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Winter’s Cold Comfort

Magrat Farwalker


Their escorts did not speak with her much. Of course, they were always civil, always polite. But sometimes she caught them watching her from the corners of their eyes, and conversations would stop when she neared. It irritated her. She wanted to suddenly turn on them and hiss, maybe lick her fangs, to see if these warriors would flinch. She resisted the urge.

The Ulven had demanded that the colonists respect their ways of life, their culture. Magrat could see the colonists trampling the lands and customs they came across, and she had agreed with the Ulven. She had even silently agreed with Khulgar once, though further discussions with him had become rather impolite, and she would now rather see his tongue on the end of her knife than flapping about in his pig head.

They were guests in another’s home. She didn’t know what the Ulven wanted beyond that respect though. Did they want everyone to become little lesser Ulven? Their Great Wolf had no place for humans and Syndar. Her religion was one of her last ties with her homeland and her people, and she would be damned if she would give it up because the Ulven found it distasteful or inconvenient.

She and Stanrick sat quietly. Though they had both always tended to be laconic, the return trip was quieter than usual. She didn’t much know what to say, and Stanrick seemed content with her terse explanation at the festival. She had waited for him to question her, would have welcomed it, but no questions were forthcoming.

“The Watchwolves seem a bit nervy around you.” Stanrick finally commented, breaking the vexed silence. Magrat laughed and quietly confessed her temptations. Stanrick snorted in derision. “We’ve only ever known Mordok to be flesh eaters.” Magrat wasn’t sure if this was a tactful question, or merely a comment, but she chose to interpret it as an opening.

“May I tell you a story, Stanrick?”

“I’ve never stopped you before.” He said gruffly.

“When the world was young, before there were Syndar, or humans, or Ulven and Mordok, there were our gods. Solar, the god in the sun, and Lunara, the goddess in the moon. The world was pristine and untouched. The beasts roamed the lands, the fish swam the seas and the streams, and the birds rode the winds. It was beautiful and lonely.

So Lunara gathered the beasts, and took the best from them, and formed them. She wove them with her magic, and created them in many colors and shapes, but in all she pulled their ears, marking them as hers. Solar breathed life into them, giving them motion, and put words on their tongues and in their heads. These were the Firstborn, the first Syndar, the ferals.
The Firstborn began to clamor, and run and dance. They tried to talk to their mother and their father. But they spoke of simple things. Of living and running and eating. They could not understand the lofty doings of their creators. The rhythm of the universe was beyond them. Solar and Lunara loved their children, but the ferals were just not the children they desired. They placed their first children on the earth, and let them live as they would.

Next, Lunara took the elements, the basic forces of the world. She wove them with her magic, gave them shape and form. She pulled their ears, to show them as her children. Solar breathed into them their lives and words, and set them into motion. These were the Second born, the serous Syndar.
The Serous woke with wonder and dignity. They adored their mother and father, and the world they had shaped. They asked many questions of their gods, and Solar and Lunara tried to answer them all. But still, their children could not quite understand them. They were still children. Solar and Lunara placed them down on the earth, to live and ask questions of their world as they would.

This time, Lunara would work differently. She took the best and brightest of her children, from among the feral and the serous. With her magic, she wove her essence into some, and Solar infused some with his own. Thus were created the Third born, the God-touched, the Celestial Syndar.
The gold skinned and the silver skinned Celestials woke to themselves quietly. They walked with their parents, and spoke of the universe, and of life and of death. Solar and Lunara delighted in their brightest children, who were able to finally understand them, and walk with them.

But Lunara sorrowed for her other children. They were unable to speak with them as they could the Celestials. So she sent down to be born among them some of her favored Celestials. The Celestials would bridge the gap, and bring all of their children closer to her and Solar.
Thus were all the Syndar created and born.”
Magrat sighed.
“So you see, though we are the Firstborn, the eldest, we ferals are the farthest from our mother and father. Did you love you mother? Did you love your father? Your sisters or brothers? We love our mother and father, we give them respect and worship, but we cannot quite reach them, not like our siblings.

So we chose instead to turn to ourselves. We understand each other; we could guide and watch over ourselves. The first Lost, the first among my tribe, instead of moving on after dying, chose to bind themselves to their sons and daughters. To their tribe. Do you know of the Syndar practice of Reclaiming? When a Syndar dies, their mana, the life and breath of Solar and Lunara, is Reclaimed. It is taken from the body, and given back to their families and peoples. The Lost went a step further. We not only Reclaim their mana, but their spirit. Mana is ephemeral, but the spirit required a physical link. So we take of our dead, so that they might always find us, that they might always guide and watch over us.”

Magrat was quiet for a moment.

“Do you understand?”
Stanrick thought for a moment “It is like how we burn are dead so the body can return to Gaia and spirit to the Great Wolf. Yes I do love my mother and father, both have left to join the Great Wolf. I do love my sisters and brothers and most of them too have left. Yawn and I are all that are left of Yoreden’s pups. So in a way I can understand what you say. I once asked my father why we leave the Mordok to rot, and he explained that the corpses become earth and help the trees grow. It is the same, in death comes life, how you bring out that life differs like your skin.”
Magrat nodded and it was enough. They spent the rest of their watch smoking and watching the stars

It was very late when they finally passed the gates of the Longfang village. No one wanted to spend more time in the wild lands skirting the Dirge anymore than they had to. The guards quickly shuffled off to the guest hall, while she and Stanrick headed to the bunks they used when they were in the village. She fell asleep quickly, even her worry not enough to stave off exhaustion.

