Midwinter

Everspring, Spirtclaw Territory: A week before Midwinter,

The little bell tingles as I enter the shop. It’s a smaller shop but there is a lot of bins and containers packed with dried ingredients giving off aromas both fine and foul; the small building serves as both a tea shop and an apothecary’s storefront. I came here alone as I really didn’t want Stanrick to know what I was doing here. There was a lot about today that I don’t want him knowing about, but this bit I knew would only make him angry. Truth be told I am not sure I am really okay with what I am doing here. I pull out a container from my shoulder bag and stare at the bulk containers. I know the recipe. Every female knows the recipe, passed down from mother to daughter for as long as anyone can remember. My mother and I had that talk shortly after I got my fangs. It’s two parts dry juniper berries to one part wormwood, and some mountain mint to help mask the piney taste that the juniper berries can have if they were harvested too early. We all know it’s not a guarantee but it’s a time honored recipe that can help prevent pregnancy especially during that week when a female is in heat. I can feel my week about to start. I have had the warning sign, that craving where you just want to be with your mate and I am getting easily distracted. I will sit and stare into the fire but not really be thinking about anything. It’s disconcerting even though I know what it is. My scent hasn’t changed yet but I know that is going to happen soon and I have to admit I am nervous about that. I have been lucky so far as every month that it has happened I have been in the midst of traveling alone or have been too injured to really notice. This is going to be the first month that we are going to be together and not injured. We already are way more active than most Ulven our age should be so I am really unsettled.

I take a deep breath and start to measure out the amounts. Even though I know its a good idea I am still torn. I am not even sure I can still have children so the notion that I am trying to prevent an event of nature is weighing on me. I am torn between my duty as a Truthseeker and my duty as a female. I fear bringing children into the middle of this war. Even though my father traveled with me and my brother we still had my mother and my grandmother with us and our only concern was Mordok. Now I must stand against Mordok, outsiders, and even other Ulven when I travel, with Stanrick as my only companion. I fear losing the children to outsiders or even worse other Ulven. I am not the best fighter and the notion that I could only save one or the other keeps me up at night. The Great Wolf would eat me for bringing the children into known danger yet Gaia curses me for preventing her path. Though I also know that if it is my destiny to have children with Stanrick Gaia will make sure it happens with or without the tea. I place the container on counter, the old woman double checking my measurements as I offer her some of the dried deer meat in exchange for the tea.

I step into the cold streets making sure the door is secure behind me. We are about half way through Luna’s season. While I have a strong connection to Luna, I tire of seeing her mate the Winter wolf. The bitter cold he has brought with him this season is brutal. We have had quite a few elderly and some of the refugees die due to the cold. I know most of the other Clans tend to view the seasons as a pack of wolves. My clan tends to divide the seasons up by the First Pack. Winter is controlled by Luna since she is the most affluent as the nights get longer, Spring is the Great Wolfs season, its first time in months that we are able to hunt and replenish our meat supplies. It was also, according to the epics, the time that Gaia and the Great Wolf first mated. Summer is of course controlled by Sol; there is a little reddish brown wolf that is said to run with Sol though her name is unknown as she likes to hide. It is said that if you look carefully through the waves of heat that raise from the land during a midsummer festival you can spot her watching. Its suppose to give you good luck if you can see her. Autumn is controlled by Gaia as we give her thanks for the bounty that she has nurtured for us throughout the Spring and Summer.

I pull my hood down over my ears tighter as I weave my way through the streets. I stop before the Jeweler’s and enter. A male slightly younger than me smiles as I enter.

“Selena. It’s been ages since I seen you.” He smiles.

“Yes it has, Sten,” I smile back. Sten was my father’s cousin’s son. We normally only saw them during Pack Moots. He has been a gifted jeweler since before his marks came in. He designed my last mate’s gift when he was eighteen.

Sten smirks at me “I figured you would be stopping by sooner or later. I heard Keres challenged him when you all first got here.”

