“Heh! Did you see her try to get in front of me?”
Armida smiled gently at Ull Regni, Son of Thunor, Dark Lord of the Iron Fangs, and Konig Muspeilheim, who was presently lounging on an exceedingly comfortable-looking couch. “Who do you mean, Your Prominence?”
The Ogre laughed, sitting up in merriment. “Who do I mean? Her Eminence, of course! Who else could I mean? Skadi Utgardi!”
“Ah. I see.” Armida considered things for a moment. “I must say, I did not see things that way.”
“HA!” Ull leaned to the side and slapped his herald, Idun Bragi, on the shoulder. “Clever this one! Very diplomatic!” He shook his head. “I’m starting to understand this ‘hostess’ thing you Plainsfolk go for. Very charming!”
Idun glared daggers at the female Erl from her chair near the Scarlet Chamber’s largest window. “Charming. Yes. That’s one word for it.” The skald frowned some more, then very pointedly looked away, casting her eyes on the approaching Ashurana airship.
Armida bowed at the Ogres from her seat. “You are both too kind. Especially Your Prominence.” Truth be told, she was enjoying the Muspeilun’s company, even if his manners bordered somewhere between ridiculous and atrocious. The man was kind and good-natured, and that overcame a great deal in Armida’s books. Idun was proving a more difficult prospect, but Armida was fairly sure she could get the skald on her side. No one had ever accused Armida of being unable to make friends.
Ull chuckled to himself, still in the middle of some delightful reverie. “Skadi Utgardi! What a virago! The most objectionable Utgardi in decades. Possibly centuries. Perhaps of all time.” He shook his head, and idly scratched one of his bright-red muttonchops. “She’s my sworn enemy, you know.”
Armida nodded. “I’d heard that was true of all Utgardis and Regnis.”
Ull nodded. “It’s especially true of us! We’ve each got proper sworn oaths to bring each other to the utmost misery and woe before we end our lives! Witnesses and everything!”
Armida, despite her years of training, arched an eyebrow. “You will allow me to say--that seems excessive.”
Ull laughed. “Excessive to you, maybe! All you Flatlanders don’t get how we live up in the Fangs.” He shook his head. “There’s the murder of kin involved! My father did for her father and her brother, and Skadi did for him.”
Armida nodded. She had more than an inkling what the proper response was. “My goodness! That sounds like quite the fascinating tale!”
“It is!” declared Ull, his tone cheerful, but his eyes strangely--driven. “I’ll share it with you. So you know how it is.” He cracked his knuckles. “It all started when Lord Shaddad decided to meddle up in the Fangs. He wanted to make sure my family didn’t head down while he was putting the Wood and the Marsh under his heel. A full-fledged war between the Stone and Ironfangs seemed like the best way to do it--and it worked, damn the oily bastard. Lord Thiafli--Skadi’s father--was a bitter old fool, and he jumped at the first offer Castle Terribel gave him. A few thousand marks, and Shaddad Cthonique bought himself a war in the Fangs.” Ull Regni tapped his fingers idly on the table that lay nearby. “Always thought he bought it a bit cheap, really. Considering what it got him. Which was probably the idea.” He sat there, silent for a moment, then smiled and continued.
“Well, it all started off very well for old Thiafli. He won the first few battles, captured my older brothers and put them to death by burning.” He looked at Armida pointedly. “It was an insult, you see. Muspeilun like to say that we’re the Folk of Fire, but he wanted to show us that in the end, we burn like everyone else.” The Dark Lord shrugged. “There was something personal about it, too. Thiafli married late, had himself only one son. Father’d had three by that point, and he liked to rub Thiafli’s nose in it. Made sure there were always plenty of skalds singing about old rams not siring any lambs and the like in the Fangs. All very amusing. Until it wasn’t.” The Muspeilun shrugged again, a rather troubled frown on his face. “Now, Thiafli started out with good fortune, but he didn’t invest it well, so it ran out quick,” Ull gave a quick shake of his head. “Father managed an incredible surprise attack on him, wiped out his main forces, caught him and Thyrm--that was his son.”
Armida smiled. “I’d always heard that Lord Thunor was a great warrior.”
Ull’s frowned briefly, only to force his face into a smile. “War was my father’s pleasure and his delight. I sometimes think that if things had gone only a little differently, it would be Lord Thunor we’d talk of, instead of Lord Shaddad.” He coughed. “Well, Father was facing a quandary. He wanted to kill Thiafli and Thyrm--but he had to make their deaths more--novel than those of my brothers’. A terrible pickle, that.”
The Ogre stood up and went to the window. “He figured something out. Oh, yes. Can’t fault my father with a lack of creativity. It was winter. He took Thiafli and Thyrm out to Lake Glassglimmer, dressed in fine robes--so they’d look their best, he said--and he cut a hole in the ice. And then--he explained that as Thiafli had given his sons to fire. he was going to give Thiafli and his son to ice. And he dipped them in.” The forced levity had drained completely out of Ull’s voice by this point, to be replaced by something else, something quiet and wounded. “I was there, you see. Father--I was his heir now, and he wanted me to--not be such a poltroon, was how he put it. Had to get used to the bastards dying. I was going to be seeing plenty more from now on. Well, Thyrm, he screamed going down, he screamed in the water, and he screamed when they took him out and tied him to the post. But Thiafli--he tried to stay calm. Until they dipped him in. Then he started to yell, and scream, and thrash about…” Ull bit his lip and glanced at Armida. “The water gets cold in the winter up in the Fangs. So cold it burns. And Thiafli and Thrym were in all those fancy clothes, all silk and samite, thin stuff that holds water… It--froze around them. He left them tied to posts on the castle wall. In frozen clothing. Eventually, they stopped screaming. But--they were still a long time dying.”
Ull frowned to himself. “Afterwards, we sent the bodies back to the Stonefangs. Father--deemed it proper. But we had to change the clothes--the stuff they’d died in was ruined. Only--it didn’t come off right. They had to--peel it off. And it took bits of--them with it…” And then, suddenly, it happened. Ull stopped talking and pitched forward, his hands clutching his knees. He began to breath in and out very quickly. Armida left her chair and began to head to his side, only for the Dark Lord to wave her back. Eventually, he stood up again, smiling once more.
“My apologies. Nerves. Happens--every now and then.” Ull shook his head. “Well, the Jotuns didn’t stand for getting their king and heir back in that condition, and Shaddad had just managed to cement his control of the Shadow Wood, so… they came after us, the Frost Jarls, with Skadi at their head. Father caught a few arrows at Jormangdr Peak, and that was that.” He smiled gently. “She just left his body where it lay. Said Thunor Regni had been more dog than man in life, and that the dogs were welcome to him now. Well, I had to swear revenge for that. Custom and my Jarlthing demanded it! So I did. And she swore revenge on me. And that’s how it stands.”
Armida regarded the Muspeilun for a moment with her mismatched eyes. “It sounds like you have--very deep feelings on this matter.”
“Oh, yes,” said Ull with a cheery nod. “The woman’s a virago! A positive termagant! Skadi Utgardi! The bane of my existence!”