Selena pauses at one of the bridges that connects the two territories together. She is quietly surprised that it still standing. She turns and looks behind her back into Nightriver territory then up the river with a sigh. Its only taken her a few days to get here from New Aldoria… quicker then she was expecting. She hope her letters made it as she shifts her packs on her back. She takes a deep breath… “Time to go to work” she mumbles as she starts across the bridge.
As Selena crosses the bridge, she knows that she is leaving behind the safety of her Clan Nightriver escorts. Knowing that crossing with her would be suicide, the handful of Ulven disappear back into the woods. She looks down, noticing the long dried and old blood spatters. It is obvious that the bridge has been a place of numerous battles recently since the civil war broke out.
As she nears the end of the bridge, a handful of Ulven on the Clan Grimward side of the bridge move forward to greet her. They make their presence known but stay far enough back so that any Nightriver archers cannot launch an arrow at them. These warriors are dirty, gruff and battle weary. Several of them are adorned with scratches and dents on their armor as well as dried blood and fresh bandages. A warrior with intense predator eyes, a shaved head and a large braided beard steps forward.
“Either you have a death wish, you are crazy or you have a purpose for crossing this bridge alone. State your business.” says the bearded warrior.
“Most think I am crazy for coming back this way but either way, I am Selena Stargazer, Truth Seeker for Clan Spiritclaw. I am looking to meet with Khulgar Graytide.”
The bearded warrior looks over the Ulven female in front of him and sizes her up for a moment.
“We have been expecting you. Come with us.” he says as he turns and begins to walk away.
As the Clan Grimward warriors leave, Selena walks beside them. They make no attempts to converse with her and are not even remotely friendly. They do not give Selena the impression that they will hurt her though and for that she is grateful.
The small band escorting Selena passes by several groups of heavily armed and armored Ulven. These groups are stationed close enough to the border between the two clans that they can react and join in on a battle or reinforce a line. From what she can see, most of the Ulven on both sides are dug in and appear to be waiting. Selena feels that both sides will not yield to the other peacefully and this civil war could last for a very long time.
After a long and grueling walk that takes most of the day, Selena and her escorts reach a small village. The village is alive with movement as warriors and villagers move all around. Stacks of weapons and armor are being tended to feverishly by a small team of blacksmiths. A triage unit has been established where a number of Ulven villagers and several Daughters of Gaia are tending to wounded Ulven. In a farmer’s field nearby lay hundreds of small tents as warriors tend to cooking fires and do combat practice and drill battle lines near them. The entire village has been transformed into a support station and supply line for the Clan Grimward army.
As Selena is taking in all the sights, she realizes she is being watched. She snaps out of her observation to realize that before her stands Khulgar Graytide. She hadn’t noticed that her escorts have taken her directly to the command tent at the heart of the village and that she had reached her destination. Standing in his padded gambeson, large predator furs adorn his shoulders and his blood red eyes and intense gaze give Khulgar a very dangerous and cunning quality. Selena knows this man has faults and is capable of reason, but the months of war have been turned him into a hard veteran warrior. He was not wearing his helm at this time, allowing him to converse more easily while in the village.
“Selena, I am pleased to see you again. Come, sit and we can discuss. I received your letter detailing your arrival. You have questions for me, no doubt, given your role and title.” says Khulgar as he turns and takes a seat near the outside of his command tent.
“It good to see you again as well, Rhya.” Selena smiles and replies. She is careful to use the honorific title as she can see people watching her out of the corner of her eye as she takes the seat offered. She slowly reaches into one of her packs knowing she is being watched by more than just Khulgar at the moment and pulls out a bottle carefully wrapped in cloth and offers it to Khulgar.
“As is customary, a gift for you for letting me stay in your territory.” she says courteously as he takes the offered bottle.
She sighs and crosses her arms under her chest.