I sigh “Yeah and she got her butt thoroughly handed to her too. I don’t know what she was thinking challenging a veteran warrior, let alone a veteran Longfang.”

He giggles, “Yeah.” He pulls out a black cloth and lays it on the counter. “So I have the base piece done. “ He pulls out from under the counter a talisman made of bronze. The shape is of a wolf slightly bent down in front like it is about to sprint to take off after something. “I am going to put detail in the head and on the rump.”

I smile “I love it. “ I dig in my hip pouch for a second and toss him a silver coin.

“These any use to you?” I ask. “The outsiders say they are valuable and they trade them like we trade meat but I can’t figure out why considering their value seems to change more then I change my socks.”

Sten looks at the coin carefully and takes a little jewelers hammer to it and listens to it resonate. “Yeah, I can melt this down and make a pair of earrings or pendant out of it. It’s mostly silver.”

I nod. “Finally something practical that can be done with them.”

He nods. “I’ll have it done before the Midwinter Ceremony. Come back in a couple days”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Stanrick was sitting in the training yard smoking his pipe. He had once again beat the tar out of Keres and not even broken a sweat. She lay on the ground and every muscle refused to move. He watched the other guards careful not to stare for too long in fear that they would be the next to fall . At this point that’s all this was to him anymore, and the few veterans that had been town guards started to use his methods on the younger guards.

“Your pups really do this every day at Onsallas?” asked Conrad Spritclaw.

“Every day. Most ulven they are tradesmen first then they are warrior’s second. Then there are warriors who work a trade as well. Longfang warriors are only warriors. That is their trade, their hobby, and their life.” He watched the guards train.

Conrad was the warrior that was tasked with training the young guards. The first day Stanrick had shown up with Selena, Conrad had watched Keres’ honor duel with Stanrick and felt ashamed at the fact she lost as bad as she did. It left a bad taste in his mouth and the next morning he had told Stanrick the same thing he told all the warriors that came to train. “If you want to train here you fight me first.” The grin on Stanrick’s face was perhaps the most unsettling thing about the fight. Guards and villagers alike were drawn to the spectacle, a small ring of observers gradually swelling into a crowd. Half an hour into the match, both warriors had resorted to brawling in the mud, their wooden swords splintered and their shields shattered. Growing exhausted, Conrad eventually conceded the match. The two became fast friends after that.

“When you put it that way no wonder I couldn’t get a upper hand. I will be honest I was a little afraid when you started laughing when your shield broke.” Conrad scratched his head and he laughed nervously.

“Oh I never said that was my way of life. I think there is more to Gaia’s path the killing mordok. Don’t feel any shame in our fight. You were doing fine till we hit the mud. Then my smaller size is the only thing that saved me,” Stanrick grinned.

Conrad got up and went back to training the guards but Stanrick stayed seated, puffing away. “Do you plan to get up some time today Keres?” He asked, looking past her to the gate.

“Nope I’m fine here. The mud feels great on my face.” She stated as she rubbed her face back and forth in the mud pool.

“I am so glad you are only a town guard. I would hate to have you in my shield wall.” Stanrick glared down at her.

“I had a long night last night…” she muttered into the ground

“So did I but you don’t see me on the ground.” He replied

“I DON’T WANT TO KNOW!” she yelled, muffled by the ice covered ground.

Stanrick smiled and continued to smoke away when he saw a younger girl enter the gate. It was Brigit. She held a hot teacup and sipped away at it as she walked up she smiled and waved at Stanrick.

“Mother said you would be kicking Keres butt so I thought I would come down and watch the show,” She said with a smile.

“Go away Brigit! I’m not in the mood to deal with you,” Keres tried to get up but she could not get her legs to work. Stanrick shook his head.

“You can stay your sister is learning life lessons.” Brigit sat down and watched the young males fighting in the yard. Stanrick’s thoughts deepened as his senses were now picking up on things he normally would ignore with females their age, but it was now painfully obvious that the sisters, like their cousin, were in heat and Brigit was here to watch the males. She had a little grin on her face as she watched one of the boys with dark black hair who was showing off and was clearly top of his class.

