“Father!” said the small golden haired Ulven girl as she ran and clutched the pant leg of an Ulven standing near the door to one of the pack’s long houses. She was just about to turn 10 years old… old enough to understand he was leaving, but not old enough to understand why.
“Yes, child?” said the girl’s father patiently as she clung to him for dear life.
“I don’t want you to go! You can’t leave again. You always leave. I won’t let you.” the girl pleaded as tears welled up in her eyes and a sob began to build in her tiny little voice.
“I am sorry, child, you know I have a duty to my pack and my clan. I have to go, because our clan and our people are in danger. I need you to be strong for me. I need you to be the brave little warrior I know you can be. “ said the father as he tried to control his own emotions. It was always so hard leaving her. Every time he left, it killed him inside. It wasn’t her fault that she didn’t have a mother now. It wasn’t her fault that he had to ask his packmates to raise his child because he couldn’t be around. And now it will be even worse.
“But I am scared, father. I am scared they will take you too like they did mother. That you won’t come back.” pleaded the child.
“Listen, there is nothing I want more than to stay here with you. But you know that I can’t. I will be back as soon as I can, I promise. The village will be safe, keep to your studies and listen to the lore speaker. That would make me happy, knowing you are learning and playing and safe here in the village” said the father as he firmly but gently pried his daughter’s death grip off of his leg. He then kneeled down to her level and met her golden eyed and tear filled gaze.
“Promise you will bring me back a present?” said the girl in a pouty voice and furled brow. She had admitted defeat that she could not make him stay but was determined to make the best of it.
“Of course, I will bring you back something special.” Laughed the father as he leaned in and hugged his daughter, his only child, and he allowed himself to take in this moment and he closed his eyes and smiled. This is what he was fighting for. This is what mattered to him. They are a danger to her future, to her life, and he would do anything to protect her.
“Chieftain…” said a gruff voice from the doorway, hesitant to interrupt.
The father’s smile immediately faded and his eyes snapped open. He was still not used to the sound of his new title.
“Run along now, child. It is time to leave.” said Khulgar Graytide as he rose to his full height, the emotion and caring gone from his blood red eyes.
Chieftain Khulgar Graytide walked with a purpose through the thick doors of the clan’s great hall. The massive long house was home to Clan Grimward, one of the largest Ulven clans in Mardrun. Only Clan Nightriver rivaled them in size. He passed by guards, warriors, and Daughter’s of Gaia from several different packs that had been summoned. It was an important meeting and the packs needed to be there. He had to steel himself for what was to come.
Flanking him on either side were two large and armored Ulven guards from Pack Graytide. One was Lycon Graytide, his tunic rolled up and pinned in the location where one of his arms should have been. Even with only one arm, Lycon was a fierce warrior. Gruesome trophies of fingers, hair, ears, and teeth adorned their sword belts, reminders of past battles and victories.
Khulgar walked directly to the center of the great hall and stopped in front of a massive man. Taller and broader than any other Ulven in the room and adorned with braided silver hair, glistening mail, plates of leather, and a giant wolf pelt across his shoulders stood Haygreth Grimward, Clanleader of Clan Grimward. The audience that was assembled quieted down as the final guest, Chieftan Khulgar Graytide, had arrived. Khulgar was chosen to be the representative of Clan Grimward at a recent gathering in the outsider’s colony, a political dinner, and everyone was eager to hear what he had to say.
“I see Pack Graytide is in good hands, Chieftain” said Haygreth in a booming voice as they clasped forearms in greeting.
“And I see the Clan is stronger than ever.” Replied Khulgar.
“You honor your brother, Vahdnar, and your father. Now tell us, Khulgar, of this little meeting with the outsiders.” Said Haygreth somberly, wanting to cut to the chase.
“It was pathetic. The outsiders waste their time on fancy drinks and lavish garments when they should be worrying about the safety and future of their people. Their settlement is large, much larger than most of ours, but they are fractured from within. It is obvious their leaders have greedy agendas and do not trust one another. They have no strong leadership and they are weak. Even the other “guests” to this meeting were merely refugees from their previous homeland.” Said Khulgar as he half addressed his clan leader and half the audience gathered in the room.
