I trudged down the path, pausing briefly to look behind me. I could still see the Longfang warrior watching me. Once I hit the main trail I turned toward the direction that Raskolf had mentioned. I quietly hoped there was a village or some such there. I was tired, like a sole worn through. This was now the second time I have had to leave a grievously injured person. Although both times there were people with healing arts around, my soul screamed at me to go back and fix them. The urge to scream and break something was high but I quietly swallowed my frustration and tried to turn my thoughts to what I had just learned. I groaned out loud as I realized what I was going to have to do. I was going to have to get Khulgar to confirm or deny what happened at those ill-fated peace talks. I banged my head out of annoyance against my staff as I walk. I understood now why he glossed over it when I talked to him about it the first time but I still couldn’t assume what Raskolf said is the whole story. I would be failing my job as Truth Seeker if I didn’t at least attempt to get both sides of the story. Truth, as I learned, is often somewhere in the middle; it’s never just what one side or other said, especially if their stories don’t match. “BALLS.!” I swore loudly. I was still contemplating how to do that when I start see structures though the trees.
“Oh, thank Gaia,” I murmured when I saw people stopping what they were doing to look at me.
I had found a Coywolf camp. It appeared to be a seasonal hunting camp and people were working on getting things opened up for the season. There were maybe four families working this land. They eyed me suspiciously as I paused on the outskirts. I sighed a little as I wait, remembering a time when strangers were a more welcomed sight as it normally meant a new face to talk to, new stories to hear and possibility trade and new items to buy depending on who was coming through. Eventually a male about my age approached me and greeted me, though I could still see the suspicion in his eyes. His demeanor softened slightly once I returned the greeting and explained what I was doing there.
“I don’t have anything of value to trade for room and board for the night, but I will happily cook you a meal and watch the children while you all work.” I bartered. I felt ashamed; I had no real trade skill to speak of. Even my skills as a Daughter were but novice at best. The most I could often do is officiate a handfasting ceremony, a funeral or cleansing. I knew all of these are important but every pack has their own way of doing things so wandering daughters aren’t in high demand. I had never learned how to really tend wounds outside the healing the Mother allows me. My father was the one who knew how to make the Sap bandages we often traded for armor and weapons, I just know parts of it. I often times feel useless. The male studied me for a long while before finally agreeing.
This was a family group: two brothers and two older cousins working this area with their families. There was one large farm house everyone stayed in. Bo and Astrid had two children: Dagmar, the oldest daughter, was about 12 seasons; Dane was the younger brother who appeared to be about 7. Bo’s brother Jakob and his wife Laila just had their first child, Mikkel, who was a healthy baby boy of about 6 months. Agetha and Olaf were older cousins; their children had left home already. Anders and Annelise had an older son, Enjar, who was about 16. He was already an accomplished hunter and was helping set up the camp. He just got his Marks a few months ago and it appears the Great Wolf likes him. His younger brother Erik was about 5, though I would guess he was really a half brother: I could see the mothers appearance in his eyes but his hair color and complexion looked nothing like his father. Dagmar helped me make dinner. That she really knew her spices was an excellent help in the kitchen. Dane played with Erik while Mikkel hung from a wrap around my shoulder. I tried hard not to dwell on the fact that Mikkel and Erik are the same ages that Asiegar and Moira would of been. Lucky Dagmar and Dane where both curious as well which kept me from dwelling too much. They were asking me questions as we cooked about where I was from, what was I doing there, what parts of Mardrun I had seen, what Everspring Grove was like. They kept asking question all the way through dinner. Their mother told them to hush so I could eat. I learned their main camp isn’t far from here, maybe three miles. There are also a couple other well established Coywolf camps in this area. I asked how far it was to Onsallas. I wanted to get my hands on some Pineed sap to take back to the Clan. Onsallas was nearly a week away on foot, they told me. That at least gave me a better mental picture of the land. The clan had trees that produced Pineed sap, but everyone knows the sap from the swamp region is better and they are the first set of trees to wake up from the winter sleep. Our trees won’t wake for another two to three weeks after the Onsallas trees start.
Erik had gotten into my bag when we weren’t paying attention and was fascinated with the parchment and ink. I managed to get the ink, quills and the important paper away from him before he spilled something on them. I did give him some scrap parchment and one of my graphite sticks to draw with. Dane came over and was looking at the copy of the treaty that Raskolf wrote over my shoulder. He asked if that was important and I nodded. I told him that this was a copy of the Treaty that the Watchwolves had written. Bo asks me to read it to them so they can actually hear what it said first hand. They, like a lot of other Ulven, had only heard about it from their Talesingers who heard about it second or third hand.
