Land of the North Wind

Post all your stories, poems, and haiku's here!

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
Posts: 12
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: 12
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: 12
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.

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

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.

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Chapter 4: First Snow

#5 Post by jjw2795 »

The courier walked briskly down the busy city street in Knockford. Wooden houses made a sort of canyon down the winding street. The fall breeze kicked up leaves. Further north winter was setting in but being near the coast, the town stayed relatively warm, if a little wet, during the winter. He had been delivering packages all morning and had only a couple of runs left until a well-earned break after noon. Turning a corner at a large fountain, the courier went down a side street, one of his many short cuts memorized from years of running through the city.

After several blocks of weaving around people in the street going about their business, the man came to his destination, a large courtyard filled with market vendors from all over the human kingdom. It would take him several more minutes, but eventually he found the right lot in the market place. A large wooden wagon laden with all kinds of textiles and oddities from around Mekkan. No one seemed to be at the booth though, so walking around to the rear of the wagon, he knocked gently on the back step. A young woman’s voice replied.

“Just a moment, I’ll be happy to help you with whatever you need.”

“It’s me, ma’am. Got a letter for you.”

“Oh, Gerald! I didn’t realize it was you!” Eira poked her head out, putting down the thick book she was reading. She reached out her hand as Gerald placed it in her hand.

“Is it from an admirer of yours?”

“Oh, I… well, Gerald, I guess you’re right. His name is Connor. Last I saw him, he was going home to Maine. But his last one was dated three months ago. He was around Sarn when he wrote it.”

“Well, this one is from Callow, ma’am.”

“Callow? Where is that? Eira said as she took delivery of her letter.

“In the far North, snow wolf territory. A mining and logging town.”

“Really? So that must mean he’s…”

“Gone as far west as a human can go on Mekkan, at least not without being slaughtered by those vicious beasts.”

Eira new that was nonsense… mostly, but it was the predominant view of people in the center of the human territory. Far from any conflict, humans thrived here without interaction with other races besides slaves and servants.

“If you don’t mind, Eira, I must keep going. Almost lunch time.”

“Oh... right. Apologies for keeping you, Gerald. Take care and thank you!”

With a nod of his hat, Gerald melted into the market and headed toward his next destination. Unsheathing her sword, Eira used the sharp tip to open the seal of the letter. Unfolding it, she read every letter with excitement and anticipation.

We made it! Not to the basitin village, unfortunately. But we made it to Callow. I’m sitting on the wall right now as I write. This is going out with the last horse-courier back over the mountains. I figured you’d be down in Knockford by the time this gets to you, so I sent it south.
Anyway, we are all in good health. I joined the local guard in Callow two days ago. Not a terribly hard job, just a lot of walking. Liz is working at the inn, doing double duty as a barmaid and a housekeeper. This has given us a good discount on our room, which is fortunate because there isn’t much for housing up here. So many loggers and miners, it seems they just sleep in the forest or the mine shafts…
Shadow is doing well, as is Zephyr. Shadow has been taking odd jobs around town, which seems to be winning her friends. Zephyr, ever curious, is usually off exploring. I tell her to be careful, but since when does a dragon heed the words of a human? Asher is healthy, but I can tell he’s not satisfied staying in Callow. He misses his people a lot. We’re in the right spot to find a basitin, but we may have to wait until spring until a merchant comes through, then we’ll find out where to go. Asher isn’t so happy about that, poor little guy, but he’s safe and has a warm bed to sleep in, so I think he’ll be okay.
I sure hope to hear back from you this spring when trade roads open again. The courier is leaving in an hour, so I’ll leave it at that.
As always, I love you.

“Conner… You did it.” She said to herself. They had made it before winter, found shelter, and jobs. But now they were in the far North, surely that was going to be cold…

Two months earlier…

The brutal North wind howled as the first snowstorm bore down on Callow. Most people would have enough sense to stay inside, but Connor was on patrol with Smith. They had become fast friends and were working the same shifts. The storm had come upon the town in the early morning. Until then, the air was chilly but dry. Now it seemed old man winter had come to collect his due, the price for living this far North was a miserable 7 months of continuous snow.

Connor and Smith had volunteered to escort a party down river to the port. The river would be frozen over in a couple more weeks, and the town needed as many supplies as could be found. They were on top of the wall when, over the sound of the wind, they caught a distant shout for help. Both teens looked at each other before quickly descending the nearest stairway to street level. Running toward the cries for help, they came upon a many trying to find guards in the storm.

“Guards! Over here! Quickly!”

Concerned, both approached the figure, revealed to be keidran. A snow leopard to be specific, and one that Conner knew of but hadn’t conversed with.

“What’s the problem?” Smith shouted over the wind.

“There’s a brawl in a tavern!”

A glowing light flew into view, revealing Zephyr who swooped down to Connor’s shoulder. “It’s Anna Marie’s! There’s a big fight.”

Connor’s eyes lit up with concern.

“Show me! Come on Smith, my family could be in danger!”

It was a busy night in the tavern. Liz was running dishes and drinks for Anna Marie. The storm was good for business, as locals attempting to stay out of their homes for as long as possible before the heart of winter set in would flock to the few places, they could get a good meal and food. Anna had hired all the help she could get to keep her clientele happy with service. Four out of her six part time staff were keidran. The cook, a large wolf that more resembled a bear than a canine, could cook a meal as mean as his looks. Fortunately for the big guy, he was in the back where he could be left to his work.

It was so busy in fact that Shadow and Asher had pitched in for a little extra in wages. They weren’t officially employees, but they could easily clean tables and wash dishes. Zephyr was intrigued by the gathering and used the beams holding up the ceiling as a perch. She was practicing her mind-reading skills but wasn’t liking a lot of the topics being discussed. Liz was running empty plates back when someone tapped her shoulder.

“One moment sir—” But she didn’t finish her sentence when Liz turned to see Sam.

“Oh, Sam! Sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

“Hey Liz, busy night, huh?”

“Yeah, hey, look this really isn’t the best time to talk.”

“Oh, totally! I just wanted to ask if I’d be able to catch you after your shift tonight?”

“Shift, ha! I’m going to be working until the early morning.”

“That’s right!” Boomed Anna’s voice from behind both. “Now Sam, are ya gonna order somethin’ or are ya gonna git?”

“Oh, I, ah—”

“Alright then. Get movin’ Sam before I give yer daddy a holler.”

“Y-yes ma’am!” Sam gave Liz a quick smile before leaving the bar.

“Boys…” Anna sighed. “That one’s a goodin’ Liz, but I need ya’ll to focus tonight. Hasn’t been hoppin’ like this in ages.”

“Yes ma’am, sorry.”

“Oh don’t be sorry Liz, Sam needs to learn to leave a woman alone when she’s a workin’. Now, let’s serve them [censored] [censored] their ale.” Both went back to their tasks. Even that minute or so of a distraction was enough to put a couple tables behind. Normally not a big deal, but on a night like tonight when space was at a premium and blood-alcohol levels were at a high, it wouldn’t take much.

Normally, keidran and humans would keep to themselves, but a group of visiting snow wolves didn’t know they were sitting too close to a group of human miners. Already drunk and impatient for their food, the miners weren’t exactly in a good mood. The wolves, for their part, were irritated by the noise inside the bar. It was disorienting. They had come into town to trade and do a bit of gambling. None had much success that day and were cutting the trip short, planning to leave in the morning.

What set it off was a mystery, but a loud crash and a scream rang out. For just a split second, everyone dropped their conversation to see a wolf and man slashing at each other. What happened next was pandemonium. The wolves were outnumbered, but they fought tooth and nail. Unfortunately, the miners and loggers ate nails for breakfast and could give as well as they could take. Most other keidran and a fair share of humans fled for the exits, including a certain snow leopard, but the brawl was composed of about twenty individuals.

Liz rushed out from the back only to dodge a mug shattering against the wall. It was meant for a man’s head but missed. One man was thrown over the bar counter and landed hard on the floor.

“Liz!” Zephyr yelled from the rafters. Liz looked up “Go find Connor!” She then turned her attention back to the man on the ground. “Sir, are you okay?” Liz asked, concerned with the sudden change from busy to fury.

The man, drunk, wasn’t in a healthy state of mind. “Oh, well aren’t you a pretty one…” Liz backed up as he stumbled to his feet. “Come here you, it’s been a long time since I was with a proper woman.”

“Wait, what? Ew, no! Get away from me!” He wasn’t deterred. The man cornered Liz when Sam approached from the rear.

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing to Liz!” Sam shouted, but he was too slow in his armor to dodge the man’s right hook, hitting so hard it dented the side of his helmet. Sam fell back and struggled to get up as the miner turned back to Liz. Only, Liz wasn’t there. Confused, the man looked up slowly to see a big, bad, wolf.

“You… out of my way! That lady there, she’s mine!” The cook responded by picking up the man up by one arm and throwing him across the room and into another miner. The wolf turned to Liz and motioned for her to get into the kitchen. Shadow, now aware of what was happening, quickly grabbed Liz with one hand and Asher with the other, who had poked his head out to see what the commotion was about.

“Come on guys, let the big guy get to work.” Shadow said, worried about how bad this was going to get.

“Where’s Anna?” one of the staff asked.

“No idea, but we gotta slip out the back, let’s go!” Shadow replied, pulling Connor’s siblings into the back alley with the remaining kitchen staff following.

“T-thank you…” Sam said to the cook as he picked himself up off the floor.

“Get fighting or get out.” Is all the wolf said before pulling out a bat to defend his kitchen. Sam knew it was his duty, but he had no backup and by the Masks did he need it! He stood on the counter and yelled at the top of his lungs.

“Stop fighting! NOW!”

A couple of men turned their head and sneered at the young guard before diving back into the fight. By now the wolves were starting to get picked off. Two were down on the ground and another was beaten to a pulp. Sam had enough. He unsheathed his sword and jumped from the counter as the big cook leapt over the bar. Anna Marie came out from the back with a bucket of cold water and threw the contents on a miner that got close enough before slamming the bucket on the man’s head. That attracted unwanted attention from another miner, but before he could get close enough to the woman, Anna’s cook delivered a devastating blow.

Sam charged into the middle of the brawl, but a couple of miners tried to take his sword away from him. Instead, one got a blade right through the gut. This shocked the rest of the miners. “Hey, you’re supposed to be on our side!”

“I’m on the side of the law, now cease it, now!” Sam growled. Unfortunately, the teen was hardly intimidating. The big wolf behind him was a different story though. One miner, too drunk to see the situation properly, charged at Sam but the teen slashed him down in an instant. Another tried to flank the guard, but the cook gave the man a chunk of his bat. The rest, possibly figuring that backup was on the way, took the opportunity to run off into the night.

None of the wolves, save the cook, were uninjured. Four lay motionless on the ground, two more were barely conscious. Only one, clearly a veteran warrior, had escaped serious injury.

“Sam!” Liz shouted, rushing in from the side of the building, Shadow, and Asher in right behind her.

“Liz, are you hurt?”

“No, thanks to Victor… and you.”

The cook only gave a nod before going to help Anna out from behind the bar.

Liz looked into Sam’s eyes. “You were really going to fight that man for me.”

“Well yeah, I wasn’t about to let some drunken [censored] hurt you.”
Liz quickly embraced Sam. “Well, you’ve certainly earned yourself a date for that.”

She peeled off Sam’s helmet and went in for a kiss. However, both heard new footsteps approaching and Sam looked up just in time to see Connor being led by Zephyr, his sword drawn and ready to fight.

“Oh! Connor. Thank the Gods you’re here. We need to—”

Connor’s fist made a hard contact with Sam’s face, sending the guard straight to the ground.

“What the hell happened here? Liz, are you okay? Where’s Shadow and Asher?”

“Wha-- Connor! What the hell was that?”

“I’ll deal with Sam latter, now answer me.”

“We’re fine, Connor. Thanks in part to Sam! And you just knocked him out!”

“He was kissing you… also it looks like a battlefield in here. Seriously, what the hell is going on?”

“I was kissing him you idiot. He saved me from getting hurt.”

“Okay, okay. Hold up. Why would you kiss Sam? You’re only fourteen.”

“So what if I am, Connor? Are you going to punch out every boy I’m interested in.”


“Alright, so if I kiss Victor over there, who also saved me, are you going to punch him out too?”

Connor looked at the big cook. Victor took a moment to glare at the teen, sending a chill up Connor’s spine with his one good eye.

“Okay not Victor.” Connor said, sweating nervously at the thought of having to fight such a hulking figure.

“Connor! What’s going on here?” Gerrick said, entering the tavern with a contingent of guards. By now, people had rushed in to help the survivors. “Sam! Connor, is he hurt?”

“He’ll be fine, sir.”

“Sir!” Smith said. “Sam was kissing Connor’s sister and—”

“And I get the picture…” Gerrick said, shaking his head. “Connor, you realize I could court-martial your [censored] for striking a superior, right? When my son wakes up, he’s going to have every right to have you kicked out of the guard, and I’ll be happy to strip you of your contract.”

“I’m not going to do anything of the sort.” Sam said, getting up off the floor, having come to a few moments ago. Smith moved to help Sam up, but he waved his friend away.

“Connor didn’t know the situation, and I shouldn’t have been fraternizing while in uniform.”

“No, you shouldn’t be. So you don’t hold anything against Connor?”

“I don’t, but I hope he’ll talk to me before getting violent again.”

Connor was shocked by the exchange. He knew that punching Sam wasn’t a bright idea, but every fiber of his being urged him to keep his sister safe.

“Right, well, Connor, Smith, you should get back to your posts. I’ve got it from here, and I’ll see to it that your friends and family stay safe.” Gerrick said, moving past his teenage guardsmen, muttering under his breath about stupid kids and their drama.

“Shadow, keep Liz and Asher safe until I’m done with my shift.” Connor said to Shadow as he turned to leave with Smith, ruffling Asher’s hair in the process. “And Liz, this discussion isn’t over.”

“Neither is it between us.” Gerrick said. I want to see you and Sam in my office in an hour.

“Yes sir…” Connor said, before exiting the bloody mess inside the tavern and entering the storm again to cool off, figuratively and literally.

The hour passed quickly before Sam and Smith were relieved of their post. After putting away their equipment in the armory, Connor went to wait by Gerrick’s office. Sitting outside was Sam, holding a pack of snow on the side of his head.

“You got a hell of an arm, Connor.”

“Sam, look, I’m sorry. I just—”

“You’re protective of Liz, I get it.”

“It’s not just that. Sam, it’s not that I don’t trust you, but we’ve only known each other for a couple of days. If you are interested in Liz, why didn’t you just tell me?”

“Because I don’t need your permission Connor, you don’t own her. Liz doesn’t need your permission either. But all the same, I get it. You told me that you and she had been separated for a long time. I’d be protective too.”

Before they could continue, Gerrick came into the room. “Alright boys, inside.”

Both stood at attention in Gerrick’s office.

“Sit, both of you. This isn’t the bloody army; we just keep the peace.”

The man took a moment to let his silence get under the boys’ skin before starting.

“Connor! You’re damn lucky Sam doesn’t want to press charges! You’re even luckier I don’t kick you out onto the street. I give you an opportunity to have a real career and you’re already letting your anger destroy it for you. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Spine stiff as a board, Connor responded as best as he could, being careful to choose his words. “I let my emotions get the better of me, sir. I saw my sister and Sam standing in a pool of blood and reacted as any brother would. But it won’t happen again.”

