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The Watchwolves are Stirred

Year 260: Solar camp, Watchwolf clan, on the Eastern shores of Mardrun

Raskolf pushed away from Anjan beneath the furs and blankets. She was burning up with a fever so hot that her flesh was uncomfortable to touch. Her fitful movements and whimperings meant that she was either having a bad dream or experiencing a vision. Raskolf wanted to hug her close, stroke her hair, and whisper in her ear to rescue her from her nightmare, but he restrained himself on the off chance that she was having a legitimate vision of the goddess, or being visited by spirits. Pulling her out of a vision would do more than simply anger her. It could result in a misinterpretation of spiritual advice, and lead to catastrophe. All he could do was wait. As her Warder, and even more so as her husband, he wanted to wake her, but instead he watched, and prepared to roll her over should she have a seizure when the vision ended.

Raskolf watched. It was his duty as well as his name, which, translated from Northwestern Ulven to the common trade language as “Wolf of Spirited Vigilance”.
Eventually, Anjan’s fit resolved itself, and she peacefully returned to deep slumber. Raskolf breathed a sigh of relief and pulled her close. She hadn’t awakened, so it was probably just a dream. Usually if she had a vision, she woke up screaming or babbling in tongues, or went into a trance and started writing things in the dirt or something. Once, she’d crawled around on all fours for twenty minutes and talked to the dog in what appeared to be its native language. For now, though, her fever had broken, and she was covered in sweat. Running her hair through his fingers, Raskolf kissed her neck and went back to sleep.

Raskolf awoke just before the Sun Horse ascended the horizon. He stepped out into the cold purple light and watched the Dawn Patrol undergoing their final inspection. Raskolf nursed the campfire back to life with the wood his daughter had gathered the previous day, and sat down with his pipe. As the fire was slowly revived, the pink and golden hues of the rising sun began to creep across the autumn landscape, warming the blue shadows of night. Raskolf rose to his feet to salute the Dawn Patrol as they passed. He remained standing after they were gone, squinting in the early light. It was nearing the anniversary of the battle that changed their lives.
Anjan Ravensmark used to like sunrises too.

They were both warriors, once upon a time. Raskolf remembered well the last sunrise that Anjan ever saw. It was bloody, and red. The Sun Horse ascended to clouds of yellow. Raskolf was the inspecting Packleader that day, and he had selected the route they were to take that morning. It was his fault that they were ambushed. He should have taken the patrol back to the village when the tracks were discovered, but he decided to do some further scouting first. Breka, Norri, and Hranbjorn were killed in the initial ambush. Grolf lost both his legs. Anjan received a severe head injury. The entire patrol would have been lost were it not for her. She fought like a rabid animal, striking so hard that she broke her weapon on an opponent. She killed six more with just the hilt and her fists. Anjan headbutted the Mordok Chieftain so hard that her helmet became embedded in his face and slipped off of her head. She suffered many wounds, but only went down after getting a mace buried in her skull. The patrol managed to fend off the attackers just long enough for the village to respond to their call for help.

Raskolf smoked his pipe and watched the last member of the patrol disappear into the trees. Raskolf didn’t lead patrols anymore. His job was to guard the Priestess. He followed her by day, and slept with her at night. She was the mother of his daughter. The job he had been given was the most honorable position a warrior could hope for, but it was also his penance. He loved her, but he couldn’t forgive himself for what had happened to her. It had been ten years. She permanently lost her sight when she took that mace to the head, and in the fevered nightmares of her recovery, the Goddess spoke to her. Anjan had become a Priestess, and Raskolf was her Warder.

*

Rhodi grinned to himself and pulled not only his blankets, but the young girl within them closer to himself. On the other side of the curtain, he could hear the toiling of his new apprentice, as she stoked the coals in the forge and muttered under her breath. Until recently, it would have been Rhodi up early to prepare the smithy. Taking in that refugee from Clan Winterclaw was one of the best ideas he’d ever had.

“Yep.” Rhodi sighed to himself, “Gaia rewards my generosity and compassion by letting me sleep in!”

