had to lift up one side, and carefully slide himself beneath it. He did so, the sharp stones of the Volcarren grinding painfully against his wind-toughened skin.
The familiar blast of sand and ash greeted Utgar as he stood outside the tent. The wind had picked up since the sun had set. Good. That might muffle sound.
Utgar glanced around the corner of the tent. Sure enough, two guards were stationed at the front, standing still, oblivious that they were being observed by the prisoner they were supposed to be guarding. Directly across from them, two guards stood at attention, guarding another tent.
It was as good a place to start looking as any. If Runa was here, she would certainly be under guard. It was only logical for the soldiers to assume that she was a rebel too, and besides, she was insurance against Utgar in their eyes.
The tents were situated on a rise of ground – one of the only rises for miles in the bleak emptiness of the Volcarren. Utgar slid down the slight slope, and then skirted the edge. If he could come up behind the tent Runa was in, he would never be seen.
Utgar’s plan worked perfectly. He clambered up the bank, lifted the edge of the tent, and slid under it. He found himself in a tent almost identical to his own, down to the rickety chairs and table, empty walls, and same weak lantern light. The only difference was that Runa was sitting in a chair, bound to it as Utgar had been, her head sunk on her chest in fitful slumber.
Utgar went to her and placed a hand over her mouth.
“Shh,” he whispered as she woke with a start. He removed his hand and began untying her.
“We’re leaving,” he whispered as he worked. “We’re escaping, Runa. We’ll steal into these tents and get what food and water we can, and then we’ll go east, the same way your mother went. We’ll find her, Runa.”
Utgar didn’t care about the difficulties they would face. Vara had faced them, and prevailed. They would find a way too.
A stifled sob made Utgar look up.
“I can’t,” Runa whispered back, tears in her eyes. “With my wings, I can’t.”
“Of course you can,” Utgar said.
More tears leaked down Runa’s face. “No,” she whispered, “I can’t. I never could.”
Utgar looked up at her again, and saw that her eyes were wide, her lips trembling. She was afraid. It wasn’t about her wings at all.
“Yes,” Utgar said, standing. “You can escape. No one can stop you. Not the soldiers, and not Orm.”
Runa shivered at the name.
“He is a Valkyrie, Runa,” Utgar said. “Nothing more. He is not a god or a demon. He is a kyrie, and he can be beaten, just like his soldiers. He doesn’t control our lives, although he would like to. Don’t let him, Runa.”
Runa shook her head slowly, automatically. “But the… the lightning,” she breathed.
Utgar gently took her by both shoulders. She looked up at him. “I don’t care,” he said. “Okay? I don’t care. Your mother escaped. She was brave, when everyone else told her it couldn’t be done. She did it anyway. She gave us a chance. We have to be brave now. For her. Can you do that?”
Tears leaked down Runa’s cheeks, but she nodded, mutely. Utgar pulled her to her feet. “Then let’s get out of here,” he said.
Together, they moved to the side of the tent. Utgar lifted it enough for Runa to slide under, and then he slid after her.
Then Utgar stood, and found himself in the midst of two soldiers, both of whom were staring at him with shocked expressions.
“They’ve escaped!” one of them bellowed at the top of his lungs before Utgar could swing his fist into his jaw. He went down quickly, howling and clutching his face.
“Run!” Utgar shouted, motioning Runa down the rise.
But fate was not with them that night. Two soldiers landed on the edge of the rise, falling from the night sky on silent wings. More guards joined the first, hemming Utgar in.
“Don’t fight,” Runa cried, as Utgar clenched his fists. “Please, don’t.” She pulled on one of his arms. “It will only make things worse.”
Utgar glanced at her, and her tattered, broken wings. Her eyes were wide with fear.
Utgar lowered his fists and sank to his knees on the hard ground.
The soldiers were on him instantly, pinning his arms and legs and wings to the ground.
“I told you that you couldn’t escape,” came a familiar voice from above.
Someone removed their hand from Utgar’s head, and he was allowed to look up. The commander was standing over him.
“I didn’t expect to be proven right so quickly,” he observed dispassionately. He squatted down, so that Utgar could see him clearly.
“Look,” he said, “I’ll give you one last chance. You’ve done a lot of damage, and Orm won’t let you off easily, but you can still come out of this in one piece. I hope you have the sense to see that.”
Utgar was silent.
“Go to Orm,” the commander said. “I can take you there myself. Go to him, and beg for his mercy. Promise you’ll do whatever he says. If he likes what he hears, he will let you live.”
Utgar was about to say something he probably would have regretted later, but Runa’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Do it,” she said. “Please, father, do it. I don’t want to lose you.”
Utgar was silent, but a desperate frustration was growing within him. He couldn’t back down.
“Please,” Runa said, turning now to the commander, “please don’t kill him.”
“I can no longer make that decision,” the commander said. “It rests with Orm now.”
There was a moment of silence. “Then take me to him,” Runa said.
Utgar coughed out a mouthful of sand.
“Take me to him,” Runa repeated.
“You mean to ask for your father’s life?” the commander asked. “To beg Orm for mercy as well?”
Runa faltered. “Y-Yes,” she said.
“Runa, no!” Utgar choked out.
“Yes, father!” Runa said, suddenly turning on him. “I’m tired of this. I want to escape to, but I don’t want to die, and I don’t want you to die. If there’s something I can do to keep that from happening, I will do it.”
“We don’t have to beg Orm for anything!” Utgar snarled from the ground. “I’ve tasted of his mercy, and I want none of it!”
“Please,” Runa said, and Utgar felt her hand on his arm. The soldiers must have let her go. “Please. I can’t lose you like I lost mother.”
Utgar turned his head against the hard rocks until he could see her. “You didn’t lose your mother,” he said. “She’s out there, waiting for us.”
But Runa gave him a look, filled with sorrow, but also acceptance. “No,” she said. “She’s not.”
Utgar stared at Runa for a moment, his mind blank. Then he closed his eyes.
Above him, the voice of the commander rang out: “Take them to Orm.”