Einar sat back on his haunches, elbows resting on his knees. The view from his perch on the scorched black hill showed him a valley of the dead. Heat rose in soft waves from open bodies, turning the cold air foggy. Even the rain took on a red glint as it crossed the warm front. His head swayed back and forth on his long neck.

“And for what was this done?” Einar asked the air.

“Blood feud,” the androgynous wind hissed behind him. “Wergild unpaid.”

Einar stood, his tall body stretching out. His limbs and neck were unnaturally long. Darkness pushed through nearly translucent skin, giving him an incandescent-ashen appearance. Incandescent red veining began at his narrow waist, wrapping undiscernible patterns up his broad back, over his shoulders and around his heart, up the sides of his neck and head. Smaller, more intricate veining wound up his jaw, over cheekbones, truncating at the outside of blank, white eyes.

Just as Idun, Einar was born into slavery. His was of a different kind. His ears were his branding, ears that were too long at the top and had chunks removed as if a rat had made a meal of them in the night. He could change form, and often did in the presence of humans, but he could never hide his demarcation.

“What has this to do with me?” Einar asked the air.

The air pressure changed sharply and Einar shivered.

“There are others,” said the wind.

The air in front of Einar moved, mini-cyclones distorting the scene before him to show him something new. The ice country. Ísigstān castle. Two figures.

“The king,” the wind whispered. “And the slave.”

Einar contemplated the scene before him. An old, haggard king, with white skin and whiter hair and eyes as black as coal, so insecure he wore his crown in his own bedchamber. He squirmed and thrashed atop a young, painfully thin woman. She stared out at nothing with dead eyes. Her muscles looked stiff with the attempt not to move, not to push the elderly king away. Her silver-white hair spread around her head like a fan, the ends dipped in black. A scar ran along her face, from cheek to cheek, right across the bridge of her nose.

Einar touched the ragged edge of one long ear, not even noticing the motion until the wind laughed from behind him. He brought his hand slowly around to the front of his neck, scratching just below the chin. He dropped his hand to his side and cocked his head.

“Let the feud end here,” Einar said, motioning to the valley below.

“It will not,” hissed the wind. “It cannot.”

“Then find another. This is beneath me.”

More laughter at this. Laughter that started at one shoulder and blew to the other. He felt the wind become solid enough to touch his face with threatening fingers. Then nothing.

“Nothing is beneath you. Go to the slave. Take her to the eard-stapa wiga.”

Einar looked over sharply, trying to pin the voice with his gaze. It was a useless movement. The wandering warrior. Einar spat at the thought.

“You’d have me run in circles. For what? Kill them both and be done with this.”

No!” the wind picked up to a whistling scream with the word, then almost as suddenly, it died. The quiet unnerved Einar. “The slave must kill the king. After, can the slave be killed.”

Einar’s chest tightened, the muscles in his mid back locking up in preparation for swift movement. He breathed deep, commanding his body to relax.

“Send another,” Einar said through clenched teeth. His lips peeled back from his teeth, the upper right corner turning into a snarl.

The wind screamed. It howled. It spun down the hill, picking up the dead and throwing them aside. Einar watched this tantrum with a smile. In the end, he would do as he was bid. He would be given no reason. He was never given a reason. But defiance was irresistible. Even considering the punishment to follow. So, he watched and smiled and enjoyed the whirlwind of corpses.

He would go to the slave.

He would take her to the eard-stapa wiga.

And once she killed the king, he would wash his hands of her.

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