Ylsa, the girl in his bed, rolled in her sleep so she was facing him, and draped her arm across his chest. Ylsa was from a clanless pack in the mountain range known as the “Wolf’s Hackles”. She’d originally just been passing through Watchwolf territory on a personal mission to collect and compile the saga and poetry of the different clans, but decided to stay a while after she met Rhodi.

“Gaia also rewards me for paying attention to all those stories and songs as a child.” he thought, grinning so hard his eyes squeezed shut.

On the other side of the curtain, Drifa’s aching shoulders and back crackled and popped in the cold morning air. Working the smithy was the hardest labor she had ever performed, but every time she was ready to quit and just walk away, Rhodi taught her something new, which made her want to stay and learn.
At first, he’d had her cutting peat moss from the bog, and digging fire pits. She’d almost had enough, but then as she tended a fire pit one day, burning a huge clump of earth from the bog and wondering what in Gaia’s name she was doing, Rhodi reached into the fire with a rod, and pulled out a big, glowing lump of molten iron. It was like sorcery. The mineral had separated from the vegetation in a fire so hot that it seemed to burn with unnatural color, and Drifa had played a part in that magic. Currently, she had made it as far as hammering the ball of raw iron flat, than melting it into a ball again, then hammering, then melting. The process had to be done sixty times with every piece. Rhodi didn’t let Drifa actually shape any tools or weapons yet, and to be honest she wouldn’t even know where to begin. He said that he was teaching her patience, and that patience took longer to learn than anything else. His constant quoting of poetry and song annoyed Drifa almost as much as the way that Ylsa actually took notes every time he regurgitated the words of Agnon, Hara, or Sig.

*

Raskolf had tobacco smoke for breakfast, and washed it down with hot cider. Being the warder of the clan high priestess not only kept him off of the military campaigns, but meant that the people provided for his family, so he didn’t even hunt anymore. He rarely practiced his melee skills either, unless he were training his daughter, Elise, the sword. Lately he hadn’t been doing much of that either, as his brother’s lover, Ylsa, had been spending time doing that. True, there was the occasional Mordok attack, but Raskolf and his ward were too important to be allowed anywhere near the front lines, so he didn’t ever really fight anymore. The sedentary lifestyle so uncharacteristic to an Ulven warrior was perhaps why Raskolf just rarely seemed to get hungry in the morning, and rarely ate anything until after midday.

Raskolf read a lot. This was also quite uncharacteristic of an Ulven warrior, most of whom could not even read or write so much as their own name. Raskolf, however, had learned to read and write upon assuming his duties as Anjan’s warder. Written language was a divine gift, given to the Ulven in ancient times. There were few books, however, and most folks didn’t find writing or reading to be terribly useful compared to drinking, hunting, and killing Mordok, the three main Ulven pastimes. Many Ulven communities only possessed one or two books, and typically the only people who ever read them were the priestesses and storytellers.

Raskolf Vakr had what was quite possibly the largest private collection of books in the entire Ulven nation. He had acquired almost all of them all at once on a trip to Newhope eight years ago.

Raskolf had been sent to learn about Humans and Syndar from the Nightriver Clan. It was one of his first missions as Anjan’s warder, back when she was just a novice Daughter of Gaia. Raskolf and the others had met with a few humans at a formal function in the New Colony, and briefly talked to them, but with all the posturing, acting, and silly formalities, he didn’t really feel that he’d learned anything about them, besides how they behaved when they were trying to impress. The Syndar didn’t even talk to him, and from their body language he could tell that they didn’t like the way he smelled. In all fairness, however, he thought they smelled like funeral incense, which kind of creeped him out.

At the conclusion of the dinner, the humans had a really boring dance with strange music. There were lots of snacks, though. The Syndar tried to teach a dance to the Ulven, but it was ridiculously over-complicated. About halfway through the instruction, Raskolf realized that the pointy-ears were just trying to make his people look stupid. He could see the laughter in their eyes, though their faces appeared stoic. Raskolf didn’t know if he could ever trust anyone who was that good at lying. He felt bad for his senior leaders, and was thankful that he was a simple bodyguard, and not a politician.