“Stanrick could you do me a favor?” Brigit said quietly as she sipped her tea.

“Maybe. What do you want?” Stanrick ask carefully.

“That boy is Jornel Solfire. Would you fight him for me? I want to see if he is all he claims to be,” She kept staring.

“You’re not going to be happy when he is in worse shape than your sister,” Stanrick said as he watched Jornel take down his opponent. He took a drink of water then walked over past Keres.

“Oh look, the bitch doing what she does best: laying on her back!” He didn’t get too far before he walked into Stanrick. He locked eyes and he tried to make himself look tough but it had no effect on Stanrick.

“Jornel, I think you need some more training,” He said quietly as he grabbed the young male by the collar of his tabard and dragged him to the center of the ring. Everyone gathered quickly to see what was about to happen but no one could have imagined what Stanrick did. As Jornel took a swing with his ax Stanrick let go of his shield and grabbed the ax handle dragging the boy in close to him. Jornel’s eyes grew as large as plates. Stanrick rolled him around and put the wood blade to his throat, whispering in his ear.

“Never say or think anything that disrespectful again or it won’t a wooden sword next time am I clear?” Jornel made a small nod then Stanrick kicked him down in the mud, then stormed off back to his table.

“Boys like that are not worth your time Brigit,” He said as he picked up a mug of mead.

“Oh I didn’t have any interest in him I like the boy that he was fighting. He is really good at wood carving,” She said looking at a young blonde boy who had yellow eyes. She smiled at Stanrick and finished her tea. “But I see what Selena sees in you, you’re not just a mean Longfang so I wont tell anyone what you did for Keres.”

“Fair enough, by the way what is with the mint tea?”

Brigit blushed a bright red.

“I’m flattered but your mated with Selena! I didn’t think I would have got your attention.”

“WHAT? I asked about Tea for the Love of Gaia,” She blinked at him a few times.

“Oh… right…not from here. Well see it is a special tea for females when well…most of the time when a male points it out it means they have some interest in the female because we all know what it’s for. The mint kills the taste of the junipers. Honestly I’m nervous. I’ve never mated before, and I think it’s better if I don’t have a pup yet.” Stanrick looked off past the gate and he felt his heart sink a little.

“Something wrong, Stanrick?” Brigit asked.

He looked to her and he twitched a small smile.

“Don’t worry about me, I will be okay. Just don’t rush your choice; make sure your mate is worth your time,” He said with a smile. Brigit nodded and smiled, got up and made her way to the blond boy.

“Ok I get the point Stanrick: I need to make sure I can fight at any time. I promise I will be better tomorrow.” Keres had gotten up and slowly made her way to the table.

“I won’t be here tomorrow so unless you’re on duty just take some time for your self. Besides you can’t really enjoy some old warrior beating you up every day.” She stops and looked at him confused. “I may not always be around to protect Selena I want to be sure that she is protected when I go back home.” He sipped his mead.

Keres sat down across from him still confused. “You can lie to Brigit but I think she was right. Something is bugging you. Why would you ever leave Selena?” She tilted her head.

“I don’t want to, but with this war I may have to. My shield brothers fight Grimward as we speak in Stormjarl territory. I don’t know why I am not with them but I could be told to go in a moment’s notice. Your cousin needs more than a staff. If I go, I would like it if you would keep an eye on her. Yeah, I can still beat you but I think you can take any of the other guards here and I know you can pound Jornel into dust.” She smiled

“That means a lot coming from you Stanrick. You should go see Selena: if I know her she probably misses you.” Stanrick just nodded. He finished his mead and started to walk back to the Drunk Uncle.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I swear I’ve been staring at this same page now since I opened the book hours ago. I sigh exasperated and pick up my mug to take a drink. I turn back to the book, trying to force myself to focus on what is on the page. Apparently I failed at that again as I am jolted out of my trance by a sharp pain in my hand as the mug goes flying across the room.