“Yeah, I seem to have more questions then I do answers currently and everyone has a different story to how something happened. It makes my job difficult. The biggest one that is on my mind currently is the failed peace summit. The ending everyone can agree on… that it went bad quickly. No one is disputing that. The question I have is was it planned that way from the start and if so by whom or did they do something that triggered the slaughter.”
“Well, you want to dive right into your questions, now don’t you. I have a feeling you had a long road and plenty of time to think about them before this meeting.” says Khulgar as he pours himself a tankard of water from his leather water skin.
“The summit at the great hall of Clan Grimward was what… a year and a half ago? It seems like it was so long ago. So much has changed since then…” said the Ulven as he was lost in thought for a moment.
“Before the summit, violence broke out in Clan Grimward territory. A pack of humans moved into Grimward lands and settled there. They were warned to leave and ignored the warning. When Pack Graytide went again to remove them, violence broke out and many of the villagers were killed. It was unfortunate that it happened but tell me of a Clan, other than the pathetic Nightrivers, that would allow such a trespass on their lands? Tell me, Selena Stargazer, would your Clan be so neutral if it was their land that the outsiders moved in and took from you?” spoke Khulgar as emotion began to fill his voice and his blood red eyes took on a fierce look. He continued before giving Selena time to respond.
“Clanleader Haygreth Grimward wished to hold a summit and discuss peace with the Watchwolves, the voices of Nightriver, and the leaders of the outsiders. There was a lot of talk leading up to the summit of what to do. I will tell you honestly what I told Haygreth… I told him that we should go to war. I told him that we should cast out these vermin and push the outsiders back into the sea, that we need to be true Ulven and defend our lands and Gaia from these intruders. Haygreth values my opinion highly but he is wise, he called for a summit as a last chance to talk and discuss the terms in which the outsiders were to be dealt with.” said Khulgar as he took a good long drink of his water tankard.
Selena shifted as she considers his words.
“During the summit, I admit that I was worked up. I called out Raskolf’s honor and said things that I should not have said. The entire great hall was in a heated argument and members of both sides were losing composure… food and plates were being thrown, oaths of vengeance spoken in anger… even our High Priestess was involved and attempted to tell Raskolf and the others of the dire portents that her wisdom had seen. When news of the dead walking on Mardrun reached the hall, Haygreth asked Raskolf if he knew of this. He blatantly admitted to it! He kept this secret from his own people!” roared Khulgar as he slams the tankard down on the table, caught up in the emotion of reliving that scene.
“Haygreth had heard enough. Raskolf had thrown in his lot with Clan Nightriver, whose leader I personally witnessed had bowed down to appease the outsiders at the so called political dinner from earlier, and Haygreth saw the honor and pride of our people slipping. The infectious lies being told by the outsiders were poisoning the minds of some of our leaders and he would hear no more.” Khulgar seemed to calm down a bit and lean back into his chair.
“Haygreth drew first blood. He declared his intention for war and nearly cleaved a fat outsider priest in two after the man offended him. He then ordered me to remove the heads of the other outsiders and send them back to their leaders in sacks. A bloody battle broke out as Clan Grimward warriors and those traitorous Ulven following Raskolf drew steel on each other. We killed each other with ferocity unmatched as Ulven killed Ulven for the first time in our history…”
“Does my answer satisfy your question, Selena Stargazer?” says Khulgar grimly, waiting for her response.
She is quiet and reserved and just watches his every move as he relays his story. The only reactions she shows is she does jump a little when he slams his tankard down. When he finishes, she sighs.
“One starts with the uncomfortable questions first so one can move on to lighter topics later and try to mend the wounds from the heavier topics. Yes Rhya, your story does satisfy the other half of what I was looking for.”
