Yawn’s dreams had been playing tricks on him. Or . . . or Yawn hoped they were. One could only forego sleep so long. Sooner or later . . . sooner or later. But always . . . but always with certainty, oblivion would catch you. Would drag you down. Would wraps its arms around you, soft and sweet and welcoming, before dashing you against the inside of your own skull. Yawn had to sleep . . . had to. Had to keep up appearances . . . All eyes were on him. Any mistake . . . and the rare talent he’d shown would vanish. All that work.
All the blood, pain, and effort, gone in a breath of anger.
Yawn tapped his pipe clear . . . at last relenting to his bed roll.
How quick the night’s embrace came.
Yawn. Yawn needed to work. He needed to work fast. He was hunted. But first . . . first the task . . . then. His fingers stitched something supple and wet. He did it without the aid of daylight . . . just a flickering candle. His fingers knew the trick of it.. His fingers, damp and slick but working, the wet turned gummy now and then, and with each stitch and pull to tighten the thread . . . stout stuff, whatever it was, the needle very fine, bringing pain. He didn’t stir, save for his task. As he felt his fingers dance, a quick, precise, practiced stitch . . . and at last, the seam finished, his nimble fingers flicked the needle end over end, looping the thread over itself, the needle through, pulling the stitch taught, tying it off. With a hard pull, his left hand snapped the thread . . .
Why was he stitching with only his left hand?
He worked the needle into a spot on his tunic . . .
Why wasn’t he using his right hand to hold the work steady?
Why didn’t the work need to be steady?
When had he learned to mend with a single hand?
His hand took up the needle again.
A voice came from the dark, trembling – not with weakness, but with roiling hate.
At once . . . at once his heart broke, the pieces swelling and filling his chest.
“Why keep fighting? Everything you’ve ever loved is dead.”
The voice questions him. Yawn’s hand begins tying off the thread’s end . . . tough, wet . . . sinew?
It was sinew, and he was starting a new line – the light came into better focus, his eyes finally taking in the faint glimmers of light.
“Why why not end it all? You can’t win?”
Yawn knew what he was binding.
There in the pale light, he was stitching the skin of his right arm back together . . .
Not his skin, not his arm. His now? His arms were the stuff of nightmares, with patchwork skin stitched together in a mad pattern . . . the fingers on his left . . . disjointed, freakish things, stitched at each knuckle, bony but impossibly quick. Clever. Had he been experimenting? Binding the dead to himself?
He felt this dream of himself blend with who he was now. The reasons . . . the loss. The grief sticking in his throat.
“They killed Siren.” the voice came flat. Empty of hate or sadness. Hollow. His rage had always burned cool, but this was something different. “They killed Stannrick. They burned Onsallas to the ground. They killed Rill.”
His fingers did the dance with needle and thread . . . as sensation returned to his right arm, he saw . . . no, felt . . . no, something between sight and feeling, a knowledge, a certainty that the fingers of that one were whole. How many times had he done this? By the lines and patches on his body, more times than he could count . . .
“Grief has driven you mad, Yawn.”
“As it did you when my brother died.” Again . . . flat, hollow.
A third voiced joined “Weren’t you the one to speak of pyres and bodies, Yawn? You wanted to protect, to defend, to save. This is vengeance, Yawn . . . It will kill you.”
At last, the alien body that he knew as his, but not at all his, looked to those addressing him.
Ysla, the first voice . . .
Magrat, the second . . .
Ysla had grown fit… Magrat looked as ever herself, save for her eyes – hollow, haunted eyes . . . Yawn was grateful not to see himself . . . Great Wolf only knew what this version of himself did to rest of his body
“Yes, yes, it is vengeance . . . b-but. But you will tell my story to the Great Wolf . . . “ he spoke, stuttering and hesitating at first, but gaining strength with each word. “He may yet know my name . . . I may yet join my sisters, my brothers. And my mother . . . for I know my father has no place in the Great Wolf’s longhouse.”
