I had been expecting a letter or some form of orders from my clan to figure out what to do next. It never came so what other choice did I have but to go home. It was going to be a ten day walk to Spiritclaw territory, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. It had been unseasonable cool all summer and winter came earlier than normal. Winter solstice is about four weeks away already.
“You ready?” I hear Stanrick call from outside in the yard. I sigh and take one last look around the cabin. This is his mother’s cabin, though technically it is his now that she has passed. I had been staying with him for most of my time here at Onsallas. Yet this place didn’t feel like a home to me, or at least not my home. Though I suppose it could with enough time. I shake my head a little and chided myself. I am a Truthseeker, I am not allowed a home. As long as I am still active, I will never be in one place long enough to make a home. I tug the dust cloth over the dining table and bed and makes sure the fire in the hearth is good and out before gathering two book from the table next to the door and stepping out. I see Stanrick tugging the ropes keeping the camping gear in the wooden cart that I travel with. That poor little cart is packed pretty tight as it normally designed to keep just my stuff. Now its got about two weeks worth of supplies plus armor and weapons. I walk over to the cart and tuck the books into my packs. Stanrick wraps his arms around my waist and leans his chin on my shoulder.
“You’re quiet today” He states.
I shrug a little. “Sorry. A lot on my mind, beloved. “ I am nervous about this trip home. A lot has happened between the Swamp and Stanrick and I becoming mates. I am not sure how my clan, my pack is going to take any of it. Not to mention I am going home…with Stanrick. He is going to see how I live and that also makes me nervous. What if there are too many people for him to tolerate among the thousands of other what ifs I can think off.
He kisses my cheek and smiles. “Its okay.” He is about to pick up the rope to the cart and string it around himself and I stop him. He frowns at me. I take it from him and loop it around my chest.
“If we get attacked by Mordok, you need to be able to move more freely. “ I state. He just sighs at me. I dig my toes into the ground and use my legs to get the cart moving. Once its moves its not bad. My uncle does good work and as long as we don’t take it off trail it will make the journey just fine. Its even convertible for snow, as I look up at the sky and sigh again. I am almost positive that it will snow before we make it to Everspring.
My eyes snap open at the sound of Stanrick yelling my name. It takes me a moment to orientate myself. I can feel Stanrick trashing beside me, I quickly put up my arm to block being smash in the face.
“Stanrick, wake up! “ I shake him to try to get him up but he continues to be lost in what ever nightmare has him. I feel his hand brush my cheek as I dodge another swing. I sigh, as I know as I am going to have to do it the hard way. I am no stranger to nightmares but eventually I wake up from them and I don’t thrash nearly as much. Stanrick seems to get lost in them, like they are real for him and he is very hard to wake once he is entrenched in one. I occasionally wonder if something is attacking him or maybe trying to tell him something through nightmares and that is an unpleasant thought to have. I straddle his midsection and grab his arms and pin them down and use my legs to hold them there. I can feel his muscles strain under my weight trying to throw me off.
“STANRICK!” I yell as I punch his chest. He bucks wildly underneath me still entrenched in whatever is nightmare he is in.
I lay my weight on him and in his ear whisper. “Beloved, wake up. I need you to wake up now.” I hear him inhale sharply and his muscles go still. I pull back and he is blinking up at me looking a little confused as to why we were in the tent and not in what ever place he was dreaming about. I slowly unwrap my legs from his arms and he wraps them around my midsection and pulls me close. I can feel him take in a shaky breath.
We lay there awhile before he whispers to me. “We were trapped in the swamp again. Mordok had dragged you off. I was fighting to get to you. Ylsa, Rhodi, Thrand, Orrin and Bryech and some of the Bastards where there. I could hear you screaming my name. It sounds like they were torturing you on top of it. No matter how many I fought I couldn’t get closer to you. Bryech and Orrin were the first to fall, Thrand fell trying to get to Ylsa and Rhodi. The Bastards got separated from us. Ylsa, Rhodi and I got trapped in this thick black tar that was like quicksand and we were sinking. I could still hear you screaming. The more I struggled in the tar the quicker I sank. Ylsa and Rhodi disappeared beneath the tar. I had just sank beneath the surface and couldn’t breath, it felt like a hand clawing at me pulling me down farther but I heard your voice calling me, telling me to wake up.”
