The woman was an idiot. That was the only explanation.
Veskur and Thea had been in constant communication for decades, the letters they shared so much shorter than they once had been but still providing Thea with a sense of completion that he otherwise lacked. Even after River and Veskur had fallen apart he had continued to hold them both in high esteem, speaking with both, trying to bridge the gap that loomed ever longer between them. River was polite enough in mixed company but when given the chance to speak his mind, he could wax for hours on Thea’s favorite subject.
“She’s a self-obsessed ninny,” River would say, lounging over his latest conquest. “She’s an idiot and she isn’t worthy of your time. She’s a coward who’s afraid to take anything except the misery that other people heap on her and who wouldn’t want to heap it on? She never fights back. She’s a simpleton playing at being a genius. There are better things our people might do and better people you should share your genius with.”
When Thea shared these insights with Veskur she said nothing.
“She’s a hateful, spiteful little witch and I hate her,” Endrall told him, the one time that the Prince of House Suwilo came by looking for information. “She’s a dryw. You can’t trust her. She never does anything for anyone unless she can hold that person in debt for the act. She lies and spreads rumors, she’s deceitful, and she hurts people without ever really thinking about it. She’s double-faced, double-edged, a monster and a monstrosity.”
Thea wanted to strangle him; instead, he smiled and waited for Endrall to go away.
Coeecian offenses reigned down from all over Midgard. Risue was of the opinion that Jesam the First had used Deeam’s ascent to the position of Njord to place his agents all throughout Midgard. Thea agreed with him but knew that agreement meant as little as Risue’s supposition – what had happened had already happened and Thea considered Risue a failure, a rank failure in his chosen arena. Still, others listened to him, paid him the respect that they should have saved for finer minds.
“We had wondered why the Coeecian front was quiet during our Njord’s ascent,” Risue droned on. “Now we know. Jesam the First used our relaxed guard to move his scouts into our lands without them drawing attention to themselves. Our intelligence informs us that they’re using some sort of trickery to communicate with one another at a distance, their number waiting for orders from their Skie warlord. What we need to do is find him but he’s been clever and gone into hiding.”
The supposedly greatest military minds of the age were quick to agree.
“It was a clever move,” Hekro muttered. “We expected some sort of large scale assault, the usual stupidity and reliance on brute force that the Coeecians are known for, not this low cunning. Our scouts are searching for them, but only Sotaas Ygg has beaten their methods, yet the means of the accomplishment remain unknown to us.”
“Have you asked him?”
“He refuses to share his secret.”
All eyes turned to Figo Jera and the gaurn on his left hand. His lips twitched, fine muscle tight on his body. Thea hated him, hated his collected presence and poseur confidence, hated the way that eyes that should have belonged only to him had once looked with such adoration at this simpleton.
Thea told none of them what he thought. Instead, he told Veskur, the same way he always had.
Jesam the First was striking throughout Midgard, small little bands of his barbarians striking quickly and fading away, the lightning of destruction followed by a slowly fading thunder. There seemed little that anyone could do to stop him. The Golden Champion herself could do little to stop these attacks and they quickly took a heavy toll on those who suffered them. A full half of House Wyrd was wiped out over the course of a single moon. Houses Verra and Ygg followed, nearly driven to extinction. Gebo, Hagalaz, and Ansu followed. Only Elhaz and Ehwaz were holding their own, the former too stubborn to die and the latter too difficult to find.
House Raido, ever the fastest journeymen among the Vanir, were pressed into service as messengers. They used their knowledge of the roads and their private Sciences to spread information across all of Midgard, to and from every Vanir noble. No one seemed to notice if one messenger or another rifled through the information that they carried; no one had time to do so.
It was in this manner that Thea learned almost all of what was going on in the world around him and came to understand more than almost any other living Vanir because there was no one – not even in his House – that could move so quickly as he.
The Vanir were being hammered into submission, only a few nobles holding their own against the tide of barbarism that threatened to wash them all of them away. There was Hekro Gherlid, of course, to the east. Figo Jera to the south. Sotaas Ygg wherever he felt like showing up, his appearances more random than the attacks of the Coeecians themselves and harder still to trace. Endrall Sahr seemed to be assuming more and more power as the other nobles panicked and fell by the wayside, his handsome features keeping the Vanir stable.
Veskur Wyrd stayed hidden in her keep, silent and moping. If only she had taken him as a lover… he would have propped her up, made her smile, given her the courage and the strength to go and fight the Coeecians as she had so many times before. He would have kept her from fracturing into the broken shell that she had become.
A rumor passed across Thea’s desk, a claim that Jesam had offered to give Midgard a chance to rebuild in exchange for some unknown thing. No matter how hard he looked, he could find no sign of what it was they were supposed to trade. He did, however, read a message from Endrall to Figo that spoke of it.
Don’t you dare do it, Endrall had written. Don’t you dare. I will never forgive you.
Figo wrote nothing back to the man who many now considered the Freya’s left hand.
Two of Veskur’s brothers were slain and the lady that another brother had been in love with, though at least her death had saved a handful of that House’s few surviving nobles.
“It’s a shame you weren’t among the dead,” Thea told the woman that should have belonged solely to him. “I understand why many people would want to kill your family and particularly you, but don’t worry – neither you nor your kin are worth that sort of attention. I mean, look at Endrall Sahr. He succeeded to the ultimate degree only once he was done with you. Perhaps the same will hold true for me. Anyone else would beg me to be with them but instead you, in all your insipidity, claim that you feel nothing for me. Liar. Fool. Charlatan. We would all be better if the Coeecians had taken your life instead of your kin’s.”
“Midgard would be a better place for my lack,” Veskur agreed with him.
It was the last message Thea would get from her before the entirety of Midgard fell apart.