As Sigi walked towards the keep, the village took care of things to be tended at the bonfire tonight. Now that the remaining men had returned home, many of whom had served under Rothgard’s hand for decades, the funeral pyre and processions could proceed that evening. Sigi kept his eyes forward, determined. He had not lost several men to the Goron to return and find his promised fund depleted before him. He knew that if the council seized the house assets, he would surely be delayed from an army. He would have to go elsewhere to seek it, and by that time, the Goron could already be on top of the southern kingdoms.

His boots sludged in some mud as he made his way towards the keep, his hair draped to the sides of his face in a usual manner while he walked towards the great hall. As he walked past some of the guards sent by the council, he could see their eyes attempting to meet his. Some of the eyes widened as he passed them. He made his way to the door, and was immediately stopped by a guard. Sigi looked up at the guard, who looked back evenly.

“What business do you have here?” the guard addressed Sigi. Sigi brought his gaze to meet the guard, who appeared nearly as inert.

“Who commands you and the others here?” Sigi asked plainly.

“Warguard Thormvek,” the guard replied. Sigi’s eyes intensified, though his face maintained its shape. Thormvek led the council in their voice to throw out Sigi.

“I want to see him,” Sigi stated. The guard shook his head.

“He is not seeing anyone from the town, witch or otherwise, blackeyes,” the guard attempted at Sigi. Sigi stepped closer to the guard, whose hand dropped to the hilt of his sword, not drawing it out.

“I am not from the town, pup,” Sigi said between gritted teeth. “Tell him Sigi wants to see him.”

Another guard a bit off from the steps heard what he said, and his hand reflexively dropped to his hilt too, turning around and slowly stepping towards Sigi from behind. Sigi’s gaze shifted to over his shoulder, and the guard stopped, still keeping his eyes trained on him. He then looked at the guard blocking the entrance to the keep. He took a deep breath, and stepped back to where he was before.

“Now,” Sigi finished, crossing his arms in front of him. The guard holding the door looked at the other behind Sigi, and motioned for him to come up.

“Go tell the Warguard who wants to see him,” he stated quietly. The other proceeded inside, closing the door behind him. The door guard kept his fingers on the hilt of his sword, watching Sigi. He tapped his index finger in a steady rhythm. It was clear he wasn’t intimidated by Sigi, but it didn’t affect how Sigi stood, waiting patiently. A few moments later, the other returned, nodding at the doorguard. He moved to the side, and the escorting guard motioned for Sigi to come inside.

“You’ll have to leave that at the door,” the escort pointed at Sigi’s sword.

“No,” Sigi said flatly as he stepped into the door. The guard looked at Sigi a moment, sighed and then motioned for him to follow. They worked their way up a flight of stone steps, past the dinner hall, towards Lord Rothgard’s chamber. Sigi looked about quietly as he saw some of the guards walking around, looking in certain places for something. He made note of this as he was shown into the Lord’s chamber. He looked around and saw the Warguard sitting at the table, same as where Rothgard shared the breakfast with Sigi. Thromvek looked at Sigi with a weary disposition. After a moment, he took a breath.

“Have a seat,” Thromvek gestured to the chair. Sigi immediately shook his head.

“Would you care to tell me why you’re overseeing this, Thromvek?” Sigi shot the pointed question out. Thromvek looked back at Sigi. Thromvek was in decorated plate, as was customary for Warguards, decorated in runes and a cloak that draped off his shoulders. He was of a moderate build, and stood just an inch shorter than Sigi. His clean shaven face was framed by his light brown hair, his brown eyes unwavering as he looked at Sigi. He reached into the bowl on the table, grabbing a piece of fruit next to a loaf of half finished bread topped with white flour, playing with it in his hand.

“A trader headed back to town the day you left with the fifteen men,” Thromvek started. “When we caught word of that, and then word of Rothgard’s death, we came to investigate. We initially thought you were here to kill him. But when we learned he died from his old age, we began working on taking his estate to bring it into the fold of the Council.”

