Land of the North Wind

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Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Land of the North Wind

#1 Post by jjw2795 »

Hey everyone! So, long story short, I wrote a fanfiction last year that wrapped up in early January called "Long Road Home". I'll make a separate thread for that, but this is basically the first story in a series. The events of that story, and this one, "Land of the North Wind" take place nearly a century before the main comic. Some things on the map are different. Some settlements are at their peak and will be forgotten in the next century, others have yet to be built. The borders are a bit different as well. Long term, I want to take this series and inch closer to the present day of the web comic. Events here may not be canonical, but I am going to do my best to keep them compatible with the world and lore that Tom created, artistic license being used where I felt it necessary.

If you'd rather read these stories in order, I'll have "Long Road Home" up soon.

Anyway, onto the story! Our main character, Connor Ulstad, is a sixteen year old boy who found his way to freedom in the previous story. After surviving a shipwreck, he adopts an orphaned basitin named Asher and decides to find his way back home to Maine. Along the way he is pursued by Shadow, a black leopard keidran hired to hunt him down. Now Connor is seeking to start a new life with his family and we pick up at the tail-end of summer in the North. However, things aren't as peaceful as he had hoped. With conflicting loyalties, Connor must choose wisely or risk losing everything.

The stories are available to read on and AO3, but I shall post full text in this thread whenever I update a chapter. ... North-Wind
AO3: ... /113372320

Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Chapter 1: White Pass

#2 Post by jjw2795 »

The clear spring water was warmer than the young basitin expected. Throughout the summer, they had traveled across the continent on a network of roads that were not nearly as well developed as those in the center of the human kingdom. Across the northern tier, the group had traveled through thick pine forests, the muskeg, the tundra, more woods, and finally the white fields. Asher remembered seeing the towering western mountains from a hill overlooking a vast lake, the foothills still several days away. He could hardly tell in the setting sun where the earth ended, and sky began that night. The snowcapped peaks seemed so high that they were clouds. Now they had climbed up into those same mountains.

Connor said that they were going to be going through the White Pass. It would be a tough climb but at the top they would be able to see their new home, the north country! That had to be put on a pause though as Connor and Shadow agreed that the spring-fed mountain river would be the best location to finally bathe and get some of the trail dust and sweat off of them all. Asher still wasn’t used to how humans and keidran bathed, nude and in the open, but at least the ladies had taken a spot further upstream. That just left him and Connor, who was currently busy scrubbing his little brother down from head to toe.

“Hold still Asher, it’s hard enough to clean out this fur without you squirming.”

“For the last time Connor, I can clean myself.”

“That’s what you said a month ago, remember what happened after a couple days?”

“…That was totally different?”

“All that sweat didn’t get washed off and you were covered in heat rashes. Wasn’t fun, was it?”

He was right. Asher had felt like he was burning up. It was only through an ointment Liz made and some vigorous daily cleaning those areas, especially his privates. Those rashes stung to the touch.

“And trust me kid, I didn’t like having to help either. I was worried you’d get an infection what with the humidity and heat.”

“Fine, but can I at least try again? I’m seven now.”

Connor thought about it for a second. Yeah, he didn’t like having to clean every inch of fur on Asher but he was kid without anyone else to show him how some of these things are done.

“Alright, you win. Guess you’ll need to learn somehow. Here’s the brush and ash soap, go wade over there and start scrubbing like I’ve done, okay? I’m going to get started on our clothes. But if those rashes start to come back, you tell me right away before they get painful again, got it?”

“Yes sir…”

“Good kid. Just count yourself lucky that it’s just us in here. I’m pretty sure keidran think nothing of bathing together all at once.” The thought of them all in the same pool shuttered both. At least there was that commonality, men in one area women in the other.

Truthfully, Asher did love being dotted on by Connor. They had already gone through so much together and over the last few months the human seemed to ease back into his role of an older brother, this time to both of his siblings. Along the way Connor had been teaching Asher what he knew. How to hunt, how to follow trail signs, and how to take care of himself. But some things a basitin should do for himself, and hygiene was one of those things. There was one area no one could quite reach on themselves though.



“C-could you get my back? Please?”

Connor finished hanging their clothes and waded over to the young basitin. “Can’t reach, huh? Alright, hand me the brush and sit on that rock.

Using the soap bar to get some suds, Connor started scrubbing first with his hands, letting the soap build up in the fur. He could feel against Asher’s skin the mark of the cat-o-nine tails. Drake was gone, but a reminder of him would be there forever. That was something they had in common and it was something Connor wished he could fix. That wasn’t the only thing Drake left on poor Asher, but this was the most visible. At least the fur covered it up.

Running the brush through Asher’s back fur followed by a thorough rinsing completed the task. “Okay Asher, all done. Go climb out and I’ll give you the brush and soap to take back to the horses.”

Getting out of the water, Asher still didn’t like being naked out in the open. “Hurry up Connor! I want to get clothes on before anyone else sees us!”

“Relax Asher, the ladies are way up stream, there’s no one else here. And as I keep telling you, you’re covered in fur, so it’s not like anything is showing. Besides, you’ve got nothing that I don’t have as well.”

“You don’t have a tail…”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

A mountain breeze picked up just then. Asher didn’t have much insulation to begin with but being wet with waterlogged fur made it feel a lot colder. He shivered as the breeze past, which Connor of course noticed/

“You know, the ladies might follow the stream back to us. And they might be finished since Shadow and Liz don’t need extra help for themselves.” It was a lie, but Connor knew that would get the kid into gear. The basitin took all of half a second to make a run for it. Connor just took his time though, collecting their damp clothes and carrying the bundle back to the horses. Everyone had managed to find at least two sets of clothes, so one could afford to stay wet until camp was made for the night.

By the time the teen had made it back to the mares, Asher already had pants on and was wrapping his ankles. Connor leisurely strolled up but was courteous enough to keep his horse between him and Asher’s line of sight. Pulling out a fresh rag, Connor patted himself down and had breeches on in a couple of minutes. Shirt, socks, shoes, and jumper came next. It wasn’t particularly cold, but a good wool jumper was a welcome addition to his wardrobe in the mountains. The short northern summer was quickly coming to an end and already some of the leaves were starting to show hints of color.

As he packed away their damp clothes, Connor noticed that Asher was still wet.

“Did you dry off?”


“Tsk tsk Asher, you’ve got a puddle of water under you.”

The basitin looked down and saw that there was indeed a lot of wet dirt under him, even on the rock he was sitting on. Connor just rolled his eyes and pulled out another couple of rags. “You know you can’t ride all day soaking wet like that. Here, take those clothes off and dry off properly.”


“Now Asher, if you don’t, you’re going to regret it later.”

The basitin rolled his eyes before taking the rags and walking behind some tall bushes for privacy. Just then hooves could be heard a short distance up-trail. Around the bend came Liz and Shadow, done with their own bathing. Liz’s long, nut-brown hair glistened in the sun, still damp with creek water. Shadow though…

“You boys done yet? Shadow teased.”

“Come on Shadow, you know I don’t really care much but have some mercy on poor Asher. It’s bad enough he has to let me clean his…”
“Ah! Shadow, why!?” Asher exclaimed as he came out from behind the bushes. The boy immediately shielded his eyes and looked away. The black leopard was in her saddle without a single scrap of clothing on, preferring to dry off the only way a keidran knows how. Liz and Connor could only laugh.

“What?” Shadow asked.

“Why are you animals always naked?!” Asher replied.

“Hey, I got to dry off somehow.” Shadow responded, a hint of offense in her voice. You’ve got fur too kid, you mean you don’t just let the water evaporate?”

“Evapo...? I don’t even know what that means!”

Connor then stepped in before another family argument would erupt. “Shadow, Asher was about to ride around clothed and soaking wet rather than spend another second nude. That’s just how the basitin do. Can you at least put your cloak on?”

“Ah come on!” Shadow protested. We’re in keidran territory, and I’m a keidran. Don’t I have a right to…”

“Alright, alright.” Liz interrupted. This wasn’t the first time this ‘discussion’ had occurred on the trail. She wasn’t exactly comfortable either but it wasn’t that big of a deal, however the two humans in the group were getting tired of these cultural differences. “How about Shadow and I ride ahead, and you two can catch up when we make camp in a few hours.

“Good idea sis, now get going before Asher here dies of shame and embarrassment.” Connor winked at Shadow as he finished his sentence. Her horse answered with a puff before being steered around to go back up the trail.