The expedition was supposed to make the Ulven feel more at ease around the colonists, and vice versa. In many ways it had the opposite effect. If Raskolf did learn anything on that trip, it was that Humans were dangerous. It wasn’t due to anything in particular that happened, but rather the way they behaved around Ulven. The problem with Humans was that they were cowards. The Humans were afraid of the Ulven. This fear seemed to inspire them to do stupid things, especially when they had numbers. A lone Human would defer to a lone Ulven, almost as a rule, and even try to avoid them. When they got into large groups, however, the Humans would start trying to show off to each other by subtle and not-so-subtle means. These could range anywhere from rude gestures or language to blatant insults directed at the Ulven. Raskolf didn’t like that. It made him nervous to see how two-faced these newcomers could be. They reminded him of wild dogs. They were afraid of wolves and pretended to respect them, but turned on them the instant they had numbers.

The Syndar on the other hand, were always rude. They had no such fears of the Ulven. The Syndar looked down on everyone as equals, which is to say that all people were created equally inferior. They weren’t afraid of not being the best. They simply knew that they were the superior race, and treated everyone accordingly. They were kind of like cats. They didn’t give a damn about the Ulven, but at the same time they were curious about them.

The trip would have been a complete waste of time to Raskolf, but for a pleasant accident at the dance. Raskolf found a coin purse upon the floor, picked it up, and found the owner’s monogram embroidered inside. He was surprised to recognize most of the runes, and even figured out who it belonged to. When he returned it to the Syndar lady with the silver skin, she made a rude comment.

“Oh.” she scrunched up her face, “This one thanks you.”

Raskolf bowed politely, as he had seen others do, and turned to walk away.

“That one must have identified my property by scent. What a noble hound.”

“Actually,” he said, turning back to face her, “I read it. It is a strange variation of our northern alphabet, and I don’t recognize all the letters, but it sounded out to something like your name, Ezra Beloved of the Platinum Moon, so I took a guess that it was yours.”

Raskolf showed his back to them and rejoined poor Anjan, who wasn’t handling the crowd and the noise very well.

Later that evening, as they were about to leave, Raskolf was approached by a plainly dressed, purple-haired Syndar in spectacles. The young lady introduced herself as One Clever Clover Leaf in the Field of Knowledge, but told Raskolf to call her either Clover, or CiCi. She was the scribe and attendant to Lady Ezra. Clover presented Raskolf with a book, open to a certain page, and asked him to read it for her. At first, Raskolf hesitated, but Anjan urged him to give it a try.

“Wake from him forever sleep,” Raskolf slowly read, “the frost element growl of retreat. Down fast, beating his wings in pain, the jealous master, his grey-brow’d warders, thunder warriors, strong veterans, among helmet and shields, and cariots, horses, ele-pants, flags, castles, slings and earth.”

“Very good!” exclaimed Clover, “That was pretty close. Are you sounding them out, purely from phonetics, or do you recognize some of the words?”

“A little of both, I think.” he started, confused not only by her enthusiasm, but also by the word ‘phonetic’. “Some of it is sounds from the runic alphabet, some are runes of whole words. A lot of it is spelled wrong, though, and the order of the words is different from how it would be spoken aloud, but I can put it together well enough to say it to you in common.”

“Let me read it to you, now.” said Clover.

Waked from his eternal sleep, the hoary element roaring fled away:
Down rushed, beating his wings in vain, the jealous king; his grey brow’d
councillors, thunderous warriors, curl’d veterans, among helms, and shields,
and chariots, horses, elephants; banners, castles, slings and rocks.

“Is a chariot something you drink out of?” asked Raskolf.

“I think so,” giggled Anjan, “but seriously, though. What does elephant mean?”

“This is fantastic!” cried Clover.

“Great. The noble savage can read.” muttered Raskolf to himself, “Let’s sell tickets.”

“Raskolf!” said Anjan.

