“Father?” said Elise, tugging at Raskolf’s cloak.
Raskolf set his pen into the inkwell and turned himself around on the bench to face her.
“What is it honey?”
“Can I sit with you? I’m cold.”
Raskolf turned back to his work and Elise crawled up underneath his cloak and wiggled her way up onto the bench.
“Dear Priestess Ravensmark…” she read aloud, looking at her father’s letter.
“There are very few of us who can read and write.” Said Raskolf, “When I was your age I could do neither. I bet you will be even better than me someday, since you’re learning so young.”
The two sat in silence for a while, save the scribbling of Raskolf’s pen, and the occasional clink of the inkwell. Elise snuggled in closer, and wrapped herself tightly in his cloak.
“You know,” said Raskolf, “your little feet are like ice. If you would just wrap your feet, like I’ve told you a hundred times, you wouldn’t be as cold. I don’t know why you insist on running around barefoot.
“Mother says that she is closer to nature when she goes barefoot.”
“Your mother also curses my idiot ancestors as I dig thorns and slivers out of her feet with your Uncle Rhodi’s Smithy tools.” Mumbled Raskolf.
“Our ancestors weren’t idiots.” Giggled Elise.
“Maybe they were.” Said Raskolf, “Your mother knows them better than I do.”
Elise laughed and cuddled close to her father, sticking her cold little feet into the top of his boot and wrapping them around his ankle as he returned to his scribbling. She wiggled her head underneath his arm and stuck her face right in the way of his work, so she could read it. Raskolf sighed and put his pen into the inkwell.
“Father,” asked Elise, “why did you yell at Harlok when he was fighting that Mordok?”
“The Mordok was trying to leave, and Harlok wouldn’t let it. An Honor duel doesn’t have to be to the death. That Mordok was very strong, and was armed with a magic weapon. It knew that it had beaten Harlok. Harlok didn’t want to admit defeat, but the fight was over. His shield and his weapon were broken.”
“So the Mordok was going to let him go? That doesn’t make sense. Mordok don’t do that.”
“It was an insult, honey. That Mordok knocked Harlok down and then turned its back to walk away. It was like he was saying that Harlok gave him a good fight, but that he was done playing with him and was letting him go to fight again someday, when he is stronger and a more worthy opponent.”
“But the Mordok are monsters.” She whimpered, “They aren’t like us.”
“No honey, the Mordok aren’t like us, but they are smart. Many Ulven warriors have died because they took that for granted.” Raskolf sighed, “Or because someone else did.”
Raskolf shuddered, and clenched his teeth, pulling Elise closer, as his mind briefly flashed to a different time and place.
The room was silent for a few seconds, save the grinding of Raskolf’s teeth.
“Father,” said Elise, “You’re squashing my head, and my ear is wet.
“Sorry honey.” He whispered, running his hand through her hair and staring at something a thousand yards beyond the split log wall for a moment before releasing her.
The two relocated to a spot on the floor, to be closer to the fire, and Elise un-wrapped her father’s arm. He had popped two stitches. Elise unrolled her little healer’s bag and set to work by the firelight.
“So, Harlok was mad because he didn’t win that fight?” asked Elise.
“He felt that he was dishonored. He wasn’t though. The fact that he participated in an honor duel in the first place has earned him great honor. There is a difference, though, between honor and glory, even though he might not understand it yet. While his getting knocked on his ass and disarmed certainly was an inglorious thing to behold, he proved that he was willing to sacrifice himself to save the Daughter of Gaia and her packmates. A wise Warrior will recognize that, and so does the Great Black Wolf. Harlok Longfang is an honorable warrior, just like his father. He’s the kind of warrior you can trust with your life. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have someone like that in my pack than some hotheaded pup who assaults my ears with stories of all the duels he’s won and the youngsters he’s bullied, and thinks he has to yell all the time or the Great Wolf won’t hear him. Wolves have excellent hearing, by the way. Honor is infinitely more important than glory, though it may be less likely to get songs sung about you at feast time.”
“Is that why you never talk about when you were a Warleader?” asked Elise.
Raskolf didn’t answer.
“Father?” asked Elise.
“I’m going to tell you something now that you must promise to always remember. My mentor, Hanseth, told me this when I was young, but I didn’t listen. I learned the hard way instead, and I got a lot of other people killed.”
Raskolf put two of the fingers from his good arm under his daughter’s chin and lifted her head from her stitching so that they were eye to eye, their faces inches apart.
“A warrior does not love the flashing sword for its sharpness, nor the black-fletched arrow for its swiftness, nor the glory of combat. A true warrior does not love any of these things. A true warrior loves only the Ulven nation, the Clan, the Pack, the Family. The warrior loves these things and what they stand for. The Ulven people themselves are the only thing worth dying for.”
As he finished, Elise stared into his wet, gold-rimmed eyes, and realized that he was shaking. She had never seen her father like this, and it frightened her. Raskolf released her and she immediately went back to her stitching so she wouldn’t have to look at him.
“Aradael isn’t Ulven.” She said after a couple minutes of silence.
“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Raskolf.
“You went back for him. You almost died. For him. Daddy.”
Elise pulled the stitches tight, her tiny fingers the envy of the finest surgeon.
“You’ve got a sharp tongue for a child of seven winters.” Raskolf grumbled, “But you’re right. Maybe the times are changing.”
Later, as he finished drafting his letter to his wife, the Priestess, Raskolf thought about what he’d told his daughter. She was too young to have had that conversation, but then again, she’d mortally wounded an Aldorian Soldier in melee earlier that day. Overall though, she had a pretty short attention span, and he figured she’d probably forgotten everything he’d said before she even went to bed. He saw way too much of himself in her.
As the Voice of the Watchwolves scribbled away, his daughter tossed and turned in her bed, her dreams populated by cunning and intelligent adversaries much worse than the usual nightmare creatures.
From across the dreamscape, a Grey wolf watched her pup struggle against the Mordok. She did not intervene. Instead she lay down beneath a twisted, scary looking tree and picked at a thorn between the pads of her paw. It was in there pretty deep.
“There is too much of her father in her.” thought the wolf, “I’d best allow this nightmare to play out if she is ever to learn anything.”