A lone figure walked warily along the path. She wasn’t carrying much, a pack and a shoulder bag, and a well worn staff in hand. She wore little armor, strange among the heavily geared warriors that had been the only occupants of the pass. Her paced slowed, and she stops well outside the encampment, and waited.
A warrior in leather armor and a black helmet approaches her, stopping about ten paces away. Another Ulven looks on, bearded and wearing face paint. A bow rests easy in his hand, but no arrow is nocked. The two ulven eye the traveler for a long moment.
“Identify yourself.” The helmeted warrior calls gruffly, but not aggressively.
The traveler sizes them up back, then smiles.
“I am Selena Stargazer, of Pack stargazer. I am a Truth Seeker for Clan Spiritclaw.”
Selena offers her arm, showing her lack of weapons, and lack of hostility. The guard stares at her proffered arm for a moment, before gripping it in kind.
“Stanrick Longfang. I suppose you are here to speak with the Ambassador, then?”
Selena cocked her head a little.
“I suppose I am. I was told to find someone named Raskolf. I had heard he was here, though I was unaware that he was an Ambassador.”
“He is. Raskolf is the Voice of the Watchwolves as well as Warder to the Clan High Priestess. I will send for him. Stay here.”
Before long, Stanrick returned to escort Selena back into a cave with a small fire burning within. There are a few badly wounded warriors lying about, and there are bloodstains on the stone of the floor. One of them seems exceptionally unwell. He is propped against a shield and though he is covered in a blanket, he is shivering noticeably. Even in the firelight it is obvious that his color is poor and that he is sweating profusely. Selena’s eyes linger on the grievously wounded warrior for a moment. She clenched her jaws together tightly and turned her eyes to the floor, forcing herself to move forward.
A male emerges from the back of the cave, equally covered in fur, armor, and bandages. He offers his forearm as he introduces himself.
“I am Raskolf Vakr, the voice of the Watchwolves and Ambassador. What has brought you to the Hackles?” From the shadows, an imposing female warrior in heavy armor watches the two closely, her hand resting on the hilt of her sword, quietly making it known that the Ambassador was not unprotected, and that not everyone here was as trusting.
Selena’s eyes take in the Ambassador’s bandages, as she smiles and grips his arm. Her eyes flick to the female warrior before she introduces herself.
“I come from a Clan who is still neutral in this war. We have been getting updates of what been going on, sporadically at best and often second and third hand. So they have sent me as a Truth Seeker to verify the accounts of how this started, so they can make an informed decision on what sides to take, if any, in the end. I have already run across a battle for a village a few days back and had the interesting opportunity to speak with Khulgar Graytide himself. When I got to the other side of battle field, I did talk to the commander there, a female whose name I was unable to get, as things where starting to get…intense. She gave me your name as the person to talk to. I originally though I was going to have to trek all the way to Onsallas to find you.”
Raskolf nodded and sat down, gesturing for Selena to do the same.
“Over a year ago, I drafted a resolution stating that there were certain rules that the colonists would have to follow in regards to respecting our lands and our gods. They were burying their dead in the ground, you see. Our resolution was delivered to the Human nobility at New Hope by Khulgar Graytide. They mistreated him, disrespected him, and chased him from their dinner, telling him that these were their lands, now, and that they would do as they wished. Khulgar wanted to go to war with them immediately, but my Clan was able to cool things down with diplomacy. Within a few months, the colonies were complying with our wishes, and cremating their dead rather than polluting the earth with burials. That wasn’t good enough for Clan Grimward. They attacked and razed a Human settlement that bordered their lands. Not only that, but the Graytides took trophies from the slain colonists. Ears, fingers, and even bones. I organized a peace summit within Grimward territory, and brought with me the ambassadors and delegates of the human colonies, as well as representatives from Clan Nightriver. It was an ambush. The Grimwards attacked us in their own hall, during a peace summit, and assassinated most of the human delegates. We barely escaped with out lives. The Grimwards never wanted peace, especially pack Graytide. And why should they? Khulgar’s mate was murdered by humans under a flag of truce.” There was a noise from the female, that might or might not have been a smothered snarl.
“For my people, it is a matter of honor. Treaties and tenets must be upheld. If we violate the laws which we ourselves have written, then what does that make us?”
Raskolf sighed and looked to the mouth of the cave.
“I have met many Humans and Syndar in my travels. For the most part, they are good people, and I have been privileged to call some of them friends. But they are a haunted people, and cursed. They are in many ways like a cornered and desperate animal. I would rather befriend such a creature then try to fight a mad dog. We could not have prevailed against the Lich without their help, and our charity towards them in the past was what forged the loyalty that brought soldiers of Vandregon to stand with us and defend our territory from the Grimwards.”
Selena listened carefully, running her hand over her face.
“Of course this wouldn’t be easy.” She sighed heavily to herself. She rifled through the messenger bag at her side, careful to do so deliberately and within plain sight of the guard.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a copy of that resolution, would you? I would like something to compare the copy I got from Khulgar.” She pulled out a sheath of well worn and much folded parchment.