“Hey, where’s Zephyr?” Connor asked the girls.

“Up here!” Zephyr answered with her mind. Connor looked high up in a tree to see the small dragon perched at the top.

“And what’s so interesting up there missy? Eating bugs again?” Connor replied with a thought. He still wasn’t used to it, but with conscious effort he could hold a telepathic conversation as well as any human.

“Hey, that was only one time! I can see the top of the pass. Should only be a couple more miles and we’ll be on the other side.”

“Glad to hear it. Now, you want to come down and keep us company or are you going to fly off until sunset again?”

“I’m a dragon Connor, I can take care of myself.”

“Yes, but you’re also, like, the size of a cat. Some of the eagles around here could pick off Asher, but at least I’d give him a fighting chance.”

Zephyr was about to protest when another creature landed on the tree just above her. The young dragon looked up just in time to indeed see a large golden eagle agitated at her presence. She quickly scanned the bird’s mind only to realize that at the very top of the pine tree was a nest with chicks. The eagle couldn’t exactly speak, but Zephyr could see what the bird was focused on.

“Look out!” Asher yelled.

“Oh crap…” She thought as the eagle dropped down. Zephyr quickly coasted down the side of the tree. Yeah, she could use her fire breath in self-defense, but she didn’t want to hurt anyone. Racing down toward the ground, Zephyr pulled up, and quickly made for Connor. She could feel the bird close behind. Quickly landing on Connor and hiding behind his back, the human was just as surprised at the encounter as his dragon. But he quickly ducked out of the way as the bird came flying past at eye level before flapping it’s great wings and making her way back up to her next with babies.

“You, okay?” Connor asked out loud and mentally as Zephyr moved her perch to the horse saddle.

“Yeah. I didn’t see that…”

“Honestly Zephyr, I didn’t see that nest either.”

Zephyr moved to the horse’s withers as Connor hoisted himself in to the saddle. Asher had to get a running start, but was getting rather good at mounting his own mare by himself. Zephyr then nestled herself on top of the saddle, sitting in her preferred roost in Connor’s lap.

“So, the big bad dragon runs to her human for protection at the first sign of trouble?”

“Hey, I could have roasted her! I just… didn’t want to.”

“Well, that’s for the best. But you’ve got to be careful. I can’t exactly climb a tree that tall.”

“True, but at least you make a good scarecrow!” Zephyr finished that sentence with the flick of her forked tongue.

Connor just rolled his eyes as he pulled the reins, joining Asher on his mare as they walked up the trail in the same direction as the ladies. “Well, this scarecrow thinks you should just rest a while until we’re away from that bird. She’s got your eye on you now.”

“It’s not like I was going to eat the babies…”

“Yeah, but I distinctly remember your mother burning an adrakist to a crisp for trying to steal your life essence.”

“What’s that got to do with this?”

“Don’t mess with babies, or else you’ll have to face mom’s wrath. That’s all I’m saying. It’s a universal truth.”

“Fine, lesson of the day I guess.”

“That’s my girl.”

Connor then place his hand over the small dragon as Zephyr rested her head on his thigh. The horse quickly caught up to Asher and the two continued, giving the girls enough of a lead.

Asher thought to speak his mind in private with his brother, “Connor, why do animals like Shadow have to be so…”

“Best not finish that sentence kid. For one thing, Shadow is a keidran, not just some animal like these horses. They’re different in a lot of ways, so to keidran, modesty is a foreign concept. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“It’s just… I thought she lived around humans. You humans are weird too, but at least you have clothes on when around Liz.”

“I’ll admit Asher, humans aren’t as strict as Basitin. To me, bare ankles mean nothing, and not just because you’re my brother either. People walk around with bare legs all the time. Well, keidran see clothing the same way. You could be butt-naked in front of her, and she wouldn’t care.”

“I guess. But what is she going to do when we find the white basitin? I don’t want her to go to jail for being… herself.”

“My guess is the basitin live away from humans and keidran. I think it will just be us and Zephyr when we track down your people, the girls should stay in Callow.”

“They aren’t my people, Connor, we’re a long way from Dad… I mean, the islands.”

Connor noticed the slip. He sighed. “Yeah, okay. But you were saying the Western Basitin lived like keidran, right?”


“And Shiloh was fully clothed just like you, so do you think these basitin came from the East or West?”

Asher didn’t answer, he was just thinking.

“Look, it doesn’t matter if they were from East or West, they are Basitin. I love you Asher, and I don’t want you to be away from your kind. Even if they are a little different, I’m sure we’ll find someone who will take you in and make you feel like you’re home.”

After some silence, Connor thought to give Asher one more order. “By the way, you should apologize to Shadow for calling her an animal.”

“I didn’t mean to insult her. She’s just…”

“I know, but you did. I’ve apologized to her a lot for things I’ve called her in the past because she’s part of our family now and Shadow shouldn’t have to feel less than us.”

“I thought you didn’t like keidran, Connor?”

“I don’t, generally, and I especially didn’t like Shadow but she’s more than made up for anything she did to us. And besides, we aren’t in the human territory anymore. If we aren’t nice to the keidran here we could get into deep trouble.

Further up the road, Liz and Shadow were nearing the top of the pass. Liz and Shadow hadn’t talked too much, but the silence was starting to get to them both. Liz didn’t want to lead as her mare was somewhat timid, but she wasn’t so comfortable to see two bare [censored] in front of her, one walking and the other riding without a saddle, both tails swishing back in forth in rhythm.

“You know Shadow, we aren’t going to be living with wolves. Connor says Callow is full of humans. You’re dry now, so maybe you could…”

“Ah geez, not this again. Come on Liz, what’s so great about wearing clothes anyway? The whole time I was in the guild, I had to wear all sorts of silly clothing. That’s despite the fact that I blend in at night better than any of you humans! Can’t I have a little bit of time to be myself?”

“Okay, look Shadow. You know Connor and I aren’t that uncomfortable around keidran. We had plenty in Maine. But could you at least put a shirt on? Preferably one that goes past your tail?”

Shadow realized the problem. “You don’t have to stare at it if you don’t like it Liz, no one is forcing you.”

“True, but on the trail it’s trees, blue sky, and two bare butts in front of me. I don’t like staring at the horse’s either, but it doesn’t have saddle bags full of clothing.”

“I guess Connor is the only cool one here. I’ll put something on if you insist, guess I shouldn’t be letting a young boy see me anyway. If he hasn’t started having big-boy thoughts yet he will be soon enough.”

“I highly doubt Asher sees you that way.” Liz retorted. “Connor doesn’t seem too either.”

“That’s because Connor is focused on a girl a way back East. He’s been writing her, you know?”

Liz didn’t know that. “He’s been… writing a girl?”

“Yeah, a couple of times. Don’t believe me? Wait till he’s asleep and find his latest one in his courier bag.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Why not? I have.”

“Shadow! That’s a private conversation! If Connor wanted to us to know, he would tell us.”

“Hey, for whatever it’s worth. It’s just some dopey love notes. But suit yourself if you aren’t curious.”

They stopped at the nearest clearing. Shadow didn’t want to admit it, but the stiff mountain breeze was getting a little chilly anyway. The arctic air was coming up from the vast scene before them. Shirt, cloak, and a jumper Connor gave her were quickly pulled from the saddle bag and donned. It was a catch twenty-two though because even though Shadow liked the extra insulation, the wool clothing didn’t mesh well with her thick black fur.

“There, happy?” Shadow said, gesturing to her attire.

“Thank you, and I’m sure Asher will appreciate it when they catch up.”

“So what do we do now?” Shadow asked.

“Turn around and look at the view?”

For the first time Shadow had the mind to turn around and see the view before them. They had really made it to the North. As they stood there, tall mountain peaks to the left and right framed a view which could just as easily be a painting. The sheer cliffs gave way to foothills covered in pines, which in turn yielded to the vast plains. In the far distance was a river flowing west to the sea. While the plains looked desolate, hints of life could be seen near the river as a small stretch of trees bordered its watery lifeline. To the North stretched out beyond the horizon another massive lake, not unlike the one they saw approaching the mountains many days ago.

Liz once again broke the silence. “Damn, that really is…”

“Cold” Shadow finished. “That wind feels ice cold.”

“You’re cold? You might still be half-naked, but you’ve got fur.”

“I can feel it right up my…”

“Okay, I get it. Yeah, put some pants on Shadow.”