“Which brings me to you, Sam.” Gerrick’s eyes then narrowed. I’m the captain of the guard, I can’t have my son going around kissing every teenage girl that looks at him. When you are in uniform, you are not my son, you are my lieutenant, perhaps even my replacement one day. You cannot afford to slip up even once, and from Shadow’s testimony, it’s clear that if you two had communicated like guards should, one wouldn’t be assaulting the other.

“Yes sir.” Sam said. He understood every word. He had read the rules many times to the point that he had them memorized. If there was any guard that knew better, it was him. Still, it’s not like flirting with a woman is wrong, it was only wrong to do so while representing Callow’s guard.
“Now then, I’m going to leave the details up to you two, but I suggest you both talk it out. Connor, I highly suggest apologizing if you haven’t done so already. I know my son is a forgiving man, so I don’t doubt you can move past this.”

A knock on the door then interrupted Gerrick, who called for the stranger to enter. A guard leaned in. “Captain, Jarl Tostig requests your immediate presence. Snow wolves are here demanding answers.”

“Thank you, tell Tostig I’ll be there momentarily. Alright boys, I need to get to work. Connor, go home and help Anna clean up that mess. That’s an order, not a suggestion. Sam, I’ll see you at home.

Gerrick entered the main hall where two councils were in the middle of their meeting. One on side of the table was Tostig and his council members, on the other was a group of local Snow wolf chiefs. Gerrick came to Tostig’s side of the table and waited while they argued. One of the wolves was especially angry.

“Four wolves dead, and another hanging on for dear life. I want the guilty men handed over to us.”

“Now now, chief.” Tostig replied. “I’m not just going to hand over men, they wouldn’t even get a trial from you savages. They are humans, not animals.”

This latest remark astonished the snow wolves. “You, sir, are nothing like your father.”

“My father was a patient man, a good man. But he wasn’t a wise man. He gave you all far too long of a leash. Gerrick supervised the clean-up and took testimony from witnesses both human and keidran. Captain, what did you find?”

“My Lord, we spoke to as many as we could. While we know the results of this tragedy, we don’t yet have a clear picture as to who started the fight and whether the miners were acting in self-defense.”

“See?” Tostig smiled. “I can’t hand over guilty men because, well, they aren’t guilty yet. I assure you all, we will have a trial and---”

“A trial” one wolf growled, standing up. “This isn’t the first time one of my people have been killed in this city. This never happens in our wolf villages to you human traders, yet you dare to call us savages!? Your trials mean nothing to us anymore, we want justice, not excuses.” The other wolves nodded in agreement.

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t just hand over the men. For one thing there’s what, twenty or so suspects?” One of the counselors whispered in his ear. “Twenty-three suspects. Besides that, some of the injured victims are my own subjects. Some are even keidran. Where’s the justice for them?”

“Your justice is a joke, Tostig” The leader of the wolves stood to support his brothers. "A dozen trials for various offenses like this, and not once have you convicted one of your own. We know it’s because you need all the labor you can get. Labor to dig out the earth, pulling wealth from the land that rightfully belongs to us. You use our timber for your gain, and we get little in return. Well no more. The Snow wolves are done putting up with your transgressions.”

“What are you saying, Kardak?” Tostig asked, teeth grinding.

“No more timber, no more minerals. No more travel, no more trade. We won’t allow you to defile our land and people any more. By springtime, those of you still holding on will beg to be allowed to return to your own lands.”

“So it’s war then?”

Kardak laughed. “No Tostig, we wolves will defend our land and resources, but we aren’t going to attack your city. Most of the people in these wall did nothing to offend us, it’s the company that you keep and your character we despise. Your father would be disappointed in how you lead your people. You’re nothing like him. You lack his compassion and empathy. I knew we should have supported your brother when we had the chance. I suggest you and your people abandon this town.”

“I’m not abandoning my town.”

“Then I hope you humans can eat grass, Tostig. Because you’ll be starving by spring.”

With that, the wolves stood up and promptly left. Not a guard dared to harm them, lest their actions bring about swift and brutal retribution. Tostig was incensed, though he did his best to keep his cool. “Damn fleabags” he said once he was certain the wolves were out of earshot.

“This isn’t good for business Gerrick. But we can’t let these wolves tell us what we can and can’t do. They might get it in their heads that they still own this land.”

“Sir, if I may, no one owns this land. It’s far too wild to be tamed, and we are in no position to survive a blockade. Let me find the guilty men and hand them ov—”

“No, Gerrick. Those miners might be insufferable fools, but I need every man to keep working. Where am I going to find two dozen miners to replace the idiots who got us into this mess? No, they need to work, and mark my word I’ll work them until they drop for this, but not before I can extract every ounce of iron out of these hills. It’s the largest vein in Mekkan and it has the potential to put this town on the map.”

“So what would you like me to do then, my Lord? We certainly don’t have the men to fight.”

“No, but you do have the men to fetch supplies, right?”

“Well, yes, I suppose. We were going to send an expedition to retrieve supplies from the port. The river should remain open long enough that if they leave within two days, they’ll be able to return before freeze-up.”

“Good, then make it so, Captain Gerrick. I need all the supplies I can get. It will take the wolves several days, if not a couple of weeks, to organize outside our walls. Tell your volunteers we’re going to need them to move quicker than we had originally planned.”

Asher and Shadow could hear the siblings arguing in the room down the hall. They had volunteered to help clean up the mess alongside the staff for the tavern. Yelling would get louder, then quieter, then louder again. A couple of minutes felt like hours.


“Yeah kid?”

“I’ve never heard either of them this angry before. Are we… are we going to still be a family?”

“Oh Asher,” Shadow sighed, “yes, we’ll still be a family, as will Connor and Liz.”

“It’s odd.” Zephyr commented. “I know those two love each other, I can feel the intent behind their thoughts and words. So why yell?”

“I guess Liz doesn’t want to follow our leader.” Asher surmised.

“You really didn’t have siblings back on that island, did you?” Shadow replied, before explaining. “Trust me on this, siblings argue a lot. Conner is being over-protective, and Liz has been on her own long enough that she isn’t going to sit around and be told what to do.”

“So Connor is in the wrong?” Asher asked.

“Mostly. Yeah, he does make a point that you shouldn’t fall head over heels for the first boy you see, but I’ve been around Liz long enough to know she wouldn’t just go kissing anybody. Connor has to learn that he doesn’t need to protect us so much, or one day he’ll get himself killed.”

Just then a knock on the door to the tavern attracted everyone’s attention. With faint shouting in the background, Sam poked his head in the entry.

“Is everyone alright?”

Shadow scoffed. “What, you mean besides the dead wolves and Anna’s ruined tavern?”

“You’re right, but what I mean is you all okay?”

“Yeah, we’re fine.”

“And Liz?”

“Right now Liz and Connor are having a—”

“Conversation.” Connor said while massaging his cheek, interrupting Shadow.

Sam looked at him up and down. “Not much of a conversation, if you ask me. It looks like Liz gave you a taste of your own medicine.”

“Yeah, well I suppose I deserve it.”

“Could I see her?” Sam asked sheepishly.

“I don’t think so Sam. Look, I deserve a boot up my [censored] and a slap in the face for hitting you, and I am sorry I let my temper get the better of me. But Gerrick is right about not talking to me first. I don’t own my sister, but keeping her safe, along with Asher, Zephyr, and even Shadow is my job.”

“That’ll have to keep for a while, I guess.” Sam said. “Dad… I mean, Gerrick, is going to need you and the other expedition volunteers to move out tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? I thought that wasn’t for another few days?”

“This latest incident was apparently the last straw for the wolves.”

“Hard to blame them.” Shadow interjected, “if this is what happens to keidran coming into Callow, I imagine those wolves would love it if you humans up and left.”

“That may be, but at the moment we are expecting the town to be cut off from the outside world. Normally we wouldn’t fret about the coming snow, but if we aren’t able to get to local resources…”

“Then we won’t make it through the winter.” Connor finished.

“Exactly. Tomorrow’s expedition will be our best chance to secure enough supplies to last the winter. You think you’re up to it?”

“Well, while I don’t like Shadow talking too much about what happened before we got here, I’ve got plenty of experience evading people whom I don’t want to run into.”

“We both have that experience, actually.” Shadow said. “Let me come with and I can help if there’s any trouble.”

“No chance, Shadow.” Connor said. “I need someone here to protect Asher and Liz. However, Zephyr would be a perfect addition to the expedition. Small, doesn’t eat much, plus she can read minds and she can fly ahead to give us warning.”

“That’ll do.” Sam smiled. “I’m sure Gerrick will be happy with that addition.”

Zephyr then floated down from the rafters and landed on a nearby table. “If it means seeing more of this area, I’d be happy to help in any way I can.”

“In that case, looks like we’ve got preparations to make, Zephyr.”
Connor turned to leave with Sam, confusing Asher and Shadow. “Where are you going?” the boy asked.

“Back to the guard station. I’ll probably sleep in a bunk there tonight; I doubt Liz wants to see me until tomorrow. Shadow, you’ve got the kids, right?”

“Yeah yeah, I’ll make sure we don’t have any more trouble around here.”

With that, Connor and Sam walked back into the storm as Zephyr floated up into the air, using fire breath like a beacon. It was already beginning to let up and promised a bright, sunny day tomorrow.

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Chapter 5: The Expedition

#6 Post by jjw2795 »

Connor penned the last couple sentences of the letter he had been adding to over the past couple of days. The sun was nearing the top of its arc across the sky, and the expedition would be leaving soon. From his perch on the wall he could see the last courier of the season collecting parcels to go back East. Knowing Eira would be down in Knockford, he penned her full name on the envelope with a note to deliver to a market in the town.

Sliding down the ladder and onto solid ground, Connor hurried to catch the courier before he departed with a light caravan of riders. Seasonal miners and the like were done with the first snow and were headed over the mountains before the passes closed up. Summer was over, and unlike most areas in Mekkan, the autumn season around Callow could last anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks before the snows began to bury everything. Unfortunately, this year it looked like the former was going to hold true.

With a nod to the courier and well wishes spoken, the teen turned his attention back to a more pressing matter. He should speak to Liz, as well as everyone else, before he set out. Peaking down the street toward the main hall, Connor could see supplies being carried out of town and to the river where a handful of boats awaited their cargo. He promised himself not to go to sea again, but at least a river had a start and an end.

He made his way back to Anna Marie’s only to find Shadow in the tavern, helping Anna get the place ready for the evening when business would inevitably pick up again.

“Ya’ll have been so helpful, but you ‘specially Shadow. None of my staff, ‘cept Liz, were willin’ to come in this mornin’ an’a help me get this here bar clean’d an’a ready.”

“It’s the least I could do, Miss Anna. What happened here was tragic, but people need a place to come in for food and ale.”

“Speaking of…” Connor stepped in, “Miss Anna, you wouldn’t happen to have any leftover food I could buy from you on the cheap for myself and the others? I’m sure they’d be happy to have something other than salted meat and hard bread.

“Of course I do dear, an’ don’t ya fuss ‘bout the pay. If you boys can get them supplies back here, then this winter will go by lots quicker.”

“The boys and I thank you, ma’am. And we’ll get those supplies back or die trying.”

“Please don’t say that.” Shadow said. “We all appreciate you volunteering for this, but we need you to come back. Liz and Asher especially.”

“Hey, I’ll make it back. I had better go see Liz and Asher before I go. Are they in the room?”


“Thanks, both of you. I know they’ll be in good hands. I’ll come back for that food in a few minutes.”

“Sure thing.” Shadow said, “In fact, I’ll get it bundled up for you.”

Connor walked down the hallway and turned to face the door at the end. Opening it gently, the teen stepped in, finding Liz near the window reading while Asher was practicing his hand writing.

“Hey, mind if I come in?”

Liz looked up, annoyed. “Are you here to yell at me again for daring to have a life?”

Connor sighed, “No, I’m actually here to say goodbye. The expedition is leaving soon.”

Asher stopped and looked up, “already? What about preparations?”

“Preparations are done, Asher. We worked half the night to get the boats ready. Last of them is being loaded right now, in fact.”

Asher shot up from the bed and jumped to hug Connor. The teen could hear a little muffled voice say “I don’t want you to go…”

Connor could hardly keep himself from choking up, but managed to hold back tears, letting only a little hint of them show in his eyes. “Hey, I know buddy. But I know you’ll be taken care of. So keep studying, I can’t wait to see how much better your writing is when I get back. Okay?”

Asher nodded but didn’t let go. The teen picked him up and came over to Liz, sitting down in the chair across the table from her.

“Look, Liz, I shouldn’t have yelled. And I shouldn’t have punched Sam right in the face. It’s just… well… it’s hard to accept you aren’t a little girl anymore.”

“And I’m sorry for slapping you. I know you’re just trying to keep us safe. And look, Connor, you’ve helped us all so much. But if we’re going to live here, I need to start making my own life. Is it really so bad that I’d want to be with Sam and get to know him more?”

“No, there’s certainly worse people who could be attracted to. Okay, well that’s all I really wanted to say. If you want to see Sam, I’m not going to stand in your way. But if he does anything at all that gets you hurt, I want you to let me, or Shadow know. He should treat you right, anything less is unacceptable.”


“Alright bud, I need to get going.” Connor picked up Asher and sat him down on the bed, wiping away a tear from the boy’s face as he stood up. “The plan is to be back within two weeks, before the river freezes over for sure. Stay safe, listen to Shadow and Anna. I’m sure Sam will be watching out for you as well.”

“He’s not going?” Liz asked.

“No, he needs to stay and help prepare the town for winter.”

Liz then stood up and embraced her brother. He hugged her back, resting his chin on her head, pulling her in close. “You both mean the world to me; I hope you know that.” Connor said quietly, one hand around his sister and the other on his brother’s shoulder.

Connor then picked up the bag he had been carrying and opened the door to leave. “By the way, there’s apparently a situation with the wolves. Don’t leave the town for anything, understand?”

“Yes.” Both of his siblings said.

“Good, okay, I’m off.” With that, Connor closed the door behind him and walked down the hall back to the main entrance. He checked everything off mentally, putting his spare hand on his father’s sword hilt. If things turned south, that was the only thing standing between him and some of the most inhospitable territory in Mekkan. He had heard stories of what the North was like, now he was about to experience it firsthand.

Finding his way back to the tavern, Connor walked up to the bar just as Shadow was bringing out the promised food.

“So, how’d it goes?”

“I think I’m at least leaving on good terms.”

“Glad to hear it. Well, here’s that food Anna said you could have.”

“Wow, that’s a lot.”

“Yeah, there was a lot of uneaten stuff last night. Watch out for the stray tooth.”

Connor smiled and laughed a little.

“Ah, there’s that smile of yours.” Shadow said.

“Hey, tell Anna that the boys really appreciate the extra food. We’ll be singing merrily down the river tonight.”

Shadow then handed Connor the food as she came around from behind the bar. He was about to leave when she caught his hand. Spinning him, Shadow looked him in the eyes, and then embraced him. Connor was surprised. In all the time he knew her, Shadow hadn’t shown that kind of affection before.

“Woah, you getting soft or something?” He said, before reciprocating her hug.

“Just keep yourself safe, I don’t want to lose a friend.”

“Same.” As they let go of each other, Shadow gave Connor a swift punch to the shoulder. “And don’t call me soft again.”

“Ow! Hey, I need that arm for rowing! Fine, you aren’t soft. You’re the least cuddly, toughest thing this side of the Parapets.”

“And don’t forget it! But seriously, I wish I could come with. We should have each other’s backs.”

“You do have my back, Shadow. You’re protecting my family so I can do my job. I couldn’t ask for a better friend.”

Shadow smiled and looked down. Despite the thick black fur, the teen could swear he made out the hint of a blush on her cheeks. After a moment of silence between them, Connor cleared his throat.