Sigi stepped a bit closer, the tension building with the closure of distance between them, even though they were still ten feet apart.

“So the thought was that I was thrown out of the council, out of the capitol, and your first thought is that I came here to kill a Lord of the southern kingdoms? I have seen more shit spewed out of a dog’s mouth when he tried to eat it, Thromvek. Tell me what you are here for.”

The statement angered Thromvek, who stood up and moved closer to Sigi. “Lord Rothgard had no heirs. You know the ways. Be careful of how you address me Sigi. Do it again, and I will ensure I have your hea–”

“Try,” Sigi interrupted.” Try to have my head.” Sigi stared fiercely at Thromvek for a few moments, before turning and walking around the room, looking at his possessions. After a few moments, Sigi spoke up again.

“Tell me what your men are looking for, Thromvek. They’re not good at concealing intentions,” he let linger as he ran his gloved hand over a shelf.

Thromvek paused a moment to regain his composure. “We found very little coin laying about, and his coffers are empty. We… thought he had more wealth than this.”

“Disappointed that you won’t be able to line the council pockets?” Sigi prodded. He looked back over his shoulder at Thromvek, before looking forward and continuing to look around the room passively. Sigi walked slowly, like a wolf circling prey. Thromvek eyed him. Sigi continued.

“I heard that a lot of the trade slowed down from the north,” Sigi explained. “Rothgard had his hand in a lot of the sea trading up the coast to the northern kingdoms. Apparently their trade diminished over time, to nothing. I would… hope… nothing has happened to them.”

“What, Sigi, your tales of the Goron?” Thromvek fired back.

“Tales?” Sigi stopped, turning to face Thromvek. “Care to venture a guess as to why I only came back with less than fifteen men? I can tell you that it wasn’t the clans, or a wild boar. Wasn’t your men, for certain.”

Thromvek edged forward. “You can be pretty persuasive, Sigi. Maybe you killed them off to set the rest of the men in line… killed them like your brother.”

Sigi reached for his sword, drawing it out. Thromvek held up his hand. “No, Sigi. You were already thrown from the capitol and off the council. Attacking–”

“Killing…” Sigi corrected.

“…a Warguard wouldn’t do anything for you. And the men, this entire keep, would be marked.”

Sigi gritted his teeth. Marking the keep would mean that any of its residents would have a much harder time surviving in the kingdoms, forced out and unable to trade.

“You would damn an entire village, Thromvek?” Sigi glared. Thromvek let his hand down.

“I wouldn’t. I can’t say the council wouldn’t either, however,” Thromvek stated. It had some truth, much to Sigi’s chagrin. The council seemed to be looking for any means to further dishonor Sigi. But he knew they understood his reason for coming here in the first place, despite the charade. Slowly, he brought his strap about and placed his sword back in it, securing it to his back once more.

“The bonfire is in a few hours, Sigi. I expect I’ll see you there?” Thromvek posed as he walked towards the door, opening it to dismiss Sigi. Sigi kept his black eyes fixed on Thromvek. After a few moments, he walked towards the door, but not before stopping short of it.

“I am curious,” Sigi said as he turned to Thromvek. “Why did you spearhead the motion to throw me out when I mentioned the Goron?”

A few of the guards outside stopped what they were doing, looking towards the open door. Thromvek looked at Sigi for a moment before turning to see the standstill guards. As the guards made eye contact with the Warguard, they resumed their duties. Thromvek turned back to Sigi.

“To prevent that,” Thromvek replied under his breath. “They have not been seen in ages.” As he said this, Sigi walked out the door.

“You’re worse off than my father, Thromvek,” he said as he walked down the hallway towards the outside. The Warguard stepped out into the hallway.

“And why is that?” he called after Sigi.

“You seem to have lost both of your eyes.”

