“The beginning?” Baltasar suggested.
Alvarsson was a bit more helpful. “With what you were doing to bring yourself in contact with the girl.”
Eirik inclined his head a fraction. “At the request of the Guild, I was in Joarsgard for last winter’s campaigns. We hadn’t a presence on the western front the winter before, and after a number of mages were lost on the way here for treatment, the Council lodged a complaint. The Guild directed me to provide treatment—”
“Excuse my interrupting,” Alvarsson said. “For the sake of clarity, I have to ask—by treatment you mean healing but not resurrections, correct?”
“Yes,” Eirik said through gritted teeth. That was a detail he’d been hoping to gloss over. “I was to provide treatment to mages and high-ranking members of the military. The first few months were very busy. You might remember that the western army had a rough time of it breaking the hiisi lines; the rumors were right for once.”
He waved a hand and a map appeared in the air beside him, slightly transparent, showing the area between the Heimdal and the and the Syderflod. Some two hundred fifty miles separated the western headwaters of each river, and a hundred more when they reached the sea. The space in between was occupied by a forest, vaguely liver-shaped, and a range of hills descending from the peaks of Hieran’s Wall to the west. Colored blocks chased each other around as Eirik spoke. “There was some back and forth after that, but by the new year the salients in the west and the east had come together.”
He let the map fade. “It was around that time that I encountered Anja Grevdarsdottir. The campaign had moved far enough away that I had little do to, compared to the earlier months of the winter. On the eighteenth day of the thirteenth month, a courier arrived at Joarsgard and told us of the draug at Jötunberg. Most of the mages had followed the army south, but we were able to find six—myself and five others—with the necessary skills to fight. We set out to the north—”
“Abandoning your post?” Alvarsson asked.
“Only in the very strictest sense. I hadn’t been sitting on my hands—thanks to the conjurers in Jötunberg, I was able to stockpile about a month’s worth of talismans of healing, and even after we left there were mages enough in Joarsgard who knew how to use them. In no way was I abandoning my responsibilities.”
Alvarsson nodded. “Go on.”
“We set out to the north, but before we reached Jötunberg we came across the sleigh of Grevdar Andersson der Danniksskraj himself. He had been heading for Joarsgard to find an aendemancer, and he had his daughter’s body with him. She had been killed by crossbow bolts here and here—” he indicated his shoulder and his stomach “—and, by my judgment, had been dead for almost a tenday at that point. Her father insisted I bring her back, even after I told him the price and gave him the usual warnings.”
“Which would those be?” Alvarsson said. “The usual warnings, that is.”
“That exposure to magic changes people, that she might not be the same as he remembered her, and after a tenday her spirit might be too far gone to find. I needn’t have worried about the last one. She was right there, and the conjurer with us concurred that we weren’t in any danger of losing her in the next day or so. Knowing the risks, I was still hesitant to start. I called the other mages together and asked their opinions; they unanimously agreed that, given that we had been going to fight a draug anyway, they could handle whatever the girl might become if I were to make a mistake.”
“Did you think so too?” Alvarsson asked.
“What do you think now?”
“I’m not so sure,” Eirik admitted. “At the time, though, it was obvious what I had to do. I had a father, mad with grief, begging me to save his daughter, and five solid mages to stand with me if things went wrong. I had to try.”