This scene is more than just an excerpt from Dolor and Shadow. It is one of my favorite scenes and features Bergen in all his Bergen glory. May you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Dolor and Shadow – Chapter 39
The light of Alfheim’s moon gleamed brightly in the deep black of Bergen’s eyes, reflected there like bottomless, black pools of water. Throwing his head back, he took a long drink from his flask then wiped his mouth with his hand.
Moonlight bathed the city in shadows of blue and white. Gunir’s stone houses twisted around the streets, creating a maze of thatch and stone. They hugged the base of the keep’s battlement perched atop the motte. This night, the silence seemed to reach to the ends of Alfheim.
The wench asleep in his bed released a groan that became a sigh, drawing Bergen’s attention from the window. His eyes grazed her bare flesh, lingering for a moment on the exposed skin soaked in moonbeam.
With a gleam in his eye, Bergen gulped down another swig and, dressed only in trousers, quietly made his way into his sitting room, leaving Gretchen…or Gertrude…undisturbed by his restlessness.
While smiling to himself for a job well done, Bergen stepped out onto the landing between the war room and his chambers, and closed the door behind him. His stomach growled and he washed back another gulp, content with the solitude he rarely found. After fixing his thoughts on Cook’s kitchens, he sauntered down the steps to the Great Hall.
The silence from the late summer night permeated the castle’s keep as the sleeping servants dowsed Gunir in a peace they could never accomplish awake with their eagerness to serve. He had made it as far as the stairwell window halfway down the steps, before recalling the last time he had picked at the unguarded assortment of salted meats hanging in the larder.
A night that had begun with innocent pilfering had turned into a severe tongue-lashing that ended with a wooden spoon across his hide. After a low-down threat to tell Torunn, the Cook had made him promise never to touch the kitchen’s larders again. Though odious, the blackmail had earned his respect, and ended the night, in much the same position as Gertrude…or Gretchen…asleep in his chambers to compensate for his late night thievery, of course.
Abandoning any thoughts of a late night lunch, Bergen veered widely away from the kitchens at the base of the steps and, instead, swaggered into the Great Hall, throwing his head back for another swig.
It was with a guilty eye that he shifted a gaze to the empty throne and he chugged down another gulp of mead, replaying his last conversation with Rune until the words echoed back on themselves.
“I need to go after her…if I’m not back by the next new moon, come find me. Tell no one that you’ve seen me.”
And Bergen had done just that, much to the chagrin of Torunn. The castle’s old keeper had been like a mother to them, and had squawked and clucked as loud as a hen when Bergen refused to speak.
Rune had ridden off on the Seidkona’s dark, chestnut horse, leaving behind more questions than he had answered, and more responsibility than Bergen cared for.
That was fourteen nights ago.
With careless grace, Bergen stomped up the five steps to the empty throne sequestered between a pair of pillars etched with animals and runes, and dropped himself into the chair. As he threw back another gulp of mead, Bergen eyed the pair of grand, iron wheels suspended from the trusses over two long tables. A thick layer of hardened wax had melted and molded around the iron and fallen to drip on the tables. Bergen looked past the pillars to the double oak doors of the Great Hall.
“In all my years, I didn’t think I’d ever see you seated on your father’s throne,” came the large gruff of a familiar voice.
Geirolf’s large, bear-like frame emerged from behind the wooden screens passage set behind the throne. With a glint of mischief in the old codger’s eye, he stopped short at the base of the throne steps.
“The weight of a crown is heavy,” Bergen said. “I like living without the burden and besides…” He shrugged. “…such a life would never permit me the freedom to frolic as much as I do.”
Bergen grinned, tipping the mouth of the flask to his lips as Geirolf grunted at the man-child seated in the throne.
“A throne doesn’t suit you,” Geirolf grumbled. “If I recall, you always were a stubborn child, quick to strike and eager to ignore.”
With a grin that flashed in his round, black eyes, Bergen proudly chugged back another gulp and released a flatulent grunt in his brother’s chair. Geirolf pretended not to notice, learning long ago that it was never good to encourage the mischievous sparkle in Bergen’s eyes.
“I find it implausible that you know nothing of the disappearance of Queen Kallan or your brother,” the old man grunted at the youth. “Where is he?”
Geirolf waited for Bergen to speak.
Instead, the Dark One grinned from behind the flask, catching a bit of light with the scar on his right brow.
Geirolf brought his voice down with a bit more severity than before. “Rune is nowhere to be found. The Dokkalfar Queen is unaccounted for, and you haven’t sent a single party to locate either monarch in more than a fortnight.”
“I don’t want to.”
Geirolf sighed, long and low.
“Where is your brother?”
“I don’t know.” Bergen’s words were dry as if they were over-rehearsed.
Geirolf expanded his chest, inhaling a large helping of patience, and climbed the steps to the throne. His wide frame towered over Bergen, barely dwarfing the Berserker. He braced each hand on the armrests, and bent low until his nose stopped inches from Bergen’s.
“You show up a fortnight ago stripped of your bow, your boots, and reeking of imported Thash Grape Ale with nothing more than a grin and some story about a rose, a goat, and a ring.”
“It was a great night,” Bergen beamed. “One I will never forget,” he added with a dazed look as though in a mist.
A small vein on Geirolf’s forehead pulsed.
“For the sake of an old man who desperately looks to end the ceaseless nagging of Torunn’s maternal woes, please,” he said, “tell me where your brother is.”
Bergen sympathetically dropped a hand to Geirolf’s shoulder.
“As much of my pity as you may have,” Bergen said with feigned devoutness, “I have been sworn to secrecy under the command of my king.”
Geirolf stared at the twinkle in Bergen’s eyes.
“How noble,” Geirolf grumbled at the wide smile pasted upon Bergen’s face. “When will he be back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is the Dokkalfar with him?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is she dead?”
“I don’t know.”
Geirolf released the chair, exhaling a patient breath. As he straightened his spine, he locked his ice-blue eyes on Bergen, who returned the glare Bergen had learned from him.
“Before the new moon?” he guessed.
“Before the new moon,” Bergen agreed.
Geirolf nodded, giving his consent to the plan the boys had designed without him.
“And if your brother has not returned before the next moon?” Geirolf asked unpleasantly.
“I have orders to find him.”
The answer was sufficient to allow Geirolf to drop his shoulders, and he descended the throne. He took a single step and peered over his shoulder. Bergen had resumed his drinking.
“What am I going to tell Torunn for the next fortnight?”
Gulping down the last of the mead, Bergen flashed a grin that glowed in his eyes long after Geirolf closed the grand doors behind him.