I frown and kiss his forehead. “You’re awake and safe now. I am here. Why don’t you get up and I’ll switch out the warming stone and we can lay back down. “ He contemplates it for a moment before getting up. I wrap myself in a rabbit fur blanket and a knitted blanket and slip on my boots and take the cold stones and switch them for the warm ones by the fire, placing them in the knitted blanket. I can’t help but remember that I have dreamt of that black tar before. I frown as I stoke the fire and place another log on it to keep it going the rest of the night and go back inside.
“What’s wrong?” Stanrick asks as I place the stones.
“Its probably just coincidence that you and I are both dreaming of this black tar stuff. “ I state as I lay the furs back down over the warm rocks. Stanrick crawls back into bed and I crawl in after him and cuddle up close.
“Probably.” he states as he wraps his arms around me.
“I’ll keep track of it. We don’t even know if the tar stuff is real.” I state rationalizing it mostly for myself.
Stanrick kisses my forehead. “I know you will. Now get some sleep”
We didn’t get as far as we wanted today. A little after mid day the cold came crashing down on us along with the snow. I am grumpy mostly because I was right in the fact that it was going to snow before we made it to Everspring. I finish converting the cart to a sled as there was already a good two inches on the ground and it doesn’t look like it going to be stopping anytime soon. I repacked the sled and put the tarp on over the top. I also got the tent up and staked to the ground before too much snow cover happened which was good cause the wind is whipping even if we are in the shelter of some trees. Stanrick had already gather a bunch of firewood and had started a fire and then went out for more as we both could feel the temperature continue to drop as the day went on. I was crouched over the fire melting snow to fill our bota bags with water when I hear crunching in the snow. The good thing about the snow is it makes it harder for things to sneak up on you. I see Stanrick come out of the trees with a stack of firewood on his back and a pair of hares in his hand.
He smiles at me “They came racing out from under a bush right next to me. Almost didn’t catch them.” He set the wood on the pile and hands me the hares. I take them and walk some distance away do a prayer for the prey then proceed to skin and gut them. I save the pelts to treat later so I can add them to the rabbit fur blanket. I walk over to the supplies and pull out some of my cooking wear and spices and proceed to cook a pair of hares and I have to say they were pretty good. I would of liked some potatoes or leeks or some such to make with them but you work with what you got.
We sit by the fire in silence just listening to the fire crack and the snow fall. I smile a little and snuggle in close. Stanrick wraps his arms around me. I can feel him work his hand under my tunic to keep his hand warm. It surprises me sometimes how natural and organic our relationship is. We don’t need to talk or entertain each other we can just be in each others presence and that is enough. I can feel his fingers trace a line on my stomach just below my belly button to the right side about half a palm length. Its the oldest scar I have.
“You going to tell me about this one?” He asks as he continues to play with the scar.
I squirm a little. The memory still hurts. Stanrick frowns at me as I stare down at my lap. It takes me quite awhile to work up the words to tell him.