“I had better get going. Like I told Liz and Asher, stay safe. I’m sure Sam will be watching over you all.”

With a nod, Shadow stood there to watch Connor leave before returning to her work.

Making his way to the guard station, Connor walked in and found Sam conversing with some of the other guards.

“Sam, you got a second?”

“Yeah. Hey guys, you know what needs to be done, I’ll come check on you all later, got it?”

“Yes sir! The other guards said before trotting off to their posts. What do you need, Connor?”

“I was thinking about what you said yesterday… and what your father said… and what Liz said… and what Shadow said… Anyway, I’ve got a proposition for you.”


“Liz is smitten with you, but if there’s any part of you that’s interested in being part of my family, you’ll need to earn my trust.”

“Okay, so what do I need to do?”

“While I’m out there, I want you to watch over them. Not just Liz, but Asher and Shadow too. Keep them away from danger, protect them like they are your own kin. If you do that, and if you treat her right, you and Liz can have each other with my full support.”

“And if I don’t earn your trust?”

“Then my family is leaving when the snow clears. And if you try anything with Liz this winter, you’ll answer to me long before you answer to your father.”

“Threatening a superior is yet another offense, you know that right?”

“In uniform, you’re my superior. I’ll respect the rank for as long as I must, but don’t think for a second that’s the same as respecting the man. If that principle means I see the hangman’s noose one day, then so be it. So, do we have an understanding?”

Sam took a moment to take in what he was hearing. Yeah, he wanted to be with Liz, but he hadn’t considered that when it came to family, it was a package deal. “Alright Connor, we have an understanding. Your family will have a protector while you’re out there.”

“Good. In that case, I believe your father is expecting me at the docks.”

“Yeah, he is. Good luck Connor Ulstad, this town is counting on you boys.”

That was the last person Connor had to leave on good terms. Heading down to the river, Connor picked up the pace and assisted in a wagon that was stuck in the slushy mud on the road. Within an hour, the last boat was loaded. Before him were a half-dozen small vessels with a single mast and enough room for a dozen oarsman each. Gerrick called them “byrdings”, and they were certainly of a style Connor hadn’t seen before.

“Connor, I know you’re new to the job, but I recall you saying you’ve had sailing experience?”

“Yes sir!” Connor said. “Not that I liked it much.”

“I want you to assist Thorsen in the lead ship. He’s in charge of the mission but could use an experienced sailor.”

“I’ll be happy to help in any way I can, sir.”

“Glad to hear it!” Thorsen said as he came up to the men. “I take it you are Connor?”

“Yes, Connor Ulstad sir.”

“Very good. As I understand it, you’ve got a dragon with you?”

Zephyr had completely slipped his mind. She wasn’t at the inn with Asher and Shadow. “Yes, I’m supposed too anyway. But I haven’t seen her all morning.”

“That’s alright, they say dragons keep to their own schedule.”

“Well, Zephyr had better be mindful of my schedule if she expects me to raise her.”

No sooner had the words left Connor’s mouth than a strangely white raven landed on top of the mast, and, in a flash of magic, Zephyr revealed herself.

“Oh, I’m right here Connor! I’ve been around the docks all morning.”

“Hey, that’s a pretty good trick, Z.” Connor said, his frustration melting away.

“You aren’t mad, are you?” she asked, sensing the fleeting emotion.

“No, I just don’t want to leave you behind. Now come on, we’re in the front boat.”

Just as the vessels were about to depart, Gerrick got up on a large crate to speak to his boys.

“Gentlemen, this mission you are about to embark on is of utmost importance. Last night, the snow wolves said they are cutting us off from supplies. I doubt they can gather enough wolves to mount an effective blockade, but we need you to get all the freight you possibly can from the ships on the coast. The survival of everyone inside those walls may depend on your success, so I wish you good fortune and a fast voyage. Avoid wolves, if at all possible, but if they give you resistance, you have my permission to do what is necessary to ensure the mission succeeds.”

Everyone in the boats raised their oars or their weapons, saluting the captain of the guard. “Yes sir!” They all shouted in unison. Shoving off, the boats were soon coasting down the river.

“Guess we call you captain now, huh sir?” Smith observed, looking up at Thorsen.

“I suppose so Smith.”

“Then if I may suggest, Captain,” Connor said, “we have a favorable wind. Let’s put up the sails and get every knot of speed we can muster.”

“Make it so, Connor.”

“Alright Smith, come help me with the mast.”

Following the lead of their command boat, the other byrdings raised their sails as well. Soon six little boats were coasting down the wide arctic river, full canvas catching the stiff northern breeze. Taking a seat on each side of the boat, Connor and Smith pulled out their oars and joined the other men. He wasn’t a rower, but luckily the current was doing most of the work. Connor could only guess how fast their actual speed was, but he figured that if the river was moving at two knots, the sails would add another five or six knots, and the oars were adding another, then they must be making at least eight or nine knots. They’d be twenty leagues or so downstream by sundown. Sure enough, the map seemed to concur as the hours rolled by.

As the sun was setting, Sam was posted at the western gate awaiting the loggers to emerge from the woods. They weren’t expected until it was nearly dark, but no one would have thought what was going on in the forest. As Sam was staring out at the landscape, blankly thinking about the last day, and massaging the bruise on the side of his mouth, a light emerged from the trees.

“Ah, here they come!” A guard noted, “shall I get the door, sir?”

Sam was about to let the door go up, when he noticed something odd. As more lights emerged, they weren’t in a string following the path like loggers normally would. Instead, the lights emerged quickly from several places, and they seemed to be moving at a good pace. Pulling out the spy glass that his father gave him, Sam examined the tree line, and his face grew pale.

“Oh no…”

“What is it sir?” The guard asked, worried.

“The men out there, they’re running, and I can just about guess what went on in there. Quick, get all the men you can find up by the door. We may be under attack!”


“The wolves, they attacked the loggers. I’m sure of it.”

By the time the scattered workers found their way to the wall, every guard still in the city was waiting to greet them. Opening the western gate, the loggers filled the gap. Some wolves had chased the men until they were standing at the top of the nearest hill a few hundred yards away. Sam spotted the foreman as he helped one of his men limp inside.

“What the hell happened?”

The foreman looked the teenage guard in the eyes. “They came out of the trees… look, I need to speak to Tostig right now, a lot of my men need healers and doctors.”

“Whatever you need, we’ll get it. Get the wounded to the main hall, I’ll have my father summon the Jarl.”

“What about us, sir?” the guard from earlier asked.

“Keep an eye on those hills and trees. Don’t hesitate to shoot any wolf that shoots at you.”

Just then, a loud, piercing howl carried through the air. Another voice joined their leader, and another, and another. Within a minute, it seemed the whole western horizon was filled with a great wolf pack, at least that’s what the howling sounded like. Jarl Tostig opened his windows in the back of the great hall, curious what the racket was about. Listening, a deep fear crept into his heart. A primal, animalistic fear.

Shadow, hearing the howling too, willed herself to climb the wall, being sure not to get spotted by men or wolves. She peaked her head over the top, and while they weren’t very densely packed, it was obvious that there were hundreds of wolves out in the growing darkness. Quickly, the leopard got herself back down and safely behind the wall. She slipped into the back of the tavern, finding Liz and Asher in the kitchen.

“What is it?” Liz asked.

Connor, though black as the night, still managed to look pale. “Wolves.”

“They’re here?” Asher said, heart starting to pound in his chest.

“Yeah. It’s like every wolf within a hundred miles showed up.”

“This isn’t good…” Liz surmised.

“No, it’s not. We should start packing away food and whatever we have that’s of value. This might be a long winter.”

Anna Marie then came in. “Them wolves got the whole town [censored]’ bricks. Ya’ll had better stay inside Callow.” A knock at the door interrupted them. Shadow went to open the door, but Anna Marie stopped her.

“Shadow, don’t ya go openin’ that door hun. Could be looters.”

“I’ll see who it is first then.” Shadow replied, sneaking over to the window near the door. Looking out, she saw a familiar face. “Whew, it’s just Sam.”

Sam was standing by the door, looking around nervously, when the door opened, and he was yanked inside by Shadow. It was easy to forget, but the action reminded Sam that Shadow was every bit as tall and strong as he was.

“Hey, what the? Why’d you pull me in so quick?”

“Didn’t want to open the door to possible looters. Now, what the hell is going on out there?” Liz asked.

“The wolves seemed to have attacked the logging teams. I think they’re cutting us off from our firewood.”

“So they’re going to freeze us out?” Asher asked.

“Yeah, but don’t be scared. We’re all meeting outside the main hall with Jarl Tostig. I suggest coming along.”

“And leave my bar unattended?” Anna said.

“I have it.” A deep voice spoke from the back. Around the corner came Victor holding his signature club. “Victor had personal business, but here for shift.”

“Oh Victor, what would I do without ya?” Anna said. “Alright kids, let’s go an’ find out what’s happenin’ outside.”

In front of the main hall, it seemed like the whole town was gathered. Injured loggers were being brought inside the structure where fire kept the hall warm. Miners were filtering in as well, word spreading quickly that it was no longer safe outside the walls. Shadow, Liz, Sam, and Asher found a spot near the perimeter of the growing crowd, quickly losing sight of Anna as she went to check on some of her friends. Soon a cold chill filled the air as the last of the sun’s light left the horizon, leaving the town lit only by lanterns and fire. Guardsmen came out of the great hall to clear an area at the top of the steps before council members exited the building. The last two men to take the impromptu stage was Tostig and Gerrick.

Tostig quickly raised his arms up and called for silence. “Everyone, please remain calm! If I could have your attention for a few moments, Captain Gerrick and I will explain the situation.”

Hushes quickly spread throughout the crowd. Human and keidran alike wanted to know what the hell was happening outside the walls. After giving the crowd a few minutes to sufficiently quiet themselves, Tostig continued.

“As you all know, our relations with the snow wolves have been… strained as of late. Callow’s success as a center of industry in the North has made many snow wolves nervous. Our latest round of negotiations has not gone as planned—”

“Are we under attack, my lord?” Someone in the crowd shouted from the back. Gerrick stepped forward as if security was his business.

“At the moment, we are not under attack so long as we stay in or near our walls. The wolves attacked the woodsmen because they mean to starve us out, make us abandon Callow and go back over the mountains. As we were told by the snow wolf elders, they have no intention of a direct, open conflict with us. They know that an open war would mean our king would send his army to deal with the situation.”

“Basically,” Tostig added, “this is more of a political than a physical conflict and I mean to not let the situation escalate further.”

“My lord, men have already been injured. At least a handful are lying dead in the woods. What choice do we have but to fight back?”

“I know this is a tough situation, Johnson, but we can’t act rashly.” Gerrick replied.

“Precisely,” Tostig said, agreeing with the captain. “Earlier today we sent out an expedition of volunteers who are bound for the coast. They’ll be securing supplies from the ships still docked there and they’ll bring those supplies up the river. Once we have what we need to last the winter, we can settle down and wait the wolves out. Once they realize that we can outlast them, they’ll come back to the negotiating table.”

“And what if they don’t?” A keidran merchant asked.

“If they don’t, we’ll be able to send for reinforcements when the pass clears in the spring. We can bring up several regiments, if necessary, from Camp Hollow.”

The crowd began to murmur and mutter amongst themselves, each individual pondering what to do in the situation. Tostig overheard several openly discussing leaving town and going over the pass before the snow gets too deep.

“My friends,” Tostig’s voice boomed out across the courtyard. “We mustn’t abandon Callow. Johnson, your family has been here since your father came to help found the town. Anna Marie over there has been a staple of our community for over a decade. We’ve all been building this town up from nothing, turning it into a center of trade and industry. The North has the largest iron deposits of anywhere in Mekkan. Virgin timber in the Snowy Pines are already building great ships of renown back East. If we give up now, not only will we all lose our livelihoods, but the rest of the human territory could one day be put at risk of invasion. This town is ours, and dominion is our right. Have faith in our volunteers, we’ll outlast these wolves and show them who really rules the North!”

Shadow couldn’t help but worry for Connor and Zephyr. Tostig might not understand, but the leopard knew better than to underestimate wolf keidran, especially the snow wolves. From her interactions around town, most seem capable, intelligent, and honorable. She squeezed Asher’s hand a bit tighter, and the boy took notice, stepping a little closer so that he was leaning against her hip.

“This is going to be a long winter…” Liz said quietly, just loud enough that Shadow, Asher, and Sam could hear.

“It’s going to be a long night.” Sam replied. “You guys stay safe. I’ll be sure to check on you at Anna Marie’s frequently.”
With a mutual nod of understanding, Sam and Liz parted ways. “C’mon, we had better start stashing food rations before everyone else has the same idea.” Shadow said, grabbing Liz’s hand and leading them all back to Anna Marie’s Inn.

Zephyr hadn’t spotted anything all day, just white ground, with a river of black, muddy water winding its way through the glacial moraines. Mist rose up from the river, but the chilly air kept the shroud close to the water’s surface, blocking much of the view of the boats. Above the mist, Zephyr could easily see the surrounding landscape, especially the large mountain that she noticed when flying above Callow. It was truly massive, still miles away, but rose up into the sky like an awakening giant. The boats had made good time and were at least sixty miles downstream, the current doing most of the work with sail and oar helping whenever possible. She landed on the prow of the ship, claws digging into the dragon head intricately carved out of a piece of wood.

“Did you see anything Z?” Connor asked.

“No, Connor. Just snow as far as I can see. And that mountain we could see from town is only a few more miles.”

“Oh yeah, that peak standing alone. Hard to see anything in this mist.”

Thorsen stood up to take over for his tillerman “I don’t know how to say the word, but the snow wolves call that peak something that basically means ‘the big one’. A fitting name I’d say.”

“Fitting indeed sir.” Smith said between oar strokes. Connor adjusted the sail to better catch the ever-shifting wind.

“It’s getting dark sir, should we find safe harbor for the night?” The teen asked his commander.

“Yes, we better give the boys a rest for the night. We’ve made great time today. No doubt we’ll be on the coast in no time. Let’s set up on that island, should keep us away from unwanted visitors.”

An hour later, spirits were high as spirits were passed around. Thorsen’s crew was the jolliest of them all, having the freshest food courtesy of Anna Marie. Connor had bought a couple bottles of whiskey and rum to pass around, with Thorsen’s permission. The man only said to make sure no one got drunk, just a drink or two to settle in for the evening. It was nice enough that tents weren’t necessary. After another stoking the fire, many had turned in, attempting to get as much rest as possible before another day of rowing tomorrow.

Connor set his bag down close to the boat, preferring to stay near their lifeline rather than enjoy the hot fire. He may not be from the north country, but Maine was still cold enough to toughen a kid up. Poor Zephyr was not enjoying the cold though, and her shivering caught Connor’s attention.

“Z, are you cold?”

She picked her head up from the log she was perched on. “Y-yeah, j-just a b-bit.”

“You better climb in with me then. I didn’t realize a fire-breathing beast could get cold.”

“W-wait u-until I-I weigh t-ten t-tons, C-Conner.”

“Yeah, then nothing will bother you, least of all the cold. But until then, you’ve got some growing to do and freezing to death isn’t going to help.” The teen lifted up the edge of his blanket, making a pocket for the young dragon to crawl into. Soon Zephyr was bundled up and her shaking body calmed down, her breathing falling into rhythm with Connor’s chest rising and falling.