She shrugs and says “To answer your earlier question… If it was our land, if they are just coming in and taking it without respecting the territory of another then probably not. We would remove them at blade point as well. It comes down to if they are being respectful to the people that actually care for the land once they learn whose it is. I don’t expect the outsider to know whose territory they are on until someone goes to greet them. If they are respectful and we can determine their worth, like do they make new products to trade, do they grow a food source unique, what new building techniques do they know. They don’t get to use the land for free they have to contribute like everyone else. In the end though its not me who makes that call it would be the Clanleader of Clan Spiritclaw. You did ask them to leave and they didn’t, so they brought it on themselves I suppose. ”
She is quiet for a view moments as she contemplates where to go from there. “I suppose the next story I wish to hear about was about an honor duel with Freya Rev Anda.” she shakes her head
“I spent a week at the Outpost and when I told them of my desire to come back this way they one looked at me like I was touched in the head and when they couldn’t persuade me otherwise they told me to have you tell me this story.”
At the mention of the honor duel, Khulgar shifts in his seat. He contemplates for a moment, reliving that memory as well. He is obviously hesitant in answering.
“I am not sure how this topic is relevant to this discussion. You came here asking about the war we are currently in, did you not?” Khulgar snaps back at Selena.
Realizing that his reply was a bit harsh, Khulgar sighs and then continues.
“The honor duel was two years ago. I was traveling with Ekaj Graytide and a few other hunters. We had some supplies that we had promised to deliver to the Onsallas village. While we were there, the mordok were more active than normal and were attacking the Longfangs. A number of outsiders had traveled to the Outpost as well. After helping them drive back some mordok, we rested in the outpost. I then discovered that Freya Rev Anda was there. The bitch was responsible for the death of my brother, one of Pack Graytide’s best warriors and next in line to become Chieftan, so I challenged her to an honor duel. I lost. Next question.” replies Khulgar in a somber tone.
She raises and eye brow at getting snapped at though she remains calm and shrugs.
“I also heard as part of that story is that you supposedly cheated during that fight and drew a dagger and tried to kill her even though apparently that wasn’t the terms of the honor duel. I don’t necessary understand what this story has to do with anything either. They just said I should ask. I don’t get to decide what is relevant, my job is just to collect the information.”
Khulgar sat and sized up Selena for a moment. He waited just long enough for the pause to be uncomfortable before continuing.
“During the duel, I do admit that things got out of hand. I am shamed to admit that I indeed did draw a knife, but I did not intend to kill her. Perhaps you should ask your source about how the outsiders disrespected us both by interfering. They stepped in and tried to stop the honorable duel. A fight almost broke out between Ekaj and several of them and even Kragen Bloodmoon tried to interfere. I lost the duel. I admitted defeat. It should have ended there, but Kragen continued and pushed it further. He even threatened violence against me and drove us out of the Outpost. I swore that he would regret his actions that day. He brought dishonor to his Clan be allowing outsiders to interfere.” said Khulgar as he stood and moved to an armor stand nearby. Hanging from the stand was his oiled chainail and breastplate.
“And where is Kragen now? The mighty Warleader of the Clan hides behind Branthur’s skirts and calls for claims of peace yet allows blasphemous acts to be committed on our soil. Kragen’s time has come to an end, along with Branthur’s, for the true Ulven of this continent will not stand idly by and allow Gaia to be savaged in such a way. True Ulven warriors do not sit idly by and allow such transgressions.” said Khulgar with venom in his tone as he began to don his armor.
Several warriors moved to the tent. They made an obvious move to ignore Selena as they addressed their leader.
“Chieftan, one of our scouts has reported that the Stormjarl emissary is here. He wants to talk directly to you.” said the smaller of the two warriors.
“Has there been any word on the Clanleader’s daughter? We heard reports that her ship disappeared as it moved down the coast.” replies Khulgar as he finishes sliding the chainmail onto his torso.
“No, Chieftan, she is still missing. I checked in with the other packs, some of our war bands moving through the area and even the scouts from units stationed along the Stormjarl border. Nobody has reported in seeing her or has any knowledge of her disappearance. No warrior loyal to Grimward would dare interfere with or attack a Daughter of Gaia sent on behalf of Clan Stormjarl.” replies the warrior.
As Khulgar continues to equip himself in his armor, he turns back to Selena.