The leopard could hear Liz’s stomach grumble through her sensitive ears. Pulling out both pants and jerky she took a bite while putting on breeches. “Want some?” She said through a mouth full of meat.

“Hell yes!” Liz exclaimed, desperate for something after a long morning.
The two were just finishing up when Asher and Connor reached the top of the pass. Asher was struck by the view and stopped giving the horse instructions, though the animal was sensible enough to walk up to her companions. Connor had his mare trot a short distance, the jostling awoke Zephyr who flew up into the air. Helping Asher off his mare, Connor then took in the view with everyone else.

“Bout time you made it Connor. We’re just about ready to continue.”

“Sorry, we had some trouble between a certain dragon and an agitated bird of prey.”

The girls looked at Zephyr as she landed between them. “Wait, what?” Shadow asked.

“Let’s just say, don’t get too close to an eagle nest.” Zephyr answered.

“Oh, you poor thing. Were you attacked?” Liz questioned while scooping up the little dragon.

“I’m alright, Liz.”

“Quite the view, isn’t it Asher?”

“Yeah… Hey, look over there!”

Asher pointed off into the far distance, following the river to where it met the sky. It was hardly perceptible, but there was a spot that had hazy smoking rising up. The only settlement around.

“That must be Callow.” Connor reasoned.

“Or a wolf village” Shadow added.

“Or a wolf village, yes, but at least they’ll know where to go.”
“How far do you think that is?” Liz asked while at Connor as he sat down beside her.

“Hard to say, but I’ll bet it’s a couple days of riding.”

Shadow heard another, much stomach, growl beside her as she sat propped against a log. “Have you eaten yet, Asher?”

“No. Hey, you’re wearing clothes now!”

“Yeah, yeah, I got cold. Here, come sit and have some meat.”

He didn’t make eye contact, but Asher did as he was asked.

“Hey, what’s wrong? Still not enough clothes for you?”

“N-no. I just… I’m sorry for calling you an animal.”

To be honest, Shadow had forgotten about it. Yeah, little things like that hurt, but she knew Asher wasn’t trying to hurt her, that’s just how people talk about keidran and that’s what he picked up at some point.

“It’s alright Asher. You’re still my friend kid, come here.”

“No” Asher said as he scooted closer and let Shadow put an arm around him. “You’re my family.”

Shadow couldn’t help but let a small tear form in her eye. Not even Connor had openly admitted that to her. “I… thank you, kid.”

As happy as Connor was to see them make up, they still had a long way to go.

“Glad you made things right Asher. But I want to get off the trail as soon as possible, so shall we keep going?”

“Yeah, we better get off this mountain before dark.” Shadow said, pulling Asher up with her and helping him into the saddle.

“I’d hate to feel how cold it gets here at night.” Liz added.

“I’ll stretch my wings and find a spot for us.” Zephyr offered, unfurling her small wings, and taking aloft in the rising breeze.

Hours later, they had made camp. A small clearing by a creek deep in a drainage under the mountain. It wasn’t quite out of the foothills, but it was noticeably warmer down low. There was no need for a tent, but blankets were spread around the fire. The young dragon had made her own spot close to the fire, the warmth feeling good against her scaly flank. Shadow and Liz had their own bedding to share while Connor and Asher took what remained. Shadow had gone off to find more wood to burn and Asher was resting, head in Connor’s lap. Liz hadn’t let go of what Shadow had said earlier about Connor’s letters to a girl he had met and she could no longer ignore her curiosity.

“Hey Connor?” Liz asked.

“Yeah sis?”

“Shadow told me that you, uh, met someone?”

“Oh yeah. Her name is Eira.”

“Where is she?”

“Well, she and her parents travel around. Her dad sells stuff at different markets. So she doesn’t really have a home.”

“Oh… So, are you planning to find her again?”

“I, uh, well… I guess I did make a promise to go back and find her eventually.”

“You love her?”

Connor sheepishly smiled while looking down at Asher as he stroked the boy’s ears. “Yeah, I do.”

“So, what’s her name? How did you meet? Why didn’t we go find her before coming up here?” Liz asked, genuinely interested.

“Well Liz, I guess neither of us were ready last time we saw each other. Her name is Eira. It’s honestly a long story, so maybe we should wait until we find Callow. It’s going to be a long winter, so it’s not like we will be short on time.”

“That’s fine, I can wait. Speaking of, you haven’t told me yet what happened before you found me. Shadow filled me in on a couple things, but I was hoping you’d tell me the story.”

“Sorry Liz, I don’t really want to relive that tale. Some things just weren’t… well, some things weren’t very fun, let’s put it that way.” He said that as his hand shifted down to rub Asher’s back, feeling the scars underneath the boy’s clothing.

“So it’s not a very happy story then, is it?”

“Few are, Liz. But I will tell you everything. Just… I’d like to get to Callow and make sure we’re all set for winter before I start thinking about everything that happened in the last six years. But could you tell me something?”

“Tell you what?”

“Do you think this was a good idea, coming all the way up here? I didn’t want to Shadow or I getting imprisoned for things we’ve done. But I also want to make sure you, and Asher, and even Zephyr are going to be okay up here.”

“Connor, I…”

Shadow then emerged from the darkness with dead wood to burn and decided to answer for Liz. “Connor, you’ve gotten us this far. I don’t know what awaits us in Callow, but I do know that if we all work together, we’ll be just fine.”

“You agree, Liz?”

“How can I not? Shadow is right. Connor, you’re my brother. You managed to find me after all this time and so far we’ve managed to get all the way across Mekkan to this frontier in one piece. I trust you like no one else.”

“As do I.” Shadow added.

“Thank you both, seriously. I just hope this is the right move for us.”

“Look.” Shadow said while sitting down on the blanket next to Liz. “Asher will get to be with other basitin, this place might be the one part of Mekkan where the guild won’t find me, and you two can finally start a new life. What other options do we have?”

“That’s what scares me shadow, I just don’t know.”

“Then we’ll make do, Connor,” said Liz. “That’s all we can do.”

Connor stoked the fire one last time as the girls laid down and covered themselves. The blankets weren’t exactly comfortable, but they were cheap and quite warm. He gently moved Asher from his lap to the ground and pulled him in close, doubling up their large blanket to share before tucking in Asher’s sides. That was certainly one benefit of having to share the bedding with a kid, a basitin no less, there was a lot more blanket to go around.

Looking up, Connor could see the aurora borealis. The blue and green waves danced across the sky. He had occasionally seen these lights in Maine, but now that they were in the far north this was a regular occurrence. Connor thought about Eira and sat up to add another couple of notes into his latest letter to her.

“We’ve made it Eira! Today we crossed the pass and now we’re on the downhill run to Callow. Asher is snuggled against me like usual. You should see the lights at night around here. Long waves of blue and green across the sky. Anyway, when I reach Callow I’ll send this with a courier, so rest assured that if you read this, we’ve made it safe and sound.” --Connor

Satisfied with the update, Connor let the ink dry for a minute, taking the opportunity to stare into the flames some more. Once satisfied that the parchment was ready for an envelope, he put the letter away in his own carry bag. Liz and Shadow teased that it was a purse, but Connor didn’t care, it was practical and that’s all that mattered.

Laying back down, he covered himself with a very generous “half” of the blanket and carefully moved one of his arms under Asher’s head for a bit of support and security. The kid was growing up, there was no question about it. Becoming more capable every day. In moments it felt like those changes were coming too quickly, but then Asher would do something more expected of one so young.

Part of Connor dreaded having to let Asher go after so many months of traveling together and getting to be a big brother to the young orphan, but he knew that a basitin ought to live with his own kind. They didn’t have to rush it though, and Connor planned to take his own sweet time making sure that Asher was going to be safe and cared for. That kind of worried the teen though. Asher had told him all sorts of things about the Eastern Basitin. Sure, they weren’t human, but recruitment at age 7? Fighting in the front lines by age 12? Maybe the Northern basitin were more sensible.

Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Chapter 2: Callow

#3 Post by jjw2795 »

“There it is!” Asher shouted to his family, having rode ahead to the top of a hill. Down below him was the settlement of Callow. A large settlement of a few hundred inhabitants was the only apparent sign of life in the north country. By the time Connor and the rest caught up, he could make out a protective wall of snow and ice around the outside, probably to help break up the wind and keep wandering bears out. They had seen a white bear the day before, and while it was a strange animal to Connor, he knew better than to set up camp anywhere near bruin activity.

