“You’re ogling again.”

Fiel straightened up quickly.

“No I wasn’t,” he lied.

Erland and Geirholf chuckled from across the small table. “I wasn’t!” the young norn insisted.

Erland shook his head with a knowing smirk.

“You’re still stroking at your tankard as if it was a maiden’s waist.”

Fiel looked down. He was.

“Shut up. I’m not,” he retorted as he quickly brought it to his lips, and promptly proceeded to nearly choke himself by inhaling the ale too fast. He pinched his eyes shut and forced the liquid down his gullet. It hurt like hell, but at least he managed to not spit it out.

He slammed the empty tankard down on the table, doing his best to suppress his cough and ignore the single painful tear that ran down his cheek.

Erland and Geirholf had the decency to laugh at him discreetly, at least. But not Arnlaug. He was roaring, pounding on the table and making their utensils clink and shake.

“Atta boy, Fiel!” he bellowed, slapping his little cousin on the back and giving him a good shake. “Not a hair on his chin and he’s already thinking about girls!”, he added with a mocking grin a rough pinch on Fiel cheek.

“Not so loud!”, he begged, slapping his paw off his cheek and throwing a quick glance at the group a few tables over.

Lulla was there, with her own group of friends. She was pretty. Beautiful, even, especially when she laughed like that, with her braids bouncing on her back like russet ropes. She was a gifted huntress, fast and agile like Snow Leopard herself. She was also gifted in a couple other departments he was not going to mention in the presence of his cousins.

Thankfully, she did not hear them, or more importantly, saw him make a complete ass of himself.

“And I do have hair on my chin, by the way,” he hissed, scratching at his jaw. It was technically true. But one would hardly consider the scruff that struggled to grow on his face “hair”.

“Did you talk to her?” Geirholf asked in a hushed tone.

“I… well….”

He dared peek at her once more. She was chugging down her drink, racing against one of her friends while the others cheered them on –and won, obviously. She was even better than him at that.

“She’s kinda out of my league…” he said with a wistful sigh.

“What?! Nonsense!” Arnlaug frowned. He had lowered his voice a tad, for which Fiel was thankful, but he was still loud. Louder than a rutting dolyak, he thought. He kept that comment to himself.

Maybe if you’d man up, and go talk to her, instead of sitting on your ass, scratching pictures in planks of wood all day long like a mangy grawl, she’d deign looking in your direction!”

“Arnlaug… no need to insult him,” Erland gently interjected. Five whole years younger than Arnlaug, yet he was the one that seemed to have inherited all the wisdom of the fraternal line. “He’s right though, Fiel. A girl like that… she runs through the hills after deer and moas all day long. You got to do something a little more… productive with your time.”

Fiel scoffed. He wouldn’t exactly call his artistic aspirations “unproductive“, but… they were right about one thing: Lulla only hanged out with other hunters. And brawlers. And people who enjoyed wrestling with bears and minotaurs just for the fun of it. Not exactly his crowd…

The young norn slumped down into his arms, face down on the table. Defeated. Just one more argument against his chances of catching her eye. Right now, he was about as likely to end up with her as Arnlaug was to bathe several times a week.

“Come on, Fiel…” Geirholf reached over to give him a comforting slap on the shoulder. “Don’t give up just yet. All you need is, ah…” he sloshed his mug about, searching for inspiration, “… some sort of brave feat. Something to show her you’re not a complete wimp.”

Fiel glared at him from over his elbow.

“Hey, don’t look at me like that,” Geirholf continued with a smirk. “I’m not the one sighing and moaning into a mug.”

Fiel really hated his cousins, sometimes.

“Yeah… I would hate to count among my family some skinny paint-tosser who shrinks at the thought of talking to a girl…”

And he really hated Arnlaug the most.

“Yeah, well at least I’m a skinny paint-tosser who doesn’t smell like a dolyak pen!”

Fiel regretted those words as soon as they escaped his lips, ans knowing what was coming next did not mitigate the experience in the slightest.

Once again, Arnlaug’s arm, thick like a tree trunk, came wrapping around his head, imprisoning his face within the close proximity of his cousin’s pungent armpit. Holding his breath would not help, he was going to keep him there forever.

“A DOLYAK PEN, EH?? HOW WOULD YOU EVEN KNOW?!” He was laughing, Geirholf was laughing, and even Erland couldn’t help snickering.