“Mom and dad had just negotiated room and board for us in one of the northern settlements of Clan Shattered Spear in between the swamp and the ocean. We were still a good two days from Onsallas though we had just left the Watchwolves about day and half prior. We were actually heading to Onsallas to help with the pineed sap harvest so we could get more so Dad could make more bandages for trade. Dad and my first mate Torolf managed to snag a deer and a couple of pheasants which we split with the village as thanks for there hospitality. Asgier was asking me all sorts of questions as I was preparing the meal trying to be helpful. It was a fairly normal night all things considered. We had gone to sleep in the nearby storage house. I was awakened late in the night by the sounds of steel hitting steel. Torolf had already taken Asgier to a hiding place. I was alone in the house. I peer out the window to see my mother and my brother fighting creatures that I can barely describe. They were pale and had no eyes, their mouths opened larger than should have been normal. Some looked like fallen warriors though their skin was rotting and their eyes were milky white. Those that could wield magic, even though I was never hit with it, just being in its presence made my skin crawl. There was one who could wield magic and fought with a weapon that appeared to be made out of bone. I watched from the window as my brother was run through by it and dropped. I picked up my staff and charged out, begging Gaia to protect me and give me the strength to defend my family. Most of the creatures didn’t want to come near me for some reason though I have no idea what I did. Those that did and I managed to hit screamed in pain. I remember taking a mace to the hip and in the back before I put my staff through it face. I finally got to my brother and dropped down to start to heal him. I wasn’t paying attention and had no idea what was going on. So I didn’t notice when he started to move again, he sat bolt upright grabbed my shoulder and ran his dagger through my stomach. I locked eyes with him. I knew he couldn’t see me, his eyes were milky white. I panicked and placed my hands on his chest to push him way but when I did he twitched hard like I had stabbed him and he fell back down and didn’t move again. I know I had used magic on him but I didn’t know what I did.” I lean back against Stanrick and wrap my arms on top of his. I could feel the tears sting my eyes threatening to fall as I remember my brother laying there. “I remember staggering to the side of the building holding my stomach. I knew it wasn’t good. I was four months pregnant at the time, so I was trying to stop the bleeding and cast healing magic on myself before the trauma triggered a miscarriage. Either something waylaid me or a piece of the building fell on me I don’t know which but I remember seeing the ground coming up fast and then blackness. When I awoke Keres was there trying to heal me but it was too late my body had already started to go into labor. It was a girl, but she was still born. Keres tried to revive her but to no avail, she was just too small and it was too late. “ I could hear the crack in my voice and feel the tears on my cheek as I continued. “I named her Moira. Keres wrapped her in cloth and told me that there was a pyre in the middle of town for everyone. She had told me how the others died. My mother was found not far from where my brother had fallen, sword and shield still in hand trying to protect a young family who also didn’t make it. Dad was found pinned to a tree by magic, barely a mark on him but face twisted like he had died in agony, his quiver only a third empty. Torolf was found on the trail, sword in hand shot through the back with a half dozen arrows, when Keres moved the body is when they found Asgier under him. Torolf tried to use his own body to protect our son. One of the arrows had gone straight through Torolf and into Asgier. Keres did the rite for Moira and added her to the pyre. I remember crumpling to the ground screaming and just rocking with Keres holding me till I couldn’t scream anymore. Keres wiped her own tears away and asked me to take the survivors they found to a more safe location, I was in no condition to fight. How people survived carnage is beyond me. She told me to head north then east that the roads they came from are cleared and that the threat was heading south. I handed her the last of the pineed sap bandages that Dad had made and told her not to die too and we parted ways. We didn’t run into each other again till she came to fetch me from the Drunken Uncle saying I had been summoned by the Clan leader.” I swallow hard and pull myself back together.
“But that happened a little over a year ago, right?” Stanrick asked carefully.
I nodded “Yeah the scar looks older because I didn’t take good care of myself and didn’t keep the wound and bandages clean enough so it had gotten infected a week or so later. The healers weren’t happy with me. “ I sigh and look up out of habit and frown. The sky is still cloudy and snow continues to fall.
Stanrick pulls me close and holds me “Don’t worry I am sure they are there.”
I nod. “I know. They would make sure I saw them going home.”
We sit in silence for a little while longer when Stanrick turn to me and goes “Did you know they bite.”
I blink for a second “What?”
“The undead, they bite. Mordok bite and it hurts a lot. The Undead bite you it is like ten Mordok biting you at the same time. It the most painful thing I have ever felt and I got bit twice, once in the leg and once in the arm.” Stanrick untangles himself from me to go stoke the fire and add more wood. I dig in one of the bags next to me and pull out materials to make hot chocolate.
Stanrick continues his story as I warm up some water. “Fredrick was there to help or at least to keep me company as the healers use teas and leeches to tend the wounds. They had to use magic too, like it refused to be treated until both were used. I think the cure is almost as bad as the bite. Either way the scars disappeared when the Lich was killed. Nobody has been able to explain that. “
“Huh. Interesting.” I state and sip my drink. “The Bastards seem to always be there when shit goes really wrong.”