It had only felt like a couple of minutes, but it must have been several hours when the first blood-curdling scream shook everyone from their sleep. They had ridden the current silently in their canoes, making landfall on the little river island upstream of the camp. They were so silent that not even Zephyr detected them until one finally screwed up a kill and allowed his victim to yell before being cut off with a knife to the throat. Connor shot up immediately, reaching for his father’s blade. The dying embers and torches could barely illuminate the figures, but the silhouettes were unmistakable.

“Wolves!” Connor yelled at the top of his lungs just as another member of the expedition declared that they were under attack. Who knows how many had already been killed before the alarm was sounded. All at once the camp came to life, weapons came out, and a frenzied battle began. But the wolves had the advantage. It was dark, they could see while their human targets could not. The keidran that had volunteered to join the expedition did all they could to help guide their friends, but soon it was apparent to Thorsen that this was a losing battle.

“Make for the boats!” He bellowed. Connor was almost struck by a snow wolf, but a flick of his sword parried the short spear before he thrust the blade deep into the wolf’s chest, dropping him on the spot. The training from the last few days had already paid for itself! But that was all the teen wanted to handle at the moment, so he wheeled around and sprinted the short distance to their boat, striking down another wolf before she could get her paws on their lifeline. Survivors quickly got two of the boats into the water. Connor was first in, ordering Zephyr to take to the air and get to safety. Others jumped in as well, but the teen waited just long enough for Thorsen to throw himself over the gunnels. They couldn’t wait for stragglers, and with their commander onboard, they shoved off. The remaining members of the expedition, mostly guardsmen trained in combat, stayed to hold the line as long as possible but in the dark it wasn’t much of a defense.

At one point, Connor saw a couple of wolves get struck down while another had fire thrown in its face, but it was clear that none of the other boats were going to get launched. Splashing caught Connor’s ear, however. Looking over the side, he could see Smith furiously trying to get onboard.

“Help! Please! Don’t leave me!” He spoke. The teen almost gave up when a hand caught his arm, followed by another. Thorsen and Connor heaved him aboard.

“T-thank you…” He said, panting. Blood soon mixed with some of the river water in the boat. It was hard to make out, but it was obvious that the wolves had given Smith a parting gift in the form of a nasty gash on his leg.

“Hang on kid” Thorsen said as he pulled out bandages. “Connor, steer our boat, get us the hell out of here.”

“Yes sir.” He spoke. “Guys, get the sail up, throw overboard anything that we don’t need. We need to get as much speed as possible.”

Connor then looked back behind him. At first, it seemed the two vessels had managed to escape the slaughter. A glow in the mist confirmed that at least one of the beached byrdings had been put to the torch, he only hoped some of the other crews had found a way to get theirs’ launched. The two boats had gotten lucky, being the furthest away from the attack. Most of those who got to the boats were regular volunteers. Only Thorsen, Connor, and Smith were really guardsmen.

Connor then spied a third and a fourth vessel. “Oh thank the masks, some of the others made it out.” He said to himself. But as the boats got closer to the second vessel, a look of horror washed over his face. “Look out!” He yelled at the other boat. The men scarcely had time to turn around before flaming arrows shot out from the two canoes that had caught up to the second vessel. There wasn’t anything he could do besides give a warning though. He could hear furious fighting, screaming, growling, and all manner of noises. But eventually a couple of arrows found their true target, something flammable. Soon enough, the sail was ablaze along with most of the deck. One of the volunteers jumped overboard. Connor couldn’t make out who it was, but the splash was obvious despite the mist.

“What do we do Thorsen?” One of the civilian volunteers asked.

“Run, that’s all we can do.”

“They’ll be on us soon once they’ve finished our sister boat, sir.”

“Then what do you suggest, Connor? You’re the sailor amongst us.”

“I want full canvas. We need to get rid of anything that’s not tied down. Only keep some of our weapons and a couple of boxes of food. I’ll get us into the deep channel, that’ll be our fastest water.”

Thorsen took a moment to take in what that meant. Very little food, no luxuries, not even a lot of weaponry. He then looked at the scared faces waiting for his orders. “You heard him! Make it so.”

“Smith?” Connor asked his friend.

“Yeah Connor?”

“Can you bail water?”

“I think so.”

“Here’s a bucket, get as much water out of this boat as you can.”

It took only a few minutes, but eventually everything that wasn’t immediately necessary to keep was thrown out. The problem was now there was a debris trail for the canoes to follow. They couldn’t see but could faintly hear paddles lapping at the water through the mist.

“Now what? Thorsen asked Connor, completely out of his depth. He could direct an open battle, but this was nothing like he was used to.”

“Sir, we need to be as stealthy as possible. Wrap cloth, clothing, or anything around the oars to silence them. Put out any lantern or light, make the boat completely dark. And we need to keep our voices as low as possible. No more yelling.”

“Do it men, our lives depend on it. We don’t know how many wolves are still after us.”

Connor then heard a voice in his head that wasn’t his own. “Connor, where are you?”

He thought hard, concentrating his thoughts so Zephyr could read them. He dared not speak out loud or try to yell for Z.” Soon enough, the little dragon found her way to the stern of the boat.

“What was that?” She asked.

Connor thought back, “wolves attacked us. I think we’re all that’s left.”

“I can feel their minds. They don’t quite know where we are.”

“And I mean to keep it that way.”

Just then Connor had an idea.

“Z, do you think you can make fire that looks like a lantern?”

“Yeah… why?”

“We need you to make a distraction. Do NOT get close to these wolves. But try to lure them away. Float around in the distance, away from us, and maybe they’ll change course.”

“You got it.”

“And remember, do not get close enough for them to attack you or to realize the ruse. Lure them toward the shore, maybe there’s a gravel bar or a rocky bank they’ll get hung up on. Now go, this might be our only chance.”

It turned out to be a stroke of genius. The men in the boat silently watched, facing upstream as they silently rowed, not daring to make noise louder than the gentle babbling of the river. No one could see Zephyr herself, her grey-white color blending seamlessly in with the mist coming off the river. But everyone could see an orange glow hovering a few feet above the water. The paddling of the canoes shifted in intensity and soon enough a shadow could be seen through the mist a hundred fathoms away followed soon after by a second shadow. It worked; the canoes were following the light thinking it was coming from their quarry.

Connor mentally checked in with Zephyr and allowed her to keep up the trick until a loud scraping noise filled the air. One of the canoes had run aground. “Okay, that’s all we need, now get out of there.”

“That was… amazing.” Thorsen said.

“Unfortunately sir, I think that was the easy part. We need to put as much distance between them and us as possible.”

“Agreed. We row on at least until sunrise, then we’ll find a place to hide. Maybe one of the other boats slipped through and is upstream a ways.”

“I sure hope so, but something tells me we’re all that’s left.”

When Zephyr landed on the boat, Thorsen wanted to know how she missed such a large number of wolves.

“Sir, she’s only a few months old. These beasts are crafty. If anyone is to blame, it should be me for putting so much on Z.” Connor said, defending his dragon.

“Connor, you saved our [censored] back there, and even if we didn’t have your dragon those wolves still would have ambushed us, so I can’t blame you. But I would have thought a dragon of all creatures could have sensed them before us.”

“Sir, Zephyr is still very new to being a dragon... let alone the wider world. If you wish to place blame, place it on me. I’m completely responsible for her. But don’t you dare get angry with Z, she did her best.”

Thorsen was at a loss for words. “Alright then. I suppose there’s no one really to blame but myself. We knew the wolves could be a problem and we should have taken more precautions. Now… now most of my men are dead. If we make it back to Callow I can’t expect to keep my position.

“Sir, when we make it back to Callow with enough supplies to keep the town going until spring, you’ll be a hero regardless. We knew the risks and chose to take them.”

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Chapter 6: Winter's Wrath

#7 Post by jjw2795 »

Every man on the boat was exhausted. Rowing and sailing at a speed that few vessels could catch, the lone byrding had seemingly evaded capture in the night. Connor dared not fall asleep though, not until it was certain that they were out of danger. Unfortunately, just as it was looking like the handful of survivors would be able to race the Widow River to the Craggy Sea, it became apparent that there was a bigger problem. Despite Smith’s injuries, the water in the boat was slowly filling. Daybreak revealed the cause. That wolf Connor had cut down last night did manage to do damage. She had made it to the boat, but rather than try and tear it apart she had instead been busy punching holes in the hull. They weren’t big, but enough water was coming in so that sooner or later the vessel would sink. The rest of the men in the boat were using anything they could, even a spare helmet, to jettison the unwanted ice-cold water.

“Sir, what do we do now?” Connor asked Thorsen. The teen had used every trick he had to keep them all alive, but without a way to plug the holes, sooner or later they’d sink and drown in the muddy current.

Thorsen thought for a good minute before an idea clicked. “We need to make for the West Fork. We can stash the boat at the confluence, then I’ll explain the rest.”

In less than an hour, the confluence of the rivers came into view. Swinging the boat around, and making sure no one was following, the crew landed the small craft in a small hole formed by the two contradicting currents. Pulling the craft up onto the rocky bank, they stashed it in the high weeds and brush so thick not even a rabbit would crawl into. They were all cut, bruised, tired, thirsty, wet, and cold. Most supplies were gone, having been thrown overboard. A decision that may have only succeeded in extending their lives by a short while. Once everyone found their way into a gulley where they couldn’t be seen from either river, Thorsen then pulled out a small map he kept in his pocket along with his compass. He laid it out in front of this men.

“There’s a supply stash 40 miles from here up the West Fork and inland. Only a few miles from the backside of the Big One we passed by yesterday. If we can make it there, we’ll have food, some weaponry, and materials to repair the boat.”

“Sir, that’s forty miles over tundra.” Smith said. “You may as well leave me; I’ll only slow you down.”

“No Smith, we’re taking you with us if we go. We’re still in the territory of the hostile wolf tribes. There are others behind that mountain who may actually help us, but anyone who stays here will eventually be found. Our pursuers are going to be combing the river looking for us.”
“We’re not going to be able to make a fire.” Connor added. “If we do, the wolves will surely see the light. We’ll be the only thing taller than a shrub for miles in any direction.”

“It’s also two days of walking, minimum.” One of the other men added.

“All this is true.” Thorsen replied. “But what other choices do we have?”

“I could try to plug the holes with grass and mud then we make for the coast.” Connor suggested.

“And what are the odds that would work for us for the next three days while we limp down the river? Not to mention sooner or later those war canoes will catch up to us. That trick you pulled with your dragon will only work once.”

Connor lowered his head. “I know, I wish there was more we could do.”

“So do I kid, but salvation is only two days away. We start walking now and keep walking halfway through the night, we’ll easily make the supply depot tomorrow afternoon.”

“Alright. Smith, I can help you walk. We’ll bring up the rear.”

“Then it’s settled.” One of the civilian volunteers concluded. “We make for the supply depot. What’s our heading captain?”

“We follow the river until we’ve reached the back side of the Big One, then we head inland when we find a little creek.”

Sam was looking from atop the walls again, trying to pick out where these wolves were in the evening light. He had to admit, they were excellent at concealing their true numbers. He could make out several camps a few miles out in every direction, blocking seemingly every path to and from the outside the world. All except for the river, their last life line. A movement caught his eye just then. Putting his spyglass up to his eye, Sam could make out a small boat, one of the byrdings. Only, it was just one and the sail had holes in her. Still, people seemed to be rowing it.

“Lieutenant, ring the bell. We need to get down to the docks now and get the men off that boat before the wolves close in.”

The bell rang, summoning guardsmen to the western gate. Sam now had a company of fighters with him, men that his father had personally trained since they were all young volunteers. Sam himself wasn’t exactly a veteran, but his father was Captain of the guard and had passed down many lessons to him. Now it was time to put them to good use.

“Guardsmen! We need to secure a perimeter around the dock and bring in everyone on one of our boats. Once the door opens, maintain formation and march double-time.”

With a nod to the gatekeeper, the metal bars raised up followed by the heavy groan of two massive oak doors.

“Forward! Double-time!” Sam shouted as he charged forward, leading his men out from the protection of their wall. After a short while, they made it to the dock just as the little boat was approaching. Over the hill came the pursuers, followed in the distance by a couple of canoes.

“Perimeter, now! Someone get that boat secure and let’s get them unloaded immediately.”

The wolves approached on both land and water before stopping about a hundred yards away.

“Shield wall, now!” Sam ordered as he lowered his visor. They might have only been 30 guardsmen, but they had superior armor and weapons. Meanwhile the wolves had numbers on their side, but any move of aggression by them would be met with lethal force from years of training.

However, the wolves didn’t move. Instead, they kept their distance, almost like they were observing. The boat was quickly lashed to the dock and about a dozen men found their way out, most with some kind of injury. Three had severe injuries and were inching closer to death. Sam only looked behind him to check on their progress, but the boat was a bloody mess.

“What happened?” Sam asked the closest volunteer, the highest-ranking guardsmen still standing.

“Ambush, Sam. They caught us in the night, and they’ve been chasing us all the way up stream.”

Just then, a wolf strolled forward from his loose line of warriors. It was one of the tribe leaders.

“You may take your men inside with you. Let them tell you about what’s happened. Perhaps Tostig will be inspired to come to us and negotiate before any more blood is spilled.”

Sam didn’t move for a solid thirty seconds. He took in the scene around him. The Canoes were no longer advancing, but instead were making for shore. The line of pursuing warriors didn’t move either.

“Alright guardsmen, keep formation, don’t let any of our volunteers become vulnerable to arrows. March back to the gate.”

The guards formed a tight cocoon of steel around the injured sailors and guardsmen. Retreating back to the gates, the wolves followed, but kept their distance. Once near the gate, one of the archers loosed an arrow, landing several yards short of the wolves, who stopped. They were wise enough to stay out of range of the walls lest their mostly unarmored bodies be riddled with missiles.

“Open the gate!” Sam ordered and the gatekeeper once again complied, opening the oak outer doors before lifting the iron bars. It was done so that an unwanted party couldn’t simply charge through both lines of defense at once. Thankfully, the wolves did not make any further moves. Instead, they turned and headed back to their camp.

The great hall was warm, and warm food quickly passed around while healers got to work on the injured. Sam, Gerrick, and Mansfield immediately went to meet with Tostig and the council.

“What’s happened?” Tostig asked as soon as he hurriedly sat down.

“We were ambushed, my lord.” Mansfield explained. “We set up camp on an island in the river, thinking that would keep us safe from any possible encounters with the snow wolves. However, in the early morning they arrived by canoe and attacked us. I, as well as most others, jumped up and grabbed whatever we could to fight with. Someone yelled “wolves”, and from there it was like a mauling by some great bear.

“The rest of the expedition?” Tostig further asked. “What’s become of the other boats?”

“Three were on fire when we managed to shove off. Two had already made their way downstream, but a war party was after them, so we decided to head upstream as quickly as we could. The rowing damn near killed us, but at some point, before dawn a couple of canoes began trailing us.”

One of the council members then spoke up. “And they didn’t attack you further?”

“Sir, if they wanted to kill us, they could have. I don’t know why but I am thankful to be standing here now rather than floating down the river with arrows in my back.”

The council member nodded in agreement. “Indeed. My guess is they are trying to make an example of you. Try to sow panic in our people so they’ll flee over the mountains.”

“Which is precisely why we aren’t going to tell everyone else what happened in any kind of detail. We need to keep order if we’re going to survive the winter.”

“My Lord,” Gerrick spoke up, “perhaps we should leave while we still can. Get every man, woman, and child out of here. We can come back in force next spring when the passes open.”

“No, Gerrick. If we leave, then the wolves may raze Callow to the ground and destroy the mines. We can’t let this… confrontational politics grow into a war.”

