The moon shone brightly over the Ironmound countryside. The warm early summer breeze carried with it the howls of wolves. Their calls were deeper than the normal, casting a melancholy feel to any creature that could hear it. Bryech sat against a tree a few yards from a small house, situated on the top of a hill. He watched the moon, listening to the sounds of the night. Bryech hummed to himself a tune as he examined his amulet of Gaia, the intricate weave of metal rings always felt pleasantly warm when he held it. He never understood it, but it was comforting.
“I’ve never heard that tune before, what’s it from?” Asked a gray Ulven. He had a long scar that ran through a milky eye on the left side of his face. Bryech looked up from where he sat and chuckled at the old man.
“It’s an old song my mother used to sing to me, about the Great Wolf.” Bryech replied.
The old Ulven exhaled exasperatedly as he sat next to Bryech and sat with him in silence for a while. The warm summer night was full of the sounds of cicadas and creatures of the night. A warm breeze greeted the pair now and then as they sat and watched the moon.
“I should thank you for your hospitality these last months Bjarke.” Bryech said breaking the calm quiet of the night.
“It is I who should be thanking you,” Bjarke replied turning to look at Bryech with a warm smile. “You saved Calder during the battle and have been a true friend to my family and our people ever since you arrived in our territory.”
Bryech grunted, still not much for conversation.
“Come inside, although we sup late you know it is always worth it.” Bjarke commented as he stood with slow deliberate action, giving light to his age. Bryech stood and assisted him, both of them chuckling as they walked back towards the house.
The small house was far more comfortable than its outside appearance would suggest, with a warm hearth and many rooms. Bryech sat at a large rectangular table with Bjarke and his family. Calder his son; a brave Ulven at a year younger than Bryech. He shared in similar stature to him, if only slightly less mass. Gunhild, Bjarke’s mate and a fierce woman, old and gray like her husband with a kind motherly demeanor. And Ingrid, their daughter was the oldest of the younglings having been born months before Bryech was bright and kind like her mother but a force to be reckoned with like her father and brother. The group laughed as they ate a hearty supper of cooked venison that Bryech and Calder killed two days before. The house was comfortably warm and the mood was light and happy between the inhabitants. After dinner they all did their part in clearing the table and storing away the leftover food, sharing a few more laughs before they all made their way to their furs for the night. As the hours crept on Bryech lay in the small curtained off area he had called his own for the past seven months and stared at the ceiling. After he was certain the rest of the people in the house were running with their dreams Bryech quietly slipped out into the night. He made his way back to the tree, this time examining it before sitting down. The tree was old, standing taller than any other tree in sight and seemed to radiate its own life to the area surrounding it. Bryech placed his hand on the tree and was overtaken by a sense of strength but deep inside he could feel his own rage and angst.
“They say this tree grew on the first carcass that the Great Wolf’s killed, one of the first that Gaia found any way.” came Ingrid’s voice from behind him. Bryech turned and smiled.
“They also said that it was Gaia who tamed him.” Bryech replied. His words carried with them a sadness that he felt was his own yet at the same time not. It was confusing and he couldn’t wrap his head around it.
“You think too much.” Ingrid giggled her response and sat looking at the moon. Bryech chuckled and sat next to her.
“Maybe I do, but it does make sense.” Bryech stated as a matter of fact.
“What does that mean?” Ingrid asked.
“Two halves make one whole, each piece fitting exactly with the other,” Bryech began explaining.
“That doesn’t-” Ingrid started
“Hush woman, let me finish!” Bryech blurted out. The two laughed heartily at that and had trouble regaining their composure. When they did though, Bryech continued his explanation.
“If each piece is to fit exactly with the other, each one will have to allow the other to keep itself from growing too careless,” Bryech looked out over the fields and went on.
“Gaia created the earth and made it her body; she creates life and beauty and maintains it of her own accord. This isn’t always the case though, sometimes The Great Wolf had to stop her from creating too much life, less the world choke on its own abundance. So, The Great Wolf made his children.”
“The Ulven. But before the Ulven there were the wolves, and before them Skol and Hati their first children.” Ingrid finished. Bryech turned to her and smiled, they had grown close in his time with her family and he certainly felt something for her but he left his feelings for her hidden away with most everything else he felt.
“The Great Wolf tasked his children with being the heralds of their mother’s creations, wardens if you will.” Bryech finished before asking with a chuckle after a slight pause.
“Does that make any sense?”
“A little.” Ingrid replied with a laugh of her own. The two talked for a while longer about anything that crossed their minds. Bryech was happier in this moment than most in his last few years. After all the death and destruction of the war it was nice to feel something else besides the anger, but Bryech knew that he couldn’t avoid fate and changed the tone to match his true thoughts.
“I’m leaving Ingrid.” Bryech said looking at her. Her smile faded and she avoided his gaze and just looked up at the moon. The moonlight shone bright on her face giving her dark brown hair an almost midnight black appearance and Bryech smiled again. How foolish the whole scene must have looked. Ingrid broke the small silence.
“Just promise me you’ll be careful” Her voice was sad and Bryech felt it pull on his heart but he knew he had to go.
“I promise.” Bryech replied calmly and almost inaudibly. Ingrid leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Bryech smiled, his fangs gleaming in the moonlight. They both went inside and slept through the rest of the night. Bryech dreamt of wolves and their howls echoing through a great darkness.
The next morning Bryech had his things packed and ready, he wore all his armor for it was easier than carrying it with his other things. As he went to leave, he said his goodbyes to each of the people to whom he’d grown so close. Bjarke stopped him longer than any of the others as he had to grab something from his and Gunhild’s room. Bjarke returned with a finely crafted sword.
“My old sword, it would serve you better than that secondhand short sword they gave you to fight the invaders.”
Bryech smiled and bowed his head to his friend. It was a fine Ulven longsword crafted from the finest Ironmound steel, the handle inlaid with etched bronze on the guard and pommel. The handle was stamped and wrapped with strong black leather.
“A gift fit for one’s own blood given to a squatter.” Bryech stated and glanced to Calder who replied with his own brand of sarcasm.
“I prefer to bludgeon those with my mace than finesse with a sword and you are no squatter you are a true friend as good as blood.”
Bryech nodded and took the sword and exchanged it with his old short sword.
“A fine blade which will see many dead foes in its time” Bryech boasted with his wolfish smile. He hugged his friends all one last time and left with a heavy heart and yet a freedom that he had almost forgotten.
“And so the wolf returns to his duty, herald of the light, warden of the dark.” Bryech said as he prayed to is necklace and felt its protection envelope him. Bryech walked for a few hours before he was close the edge of the valley. The lush forests seemingly strangely quiet for this time of year. As he left the valley Bryech turned back and saw a black wolf watching from the edge of the tree line. They watched each other for a while before the wolf howled a deep piercing call and faded into the woods, peculiar for them to be active during the day but Bryech took it as a sign. Bryech went forth with a renewed vigor back towards his old friends, back to the fight.