B.3 Chapter 40: Festivities
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James watched with anticipation as Dimitri downed the cup of liquor. The shipmaster frowned and furrowed his brow, obviously tasting it. After a bit, he looked down at Bjorn. “I need another to confirm.”


“That’s your second one!” The dwarf exclaimed angrily. “You’ll drink the whole keg at this rate!” Bjorn slapped the barrel nearby to prove the point. “Now tell us, is it too strong or too watered down?”


Dimitri sighed and set his cup down. “It’s… good? I can definitely tell it’s watered down, but it’s enough to give me a buzz.” The shipmaster raised his palm at a horizontal angle, the universal symbol for ‘meh’.


“So It should be stronger, I guess,” James commented.


“I knew it!” Bjorn exclaimed. “I told you we shouldn’t have watered it down!”


“Why am I being blamed for this? Faust was the alcohol expert!”


“You’re relying on the words of a man who was only alive hundreds of years ago!” Bjorn pointed out.


‘Tell that dwarf his liquid fuel was enough to make me nearly vomit in the ethereal plane,’ Faust shot back.


James frowned at that. ‘Faust, I don’t think you know how liquor works. It’s supposed to be strong and burn like hell.’


‘Alcohol should taste fruitful and elegant. You should be able to appreciate the labor that went into it.’


‘Did… Did you only drink wine in your days?’


Bjorn seemed to catch onto the conversation, as his eyes narrowed towards James.


“What’s that spirit saying about me?” The dwarf asked in a hostile tone.


“It’s nothing,” James quickly responded. The last thing he needed was another argument between the two ‘experts’. Faust had convinced James and Bjorn that he was well versed in the tasting and drinking of alcohol during his days in Cyrus’ Legion. What Faust failed to reveal was that he used to be a complete lightweight and drank only wines.


The dwarf and the spirit already had their spats in the past weeks, with James being the unfortunate middleman in all of their conversations. Still, in the end, they churned out three barrels of beer and one of liquor. With what little they had, it was a miracle these barrels were here. While Bjorn was still upset that they had to water them down, it was partly done in the name of safety. James had found out quickly that dwarves had a much higher alcohol resistance and were the natural heavyweights in drinking. Natural lightweights went to the elves, as proven from Archibald’s test drink from last week. The elf was still suffering a hangover from the shot of liquor Bjorn gave him.


Days of testing and drinking had led to ‘Bjorn’s Liquors and Beers’, a brand name the dwarf thought up for himself. James didn’t dispute it. It was simple, traditional, and devoid of any association with his clan.


“Well, it’s better than the crap they give in Vindis, so it’ll definitely sell better,” Dimitri pointed out. “Although, I am worried about the lack of barrels. It’ll sell out quick and you’ll be left with addicted drunkards wanting for more.”


“That’s the idea,” James revealed. “Create enough demand and people will pay anything. Once the barrels are out there, all we’ll have to do is wait and make more.”

Dimitri raised an eyebrow. “Angering drunks doesn’t sound too wise, but then again, you are already competing in a crowded and dangerous market.”


“Aye, it’s perfect.” Bjorn nodded. James wasn’t sure if the dwarf truly was in it for the business model. He had a sneaking suspicion that the dwarf reveled in conflict rather than success. Despite this, James couldn’t really complain. The mercenary was the business’ heart and soul. Without him, James really didn’t know what to do.


That is, until he got the exact science of brewing down. The dwarf had a talent in it, and he wasn’t sharing any knowledge. “Anyway, how long until we’re heading out?” James asked.


Draugr’s Haunt and Frostbite need to be cleaned, but we can take one of the spare longboats. As for the crew, they’re ready whenever you are, if this is really all you’re taking.” Dimitri gestured to the barrels.


“It’s everything,” James confirmed.


“Then I’ll get the men. You and Bjorn sit tight while I do so.”


The shipmaster turned and headed off, leaving the dwarf and Jarl by themselves.


“It’s a bit of a shame we can’t save this for Midsommar tomorrow,” James sighed as he patted the barrel.


“That’s tomorrow?” Bjorn’s expression turned to instant surprise.


“Yes? We’ve been setting it up this last week?” James gestured to the harbor. Aside from the merchants and traders, Yorktown citizens were walking around with baskets of flowers and stands covered in decorative garbs. “People have been preparing for it. Hell, I even had a meeting about it yesterday.”