“Yeah they’re funny like that.” Stanrick smiles.
I sit and contemplate that for while as I finish my drink. Stanrick suddenly scoops me up and smiles at me “Enough of heavy talk. I am cold and I can think of a much better way for you to keep me warm.”
“Oh really now?” I smirk as he carries me to the tent.
It was getting late the sky was still cloudy. I knew of a settlement not far from here. I stayed there often when traveling this stretch of road. This is a popular trade road that runs through Clan Goldenfield territory and connected it with Clan Riverhead and Clan Spiritclaw. I knew we were about half way through Goldenfield territory at this point. I must of let my gaurd down cuase I didn’t notice the Mordok till they came crashing out of the snow covered trees.
Stanrick was on them before I could even swing my staff around to help. He quickly dispatched them as I come racing up behind him to make sure he isn’t wounded.
“Where are the other two?” He pants at me.
“What are you talking about there are only three.” I state.
“No, there were two more.” He glances at me for a moment before he eyes dart around trying to find more Mordok.
“No beloved, see only three tracks and three depressions in the snow” I push back the brush with my staff to expose the three depressions in the snow where they were hunkered down waiting for us to get closer. Stanrick stalks over and I can see him kneeling down to examine the depressions and the track marks.
“Fine.” He huffs and stands back up. I think he is a little upset that there weren’t more to kill. The Mordok here are fierce but not like the ones near the Swamp. They are not has heavily armored and aren’t in as large of bands. I think Stanrick was expecting more of a challenge.
Stanrick goes to collect firewood to burn the corpses so they don’t contaminate Gaia. He insisted we burn them. I understand his logic. Its not wrong I fully agree that the Mordok are poison and damage Gaia. Especially after the recent dreams I been having. Though sometimes I think he forgets that I am a Daughter of Gaia and can cleans things and can do other magic than just heal. When he comes back I had drawn a large circle in the snow around where we are going to burn the Mordok, I was huddled over the my pack digging out my reagents.
“What are you doing?” He asks as he drops the wood and starts arranging it and the bodies.
“Gaia is in more than just the earth beneath our feet, she is in the air we breath, the water in the streams, fire in our souls. The Fire keeps them from contaminating the ground but what about the rest of it? “ I finally find what I am look for, a wooden box that has runes and symbols on it. I pull it out and pop it open and pull out a herb bundle. “Its a ritual to cleanse a space. It will keep the corruption from entering the other elements as well. “ Stanrick frowns at me. I don’t think he understand. I just sigh. “Go get more wood Stanrick. That wont be enough to even partially burn them in this cold.”
It is just after dark when we light the fire. Stanrick watches me as I light the herb bundle then blow it out so it smolders and start to walk around the fire clockwise arms held up to the sky.
Mother Gaia give blessings unto me, this rite in this space yours shall be.
Air of High Refine, Purify this place,
Fire Purge this divine space
Water protect this circle so its peace shall not be broken.
By the strength of my Soul, this prayer unto Gaia is spoken.
I walk the circle five times chanting the prayer. Its not the strongest of rites I know but will suffice for cleansing Mordok taint outside of the swamp. I know at least two more cleansing rites that are stronger. When I am done I step back from the circle and snuff out the herb bundle in the snow and store it away. Stanrick is just watching me, I can tell he is contemplating something cause he keeps clenching his jaw. I lean down to pick up the rope for the sled and he stops me.
“Let me this time. “ He picks up the rope and we start moving.
“There is a settlement about an hour or two up the road here. We can barter for lodging at the small inn there for the night” I state. He nods. He barely says two words to me for the rest of the trek. Whatever he is thinking about it must really be bothering him.
“Just down this path.” I call back
“Where are you going Selena?” I hear Stanrick call.