My head snaps to the side as I try to find the what just slap the drink from my hand. Stanrick stands there, his hair matted down with a cross between sweat and melting snow. He is still in his cloak and armor. He must have just come back from training the guards. His scent fills my nose and I shut my eyes tight for a moment to try and stomp down my instincts.

“What was that for?” I frown as I salvage the book from getting wet.

“You weren’t going to tell me?” He states at me. He doesn’t yell: there is a twinge in his voice though that tells me he is upset.

I stop and look at him. There is a hurt look to his eyes and I wrinkle my forehead in confusion “ Tell you what?” I ask carefully.

“Your cousin reminded me what the tea was for, I saw her with the exact same mixture when she stopped by the training ring today. I knew I had recognized the smell but I wasn’t sure since you add mint to your version.” Stanrick stated.

I snarl “I am going to beat Keres.”

“I wasn’t Keres. It was Brigit, “ Stanrick corrected.

I stand there dumbfounded for a moment as the angry momentum I had is suddenly lost. I couldnt be mad at Brigit, this is probably her first season using the tea and if Stanrick asked of course she would tell him what it’s for since he isn’t from our pack.

I blink at Stanrick “I really don’t know what to say. I thought you knew what the tea was to be honest. You have had many more mates than I and I figured some of them had to have used a version of this tea before. “

He nods “Some of them have. I’ve seen other Longfang females use it too after battles before they decide who they are going to mate with that night. This is different though.” He looks me in the eye “We are life mates…Don’t I get a say in if we have children?”

I can feel my mouth slack open as my jaw drops a little. I inhale sharply as I wrap my arms under my chest and turn from him.. I go sit on the edge of the bed and look at the floor unable to look at him. I know he is right, he should have a say. I just didn’t think. He had shown no interest in Siren’s upbringing nor any of his children as far as all the stories I heard so I figured he didn’t care.

“I just..I thought..” I stammer. I stop and take a big breath. “I am conflicted. I am torn between my job as a Truthseeker and my duty as a female. I am afraid to bring children into the middle of this war. It used to be all we had to worry about was Mordok. Now we have to worry about them, outsiders and our fellow Ulven. The thought that should something go wrong and I could only save you or my child…it keeps me up at night. “ I see Stanrick take off his cloak and armor and he sits next to me on the bed. “You didn’t really have a hand in Sirens upbringing or that of your other children. I didn’t think you cared about children so it didn’t cross my mind to ask.” I stare at my hands in my lap.

“My lack in sirens up bringing is not as much as she would have you think. I was always there for my pups when their mothers let me. They were my children after all. I taught my son all I could.” He takes a deep breath “Our children will have a mother who won’t pass her young off to others and wants to be a part of their lives.” He puts his arms around her. “Between your family and us I know we won’t have a spoiled daughter who thinks everyone left her because her stepmother died in childbirth. You’re not wrong in your thinking. I just wish you would have talked to me.”

“I am sorry, beloved,” I whisper.

He tilts my chin up so I have to look at him, he leans in and kisses me softly. “I know you are.” He smiles back at me. I lean in and kiss him again…tired of fighting my instincts.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bowmen stood at the bar getting things ready for the evening rush. Selena and Stanrick had been fighting for over an hour but they finally seem to be making up. He was happy that Selena finally found another mate. He was worried about her after she lost her family to the lich two years ago. Even though they are still learning about each other’s customs and ways of life, Bowmen knows that it’ll be rough but thinks they will make it. They seem resourceful like that and truly in love with each other.

Bowmen looks up at the sound of the tingling of bells. A small female that he doesn’t recognized enters. He would put her at Selena age. Short brown hair and brown and burnt orange clothes. Long heavy wool cloak. She has the composure of a Longfang, he thinks as he watches her study the place for a moment.