Riding down the hill and toward the town, they all looked up one by one at the large archway marking the city limits. It read, “Welcome to Callow.” Connor didn’t know what to expect when starting the journey back in the spring, but he was now pleasantly surprised to see that the town was bustling with activity. Mines littered the area and horse teams with lumber in tow were moving along the roadway. Being late summer, there wasn’t any snow on the ground. In fact, the ground looked like a grassland, just colder. Down toward the river there were stands of trees stretching out into the distance. They had crossed the river that morning on a stone bridge, no doubt a recent structure made by men.

Shadow spied her first group of snow wolves coming out of one of the structures, most likely a trading post. They were tall and muscular, even the females. The cold climate surely played a hand in making these keidran some of the toughest around. She had seen snow wolves back east, but they had all been in the area for generations and took on a similar form to their southern counterparts, white fur notwithstanding. Shadow did feel out of place though as all eyes seemed to be on her. A bit uneasy, Shadow rode up to Connor’s side.

“Is it just me or is everyone staring?”

Connor took a moment to glance around. “Nope, not just you. Best stay close until we can find a place to settle in. Keep between Liz and myself and I’ll have Asher stick with you.”

Connor then rode up to Asher and had him fall back. If there was any trouble, the teen wanted to be the first one to meet it just in case. That and he knew that if it came to it, Shadow could take Liz and Asher then flee. Thankfully, while people seemed interested no one tried to make a move. After passing, townsfolk went back to their tasks one by one. A block later there were a couple of guards to meet their guests.

“Welcome to Callow.” One said while gripping the hilt of his sheathed sword, “what business do you have in my town?”

Connor stopped and motioned for the rest of the family to do the same. Zephyr landed on the back of Liz’s saddle, not wanting to draw attention to herself. Connor thought for a second, knowing he best choose his words carefully.

“Good afternoon, sir! My name is Connor, and these people here are my family and friends. My sister and I were farmers back east, but the farm closed up and we came here seeking a fresh start.”

It was more or less true, but he didn’t want to tell two random guards about his previous adventures, or the possibility that he was still a wanted man. Thankfully, it seemed the guards were won over by this story because they relaxed their posture, with the older one extending a hand.

“Well, our Lord certainly welcomes hard workers to his settlement. My name is Gerrick, captain of the town guard.”

Connor took the man’s hand for a firm shake, then Gerrick stepped back and gestured for the other, much younger, guard to step to his side.

“And Sam here is my son and lieutenant.”

“Pleasure to meet you both.” Connor replied, shaking Sam’s hand as well. “We were hoping to find a place to stay for a few nights while Shadow, my sister Liz, and myself find work.”

“Oh, there is an inn on the other side of the village. Anna Marie should have a place big enough for you all. And, say, who is this young lad? I’ve never seen a brown one before.”

Connor looked back to Asher, who had parked his horse right next to Shadow like he was instructed to.

“Oh yes, captain, this is Asher. He is an Eastern Basitin that we picked up some months ago. Long story, but he had nowhere else to go so I was going to see if the white basitin that live around here would take him in.”

“We do see the occasional basitin, but I should tell you that they are all very secretive about the whereabouts of their village. It seems that they’ve got longstanding relations with the wolves, but this settlement is too new.”

“Well sir, I’ll just have to take things one step at a time. You said we should go to the inn on the other side of town?”

“Yes Connor, Anna Marie is woman you’re looking for.”

“I thank you kindly sir, but we should head there now. The we’re quite tired after our journey.”

“Then it is goodbye for now, young man. If you have any questions or need anything from the guard, you can find our office outside the main hall.”

With a nod of his head, Connor motioned for everyone else to follow him. One by one each passed the two guards who went back to their business. However, Liz caught Sam’s eye as she rode past. The teenager was struck by the girl’s beauty, a rare figure in the harsh lands of the north. Liz didn’t seem to notice him, but Sam couldn’t help but stare as she rode down the street.

“That one got your eye, eh son?” Gerrick said from behind, startling Sam.

“Ah! Geez dad… I mean sir… you startled me!”

“Best focus on our job son, maybe you can find her after your shift. I’d be careful though; did you catch the sword her brother was wearing?”

“No, I didn’t…”

“Better try to make friends with him if you’re going to keep eyeing his kin. Now, let’s go.”

The father and son went back to making their rounds, not noticing that Liz turned around to glance Sam as he turned to follow his father. She’d never noticed a boy looking at her like that before. The horse snorting brought her back to attention though and she was quick to catch up to Connor and the others.

“Did you see that, Zephyr?”

“Yeah, that one seemed ‘cute’. Is that how you humans choose a mate?”

“Woah, Zephyr! Well… I guess that can happen, sometimes, but it’s going to take more than some gawking to get a date out of me.”

The inn came into view after a few blocks, complete with stables in the back and a large tavern at the front. It would make a great stepping stone until more permanent quarters could be found. Riding around back to the stables, Connor climbed down from the saddle and was quick to grab the reins of both his horse and Asher’s. Shadow did the same, grabbing Liz’s horse in the process.

“Alright,” Connor said, “Liz and Asher, you two watch the horses for a minute while Shadow and I check it out.”

“What about me?” Zephyr asked as she flew from Liz’s saddle to Connor’s mare, landing gently on the animal’s rump.

“You stay with Liz and Asher too. Go high up and be our eye in the sky.” The teen replied mentally.

The dragon nodded her head in understanding. Connor then removed his sword and handed it to Liz.

“Aw, why don’t I get to hold the sword?” Asher whined.

“Because Liz is big enough to actually use if it needed.” Connor replied, winking at his sister. “Besides, the last time I let you watch over my father’s sword, you nearly lost it in the river.”

Asher looked down, embarrassed that a basitin of all things would be so careless. Connor just ruffled the kid’s hair though. “Hey, we’ll get you a proper sword soon enough. Now stay with your sister and help watch over the horses.”

“Yes sir…”

“Good kid. Okay, see you three in a few minutes.”

With a nod from Shadow, both left the stables and made their way toward the inn. Crossing the threshold of the main entrance, the two were cloaked in dim light provided by small windows. The walls were thick, no doubt to keep out the winter cold. A hallway led in one direction, while an opening to the tavern led in the other. In the middle was a plain staircase to the upper level, where no doubt the innkeeper lived, and more rooms were available. Deciding the owner must be in the bar, Connor and Shadow took a left and went into the large room. Standing on the other side of the counter, cleaning glasses and getting ready for the evening rush, was a lone barmaid.

While she had a stout figure, there was no doubt that she was strong, a product of living in such a harsh place. Whild red hair glistened in the dim light, tied back with a ribbon. A white apron was tied tightly against her figure, stained with food, soap, sweat, beer, and whatever else she had encountered that day. Taking notice of her two new customers, her face perked up and gave a warm smile.

“And what can I get for you two youngin’s today?”

Connor cleared his throat quietly before speaking. “Good morning, ma’am. I was told I could find Anna Marie here?”

“Well son, you’re talking to her! Must be new into town if we haven’t been acquainted yet.”
“Ah yes, we just rode in today. My name is Connor, and this here is Shadow. My broth and sister are outside with the horses. To make a long story short, we’re hoping you’d have a room we could rent for a while until we can find more permanent housing before winter.”

“I sure do!” Anna said. “Ya’ll are lucky to be here at the end of summer. Most travelers have left before the first snow.”

“Lucky indeed ma’am. What would you require in payment for, say, a week?”

“Oh, I’ll give ya’ll the weekly rate for this time of year. Two silver pennies a day. I’ll even knock some off if a strapping lad like yourself could help me fix some things before winter.”

“It would be my pleasure. I’m sure there is a lot to do before winter arrives.”

“Certainly son. I’m sure your kin and keidran are tired from travel’n so go ahead and take room number five at the end. Plenty of space for ya’ll to spread out in and a couple large beds.” Anna Marie then produced a black skeleton key from under the counter. “Once ya get yer kin settled in and are ready for a meal, come on back to the tavern and we’ll settle payment.

With a room secured at least for a few days, Connor gave a nod to Shadow, “Thank you kindly Ms. Anna.”

Walking down the hall, the two came upon room number five. Connor inserted the key and turned the lock, allowing the wooden door to open with a small creak and groan. The room was plain, but adequate. Just as Anna Marie had described, there were two large beds on one side of a fireplace. On the other side against the outer wall was a big table with four chairs. Trunks at the foot of each bed were there for personal belongings. Near the entrance to the room was another door which led to the latrine.

