Darkness had settled in the corners of her family’s grand hall, darkness only held back by the glow of embers half-awake in an open fireplace at the centre. It was the heart of the hall, in some ways even the heart of her kin, and around it sat the people that made it beat. Worry pressed against the pit of her stomach as she studied her mother’s visage. Sigrid knew all to well what stirred underneath the matriarch’s mask of serenity.
“While it is true that he has accomplished more than I could have hoped for, the fact remains that he’s a changed man,” her mother was saying.
“I am well aware, he hasn’t been quite himself ever since the battle against the Trolls three months back. His memories may well have returned,” her uncle replied. “Regardless of who he is, he has proven his loyalty many times over.”
“I don’t think it’s a question of who anymore,” her younger brother added. “I don’t know him as well as Sigrid does,” he continued and gave her a pointed look. Which she blatantly ignored as he continued. “But I’ve seen berserkers before, and while the skull he’s been wearing is indeed that of a bear the rest of the bones are not.”
“”No? Then what are they?” Sigrid demanded.
Her brother looked away. “Human.”
They all fell into a spell of silence, interrupted only by the crackling sounds of the rekindled fire. Sigrid’s uncle had added more pinewood to the dying embers.
“Then there’s the colour of the runes covering his body. They’re not supposed to be red.” It was her brother who picked the conversation back up. “Even the Runesinger said she hasn’t seen anything like it before. It’s unnatural.”
“You speak as if though you’re afraid,” she jabbed at him verbally.
“Yes, we should all be. Without fear there cannot be courage, but courage without caution is a quick and reckless path to death. I will be honest and admit that I have never truly liked him, I mean he doesn’t even have a name! But this time I have good reason to want him gone.”
The fact they her brother spoke calmly and without any trace of anger in his voice galled her. She knew that it meant he’d thought things through quite carefully and wasn’t simply being resentful. That their mother had taken his side didn’t make things any better.
“I’ve seen it happen with berserkers, and you all know how that ends. They become more animal than human the more they lose themselves to the beast within. But he is not becoming animalistic.”
“Then wherein lies your unease, Eigil? He’s not a berserker to begin with,” their uncle pointed out.
“Think about it! Where have we seen his type of behaviour before?”
“I don’t see what you see,” Sigrid insisted.
He gave her a glance that said that she didn’t see because she didn’t want to see. That she was blinded by emotion. Her expression darkened.
“We’ve seen it before in trolls,” her brother almost whispered.