“Welcome,” he smiles.

“Is this where a Truthseeker and a Longfang are staying?” She asks.

Bowmen frowns, “It is. Why do you ask?”

She smiles, becoming excited. “I am the Longfang’s cousin. My name is Reyna Longfang. He should know that I was coming, I sent him a message. Are they here?”

Bowmen nods, “Yeah, they’re upstairs..but I…” He trails off as he watches the young woman bound up the stairs.

Bowmen leans on the bar and slowly starts to count backwards from 5.

“3…2…1” Bowmen thinks.

“STANRICK LONGFANG FOR THE LOVE OF GAIA! I KNOW YOU KNOW HOW TO USE A LATCH!” Reyna shrieks from upstairs and a door slams.

Bowmen start chuckling uncontrollably as Reyna comes back down stairs, eyes a little wide and cheeks burning red.

Bowmen pulls a brass key from under the counter. “I tried to warn you. This is for the first room at the top of the stairs. Don’t worry, there is a room in between you and them. They do go at it quite a bit just so you are warned. “ Reyna takes the key from him and nods.

“I’ll get you guys some mead. I am sure you guys have a lot to talk about…especially now.” Bowmen snickers trying not to laugh as he goes in back and gets a pitcher and some mugs.

He comes back out with a tray and sets in on the bar as he sees Stanrick come down the stairs, obviously having gotten dressed in a hurry.

“Damnit Reyna…it helps when you include when you are expecting to show up in your letters,” Stanrick growls.

Bowmen is still trying to stifle laughing. “Mead’s on the house. “ Bowmen walks into the kitchen to start dinner prep while the kids talk it out up front.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Midwinters Eve:

“Bowman was not kidding, you two are non-stop,” Said Reyna as she followed Stanrick down one of the side roads. She had some shopping to do. Stanrick agreed to take her around the town to get everything she need.

“We are not that bad.” Stanrick pulled his hood over his head to keep in the warmth.

“NONSTOP! You remember that week you met Mina? Yeah more times last night then that week. I saw this cute couple yesterday clearly in their prime they have nothing on you. Do you even sleep at night?” They turned down an ally found the store Reyna was looking for.

“Yeah, we sleep. You just showed up at a strange time, okay?” He muttered.

She stopped at the door and looked at Stanrick. “Oh my sweet mother. You’re trying for a pup!” she said with a child like grin.

“What!? No! I… we… okay maybe I am but I don’t know why,” Stanrick muttered as he reached for the door. Reyna stopped him and pulled him off to the side.

“What is there not to know? She was in heat and you are dealing with others in heat all day. Add the fact you care about her I can see why you would want to have a pup with her. She is a much better choice than Senna; she didn’t seem to care about pups. She is much prettier too. So did you have a joining yet?” Reyna was now really excited about all of this

“Joining? No, I never put much thought into it.” He looked out across the streets.

“Well you should! You are lifemates! You said so yourself. Is it wrong to ask Gaia to bless the path you both walk? Just think about it, okay?” She opened the door to the shop and walked in.

Stanrick looked at the tunics but saw nothing he liked. He only had three changes of clothing in his bag and yawn ripped his fourth shirt. Reyna looked at bolts of fabric. “So what did you get her for midwinter?” she asked as she checked the weight of the cloth

“I’m giving her my first sword. She needs something to keep her safe if I’m not there. I’m not using it any more anyway.” He looked at the pattern on the fabric and gave her a simple shrug.

“Stanrick Longfang, you really can be sweet when you want to. I’m sure she will love it. I am getting this one. I think I can make a nice dress with it or something.” She went over to the shopkeeper and began to haggle with her. It did not take her long. She took the bolt and went for the door.

“Let’s go Stanrick I have what I needed.” Stanrick followed her and they put up their hoods to keep out the cold. Everywhere they looked houses had evergreen branches and wreaths decorating the houses for Midwinter.

“They really go all out here over Midwinter don’t they?” She asked him.