“Confrontation politics?” Gerrick replied, surprised. “Sir, my men are dead, dying, and wounded. Whoever may still be alive out there won’t be able to bring supplies back to Callow. The wolves own the river now. The only roads we have open are over the pass. We must leave before they are blocked too. If we don’t and this becomes a siege over winter, we will all starve.”

The council member from earlier then added in his opinion. “My lord, the captain is right. We don’t have supplies for winter. Tomorrow we should give the order to abandon the town. We can meet with the wolves to set up a temporary truce, then we can make our case in Morlin. The crown needs these mines just as much as we do.”

Tostig, frustrated, sat in silence for a minute. “Damn these animals. Killing my people and now taking away a generations’ worth of wealth spent building this town. But you are right, we can’t stay. Tomorrow, we leave. Send out another party Gerrick, this time to the east. Have them watch over the pass and make sure that none of these wolves are planning a large-scale slaughter as the women and children make their way for the border.

“I’ll make it so, my lord.” Gerrick said. “I’ll put my son in charge of this mission. The guardsmen would follow him to the end of the world.”

“Then it’s settled.” Tostig said, defeated. “Boy, I trust you’ll be able to keep the road secure for us in two days’ time when we leave.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Good, then get to it. I had better make preparations.”

No sooner had Sam walked out of the great hall than he felt a cold wind blow. Something told him that this plan wasn’t going to work. But before he could round up volunteers for a last-minute expedition, he had to find Connor’s kin. They should know what’s happened.

Liz was cleaning the bar, preparing it for another night of activity, when she heard the door open. “I’m sorry, but the tavern isn’t open for another hou— Oh, Sam, it’s you!” The girl quickly made her way to the entrance to great her interest.

“Have you come to check on us ladies?” Liz teased.

“I guess. Hey, where’s Shadow and Asher?” Sam asked.

“Oh, they’re both in the room. Poor Asher still isn’t used to this cold weather.”

“I can imagine it’s quite different from his tropical home. Could you get them please, there’s a couple of things I need to tell you.”

“What’s wrong?” Liz asked, concern growing on her face.

“I’ll explain once everyone is here.”

Liz went down the hall and, after a minute, brought Shadow and Asher out with her.

“We had better take a seat in a booth…”

Anna Marie was adding up the previous night’s earnings and separating out each of her employees’ pay when she heard a cry from the tavern. Annoyed that someone would be at her bar before opening for the evening, she made her way toward the front. When she got to the threshold, she stopped and saw that Sam was getting up to leave.

“Liz, I’ll be back soon to check on your three, but I wanted you to hear it from me first before word gets around town.”

Liz couldn’t speak, she was weeping along with Asher, but Shadow held her composure.

“Thank you, Sam, please come back when you can.”

“Sam? Hun, why are ya here so early? Ya, know we don’t open fer an hour.”

“Apologies miss Marie, but I had to deliver some bad news. I’ll be back as soon as I can to explain more, but there’s a lot of things to do before I leave tonight.”

“Tonight? Leave where? Hun, you ain’t makin’ sense.”

“Sorry, I can’t say anything more now. I’m under orders from Gerrick.”

As the door closed, Anna’s attention turned to her employees and tenants.

“Shadow, mind explainin’ to an ol’ confused woman what’s happened?”

Shadow could barely raise her head, struggling to hold back tears of her own.

“Miss Marie… Connor is missing.”

“Wha… how?”

“The expedition was ambushed.” Shadow explained. “We only know because one boat managed to get back here before sundown. He could be on one of two other boats that got away, or…”

Liz then managed to squeak out. “Or he’s gone…” And that was all she could say before sobbing again. Asher, also crying, pulled himself in close, hugging Liz around her waist while in the booth. Shadow put a hand on Liz’s shoulder.

“Ma’am, I think we’re going to need the night off. I’ll come to help out when it gets busy.”

Anna was still taking in the news. She hadn’t known Connor for more than a week, but he seemed like a good, responsible kid. “Alright, take all the time ya’ll need.”

Asher and Shadow helped Liz up from her seat and then the basitin helped lead her away. Shadow hung back until they were both down the hall. She then leaned close to Anna. “And when Sam gets back, let me know so I can wring his neck for bringing this on us so quickly.” Anna nodded before patting Shadow on the shoulder. The leopard held back tears for a second time, steeling herself. If Connor was indeed gone… no, she couldn’t think like that. At least not until more was known.

Sam did return after getting together enough volunteers to clear a path to White Pass. He walked into the tavern just as things were starting to get busy. He made eye contact with Anna, who greeted him.

“Oh Sam! Sit tight I’ll get Shadow for ya.”

We waited near the entrance until Shadow came through the threshold. She didn’t look particularly happy.

“You, me, out back, now.”

“But—” Sam was cut off as Shadow grabbed his arm and dragged him quickly out the back door. Once the door was closed, the leopard’s piercing eyes locked onto Sam. She marched herself right up into the teen’s face, rising to her full height which was a couple inches taller than Sam. Normally few people would notice, but a half inch from his face, it made her seem a lot bigger… and scarier.

“Shadow, what’s with the---”

“That poor girl has been bawling her eyes out from the moment you left, and Asher isn’t in much better shape. Why the hell would you just drop this on us?”

“Shadow, please, give me a bit of space and I’ll expla---”
The leopard then grabbed Sam by his collar and lifted him a foot off the ground, against the side of the tavern. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that when angered, a keidran was very strong.

“Look, Shadow, she either was going to hear it from me or it was going to come to you tonight at the bar. I didn’t want any of you finding out through the breath of some drunk stranger.”

Shadow then dropped Sam to the ground, letting him find his feet. She could barely hold back tears and now her voice was breaking as she tried to speak.

“You… you have any idea how much Connor means to us?”

“I’m starting to see it now, I guess.”

Shadow then seemed to slump, finally letting out a sob after keeping it in for so long.

“How the hell did this happen? Why couldn’t they be called back once the wolves came?”

“I don’t know Shadow. There’s a lot of missing details. But there’s a big thing you have to know about tonight.”

“Bigger than my friend and Liz’s brother being missing, and probably dead? You know Asher thinks the world of him.”

“Yes. Bigger than that. The town is leaving. All of us.”

“What do you mean?”

“If that mission was a bust and we have no supplies, we won’t last the winter. Especially if Callow is under siege. Tomorrow, Tostig is going to negotiate a truce and then we’re all leaving. I’m riding out tonight with a dozen men to secure the pass before it’s too late.”

Just then a sudden gust of wind blew over the town, carrying with it snowflakes. The moon clouded over, and the back alley became significantly darker. Shadow looked up at the sky.

“Then we better hope that the pass stays open for another two days. Just how cold does it get in the winter?”

“Cold enough to make some metals as brittle as glass.”

“[censored] that’s cold.”

“Yeah. Not to mention it’s almost completely dark for a week right in the middle. Not a problem for your keidran, but for us that’s a big problem.”

Shadow then wiped tears away. “I’m sorry for getting rough with you. I’m not actually mad you gave us the news, I just hated that you hurt Liz and Asher.”

“And I’m sorry that I hurt all three of you. When I know more, I’ll let you in on it. In the meantime, get yourselves packed and ready to leave. Don’t tell anyone just yet, we’re giving orders tomorrow when I return.”

Shadow nodded. “I understand. You don’t want to start a riot.”

“Exactly. Keep Liz and Asher safe, be at the courtyard outside the main hall tomorrow afternoon.”

But it wasn’t to be. By the time Shadow woke up early the next morning, it was another blizzard outside. There was no big meeting, no big reveal. By afternoon the snow was beginning to pile up in the streets. Far up in the pass, it was closed. The whole town, for better or worse, was now in the grips of winter.

Many miles away, the blizzard had come in the night for the surviving members of the expedition. Gale force winds and blowing snow had stalled progress, and now they were moving at a crawl. Connor was bundled up as best as he could, Zephyr making a nest for herself in his coat. It would have been colder, but having a dragon do her best to keep her body warm helped warm himself too, having left most of his clothing in the boat. But he had loaned out some critical pieces to other sailors, and to Smith. They could barely see each other now, and Thorsen ordered them to stop. He shouted over the wind to his huddled men.

“Here, tie this around your waists.” He yelled as a long rope came out of his bag. “That way we stay together.”

With frozen fingers it took an eternity. Connor hoped that it was only a few minutes, but looking at how worn down the others were, there was little doubt that it had been an hour. An hour of lost time in a blizzard.

“Alright men, forward, and follow me! Keep your rope tied no matter what!”

Four grueling hours later and Connor figured that, at most, they had only covered a few miles. The good news at least was no one would be stupid enough to hunt them down in this weather. But it was a small comfort. Connor knew all too well what would happen to exposed fingers, so he kept alternating arms, supporting Smith as they went. Letting the left one warm up deep in a pocket before switching out every ten minutes or so. He had some light gloves, but they weren’t much help.

To make matters worse, all the men had started out wet with river water and sweat. They were cold before, now they were freezing. But they had to push on, that supply stash was their only hope of salvation. Marching onwards, the wind blew harder, the snow was even more intense, and the temperature dropped. It was now well below freezing, and colder than the men had any protection for. That’s when the rope in front of Connor went slack. Worried, he pulled on the rope, and it thankfully became tight again. But upon reaching the source of the problem, it became evident. Laying in the snow was one of the men unconscious from exhaustion. The others had felt their rope get tight, and so they backtracked a few yards to the fallen man.

Connor could only help keep Smith propped up, so one of the other men checked on their friend. After a couple of minutes, it was obvious there was nothing more that could be done. If he couldn’t get himself up, he was going to be dead within the hour.

“Cut him loose.” Thorsen said in a strained voice. “There’s nothing more we can do for him.”
Reluctantly, one of the men pulled out a knife and cut the rope, splicing it together again without the man. However, numb, frostbitten fingers made the task difficult. The man hadn’t noticed, but he cut his hand badly and Connor noticed blood dripping into the snow. He hardly had the breath to tell him though.

“Connor?” Smith said, weakly. “Why have we stopped?”

The question confused Connor; he thought Smith was aware. “One man is dead, but we’re going to keep moving.”

“How much further?”

“I don’t know, but we can’t stop now.”

“I’m hungry…”

“So am I Smith.”

Connor was doing estimations in his head to keep himself thinking clearly. It had been an hour past dawn when they stashed the boat, which was surely covered in snow by now. And they hard walked all day before stopping for the night, cold and wet. They woke early just as the storm was getting intense and started making their way again. It must now be late morning.

The arduous journey continued without end for hours. By midafternoon, three more had dropped into the snow never to rise again. Each one instilled Connor with renewed strength to keep going. He had to find a way back to Callow. Back to Liz, back to Asher, back to Shadow. Just then the rope went slack again. Connor repeated the same moves as before, reeling in the slack. They were at the back of the line. He was getting worried now for Smith as he was silent most of the time, followed by bouts of incoherence.

“Connor?” Zephyr asked mentally.
“Yeah Z?” Connor replied with his thoughts as he blankly witnessed yet another man be cut loose from their life line.

“We aren’t going to make it, are we?”

“Zephyr, you have to keep believing we will make it.”

“I’m cold…”

“I know you are honey. Keep summoning that internal heat as best you can. It’s keeping us both alive.”

“I’m also scared.”

“So am I, Z. But one way or another this won’t last forever. We have to keep fighting.”

The rope was once again spliced, five knots showed where men had once been tied. The hours wore on, each one more painful than the last. Connor was starting to lose his grip on Smith, who could barely move on his own. It was exhausting, but they had no choice. Soon, darkness began to envelope the whiteout. What was once blinding white snow became grey, then it grew darker and darker. No torch could remain lit in this wind, not even Zephyr’s fire breath would last long outside her mouth. Another hour went by, and the rope went slack again. In the endless darkness, Connor felt up the rope until coming to another man. Two figures came into view after a few minutes. Thorsen and one other man.

“Looks like it’s just us boys. Connor, how’s Smith doing?”

“Not good sir. He hasn’t been making any sense for hours.”

“[censored]… well, so long as he can keep walking, he stays with us. But Connor, if he drops, you have to leave him.”

“Understood sir…” Connor said.

“Alright, let’s keep moving” Thorsen ordered.

Now it was too dark to see a thing. They had lost the river many miles ago, and now what little they could see through the snow was shrouded by darkness. Zephyr kept checking in on Connor and tried to get through to Smith, but Smith was too incoherent to recognize her in his own mind. While he had hoped that the snow would stop by nightfall, he was sorely mistaken. Connor had never felt snow like this before. It stung like ice on his face. He adjusted the cloth covering his face, keeping his nose from freezing off. He couldn’t see the hand in front of his face, but he was losing feeling now and not even the pocket would help.

As they walked, Connor could swear he walked over something soft. Something else was under foot. Bending over briefly, Connor felt for the object. To his surprise, he found a glove. A short while later, he found another. Then a hat. Something odd was happening up ahead, but he was so cold the teen didn’t question these unexpected gifts. After a few more minutes, he barely made out a loud scream through the wind. Something really was wrong. But he had Smith to contend with and a little dragon that was losing body heat. Just then, the line got tight. The pull was so strong that it almost knocked Connor over. Luckily, he caught himself and Smith, who was by now almost completely dependent on Connor for support. Suddenly, the line went slack. Going through the motions once more, Connor reeled in the rope until he stumbled on another body.
He couldn’t see but knew that he’d have to cut and retie the rope to keep up with Thorsen. However, feeling around the man, Connor noticed that he was touching bare skin. The man was half undressed. Even worse, he couldn’t find the other end of the rope in the snow. Finally, he grasped at what he thought was the rope leading to Thorsen, but instead it was only a few feet long. At the end, Connor could barely feel through his numb hands that the rope was frayed.

“[censored]” Connor thought.

“W-what is it?” Zephyr replied, intruding on his thoughts.

“The rope, it’s been cut.”

“What does that mean?”

“We have to try and find Thorsen before he gets too far.”

Connor charged forward, using some of his precious reserves. But after a few minutes, reality sunk in. Thorsen, being in the front, probably didn’t feel anything on his rope until it was far too late. He must have walked off into the snow completely unaware that he was now untethered. Connor found his way back to the body and waited a few more minutes, hoping beyond hope that Thorsen would realize what happened and backtrack.

“Zephyr, I need you to make a flame as a beacon for Thorsen.”

The little dragon popped her head out from inside the jacket and did her best, but the light didn’t reach far. It did, however, illuminate the man’s mostly naked body. Connor spied a jacket next to the man that he was wearing, and quickly grabbed it, putting the extra layer on him. It would, at a minimum, buy him some more time. The light also allowed Connor to look at Smith. To his horror, Smith’s face was completely black from frost bite, his face coverings having come undone miles ago. There was only a faint breath coming from his mouth. Connor quickly wrapped his face coverings up again, hoping to salvage what he could of his friend’s face.

The teen took another moment to look at his hands. Thankfully, they weren’t black, but early stages of frost bite were slowly forming. It was then that Connor noticed tracks leading away from the body.

“Hey, you see those Z?”

“Yeah?” She thought.

“I’m going to cut us loose and follow those tracks, they must be Thorsen’s.”

Connor did just that, grabbing a knife from the pocket of the latest fallen man. They were free of the tether and, after giving the man some final thoughts, pushed on into the darkness. They followed the tracks for the better part of an hour, but they were beginning to be covered up by blowing snow. After a while, Connor noticed that some of the tracks were crossing over each other. They were walking in big circles, following a man who was unknowingly covering the same ground over and over again. Zephyr was growing tired using all her energy to make a flame, but Connor pushed her to keep it up until they found Thorsen. Unfortunately, no sooner had Connor thought those words than a final body came into view. Connor rushed forward with Smith in tow and turned the body over to reveal Thorsen. Barely conscious.