Thromvek stared at the back of Sigi as he descended down the steps, a guard following him to ensure he left the building. He gritted this teeth momentarily, looking down as Sigi went out of sight, before returning inside the chambers. He called to a guard to come in, and they both continued looking in the chamber.

* * *

“…what?” Thom replied to Sigi. Hroth, Skelder, Telmar and Relman were all aside Sigi in the tavern as Sigi recounted the meeting with the Warguard. Thom was behind the bar, bent over it and listening. Sigi took another swig of ale. “How can they not…” Thom sighed and stood up, his face showing disbelief.

Telmar took a swig himself. “We’ve all seen them, and seen what a handful of them can do,” Telmar said, referring to the Goron.

“It’s obvious they knew you were coming here,” Relman said in almost a hollow fashion, still shaken from the encounter. “They wanted to seize the assets so you couldn’t do anything.”

The men stood around, some looking distant while others stared into their mugs. They were all at a loss. Sigi took one more swig, and lifted his head to look at the men around him.

“I am riding out after the bonfire tonight,” Sigi stated. “Between us, I am going to still see if I can gather men.”

“Without coin?” Thom said under his breath.

“Do I have a choice?” Sigi replied, looking at Thom. Thom looked at Sigi for a second, sneered at the situation and then took a swig himself.

“…I’ll go with you,” Relman spoke up. The others looked at him for a moment.

“Well, yes. I think we all are,” Hroth said in reaffirmation, looking at the men. They nodded once, as if it wasn’t even a thought.

“Oh…” Relman said, looking dumbfounded back at his mug. “It didn’t seem that obvious to me.”

Sigi nodded once, standing up and picking his sword up from leaning against the bar. “I have to go pay my respects before his body passes to the other side.” He got up to leave, the men watching him open and shut the door. In Thom’s mind, he saw Sigi entering from the snow, and chuckled once before taking another swig.

Sigi walked back towards the keep, to the hall where they had their banquet before setting off. The doors were open, and a few of the villagers were inside aside his body, which had been placed in the middle of the room atop a plank of wood with dowels for carrying him out. He rested upon wrought iron stands, a single candle at the head of the table. The light warded away any demons that might attempt to take over his body from within his head. As Sigi came in, the others present looked up and began to quietly, but hurriedly, leave the hall. Soon, he was alone. He came up to the left side of Rothgard, who had been dressed in his finest cloth, with his sword laid atop him pointing downward, his fingers laced around the hilt. Quietly, Sigi reminisced of the arguments between them, and a brief flash of a memory entered his mind, where he pulled Rothgard out of the way by his shoulder armor from the path of a careening boulder lit aflame, so many years past.

“You old fool,” Sigi said quietly, his voice resonating softly off of the stone walls in the hall, whose walls had been adorned with candles. “You should have held on a bit longer, I would have brought your proof.” Sigi looked over his body once. “May Valhalla receive him, for the blood that he has shed defending his honor.” Sigi took a deep breath, looked down at his left hand, and casually removed a ring bearing a crest of Rothgard and slipped it into his pocket.

“Goodbye, old friend,” Sigi said as he turned, departing the room just as the funeral procession members came in, ready to carry him to the bonfire that had been built in the center of the courtyard outside. Sigi came out to see that the night was fast approaching, but the smaller fires around the bonfire in the middle had been built. To a side sat Thom and the others. Sigi made his way over to him, unslinging the sword from his back as he sat down on a log that had been placed. Relman looked at Sigi briefly before looking ahead to those carrying out Lord Rothgard. Behind the procession walked Thromvek with a few of the guards. It was tradition to see a body off when another entity would be taking control of his possessions, to ensure his body did not pull its soul back together for unfinished business.