She woke to the touch of one of the seer’s personal guards. He waited silently for her to dress, and escorted her to the Runeseer’s tent. She knew that this would happen, but she had hoped she might have a full night’s sleep beforehand. He gestured her inside, and stayed at his post. Magrat made her way into the center of the hof quietly. The Runeseer was quite alone. She sat crosslegged under her linen canopy, studying a sheath of wrinkled papers in her lap and a mug of steaming tea at hand. She gestured to another table, with another mug upon it. Magrat settled herself onto a cushion, taking the mug of pineed tea and warming her hands. It smelled strong and earthy and comforting. She had grown to enjoy it during her time here.

“Explain yourself.” The rune seer said gruffly and without preamble, not even looking up. Magrat took a long sip of her tea, gaining a moment to think.

“Please bear with me, Runeseer. Let me tell you a story, as it is told among my people…”

Magrat told the same story she had told to Stanrick. The telling soothed her, and she fell into the rhythm and cadence of her people’s lore-speakers. When she finished, she sighed.

“My kind do not have the same connection with our gods as you do with yours. We respect our mother and father, but we rely on our own. When a Syndar dies, we Reclaim the mana that flows through us, and channel it back into the world, our communities and families.. My tribe long ago chose to bind ourselves to our people, so that even in death, we can watch over our own. This requires a physical link, and so we take of the flesh, so that we can always find our families. In this way we are connected back to even the first of the Lost.

The Order were long our enemies on Mardrun. We knew each other well, and though we fought and sometimes killed each other, we still respected them. An honored enemy is almost as good as an honored friend. “ Magrat laughed at herself. “It is sad that an enemy of my people, for a moment, was my closest link to them. We sometimes honor a respected enemy like we would honor one of our own. We honor those who were stronger than us, and I owed Cedrick for his sacrifice.” Magrat’s frustration boiled up. “This is my tribe’s way of life, and the way we honor our ancestors. When we came here, you required that we respect the beliefs of the Ulven and I do. But should we be required to follow your faith as well? The Great Wolf does not hear our names. I will not give up what I have left to me of my tribe and kin.”

“What makes you think the Great Wolf cannot hear your name?” The Runeseer asked mildly. Magrat was startled.
“I…I am not Ulven. I won’t be standing before him when I die.”
The rune seer sipped at her tea.
“Why should you not be able to?”
Magrat was confused by this.
“I….I don’t….”
“You’ve done many great things. Perhaps if you pray to Gaia and change your ways, He might hear your name. The mordok stand before Him, perhaps a Syndar may as well.” The Runeseer continued, seemly oblivious to Magrat’s shock.
“It is expected that you will be punished. This cannot be changed. You have brought many changes to my pack, and will continue to do so. I just wish that you might slow down a bit.
You will be banished.”

Magrat caught her breath, fear and anger shooting through her. The rune seer continued on,
“You will be banished until the snow melts, and winter is gone from this land. If you survive, you will be welcome to return, and this matter will be at rest.”
“But with all due respect, Runeseer…” Magrat stuttered, but was interrupted, the Runeseer leaving no room for a word.

“I trust that a winter alone will not be too difficult to a child of the mountains such as you? Good. Think about your position here among us while you are gone. You had better leave and get packing, I expect you to be gone by tomorrow morning.”
Magrat stood, shocked and confused at this turn of events. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but certainly not this. As she turned the go, the Runeseer called out to her once more.
“And Magrat, I expect that I will not be hearing about this matter again, do you understand?”
Magrat smiled. “Yes, Runeseer.”

Magrat stonily gathered her things, considering what she would need or want out in the swamp alone. She started at the sound of Stanrick’s voice.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m…packing. The Runeseer has banished me, for my…transgressions. To think about it, and my place within your pack. I will be gone until the last of the snow melts.” She didn’t really want to look up.. After a quick explanation, Stanrick nodded quietly.
“Head east, there you will find a clearing. The deer are plentiful, and the Mordok don’t go that way often. Wait here for a moment.” He left her and returned with a hatchet and a deer skin cloak. “Take this with you, you need to come back with the thaw. After all, you are family now.”
Magrat gratefully accepted the gifts, and gripped his forearm.
“I’d better go find Yawn, and tell him before he does something rash.” She made her excuse and fled before her goodbye became even more awkward and drawn out.

She didn’t quite dare meet Yawn’s eyes either, when she told him. So she was doubly surprised when she was suddenly swept up in a bear hug. She froze, not used to physical contact, before gently returning the gesture. She had gotten mostly used to the ulven habit of gripping forearms, but their hugs still somewhat unnerved her. Yawn pushed her back, gripping her shoulders.
“Stay safe, stay strong, and we will be waiting. I will be waiting.” He turned and walked away, leaving Magrat behind.

—————————–

Magrat watched as the party of Longfang left the borders of their packlands . She was not allowed to follow them, nor was she allowed to go with them. She wanted to go with. She had liked being alone a little bit at first. She slacked on the training routines the weapons master had set her to. Cutting wood calmed her, made her too tired to dream. She spent many hours with her totem, conversing and debating. Eventually the novelty wore off, and she was alone. Again. She had debated with her totem on her place within the Longfang. She knew she was trying to replace her tribe. She knew that most Ulven would abhor some her people’s religious practices if they knew. He had told her that she must stay, he knew that she needed people. She just didn’t know what to do.

An old guardsman she had once spent an evening drinking with had passed some wisdom to her. He said that he always tossed a coin when he had a decision he couldn’t make. Not because he really relied on the random outcome, but because in that moment when the coin was in the air, you found out what you truly were hoping for.

As Magrat watched the backs of her packmates leaving without her, she knew where she wanted to be.

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