“Who… who are you?” Thorsen said weakly.

“It’s Connor sir, and Smith, and Zephyr.”

Thorsen opened his eyes to take in what little light they had to share.

“I’m glad you’re here. Let’s rest a while.”

“Sir, you have to get up.”

“Why? It’s warm now. Relaxing.”

“Thorsen! You’re dying! Get up before we all perish. Smith is in even worse shape, see!?”

Connor then lowered Smith’s face cloth, revealing his blackened features. Thorsen’s eyes grew wide, and, for at least a moment, he became coherent.

“By the masks, is that Smith?”

“Yeah, and you aren’t looking too much better. Now get up, we need to move!”

Thorsen then nodded his head and tried to get himself up. But he couldn’t. Connor then sat Smith down and tried to help his captain up, but it was no use. The man had no strength left in his legs, nor much balance. Defeated, Thorsen pulled Connor in close so he could hear him.

“I’m sorry Connor, I’m done. I’ve got nothing left. Look, we’ve been walking for two days now, we should be close…”

Connor didn’t have the heart to tell Thorsen that he had spent most of the last hour walking in circles completely disoriented.

“But if you can walk, Connor, you have to keep going. Get yourself to safety, live to tell everyone what happened.”

“Sir, I’ll keep going until I drop.”

“Here, you need these…”

Thorsen then pulled a compass and his small map out of his pocket and placed them in Connor’s frozen hands.

“The creek you need to find is directly north of here. If you go west, eventually you’ll find the river again. But if you go North, there’s no way you can miss the creek. Now, take Smith and keep going.”

“Sir, what about you?”

“I’m not going to make it. But don’t worry kid, I’m at peace with it. We had to try. I wasn’t expecting this blizzard to come down on us so hard. Now go, while you still can!”

There wasn’t anything else Connor could do. “Alright, I’ll go.”

“Oh, and Connor?”


“It was an honor. I never got to thank you properly for getting us away from those wolves on the river. When you survive this, I want you to get back to Callow and protect it with your last breath if you must. Let those [censored] dogs know they couldn’t kill you and neither could the snow.”

“The honor was mine, Sir. I pray you don’t suffer any longer.”

“I’m at peace with it Connor, now take Smith and make for those supplies. They’ll save you.”

Connor then grabbed Smith and got him on his feet. The younger teen was like a ragdoll now, but after a couple of steps the semi-conscious Smith found his footing and stumbled forward with his friend. Connor used the last of Zephyr’s fire to check the compass before finally letting her rest.

“Try to regain some strength, Zephyr. It’s only a few more hours until dawn.”

“Okay…” she said, weakly.

Thorsen watched as the light grew dimmer in the snow, before it disappeared completely. It was now in the darkness, alone. Taking a deep breath and letting out some final tears, Thorsen pulled out a knife. Laying back in the snow, he uncovered his left arm and, in one smooth motion, let the blade cut deep into the length of his forearm right down the wrist. It was easy since he could barely feel a thing from his elbow down. No longer able to see, Thorsen relied on feel and, for at least a minute, the warm liquid brought some life back into his right hand. Satisfied, Thorsen put his good arm over his chest and let the darkness close in on him. It was a better death than suffocating under snow.

The darkness made the hours crawl by. But finally, after many miles of walking, Connor could finally see enough to check the compass again. He looked behind him and was glad to see a long line of tracks in a straight line. They hadn’t been wandering. Looking at the compass, it pointed Northwest. However, he noticed that Smith had more or less stopped functioning in the last few minutes. Now basically pulling his friend along, Connor made little progress. He found the last of his energy reserves and pushed.

“Liz, Asher, Shadow” he repeated to himself over and over again. He would see them again no matter what. He had to keep pushing. But after another two hours, there was nothing left for him to use. Connor could feel himself grow delirious. Finally, Connor collapsed. Falling on his butt in the snow, Smith slumping over beside him. Rolling Smith over, he checked for breath. There was none.



“You need to fly.”


“Smith. He’s dead, and I’m not far behind. Check my mind Z, I’m seeing things.”

Zephyr intruded into Connor’s mind and, horrifyingly, it was true. She could see Templar, adrakists, and that old captain Drake. She then saw Asher, Liz, and Shadow’s faces.

“Yeah, you are.” Zephyr said, worried.

“Get yourself above the storm. Somewhere up high it will be cold, but you’ll have the sun to help warm you. You’ll see the mountain. Go there and find shelter. When the storm passes, fly back to Callow.”


“Let them know I tried Z. Make sure that they all know how much I love them.”

The teen then laid back in the snow, checking the compass one more time. The snow was beginning to lighten up, meaning the blizzard was coming to a close. The wind had died down enough that his little dragon could actually stay airborne. Zephyr jumped onto Connor’s chest.

“Connor, please, get up.” She begged, tears forming in her eyes. She was cold, but after her fire was depleted, she switched to using mana to generate heat. It wouldn’t last forever, but she could at least stay alive another day or two.

“Z, fly out of here, now.”

“Please…” she spoke. Zephyr nuzzled Connor’s neck and he responded by placing a frozen hand on her.

“One of us has to make it. The others should know what happened, they’ll be able to move on. And you, you’ll outlive us all by centuries, or even millennia. Now go, the storm is dying down.”

With that, Connor let go. Zephyr, without much choice, spread her small wings and let the wind catch them. She lifted aloft, floating for a minute.

“I’ll get help Connor; don’t you dare fall die on me.”

Connor nodded, but he was getting weaker by the minute and knew it. His strength was fading fast. The last thing he saw before closing his eyes was Zephyr climbing higher into the sky.

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Chapter 7: A Second Chance

#8 Post by jjw2795 »

For the longest time, Connor felt cold. A sinking, deep cold that penetrated into the deepest parts of his soul. He was drowning under miles of water with seemingly no end in sight. The water was cold, too cold to breathe. Just as he was about to disappear into the dark abyss, he felt something rise up from underneath him. Accelerating upwards, Connor found himself above the water’s surface, gasping for breath. A sudden wave of warmth washed over him, and his once racing heart calmed. The teen could swear he was in danger, but it seemed to have passed, and now a tranquil scene emerged from around him. Looking up, Connor saw that he was standing on a small boat. It was simple, a single small mast and a tiller. It felt warm, almost alive. Strangely, the vessel seemed to glow.

Despite the lack of wind, Connor’s small boat seemed to glide forward under sail with little effort. The gold-tinted waters seemed to go on forever, shrouded by warm fog. Time here felt… weird. On the one hand, he could swear that he had been sailing for weeks. On the other hand, it only felt like a few minutes at most. He had heard voices, mostly muffled, beyond the fog. Some voices though would be a bit more recognizable. Connor could swear that he heard his mother, his father, John, even Drake. Drake’s especially sent a chill down his spine. Connor grabbed the tiller and attempted to steer the boat away from the voices, but it had little effect. The boat seemed to be moving on a predetermined course and nothing would dissuade it.

The voices seemed to pass by though, and after they faded into nothing, Connor relaxed. Something was odd, those were all people who should be dead. Was he? No, he couldn’t be better to shake the feeling away and press on until he could find an exit. The thought couldn’t escape him though, something seemed off. In the distance, a small figure manifested out of the fog. Connor squinted hard to make out who it was, but as the fog lifted, he could see that it was Asher! Not thinking, Connor stepped out of the boat. At first, he thought he might drown, but to his surprise the water was only a few inches deep.


“Connor…” Asher said, though lips didn’t move. Connor turned his focus back to Asher standing several yards away. Excitedly, he ran up to his brother.

“Asher! Are you okay?” But the answer was unexpected.

“How could you leave me, Connor? You’re my brother, you said you would never leave me again! Now you’re gone…”

“What? No, Asher, I’m right here in front of you. See?”
But as Connor attempted to take Asher’s hand, the figure disappeared into mist. A second later, another figure materialized behind him.

“Connor.” His sister’s unmistakable voice spoke out to him. Connor spun around.

“Liz? Where’s Asher. He was just here. C’mon, we should go and find—”

“Why don’t you want me to be happy? Sam would take care of me, yet you hurt him. You hurt me. Why?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Liz, of course I want you to be happy…”

But as he reached for Liz, she too disappeared.

“Connor, you were supposed to write to me.”

The teen again turned around, only to see Eira standing before him.

“Eira… I’ve been writing to you all summer. Are you not getting my letters?”

“And now, I’ll never see you again.” Eira said, looking at him deep in the soul.

“I love you, but now you’re gone…” She finished, vanishing in the process.

“Connor, I need you.” Shadow said, appearing where Eira was.

“Shadow, someone as strong as you surely don’t need someone like me.”

“I needed a good man, Connor. You helped me find a better life, but now you aren’t here anymore. I need you Connor, so why did you leave…” This figure too disappeared.

“Guys, please! Wait, stay here with me. Don’t go!” But Connor’s pleas only echoed throughout space, mixing with the fog. Connor tried running in whatever direction he thought was best, heart now pounding at the thought that he was separated from his family. A creeping feeling was starting to get to him, something that he tried his best to suppress. This couldn’t be happening…

After several minutes, Connor saw an end to this weird body of water. He walked to the shore, coming up out of the water and onto a beach. It was warm, with a golden sky above him and puffy, gold-tinted clouds rolling by. It felt oddly like home, like Maine. Only warmer.

“It’s good to see you again, Connor. I was wondering how long it would be until you found your way here.”

Connor turned to his side to see another figure on the beach. A stout basitin in flowing robes, though covered with light scars in various places. While much of him seemed strangely different, the face remained as recognizable as ever.


“I’m glad you remember me. Though you are most remiss.”


“That necklace you took from me when I died. It was supposed to go back to my family, yes?”

“Of course. You think I was going to loot your body? As soon as I found them, they’d have it back.”

“And how exactly do you plan to do that?”

“What do you mean? Look, Shiloh, nothing here is making any sense.”

“Of course it shouldn’t make sense, Connor. You aren’t supposed to be here yet.”

“I don’t even know where ‘here’ is, Shiloh. So mind filling me in?”

“Connor, you know where we are. You know what happened. All you have to do is quit denying it to yourself.”

“Shiloh, please. I-I’m confused. There must be some mistake here. A dream perhaps? A hallucination? I was freezing in a blizzard before I came here.”

“Yes, Connor, you were. And then what happened?”

“I… I closed my eyes.” Connor said, a pained look forming across his face as the pieces finally all came together to form the reality that he didn’t want to notice. “I died, didn’t I?”

“I’m afraid so, my friend.”

“And that’s why I’m able to talk to you. So my family, those voices weren’t real?”

“No, that’s just your mind trying to jumpstart you awake.”

“So I’m not dead?”

“No, you’re most definitely dead. Your heart stopped. All that’s left of ‘you’ now is your soul, same as me.”

Connor then dropped to his knees in grief. He not only failed his family but was now separated from them. However, he felt a hand on his shoulder followed by a comforting voice.

“Dead… just dead then? So all that I’ve done was for nothing…”

“Don’t give up Connor. You may technically be dead, but you really aren’t supposed to be here yet. Ephemural says you still have a part to play in their great game.”

Connor raised his head up to look at Shiloh. “Ephemural? You mean…”

“Neutral. One of the masks, yes.”

“Well, what could a God possibly want with me? She knows I’m not exactly religious, or even faithful, right?”

“Ephemural is aware, but that doesn’t really seem to matter. Connor, you’re on a path that you must continue down. There’s something you must do before you can rest here in the afterlife.”

“While I’m glad to see you again, Shiloh, I’ve got a lot of questions if what you say is true. Can I speak with neutral?”

“Not here you can’t, but you’ll have your chance. Trust me. But while you’re still here, there’s a couple of things you must know.”


“My family doesn’t know what happened to me. You promised to tell them what happened. I need to know you’ll still do that.”

“Of course I will, Shiloh. I gave my word.”

“Thank you, I know you’ll keep it just as you’ve kept your word to others. Please, also tell my daughter that I love her. I still wish I could have seen here again before I died in that horrible place.”

“I will Shiloh. I’ll make sure they know you died bravely. Asher tells me such a death is the most honorable way for a basitin to meet their fate. But first I’ll need to get back.”

“I’ll show you the way. Follow me.”

Shiloh extended a hand to help his friend up. Together, they walked along the beach. Other souls began to appear. Some played on the beach, others were further inland. All seemed to be having the time of their lives. Or afterlives. He didn’t see anyone he recognized though.

“Hey Shiloh?”


“Are my mother and father here?”

“I personally haven’t run into them. The afterlife is a big place. But I imagine their souls found their way here.”

“It’s funny. A while back I had a dream about seeing her, and Liz. I wonder if she was speaking to me then.”

“I’m sorry, Connor, but that was just a dream. We can’t interact directly with the living. Only the masks have that power, though it’s rumored some of the most powerful dragons can cross between realms.”

“Rumors, huh. So I guess we don’t get all the answers even in death.”

“Well, we do get the answers to the questions we most care about. When you come here for good, you’ll be able to find your parents because you truly love them. But because they aren’t people I know; they are merely souls in this vast landscape.”

“Does everyone make it here? For instance, is Drake here?”

“Yes, but people you despise are only ever in the background, and certainly not a threat as they were in life.”

“So basically, this is all one shared realm, but it’s a paradise to each individual?”

“That’s a simplification of it, but yes.”

“And we’re all guaranteed to end up here?”

“Most souls find their way here, but others can fall into numerous traps. One of Nora’s children especially is responsible for many lost souls.”

“Oh, that reminds me. Shiloh, that egg you helped to save. It hatched. Her name is Zephyr. Before I died, I told her to fly off and find shelter. Do you know if she made it?”

“Zephyr… that’s a good name. All I know is she isn’t here, so I suppose she found her way to safety.”

“I should return then. But this place seems… peaceful. I haven’t known a lot of peace in my life, it would be nice to stay a while…”

“No Connor, you must return before your death becomes permanent. Another chance at life is a rare gift, so I hope you take it and use it well.”

Shiloh then pointed at a dock where another boat was waiting. “Ephemural even prepared you a vessel for your journey back.”

“So what do I do?”

“Sail it, Connor. Sail back into the fog. It won’t take long, but you’ll find your way back to your body.”

“Will it hurt? You know, coming back from the dead?”

“I imagine so. You’ll have to deal with whatever injuries you’ve sustained, though Neutral told me before you arrived that your dragon found help, so hopefully you’ll be healing when you return to life. She also wanted me to caution you. People who’ve had experiences like these aren’t quite the same as they were originally. Death will make you different from who you once were.”

“What do you mean by ‘different’ Shiloh?”

“Not even the masks know that which is why I’m warning you now. Don’t let go of the things that make you, ‘you’, Connor. But instead, take this experience to heart and try to live a fulfilling life. When the time comes for you to play your part, you’ll feel it. Now, you had better get going before this window closes.”

“Very well. Once more into the breech, I suppose. Oh yeah, I never got to thank you for your instruction. It’s kept me alive… mostly.”

“It was a pleasure. Ah yes, that reminds me. There’s one more thing you need to know.”

“What would that be?”

“Remember the numbers ‘75’, ‘15’, and ‘10’. It’s the key to winning a war that has yet to come.”

“Key? So, those numbers are like a code?”

“It wouldn’t be much fun if I told you everything. Just trust me, Connor, it will make sense when you find my secret. It’s in an abandoned place up north, far away from other settlements. When asked to go there, go. You might be human, but I trust your character. You’ll know what to do with it once you comprehend what those numbers can do.”

“Alright, Shiloh. I’ll trust you.”