“Clan Spritclaw has a deep connection with the first pack and show reverence to all our gods, not just Gaia and the Great Wolf. Midwinter is Luna’s night so it is more than just a celebration of the nights getting shorter. I wish more clans would pay attention to what this holiday is really about.”

Stanrick was always a devout believer and this time in Spritclaw had reaffirmed things he already knew. Not that he would stop Selena from explaining her beliefs but his mother had taught him much about Gaia, the Great Wolf, and the first pack. Solvig had expanded on her teachings by telling him stories that most Ulven did not know, such as how Gaia taught the Great Wolf how to change.

“So what is the true meaning behind Midwinter?” Asked Reyna.

“Oh I have no idea but I think it has something to do with Stars. Selena told me about how if a pup dies before their marks they go live with Luna. Mother said something to that effect when Solfie passed but I never put much thought in it till now.”

He stopped in the street and looked at the night sky already there were more stars out then he could count. “Even back home do you ever remember this many stars? Over the last two years the number of stars in the night sky has only grown. I think she is right.” He started to walk again not waiting for Reyna. She was still looking up at the stars when she realized that he was about 20 feet away. She ran to get to him. There were fewer people on the streets tonight than Stanrick had come to expect: a few guards walked down the street and simply nodded a greeting to Stanrick. He reached the front door of the Drunk Uncle. He opened the door and saw Selena and Brigit working on a project.

“What are you doing?” He asked…………………….

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“What are you guys doing?” Stanrick asks as he walks into the inn, Reyna following behind him.

Today I had Brigit over to help me construct our sky lanterns. We were all spread out over one of Bowmen’s downstairs tables making lanterns for everyone.

“Making sky lanterns for the rite tomorrow,” I state.

“Oh! What rite?” Reyna asks, intrigued.

“Tomorrow is Midwinter. The longest night of the year. It is the night that Luna is at her most powerful; its also the night that the veil between realms is supposed to be at it’s thinnest. Seers have an easier time with their trade, those that have Luna’s gift supposedly are given visions. The rite not only honors Luna as a Seer but also acknowledges the children that are living with her in her realm. The Children act as messengers between this realm and the next. We send messages to them and they take the messages to our loved one that have passed” Brigit explains.

I nod. “Correct. Since the veil is suppose to the thinnest this time of year my clan constructs what is known as sky lanterns to take our messages and thoughts up to the unseen realm so the children and those that have passed on there know they are not forgotten.”

“Isn’t that interfering with their journey?” Reyna frowns at me.

I blink at her for a moment and tilt my head a little surprised. I frown, “No, they are where they need to be; we are not pulling them back here or taking them off their path. Would you insult the hawks for delivering messages between two Ulven? Think of the Lanterns as hawks. This is the only time of year that we can send messages to this place.”

Reyna seems to dwell on this for a moment.

“We all have people we miss. For one night a year we can say something to them and know that we will be heard,” I sigh.

Stanrick walk up to me and looks at the table. “Alright..how does one make one of these.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Stanrick, Reyna, and I stand huddled around one of the braziers that have been place around the steps leading to the Clan Leader halls. I frown a little as I look around. Normally this rite gets people from the entire territory but the turn out seems to be sparse this year. I am hoping it’s just the cold and the snow that is keeping everyone in their own villages. The buildings and streets around the settlement have been adorned with holly, witch hazel and evergreen branches.

“Balls it’s cold!” I hear Stanrick curse under his breath as he warms his hands at the fire.

High Priestess Morrigan walk out on to the steps of the Clan Leaders halls. She is adorned in a long forest green wool robe. On top of her head is a wreath of the rare white holly. Like the moon flower in Summer it is said that the berries contain the essence of Luna. It is said only Priestesses know how to extract this essence and its use to help with vision quests or other scrying techniques.

As Morrigan rings a large, ornate brass gong, the crowd fall silent and turns their heads towards her.

