Chapter 24 – Predictions

CHapter 24

“Please. Just ask her,” Skógi begged Systa as they both led the three dwarfs to the edge of the camp. “Just ask her, and if she tells you that it’s Bjargtre then don’t go.”

“Don’t be stupid, she’s the Agrokū’s mother. She’d tell him.”

“Then don’t tell her why you want to know, just that you want to know how you’ll die.”

The dwarfs whimpered and pleaded as Systa and Skógi pushed them down onto their knees one by one. They were sure that at any minutes they would feel bone knives press against their throats. To their surprise their blindfolds were pulled away and their gags removed.

“Go!” Systa growled at them in Mál. “Back to your filthy rat nest.”

They needed no encouraging.

“Do you think it will work?” Skógi asked as they watched the dwarfs run away.

“I hope so,” Systa whispered and looked down at the pouch she had tucked into the veil wrapped around her waist. “I can’t believe they couldn’t feel the worms in the soup.”

“Systa, please, ask Gríð.”

Systa took a deep breath and nodded. “Alright.”

They both waited until they could no longer see the dwarfs before they turned back to the camp. The sun was setting behind the mountains. As they walked through the camp, yurt after yurt was collapsed down to a rightly rolled tube and then packed onto the backs of the bison. There was a comforting familiarity to it all. They all knew what do to and the old routine second nature to all of them. They would make their way to Lake Krewa and try to get as far away from the mountains as possible. There would be no stops, not even for a short rest. The risk was too high. Then they would wait. That would be the worst part.

A small group of the fastest riders would remain with Ulf to distract the Hætta should they head in their direction. Once the danger was over, Ulf would lead the camp back to the mountains. With any luck, the red plague would have the city in its grip, but Systa was not willing to bet on that hopeful wish.

Systa bowed as she entered Gríð’s hut. Skógi was right behind her, though he stayed as close to the doorway as he could. An overwhelming smell of honey root came from inside the hut.

“Shouldn’t you be helping Ulf to leave?” Gríð asked. Her dilated pupils looked completely black.

“He sent me to release the dwarfs.”

“Did they eat the soup?”

“Yes.”

“All of it?”

“Yes.”

“I’m surprised they couldn’t feel the keilic worms in it.” Gríð held the pipe she had been preparing to her mouth and took a long slow draught. Systa waited until she had exhaled a long sickly-sweet cloud of yellow smoke before she spoke.

“I would like to have my future read.”

Gríð laughed and shook her head. The pipe already rested against her wrinkled lips again. “You never believed in that kind of thing.”

“I don’t, but I would like to know anyway.”

Gríð sighed and placed her pipe back down on the floor. “Alright, sit closer, I’m not moving.”

Systa did as she was told and shuffled forwards until she was within arm’s reach.

“You!” Gríð barked at Skógi. “The curtain. I can’t read in daylight.”

As soon as Skógi had pulled the door curtain across the doorway Gríð took a deep breath and held her hands out on either side of Systa’s face.

Systa did her best not to fidget. The smell of honey root from Gríð and from the yurt was enough to make her feel sick. Years of honey root smoke had saturated the yurt with the scent. Worse still were the bones which hung from chords on the roof poles. With every small gust of wind, the roof would shake slightly, and the bones would clink and rattle together again and again.

“I…I have it,” Gríð mumbled, her eyes tightly closed together. “What from your future do want to know.”

“How will I die?”

Gríð’s eyes opened for a moment, startled by her request, before she closed them again and began to hum. It was all Systa could do to stop her mouth from twitching into a smile. It was all so ridiculous!

“I…I…see….grass.”

Oh, grass, how predictable, Systa thought. Let’s see if she sees bison too.

“Mountains in the distance,” Gríð gasped and began to shake from side to side. “I see you on the ground, grass under your head. You’re smiling, free in the safe lands,” Gríð shuddered one last time and laid her hands on Systa’s shoulders reassuringly. “You will die free on the plains, a red sunset in the distance and the clear sky above you.”

Skógi looked at Systa. Her face was completely emotionless. She stood up thanked Gríð and bowed before she left the yurt. Several goblins waited outside, ready to take it apart.

“Well?” Skógi asked. He seemed far more relieved that Systa did.

“She knows how to listen, I’ll give her that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, please Skógi. Everyone knows I hate having a roof over my head. It’s not hard for her to figure out. She just told me the what she thought I wanted to hear.”

“Systa? What are you doing here?” Ótama walked up to them, her bison behind her. “I thought you had left with the first group?”

Skógi watched nervously while Systa effortlessly lied to her sister’s face. “He wanted me to leave with the last group.”

“I could have sworn he—”

“Ótama,” Systa laughed again “Just go! I’ll be right behind you.”

Ótama nodded and mounted her bison.

“Right behind me?”

“Right behind you,” Systa repeated. She smiled to reassure her.

Skógi shook his head as soon as Ótama had ridden off with the rest of her riders. The goblins who had already packed their yurts followed her.

“I don’t know how you can do that, lie to her so easily,” he said as he followed Systa to her bison.

“If she knew what I wanted to do she would try to stop me or kill me.”

“I should be trying to stop you.”

Systa laughed again as she mounted her bison. Skógi crouched on the saddle behind her. “You wouldn’t stop me. You love me too much.”

