‘I force it away. The memory. The shame of it. The night he was brave, armed with nothing but himself. The night I sat there and did nothing. Like a coward.’
— Halden, “Force” They Come at Night
The kunai impales the side of the building with a heavy thunk and Lilja screams.
Sten falls to his ass, his fingers going to his throat.
“You’re bleeding,” Finnur says as my eyes dart to Sten’s throat.
It’s not bad—just a shallow cut.
I inch out, peering around the corner of the wooden structure at my left.
Have the Unikin infiltrated the garrison? Are we under attack? Have they really made it this far into the kingdom? Is it—?
Korik? What the fuck is he…?!
I step out from the wall in disbelief.
“Who is it?!” Erna demands, pushing through the others to get to my side.
She stops moving the moment she sees him.
“Dagrúnarson.” She says his surname like a curse. A name he wasn’t even given until the Ditchwater Massacre. A name that is his only because he has no other.
Because all orphans of the fledgling hall take the brood mother’s name for their own once they leave. Because it is her right—her gift—for forgoing all to raise us.
A name I should share with him but…
Korik Dagrúnarson doesn’t seem bothered at all by Erna’s tone. In fact, he seems unbothered by all of this.
“Look I’m sorry, Brynhildarson,” Korik says in half-hearted apology as he puts his hands up in a weak attempt at defense.
And then he makes one of the few mistakes I think I’ve ever seen him make. He takes his eyes off Sten to cast a look over his shoulder like he’s searching for a quick escape.
“I honestly didn’t think anyone would be out—“
And that’s when Sten decks him straight in the jaw and Kor goes down hard on his ass.
“Thought you could stick me like a fawn and then run like a coward huh?!” Sten rages at him.
Korik looks up at Sten from the dirt. His split lip already starting to paint his moon-pale skin a warm black in the dim light of evening.
“Run?” Kor questions.
And there’s something in the mocking way he spits out the word.
My gaze darts over the collection of kunai littering the dirt around my former roommate, the bottle of nearly empty mead slowly dripping into a patch of crabgrass.
No…could he really have been…?
I whip my head back toward the wooden wall.
Could he really have been throwing at something that far away… At night?
“Well, you should have slit my throat you fucking fawn, because now I’m going to end you!” Sten threatens as he raises his fist again.
I catch him by the arm a mere few inches before he drives his fist into Kor’s face.
“Wait!” I order through clenched teeth.
It’s taking everything in me just to hold him back.
How is he possibly this strong? Stars, no wonder he tossed Kor around like a sack doll in assessments.
“For what—him to try again?” Sten questions.
He yanks out of my hold easily. “I know you’ve got sympathy for fellow orphans, but this ditchwater piece of shit doesn’t deserve it. And it wouldn’t save him from a beating even if he did.”
My friend straightens to his full height and levels a glare at me. “‘Cause I don’t like you that much, Aníkuson. No one’s worth dying for.”
And yet Korik willingly put himself between you and that elder wurm.
I force it away. The memory. The shame of it. The night he was brave, armed with nothing but himself. The night I sat there and did nothing. Like a coward.
“Just look, you colossal idiot!” I shout at Sten. “If his aim was to assassinate you why would he show up with ten blades and a bottle of mead? Why more evidence than he could possibly cart off at a stealthy run?”
My friend just stares at me dumbly for far too long.
He didn’t even look. Didn’t notice them lying there. He just saw Korik and immediately chose violence.
Sten’s juniper-colored eyes drift to the collection of nine kunai and the now-empty bottle of mead before scanning the path back to the side of the building.
“There’s no fucking way he was out here throwing knives.”
“Kunai,” Kor interjects under his breath.
“And why’s that?” I question, giving Kor a side-long glance.
“Because it’s night and you can hardly see that wall from here. Let alone throw something at it,” Erna snorts.
“Yeah. And on top of that, he’s shit with a bow,” Sten reminds us as if anyone could have forgotten. “He couldn’t fire one to save his life.”
Sten is inching closer and closer to beating Korik to paste and what’s he doing? Licking the blood from his busted lip and staring at the star-filled sky like he hasn’t a care in the world.
And then I remember the empty bottle of mead and realize Kor is probably drunk.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Sten! He didn’t shoot an arrow at you, did he?”
Everyone—including Kor—looks at me like I might have just lost my damned mind.
“Fine,” Sten huffs. “If the Ditchwater Fawn really was out here throwing blades he won’t mind proving it.”
Will Korik be able to prove himself? Or will he fall short in front of Halden’s flight? And what exactly happened between the two of them in the last year?
Find out in the next episode of They Come at Night!