“Tonight we honor Luna the Seer of the First Pack and Sister to the Great Mother. Through her keen sight and benevolent touch she raised the fallen children of our clan to the sky and imparted some of her glory unto them so they may find names for themselves in unseen realms before returning to be with our loved ones in the Great Forest. Tonight when the veil between realms is at its thinnest we offer up our thought and prayers to our deceased family and friends and hope the children can do their duties proudly and with honor so they may return home.” Morrigan proclaims proudly, her voice carrying over the crowd. She makes a little motion with her hand and Henrick, the Clanleader’s son, comes forward with a sky lantern: clearly his own handiwork as shown by the pictures crudely drawn on the outside of the paper. Morrigan carefully takes the lantern from him. She chants, blessing the Lantern before she lights it and lets it go. I repeat the chant as well, lighting our little lanterns and soon the sky start to fill with little lights floating towards the sky.

Hó, Það sé ék föðr minn

Hó, Það sé ék móðr mína og

Bræðr mínir og systr mínar

Hó, Það sé ék línu þjóðar minnar aftur til og á byrjun

Lo, kalla þeir til mín

Þeir bjóða mér að taka sæti mitt á meðal

þeirra í rjóðrinu við fyrsta úlfsstóðið.

Þar óvina þinna hafa verið yfirbugaður

Þar sem hugrakkr mun lifa eilífð

Né skal við harma en fagna fyrir

þá sem hafa látist glæsilega dauða.

Stanrick takes my hand when I had finished and we look up watching the light float higher and higher.

“Do you think they will get our messages?” He asks

I sigh and lean my head on his shoulder. “I am sure they will.”

Reyna looks at me and frowns. “Can you teach me that prayer? It’s old Ulven correct?”

I nod “ Its basically a prayer honoring our ancestors but yeah I can teach you.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The three of us sit downstairs in the inn after the ceremony. Stanrick and I are curled up on the couch and Renya is regaling me with a tale about about when she, Stanrick, Harlock and someone named Ranmir were trying to steal supplies from of the towers of the outpost for some sort of shenanigans. Bowmen comes out and requests my aid in helping prep for tomorrow’s breakfast: the pain in his hands was starting to get too much for him. He is having trouble kneading the bread. Reyna said she would help to help pay for her room and goes and disappears into the kitchen.

I turn to Stanrick. “The apothecary wasn’t the only place I stopped the day I got the tea. I did make one other stop.”

Stanrick frowns at me. “Oh?”

I reach my hand into my waist pouch. I had been carrying it all day looking for a good time to give it to him. I take his hand and place in it the talisman that Sten made along with a matching brass chain. “I have been trying to think of something fitting for you since we meet. Something I could give you so you could have a piece of me with you always. My cousin Sten is a brilliant jeweler and helped design it. Its seemed most fitting to give it to you on Midwinter”

Stanrick smiles and kisses me. “I love it. That reminds me.” Stanrick runs upstairs for a moment and comes back down holding a long covered item.

“I found it in our things. I know it’s not mine.” He states.

I uncover it to find a sword. I grab the hilt; it’s not horribly balanced from what I can tell, though its been twenty years since I’ve held a sword. I study the blade: there are a few dings in it saying it’s been used at some point and it could use a good oil and sharpening. It’s been sitting for awhile but other than that its a perfectly useable sword.

I sigh, exasperated, “Is it one of Yawn’s? Did he leave his things at your place again and we grabbed it when we packed the cart to come here?”

Stanrick laughs, “No, love: its yours.”

I blink. “What?”

Stanrick smiles “Its yours. It was my first sword, but I can’t use it anymore. It’s too short for me but it’s the right length for you. Your clan isn’t the only one who will occasionally exchange gifts for Midwinter.”

I am about to smack him with the flat of the sword when I think better of it. I frown a little “you know I haven’t wielded a sword in 20 years. “

Stanrick nods “I know. I’ll teach you. After the swamp…your staff just isn’t going to cut it anymore hun.”