“Damn. I’ve been so focused on the brewing that I must’ve missed it,” Bjorn muttered. James felt a pang of guilt at hearing that. The young clan leader had pushed the dwarf to churn out the barrels soon, specifically, before the festivities began. Bjorn was even developing dark bags under his eyes, his face pale and his beard frayed at the ends. James didn’t think it would push him so far.


“If you want, we could save the barrels for the festival,” James offered. “Relax a bit and enjoy ourselves.”


Bjorn shook his head. “Nah, it’s fine. We need to get this business started as soon as possible.” He grinned. “Besides, when’s a better time to sell than midsommar? Drunks will pay valdoras for this stuff, just you see.”


“Can’t wait.” James returned the gesture.




The blond man turned to the sound of his name, his eyebrow raising at the sight of Dahlia. “What is it?”


“It’s the orcs,” she answered once she got close enough for privacy.


“Don’t tell me, Horuk?” James asked.


“What do you think?” The shaman sighed. “Of course, he only wants to talk to you, although I basically already run half this town.”


“Dammit,” James cursed. He knew it was far from a simple problem. Ever since Horuk and his orcs came to the island, they had been arguing.


James had given them the northern side of the island, an isolated beach and fresh woods not too far from Harald’s old hut. There they had built and reformed their old camp, using the fresh game around the island to feed themselves and the resources to build. For the first couple of weeks, they were fine. However, problems arose when the orcs grew bored with hunting wolves and deer.


Horuk wanted to hunt down beasts with his orcs. James had initially been fine with it until he realized it meant the orcs were going to head into foreign territory to hunt their prey. He had to carefully explain why it was a bad idea to potentially go into conflict with other clans. The problem was solved when James allowed Horuk and his orcs to hunt their prey anywhere south and east of the island, away from any territorial waters.


James had tried to keep them busy, mainly by having them go on long hunts and going on bandit patrol. Yet even that was reaching its limit. To talk with the orc would take a significant amount of his day. James turned to Bjorn, who awaited curiously. The beer needed to be taken to Vindis today. Taking it tomorrow would cut it too short. As James contemplated delaying the business run, his eyes caught a couple of guards walking past. An idea clicked in his head.


“Seamus!” James called out to the young man, who instantly tensed up at his voice. Seamus turned around to meet James, a look of uncertainty on his face. “Do you mind doing me a favor?” James asked as he stepped up to the young man.


“I hope it doesn’t involve the festival. I’m already tired enough to help prepare for it.”


“It’s not that. Well, not exactly,” James admitted. “Bjorn needs to deliver the alcohol to the Thieves Guild. I have to deal with Horuk and the orcs.”


Seamus narrowed his gaze. “Can’t Dahlia go in my stead? I have guard duty to fulfill.”


“I need to help set up the rest of the festivities,” the shaman immediately spoke up.


“What about Harald? Or Helen?”


“Both are going to work on security,” James revealed.




“Do you really think he’ll be able to pull it off?” James asked. “Markov is familiar with you. He’ll know you’re my trusted emissary. Everyone else…” The blond man shrugged. “I’ll be honest. I don’t really trust them to not fuck it up somehow.”


Seamus sighed in response to James’ words. The young man seemed to ponder the offer for a moment, his fingers rubbing at his chin. He looked at Kate, who only crossed her arms.


“Go for it. Guard duty is almost over anyway.”


“Fine, I’ll go.” Seamus sighed.


“Thanks.” James grinned as he dug into his coin pouch. He brought out a valdora coin and some silver. “Here, for the gate and a room. Just in case you might need to stay overnight there.”


Seamus took the coins gingerly, tucking them into his own pouch. “You owe me one,” he muttered.


“You have no idea. You’re a lifesaver, Seamus.” James commented as he turned around. With that, the young clan leader left the harbor, heading his way to the outskirts of the town, where the woods met with the walls.





Gwenyth stepped into the new base of operations, her eyes scanning the interior. This one was much more spacious than that hideout the witch had used. Much less crowded and the open courtyard gave it some more flexibility.


“What is this place?” She asked.


“Used to be the town hall back when this city was but a few ships strapped together with rope and bridges,” Lydia explained.


“This is where Arthur’s been for the past couple of days?” The elf guessed. She had been out of the loop for a while now, ever since she was tasked with scouting duty for the week. She knew their base was moved, but wasn’t told where until today.


“He needed the space. Said that the Touka was too exposed,” Lydia revealed.


“Finally, something I can agree with him on.” Gwenyth chuckled as she stepped into the courtyard, where William fiddled with a spell circle. It looked like the herald was trying to adjust the communications totem, which was vital to establishing contact with the Lumen Kingdom. “Did we make contact with the council?” The elf pointed out the totem.