“I really don’t understand why she is so excited that I can read a variation of my own language, translate it, and say it out loud in common.” grumbled Raskolf.

“ It’s not your language!” exclaimed Clover, “It’s the word of a human named Blake, and this book is written in Celestial Angirthan Runic! You are reading an antiquated language from way back before the unification! It isn’t a totally dead language, but it is uncommon to see it outside of University…”

“Universe City?” asked Anjan.

“I have no idea.” muttered Raskolf.

“Maybe that is where the Sun and the Moon are from.” said Anjan, “It would make sense, since they are the gods who gifted us with writing.”

Clover still hadn’t actually stopped talking, but the two Ulven were pretty sure that she had stopped talking to them and was just talking to herself now. She hadn’t heard a thing they had said. When she finally settled down, she gave Raskolf the book, which she called an Anthology, and asked to meet with him and her Lady, Ezra Platinum, at the library of New Hope before the Ulven delegation left the next day. Raskolf tried to politely refuse, since the delegation was to leave quite early, and he really wasn’t sure that satisfying curiosity was worth having to tolerate the snobbery of Lady Platinum. Anjan, however, insisted that Raskolf make the meeting, and stated quite firmly that she would delay the departure of the Watchwolves so he might attend.

*

Clover practically skipped through the halls. Never in her studies of language or magic had she been so excited as she was tonight. This was big. This could change everything. She couldn’t wait to tell her Lady.

“Where goes that one, so elated, and at such an hour?” said a voice.

“Oh!” exclaimed Clover, “Tenebrus has startled me! Please forgive this one’s loss of composure. This one has discovered something important and is excited to relay a message to her Lady Platinum!”

“Indeed.” said Tenebrus, melting forth from the shadow, preceded visually by the gleam of white teeth upon dark flesh, the color of stale blood.

“This one would be pleased to hear, that one might share in such elation.”

“This one really must report to her lady, first, but means no disrespect.”

Clover started to leave, but Tenebrus blocked her path.

“Clever Clover,” hissed Tenebrus, “such a clever, clever girl. This one asked politely. This one will not ask again.”

“Of course, elder Tenebrus.” stammered Clover, the tips of her ears drooping submissively, “This one was excited because she discovered that the written runes of the Ulven to the North are remarkably similar to Celestial Angirthan. They are so similar, in fact, that a member of the Ulven delegation was able to read from one of this one’s books. The one who read the book is from a tribe called the Watchwolves of Luna, and his mate was introduced as a priestess of the Watchwolves of Sol, inferring that they have some sort of cultural connection to the Moon and Sun, just like our people.”

Clover held her breath as she waited for a reaction from Tenebrus.

“This one is very interested.” said Tenebrus. “This one will accompany Clever Clover. Come along, child.”

“Tenebrus is hurting this one’s arm!” exclaimed Clover.

Tenebrus said nothing.

“This is not the way to Lady Platinum’s chamber!”

Tenebrus said nothing, and once the shadows engulfed the two Syndar, neither did Clover.

*

Raskolf arrived early at the library, and sat in uncomfortable silence until long after the Syndar girl was late. He waited and waited. She still didn’t show up. Raskolf eventually got bored and started looking through books. He couldn’t read any of them. They were in a different language. Finally, he approached the Librarian, who was an elderly human woman.

“I’m looking for books in Agathan.” he said.

The librarian smirked at him.

“You must mean Celestial Angirthan Runic.” she said.

“Yes.”

“That is a challenging and ancient language. It is typically only used in…”

“Yes, I know. Universe City.”

“Right.” said the Librarian, “But what I was trying to say is that it is not an easy language to learn. It is very complicated and has, in addition to a very long phonetic alphabet, an extensive and exhaustive set of word character runes.”

“What’s this all about, then?” a human scholar interrupted. “This gentle barbarian wants to learn to read?”

“Well, actually, I was…”

“Hey, cousin, come hither! This savage wants to read, and in Angirthan, no less!”

“Direct him to the children’s primers!” laughed another human.

“I’m not here to learn to read.” growled Raskolf. “I’m just looking for some books.”

