February 23, 2019

Snowflakes spinning around him and the doleful mountains’ breath on his face, Yssir pulled the scarf higher, covering his face all the way up to his eyes. The ascending sun shone its light on the snow dunes, wind spreading the powdery top layer around like a glimmering whirlwind.

Each step was heavy, the deep snow crunching beneath his feet. Yssir gestured with his stiff right arm for his men to follow. Their way to the city would take longer than anticipated. The thick snow carpet wouldn't allow for a smooth exit, either.

But Yssir knew who he was. His thieves knew who he was. Nobody uttered a word of complaint. Their payment was waiting for them. If there was money, there would be obedience. Everything else was inessential.

Yssir didn't consider whether it was going to be worth it this time. Some people got clouded by emotion. But in his mind there was only sharp precision.

The reminder of his personal reward pressed against his rib, strapped to the vest beneath his leather coat. Yssir leaped over a pile of snowy rocks. His feet sunk into the deeper snowdrifts, and snow stuck to the rim of his matted leather boots. He breathed into the scarf, shallow breaths to prevent more ice from forming on the wool.

Moments from now, the waiting would be over. There was a phantom pressure on his arms. One aim, and he could be done with it.

The crossbow weighed on his back.

Yssir fidgeted with the small tooth inside of his glove. He pressed his right palm against the left side of his ribcage to feel the dagger strapped to his vest. 

The shot would be too easy. The King needed to suffer. Yssir wouldn’t let the gods of the abyss take him so easily.

One dagger to bring kings to their knees. One scrape to bring pleads to their lips.

His arm twitched with an unwanted shiver that skittered up his spine. He was dressed in layers of wool, leathers and furs, but the cold had penetrated his clothing the moment he'd stepped outside. Four of his thieves were suppressing shudders and clenching their jaws tightly to not chatter their teeth.

It wasn’t the prickling snowfall that bothered Yssir. His neck was rigid for other reasons. The cold was different on this day.

He tilted his head to roll the stiffness out of his neck before he climbed over the last snow-covered rocks on the riverbank and gazed out over the city below.

Hruod was always right behind him, but now he had fallen behind. Yssir saw him furrowing  his brows at dark clouds and touching ashen branches of tiny pines he passed by. Prompted by Yssir’s nod, Hruod caught up with him.

The chatter of the other thieves died out when one of them asked, “What is this looming darkness? I’ve never seen shadows such as these.”

Hruod looked to Yssir, and so did the rest of them.

Yssir briefly glanced over his shoulder. “It’s the punishment of the gods.”

“Because of the king?”

Hruod snorted. “No, fool. The girl with the flames who is going to destroy the king.”

“We can’t slow down,” Yssir said.

Snow tumbled down from the mountains, clouding the city in a shawl of white before it settled on the ground. Smoke rose from the chimneys, dark grey against the white sky.

The people were inside their homes. The city had barely woken up yet.

Life came to a pause when winter came to the mountains. The people couldn't afford to use more energy than they could consume. Larnham was a wealthy merchant city, but that didn't benefit these people. They were struck by poverty.

“What is keeping her here?” Hruod asked, readjusting his hat while gazing across the watchtowers and sturdy tile buildings. His eyes slid to the crumpled huts on the side of the city. A single tendril of smoke rose from a tent.

Yssir crossed his arms, making new notes in his mind of the city’s structure. “Shelter. Food. People come and go. Nobody pays much attention to a street rat in a sewer.” 

After the last raid, they had drank the money and traveled throughout the width of Noriannd’s southern coastal villages, only to keep hearing about the same girl with the hair of fire and fingertips of sparkling embers. Her very skin was said to pulsate with the flames within her skin. Yssir had thought the description sounded strangely familiar, and gave the rest of his coins to Hruod so that he could listen to village lunatics go on and on about the end of this age and the rise of the Aruels… But Yssir knew this girl they spoke of. He knew her better than he wished he did, that treacherous brat.

The very same night he’d nearly gotten his throat slit by Mionaith.

“Gern, keep up!” somebody yelled. “Or we’ll hang you upside down from a tree like those slain pigs!”

Yssir turned. 

Hruod shrugged, and Yssir rolled his eyes at the boy barely capable of scrambling up the cliffside. Gern’s skinny arms flailed and his legs wobbled as he slogged through the snow.

“If his mother wasn't already dead I'd have her filled with arrows for adultery.”

Hruod gave a muffled chuckle through the wool covering his mouth, shielded his face from the whirling snow and narrowed his gaze toward Larnham. Yssir followed his eyes glued to strips of flesh and severed limbs of boar hanging over smoke, grease dripping and sizzling in the burning pine. Hruod quirked his brows and pointed his dagger toward the butcher’s cottage. “What about a street rat on fire?”

Yssir gave him a sideways glance but didn't smile. He reached his arm behind his back and pulled the crossbow in front of his chest, holding it steady in his arms despite the wind working to mess up his aim.

“What about a street rat washed in grease, you mean?” Hruod did the same, pulling an arrow from the quiver. Instead of of a metal tip, the arrow's end was made of a small pouch filled with whale oil and birchbark.

Loud, crunched footsteps sounded as Gern clumped up to them, holding up matches in his hands. He'd removed his gloves and his hands were instantly reddening in the cold.

“Idiot, put on your mittens,” Yssir scolded.

He snatched a match from the boy. A slug smile rose to the his lips. He tucked the match between his teeth.

Hruod flipped the arrow in his hand and slowly pushed it back into it’s holster. 

“A rat on fire,” Yssir thought out loud.

Hruod mirrored his smirk and echoed, “A rat on fire.”
Yssir turned to the rest of the men, gathered in a disordered half circle. He said his orders, “Take down the Norian guards. But no blood, we need the blue coats.”

“No disgusting fluids on the clothes!” Hruod chimed in.

Yssir snickered. “Don’t get too excited, you won’t fit in those kids uniforms.”

“No, but I’ve always fantasized about undressing the king’s men.” Waggling his brows, Hruod trotted down the hill. 

A Raveling Night fantasy book characters: Yssir, Fylkir and Emery
Yssir, Fylkir and Emery
A Raveling Night

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