“Until we meet again, Connor Ulstad.” Shiloh then extended his hand once more, this time to shake the teen’s hand out of respect.

“Momento Mori” Connor replied, shaking Shiloh’s hand.

“Go, find my family and fulfill your destiny.”

Connor climbed into the small boat, one that was quite similar to the one he abandoned earlier. It was a short time spent in the afterlife, but clearly there were things he needed to do in Mekkan still. But if Mom and Dad were there, he wouldn’t mind returning when his time came. Still, Neutral would have some explaining to do when Connor ran into the god.

As the boat entered into the fog, Connor began to feel colder. It was returning, the pain he had left behind. Not quite as intense, but still very uncomfortable. Feeling began to come back to him. Fingers, toes, arms, legs, and face all began to feel like burning needles. At the same time, there was a soothing feeling combating the pain. It was the unmistakable touch of magic. Someone was healing him. The fog closed in and cut off all senses except for hearing. Voices began to grow louder and clearer. Before long, Connor could feel that someone was having a conversation around him.

Then the feeling of touch began to return. He could feel bandages covering various places of his body. He could feel a warm body resting on him, the source of the magic. Taste began to return as well. The taste of iron from blood and minerals from water, along with the aftertaste of weird medicines. The smell of incense filled his nostrils, as did residual smoke from a fire. Finally, the sense of time returned to him, and he could sense that a long time had passed from when he had left the world. Something deep within him urged Connor to open his eyes and see the world once more. Part of him wanted to go back to the afterlife, to no longer experience the pain of living. But deep down, he wanted to see his family again. He had the chance to live again, to fulfill what was apparently his destiny. A fate ordained by a god, no less. Willing himself to take the final action of coming back, Connor slowly opened his eyes. As they adjusted, the conversation stopped, followed by blurry figures moving to look over him.

As his focus came back, one voice said, “Welcome back to the land of the living, kid.”

Standing over him was a basitin and a human, the human being the one that spoke. Connor groaned as he tried to move, but a hand gently pinned him in place.
“Woah, easy there kid. You’ve been through a lot and moving too much could be quite painful. So just lay there and relax.”

“W-where is Zephyr?”

“I’m here Connor.” A voice said inside Connor’s head. He looked down at his body to find Zephyr resting on his chest.

“You made it!” He said, with a weak smile forming across his tired face.

“And you almost didn’t make it.” The basitin said. “But your dragon here led us right to you and we got you out of that snowdrift as quickly as we could. Had you been there another hour… Well, let’s just say we wouldn’t be talking to you now.”

“What about Smith?” Connor asked.

“You mean the other one that was with you? I’m sorry kid, he didn’t make it. Long dead by the time we got to you.”

“And… where am I?” The teen asked next.

“You’re in a basitin village, kid. But don’t worry about that. You’re among friends. Apparently this one has some questions for you when you’re able to think clearly. I’ll be back soon, so just rest for now.”

Connor could only nod before falling asleep to rest. A lot of things hurt, but he was alive.

He let many hours pass by, barely opening his eyes to get a bearing on where he was or who was in the room with him. The whole time, Zephyr didn’t move away from him, always staying on his chest or by his side. Not really able to speak, Connor resorted to keeping himself occupied by conversing with Zephyr in their shared mindscape.

“I owe you my life Z, thank you for not abandoning me like I asked.”

“I could never abandon you, Connor. You saved me before I hatched. If anything, I owed you.”

“Nonsense. But maybe we can just call it even then.”

“Even it is.”

“So, was I really dead or almost dead?”

“Connor… I don’t want to talk about—”

“Please Z, I need to know. I’ve… had an experience.”

“Alright, I guess you should know. Yes, for a time you were dead.”

“And how did I come back from the dead? That almost never happens.”

“There are some keidran followers of that human, they taught me how to tap into my magic to breathe life back into you.”

“The power to give life… That’s quite a feat even for a dragon.”

“Well, I guess I had a good motivation.”

“Okay, well, there’s some things you need to know about. But first, do I have all my fingers and toes?”

“You lost both hands, your face, and a foot…”


“I’m kidding,” Zephyr said, laughing.

“That isn’t funny Zephyr, I’d be pretty useless like that!”

“We managed to save all parts of you, except for one finger on your left hand. It was exposed when we found you, the flesh was too damaged to the healers insisted on amputation.”

“I guess I can live without a finger. Better than being dead, I suppose.”

“You know, I may one day be able to help you regrow it…”

“No. Leave it. That way I don’t forget the good men who died out there.”

“Now, you said something about an experience?”

“Yeah. When I was dead, I found myself in an afterlife. ‘The’ afterlife, I suppose.”

“Did you see anyone?”

“Do you remember a basitin by the name of Shiloh? He helped save you before you hatched.”

“I don’t remember him myself, but you mentioned him once.”

“Well, he was there to greet me. Apparently, one of the masks has a purpose for me to fulfill and Shiloh was the chosen messenger.”

“Really? Which mask? I thought there was a lot of them.”

“Actually, there’s only three that I know of. This one is called Ephemural, or ‘Neutral’. She’s a demigod.”

“A demigod of what?”

“Keidran. Which is odd because I’m hardly an ally to the keidran clans.”

“Well, I remember you helping to set those keidran on that ship free when I first hatched.”

“That was more out of necessity than kindness. Plus, I really wanted to hurt Drake and the best way to do that was make him lose a lot of money.”

“All the same, I can sense you Connor in your deepest thoughts. A lot of humans seem to hold a lot of anger.”

“Believe me Z, I’ve got plenty of anger. I was orphaned, enslaved, kept from my home, beaten, and lied to. But worst of all, I couldn’t do anything when my family was torn apart. There’s more than enough anger to go around, I just don’t keep it so close to my mind or heart.”

“I suppose that’s not too important right now. But going back to Shiloh and your experience. Did he tell you your destiny?”

“No, but when I’m able to get out of bed and interact with others, I need to find his family. There’s something I need to return to them.”

“That was it?”

“Well, Shiloh also gave me a set of numbers. ‘75’, ‘15’, and ‘10’.”

“Those don’t really seem meaningful.”

“Apparently, they are. I’m thinking they may be coordinates. Just keep an eye out for anything that is related to those numbers.”

“I will. Hey, I sense you getting tired.”

“Yes, I need to rest more. But thank you for staying with me.”

“Hey, I won’t leave you Connor, I love you.”

“I love you too kiddo,”

Connor then placed a hand over Zephyr and returned to his sleep. He’d be ready to face the world again soon, but for now getting some rest was his best move. Connor just hoped that his family was doing well in Callow.

Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2023 5:41 pm
Favorite Character: Maddie

Chapter 8: Banishment

#9 Post by jjw2795 »

Tostig looked out at this city under siege. Part of him felt for his people, but at the same time they could not be allowed to bow to wolves. He would not bow to wolves and their demands. They were lesser, and they were rivals who were only useful for labor and trade in times of peace. And yet, the situation they were in now was not sustainable and everyone knew it. Just then, the door to his chamber was opened and his lead counselor, his right hand, stepped into the room.

“You wished to see me, my lord?”

Tostig took a sip from his wine chalice before turning away from his window and walking over to his desk with slow, deliberate steps. Upon locking eyes with his trusted advisor, the lord gave a small smile.

“Yes. I was hoping you’d have an inventory of our supplies ready to discuss.”

The counselor stepped forward, producing a stack of documents that had been written up by scribes. “Of course, my lord. Here are the inventory lists on the items you requested. Firewood, coal, wine, ale, spirits, bread, and meat are all right here.”

The counselor then placed the lists in his lord’s outstretched hands.

Tostig then got to the point of their meeting, “but all of these lists are to answer a single question. Do we have enough supplies to make it until spring?”

His counselor lowered his head and shook it slowly, “No sir. We’ll be out two months before the first ships can make safe harbor at the coast.”

Tostig sighed. “Then it’ll have to be done.”

“Are you sure, my Lord?”

“What choice do I have? We tried leaving, we tried getting necessary supplies, and even rations won’t carry us through the entire winter.”

“Those poor souls…”

“The keidran, overall, are tough beasts. And if you ask me, some of them played a hand in this whole mess, I just know it.”

“In what way could they be responsible, sir?” The counselor asked, confused.

“You really think every keidran in this town wants to be serving humans in some way or another? Their brethren are outside the walls, likely promising them a place of refuge for themselves and their slave relatives back east if they help the snow wolves kick us out.”

“That seems unlikely, my Lord.”

“Even if I’m wrong about their loyalties, the fact is keidran are more disposable than men. I can do without all these extra servants and menial laborers, but I’m going to need my miners and loggers when the snow clears, and the crown sends the best troops in Mekkan to our aid.”

“Your will is my command, sir. I’ll have Gerrick gather all his guardsmen in the great hall this evening. We’ll need every able-bodied member of the garrison.”

“Very good. Also, please send for the healer. These headaches… that medicine hasn’t been working.”

“Of course, my lord. Right away.”

The sun was setting on another day of the town under siege. The wolves had not made any moves to attack the walls, but why would they? They controlled the land and sea for hundreds of miles in every direction. A counsel of the elders was called in the camp overlooking the settlement. In the middle of the camp was a large, portable lodge made from thick timbers cut in the Snowy Pines. The frame was bound tightly by many hides, proving insulation and blocking the fierce winds that would often sweep across the tundra. Normally, settlements were permanent, but some wolves that had ventured into human territory took notes on how their rivals conducted war, and moveable houses were the answer to navigating across harsh country that was so brutal even the ever-adaptable humans had yet to conquer.

Outside the lodge entrance waited a tall, young snow wolf. Icy-white hair was bound tightly into a knot under a hat of seal fur. Extra layers of fur helped to protect the wolf from the elements, as even in winter the temperatures were colder than any canine could safely withstand. Blue eyes pierced through the growing darkness, a slight glow from his mana crystal necklace giving his face some soft illumination. He was waiting, watching for someone. Others came into the lodge one and two at a time. After a while, the young wolf was beginning to worry. “Where could he be?” The thought.

Just then a lone figure hobbled into view. A snow wolf much like him seemed to materialize out of the blowing snow that cut the visibility down significantly. Now only the glow of Callow could be seen in the distance. The old wolf, walking with a cane, finally found his way to the entrance.

“Grandfather, I was getting worried about you. You know I could help you up the hill, right?”

“Oh, don’t trouble yourself Bjorn. I might be almost as old as the wood holding that lodge together, but I can still find my way around camp. Now, let’s get inside, shall we?”

“Of course grandpa…” Bjorn then held the entrance to the lodge open so his frail kin could make his way inside where it was warm.

Following his grandfather inside, Bjorn was hit immediately with the warmth of a fire, fueled by wood brought in from the forest by sled, most of it cut down courtesy of the logging teams they had chased out a month earlier. The glow from his mana crystals was quickly overtaken by the bright, orange light of the fire. The young wolf removed most of his outer garments, placing them on the ground to use as a seat. He sat down behind where his grandfather had made himself comfortable. As an elder, the old wolf held one of the seats in the clans moot, the council of elders that had assembled to deal with the human problem.

All inside the lodge waited silently as their shaman conjured magical light structures from her crystal necklace in a ceremony to purify the air. The lights were dazzling. Bjorn’s favorite was seeing a replication of the night sky, a spell which was meticulously maintained through the generations showing each visible star as well as the moon. Another spell finished the ceremony, seemingly purging the air from the lodge, the fire reducing to embers, only to roar back to life as new, fresh air came in to fill the vacuum. It was then that the shaman gave a special blessing and prayer to each of the council members before taking her seat in the back as an observer. The five wolves then allowed for a silent pause to pass over all in attendance before beginning.

The designated leader of the council, tasked with mediating the clans moot, broke the silence, “my friends, our actions this winter may ensure the survival of our people and way of life, but one misstep and we will surely suffer greatly for our actions against the humans.”

A graying elder from the clan west of Widow Lake then saw fit to add in his thoughts. “Indeed, Bragi, but I believe our actions so far have been successful. The humans and their keidran servants have been completely cut off from their homeland and their king. No one will be able to help them until the snow leaves.”

Frey, the elder representing the clan at the split between the Widow and Pines rivers then spoke, “My warriors were successful in destroying any attempts by the humans to reach the sea. I’ve seen some of the bodies from their first attempt, and I believe that many of their most capable are dead. We ought to press an attack while we still have an advantage in the snow.”

Garth, Bjorn’s grandfather, and widely held to be one of the wisest elders in the North, urged caution. “It is true, Frey, that your warriors have slain many humans who could defend the walls, but many more are still inside. We’ve all seen the patrols along the top of the wall. Besides that, your warriors let one boat get away in the humans’ first attempt to summon help, didn’t they?”

Frey was forced to admit the mistake. “You are right, Garth, one did manage to slip away in the night. My warriors say they followed a light they thought was a lantern from the boat, but it was something else. It was alive, but they could not get a good look at it, and the light they followed led them into a sand bank. But a large storm hit shortly after. Surely, none survived.”

Garth had a different thought. “I would not so easily discredit these humans. Sure, they lack our fur, but they are adaptable creatures. I’ve seen with my own eyes the mines they’ve built. If they can bring the heart of Mekkan to the surface, their best may be able to survive winter.”
Bragi, always one to listen to a wolf with so much experience, wanted to know how this would affect their plans. “Garth, do you think the humans would bring reinforcements?”

“Assuming they survived, it could happen.”

Frey wasn’t as convinced. “Even if that one crew did manage to make it to the coast, it would still be months before the humans could bring an army to our shores. But that is all the more reason to find a way into the city.”

The last wolf in the council had been silent up until then. He was the youngest, though his offspring were still well into adulthood. He had earned a reputation as one of the best strategists among the snow wolves, having to regularly repel attempts by the forest wolves to gain more territory along the southern border. “An attack on the walls would be a failure. One does not kill a bear by fighting it on its terms. To kill a bear, one must outsmart it, and force the creature to fight in a way it is not used to.”

“So we should do nothing then?” Frey surmised, but the younger wolf shook his head.

“No, the wall is a bear. If we simply run up to it, our warriors will all die. But if we can find a weakness or fight the humans in a way they are not used to, then we will have the advantage.”

Garth then added is trademark advice of caution. “Though we must be patient, my friends. There will be an opportunity before spring arrives. As the weather gets colder and the snow gets deeper, our advantages will grow.”

Bragi then came to a possible plan of action. “I know Tostig. Once desperate enough, he will want an open battle where his trained guards can win, even in the snow. It would be too great of a risk to meet him in such a battle, but we could bait him to it.”

The wolf from Widow Lake then had an idea of his own. “My warriors could conduct raids on the humans’ stashes of firewood and supplies. There are some close enough to the walls that they can be reached. Once the humans start getting cold, they will be forced to either submit or do battle.”

Bragi nodded in agreement. “Do we have a plan then?”

All nodded and prepared to cast their vote when a shout from outside the lodge alerted the gathered snow wolves. A guard rushed in to deliver the news. The Shaman stood up upon this intrusion. “A clans moot is a sacred gathering, outsiders are not permitted unless invited. Child, why have you trespassed?”

The guard was gasping for air after running for a couple of miles to the main camp. “Apologies… humans… outside the wall.”

Perhaps the battle was coming after all? Bragi then stood. “Garth, have your grandson take your best warriors to trap these humans. This may be the beginning of the very battle Tostig would try to arrange.”

Garth then looked behind him at his nephew and nodded. “Go, Bjorn, I’ll find my way back. Be safe.”

Garth bowed his head slightly in respect of the others. “Thank you all for permitting me to the clans moot. I will track down and subdue these humans before they can cause trouble.”

