Sylilin closed his eyes, turned toward the white sky, and gave all indications that he was listening as he felt the snowflakes drifting past his face.
“He knows I am here,” the seer continued. “He killed Vatan but let me live so that I could come find you. To give you reason to pick up Ragnarok once again.”
“Why did he wait this long?”
“You needed time…to become the perfect warrior.”
“Of the clan of Winter Warriors.”
“Yes. I told you this at our last meeting. You were the prince of the clan. Every generation, the prince of the clan is destined to kill his father, mother, and wife. The power of Ragnarok needs feeding. Every generation, the prince aims to become the perfect warrior. But something had been missing for centuries. Namely, a scroll that was stolen long ago by the bastard clan of the Winter Warriors.”
Sylilin was actually only half-listening. Tavata had told him years ago that the Winter Warriors were a clan blessed with superior battle skills. But if a people only lived for violence, wouldn’t that make them cursed?
“Jusantae is part of that clan,” said Tavata. “In fact, just as you are the sole survivor of the head clan, he is the sole survivor of the bastard clan. He is a frightening man. When I met him that night in the woods…I felt his bottomless sorrow and hatred. No one should have to carry something like that with them. Then he took my only family away from me, and all I’ve wanted since that night is for him to burn in hell!”
The seer was shaking now. Either from the cold or from his anger, Sylilin couldn’t be sure. Perhaps both.
He didn’t bother to tell the blind man to go on. Tavata would continue when he was ready.
“Centuries ago, a Winter Warrior married outside the clan. This spawned a bastard clan, children of impure breeding. The head clan eventually banished the bastard clan, exiling them from the ancestral lands of the Winter Warriors. In resentment, the bastard clan stole the Scroll of Salainin and kept it hidden. The scroll held the secret to becoming the perfect warrior. No one but the royal family is allowed to read its contents. The clan member who married outside the clan was from the royal family. The bastard clan tried to steal Ragnarok as well but failed. After that, the closest blood relation was chosen to become the new royal family for the head clan.
“When Jusantae was still a child, he witnessed the most horrible of human acts: genocide. To retrieve the scroll, the head clan found the bastard clan and slaughtered all its members save one. It was no battle, for the head clan had greater numbers and Ragnarok. They left Jusantae alive, for they couldn’t bring themselves to kill the direct descendant of the original royal family. At the end, they were unable to find the scroll. The young Jusantae would not say a word. The head clan could not tell whether he knew or not.
“After growing into a man, Jusantae only wanted two things: to become the perfect warrior and the genocide of the head clan. He met your father.”
When Sylilin heard the word “father,” the first person he thought of was the man who had raised him. The second person was actually Jusantae, the man who had taught him to be a warrior. Somewhere in the shadows he tried to visualize the man who had given birth to him, a man he had never seen. He saw no one.
“By that time, your father already knew that he was destined to kill his parents and his wife, your mother. Ragnarok’s demons had already possessed him. You cannot imagine how much precious blood has been spilled by that blade. Patricide. Matricide. Uxoricide. Jusantae approached him secretly and told him that he would give him the Scroll of Salainin if he massacred the head clan. Your father’s first reaction was to threaten Jusantae, but there were two reasons your father did not: He knew that the entire head clan had failed to find the scroll years ago even after slaughtering nearly every member of the bastard clan, and he was unsure whether or not he could actually best Jusantae in one-on-one combat…even with Ragnarok. Jusantae’s mastery of the Winter Warriors’ ancient language, Kieligo, had let him thoroughly read the scroll and learn all the secret techniques of the clan.
“Driven by Ragnarok’s bloodlust and the prospect of acquiring even more power through the scroll, your father did what Jusantae told him. With Ragnarok, he was unstoppable. Your mother sent your cousin to take you to safety. Holding you, the prince of the head clan, in his arms, your cousin miraculously escaped the battlefield unscathed. It was as if your father didn’t want you harmed.
“After your cousin reached Elvsgy, Jusantae caught up to him and slew him, leaving you alive next to the river and destroying all traces of anyone else having been near the frozen river. Your father, after realizing what he had done, went mad and took his own life. With no one left to guard Ragnarok, Jusantate took it for his own. Somehow, you are a crucial part in his becoming a perfect warrior. I don’t know how. Even he seems confused.”
Sylilin stared at the blind man. Somehow, he felt as if Tavata could see him. He pitied Tavata for being able to see such things. His hand felt empty. He was prepared to do what was necessary.
“You said that Jusantae is the sole reason I have ever experienced love and pain.”
“The love you experienced in Elvsgy was nothing that the Winter Warriors could’ve given you. They are a clan born to fight, not to love.”
Tavata collapsed to the ground. At first, Sylilin thought the old man had fainted, but his legs must’ve given out on him. Kneeling on one knee next to him, Sylilin supported the frail man in his arms and said, “You are also carrying immense sorrow and hatred with you.”
“Yes,” Tavata admitted, nodding his head as if ashamed of himself.
“The bandits are also Jusantae’s doing.”
“Yes. He is waiting for you. He should be in the village by now.” He lay back as if he were closing the eyes that he didn’t have, obviously thinking about his grandson. Tears streamed from those empty sockets.
Sylilin wanted to apologize for Tavata’s grandson, but the time for words had passed. He nodded and got to his feet, walking toward the wood. He knew what he had to do. At long last, he now knew what he had been waiting for all these years. Now, he could finally reach out to the calling of Ragnarok.
He could’ve walked to the burial spot with his eyes closed. He could feel Ragnarok. The snow melted where the Sword of Enders was buried. The blade, rising up as if to meet him, was glowing red, as on the night he had killed his foster parents and Raskaea. It was a long broad sword. Sylilin had never noticed before, but the sword made him look smaller. He was a tall man, but he was also lean.
As he curled his fingers around the hilt, the exhilaration that coursed through him made him cry out in painful pleasure. He felt like a man who had barely survived a snowstorm and had been thrown without warning into a volcanic hot spring. Sylilin could already feel Ragnarok extending its control over him, clouding his mind. He would remain in control for long enough, though.
On the walk down to the village, he wanted to laugh about becoming a perfect warrior. Perfection could only be achieved with the meeting of two princes from different clans of the same origin? He did not consider himself a Winter Warrior. He had grown up in Elvsgy. Then he remembered that he had always felt a calling to become a swordsman. It had been the beginning of this nightmare. He had been unable to deny his blood. Sylilin was tired. He just wanted this to end.
And it would.