The smoke drifting gently towards the stars, a sign that the spirits locked in the rotting corpses of Ragnar’s undead army were now making their way to the great drinking hall of Valhalla. The hunk of ice that carried the headless carcass of the twice now defeated Chief a speck on the horizon, carrying his spirit to the belly of a Great White Bear. Standing in the glow of the burning pyres, Strike took the flute he had stolen from Korra and had been holding to ransom for what almost felt like a life time ago. The deal had been that he would keep it safe as long as she did not make public a certain song that she had written about Strike and his beloved sister where she had twisted the facts to make a more interesting fable where she had implied that it was Strike who was the evildoer and not Ragnar. With his sister now departed from this world, it seemed pointless to keep it.
She took it gratefully but her face spoke more than what she could have ever said.
“Does this make you king of the north?” Korra asked. No one wanted to think of our next dilemma was where to find another ship. The nearest town was the charred ruins of Axehome where Strike had recently buried his uncle.
“I have defeated both chiefs so…” Strike answered with a shrug.
“He is a chieftain of a tribe that no longer exists. But he is still the Chief” I thought that bit was important, although thinking back now with my own experiences of being the last one left should have made me a little more sympathetic.
“How much of the North is left?” Korra said, ignoring me.
“Him.” My head must have been off somewhere else while my mouth babbled every thought.
“Errm, judging by the amount of undead Northlanders and Orcs we’ve seen possibly not a lot.”
“But your people are very strong, I can’t believe that they’ve all been destroyed.” Korra replied, trying to give him a little hope.
“Well they’d rather fight than run away so…” Strike said talking from experience.
“And when they are killed in battle they come straight back as the enemy.” Korra grumbled.
There was silence as we absorbed that thought.
“I’ve got to believe there are some pockets of Northlanders that still survive, if only the ones that live on the islands.” Korra cried.
“Well if there’s not I will make more” Strike answered with an easy smile.
“That’s a horrible thought.” I shuddered for effect. Trying to lighten the atmosphere.
Strike laughed infecting me and Korra along with him.
“How does one address the King of the North? I don’t really see Your Grace fitting particularly well.” Korra asked, well that one worked but she did have a good point.
“Err, well. Considering the fact that King of the North is called when required, there is not much of the whole grace thing being involved. It is a call for war and defence.” Strike explained.
So not really a Chieftain after all then
“And so how do we address you?” Korra repeated.
“Strike, oi you, dickhead…” I teased with a smirk, I had no idea where my head was, I think it is from being around Humans too long.
“Strike will be fine.”
“You don’t want to claim the title?” Korra inquired, I could see her mind working on the next instalment of her saga.
“He’s got to dye his hand at some point. Do you have to keep it dyed until you are no longer chieftain?” I asked, wondering how strong to make the dye and if orca or henna would be better.
“It’s as long as…” Strike began but was interrupted by a whistling sound overhead growing louder before our world exploded.
Something large hits the ice flow between us too quickly for us to register it had happened let alone notice what it was. This something was roughly spherical and about a foot wide. It arched out of the sky and ploughs the ice with great speed.
A creaking scraping sound, similar to dragging your fingernail down a harp string came up from deep in the flow and instantly the ice we were standing went from horizontal to almost vertical. Realising the sickening sound was from the ice dropped a lead weight into my stomach, the cracks spider webbing their way out from the impact.
As we watched it fracture and split into personal icebergs, it occurred to us we would have to lose some weight very, very quickly if we were to avoid being plunged into the freezing water.
Preservation gave our minds a nudge and Korra cut loose the bag holding her pretty, hand embroidered dress that she has been carrying around for the whole know world, keeping it safe and dry above her head while wading through swamps and a dress she has only gotten to wear once, briefly in the city. It hit the water with an unceremonious plop before sinking out of sight.
Strike, with great reluctance heaved his massive leather sack of gold into the water. As much as it hurt to do so gold was not a needed commodity in Valhalla and with a noise like a river hippo coming up for air the bag sank rapidly into the depths soon to be only appreciated by the fish.
With these extra weight gone, the ice under their feet rights itself and though not safe they had become more stable than before.
Instinct got board of waiting for my brain to engage. I blinked and shape shift into a vivid forest green parakeet, granted I must have look a bit lost in the icy tundra but my absence lessened the weight even more, giving my Human friends more chance of survival.