He rose. Took up his shield and mace, and a familiar single-edged blade . . . untouched by time . . . its edge still true and unbroken, no signs of use or any clues to what drove him. “There isn’t time to argue . . . go . . . make my death mean something . . . ”
“All this . . . all this to slake your taste for blood, Yawn?” Ysla called.
His dream body faced the door and, without turning, replied. “I just can’t die knowing he’s still drawing breath. I will show them what it is to suffer.”
The trap door slammed behind him. He hardly noticed over the blood pounding in his ears. He had a task . . . “Gaia, forgive me for what I do.”
The first was through the door, ax raised. Yawn’s hand lashed out, a quick precise thrust to the throat, the steel an extension of this alien body, the familiar weight and balance highlighting the horror of this vision . . . in came the second and third . . . again, Yawn’s arm acted of its own accord., and his enemies pressed in through the door . . .
“So, here you die, Yawn,” called a voice. A voice that filled Yawn with hate.
“Oh, I will . . . but will there be any left to cry out your name to the Great Wolf?”
The room burst with laughter. “He’s gone mad, finally snapped. When started stitching himself back together, I knew he was gone, but the last thread tethering him has snapped,” came that hateful voice, finishing with a low chuckle.
“Oh yes . . . yes, you can certainly kill me,” Yawn felt the mana burning in his hand as he let his shield drop away. “But tell me . . . can you kill them?”
The three fallen rose . . . The . . . no, his tools of vengeance . . . He’d had given all. He would give all. He would burn the Greytide, the Grimward, and the White Oak from the world. Screams and war cries filled the room. Each fallen warrior rose again, another tool guided by his hand . . . Yawn smiled as his foe found himself in the snare he’d meant for Yawn trapped him instead . . . a gift that affirmed his vengeance.
“Once you used my own mace against my friend,” Yawn started as he strode over, blade in hand, mace in its loop . . . no other words but his own rang out, now only screams and moans, the gnashing of teeth, filled the room. Only the voices of the dead and dying. Besides himself.
“Now. . . now, I will scour you and your packs and your clans from the face of Gaia. But, you – you will be there for all of it. You will see all of it. You will be my first great work. These,” he gestured to the shambling figures, once Ulven – now his monsters to command. “These are simple, mindless . . . hungry dead.” He leaned in, placing the blade under his foe’s throat. “You will be my first attempt at raising something worse. And I pray you will be awake in that shell I use to witness every last thing I have it do.”
The blade sunk in, and the eyes opened.
Black eyes . . .
Knowing eyes . . .
Yawn woke up in a cold sweat. Heart pounding, he fumbled for the water skin. Drinking deeply, he glanced about . . . good, he hadn’t disturbed the camp’s watch. His hand slipped into his pack, pulled his pipe out and filled it. Hands were numb. He paused as he fished out the fire stick, whispered a silent prayer to Gaia, and lit it. As he drew deeply on his battered cherrywood pipe at last, his heart slowed its pounding. He drew again, and again . . . blowing great, billowing cloud of May’kar burly smoke.
Nix whispered in his ear. “None it is true, Yawn . . . worry not, I would never let you give yourself over to that.”
He answered quietly. “Thank you, Nix.”
He didn’t see it, but he knew Nix was smiling. At times like this, he felt a small weight on his shoulder . . . Nix’s favorite perch, her spirit bringing him comfort.
“Now maybe if you listened to me and emptied your skull before bed, you’d have fewer of these dreams. Yawn, think of that when next you feel awkward meditating among Ulven.”
He replied in a soft whisper. “Why would I say that of my father?”
Nix brushed her whiskers against his ear. “You know naught of him but what you’ve heard, Yawn. Perhaps those you love protect you from the truth. You may find it, but once you know, Yawn – as you learned you could cast – there is no way to go back, to not know . . . finish you pipe and do see about doing something useful. Knowing you, you won’t be falling asleep again this night.”
Tomorrow, he’d trudge closer to his new home. His new pack.