“LET ME GO!!” Spirits. Stale sweat, perspired booze, and something akin to goat cheese. That’s what he was smelling.

“YOU BETTER MAKE ME, WIMP!!”

O, sweet Raven. O, swift Snow Leopard. Fiel felt like he was going to pass out from the smell alone.

She was going to see him like that. There was no way the whole hall wasn’t staring at him, with his face buried in the stinky nook of his cousin’s arm.

“FINE!! I’LL DO IT!” he coughed out.

Arnlaug tilted his head. “Do what, now?”

“I’ll… I’ll do something… something brave!”

Fiel was released, and he resisted the urge of splashing what was left of the ale cask onto his face to wash away the sweat.

Now, we’re talking!” Arnlaug chuckled.

“But what should we set our little Fiel out to accomplish?” Geirholf mused.

“How about a good hunt?” Erland suggested. “There’s that one big drake swimming near–“

“Nonono…” Arnlaug interrupted. “A little water lizard won’t do! Look around you!” The big norn with questionable hygiene swooped his arm around, indicating the festivities still going strong around them. “Not four days ago, a group of nobodies killed the Dragonspawn! The. DRAGONSPAWN. We are still celebrating today!”

Indeed. Four days prior, a group, calling themselves “Destiny’s Edge” –a ragtag band composed of a human, two asura, one charr, one of those mysterious plant people from the jungle, and having the norn woman Eir as their leader– hunted down and destroyed Jormag’s strongest champion, Hoelbrak’s scourge: the Dragonspawn.

The monster was no more, and all of Hoelbrak had been celebrating ever since. Fiel had nearly forgotten. It wouldn’t be surprising that, three days into uninterrupted drinking, singing, and playful brawling, most of the people there had also forgotten what the party was originally about.

“A bloody drake is not going to impress anyone right now!” he continued, “we need something more… impressive.”

Erland frowned, setting his mug down.

“What do you have in mind?” he asked, with a tone that suggested he already knew the answer, and didn’t like it.

Armlaug leaned closer. “I mean… we go after Jormag.”

His brothers scoffed and groaned.

“Arnlaug!”

“Arnlaug. The fang has not been scratched yet,” Erland reminded. “We’re not trying to get him killed.”

“WHO CARES ABOUT THE BLOODY FANG?!”

All around them, the cheerful buzzing died down a little. Arnlaug was huffing.

“You know what this celebration is about? We’re celebrating how complacent we’ve become.”

He stood up, and suddenly the conversation was no longer among brothers and cousin, but a speech aimed at all present.

“How come they managed such a feat? Have we all become so weak, so lazy, so stupid that we couldn’t figure out a similar strategy? A similar sense of cooperation? Of ingenuity?” He stepped on his chair then onto the table. “Are we only muscle and bone? Do we not also have brains and cunning?!”

Fiel was watching all happen, mesmerized. Arnlaug was a brutish, unwashed bear of a man on a good day, yet there were times like those, where his charisma would shine through the grime.

He paused dramatically, scanning the suddenly captivated crowd.

“Do we not have warriors?” Several norn raised their cups. “Do we not have mages?” A few more cheers joined the first ones. “Do we not have engineers and inventors?” This whole section of the Great Hall was now electric with rousing fervor.

“Sure, Eir did not break the fang. But does that mean we cannot spit in the dragon’s face by taking back the land the Dragonspawn stole from us?” The drunken crowd booed and roared insults aimed at the ice dragon. “Then what do you say, cousin? Should we set out and go hunt icebrood?”

Fiel stiffened. The attention had suddenly shifted to him. He looked around. Some were still looking at Arnlaug, who was looking down at him from his perch, hands on his hips, while the rest of them all were looking at him.

Even Lulla.

Lulla was looking at him, waiting.

Erland whispered. He was frowning. He disapproved. “Fiel…”

Too late.

“Y-yeah! LET’S GO HUNT SOME ICEBROOD!!” he sputtered out.

All around him the crowd cheered. Even Lulla. Especially Lulla.

“THEN ARM YOURSELVES, WARRIORS! ARM YOURSELVES, MAGES AND CLEVER TINKERERS! LET’S TAKE BACK OUR LAND!

The air was filled with the sounds of warrior cries, stomping feet and slamming mugs, fierce cheering and bloody promises.

Fiel was smiling. Lulla was smiling too, smiling at him.

He did not see the grim expression on Erland’s face.

Author BluJ
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