“Yeah, this will do.” Shadow said, satisfied it wasn’t some dump like the backroad inns and taverns she was used to.

Outside, Asher was helping put away the horse tack as best as his little body would allow. The saddles almost weighed as much as him so he could only gather the lighter accessories and empty saddlebags. Liz had made a small pile of their things on a bench in the stable before leading each mare into a large stall. It must have seen a lot more use during the summer, but now it was empty, save for a couple of horses that either belonged to another traveler or the innkeeper.

“Hey Liz?”

“Yeah buddy?”

“You worked at an inn before, right? Do you think you could work at this one?”

“Well, I could, but it’s not exactly a job I loved. Certainly doesn’t pay enough to support a family.”

“Connor will get a job though, so maybe you won’t have to support all of us by yourself.”

“That’s true, but until Connor has a job there’s no telling how much money he’ll be able to bring. And you’re going to need new clothes before winter.” Liz explained while giving Asher a light boop on the nose with her finger.

Asher thought about that. She had a point, normally basitin would have a lot of their materials provided by the military but two humans and a keidran had to support him. Another idea came into his young mind that might be better. “You could be a teacher! After all, you and Connor taught me how to speak human!”

“And you speak it very well, but no doubt they have teachers up here.”

“Ooh, what about—”

Liz ruffled Asher’s hair before he could finish. “You don’t worry about work, alright? Besides, you and Connor need to find these northern basitin.”

“Here they come!” Zephyr called out as she swooped down from the roof and into the stables. Behind her followed Connor and Shadow.

“Well, Connor? Do we have a room?”

“Yep! For a week at least. That should buy us some time until we can find work. Now, let’s get settled in, shall we?”

No sooner had their supplies been loaded into the room that Liz collapsed on the bed and fell asleep within moments. Asher did the same in the other bed with Zephyr opting to take a nap of her own on the window sill. That just left Shadow and Connor.

“Not tired, Shadow?”

“Nope, not for another hour or two. You?”

“No way am I going to be able to sleep until I’ve at least looked for a job.”

“Sounds like a good place to start then. Got any ideas?”

“I say let’s go the main hall like Gerrick suggested. Perhaps we can get a tour of the town and I can make note of employers.”

“Let’s do it, show us the way.”

Slipping out the room, Connor didn’t bother to lock the door. Instead he gently placed the key on the night stand between the two beds. While putting on his jumper. Shadow did the same. Even in the warmer months, this place wasn’t all that warm. Certainly nothing like the southern coast. It was increasingly apparent that winters here were harsh. But how did the town survive? The buildings seemed to have thicker walls, but that could only help so much.

Roving through the town, it was nice to feel the crisp air. At the moment everything on the landscape was green while in the far distance brown hills rolled off into distant mountain ranges on both sides. Snow could be seen in places, though by this time of the season it wasn’t a continuous blanket. Still, the permafrost kept snow all year wherever it could find a bit of shade. Eventually, the pair found the great hall. The town’s meeting place and seat of power for the Jarl of Callow.

Rising higher than the other structures in the village, the hall resembled a great lodge. A slopping roof came down to the ground on each side of the building, the cavities making for great storage spaces. The high wooden walls on each end rose to an apex that was topped with a large caribou skull. Carved into the wood was an intricate display of what could only have been ancient history. Bears, caribou, moose, deer, men, and snow wolves were shown in a number of panels. As the two marveled at the architecture a familiar voice called out behind them.

“Ah, Connor! There you are.”

The teen turned around to see Gerrick briskly walking up to shake his hand, Sam in tow.

“Glad to meet you again sir!” Connor said as he extended his hand to meet Gerrick’s. “And you of course remember Shadow here.”

“Yes, yes. How are you handling the cold, dear? We don’t see many felines this far north.”

“Oh, I’ll be alright, sir.” Shadow replied.

“I suppose you are here for a tour of Callow. Sam here will be happy to show you two around.”

Sam then stepped up and shook Connor’s hand. “Will it be you and your keidran?” He asked, trying not to give away his curiosity about Liz.

“Yes, the others were tired from such a long journey.”

“I see.” Sam said with some disappointment in his voice. “But I’m still happy to show you around if you like.”

“That would be great, Sam.,” said Shadow.

Walking about town once again, the trio made their way to the outer wall where guards patrolled. Climbing the stairs, they all came to a stop at a deck which looked out both to the outside and the inside. Connor was briefly reminded of the adrakist fortress. One building in particular felt a lot like the one he got blown off of after his lucky shot. Shadow gently gripped his hand though and brough the teen back to reality.

“So, this is pretty much the entire town. Off to the East are those mountains you both crossed to get here, but to the west and across the river is where most of the snow wolves’ dwell. We have a trade relationship with them that’s proven to be mutually beneficial over the decades since Callow was founded.” Sam explained while pointing at the landmarks that could be seen from the wall. He failed to mention a third, lower set of hills or mountains to the North that Shadow was curious about.”

“Sam, what about those hills over there? They look like another mountain range.”

“Oh yeah. They aren’t mountains, just a line of big hills. The tallest one is called Ditter’s Ridge. On the other side of it is Widow Lake. People have been looking for minerals out there for decades without success, not even the snow wolves want to claim it.”

Connor was focused on something else though. He looked down and could see plenty of keidran and humans, but no basitin.

“So where do the Northern Basitin live?” Connor asked.

“Yes, well… to be honest, we don’t know exactly where they reside. They’re a rather insular species, I guess. You’ll find one or two coming through here to trade and gather news about the world. They don’t stay for long though.”

Moving through the town, Sam pointed out all kinds of merchants, shops, and artisans. It was readily apparent that the whole village relied on trade and the sale of raw materials like wood and iron. Sam mentioned at one point that all the materials were shipped down the Widow River to the sea where a harbor town loaded everything on ocean-going ships.

“But that’s only in the summer. In the winter, we are pretty much on our own. The passes snow over, and the rivers freeze solid.”

“So, why put a town here? Seems like it would make more sense to be near the coast.” Shadow questioned.

“Aye, that’s true. But this is where the trading post was set up, and believe me, the snow wolves do not want us to spread out more. Our Lord has managed to negotiate many treaties and that’s what lets us scratch out a living here in Callow.”

“Hmm.” Connor pondered, “so if I’m looking for work, where do you recommend?”

“I guess that depends on what you can do?”

Connor thought back to all the things he had done in his short life so far, and not a lot of it was all that useful.

“Well, I can farm. But there’s not a lot of that around here, is there?”

Sam shook his head. Yeah, the tundra isn’t exactly productive.

“I’ll never go to sea again, so that’s out. But I guess I can chop down trees.”

“You could certainly chop firewood through the winter.” Sam added, “but it really doesn’t pay much. We could always use more muscle for the guard.”

“I don’t know, I’m not much of a—” But Shadow was quick to cut Connor off.

“He can fight, Sam. He’s not experienced, but he managed to get us all across the continent.”

“Why don’t you talk to my father about it?”

“I don’t know. How much does it pay?”

“An awful lot more than chopping wood, I can tell you that much.” The guard said with a confident smile.

“Well, I guess I’ll sleep on it then.” Connor concluded.

“Anyways I guess that pretty much wraps up a tour of the town. Anna’s Inn is just down that street.”

“Thank you, Sam.” Shadow replied.

“Any time! Now, there’s going to be a meeting tonight in the great hall. You’ll be able to see the Jarl then. Good luck with the job hunt!” He said while walking away. “Tell your sister I said hello!”

“Thanks, I will.” Connor said, puzzled.

“I think that one likes Liz.” Shadow observed.

“Wait, really?”
“Yeah, didn’t you notice how he was looking at her when we rode in?”

“No! He was looking at her, how, exactly?”

“He was looking at her like a boy in love. You’ve had the same look for Eira.”

“I… well, I guess she’s not a little kid anymore. But mark my words Shadow, I’ve got my eye on him. If he tries anything I’ll- “

“You know you’re overprotective, right?”

“Would you rather I be under… protective?”

“Well, no, but there’s a bit of a gap between not caring at all and threatening a teenager for being attracted to a woman.”

“One, Liz is not a woman yet. Two, I’m a teenager… as are you, technically. And three—”

“And three, you’re just a wee bit over protective.” Shadow finished before grabbing his hand, “but I didn’t say it was a bad thing. Just don’t go overboard, okay?”

