Kayla and Toikem have rather peculiar occupation: they deal with curses.
“Come on, get up!”
Toikem fastened his belt while he knocked on the door with the tip of his boot.
“Glorious Gods! Do you have to take a lover in each and every inn?” he complained.
His gigantic hand struck the door, issuing a booming sound that threatened to wake up the whole establishment. A disgruntled face appeared out of a different room. The expression became apologetic as soon as the man had a glance at the broad shoulders clad in dark steel armor.
“Patience is a virtue, Tom.”
The door finally opened. Toikem lowered his eyes to match those of a girl of seventeen. Kayla wore a blissful smile, black curls trickling down her face and below her shoulders.
“Laziness isn’t,” he retorted.
She ignored the comment and went for the stairs. The main room was empty but for a wench and a brooding drunkard. Kayla waved her hand at each of them and went outside. As she had thought, Toikem had already saddled their horses. She softly brushed the mane of her bay mare. The animal seemed well rested.
When Toikem arrived, she helped him on his saddle. Nimble as could be, she jumped on the back of her own horse without effort.
“You’ve got to give it to the Northerners. They’ve impeccable inns,” she said while he took the lead.
“We aren’t here for their inns, sister.”
“What’s got into you? I seldom see you that grim. Has a girl denied you her sheets, Tom?” she joked.
He nudged his mount faster as his only answer. The mare followed instinctively.
The tundra glistened under the rising sun. Who would have thought a barren land could bare such beauty?
They’d received clear directions based on obvious landmarks. Here a boulder, there a broken cart, toward the west from there on. They stopped when they found the pole of rotten wood they were looking for. Kayla kept the horses while her brother approached. He knelt and plunged his gauntlet in the loose soil.
“They didn’t give the boy a funeral,” he remarked. “They let the corpse rot in place.” Toikem gathered the bones with his huge hands, which made the remains seem all the smaller. Eight summers, no more.
“They wouldn’t approach,” Kayla confirmed. “They have a basic understanding of imprecation. The history of the Old North is filled with accounts of curses.”
“It’s still a shame they wouldn’t show him some respect.” Toikem came back and grabbed a large copper nail in one of his saddlebags. “Well, better that than more deaths. They were probably right.”
Kayla had a worried look for her brother. He seemed weary and sad. Her trouble caused some agitation to the horses but she kept them well in hand. Toikem shoved the spike in the ground and pushed with his foot.
“What do you think did this?” Kayla asked.
“I’m not sure. This could be a sacrifice, or something hunting. They told us there weren’t any other missing children?”
She shook her head. Toikem put the remains of the boy in a jute bag after he brushed the dirt off of it. The soil was imprecated – still bearing the vile effects of a curse. It was important they brought back as little as possible.
“Did you see any marks on the pole?” she inquired.
“Nothing of notice. No engraving, no painting…”
Toikem sat near the horses, away from the pole, and scrubbed his boots.
“None of that either. Do you know of any beast that could trap people that way?”
“I know a few,” Kayla said. She opened the jute bag and took a look at the remains.
Toikem inspected the sole of his boots carefully and then threw the brush next to the pole. He stood up without much trouble despite his armor.
The bones were washed clean by the elements, Kayla noticed. The curse had probably accelerated the rot. Otherwise, the cold would have preserved the corpse. She took her gloves off and passed her hand over a femur. She felt little holes in it before her fingers went numb.