“I am pretty sure they will match but I want to just be sure before I make a copy and send it to my Clan leaders” Leaning against the cave wall for a moment, Selena shuffled the stack of paper, looking for something in particular. “As for the everything else…the good news is at least the mistreatment of Khulgar matches. The rest I think is going to give me a headache. We may want to get comfortable, I have a lot of questions.”
She frowned at the papers in front of her, unsure where she should start. Finally she shrugged.
“I am going to start with the attempt at a Truce meeting. Was there any attempt at talking between Grimwards and Nightriver before the Grimward attacked? Did they really attack first or was it more of a mutual shooting of insults back and forth till one side lost it? And out of curiosity, why where the outsiders there?”
“I do not have a copy of the resolution here. This is a cave and we are in a warzone. To answer your question, though, the Nightrivers never got a chance to speak. When asked about the Graytide’s violation of the old Nightriver treaty, Haygreth said that the legendary honor duel was a fake, and that the Nightriver treaty meant nothing. The outsiders came along to brief the Grimwards on the Lich and propose an alliance against the Undead. A Priest from Crow’s Landing was standing in front of Haygreth Grimward, asking for his hand in friendship when it all went South. The old man was unarmed and unarmored. Haygreth murdered him in cold blood even as he asked to clasp forearms. There were dozens of witnesses. The Grimwards and Graytides were prepared for that attack. They tried to trap us in the hall, and as we fled there were more Grimwards waiting for us outside, and even on the road. They would have killed us all, but our warpack leader, Imglyf, challenged their own warpack leader, Wargah Grimward, daughter of Haygreth, to an honor duel. Imglyf won the duel, but Wargah cheated with magic, and so was taken prisoner by my guards. We conducted a prisoner exchange with the Grimwards, and that was the only thing that earned us safe passage from their lands.”
Selena nods, not looking up from the clean piece of parchment she was taking notes on.
“So I have read this treaty, and it only makes reference to the Aldorians and their princess or exiled princess. Who are the Aldorians? Are the Aldorians the people of Hew Hope? What of Starkhaven? Is this a different group of outsiders not covered by the treaty? I have been told that Starkhaven has been encroaching and taking Grimward territory by force. I am trying to understand who the treaty was trying to protect. ”
“It encompasses all human colonists. New Aldoria is just one of the colonies. New Hope is another, and Crow’s Landing, too. I myself did not know the difference between the colonies either when I drafted that treaty, but it was in reference to all the colonists. We had the full support of Clan Grimward prior to that disastrous political dinner where Khulgar was mistreated. I wish that I had been able to attend in his place, but I was on a different diplomatic mission to New Aldoria to meet with their leader and avert a war. As far as encroachment on Grimward territory, Starkhaven began sailing their boats upriver and attacking the Grimwards after that Priest was killed by Haygreth. They have not taken any territory as far as I know. They simply raid the riverbanks and coastal villages and then leave. The men of Starkhaven are few in number, but they are very heavily armored, and all of them seem to be spell casters.
The resolution itself was supposed to secure our ability to live in harmony in the future. It laid down rules that the colonists needed to follow in order to respect our gods and the lands that are our sacred charge. It was meant to protect all people on Mardrun, Ulven or otherwise.”
She holds out her copy of the treaty. “You wrote it, you should be able to tell me if this is what you wrote.”
Raskolf took the copy, and studied it carefully.
“That is what I wrote. There were amendments made to it later after the humans complied with it. The Bastards, it turned out, had never gotten any of my messages, though the reports I had received at the time from the Graytides stated that my messengers had been killed by the Bastards. They also complied immediately, although they turned over the idol to the Nightrivers instead of the Longfangs. As far as the New Aldorians go, the soldiers who tried to frame myself and the Captain of Crow’s landing were working for a rival politician in New Hope and trying to start a war between the Ulven and the New Aldorians. That plot was uncovered and the man behind it arrested.”
“You also made reference to another older Nightriver treaty. Which treaty was that?”
Selena shook her head a little “My apologies for the tedious questions. I am just trying to figure out how we strayed so far from the path Gaia laid out before us. I am trying to get a sense if this war is something new or something old that couldn’t be let go of and they are now using this new thing as an excuse to bring up old grudges that should of been left behind in the circle.”
Her head jerks up the mention of the Idol “Balls!” She shakes her head again. “I had received a hawk from Khulgar saying the that idol was in Longfang hands. I was hoping it was here so that I could see it. I wasn’t going to cleanse it or anything like that, I was going to leave that to more skilled Daughters and Witches then…but I was hoping…” She trailed, off not sure how to explain.