Connor sighed, letting his defensiveness go. “You’re right… I just don’t want to lose her again.”

“And you won’t, but Liz is far from being some weak little flower. After all, she rode with us all the way across Mekkan. Now, let’s get back to the Inn. All that riding has finally caught up with me.” Shadow then pulled Connor behind her to lead him back. He was caught off-guard by the gesture and quickly caught up.

“You know, you’ve been doing that more and more.”

“Doing what?”

“Leading me away like I’m your kid or something.”

“Oh… Sorry, I guess I didn’t notice. Guess it’s a force of habit from getting older.”

“Getting… older?”

“Yeah, do the math Connor. I’ll be ten in a couple of months. Technically, that makes me older than you.”

Connor stopped to think. He could do math, but the notion felt… odd. Shadow was quick to grab his hand again and lead him onward.

“Hey, you’re doing it again…”

“Oops, sorry.” Shadow quickly let go.

“Okay, now seriously Shadow. So let me get this straight, in a couple of months, you’ll be older than me?”

“Come on Connor, we talk about that later. Besides, you know how keidran age. It won’t be that weird, I’ll just be like an older sister… then an aunt… then a grandmother… okay, yeah, that does sound kind of weird now that I say it out loud.”

“I’ll just settle for sister, or good friend, if you don’t mind.” Connor said.

“Alright, fair enough. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to smother you all like you do Asher.”

“That’s because Asher is a little kid.”

“He’s a basitin Connor, if he were back home he’d already be in the military and fighting.”

“Well, not quite. Asher described the first few years of service as being more like school. He wouldn’t even see a battle field until he was 12. Still too young if you ask me.”

At this point the pair had walked inside and were standing at the room. Connor slowly opened the door and walked in with Shadow close behind. Both Asher and Liz were still asleep in the beds while Zephyr hadn’t moved from her perch on the window sill.

“So how long until sundown?” Shadow whispered.

“This time of year? Seven or eight hours I guess.”

“Good, I’ll wake us up before the meeting.”

Shadow then slipped into Liz’s bed and curled up with her back to the teenage girl. Connor followed suit and did the same with Asher, though naturally Asher moved to be closer. The travels across the mountains and the continent seemed to hit Connor like a wall. Laying back with Asher against his side, Connor reflected once again. Six months ago, he never would have imagined they’d all be staying at an inn on the other side of the continent. He could scarcely imagine being home. But that home was gone forever, and it was time to look to the future.

His eyes then wandered to a glint of steel in the corner. The sun shone through the curtain and a ray of light reflected off of the cold steel that was his father’s blade. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to learn how to fight properly, and if the pay was good then becoming a guardsman might indeed be a good idea. But that could wait until later, for now the teen was content to just enjoy what he had.

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Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
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Chapter 3: Recruited

#4 Post by jjw2795 »

While the days were quickly getting shorter, the sun was still in the sky far more often than not. It would be weeks until the equinox and then from there the north country would start getting colder, and colder, and colder still until the land more resembled a glacier than the rolling hills. Shadow was the first to rise, having enjoyed a well-earned rest on the first soft bed in weeks. Getting fully dressed, Shadow took a minute to look out from the back window of the room. Above the walls in the far distance rose those mountains. They looked similar and yet so very different from the forested mountains of home in her youth.

“Get out of here, you’ve caused enough trouble.” The words came back to her as a bad memory, one she had tried to shake countless times. But even the slightest hint of home would bring those cutting last words of her family back to her. The cause was all over her body, the black fur and the hints of even blacker spots covered every inch of skin.

“But I didn’t do it…” Those were her last words to her mother and siblings. There was no goodbye, no “I love you.” Just stern faces and weapons at the ready. It had been five long years since that fateful day, no one would have guessed how far Shadow would travel since then, not even her. But, like Connor, Shadow sensed that being out here was a chance to start over. No guilds, no templar, just people curious and cautious of some strange outsiders. She’d always need to be careful, just like any keidran, but with the right connections she’d be as safe as anyone. Especially if Connor joined the city guard. Speaking of the gathering in the great hall was going to start soon.

“Hey guys, it’s time!” Shadow said, loud enough to wake everyone but still with a gentle tone. Connor groaned and, after ruffling Asher’s hair, stretched his arms and legs in bed. All that walking and riding was catching up with him now, and he could feel the tight muscles complaining about having to move yet again. Liz was quick to rise, having slept like a rock half the day. Asher was the most sluggish, the poor kid just wanted to sleep in. But, without warning, Connor was quick to scoop him up off the bed and put Asher down on his feet. The basitin wobbled on unsteady legs that weren’t ready to bear their weight, but Connor propped him up while fetching the kid’s shirt and jumper so that he could get dressed. Zephyr, just like a cat, got up from her spot on the window sill, the sun having moved on from where she fell asleep.

“So what are we doing?” Liz asked, rubbing eyes while fetching her jacket.

“There’s a meeting in the great hall and I thought we ought to go over there and get to know some of our new neighbors. Also, I’ve been thinking about a work offer and should follow up on it.”
“Really? And what is it?” Liz questioned.

Connor walked over to the corner and picked up his father’s sword, unsheathing it slightly to see the glinting steel exposed from its home inside the scabbard.

“Sam, Gerrick’s son, said I should join the town guard.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Asher said, finally awake enough to be listening.

“It’s a lot safer than being on the sea, and it pays more than a lot of the labor around here. Besides, especially in the winter there can’t possibly be that many hazards to worry about.”

“Well, if you think that’s the right thing, I guess I can’t argue. We’re going to need money to buy supplies for winter.” Liz said.

“My thoughts exactly.” Shadow added. “Besides, I’ve seen Connor in action, your brother can handle himself.”

“Oh come now Shadow, I’m far from being a confident fighter.”

“What about that guy in the fighting pits?”

“The what?” Liz asked. She hadn’t heard all the details yet.

“Shadow! You know I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Connor, you were in a fighting pit?”

“Uh… yeah. Like I was saying earlier Liz, it’s a very long story and not all of it is pleasant. Look, if we’re all ready, we had better get going.”
Tightening the sword’s belt around his waist, Connor donned his long black cloak and followed everyone out of the inn and into the street. The citizens were indeed making their way over to the great hall. Well, a lot of people anyway, plenty of others couldn’t care less. Following the crowd, Connor made sure that everyone stayed together, even grabbing Asher’s hand so that he wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.

Walking through the giant wooden doors, they all looked up to a hall lined with chandeliers made of caribou antler and brass candle holders. In the middle was a long, raging fire in a pit extending most of the length of the main room. The place reeked of smoke and sweat, but the seat of power was unmistakable. At the far end of the room, on a platform, were several well-built chairs behind a long table. Older folks were seated along the large tables that extended the length of the room while others stood. Shadow found everyone a spot to watch about halfway down the hall and near one of the large supports.

“I can’t see anything!” Asher exclaimed with frustration. Looking down, Connor rolled his eyes before hoisting the kid up onto his shoulders to watch.


“Much better, thank you.”

“Alright, but I can’t do that forever. You’re heavier than you look.”

“Are you calling me fat?” Asher teased.

“No, but you are growing up quick, so enjoy the view while you can.”

Almost as if on cue, men came out from a back room and took their places along the fancy chairs behind the big table. After all were sat down, the one on the right, but closest to the wooden throne, stood and held up his hands. At once, people began to quiet down. Then the Jarl came out from the back room. He wasn’t dressed as nicely as Connor would have thought. His clothes weren’t much different from the commoners, just a little better quality and with some muted colors.

For a moment, the Jarl paused to look out at his people before sitting down with one arm gripping each of the throne’s armrests. He wasn’t particularly old, perhaps in his thirties. Hair with just slightest hints of grey hung down to meet a beard that was several inches long. Winter was approaching and this apparently was the look of most men. Upon taking a good look at the crowd gathered, the Jarl began to speak.

“Harald, glad to see you could make it in time.” The Jarl greeted one of his friends, who raised a cup to his lord. “And Evan, how is your father?”

“He is improving, my lord.”

“Very good, be sure to send him my regards. Now then, lawspeaker, what is our agenda tonight?”

The man to his right cleared his throat before speaking out in a booming voice. “My lord, we are here to discuss preparations for winter.”

“Excellent. Do we have any news from the port on supplies?”