“Probably a book on hygiene.” muttered the man’s cousin.

“Oh of course.” said the first scholar, “I’m sure that you read. In fact, let me guess, you are looking to translate and transcribe your own copies of our texts to enrich your primitive culture! What a noble venture.”

“I can read Agathan.” Raskolf said slowly.

“Oh, really?” said the scholar’s cousin, “Well, if you can, and I am certain you cannot, since you don’t even know how to pronounce the word Angirthan, then I will give you all the books of that language in my personal library, to keep forever and ever. In dog years.”

“And if I cannot?”

“Then you have to publicly denounce your silly barbarian gods and crawl out of New Hope on all fours, with a bone in your mouth, down the main street and out the main gate.”
Raskolf thought about it a moment. He grinned.

“Oh! Woe is me.” moaned Raskolf in an overly theatrical manner, “Thou hast taken advantage of a poor heathen; the weakness of his race! I cannot turn down a challenge! To do so would be to dishonor the ancestors of my clan! Very well, then, produce the book of which I cannot properly pronounce the name, and I will try to read it with my primitive brain.”

Raskolf gestured to his stomach as he said the last part, invoking laughter from even the old librarian.

A book was placed in front of him, and opened to a random page.

“Oh, please,” said Raskolf, looking towards the ceiling, “I implore and invoke you, my apparently inferior and numerous gods, to have mercy upon me and rescue me from dishonor!”
Raskolf studied the book for a while. He scratched his chin, scratched his head, and inhaled sharply a few times, as though he were about to start reading, but then said nothing.

“Right, then.” he said, “I read it. Please pay up.”

“Read it out loud, smart ass!” remarked the scholar.

“Very well.” Raskolf said, clearing his throat,

“The Knight’s bones are dust,
and his good sword rust:-
His soul is with the saints, I trust.”

“Say,” said Raskolf, “That isn’t Blake, is it?”

The others all stared in shock, their jaws open wide to match their eyes.

“No.” Replied the Librarian, “It’s Coleridge.”

“Ah, yes!” replied Raskolf, “Cold Bridge. Of course. From Universe City. I was reading some Blake last night. Now, about those books you owe me?”

The scholar’s cousin bared his teeth, and his eyebrow twitched as though he may have burst a major blood vessel deep within his brain, or perhaps his belly.

“Well, you know what they say:” said Raskolf, “The Fox condemns the trap, not himself.”

“Now that’s Blake!” said the librarian.

The Syndar girl never showed up, but Raskolf was rather pleased with himself for acquiring six new books in such a clever way. He figured that Clever Clover would agree. Too bad he never got to say goodbye to her before he left the city of New Hope. She was the first Syndar that he had found tolerable.

He had just finished recounting his tale of cunning to the rest of the delegation and the other troops, much to the delight of the travelers, when he noticed a rather uncomfortable look on Anjan’s face.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, “Are you worried about Clover not showing up?”

“Huh? No. No, Raskolf. I wasn’t really paying attention. Sorry. I’m pregnant.”

*

But that was eight years ago. Anjan and Raskolf’s daughter, Elise, was seven years old now. Anjan was the Clan High Priestess for both the moon and the sun camps of the Watchwolves, a position also referred to as the “Heart of the Watchwolves”. As her warder, Raskolf was now the “Voice of the Watchwolves”, which basically meant that he was an ambassador. The position had been created especially with him and Anjan in mind. The problem with sending Anjan to political functions was simple. It wasn’t that she embarrassed the clan with her eccentricities, nor did it have anything to do with her handicap, at least, not directly. Ok, maybe a little. The real problem was that she had no tact. When Anjan spoke, it was always from her heart, and exactly anything and everything that was on her mind. She burned quite a few bridges simply by being too honest with important people, and occasionally by talking to spirits that no one else could see. There was no doubt that she was the chosen of Gaia, and her ability to channel mystical and spiritual energy was seemingly on par with the most legendary of Ulven heroines, but she simply couldn’t be left on her own in public. Anjan was very wise, but lacked social grace. Raskolf, being her mate for life in addition to being her warder, was entrusted by the clan with authority to speak on Anjan’s behalf regarding certain matters. He was also entrusted to help feed her, help her dress herself in matching clothes, scratch her left shoulder blade, and basically make sure she didn’t get lost. For that purpose, he had affixed jingly bells to her totemic staff. It made her easier to keep track of. He told people that they were spirit bells, if they asked. Though it was rare that the two of them should be anywhere near a combat, Raskolf also made sure that his Priestess was pointing in the right direction before she started calling down elemental lightning and divine fury upon the battlefield. They were a good team.
This morning, Raskolf finished his first mug of cider, and then prepared to wake Anjan and bring her breakfast. He’d already forgotten about her episode that night. Raskolf sat with Anjan and Elise while they ate breakfast. When Elise had finished, Anjan sent her to go and play with one of her friends.