“The old Nightriver treaty, from when the colonists first arrived was what originally gave them permission to settle in Nightriver territory. The colonists earned that right when a human knight faced an Ulven War-chief in an honor duel. The Nightriver beat up the human knight very badly, but the human refused to yield despite his grievous injuries. He showed so much heart that the Nightriver backed down and yielded out of respect. A treaty was signed that gave a small piece of coastal land, to the Colonists. New Aldoria, New Hope, Starkhaven, and Crow’s Landing were all part of this land, and it is all in Nightriver territory. The idol has been tended to properly. A human sage identified it as the likeness of an evil god from the Old World, and was greatly concerned that the thing had found its way here. By itself, such a thing is not dangerous, but once people start believing in it again and it has followers, well, that is another story. The member of the Bastards who had been keeping the idol before was haunted by strange nightmares and gripped by madness until his brothers forcibly took the thing from him. Hopefully, that god has been contained now so that it may be forgotten.”
“We had heard the story differently. We had heard the duel ended in a draw. Both sides where pretty beat up, impressed by their stamina the Nightrivers gave the outsider land. I had heard the idol was Mordok in origin though.” She shakes her head again. If she wasn’t careful, this whole debacle would have her shaking her head of her body. “There is a large widespread believe that the Outsiders brought the Undead with them. I am not entirely sure I believe that. My family had bartered to stay an inn that was in one of the northern villages the night the Lich came. We had no idea what those creatures were. I lost everything that night but I know for a fact that the Lich came out of the Swamp. No humans live there, nothing lives there save for Mordok. I was hoping that this idol was going to help prove my theory. It would of meant one less thing for everyone to fight about.”
She smiles wearily. “That is really everything I can think of now. I’ll get out of your hair and let you tend to your wounded.”
She gathered up her papers and tucked them back in to her shoulder bag.
“Oh, I do have one more question. Where is the closest village to here? I have a lot to report back and would really like a flat surface to work on. Not to mention a warm meal and something other then the cold ground to sleep on for a night. It’s been along time since I had traveled this area, apparently. Where I remember villages being, there are none anymore.”
Raskolf smiled at Selena.
“There are Coywolf traveler shelters and hunting lodges along these trails leading all the way East into the Nightriver territory. I don’t know if any of them are occupied. We cannot go to them. Harlok will die if we move him, and I’m not sure that I myself could make the trek, either. I took four arrows the other day, and got pretty bloodied in the melee as well. Besides, we cannot abandon our post or this will all have been for naught. You came from the West, and met with the Graytides. Have our lines held?”
Selena looks down at the ground.
“They did not.” She said quietly. “What ever village I came from, the Graytides had superior numbers when they took it. The female commander there was gravely injured, she kept yelling at Khulgar something about being lied too as she was being carried back to the healer. I do not think she died, as I do not recall see her body on the pyre. Atari should be commended, one of the young soldiers flipped out when she saw the state of the commander, and came stalking into the room where they held a gravely wounded Graytide. She threatened the captive and he talked her down. There was a captive swap later, the wounded male for a healer. I do not know who the healer was or even if she was ulven. I was too far way to see if she had Marks. After the swap the Watchwolves pulled back to the outside the village and made camp. I stayed and helped collect the bodies and made sure the that funeral rites were done properly.”
Raskolf rubbed his forehead.
“I feared as much.”
Selena continued to study the ground.
“It seems like we are at the same place we were before, just now reversed. They had the pass and you had the village, now you have the pass and they have a village. Same place but now we are all weaker for it.” She slowly lifted her head. “I should go before…I do something stupid and break my vow to my clan leader about not taking sides before its time. I have not seen a healer or daughter walk by to check on your injured since I got here. Do you have anyone that can heal?”
Raskolf shook his head.
“Our daughter is but a novice. She has done all she can.”
Selena let out a breath like she had been holding it and didn’t realize it.
“Oh thank Gaia. I was fearing you where going to tell me that your healer had died or some such. Sadly I am not any better then a novice myself. Someone, even a novice, is better then nobody at all though.” She gathered her things. “I may have questions again later as I try to sort this all out for my Elders, may I contact you again if need be?”
“Of course, Ambassador Stargazer.”
Selena paused a moment in a confusion, shrugging after a moment of contemplation She had never considered that was what she was doing,
“Huh, never been called that before ” She got her pack settled, looking Raskolf straight in the eye. “Be safe, don’t die. I have this feeling you are going to be important in helping end this.”
On her way out, Selena stops before the gravely wounded warrior. She set her staff aside and placed one hand on her heart and raised one hand toward the warrior in blessing. She spoke loud enough that everyone nearby could hear.
“Great Mother, Let your children feel your presence guiding them in times of uncertainty and rage.
Let your strength and Love surround us in times of pain and loneliness.
May we walk the path you laid be for us so we may meet you at the Great House when our Journey has ended.”
She touched the shivering male lightly, focusing on him entirely for a moment.
“Don’t you die either, you hear me? Too many have already, and even I can tell that there are too many here that still need you. ” She picks up her staff, and headed out.
“Gaia be with you in your travels.” Raskolf called. Selena merely smiled and waved.