One of the freemen in the crows stood up. “The harbor master has informed me that there will be two more ships that are scheduled to arrive in the next month, and after that there’s no guarantee that the river will remain open to the coast.”

“We’ll have to put together some able-bodied men who can run the river then. It’s going to be a harsh one, just as my father predicted before his passing. Callow will need all the supplies we can muster.” The Jarl said, issuing his decision.

“Very good, my lord” the lawspeaker said. “Gerrick, I trust that you can assemble the necessary men and boats?”

Gerrick then stepped out so that he could be better seen. “Yes, my lord. So long as the weather holds, this should be a fairly simple task.”

The Jarl nodded, “then make it so, Captain. What is next?”

Another man stood up in the crowd to address the assembly, but waited to speak until the lawspeaker acknowledged him. “My lord, us loggers have been having a wolf problem.”

“Oh? And what is the nature of this problem?”

“You see, my lord, the local snow wolves say that we haven’t been abiding by our treaties. No one has been hurt yet, but they don’t want us venturing further into the forest.”

“This will have to be addressed when the representatives of the Snow Wolf clans arrive in a few days. Until then, are you going to need security to carry out your tasks?”

“No, my lord. We’ve cut about as many trees as we can handle before winter, so it is just a matter of processing what we already have. I should be able to keep my men out of trouble by telling the wolves that this is all the timber we’ll need to stay warm this winter.”

“Good, but that will only be a temporary fix. Lawspeaker, I’ll need to see those treaty documents again before our guests have arrived.”

The lawspeaker was quick to nod in understanding at the Jarl’s command and satisfied the logging foreman sat down. Opening the floor up for others to speak, a mining boss stood up to fill the void.

“Winston, any news from the mines?” the Jarl asked.

“Yes, my lord. This summer we hit a new vein of iron that we’ve been able to trace. It seems to go under the river and into Ditter’s Ridge. The problem is we won’t be able to access the iron from our current mine entrances, so next spring we are going to need permission from the wolves to expand into that section of land.”

“I think we can get that done; those wolves don’t seem too attached to the ridge.”
“Of course, my lord. But if we start mining this new vein, we are going to need even more timber and labor next spring.”

“And I’m sure that can be arranged, Winston. Did you have anything else to report.”

“Yes sir, it is with great sadness that I have to announce an accident in the mine two days ago cost us a dozen lives and made several weeks of work for my men. The families have all been notified of the loss.”

The crowd’s energy cooled at this news. It seemed the lost men were well-known by many people. The Jarl picked up on this.

“That was indeed a tragedy, Winston, but I know you and your men did all you could to get them out. Give me the names of the families after the meeting and I’ll see to it that our treasurer is able to give them compensation and supplies to make it through the winter. When spring comes, we’ll be sure to add onto the memorial.”

Connor was somewhat surprised by this. He hadn’t heard of a king, or even a local lord for that matter, taking such steps for people in the throes of grief. If only one such lord had been in Maine. As each member of the assembly spoke of their news, Connor noticed Gerrick and they locked eyes. A smile formed across the man’s face, and he nodded in approval for Connor.

Liz was watching the meeting from a few feet away when she felt someone tap her on the shoulder. Turning her head, she smiled to see Sam standing there right behind her. In a hushed voice, she said “hello.”

“Liz, right?”


“The name is Sam.”

“You were that guard looking at me earlier when I rode into town, aren’t you.”

Sam looked down trying not to show his embarrassment. “Yes, sorry about that. It’s just, we don’t get a lot of outsiders around here, especially not a proper lady like yourself.”

“Well now, I wouldn’t say I’m exactly proper. You know Connor is my brother, right?”

“Oh yes. I hope he and I will be fast friends.”

“Well, you should probably know, he’s a bit overprotective of his kin. Long story, maybe he’ll tell you some time.”

“I’m certain, Liz, that your brother wants you to build a life here. That’s going to include courting a boy or two.”

“And is that why you’re here Sam, to court me?” Liz asked with a hint of sass in her voice.

“Oh, well, I wouldn’t call it that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I just—”

“I never said I didn’t like it, Sam. Just want to give you enough warning to do things the right way if you want me to give you a chance.”

“So, what is the ‘right way’? I’m a little new to this.”

“Like this…” Liz then reached in a pecked Sam’s cheek, blood rushing to the boy’s face. He couldn’t even muster a word.

“Come see me at the inn sometime. I certainly don’t need my brother’s permission.”

“Oh, okay then. Well, I suppose I’ll see you soon.”
Liz winked at Sam as he disappeared into the crowd. She then looked over to see that Connor hadn’t noticed any of that conversation. He was too focused on the meeting. Oh, but Shadow noticed. She gave Liz a nod and a wink, so at least the only other girl in the family had her back.

Connor was starting to let his mind drift when he saw Gerrick step forward.

“My lord, there was one last piece of business to discuss, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh? Then go-ahead Gerrick, please speak.”

“We had some new visitors today.”

“We get visitors all the time Gerrick, so what about them?”

“Well, I guess I should call them residents. A new family has joined our town, Connor, could you please step forward?”

This took Connor by surprise, but he did as he was asked. Taking Asher off his shoulders and making sure Shadow had a hold of him, Connor stepped through all the people and between two of the long tables until he was visible to the whole room. He was nervous, having all this attention on him. But the Jarl smiled as Connor gave a small bow to show respect, not quite knowing the proper etiquette.

“So, this young man is Connor?”

“Y-yes, my lord.”

“Hey, you’re okay, please don’t be afraid. If Gerrick is correct, you plan on being part of this community anyway. Is your father here?”

“He… I’m sorry to say, my lord, but my father died.”
“Oh? Your mother then?”

“She… she has passed as well.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Connor. So who are you with.”

“Well, my lord, I’ve come here with my sister, Liz, my keidran friend, Shadow, a basitin named Asher, and my dragon, Zephyr.”

The crowd went silent for a moment before everyone burst with laughter. The Jarl wasn’t as amused though.

“Now boy, it’s rude to lie to your lord, you’re old enough to know that. Now, who are you actually here with?”

“He speaks the truth.” Gerrick confirmed, motioning for the rest of the family to step forward. Sure enough, Liz, Shadow, and Asher stepped toward the roaring fire in the middle of the hall while Liz flew down from the rafters and landed on Connor’s shoulder. The assembly gasped and gawked at this unlikely band of friends.

The Jarl was slack jawed for a moment before coming back to reality. “So, you are telling the truth. You have a basitin and a dragon with you?”

“Yes, my lord. Asher here, the basitin, I adopted him after the ship we were on sank in a storm. We’ve come up here so that he could be with other basitin. And Zephyr, well, she was an egg stored on that ship.”

Zephyr’s eyes glowed before jumping to the rim of the fire and bowing to the Jarl, instantly connecting everyone’s mind with her innate magic. “Yes, my lord, I am the last daughter of Nora.” The resemblance and visions were enough to convince everyone in the room. Some held their heads as the vision ended, not in pain, but because the unfamiliar intrusion.

“What? I-I didn’t know dragons could do that.”

“Apologies, my lord.” Connor said while shooting Zephyr a stern look. “She didn’t mean to cause discomfort, that’s just how dragons communicate… apparently.”

“I see. And this dragon, Zephyr, is yours? Like a pet?”

“No, my lord, of course not. She merely wanted to continue traveling with my party so that she could learn more about the world. Like Nora, she seems quite interested in humanity.”

“Well, anyways, on behalf of everyone here, welcome to Callow. We certainly are not strangers to oddities. If there is anything you need of me, you need only to ask.”

“Well, my lord, there is one thing.” Connor then motioned for his family to melt back into the crowd. “I am in need of employment, and as you can see, I have several mouths to feed. Captain Gerrick’s son, Sam, said that you could always use more people for the town guard.”

“Gerrick, can you confirm this?” the lawspeaker asked while looking at the captain of the guard.

“Yes, sir! My son tells me he’s a good lad. And just look at him, he’s young and strong, quite trainable, and he’s even brought his own sword.” Gerrick then pointed at the long scabbard hanging from Connor’s hip.

“May I see the blade, Connor?” The Jarl asked.

The teen did as he was instructed and removed the sword from its sheath before gently holding it out in front of him across both of his hands, then kneeling at the foot of the throne, sword held high above his head. The Jarl slowly got up from his seat and stepped down the stairs before gently taking up the sword in his own hands. The Jarl admired the blade in the dim light, running his fingers down it.