“Raskolf,” she said, after Elise was gone, “We need to talk.”

Raskolf cringed at those words so universally feared by every married man alive.

“I had a vision.” she said, “And, yes, Love, I know it to be a vision, and not just a dream. I was told by the Great Black Wolf that when I awoke this day, I would be able to smell a strange scent upon the horizon. I do. I don’t know what it is, but I need to find out. It is important.”

“The Great Wolf? Usually Gaia speaks to you, not the Great Wolf.”

“It troubles me, Love.”

“What does it smell like?” asked Raskolf.

“Kind of like the changing leaves in autumn, but sadder, and without the hope of rebirth. It is almost as though the trees fear that though they die every year, this year will be a different death.”

“Bittersweet, but without the sweet.”

“Indeed, Love. Indeed.”

“Well, Anjan, what are we to do?”

“We are to travel West and South. Organize an expedition. We leave tomorrow. I have to find out where it is coming from.”

“Well now, Love,” started Raskolf, “don’t forget that tomorrow is…”

“This is more important. Go.”

“Well,” muttered Raskolf, “that escalated quickly.”

“I have expressed my will. Make it so.”

Raskolf kissed her, then, grumbling, left to do her bidding. As he walked down the path, villagers were already lining up to see his wife for healing and sage advice.

*

“Go along home,” said Anjan, “and tell your mother to keep that arm bound until Luna finishes her pass this cycle.”

The Priestess’s scarred and calloused hands did not slow as they stirred the contents of an clay pot hung over the fire, the steam rising from it heavy and acrid.

“Raskolf always worries around me around fire.” she said to the eyes and the ears.

Since her head injury, she didn’t seem to feel hot and cold very well, and frequently burned herself or started herself on fire as a result.

“He always tells me to watch out for this, or don’t touch that, or watch my hair around the torches. Trivial things! If he spent as much time worrying about doing what I said, as he does second-guessing me. When I tell him to go and do something now, what do I get? Attitude. That’s the problem with being married to your warder. If we weren’t married he’d listen better. I guarantee it. Once a man gets in your skirt, though, it’s as if…”

Anjan realized that she hadn’t heard the little girl leave yet.

“Are you still there?”

The little girl nodded in terror, a gesture missed completely by the blind woman.

“Don’t dawdle, tunglkalfur, or I’ll box your ears. You’ve work to do at home, I am certain.”

“but I…”

“You still have one arm, don’t you?” Anjan said, pointing a wooden spoon no where near the general direction of the little girl, “I don’t make excuses for my eyesight, do I?”

“Of course not, High Priestess Ravensmark.” The little girl squeaked, terrified to say anything more.

“Now send in the next person and you run home.”

The girl ran off, her bare feet pattering in the dust despite the cold of morning.

Anjan stirred the pot with a wooden spoon, occasionally pausing to taste the liquid within or add something from the array of clay bowls, pots and glass jars lining the shelves. Her Witches and Daughters of Gaia had tried to set up an organizational system for their blind Matriarch which involved placing different ingredients into specific slots and holes in a specially shaped tray, but Anjan wasn’t that organized. Ultimately, she just left bottles, jars, and pots wherever she left them, and used smell and taste to confirm the contents.