Korra tore her gaze away from the empty space where her treasured dress had been and reeled back. Bearing down on her, us and the ice bridge were fifteen galleons. Cannonballs blasting from the sides with such force the noise alone could knock us off our feet. It was easy for her to identify the attacking ships before their House colours were visible. From her travels Korra knew that only the Sapphire Islands had mastered the alchemy of black powder. She was proved right when the sapphire blue sails with a rearing gryphon embroidered in the centre. Tradition called for the Kings banners to have a fingernail sized sapphire stitched into the eye which glinted in the light, not so big that it was worth a flogging if stolen but enough to send a message.
Watching the shots flying at us, arching over the ice flow and hitting the water indiscriminately it appeared that the ball that smashed into the ice sheet was accidental, trying to fire over rather than at us.
Strike, flung his arms out, trying to right himself on his personal iceberg. It is said that when a person is about to die their life flashes in front of their eyes. This is not to relax the body with happy memories and die without a struggle. No, the body, even if the mind has given up, to fight tooth and nail, to try and remember a time when something similar happened to try and escape. He remembered something his uncle taught him when training for the trials of manhood. If you find yourself unable to balance focus on the horizon. One point, it does not matter what but staring without seeing will calm your mind.
The words washed over him and he looked up. Instead of the blank skyline he was expecting he saw six similar looking ships to those on Korra’s side, instantly recognising the emerald green sails with the golden peregrine falcon as House Foldor, Korra’s cousin.
He had no time to relay this information as cannonballs whistling overhead can distract even the most dedicated of minds, throwing everything into total confusion.
“Head for the fog!” He yelled.
This time I did not need telling twice.
Under their feet the ice continued to split, tip and churn up into a succession of jagged peaks, gaping chasms and tiny mountains. Ice shards as fine and sharp as needles showered them. Duking and diving, slipping and sliding Strike and Korra ran across the ice sheet, as the metal spears hit everything but their target. On several occasions they were forced to jump from iceberg to iceberg while I bobbed and weaved through the air.
Shape shifting takes immense amounts of concentration as the true form is always fighting to regain control and I could feel the pull of my Elven form but somehow I managed to force the sensation back until we reached the smooth stable platform of ice nearer the mainland where we could almost make out the snow covered ruins of Axehome.
We stood on the solid ice fighting breath, inhaling so deeply that the cold burned our lungs and our throats, steam pouring from our nose and mouths, I hovered for a moment then dropped onto the ice beside them.
Looking around to see if we were out of danger Korra spotted a single ship with green sails break away from the fleet heading at full speed directly towards us.
She stood for a moment trying to decide if it was her cousin’s ship. Before she could come to a decision the ship rammed the side of the ice flow, rearing up out of the water from the force of the impact, revelling a plough like object fitted under the waterline that bit into the ice, securing the ship similar to an anchor.
“Son of a…”Strike managed before his legs moved him out of the way.
Korra dived to the side while the pull finally being too great and I reverted back to my Elven form.
A portly, young, red faced man, poked his head over the side the whistling wind catching and tangling up his flame hair. It was James the cook!
“Quickly! Get on board!” He yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice.
James pushed a roll of rope that was resting on the ship and a ladder fell down the side of the hull, gesturing for us to hurry up.
“We needed a ship, they were friendly before.” Korra point out.
“They poisoned us!” Strike almost screamed, surprised she had forgotten.
“Yeah; but for all the right reasons.” Korra argued back.
There was a pause.
“And they did apologise and they did let us go with all our stuff.” Korra continued.
“You wanted a ship!” Korra hissed, implying it was take it or leave it time.
“Which side…What…What the ___…” Strike continued to argue.
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Korra said taking the ropes in her hand
“Two choices, land…Ship. Pick one!” Strike now sounded like he was actually arguing with himself.
“Ship.” Korra answered without hesitation.
“Get on the ship then. These things don’t reverse you know.” Strike sounded relieved.
While the two humans decided what to do a number of crewmen had already climbed down with the intention of pushing her off the ice.
One of the buccaneers on the ice flow I recognised as one of the crew who guarded the cabin that contained stone creature, I made a mental note to try and not frighten him again.
“You don’t have to come but you did want a ship.” Korra continued.