As the night grew late, the children were ushered off to bed. The adults went off to bed shortly thereafter. I stayed down in the main room and worked. There was a flat surface and plenty of light from the fire and lamps so I worked on transcribing that treaty so my clan could have a copy. I must have fallen asleep at the table as I was woken by that sound that all Ulven know instinctively, one that sends a cold rush down your spine. I could hear the grunts and shuffling of Mordok just outside of the settlement. I quickly and quietly pack up my writing supplies and slung them over my shoulder as the adults crept down the stairs, weapons in hand. We shared a glance and I knew what they wanted. I was the guest as the rules of hospitality state, hosts protect the guests though often times the guests will join the fray as a thank you to the hosts. This case there are the young children. My duty was to get the children to safety. Children too young to fight as they don’t have their marks yet. Most children are trained in fighting as soon as they can hold a weapon but most parents wont let them go out looking for a fight until after they get their marks. I am sure these children knew how to use the weapons they were holding but the fear and apprehension in their eyes told me that they have never faced Mordok before. Laila kissed Mikkel before she gave the sling to me. I secured him to my chest and wrapped a heavy piece of leather around the sling for added protection. Dane wanted to stay with his parents and fight but Bo convinced him he had to go and protect his cousin giving the boy one of his daggers. Dagmar had a mace and shield though the shield seemed too awkward for her. Enjar volunteered to accompany me, stating that since I was carrying the baby I could not fight as well. I could see the flicker of relief cross his parents face. I cast Gaia’s protection on the children, but ran out of mana before I could do Enjar.
“It’s okay,” he smiled. “The Great Wolf will hear my name better this way.” The parents went charging out the front door. My heart grew heavy as I watched them go. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to see them again. Enjar lead the way out the back. We weaved our way to the road. Enjar and I both spotted movement off to our left and just in time to see an arrow bounce off of Dagmars protection. I scream at them to start running like the Great Wolf is chasing them as three Mordok break through the trees. Two archers and fighter. I make sure the children are ahead of me and manage to deflect one arrow heading toward my face with my staff. Enjar confronted the fighter. I call to him, begging him to not be a hero, and start after the children. I managed to get the attention of both of the archers as I turned to run. I hear the whiz but my back is turned already and I feel the burning as a cross bow bolt tip shoot out of my right shoulder and another arrow grazes my right thigh. I kept running, holding Mikkel screaming form to my chest with my good arm. I quickly catch up to the pack of children and I can hear Enjar behind me. I glance back, he is bleeding from his sword arm and left leg and it look like his knee may be dislocated as well. Keep running I hiss to everyone, Dane was trying to keep the now hysterical Erik moving once Erik saw his brothers injuries. I turn as Dagmar screams, flinging out her arms instinctively as a Mordok leaps from the trees. The Mordok is thrown back and crashes hard into a tree and slumps down. I only had a few moment to look on in wonder before I realize that just happened. I quickly give Dagmar, Mikkels bundle. I told her if any more Mordok did that, to do what she just did again. About half way to the camp the Mordok stopped chasing us.
Erik calls that he can see the camp fire ahead and the children get a new burst of energy and sprint to entrance. Enjar and Dane both look over their shoulders at me as I stop and lean on my staff. The world blurs as I realize that the cross bow bolt was probably poisoned. “Balls,” I mutter as the world goes dark around me.
I awoke under a willow tree. The forest was dark around me and the few stars above me looked like diamonds. I had no wounds on me and my clothes were in one piece. “Damn. I guess I’m dead,” I mutter.
“Not yet sis” I heard a voice. I sat bolt upright. Rune was leaning against an oak tree. I walked over to him.
“Then why the hell are you here?” I went to punch him in the arm but my hand passed through. “You’re not dead yet. Come, we don’t have time to fool around. Someone wants to talk to you.” He pushed off the tree and started up the path at a quick pace. I followed, not sure what else to do. We entered a clearing that looked remarkably like the clearing that I am fond of near Everspring. I could see my mom and dad talking with Grandma Fraya and Torolf around a fire near the back side of the clearing in front a long house that wasn’t normally there. I heard a low growl from my right; sitting on the the rocky outcropping where I like to watch the sky from was a large black wolf. He turned his yellow eyes to me as Rune and I entered the edge of the clearing. The power washed over me and I started to tremble. “I thought you said I wasn’t dead,” I hiss to Rune. I could see my family stand and peer at me from the fire. Torolf made a motion to come towards me but Grandma Fraya grabbed his arm and shook her head. I could see their mouths move but I was too far away to hear what they said. It dawned on me that I haven’t seen my kids.
“Rune, where are my children?” I asked slowly as the wolf stretched and leapt from the out cropping and slowly started to stalk in my direction. Rune pointed to the sky, and I only spared a moment to look up. Above me two stars appeared brighter then the others. Their twinkle quickened as I looked at them. The story goes children who are killed before they receive their Markings from the Great Wolf are often turned into stars so they can guide the living and earn their place since they were not given the opportunity to earn it in life. Stars that fall from the sky are children that have earned their place and are returning to be with their families, Gaia and the Great Wolf.