“Tell me Selena, when in the history of our people have any of our emissaries disappeared when traveling by boat? Clan Stormjarl are master sailors and we have had no ill weather recently. Since Mordok do not sail ships, what do you think happened to her since she was reported to be heading towards Nightriver territory? I also need to know how much longer you plan on questioning me. I have things to do.”
“None to my knowledge. None have ever disappeared that hadn’t fallen victim to storms.” Selena frowns unable to keep the concern from her face that a fellow Daughter is missing.
She slides her hand into a small cloth bag at her side. Stones rattle as she pulls one and studies it for a moment.
“Nothing good that is for certain but which group is responsible is yet to be seen. I can think of two off the top of my head that may be responsible. One would attack a ship, the other has been causing problem in this area in the past but I was unaware they could attack ships on open water.” She absently rubs the blue stone between her thumb and finger.
“Last question, who is the Witch in charge here? I have a ritual that needs to be passed on to her. Anything else I can ask others about.”
Khulgar tightens the belt around his mail armor but keeps his gaze fixed on Selena.
“The witch that you should see is Yohla Grimward. She oversees the daughters that are supporting the clan’s warriors in this area. She is very skilled and studied directly beneath our High Priestess. She is at the village northwest of here, about a half a days journey. Whatever it is that you need her for, it must be important.” says Khulgar as he puts his breastplate to his chest and holds it there. The warrior who had spoken to him earlier moves forward and begins to buckle him into the last of his armor.
“You traveled all this way through a civil war to inquire about the past, questioning my honor in the process whether you intended to or not, and then simply ask me where to find the nearest Witch? I am not sure if you playing a game, Selena, but I would recommend that you not. We are at war. Clan Grimward has had emissaries meet with numerous Clans to discuss their involvement in this war. Clan Stormjarl is ready to join our cause. Clan Whiteoak already has. The Watchwolves are being ground to dust, we continue to bleed them and take their lands. What is the decision of Clan Spiritclaw?”
She leans forward and rests her arms on her knees and she keeps her gaze fixed as well. Her voice is hard but tired.
“You think I am playing games? Fine, then I’ll just speak plainly then. I have been back and forth more in the last six moons then most Ulven travel in a year. I’ve been hearing stories that your some sort of damn nightmare and will kill your cousins at the slightest provocation. I seem be one of the few people left who doesn’t want to believe that. I have seen you fight remember, I know better. I traveled this way not because I am looking to disrespect you, in fact quite the opposite, I traveled all this way in this Gaia forsaken War because I wanted your side because I do respect you and didn’t want to believe all the stories I was being told. ”
She rifles in her bag and pulls out two sets of papers and set them on the table next to her. “I am looking for a Witch because Witches are the next highest ranking than a Daughter. If I thought I had the rank to walk up to a Priestess or High Priestess, I would do that but I know I don’t. While you are so busy worrying about who is taking a shit on your land, the Mordok are getting stronger. Warriors are spread so thin or so concentrated on the lines that Mordok are running rampant. I spent the better part of the night with people I didn’t really trust helping decipher this ritual from the Old Runic language so Fritha Stormjarl and I could cast a ritual in time. Feel free to read it if you like. I translated it into Common and made copies of the runic as well for your Clan. This goes beyond the civil war… this is beyond who is pissed at whom. Fight the corruption however you can is one of the tenants both Pack Stargazer and Clan Spiritclaw uphold and while it is my duty to try and figure out the damned war as a Truthseeker, my duty to THE PACK and to Gaia as a Daughter is just as important, maybe more so. Protecting Gaia has been and will always be our duty. ”
“While you worry about where your next victory is, Clan spirit claw has a square full of refugees from both side of the war. We will give hospitality to them until they can go home. They are family no matter how distant. I wont lie this will probably put a strain on our winter food stores but we will not abandon them or let them go hungry. Though I am guess we aren’t the only ones going to be struggling this winter either. With most of the able bodied males in the lines, farms are short handed. production isn’t as good as it should be. With war ravaging some of the more prime hunting grounds, game is harder to come by for the hunters.”