With a wave of Bragi’s hand, Garth then exited the lodge with the guard and ran toward the main camp to find as many warriors as he could at a moment’s notice.

The Ulstads were preparing a dinner of rations in the empty tavern when a knock came from the front door. Anna Marie, who was closest, stopped sweeping to open the door. She was surprised by the evening visitor. “Sam, whatchya doin’ here at such an hour? We’re ya joinin’ fer dinner?”

Sam didn’t answer as he came into the foyer, but the look on his face told everyone that something was wrong. Liz stood up and quickly made her way to Sam, with Shadow and Asher close behind. Ivan leaned his head out from the kitchen. Liz took Sam’s hand in hers and looked him in the eyes. “Sam, what is it? News from Connor?”

Sam just shook his head. “I’m sorry Liz, I wish it was.”
Shadow then asked in a more direct voice. “Then what is it? You look pale.”

“It’s Tostig. He’s… well, he’s given the guard an order.”

“Come on, Sam, out with it?” Shadow said, worry seeping into her words. Sam took a deep breath to collect himself. They needed to know.

“Tostig has ordered every non-human in Callow… he’s banished them from the town.”

A thick, baritone voice boomed from the kitchen. “What?” A look of horror came across Asher’s face. Shadow too was shocked.

“Like Ivan said, ‘what?’” The leopard could hardly believe what she had heard.

“Liz, Miss Marie, you are both allowed to stay. But guards are going door to door right now and rounding up all the keidran. Shadow and Asher, you had better collect what you can before they arrive. I’ll escort you both personally so that neither of you have a hand laid on you.”

Anna wouldn’t have it. “They’s just as much people as us, Sam. Shadow, you and the boy should hide in the cellar. Ivan, get the darn hammer.”

“No Anna.” Shadow replied, letting it sink in. “We can’t just hide in the tavern all winter. Besides, what happens when you get caught?”

Sam had the unfortunate answer to that one. “Tostig has also ordered that anyone caught hiding keidran will be burned at the stake.”

That caused Anna and Liz to recoil at the thought of their own fate. It was more than enough for Shadow to make up her mind. “Come on Asher, we had better put on whatever clothes we can before— “just then, another knock came from the door, this one far more stern than before.

“[censored], they’re here already. I thought there’d be more time. Shadow, you can Asher meet Ivan in the back, I’ll get you three to the eastern gate.” Sam said before going to answer the door with Anna Marie. Asher didn’t quite understand all that was happening. He knew human well enough now, but things were progressing quickly for a seven-year-old. But Shadow quickly grabbed his hand and led them both into the room with Liz close behind. Once inside the room, Liz, locked the door to buy them at least a few more seconds.

Shadow, having been trained by assassins in the guild, wasn’t terribly concerned for herself. But being forced to leave Liz? She hoped that Anna Marie would keep the girl safe. Asher though was in trouble if they were being forced into the tundra. Her first thought then was to make sure the boy had as many warm clothes on as she could find.

“Here Asher, put this on, quickly.”

“I don’t want to leave, Shadow!”

“I don’t either, but we don’t have a choice. Sooner or later we’d be caught and thrown outside the walls anyway. Now bundle up as best you can be—”

Loud knocking came from the bedroom wall. “We know there are keidran in here! Open the door and come with us.”

Liz went up to the door to buy as much time as she could. “Just a minute!”

“Open it now woman!” Was the reply, but that was closely followed by Sam’s voice. “Hey, I’m highest rank here and I happen to know the two you’re after. Let me handle this and you two should continue down the stre—”

“Not a chance Sam, we’ve got orders from your father.”

“Then at least go get Ivan. Shadow and Asher aren’t going to put up a fight.”

Two more guards could be heard struggling to push the big wolf out into the street, and the intensity of the struggle caused the two guards standing near the room door to reconsider pushing their luck with someone who outranks them.

“Very well, they’ve got two minutes. If they aren’t out by then, we’re going to break the door down.”

Sam then moved to the side to let the two guards pass by.

Liz’s muffled voice came from behind the door “Are they gone?”

“Yeah, for the moment.”

A minute later, the door’s latch was undone, and it creaked open. Shadow and Asher had their wool jumpers on, along with whatever clothes they could find. Shadow was even wearing a pair of Connor’s pants. They were a bit tight but provided some extra insulation. Liz then followed the two, closing the door behind them.

“Why is this happening, Sam?” Liz asked.

“Apparently, we don’t have enough supplies to last the winter. So either everyone starves…”

“…Or the keidran freeze to death.” Shadow finished for Sam.

“Basically, yes. But you don’t have to freeze to death, there’s shelter that you can use, as well as food stores.”

“Where?” Shadow interrogated. Asher’s life as well as her own was on the line.”

“You’ll have to slip passed the wolves, but there are food stores and shelters in the new mining district across the river. It’s on the other side of Ditter’s Ridge.”
“Wolves?!” Shadow exclaimed. “How am I and the kid going to slip passed an army of wolves? They’d see us miles away!”

“I don’t know. I suggest hiding until the wind kicks up, the blowing snow will provide you with cover.”

The three stressed faces, Shadow’s looking like she was ready to murder, all stared at Sam.

“Look, this is a bad situation. I wish there was more I could do, but there isn’t. Tostig is Jarl, and his word is the law. If he says you must go, then you must go. If you try to stay, he could have us all executed.”

“Would your father allow that?”

“Tostig would execute my father too if that’s what it took to keep order in this town. I’m sorry, I really am, but—”

“But you’re doing whatever you can…” Liz grabbed and held Sam’s hand. “Is there a path or a tunnel or something that they can use to get around the wolves?”

“No, there isn’t. Look, you’ll have to move as quickly as you can. I’ll send help as soon as I’m able to, but right now this is your best chance of surviving.”

“Fine…” Shadow said, defeated and out of options. “Come on Asher, we had better go.”

The boy had other ideas “I don’t want to leave Liz! I want to wait here for Connor!”

“Connor…” Shadow thought. She tried to put it past her mind, but Liz knelt down in front of the boy.

“Asher, Connor isn’t coming back.” She said, tears forming in her eyes. “It’s been a month, and as much as I wish he’d bust into the tavern right now like he did with both of you back in the spring, it’s not going to happen. You need to leave with Shadow, she’ll keep you safe.”

“What about you?” Asher said, sniffling.

“I’ve got Anna Marie and Sam here to help. But you can’t stay here or Tostig would—”

“Kill us…” Asher said.

“I know we aren’t the closest, but Connor called you his brother, so I do too. Go, while you still can.” She then stood up. Before she could say anything else, Shadow embraced the girl.

“I’m sorry that I won’t be there to keep you safe.” Shadow said.

“It’s okay. But if you two stick together, we’ll all look back at this like a bad memory.”

“One of many bad memories.”

Sam knew time was up. “We better leave before those two [censored] return. I’ll show you out a side entrance.”

Shadow and Liz let go of each other, and Shadow grabbed Asher’s hand before they both fled into the back alley behind Sam. The winding pathways between buildings eventually led them to a small door near the east gate. Shadow could see around the side of a building all the keidran being pushed out through the main gate. After looking around to make sure no one was watching, Sam produced a key, which began to glow as he recited an incantation. A hidden door nested into the wall glowed around the seal before opening, revealing a short tunnel to the outside.

“It’s one of the many emergency doorways out of the town. Only the guards have access, and most don’t know about them.”
Shadow, though impressed by the trickery, was hardly thrilled to be forced out of the walls. “If Connor ever comes back…”

“I hope he does, but for right now, you’re better off outside than inside.” Sam finished for Shadow, gesturing outside the wall.”

“Make sure nothing happens to Liz. Or I’ll find my way back,” Shadow lifted Sam off his feet and pinned him to the wall, “and burn this town to the ground with you in it.”

“I’ll protect her with my life if I must. You have my word. Now please, get out of here before someone sees me helping you.”

Shadow dropped Sam back to his feet, took Asher’s hand, and ducked through the hole in the wall. Once through, Sam closed the magic door with his key before slipping through an alley and joining the rest of the guards. Young ones were crying, old ones were being forcefully pushed, and at least one who tried to resist was savagely beaten. The guard was there to maintain order no matter the cost. After several minutes and much effort, the last keidran was shoved past the threshold. As the iron gate lowered from the ceiling, a couple of keidran made an attempt to get back into the town. But just as they were about to get through the inner gate, out of the crowd came several guards with crossbows. Without hesitation, their lieutenant gave the order to fire. In front of both humans and keidran, all those who tried to get through were cut down and left to die in the zwinger between the two gates. Their intentions made clear, the remaining keidran quickly fled from the walls just as guards took their positions along the walkway at the top.

Shadow couldn’t see what happened, but she could certainly hear it. Keeping Asher close, she used her skills at stealth to skirt along the bottom of the wall undetected. Asher at one point tried to say something but she quickly hushed him before continuing. Finding and avenue out in a blind spot from the guards, Shadow quickly moved past the ground torches could illuminate, finding safety in the darkness. Luckily, it was a clear night and Shadow could easily make out where the keidran had stopped. They looked to be in the process of scattering as keidran tended to do. They weren’t a clan or a tribe, instead they were in groups of individuals who knew each other. Shadow a year ago would have left them all to their fate, content to find the shelter she was informed of and waiting until spring. But now… now she could see scared children, elderly who wouldn’t make it two days in the winter snow, and many who were scared and confused, all in need of help.

“What are we going to do?” Asher asked, clutching onto her leg and looking up to her for guidance. He too was quite scared.

Shadow sighed, collecting herself. “We’re going to help them, Asher, and we’re going to survive.”

Just as the keidran were about to venture off in every direction imaginable, Shadow climbed up onto a rock and, illuminated by the moon, called for everyone’s attention. No one really seemed to care, at least until a loud, baritone voice cut through the air. Shadow looked to her side only to find a beaten and bloody Ivan standing near the rock, apparently having seen the pair in the cold. At once, everyone looked back toward the three figures next to and on top of the large glacial boulder.

“Good. Now everyone listen up! I’ve been told that there are stores of food and supplies as well as shelter across the river to the East. If we move now, we can be there by dawn, but we have to stick together, or we’ll all die.”

While some seemed ready to go, others weren’t sure. Arguing began between different individuals. Some wanted to make for the Snowy Pines, mostly the wolves. A few wanted to try and get over the mountain pass and into warmer country. Still others were talking about forcing their way back into Callow. None were, realistically, good options. But before consensus could be reached, or a complete breakdown in the large group of at least four hundred keidran, snow wolves approached from all sides, weapons at the ready. Out from the darkness emerged a big wolf, nearly as big as Ivan, wearing polar bear fur and brandishing a long spear.

Keidran tried to run but were quickly cut off. The group of exiles was completely encircled by several hundred strong warriors from the different clans. Bjorn then noticed something odd in the moonlight. Between all the people that they captured, only a handful had anything more than a knife. Certainly no weapons of war, and plenty were half-naked and freezing.

“Where are your weapons?”

“What do you mean?” A tigress asked. “We have none.”

“Then what is this? Are you all trying to run away or something? You’ll freeze out here.” Bjorn bellowed. A young child then pushed his way to the front. It was Asher, the only basitin in the group. “W-we were kicked out, sir.”

“Kicked out?”

Ivan and Shadow came out from the crowd, quickly finding Asher. Shadow grabbed the boy and held onto him tight in case things went south. Ivan tried to reason with Bjorn, who was a bit intimidated by the wolf that was bigger than even him.

“Da. Jarl Tostig pushed us into the snow.”

“Explain.” Bjorn said, spear tip not lowering even slightly.

“What the big guy is trying to say is that Tostig found out there wasn’t enough supplies for everyone to last the winter, so he decided to get rid of every keidran in Callow. We’re exiles.”

This shocked Bjorn. He didn’t think anyone, not even a human, would do something so cutthroat. “Well, if you were hoping for our help, I’m sorry. But we don’t have supplies for everyone here. I can talk to my grandfather and perhaps the council will—”

“There are supplies across the river, if you’d let us go to Ditter’s Ridge we’ll stay out of the way of your siege. We certainly aren’t going to help Tostig after this.

“The big hill near Widow Lake? I thought that was just a bunch of mines.”

“It is, but apparently there are stores of supplies and shelter there.”

Ditter’s Ridge was still technically snow wolf lands, and the recent mining activity was part of why this whole situation was happening now. But these weren’t humans, clearly weren’t loyal to Tostig, and had no means to defending themselves anyway. After taking in the sight, he knew that they were speaking the truth, and that many wouldn’t make it more than a few days even in thick winter fur.

“Alright. We have no quarrel with you. I and a few others will lead you across the river. There’s a ford at Ridge Gate that’s shallow enough you all can cross without getting wet above the knees. We had better hurry though; another storm is coming.”

Shadow then walked up to Bjorn, noting that she was barely taller than his shoulder. “Thank you.” She said gratefully, extending a hand.

Bjorn looked down and felt his heart skip a beat. In a land of ice and snow, before him was a black-furred leopard, a keidran he had never seen before. He immediately reached out to shake her hand. “I am happy to help. Now, we had better get a move on.”

“Lead the way...” Shadow gestured as she grabbed Asher once again and made sure he walked closely beside her through the snow.

It was tough walking through the drifts. At one point, Shadow broke through a layer of hard snow into soft powder below. She sank up to her chest and was struggling to get out when a pair of snow shoes appeared in front of her. Looking up, she saw Bjorn extending his hand. In one swift motion, he lifted the leopard clean out of the snow and onto his snow shoes.

“Thank you.” Shadow said, stunned at how easy it was for the wolf.

“It was nothing.” He said, smile on his face.

In the early hours of dawn, the group of keidran spotted the Ridge Gate, a pair of towering bluffs the river cut through in order to make it to the sea. Soon, Shadow and Asher were some of the first to reach the shore of the river. Shadow picked up Asher and held him as she tried to cross, but the icy water stung on her skin. Bjorn then offered his help once again.

“Please, allow me.” He said as he picked Asher up and placed the boy on his shoulders. Before Shadow could continue into the river, he picked her up as well and held her under her back and knees.

“Oh... my…” Shadow said, looking up at Bjorn. “You really don’t have to.”

“I assume you aren’t from around these parts, considering the black fur.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well, the river water is cold enough that you really don’t want to get wet if you can help it. So hold on tight, I’ll walk you across.”

It took a few minutes, but Shadow and Asher found themselves on dry ground. Without a word, Bjorn turned around and waded across the river again. It felt… odd… to be carried like that. But apparently the snow wolves were doing this for many of the keidran, especially the children. It took close to a half an hour before everyone was across, but by then it was a simple matter of climbing the ridge. At the top, Shadow and Asher felt the first rays of sun peaking above the horizon. It would fill the valley below for only a couple of hours before setting again.

“We’re getting close to the equinox.” Bjorn explained. “The sun will only break the horizon for an hour then, and it will get really cold.”

“Thank you again.” Shadow replied. “But I didn’t catch your name.”

“It’s Bjorn, ma’am.”

“Well, thank you Bjorn. I am Shadow and this here is Asher.”

“Glad to know you, Shadow. Now, where are these supplies you were talking about?”

“I’m guessing they are down there.” Shadow said as she pointed at what looked to be an abandoned mining camp. Once at the bottom of the ridge, the state of the camp was sad. Tents were blown down by the wind, a couple of the makeshift shacks were caved in from the heavy snow. But one large structure was locked up tight. Busting in the door with a log for a battering ram, the keidran found the first of many supplies. While the food was mostly for humans, and thus was a lot of flour and coffee, there was plenty of dried and salted meats. It wouldn’t be much, but with some careful rationing they’d all be able to make it through the winter.

Post Reply