Anjan Ravensmark was a heavy-bodied woman, square of shoulder and broad of hip. A fierce warrior once, her sight had been lost after a near-fatal head wound, an injury that cost her not only her sight, but her place in an elite warpack known as the Tundra Wolves. However, with the loss of her physical sight came a new-found vision: the thoughts and wishes of the First Mother manifested in her waking dreams. Soon, a bemused Anjan had found herself entering the novitiate, taking her first faltering steps on the path to serving Gaia and guiding her children.

Ten years past that had been, and she had never regretted the loss of her sight beyond her first mourning. The Mother of All had blessed her with sight beyond the Veil and a devoted mate that guided her steps in the physical world so that she might walk with strong steps in the spiritual one. Once a hunter and warrior, well-blooded, now she tended the bodies and souls of the Silverhowl Pack with practicality and a dedication that neared fanaticism. Though she had risen to the position of Clan High Priestess, she never forgot her duties to her pack and her village.

Her attention right now was not on the concoction in her simmering pot, or on the girl running with awe-struck steps back to her waiting mother. Anjan’s cloth-wrapped gaze was fixed upon the clouded sky beyond the ceiling and walls of her dwelling.

Something was in the wind. Something wrong. Anjan’s upper lip curled back from her elongated canines, an involuntary reaction. Earlier, it had been a faint smell, and just a little sad. Now there was the bitterness of dried salt, sweat, or perhaps blood and iron. The sadness was giving way to fear. She could smell fear. She wrinkled her nose. The Ulven hate the smell of fear as much as the Mordock love the smell of horse meat.

Anjan sneezed. She would have to consult the bones that night, as Luna cast her silver light from high above the world. She would have to check the signs and portents.

A shiver ran up her spine as she stirred the pot, thinking. Perhaps it was time to call a rettir, a gathering of the Pack, once she had cast her augeries and gained what further knowledge the Great Wolf and the First Mother deemed fit to share with her.

*

Rhodi stretched beneath his covers, and cuddled closer to Ylsa. The sun was up, and the forge was up to temperature, but the warmer it got in his smithy, the more comfortable he became, until he had lost any motivation to leave the protection of his furs, nor the softness of his woman. He was, however, thirsty. His eyes protected from the light of morning by a knit cap pulled over his eyes, he groped blindly for a bottle. He could only use one arm because there was a girl sleeping on his other and he didn’t want to wake her. His hand closed around one that he recognized by shape to be ginger wine, but to his dismay it was empty. Further pawing, stretching and groping recovered two cider bottles, a beer bottle, and a wineskin, but all were empty. His blind, one armed search accidently emptied the contents of Ylsa’s satchel all over the floor.

“Brother!” called Raskolf from somewhere on the other side of the curtain, “Brother, where are you? I need to speak to you. It’s important.”

“Give me a moment. Give me a moment.” grunted Rhodi, unintentionally rolling his woman up in a bundle of furs and blankets as he pushed her out of the way to get up. Rhodi tried to take off his hat, but the light was too bright, and he stumbled blind and naked from his bedding, with an empty bottle in one hand. Ripping the curtain aside, he stood face to face with his brother, Raskolf.

“Rhodi, put on some pants next time.” said Raskolf.

“Why?” belched Rhodi, scratching his parts and grinning blindly beneath his hat.

“Because,” said Raskolf, “One: It is lunch time, and Two:” he added, ripping off Rhodi’s hat and throwing it into the wiggling pile of furs and blankets behind his brother, “We aren’t the only people in the shop right now.”

Rhodi cringed at the light and cursed his brother. As his vision returned, he noticed that there were two young ladies waiting patiently in the shop with leather armor to be mended. One of the girls was blushing like a ripe apple and trying to hide her face. The other one’s jaw was hanging open and she looked quite terrified.

“Well I wasn’t naked till you took off my hat!” Rhodi yelled after his brother.

“Just get dressed and come to the Longhouse, Rhodi.”

*

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