She takes a moment to take a deep breath to calm herself.
“You are so worried about who is on what side when you forget that we are all supposed to be on the same side. The hawks are still flying. A decision hasn’t been reached yet.”
Khulgar listens to Selena’s words. He was calm and obviously taking in what she said. Although his exterior shows a calm and collective leader, Selena knew that her words bit deep and rattled him. How could any leader of the Ulven denounce what she had said as truth?
“These are indeed dark times for our people. That is why Clan Grimward has made a stand and a line has been drawn. If we sit idly by, our entire race could be at risk. What kind of future do we hand over to our children and their children? Are we the generation of Ulven that will admit that we allowed such transgressions against our people, our culture, and to Gaia herself to go unnoticed and unchecked? Would you not defend your family if an intruder entered your hearth and home? What is worse, Selena… peace and the slow rotting decay of our people… or war because we refused to bear our throats to the change? When we die, do you think the Great Wolf will hear our name’s if we were to allow such things to pass?” Khulgar says surprisingly without emotion as he walks over to his armor stand. He picks up his rhunic decorated metal helm and stares into the eyes of it. The dents and scratches from previous battles glisten in the light.
Selena sighs and looks at the ground.
“What are we teaching the children when we draw steel against our own with out the call of a honor duel? What are we showing the children by killing entire packs, families, who weren’t even at the political dinner… or signed the treaty… who are just trying to work the land and survive but happen to be on the wrong side of the river.” She leans down and picks up a handful of dirt and lets it fall between her fingers.
“I would defend my home if someone broke in but stay my hand in killing them until I could find out if they meant me harm or they broke in because they where just cold and hungry. Maybe I am just soft like that though.”
Selena brushes her hand on her pants and looks back at Khulgar.
“You are forgetting the great law of the Woods. Adapt or die. Stagnation and refusal to adapt to change causes just as much death as invasion and sudden change. The Outsiders brought bad habits with them that is truth. Most of them have changed to adapt our ways not all but most. But would you kill and entire pack because one member offended you? Or would you challenge that one person to a honor duel and be done with it? Traditions, we are forgetting them. You have every right under Gaia to chase them, even kill them if they are on your land and you have asked them to leave and they have not. Respect the Territory of another… the law is pretty simple. Though lets be clear here though, the Outsiders did not cause this Civil War. We did. They are just the excuse being used to continue the fight. We have to be the ones that end it one way or another. This fighting is not something I want to pass on to our children. What would Gaia and the Great Wolf think of us if we left this mess for our children to clean up?” says Selena.
“My warriors will escort you to the nearest village. Meet with our ranking witch and if needed, I will approve of your counsel to any priestess that you need. I will not allow your work to be impeded and whatever food and supplies you need will be granted to you. Take whatever time you need and a boat can also be arranged to hasten your travel when you are done here if you wish, although you would have to travel west to the coast in order to board.” Khulgar replies as he turns the helmet over and slides it onto his head. His sudden shift in topic shows Selena that he is done with this conversation.
Selena picks up the papers and places them back in her bag at the mention of an escort to the village.
“Thank you, Rhya. I think I will take the long way home though.” she says as she looks up at the trees.
“They are almost to full color. I think I need to make one more stop at Onsallas for Pineed Sap before it stops flowing for the winter.” She looks up and frowns as their gazes meet and the meaning isn’t lost on her.
“What your Clan is doing with the refuges is amicable, Selena… but in this war of our people, neutrality is not an option.” says Khulgar as he locks an intense gaze on Selena, obviously to let the meaning of his words to sink in. After a few moments, Khulgar turns and walks away in his full battle dress and armor, his strides confident as he walks toward his gathered warriors.
Selena sighs tiredly and hikes her stuff up onto her shoulder and heads in the opposite direction towards the village.