“You will see” I call. I am a little giddy. We are about a day out from Everspring. I pause on the path and wait for Stanrick to catch up with the sled. I am taking him to my home grounds. Each pack has a place where their pack started. More precisely, for Clan Spiritclaw, a place where the pack chose their name. Some packs have forgotten where or how their names came about, some sites have been lost to Mordok. Pack sites are holy ground. The flow of Gaia’s energy to her children are stronger at these sites. This is why being cast out of your pack is such a high punishment, it means you will never be allowed to see your home grounds again and feel that really close connection to Gaia on top of never seeing your family again. This is especially devastating if you are a Daughter of Gaia. We are always connected to Gaia but we don’t really feel at peace until we are on our home lands.
Stanrick catches up, the sled is lighter now that we been on the road so long but its being unruly on this side path. Stanrick and I break through the tree line. The field opens for miles in all direction. The clearing could probably fit the entire Clan if it wanted to, so it easily fits the several hundred members of my pack and their tents for when we do Pack Moots here. In the center of the clearing jets a rocky structure many feet high. From the top one can get a mostly unhindered view of the sky from the horizon to horizon in a complete circle. Stanrick stops and looks around the clearing. I watch him shift warily side to side and I’m not sure if that is an unconscious reaction to the energy under his feet or if he is cold.
“What is this place?” He asks as I lead him closer to the rock in the middle so we can set up camp.
“This is the place where Pack Stargazer got their name. “ I smile “Help me set up camp and I’ll tell you the story while I cook dinner” I set up the tent while Stanrick went and got wood for the fire. I don’t know how he does it but he managed to also bring back a small deer as well. We build a slightly bigger fire than normal so we can smoke the meat we don’t eat and use it for trade once we get to Everspring. I also take a couple of nice cuts and set them aside for the ritual later. I cut up meat for the stew and set it all in the dutch oven with a couple of potatoes, onions and carrots that I had traded for a few days earlier when we were at the inn. I place the dutch oven on the fire to cook and move some coals on top. Stanrick is look at me as I cuddle up in his arms.
“So?” he asks
I smile “The sagas say that during the time when Gaia and the Great Wolf still walked with us, packs were still forming and names were still being chosen. The Mordok threat was great and the Children of Gaia and the Great Wolf rallied in small bands to protect the land. Hunting parties left and came back successful. During one such raid the unthinkable happened. The children were left in the den and the young mother we know as Jorunn was left to watch them while her mate and family went on the hunting party with the Great wolf and the Great mother. Upon their return the den was in ruins Jorunn lay broken and battered and barely alive next to the seven cubs who bodies were mutilated and barely recognizable. Between gasps of pain Jorunn told the story of how after the party had left the Mordok had ambushed the den from the other direction and that she was out numbered but fought to save the children. Distraught, Gaia went to Jorunn and laid her hand on her and healed her but when Gaia tried to revive the children their bodies were too broken. Jorunn’s howls of loss and pain drew the attention of Luna who came down and saw the carnage and cried tears of blood for the children, tinting her normally pale face red. Luna being able to see both this realm and the next, looked at Joruun and to her sister and told them that the children are still here and that she can see them even though their bodies are broken and no longer moving. She said she will take them with her to live with her in her domain. The Great Wolf, seeing the pain on his mate’s face and that of his children, stated that since the cubs were not given the chance to earn a name for themselves in life they can do so from the other side and asked his mate’s sister to place them in her realm so that we may still see them from this realm. Luna agreed. Luna gathered the broken bodies of the children, imbuing them with a fraction of her light and placed them in the sky as little points of light. Luna kept the cub close together in the sky so they are never far from each other so they are not lonely. Every night, Jorunn would go out and watch the little points of light, often from the top of this structure, which would wave at her from their place in the sky.” I look up from where I am and easily find the 7 points I am looking for and point “Those seven points there are what I think are the Seven Nameless Cubs. They constantly run around the star we refer to as the Den Parent, all the stars seem to go around this one star. Who the Den Parent was is mostly unknown. Some stories say it was the third child of the Gaia and The Great Wolf that was still born. Some say that it was a cub who was killed by his siblings. Some think that it is a child of Luna and an unknown father. “ I shrug.
Stanrick smiles at me. “That’s a nice story. So this is where the den was?”