“Numerous times did these “guests” mock me, threaten me, and even confront me physically. Disrespectful actions that would have led to blood had the time and place been different. I grew tired and weary of the ridiculous nature of the meeting as it dragged on and on and demanded everyone present listen. I delivered the Watchwolf Resolution, signed by the hand of Raskolf himself, and backed by numerous packs inside the Watchwolves and amongst other clans. The Watchwolves push for control of the outsiders and their disrespectful ways, and the outsiders disregarded the spoken words of the resolution. They were told what they must do and by the terms they must live by. They would not listen. They did not care. The Watchwolves made it very clear that they were to live by our rules and do things our way, if they are to live with us in our homeland. It was made clear to them what they must do or the Watchwolves would take action against them. And I made it clear that Pack Graytide would support them.”
“What of Branthur Nightriver? Was he not present at this meeting? Surely he would not stand for such disrespect to our people…” said Haygreth, carefully listening and taking in everything Khulgar had to say.
“Yes, he was present, but he is not the Branthur we all knew. I am convinced they have deceived or tricked Branthur, because he backed the outsiders instead of us, his brethren. That or he has become much softer than we remember. I called his Ulven honor into question, to rouse him out of whatever stupor he was under, to make him see the error of his ways and that the Ulven, the children of Gaia and of the Great Wolf, are the rulers of our homelands and that these outsiders are a threat. He too would not listen. He blew me off and simply told me that the outsiders were allowed to do as they please on Clan Nightriver lands. I could not believe such madness… do we allow the Mordok to live in our neighbor’s lands? It was at this time that I could no longer stomach the place and went to leave, but not before some outsiders confronted me yet again, a tall one even laying hands on me in a threatening manner. I reminded them of their place and that they were on Ulven lands and should take more heed in what we have to say before they wear out their welcome. Then I left.” Said Khulgar as he paced around the front of the meeting, placing careful thought into his words as he spoke.
“Maybe Branthur is right, maybe we should leave the colonists alone?” said a smaller voice from the back of the room.
“The outsiders are vermin! They should be put back on their boats and sent back to where they came from” said another voice.
“But some of the colonists have traded with us, or even helped us with some trades and supplies?” said yet another voice.
“They are a threat to our people! We should kill them all and Nightriver too if they defend them!” barked a large and grizzled veteran of yet another pack. At that moment the entire great hall descended into a cacophony of voices filled with concern and opinion.
“SILENCE!” boomed Haygreth loud enough to completely quiet the entire room. No one dared speak again and anger the mountain of a man. Many have learned it best to listen when Haygreth speaks.
“I am Clan Leader and I will make the decision of what to do next. This is a grave situation for our people and we cannot go into this blind. Khulgar, is there anything else?” said Haygreth as he settled back down after demanding the respect he deserved.
“Yes. As I left the colony, the outsiders at the gate were talking about a message… that apparently a boat had arrived from their homeland. If boats are arriving again, it means that more outsiders are heading toward Mardrun… more outsiders are coming here, to our homeland.” Stated Khulgar very carefully, allowing the words to sink in.
“We also received a message from Pack Fieldcrow. They are not of our clan and they are isolated deep in Ulven territory and away from the outsiders… but they have reported to our Clan hunters recently that another outsider settlement is being built near territory, right now as we speak. By their own eyes, we have proof that the outsiders are pushing deeper into Ulven lands… our lands… away from the borders given to them. They disrespect us. They disrespect our land. They disrespect Gaia and the Great Wolf…” ended Khulgar as his final statement did its job and sent worried glances darting between those assembled.
“This is troubling news, Chieftain Khulgar Graytide. Things are changing and Clan Grimward may be the only ones with the stomach to do what needs to be done. But it is a burden we are willing to bear to help our people. I will need to consult with the chieftains, the high priestess and my warleader… only then will I make the decision for the entire Clan. Tell me, Khulgar, what do think we should do?” asked Haygreth very carefully as his mind considered numerous things.