The men carrying him set him atop the kindling that had been prepared. A woman carried the candle that sat above him in the hall, setting it in the middle of a pocket that had been made in the kindling. Despite the wind, the candle flame held, and some of the wood began to catch fire, igniting the rest of it as the pyre began to torch quickly, slowly consuming Rothgard’s body. The villagers, and the men alongside Sigi, watched with pride as their Lord’s body moved into the next world, to be joined up with the soul that had departed it. The embers swirled into the sky as the flame roared. A few singers began chanting rites as the body left in flame. Content, Thromvek began moving forward and out of the funeral. Sigi watched him quietly. Thromvek did not return the gaze, but it was apparent that he knew Sigi watched. Eventually, he mounted up on his horse and began leaving the keep with other guards.

“They have been anxious to leave,” Thom leaned into Sigi. “My wife told me quite a bit.” Sigi nodded once. While they would say they had council business to attend, there was no doubt in Sigi’s mind that they didn’t want to be around if the Goron threat arrived early for some reason. But Sigi believed it would be some time before they moved this far south.

The fire danced in the eyes of those onlooking, some now beginning to talk about Rothgard. Statements of “I knew him when…” and “I saw when he…” began to fill the small crowd gathered. Music began to play by drums, and ale was being set in kegs. The celebration of his life would begin shortly, and it was at that point that Sigi stood up, slinging his sword and starting to head out. Some eyes followed him, but they returned to those they conversed with. The others stayed behind, indulging in ale, however lightly.

Sigi got to his horse, securing everything to it and mounting atop it, riding out the side gate and moving a bit down the hill before stopping his horse in the middle of the road, turning it around and looking at the keep that was north of him. One wouldn’t be able to tell if he gazed at the keep, or if he gazed north like he had many times before. He watched as the bonfire and surrounding campfire lit up the inside of the keep walls, the drums and crowd being heard from down below. Sigi took the time to clear his head and prepare for what may be the most difficult part of his own campaign: recruiting without gold. Time seemed to pass quickly as he watched the lights from the fires slowly dwindle, and the music stop. Before long, it was the dead of night, though the moon gave some semblance of the landscape above. Before long, he saw riders leaving the keep. As he watched them approach, he recognized each of them, except for one. A woman rode along with them. As Sigi eyed her, he saw it was Thom’s wife.

Thom rode up alongside the others to meet Sigi, repacked with fresh provisions and ready for the next leg of the trip. Sigi’s gaze was locked on Thom. Even though his hood had been pulled up, Thom knew.

“She insisted!” Thom said.

“Yer right by that,” she said. “Vrilda is my name. I’ll be coming along.” She said it matter-of-factly. Sigi replied in an equal tone.

“And what if we have to fight?” Sigi posed.

“Well, I’ll be checking to see if I killed more than you,” she replied curtly, a slight grin on her face. Sigi turned back to Thom, whose expression was a mix of apology and a grin.

“Sigi,?” Relmnan said, approaching his horse towards Sigi. Relman moved his cloak and on top of the horse sat two large satchels. Relman poked at them, and the sound of coin was heard. Sigi snapped his attention to Relman quickly.

“Where did you get that?” Sigi immediately questioned.

“Lord Rothgard told me where it was hid,” Relman explained. “There was a reason he wanted me to come along, and to see you back. In the event something happened to him, he told me to use my judgement and see if you were true to your word. And I cannot deny that.”

Skelder looked at Relman. “So he hid the gold and trusted you with it?” he asked.

“This is part of it, hopefully enough to recruit who you’re wanting to, Sigi,” Relman replied. Sigi nodded once, looking between Relman and the others.

“And none of you saw him load this up?” Sigi asked the gathered. They all looked at each other, dumbfounded as Relman looked at the tavern.

“Hm,” Sigi finished. “I bet you all didn’t think it was obvious.” Relman grinned a bit, and Thom chuckled while the others looked perturbed. Sigi turned his horse to the left.

“Where are we going?” Telmar asked.

“West,” Sigi replied. He started his horse off, galloping ahead. Telmar looked at the others.

“Well,” Hroth said, “We’re going west then.” He galloped off after Sigi. Relman shrugged at Thom, and they rode off, and the others fell in line behind them, the moon lighting their way west.