“This is a very fine blade, young man. How did you come across it?”
Connor looked up at his new lord, “It was my father’s, sir. He was a man-at-arms in his younger years.”

“Then perhaps service of this kind runs in the family. Go ahead Connor, bow your head down and don’t move.”

Connor felt the cold steel of the blade gently tap his head followed by his right and left shoulders. He then saw the lord’s hand extend down to his face.

“Kiss the ring, child, and you’ll declare your loyalty to me and this town.”

Connor gently grabbed the Jarl’s hand and kissed the ring.

“Rise up lad. What was your full name?”

“It’s Ulstad sir, Connor Ulstad.”

“Then by the powers invested in me as Jarl of Callow, I hereby make you, Connor Ulstad, a member of the town guard. Now, go back to your family and see Gerrick after the meeting.”

“Thank you, my lord, I won’t disappoint.”

“I have every confidence you’ll make a fine guardsman, now take your father’s blade and run along.”

The assembly then began to slam their fists on tables and clap. It was a basic ceremony, but it wasn’t common to have such a thing in the middle of a town meeting like this. Usually it was only with the lord, the captain of the guard, and a handful of others present. Once back with his family, Connor could barely stand. Just like that, he was hired as a guardsman.

The meeting was over soon after. First the Jarl stood up and exited, followed by his counsel. Next, the freemen and the elderly were allowed to exit, then everyone else. Walking out into the brisk night, Gerrick called Connor’s name. With a nod, Connor let Shadow escort Liz and Asher back to the tavern while Zephyr opted to stay perched on the teen’s shoulder.

“You made the right decision Connor. We’ll find permanent quarters for your kin, and you’ll get paid both with money and food.”

“Thank you, sir, I can’t begin to pay you back for this opportunity.”

“Do your best, boy, and you’ll pay me back a hundred times over. Now then, get a good night’s rest after your travels, and come by mid-morning tomorrow. We’ll start training you immediately and we’ll get you fitted with basic armor and weaponry.”

“Again, thank you sir. Would you mind of Zephyr joined?”

“Of course not. A dragon would be a great honorary addition to the guard. You should bring your sword too. I can tell you don’t have much experience with that one.”

“No sir, I don’t. In fact, most of my skill is in the bow, and even then, it’s just good enough to hunt.”

“Not to worry, lad, we’ll get you into fighting shape and give you some proper tools. Now go on and be with your family. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The sun rose early, far earlier than Connor would have liked. Still, he was up and out of the inn with Zephyr by his side, taking care to be quiet as a mouse so as to not wake up the others. Strolling down to the great hall. As per Sam’s instructions, Connor found the headquarters for the town guard and walked in to find that Gerrick was already going about his work for the day.

“Ah, Connor! You’re here early, I like the spirit lad! Now then, follow me and I’ll see to it that you have all the equipment you need, then you’ll start your training.”

Following Gerrick, Connor found himself in the armory. Boiled leather, wool, and chainmail. The bitter cold would make any plate armor a death sentence for the wearer. A belt and a seax were also provided. All the clothing gave the teen’s lean frame more weight, though there were certainly pockets of space where muscles would eventually fill in. The armorer offered Connor a sword, but he opted instead to keep his father’s blade.

Paperwork, and signing a new contract followed. Connor made sure to read every word to ensure that no one from his family would be taken to be worked in his place should he ever die. Afterward was another tour, but this time pointing out all the defensive structures, the locations of supply stashes in case of attacks, the station that Connor would man in case of a siege, and where everything was inside the guard buildings. Finally at the end of all the tedious work, Gerrick brought Connor up to the wall to shadow Sam.

“Connor, you remember Sam?”

“Of course sir!” The teen shot a hand to shake his new colleague.

“Glad to see you in uniform Connor! It suits you.”

“Well… I’ll get used to it I suppose. Not used to wearing armor much.”

Another guard cleared his throat, which made Sam realize he was forgetting someone.

“Oh yes, and this here is Smith. His family came here a few months ago and, like you, he chose to take the cloak.”

“Smith, eh? Where did you come from in Mekkan, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Riverton, sir.”

“No [censored]? I’m from Maine, myself. Just across the strait. And by the way, the name’s Connor, not sir.”
“Sure thing, I think we’ll get along just fine.”


“With pleasantries out of the way,” Sam said, “it’s time we start the route.”

“Don’t let me keep you boys.” Said Gerrick as he excused himself.

“Alright Sam, so what are we doing here?”

“Connor, what we are going to be doing is patrolling the walls. We’ll spend an hour on top of the wall, and hour outside the wall, and an hour inside. A total shift is twelve hours, and we do a full week in four days. Think you can handle it?”

“Well, my last job was 16 hours every day on the sea, so I’m just happy to be on solid ground this time.”

“Just wait until winter comes…” Smith said. Of course, he and Connor both knew that being near the coast afforded them a childhood of wet, but mild winters. Out here on the tundra it would be different. Their shift would continue for hours. Mostly, they sat in silence as befitting of guards tasked with keeping the town safe and peaceful. Of course, the occasional joke or short conversation would come up. Finally, as the sun was settling toward the western horizon, two guards came to relieve the trio.

“Alright gentlemen, back to the guard house.” Sam said to his two newer colleagues.

“Oh man, I can’t wait to get out of this armor.” Smith said with relief in his voice.

“You know Smith, you don’t have to wear every piece of armor you get issued. Connor over here is doing things right.”

“What do you mean?” Connor asked, mildly confused. After all, he had only worn what he was told to.

“The chainmail and wool makes for a far more comfortable shift than wearing thick plate armor. We typically just use that stuff when under attack.”

“Under attack? By whom?”

Sam explained, “The wolves, of course. In the early days, my dad said that the first settlers here would come under attack by the local snow wolves. It makes sense if you ask me, I’d be kind of pissed too if someone just decided to make my backyard their home.”

“Yeah, but we haven’t had problems lately.” Smith was quick to point out.

“True, but that was because Tostig’s father, the previous Jarl of Callow, brokered peace and made treaties. Just between us fellas, Tostig has been ignoring his father’s advice. The snow wolves are already mad about all the timber we’ve been harvesting and the new iron mines going up.”

“Really? I haven’t noticed a lot of tension.” Connor replied.

“I’m surprised, I would think you of all people would be able to feel the tension in the air.” Sam said.

“How so?”

“Well, you’re the only one of us who hangs out with a keidran. Heck, you seem to treat her like an equal. Most of the keidran in Callow are either laborers or slaves, only the snow wolves are free. They aren’t stupid you know, those wolves know that if humans gain too much of a foothold, it will be game over for them too.”

“I see. I guess that explains why so many of the town-folk were looking at Shadow when we rode in. She is a free keidran. I’m not her master, nor her employer. I’ll have to start paying more attention.”

“Best not let that fall on the wrong ears, Connor. There are some slavers out here too.”

“Smith is right, though I’m sure Shadow will be fine as long as she stays with your kin. The slavers are going after stray wolves mostly. That said, it’s especially important to pay attention to the snow wolves that come here to trade. While Tostig hasn’t told the guard to spy on visitors, we’re the eyes and ears of the town. If there is something brewing, we need to know about it.”

“Noted. Well, looks like we’re back at HQ.”

“Finally! I’m ready for a good ale after hiking around in all this armor.”

“Then let’s head in guys.” Sam led the way, motioning for Smith and Connor to follow. Gerrick was inside and ending his shift as well when his son and two recruits came inside.

“Ah, right on time lads! Connor, how was your first shift?”

“Uneventful sir, but I’m grateful to be stationed with a couple of decent guys.”

“Very good. You and Smith will be doing weapons training tomorrow before joining Sam, so I hope you two rest up tonight.”

“Yes sir!” Both teens replied.

“Oh, and Smith, why are you wearing so much armor?”

“I was, uh… I guess I just overdressed.”

“Well, I appreciate the enthusiasm, but you’re going to give yourself a heart attack if you try to lug all that around when winter comes. Just use mail and padding like the rest of us, okay?”

“Yes, sir…” Smith said before the trio walked passed Gerrick and headed to the armory to turn in their gear for the night. Truth be told, Connor was exhausted. Sure, he had rode and walked all the way across the continent with family in tow, but he didn’t have to wear sixty pounds of gear. Once out of his armor, Connor bid farewell to his two colleagues and made his way back to Anna Marie’s.

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