Khulgar took a deep breath and scanned the room. Everyone there was looking to him, looking to the Graytides, for their experience in dealing with the outsiders. So much was riding on this moment. Did he really know what to do? But as his mind burned at the memory of his mate laying dead and bloodied in the snow at their hands, her beautiful golden hair framing her dead face, and of what future his precious little girl would grow up in. He could not force the hand of Haygreth, he knew, but he also knew that the Clanleader would consider his words.
“War. I think we should go to war.”
“Over here, now! Run!” yelled one of the men through the screams and the chaos. People were fighting, and running, and dying.
Courlina ran as fast as she could. It all happened so fast. They came out of the woods so quickly, the men barely had enough time to take up arms. Courlina was still young, she only just became an adult but she knew how bad the situation was. She knew what was happening. She knew how many of them would die. She knew what these monsters were capable of.
And then she saw him. Her father.
Courlina ran to him. She ran as fast as she could. For some reason she thought that if she reached him, if she got to him, that everything would be alright. Her father was struggling with one of the attackers, clad in ragged furs and hides. He gained the upper hand and stabbed the tip of his sword into his opponent’s chest. The struggle began to wane as the attacker’s wound proved too much; her father was winning.
Suddenly, a glistening metal spear burst out of her father’s chest, clean and smooth and glistening with fresh blood. Another attacker had run their wicked spear through his back and out through his chest.
“No!” screamed Courlina as she stumbled and fell to the ground. She knew there was nothing she could do now. She wanted to give up. To just lay down and accept her fate. It was now that she noticed another body near the scattered rubble of a hay cart near her father and the attackers. It was of her mother. An axe had been buried deep into her gut, but she still clutched the sword she had picked up to defend herself with. She had died a warrior’s death. Moments later, her father’s bloodied corpse collapsed down next to his slain wife.
Her family came out here to start a new life. To get away from the colony and the others, to start again. And now she was an orphan. She could not find the will to live, to fight, or to run, so she just accepted she was moments away from death.
She glanced over through tear soaked eyes and saw one of the monsters reach down and grab her mother by the neck. A knife darted out and sawed through her soft flesh, cutting clean her ear. In a gory display of victory, the attacker clad in blood soaked mail and leathers took his gruesome trophy. Witnessing her mother’s corpse mutilated in such a way was too much for Courlina and she blacked out.
Captain Wulden’s men were en route to the new Order fortress with supplies in tow when they saw the smoke, miles out to the west. They had heard that a number of families were going to settle in the area. The smoke could have been anything… but the Captain had a bad feeling about it. He trusted his instincts and sent a handful of men, including himself, to investigate.
They had arrived as fast as they could, but they were far too late.
“Sir, this one is still alive” said one of his men as he knelt down to roll over the body of a young girl. She jolted awake with a startled cry and flailed about, knocking the man over. She thrashed wildly, crying out mumbled words including “father” and “mother” and “all dead”.
The Captain reached down and gently took the sides of her face with his leather gauntleted fists. He steadied her body and kept her from thrashing and forced her to look him straight in the eye.
“You are safe, child. My name is Captain Daniel Wulden, Eagle Officer of the Order and my men and I will protect you. We have gathered some of your people and we will return you to them. They are on the outskirts of this clearing, child… they are alive. You are not alone anymore.” He said calmly and smoothly, his voice easing her of her terror. She stopped protesting and merely sobbed, instead clutching to him for comfort.
The Captain looked out across what used to be the village. All the buildings were burned shells and a number of bodies lay on the ground… the result of a brief and bloody battle. They tried to defend themselves, to fight back, and they were slaughtered for it. The attackers spared the women and children, even some of the men that did not take up arms. This was not the work of Mordok… those monsters would have slaughtered and eaten everyone.
“Corporal, get me a messenger hawk. Send word to Aedan, in Newhope. Tell him what has happened here.”