Why are they still talking! I yelled silently.
I jumped down and as I did so I focused my form into the shape of a gorilla in a flurry of feathers. There were a few startled surprised cries from the crew and more than a few odd looks as this mass of muscle appeared in front of them but when I started pushing against the hull and they understood I was trying to help they soon stopped
“Right get on the ship! Get on the ___ ship” Strike ordered. No idea what the blanks in the middle of the sentence meant, maybe if we live though this I could ask him.
Between a gorilla and the crew we manage to get ship moving, just when I thought it wouldn’t budge it slowly eased forward.
The sailors, knowing how much time we had from the speed of the slide started yelling to climb aboard before climbing back up themselves.
James held out his hand to help Strike and Korra back up while I used the last of my brute strength to hall myself up. I shifted mid-air like throwing off a cloak, I shrugged off the shape I assumed.
As I climbed up I could see, even with my inexperience with boats numerous patches of damage from stray cannonballs and ice too thick to plough through. What in the name of all the realms had happened?
On deck Captain Mikhail stood at the wheel, trying to dodge the cannonballs that whistle over as best he can.
“What in the name of Oden’s eye sockets is going on here?” Strike demanded.
Mikhail spun the wheel, ignoring Strikes question while the buccaneers swarmed back up.
“Should have kept it, you’d be warmer.” Strike murmured to me.
Thanks to you too! I thought.
“Didn’t want to scare anyone too much.” I said aloud.
Mikhail twisted wheel again and slowly, with a creaking sound the ship leant over to one side, sending the crew and all stumble to the left as the ship veered round and slowly starts sailing away. The recent evidence of fighting on deck clear to see, blood splatters decorated the ship in interesting shapes, with holes from shot littering the deck, making it more traitorous for the sailors as they went about defending their ship.
Mikhail shouted from his place at the wheel. His voice a little lost, by the wind carrying it off somewhere up into the billowing sails above.
“There is not time now, I’ll explain it in a moment. GET BELLOW!” He ordered as another whistling cannonball fell from the sky.
“Is there any way we can help?” Korra asked, seemingly oblivious to the immediate danger.
“Get below” I suggested.
“Other than get below.” Korra answered.
I have no idea about how to help and Captain Mikhail didn’t seem to be listening, he was too busy concentrating on steering the ship away from the ice. I contemplated on dragging Korra to safety when Strike spoke.
“Get me an oil lamp and a bow.” He ordered.
He is going to pay the attacking ships in kind, I thought.
It must have been the way he spoke, his clipped tones reverberated through a sailors hind brain used to just following orders in a situation like this. He found himself running below, locating these things and bringing them to Strike, weaving a little, trying to keep his balance on rough voyage. His arms cradling the lamp, with a bow strung across his chest.
“Here you go Sir!” The crewman staggered about struggling to keep his footing again the turbulent water, a mess of chopped ice of varying sizes and ironmongery raining down.
It seemed that every few moments the ship lurched so did my stomach. I was not the only one to be affected by the rocking craft, the Captain wrestled with the wheel to regain control and consequently the crew above deck were struggling to remain upright from the sudden movements and freezing water spraying onto deck making it slippery as a fish. I was glad I had time to get used to sea voyages but I was not as experienced as those around me. The Elders only knew what was happening below.
As the sailor hands Strike the lamp and bow, another runs on deck with a barrel. He pulled the cork out and spread sawdust or something similar across the deck, trying to make it less slippery.
In the midst of the chaos Strike calmly took the bow and lamp from the waiting crewman and after dipping a rag wrapped around the arrow head in the liquid and lighting it, taking sight of one of the nearest kings ships pulled back the string.
“But…but….but…but that’s the Kings ships.” Korra stammered.
Ignoring her pleas he launches a volley of flaming arrows at the nearest ship, aiming for the sails being the largest and most flammable part.
A number of the arrows tear into the sails, the fire catching hold of the material, over the roar of the wind and the splintering ice and crashing waves can just about hear the shouts of panic as the crew try to quell the fires with hastily thrown buckets full of water and when all else failed beating out the flames with their hands and feet.
“That’ll slow them down.” Strike said casually.
A ragged cheer went up from the crew of our ship when they see the flames take hold of the enemy’s ships, the Royal fleet of the Emperor.