“And you never let me forget it,” Skógi grumbled.

Before Systa could leave the camp towards the mountains, Skógi caught her attention one last time.

“Are you sure about this, Systa?”

“Don’t worry, Gríð did say I would die on the plains.”

“You don’t even believe Gríð’s predictions.”

“I wasn’t the one who wanted to see her, remember? I can’t believe you trust her silly acts. She chews far too much honey root, shakes a little and then tells people what they want to hear. Only the spirits know the future, and if she does talk to the spirits I’m not sure the good ones are talking to her.”

“Systa, you don’t have to go. What about Ulf? You’re his most loyal warrior, what about Ótama? She won’t be loyal to Ulf if you die.”

“Bah, I’m sure she can find a stubborn short goblin somewhere to replace me.”

“Don’t joke with me Systa. What if you die? This is serious.”

For a brief moment Systa’s smile dropped into a serious frown and she turned in the saddle to face him.

“I know that Skógi, and I think it’s worth it. We didn’t catch enough dwarfs. Three of them won’t infect the city fast enough, I want to make sure it’s all worth it. Ulf will be king of the goblins one day. If I have to, I’ll die to make that happen.”

As they rode away, Skógi looked towards the horison where he knew a few lone tribes were camped. All of them knew of Ulf, and of his plans, but none of them had believed it possible and they had decided to remain in their own tribes. In a cruel way it seemed fitting that the tribes who refused to be part of Ulf’s vision for the goblins should be sacrificed as decoys.

from the yurt was enough to make her feel sick. Years of honey root smoke had saturated the yurt with the scent. Worse still were the bones which hung from chords on the roof poles. With every small gust of wind, the roof would shake slightly, and the bones would clink and rattle together again and again.

“I…I have it,” Gríð mumbled, her eyes tightly closed together. “What from your future do want to know.”

“How will I die?”

Gríð’s eyes opened for a moment, startled by her request, before she closed them again and began to hum. It was all Systa could do to stop her mouth from twitching into a smile. It was all so ridiculous!

“I…I…see….grass.”

Oh, grass, how predictable, Systa thought. Let’s see if she sees bison too.

“Mountains in the distance,” Gríð gasped and began to shake from side to side. “I see you on the ground, grass under your head. You’re smiling, free in the safe lands,” Gríð shuddered one last time and laid her hands on Systa’s shoulders reassuringly. “You will die free on the plains, a red sunset in the distance and the clear sky above you.”

Skógi looked at Systa. Her face was completely emotionless. She stood up thanked Gríð and bowed before she left the yurt. Several goblins waited outside, ready to take it apart.

“Well?” Skógi asked. He seemed far more relieved that Systa did.

“She knows how to listen, I’ll give her that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, please Skógi. Everyone knows I hate having a roof over my head. It’s not hard for her to figure out. She just told me the what she thought I wanted to hear.”

“Systa? What are you doing here?” Ótama walked up to them, her bison behind her. “I thought you had left with the first group?”

Skógi watched nervously while Systa effortlessly lied to her sister’s face. “He wanted me to leave with the last group.”

“I could have sworn he—”

“Ótama,” Systa laughed again “Just go! I’ll be right behind you.”

Ótama nodded and mounted her bison.

“Right behind me?”

“Right behind you,” Systa repeated. She smiled to reassure her.

Skógi shook his head as soon as Ótama had ridden off with the rest of her riders. The goblins who had already packed their yurts followed her.

“I don’t know how you can do that, lie to her so easily,” he said as he followed Systa to her bison.

“If she knew what I wanted to do she would try to stop me or kill me.”

I should be trying to stop you.”

Systa laughed again as she mounted her bison. Skógi crouched on the saddle behind her. “You wouldn’t stop me. You love me too much.”

“And you never let me forget it,” Skógi grumbled.

Before Systa could leave the camp towards the mountains, Skógi caught her attention one last time.

“Are you sure about this, Systa?”

“Don’t worry, Gríð did say I would die on the plains.”

“You don’t even believe Gríð’s predictions.”

“I wasn’t the one who wanted to see her, remember? I can’t believe you trust her silly acts. She chews far too much honey root, shakes a little and then tells people what they want to hear. Only the spirits know the future, and if she does talk to the spirits I’m not sure the good ones are talking to her.”

“Systa, you don’t have to go. What about Ulf? You’re his most loyal warrior, what about Ótama? She won’t be loyal to Ulf if you die.”

“Bah, I’m sure she can find a stubborn short goblin somewhere to replace me.”

“Don’t joke with me Systa. What if you die? This is serious.”

For a brief moment Systa’s smile dropped into a serious frown and she turned in the saddle to face him.

“I know that Skógi, and I think it’s worth it. We didn’t catch enough dwarfs. Three of them won’t infect the city fast enough, I want to make sure it’s all worth it. Ulf will be king of the goblins one day. If I have to, I’ll die to make that happen.”

As they rode away, Skógi looked towards the horison where he knew a few lone tribes were camped. All of them knew of Ulf, and of his plans, but none of them had believed it possible and they had decided to remain in their own tribes. In a cruel way it seemed fitting that the tribes who refused to be part of Ulf’s vision for the goblins should be sacrificed as decoys.

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