I sigh and look at the sword funny. Stanrick leans in and kisses me. “Don’t worry. What better person to teach you?”

I smirk, “Assuming you can focus on the lessons with me about.” I lean in and kiss him back.

“Oh for the love of Gaia, will you guys knock it off? I swear you two act like you just got your marks or something.” Reyna states coming back into the room. “Bowmen needs help racking a new batch of mead he could use all of us. He’ll let us taste test it if we help.”

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Early February

“Selena you been summoned by the Clan Leader,” I hear Keres yell from downstairs. I pull my hair back into a tail as I come down the stairs.

“Any idea on what about?” I ask

“Nope,” Keres shrugs.

Stanrick and I enter the Great Hall and was told that the Clan Leader was waiting for me in his study.

“Cahal, you wished to see me?” I state as I enter.

“Yes I received word that there is a meeting of the People in Nightriver territory to talk about the war and each clan’s place in it. I want you to go in my stead. Most other clan leaders are not going themselves, I think they are using this to feel each other out. “ Cahal announces to me.

I blink a few times “I am just your eyes and ears, I have no authority to speak as a Voice. “ I state

“You do now. You have a good grasp on what is good for the Clan. You have had a sense about what is wrong with this war. You now have the opportunity to voice it.” Cahal states plainly.

I frown, not sure what to think about this. Cahal turns to Stanrick

“I am officially hiring you and your cousin to be her bodyguards for this. Selena is more than just a Truthseeker for this mission: she is my Voice as well. I have already sent word to Solvig and she is going to be sending one more to meet up with you on the road there.” Cahal said.

Stanrick was just as shocked as I was about this but we agreed and made preparations to leave post haste. Even Reyna seemed out of sorts by they speed of it all but fell in line quickly and seemed to appreciate being able to spend some time with her cousin. I wondered if this was the first time they had officially had a mission together.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
The dinner didn’t go as I had expected. There were a lot of outsiders there which was unnerving to me. This is suppose to be our war and they-well some of them anyways-have this idea in their heads that they need to be the ones to stop it. I’m not sure I like that.

I sat by the fire at camp as we made our way back towards Spirtclaw territory. Reyna, Stanrick and the guard sat and talked by the fire while I tried to formulate the letter I was sending ahead of me.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Clan leader Cahal,

The dinner went off fine. You were correct in the notion that most clans don’t know what they are doing with the exception of a few. Goldenfield threw their lot in with Nightriver and Riverhead said that they were going to do what was best for Gaia and continue to fight Mordok as they always have. Shattered Spear was silent. I am a little concerned that they didn’t send anyone. Most were too skittish to make a solid claim, as you were correct in the thought that they are still feeling each other out. Some were looking to advance their own needs. I will fill you in on details upon my return. After hearing what is going on in Stormjarl I started talks with our neighboring clans to try and get them to at least support each other even if they didn’t want to support the war. I would hate to see what is happening in Stormjarl happen somewhere else. Steinjotunn is the most favorable to the idea of Neutrals banding together. Ironmound was a maybe. I was unable to talk to Squallborn, though. I was hoping to confirm or deny the rumor I heard that they had hand in helping Grimward and Whiteoak.

I made a plea to remember tradition, although I fear it fell on deaf ears. Stanrick’s speech about honor had more of an effect than mine did. I am still a little unnerved on how good he can be with words. Things almost got bad when one of the humans decided to grab me and shake me. She was frustrated that it seemed that there was nothing they could do and was tired of us treating them like children. I sympathize with her but one person cannot speak for their entire group it seems. They have so many others making them look bad. Once she saw three Ulven stand, hand on their weapons, she quickly apologized and things calmed down. The dinner wrapped up quickly after that. All in all, I don’t think anything got solved and that makes me fear for our future. I will make a full report when I return.

Truthseeker Selena Stargazer.
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I fold up the paper and seal it for transport on the next hawk I find.

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