*continued from The Storms of Dust, Part I
Kolfrosta felt both euphoric and guilty from her experience with Áfastr. The euphoria, for obvious reasons. Áfastr was the man she loved, after all. And to share her very first sexual encounter with him was better than she had ever dreamed.
The guilt, however, was from the reason why the encounter happened in the first place. She didn't believe she could ever bring herself to tell Áfastr that, in some strange turn of events, the Hellenes identified Kolfrosta as an Oracle. Oracles, according to Hellenic belief, had the ability to foresee possible futures during acts of sex and, because of this, Líknvé ordered the intercourse to take place. That Líknvé did so in front of the entire Attican Ecclesia meant that, Kolfrosta knew, it was only a matter of time before Áfastr found out. More than anything, she feared breaking Áfastr's heart.
Strangely enough, Áfastr hadn't learned of the order while they were still in the Hellenes. They were well-through Anatolia on their journey when, during a sibling argument, Afvaldr brought it up. Kolfrosta had no idea where Afvaldr had heard the story, but it was clear that the brother was saving it for when he deemed Áfastr needed humiliating. The pain in Áfastr's eyes when he asked her if the story was true was almost too much for her to bear. She couldn't even blame or get angry with him when he called her a worthless whore. Her anger continued to remain dormant when he barraged her with questions about how she learned to fuck - "make love" was no longer in Áfastr's vocabulary. Instead, she replied calmly and lovingly, telling of how the women of the Northmen frequently and casually discuss sex among themselves, and how Líknvé and several Hellenic noblewomen coached Kolfrosta the night before the forced, but voluntary, seduction.
When Áfastr added "lying" to "worthless whore," her anger still refused to flourish. He refused to speak to her for several days afterward, which prompted her to write the poem. She tore the parchment from some of her packed Northmen clothing and wrote it in haste in the middle of the night. It was from pure emotion that she wrote, and she hoped that it would be honest enough to assuage Áfastr's heart.
She almost cried when he threw it into a puddle of mud the day she gave it to him... the day that she and Líknvé were to head to the easternmost river, the Indigna, and follow it to the Pars Sea, while Áfastr and his brother were to continue along the Buranun after linking up with Hellenic guides that had still yet to appear. Líknvé was unsympathetic and afforded Kolfrosta no time to try to comfort Áfastr, and Kolfrosta's last memory of him was that of a man no longer in love.
She did not see Áfastr pick the parchment up and clean it off, for he had waited until she and Líknvé disappeared beyond the horizon to do so.
The memories end, replaced by stinging grains of sand from the storm. Áfastr feels a tinge of sadness at not being able to embrace Kolfrosta's wondrous body, but takes solace in the torn parchment he grasps in his hand and, especially, the words that he knows are written on it.
But the wind, however, has other ideas. It takes no account for solace.
Áfastr screams out as an errant gust whips the parchment from his fingers and carries it quickly into the dust-ridden darkness. Reflexively, he lunges in the direction he thinks the parchment has taken flight, but the action is futile.
An instant away from feeling despair at the loss of the only thing his would-be lover has ever given him, he is instead thrown down the hill of sand by a sudden and powerful impact. Something had just struck the very spot Áfastr was sitting in.
Before the adrenaline surge is even over, Áfastr stands at the base of the sand dune with sword drawn, trying to see his enemy through tightly-squinted eyes. Instead, he hears it. Though this is only the second time he's encountered a member of the dragon family, he knows his adversary is a sand wyvern. The wind distorts the sound, but he had listened to a Bedouin merchant recreate the noise merely two days ago, and it was close enough. At once guttural and screeching, there is nothing else it can be.
Áfastr is no berserker, but something overtakes his sensibilities and he charges the creature - or, rather, where he thinks the creature is - swinging his double-edged sword wildly. Much to his delight, the sword connects with the wyvern's front leg, though Áfastr is initially unsure if he hit the beast or a random rock. The ensuing scream of agony, however, assures Áfastr that his strike was true. Áfastr might have smiled had the wyvern's wing not knocked him through the air. Suddenly afraid, accounting for the severity of the wing's blow, Áfastr goes prone and lies still.
The Hellenes call dragons, "drakeins." Translated into Áfastr's language, drakein means "to see clearly," which is why the Hellenes also refer to dragons as clairvoyants. This makes Áfastr sublimely aware that he may be wasting his efforts in hiding, but he knows that he has little hope of victory in a direction confrontation with the beast.
For the next few minutes, Áfastr listens as the wyvern bellows out hunting calls, and he swears he can feel the ground shake with the wyvern's movements. Áfastr hears the thuds and dispersal of sand while the creature leaps and strikes at areas it believes Áfastr to be. Through it all, the man remains motionless.
Hours pass in relative silence - only the howl of the wind - yet Áfastr waits hours more until he is satisfied that the creature is gone and the clairvoyant title is inaccurate. Unburying himself from the accumulated sand and no longer under the influence of adrenaline, Áfastr's body lets him know that it is exhausted. As with people, he's never been one to dwell on being at the whim of nature, and he quickly falls asleep.
He gasps for air as he wakes, subconsciously assuming that he's waking while completely buried, but his chest is well above the level of the sand. Scanning his surroundings, appearing almost ridiculous in his half-buried state, he attempts in vain to locate Kolfrosta's parchment. Upset for a moment, it dawns on him that if he hadn't lost the parchment to the wind, he would most certainly be dead. Thankful that he's alive, he digs himself out and starts knocking the sand off of - and out of, apparently - his body.
There's still no sign of his horse or his brother. Áfastr mentally shrugs and sets off toward the southeast, where he hopes to reunite with the Buranun River and find the missing Hellenic guides. The Abyss waits, after all, and there is nothing else to do but continue on.
And to recall the intimate scent of cinnamon.
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