Movement out of the corner of my eye caused me to turn my head and I saw a woman come out of the trunk of a fir tree. She casually reached up and the branches turned into a robe for her. She was strikingly beautiful; long black hair and bright blue eyes, pale skin. She had no marking, neither eye nor fang. She radiated a calming aura about her. She smiled a little as she noticed me. The large wolf strolled up beside the woman and turned into the form of a man before my eyes. He wass strikingly handsome, well-chiseled, tan with coal black hair and the same yellow eyes he had as a wolf, and wearing just as much clothing. He wrapped his arm around this woman’s waist from behind and leaned his head on her shoulder, looking at me with those same piercing yellow eyes. His fangs were visible on his upper and lower jaw, even in this humanoid form. “She isn’t supposed to be here yet, my love,” he grumbled. The woman reached up and touched his cheek.
“I know dear, but I called her here. She needs to know how important it is that she figures out a way to get the rest of the children back on the path. Seeing them fight each other like this hurts me.” I looked down at the ground. Such simple gesture but filled with so much love and the sense of home that filled this clearing caused tears to well up in my eyes. I looked back up across towards the fire and Torolf. The man gave an exasperated sigh and let her go, stalking back towards the fire. Fear welled up inside of me, wondering if he was going to attack my family. I started to make a forward motion and the women got in my way.
“Worry not,” she smiled at me. “You know what you have to do. You have been sensing it the entire time. Listen to me and I will guide you, but its important that you succeed.” She showed me the back side of her left arm. Black wounds dotted her perfect skin. “This will only get worse,” she stated. I frowned, concerned.
“How much time do I have?” I asked. She let the sleeve drop on her robe.
“I do not know. I have never had anything like this happen before. I do not think it is all connected to my children fighting either. There are other powers here but I cannot describe them, nor can I figure out where they came from.” She placed her hand on my head. “But I think you will help figure it out.” I looked down at the ground.
“I don’t think I can do this by myself.”
She giggled. “You are not supposed to. One person can never do it alone, This is why we taught you all about packs and hunting parties. You have allies. You just have to trust yourself and others once you find them. You may have to form a party with those outside your clan in order to fix this.” I blink a few times as my mind tried to process this. My eyes went wide as I realized something, I collapsed to my knees and exposed my throat to the women in the rite of contrition “ I have ignored your calling not once by twice. There were injured and I walked away. “ She leaned down and took my hand, helping me to my feet.
“You are forgiven child. I realize you carry a heavy burden trying to balance all that I have asked of you. This will not be the last time you are forced to walk away from an injured person either and for that I apologize. You have sound judgment; trust in that.”
“I gave you instincts for a reason, child. Use them.” The growling voice came from so close that the only reason I didn’t jump twenty feet was because the woman was still holding my hand. I heard Rune stifle a snicker. The wolf had returned and Torolf was right behind him. The wolf punched Torolf in the arm and huffed, “The spell is almost done. You don’t have much time.” Torolf took my hand and pulled me into a hug, his scent filling my nose. I start to sob.
“Shhh. Don’t cry,” He smiled and wiped my tear. “I just want you to be happy. I know you love me and I’ll be here when your time comes. You have a long journey ahead of you; don’t do it alone. Promise me you will open yourself up to love again.” Torolf smirked, “I’ll buy him some ale when he gets here as well.” I smiled a little.
“Fine, I promise.”
He grinned. “That’ss what I wanted to hear.” He leaned over and kissed my forehead. I felt myself being ripped from his arms.
“TOROLF!” I screamed as I felt like I was falling from some impossible height.
“TOROLF” I yelled as I bolted upright. The pain that rushed over my body almost made me pass out again. I stifled a sob as the curtain to the tent was thrown aside and Dagmar stood there holding a bowl of water. She stuck her head back out of the tent and yelled that I was awake. In rushed a older woman with yellow eyes and upper fangs. She forced me to lay back down.
“Child, you had us worried. I wasn’t sure we could cure the poison that had gotten into your system. You almost died on me once,” She explained.
“How long have I been out?” I asked.
“Almost three days,” she answered. I lay there and stared at the roof for awhile while the older woman fussed. “Your leg wound was minor enough but you are going to need to make the trek to Onsallas to find a proper healer for your shoulder. I got rid of the poison and closed the wound but you will need the supervision of a more skilled Daughter or healer then I to make sure your shoulder heals and still maintains its mobility.”
I sighed. “Understood. What of the children?” I asked. The older woman smiled.
“They are all here and alive. Enjar was pretty beat up as well but he will survive.”
“What about their parents?” I asked. She looked down at the floor.
“That camp is over run with Mordok. Nobody can get close currently to check. We are pretty sure that they are all dead but we can’t get close enough to retrieve bodies. We will be burning effigies at the end of the week. Until then the scouts are trying to get confirmation.” I nodded and the other lady frowned at me. “Either way you lie there and rest. You aren’t going anywhere until I say so.”
Nobody could get close enough to the settlement to retrieve the bodies but the scouts did report seeing all the bodies. The children were devastated. I stayed till the end of the week and helped with the effigies. The morning after the rite, I packed my things and left after getting clearance from the old medicine woman. Enjar accompanied on my trek to Onsallas as well as some other novice daughter. Word had come that Onsallas was looking for aid for the harvest and were seeking help with some other problems. Luckily we got there with no other incident.