William raised his head in surprise. “Yeah, Arthur made contact some time ago.”


“What for?” Gwenyth prodded. This wasn’t something anyone could just casually do. Setting up communications was akin to casting a flare spell in the middle of Valenfrost. It required protection spells and enchantments. Even then, sending a message could very well catch the ire of nearby wizards or scryers. Whatever reason Arthur had for setting up this totem, it had to be vital.


“I needed to update the wizard on our situation,” Arthur’s voice called out from behind. Gwenyth turned around to meet the former apostle who had just walked into the courtyard.


“An update? What is there to update about? We still haven’t found the source.”


“We have a name and general location,” Arthur answered. “James Holter. Mid-twenties. His clan, White Raven, has been sighted in Vindis and other nearby islands. Judging from the rumors and sightings, he’s hiding somewhere around the southern edge of Valenfrost.”


“I already know this,” Gwenyth furrowed her brow. “Telling Alfred isn’t going to do anything but paint an accuser to this calamity. The source of the break is still unknown, and until we find out where it is, we cannot risk exposure.” Her words carried a sense of weight in them. If Lumen spies were found within Valenfrost, war could break out. It was a possibility that Gwenyth wanted to avoid, to steer clear of. If another conflict broke out, millions of lives were at stake.


Arthur sighed. “I apologize,” he muttered. The elf blinked in surprise. She wasn’t sure if she heard the man right.




“I’m sorry,” Arthur stated once more. “I wanted to inform Alfred of our progress, to make sure that he didn’t believe us to be dead. I should have waited for you to return before I did so. I’m sorry.” His words struck the elf like a splash of cold water. She didn’t know how to respond, as the former apostle never did anything close to empathy in the entire time she knew him.


“I… I accept?” She managed.


Arthur let out a sigh of relief. “Good to get that off my chest. Now let’s discuss what you brought for us.” As if nothing had happened, Arthur walked off into the building. Gwenyth stared for a moment before she shook her head in disbelief.


“Dammit,” she murmured as she followed behind.


“How was scouting?” Arthur asked.


“Miserable like usual. It’s hard not to get caught up in the filth of this city. At least Eilif seemed to enjoy himself.” Gwenyth recalled the immortal man who had been in his element the entire time. While the elf had to disguise herself the entire time and make sure her story stuck, the bounty hunter had kept himself in the shadows, sneaking between alleyways and watching.


“Where is he?”


“Currently? Following a lead.”


The lead she was talking about was the strange blind man she spotted during her scouting. He was young and looked homeless. Normally, she would disregard bums, but this man felt strange. There was a sense of familiarity in his blinded gaze and an aura about him. Gwenyth had sent Eilif to tail him and report on his findings. She would’ve gone herself, but she was busy tailing a well-known thief.


“Did you find anything new?”

“Other than the dealings with the Thieves Guild and the clan? Nothing.” While James had already visited the city a couple times this past month, there wasn’t much to conclude that he was doing anything insidious. In fact, it looked like the man was simply doing regular business with traders and merchants. The Thieves Guild and him were connected, but it didn’t look like they were buddy-buddy.


“Why don’t we confront him now?” Gwenyth asked suddenly. “We’ve been constantly watching and examining, yet you made no attempt to talk or take action.”


The elf had been wanting to discuss this for the longest time. While she could see the use of watching and making plans, there was no reason for Arthur to prolong action for a month.


“It’s not that simple.” Arthur said. “Until we figure out how deep his influence really goes, then we can—”


“Kill him?” Gwenyth cut him off. “You might as well do it quickly. Get it all over with.” She made sure to let Arthur know her disagreement. “Unless, of course, you’re having second thoughts, like any sane person.”


“There is a process.” Arthur stopped his walk and turned to the elf. “If his reach goes to other clans, that complicates things.”


“What do you mean?”


“We should not confront him blindly without understanding the consequences. Until we get a clear view of his influence, we cannot enact action.”


Gwenyth stared at him before she realized what the man was talking about. “You can’t kill him if he’s allied with other clans. Nor can you arrest him. It’ll bring their wrath if they find out.”


Arthur nodded at her response. “The last thing we need is every clan in Valenfrost turned against the Lumen Kingdom.”


“But how do you plan to seal this source if the only person who knows its location cannot be interrogated?”


“Simple. We tail him. When he returns to the city, you will follow behind.” Arthur gestured to the spell crystal that hung on Gwenyth’s neck.


