“No! Grab it like this!” Lilly laughed as she instructed one of the female Martyr cubs on how to hold the sewing needles.
The Martyr cub she had named Lorelei was much calmer than the male cubs and seemed to genuinely enjoy her company. After the chaotic day when the cubs were all born, Lilly usually tried to stay away from the cubs when she was alone. Lorelei, however, found Lilly while she was crafting a cloak and seemed to be interested, so Lilly decided she would teach the female Martyr cub to do the same. She had seen how Torunn learned to mix herbs, so figured teaching a Martyr cub the art of Clothework wouldn’t be impossible. What she hadn’t taken into account though, was Lorelei's large and cumbersome hands.
“Maybe Alchemy would be easier for you to learn,” Lilly said with a smile. Crushing herbs together definitely seemed like it would come natural to Martyr cubs. Lorelei grunted in return and looked at Lilly in confusion. “Come on, let's go find Torunn. He can teach you better than I,” Lilly said with an outstretched hand.
Lorelei took the hand and used it to stand up, an action that almost pulled Lilly’s arm from her socket.
The two stood up and headed in the direction of the tent that Lilly knew Torunn was staying in. Another Martyr cub walked by, causing Lilly to glare and roll her eyes. It was the fat Martyr cub that knocked her over the other day by running up to her and smashing into her with its big belly. He was certainly crude and obnoxious, but Lilly couldn’t help but wonder if he was intelligent when she saw him wink at her as he walked by.
“Grrrr. I know he is your brother and all, but I am not sure I like him!” Lilly admitted to Lorelei, who shrugged in response.
Lilly and Lorelei entered the largest of the Martyr tents. Lilly always wondered why this tent was larger but never had the courage to enter. Dreng honestly terrified her. That is why she let out a quiet gasp when she saw the large beast laying down on the ground, covered in furs. Freydis, along with Dreng’s advisor, attended the Chieftain. Lilly stood there in confusion as she watched Frey bend over to let Dreng sip from a bowl she held. Was he sick? Lorelei pulled on Lilly, who forget they were still holding hands. Lilly realized she was squeezing the cubs hand pretty hard and released her grip. The cub ran to Dreng and wrapped her arms around one of his arms, essentially hugging her father in the only way she could because of his massive size.
“Lilly, it is nice to see you. What are you doing here?” Freydis said with a touch of hostility that surprised Lilly. Freydis had always been nothing but welcoming to her.
When Dreng saw Lilly take a step back he spoke up, “It is okay, Freydis, she can stay.” Freydis only nodded and Dreng turned back to Lilly, “Come inside.”
Lilly took a hesitant step forward and asked, “Are you feeling okay?”
Dreng slowly lifted his head and smiled as Freydis shoved a pile of Ingo skins underneath his head, propping it up. “I feel better than I have in a long time, Lilly.”
“Are you sick?”
Dreng chuckled softly, “You can say that. I am dying, Lilly.”
Lilly looked around the room to see everyone's reactions. This had to be a cruel joke, right? When she finally found Torunn, the cub she was originally looking for, he just met her gaze with a serious expression. Everyone was now looking at Lilly. She wilted under the combined weight of their stares.
Dreng let out a soft laugh that turned into a fit of coughs. Freydis gave him another sip of the liquid from her bowl.
Frode spoke up, knowing what his chieftain was going to say next, “Sorry, Lilly, you are the first human we have told about Dreng. Well besides Patrick.”
“Wait, what?” Lilly asked.
Dreng was actually dying? She had always thought of the Martyr chieftain as immortal after seeing him rise from the battle of their old village. She knew he wasn’t actually immortal, she just didn’t ever imagine him dying. He was so strong, so constant. The feeling was akin to when her parents died in the undead attack. Even though it would have been natural for her parents to die eventually, she never actually imagined it happening so soon.
“Why are you dying?” she asked, almost angrily. “Frode is older than you. Is he going to die too?”
Dreng laughed again. This time he wasn’t interrupted by a fit of coughing. Frode’s face merely stayed the same. Lilly thought he might have frowned a little, but it was hard to read the faces of Martyrs. She didn’t mean to offend the chieftain’s advisor and hoped she didn’t.
“Frode is not going to die anytime soon, don’t worry. He will be a thorn in Torunn’s side for a long time after I am gone.” Dreng chuckled, the movement of his chest causing him to wince in pain.
“Okay, okay. This is enough,” interrupted Frode. The advisor was happy that his student, his leader, was able to joke during this tough time, but Frode didn’t want Lilly to make his condition worse. Frode agreed with Dreng’s sacrifice but wanted to keep him alive as long as possible. “Let’s discuss this outside, Lilly.”
Lilly let herself be shooed out of the tent, mostly because she was utterly overwhelmed. She had been having a nice and peaceful day, and now everything was flipped upside down again. Why was Dreng dying all of a sudden, and why was he happy about it?
Frode sat down so he wasn’t looming over Lilly. “Do you know how Martyr cubs are made?”
The question caused Lilly to flush. She stuttered and stammered, obviously uncomfortable.
Frode shook his head, “Sorry, that probably wasn’t a good way to begin. Of course, you know how cubs are made. What I meant to say is do you know how many are born each time?” Lilly took in a deep breath and shook her head, relieved she wouldn’t have to have a furry version of the birds and the bees talk. “If a Martyr mother is lucky she will give birth to two Martyrs cubs in a year. Usually, one mother would just have one cub a year.”
Lilly nodded to let the advisor know she was following and waiting for him to get to the point.
“We do however have an ability that allows us to have more. The ability is racial, only us Martyrs have it. It allows a mother to triple the number of cubs she can have in one pregnancy,” Frode explained.
Lilly interrupted, “But Freydis had 10 cubs.”
“She did, that is true. She should have only had 3, maybe even 5 with this pregnancy. We think it had something to do with Dreng’s unique amount of strength, but that isn’t important right now. The ability Dreng used to allow Freydis to have all those cubs is called the Last Seed.”
Lilly's impatient nods stopped as she understood why it was named as such.
“Now you understand,” Frode said with a frown. “The cost of the ability is the father’s life.”
Lilly shook her head, not willing to accept that someone else was dying. Frode explained to her the merits of Dreng’s decision. He told her that they were safer than they had been since the Great Exodus when they were forced to flee their homeland. He explained that their only weakness was that there weren't many Martyrs left. He did his best to make her understand. She didn’t though and Frode realized he was trying to solve an emotional problem with a logical solution. He changed gears and took on a more comforting tone.
Frode wasn’t sure if the human girl would want comfort from an old Martyr like himself, but he never got the chance to find out. Just as the advisor moved to comfort her, to hold her hand and tell her everything would work out, he heard screaming coming from the cliff. He looked to the direction of the noise and spotted that greenish-brown creature from the spirit battleground running towards him.