I nod. “So we believe. There is a large cave that has glyphs in it under the outcropping of rock. We think that is where the den was. Our scholars debate if the glyphs are older than the rune language or not or if they worked in tandem. We do know they are not Mordok writing as my Pack has taken care of this land since time began and there has never been any sign that this land was once corrupted. ” I carefully take the lid off the oven and check on dinner. “Its ready.”
After dinner I have Stanrick help me by grabbing some extra firewood taking it to the cave with me. Once inside we find the burned out fire pit, clean it and rekindle the fire. Once lit, it reveals the cave in it simplicity. This cave could fit about thirty people. Ledges to the left and right side. The back wall is mostly smooth. The rock is one of the harder rocks found on Mardrun so how this cave came to be out of it is unknown.
“I have used this cave in a pinch as a temporary shelter when I’ve been traveling when its too late to pitch the tent or when the weather is too rough. Normally the Pack Priestess or Witch stays in the cave for the duration of the Pack moot, it is also used as a ritual site when the weather is inclement or for those of us that travel in winter. Normally the big rites are done at the top of the structure so the entire pack can see.“ I state as I set up my ritual gear. I watch Stanrick take a torch and walk over to the writing wall and look at the glyph. The glyphs take up a smooth section of the back wall. Stanrick turns and watches as I perform the homecoming ritual, or at least a single practitioner version of it. This is a smaller version of the rite we do at the Pack Moot. The large version honors Gaia, the Great Wolf, the First Pack and our Founder. It strengthens our bond with Gaia and casts a protective barrier around our lands so should Mordok try and take it the land is not easily corrupted and we have a chance to fight to take it back. It also said that the rite will also let the pack priestess or witch know that the land is in danger. The barrier lasts a year. This is why we do the Pack Moot every fall. This ritual normally involves a live sacrifice normally of a couple of deer or pigs which we then roast and eat at the big revel afterwards. The single practitioner version of it is similar but instead of casting the barrier it helps reinforce the barrier every time its casts and doesn’t require a live sacrifice. I missed the ritual this year, I was in Grimward territory working during our Pack Moot.
“To those that came before me, I offer these to you and ask for your forgiveness since I was not here to honor you properly. “ I place the nice cuts of meat that I saved from the deer on the fire as an offering. From my box I pull a candle and light it and place it before me. I also pull four stone arrow heads that I have hand carved from obsidian stone. I place an arrow head to the north. “I place this arrow to the north so that all bad forces may be ground to nothing by the earth.” I place one to the east and say “I place this arrow to the east so that all negativity may be blown away by the wind.” I place one to the South and say “I place this arrow to the south so that all ill feelings may be burnt up by flames” I place the last one to the west “I place this arrow to the west so that all harmful intent may be washed away by water.” I place my hand over the candle flame close enough that I can feel the heat. “By the power of my soul, I add to the shield of this place so nothing negative may enter. Let this shield remain all days and all the nights till the season comes around again.” I sit there a moment as I can feel the energy flow from me out into the earth. I quietly pack my stuff up and stand. I sway a little and I feel Stanrick grab my arm.
“You okay?” he asks.
I nod “Yeah. Heavier rituals take a little bit more. I’ll be fine. Still not as bad as when the Idol was cleansed.” I lean my head on his shoulder a moment.
“Do you know what any of these glyphs mean?” Stanrick asks as he holds a light closer to the wall so I can see the glyphs.
“We think the one that looks like a hill is the symbol for Gaia, The one that has the hill with an upside down hill above it with the little tick marks on the hill is the symbol for the Pack or for the Ulven as a whole there is still debate about that. I been told the more complicated symbol that looks like it’s crying is the symbol for love. That is all that is really been figured out so far. With the outbreak of the War and with the current activity in the Mordok and the Corruption, we’ve been so focused on learning about what is going on a lot of our other clan research and learning projects got pushed to the wayside.“ I sigh. “Lets head back to camp. I am tired and could use a hot drink.” Stanrick nods and takes my hand and leads me out of the cave.
In the morning we pack and finish the final leg of our journey to Everspring. Now, my work is about to begin.