“When you find where he lives, contact us. Lydia will scry your location and we’ll get a good idea where the source is.”





James took his breath as he finally arrived at the orc camp. He needed to build his stamina some more, the runs during training obviously not doing it for him anymore. The jog from the harbor to the camp was a brutal one. James had to go up steep inclines and run down rocky paths, making sure not to fall down on the way. While he had trouble with it all, Dahlia simply traversed it all like it was natural. The shaman didn’t even break a sweat the entire way, her short raven black hair still flowing naturally in the wind while James’ was soaked in sweat.


“You need to run more.” Dahlia chuckled playfully.


“Oh, fuck off…” James panted out. He still smiled, though, as he couldn’t really be upset with her. He took a few more breaths of the cool air before finally standing up straight. James focused on the camp ahead, which had orcs traversing to and from. Most were setting up their bonfires, their large cauldrons filled to the brim with boiling water.


“I guess they’re preparing dinner,” James pointed out as he began his walk to the camp.


“Silas should be in the main tent with Horuk.” Dahlia pointed out the large tent, which situated itself at the center of the camp. As the two made their way to the tent, they passed by the newly hired orcs. Almost all of them turned their focus on the pair, their expression a mix between surprise and joy. James was caught off-guard at their sudden mood. He was led to believe that these orcs were upset with him.


“Draugr!” One called out. The orc carried a huge silverhead fish, his firm hands keeping the feisty claws still. “Are you going to stay with us for tonight’s feast?”


“Feast?” James asked. “Isn’t midsommar tomorrow?”


The orc shook his head. “We don’t celebrate that here. Our traditions are different.”


“Different?” Before James could prod some more, another voice spoke up.


“We orcs celebrate our ancestors, specifically the ones that came from the southern continent.” It was Silas who explained it. The orc leader wore a garb made of animal hides and bones, his hair braided and neatly placed on his shoulder. He was accompanied by Horuk who wore something similar.


“I never knew about this,” James commented.


“It isn’t common knowledge and we like to keep it that way,” Horuk explained. “It is an orc-exclusive celebration, but we decided that perhaps we should have a certain human join us.” The orc pointed to James, who stood awkwardly.


“You called me here to feast with you guys?” James asked. It was a strange way of getting his attention but he couldn’t help but feel touched at the orc’s generosity.


“Silas vouched for you. Rightfully so, too. We may have had our differences with the location and all, but I am glad to call myself an ally of yours.” Horuk grinned as he pulled out a rucksack made of animal hide. It clanged and clamored as he set it on the ground.


“What is that?”


“A gift. To celebrate our alliance.”


James stepped up to the rucksack, his hand reaching down to untie it. He pulled at the twine and rope that held it together, watching as it loosened up to reveal the glint of steel. James slowly opened it, his eyes widening at the sight of steel plate and black fur. He picked up the breastplate, which shone beautifully in the campfire. The cuirass was in two parts, making it so that it was easier to move in. Fur was lined at the collar and shoulders, hanging off in the back and shoulders. As a whole, the torso piece was crude and looked like a mix between barbarian and knight armor.


The gauntlets looked to be made of the same quality, their steel mixed with thick gambeson. Fur also lined the wrists. The left gauntlet looked more exposed than the right, its palm lacking any protection. James could guess what it was for. The boots were made of hide and fur, but after feeling them, James soon found out that they had steel toe embedded.


“We got the idea from your earth boots,” Dahlia pointed out.


“You knew about this?” James asked.


“Call it a late birthday gift,” the shaman responded with a smile. “Put it on, see if it fits.” James stood up, his hands unclasping the cloak he wore over his tunic and breeches. He fitted the armor piece by piece, Dahlia assisting in the hard to reach places. In the end, James was wearing steel plate armor over his chest and forearms, his shoulders and boots covered in gambeson and fur.


It was partial, not entirely protecting his body, but that was the point. He could still move well without problem and he felt even more protected.


“Looking like a true Jarl!” Horuk guffawed.


“I don’t know what to say,” James awkwardly admitted. Truth be told, he was overflowing with excitement and joy, like a child on Christmas morning. As he examined the steel, James noted the runes etched into the edges of the armor. They were lifeless, however, devoid of any magic.


“What is this?” he asked.


“We were going to get Falrick to enchant them, but he needed some materials first. We’ll get it done tomorrow morning,” Dahlia revealed.


“When did you have to make this? How did you guys make this?” James asked.