This joy was short lived however as the Royal fleet, being more robust and built for war than the trading ships of House Folders’ fleet put their own tougher ice ploughs to use and instead of skirting around the smaller icebergs charged through.
Seeing this show of strength Strike continued his volley of flaming arrows, trying to set alight the ones leading the attack forcing the ones behind to slow down, forcing them to slow down and trapping the ones behind, long enough for the ice to refreeze around them, holding them in the ice flow.
“It won’t be impossible to break free but it will buy us some time. AND I didn’t kill anybody! I thank you, I thank you” Strike explained after running out of arrows.
“Do they have any kind of magic to help them?” Korra asked timidly, not really wanting to hear an answer.
“I’m not really worried about magic about now.” Strike dismissed her concerns.
I would be I thought.
Contrary to popular belief there is only one type of magic, but many different ways of using it, no good or bad but the will of the being controlling it.
The most well-known is Natural Magic. It is not surprising of its acceptance as it was taught by the Elders of my kind to all other races. But as with all things if it is not practiced often then it is forgotten and so most other races now only have skilled individuals to practice the art for them. Shamans, Druids, there are many names for calling on the forces of nature. For the gifted ones the harmony in natural magic is like a soothing sort of background music, always playing in their head but when this force is unbalanced it is like all the instruments are suddenly all playing different songs.
With humans on the other hand. It has been turned into something elitist, organised into colleges, having to pass huge amounts of examinations which cost lots of money. It is not hard to pass as long as you could afford it. If found to be practicing magic without permission then they are made an example of. Humans need a licence to show their skill and it is quite rare that there would be actual skilled wizards. Most noblemen have an advisor but a scholar of magics rather than a wizard, people who know about it but can’t practice it themselves.
Korra had explained to me one night.
But the thing that shocked me the most, the real difference is that they take at will, creating chaos in the balance, forcing it rather than guiding it.
While I was wrapped in this thought a figure had stepped into view of one of the lead Royal ships. I was not sure if my Human companions had seen.
My sight had been said by my friends to be better than Human where as I thought that Elven eyesight had just been honed when in the jungle, used to picking out details in the jungles or secret trails.
The figure, wearing blue robes which I saw had silver flames embroidered along the edges. He steps up onto the prow of the ship and as the ship was about to hit a particularly large iceberg he turns his hands palm facing our ship, turned his palms towards the skies and lifted his arms. His arms began to shake as if he was lifting an immensely heavy invisible object.
Watching this I felt a disturbance in the force of nature.
The music of my soul has suddenly been thrown down a mountain. The cacophony was almost unbearable I had to let out the agony somehow. I dropped to my knees with a scream of pain from the discord caused by this mystery robed man.
He turns his hands, palms facing forward and fingers splayed out pushes the invisible force in front of him. What appears to be blue and silver fire emanates twenty feet from his fingertips, melting a channel through the ice sheet, clearing the way for the ships behind.
I can only sit clutching my head, while he is conscious I am no use to anyone.
I watch Strike look at me, then he turns his attention to the Human Wizard and finding another arrow aims for him. Knowing him as I do he is wanting to disturb the disturbance.
Taking several shots in rapid succession one hits him in the shoulder. His hand clamps onto his shoulder before he falls back off the prow and he disappears from sight. With his concentration broken the fire vanishes and so does the pain.
“Imperial Battle Wizard.” Korra’s eyes and mouth are so wide she almost resembles a puffer fish.
Whatever he is he has done his job and the lead ship sails through the middle of the ice sheet, the others following in almost wedge formation as they plough through the weekend ice towards the remnants of House Folders’ ships.
A sailor turns towards Mikhail and yells “The Uraneese is going down!”
Captain Mikhail looks over to his left and one of the House Foldor ships lists onto its side and slowly slides into the water. There is a monstrous size hole in its side, no doubt ripped by one of the cannonballs.
We can only watch as people leap over the side, not wanting to get sucked down with the ship.
“Hmm, they’re not going to last long.” Strike said talking from experience.
“Cap’en we’ve got to get over there and help them.” James says turning to the Captain.
Strike recognised the look on Mikhail’s face, it was a look he had warn regularly. A pained look, steeling himself to do something unpleasant but knows his necessary. The Captain is preparing himself to make. It looks like this terrible decision he is about to make isn’t the first he has made lately.