“That knight from last frost, Gryff, had some good steel on him,” Silas began. “It would have been a shame to waste it, even with its damage. So we reforged it.” He gestured to himself and Horuk.


The other orc chuckled. “I have some experience smithing and forging, but even this was a challenge. I usually don’t make armor for humans.”


“This is Gryff’s?” James asked. It was a strange and morbid thought. This very gift was from the only man he had ever killed. He felt his left arm tingle at the memory. The smell of burnt flesh and unbearable cold. The blazing eye sockets. James shook his head and blinked. This wasn’t the time to think about it.


“As for the fur, that was the shaman’s touch. Wolf fur, taken from the beasts that live on the island,” Horuk mentioned. James touched at the black fur, his hand feeling through the pelt. It brought a strange sense of nostalgia to the blond man, reminding him of his brush with dire wolves during his first week in Valenfrost.


“There’s more.” Dahlia reached in the rucksack and brought out a sheathed blade, its guard and hilt was embroidered with carvings not unlike her ornamental dagger. James cautiously took it, his eyes examining the custom work done on it.


“Rockford made this one. Took some coin and convincing, but he pulled through quickly,” the shaman explained.


James unsheathed the sword, its steel blade and guard shining with runic engravings. Like the armor, it wasn’t enhanced with magic, but the blond man soon found out that most of it wasn’t for enchantment. He had learned enough to understand ‘godspeak’ at the minimal level. While he couldn’t read it all, he could catch the phrases ‘draugr’ and ‘frost’.


With the sword and armor, James kitted out for battle. Not alleyway skirmishes, no, but full-fledged battle.


“It isn’t a full set, but we plan to complete it when the money comes in,” Silas spoke up.


James waved him off. “There’s no need. It’s perfect.” While clearly homemade, James loved every bit of this set. During his entire time in Valenfrost, his armor had been a matter of gear foraged from armories and past battles. Gambeson, shoddy mail, partial leather armor. It had all been passed down and ruined by battle and time. Even his trusty short sword was a battle trophy from the marauders.


For the first time, he had something to call his own.


“Good! Then let us begin on the feast! We are cooking tasty leviathan for dinner!” Horuk exclaimed. As the orcs went off to prepare their feast, James felt Dahlia tug at his arm. The blond man didn’t hesitate to walk off to speak with her.


“Pretty sneaky of you, planning this behind my back,” James chuckled.


Dahlia smiled brightly, her hand brushing a short lock of hair away from her eyes. “Believe me, it was harder to keep Horuk’s mouth shut about the whole thing. How do you like your new armor?”


“I love it. Much warmer than my old gambeson and much more snug.” James flexed his body to show it off. “I can’t thank you enough for this.”


“You can thank me another time,” Dahlia laughed. “Right now, let us enjoy ourselves. No town problems, no business stress, none of that.” She gestured to the orcs, who were all setting up the long table for their large feast.


“I’d like that,” James breathed out in relief, a smile forming on his lips as he grabbed Dahlia’s hand.


With that, the Jarl and the shaman celebrated with the orcs, cementing their new alliance and prosperous future.







“The city is ripe.” Eli’s voice muttered from the corner of the room. Gustus watched from his seat, his hands currently sharpening the sword he kept on him. “Only two wizards occupy the city at the moment. One is currently handling the totems around the city, making sure they stay connected. The other is a simple bum in the silver district. Too weak and naïve to worry about.”


“Good. What of the lumen spies you’ve spotted earlier?”


“Not important. In fact, they seem keen on turning the other way.”


“Is that so?”


“At worst, they’re annoyances. I doubt they’d risk exposing themselves here just to stop you.”


“Good. The marauders at the Outpost Trig and Orestead are prepared. When will you be ready?”


“Tomorrow. Midsommar will be the one time where everyone here will lower their defenses. Once I get everything set up, I shall contact you.”


Gustus turned back to his weapon, which was now sharp enough to even cut through the thick air. He recalled the other night when Eli confronted that strange man in the mask. Hostile at first, the man in goggles assured Eli that he was a friend. It was strange to witness both men discuss and talk, leaving Gustus in the dark about it all. He wondered if he should tell Deimos about it, since Eli had opted to leave the strange man out of his report. The man in goggles had informed Eli where to strike and where to set up his spell circle. The insane part of it all, was the fact that the spellcaster agreed so quickly.


‘Just what the hel is happening?’ Gustus thought to himself.


“Gustus.” Eli suddenly called out.


The marauder tensed up. “Yes, Eli?”


“Prepare yourself for another patrol. We have a wizard to visit.”