“We can’t risk it, it’s too dangerous! We’ve gota get away from here! Their coming through the ice sheets. Unfurl the sails!” He commanded.
The crew jumped into action.
“What’s happened, why are you fighting the imperial fleet?” Korra wailed.
“No time to explain now!” The Captain shouted back. “We have to get outta here, I’ll tell you everything when we’re clear! We need to lose the Imperial Fleet!”
“Into the fog!” Strike barked.
The Captain looked torn, he had not sailed with Strike enough to trust him.
“I know these waters!” Strike said, trying to persuade him.
He still looked uncertain but Strike managed to direct them into a thick fog bank. In the sudden silence some of the sailors voiced their concerns.
“But Captain, what about the rest of the house fleet?”
There was that pained expression again.
“Now the main states of the Royal Fleet has broken through it is every ship for themselves.” Following Strikes instructions Mikhail steered the ship deeper into the fog bank, and blanketed by impenetrable fog we hid from the Imperial Fleet.
Steering close to land, hugging the coast where the mists are strongest. Strike used all knowledge he collected from when he first travelled across the ice sheets after being banished from his homeland.
While Strike is shouting directions to the Captain Korra tried to find out what is going on from any passing member of the crew. But with the Royal Fleet trying to sink the last of House Foldors fleet no one has time to answer her questions. Occasionally she got a quizzical look but they mainly passed her by, too busy patching up the damage inflicted to the ship or dragging wounded sailors off the deck and down below.
She followed one of the fallen down the steep shallow ladder and found herself in the cargo hold that once held the stone warrior. The hold had dramatically changed. The air was thick with blood, sweat and the smell of decay.
Being surrounded by the dead, dying and injured Korra found the resident saw bone surgeon, dressed in a long leather apron with sleeves rolled up past his elbows, drenched in blood. He was bent over a table trying to locate a piece of shot lodged inside a sailor.
From the look of it the medic was trying to perform miracles with what he had. It was standard maritime primitive medicine of pouring what brandy they had left down the throat then onto the wound then routing around for shrapnel, bandaging wounds or amputating what could not be saved. With a kind slice of a knife in a specific area if they could not be saved at all.
Korra, knowing the power of her healing voice found a rare quiet, unused corner of the hold and soon the hypnotic tones of her melody floated through the makeshift sickbay lifting the spirits of all who heard her.
Leaving the saw bone to manage with the less serious casualties he finishes his last stitch then beckoned her to come over.
Still bent over the table, wrapping the stitched wound with a strip of torn linen he moved the stump of cigar, tucking it into the side of his mouth as he looked at her expectantly.
“What happened here recently?” Korra asked, with genuine concern.
He shook his head, dislodging some ash that sizzles when it hit a pool of blood on the floor.
“I’m only a Doctor you understand?”
“Anything will help.”
“Well it all started when we returned home. We’d been sent out. Hold here.” He said pointing to a spot on the bandage. She does so, knows helping him is the only way to get a coherent conversation. “We’d been sent out to smuggle one of those stone men, those statue things from the Mainland back to the Sapphire Islands on the orders of the Emperor.”
“Yes it escaped.” Korra confirmed.
His mouth opened in surprise, almost dropping his cigar.
“We were here.” Korra explained.
“Oh, sorry. I spend most of my time below decks,” he said defending his lack of knowledge. Now he mentioned it, Korra didn’t recall seeing him before.
“It all started after that, you’re obviously aware it left?”
“The captain then directed us to return home, we gave a story that it had been taken from us. Whilst we were there the Captain. Now I honestly don’t know what he heard but the Captain heard something when he went to speak with the Emperor in the Imperial Court. I have never seen the Captain look so worried before that day, we’ve faced no end of enemies on the high seas, we run the trading runs between the Sapphire Island’s and the Mainland’s, they are perilous waters, all manner of creatures and pirates are about and I have never seen him look that worried. Anyway, the first thing he did when he came back was give us the order to set sail, he gathered up a small fleet of ships from the House and set sail towards here, he didn’t tell us exactly why but half way here we came under attack from the Imperial Fleet.”
So none of you know why he’s called the ships?” Korra inquired.
“No, he was about to explain it to us when we came under attack and we’ve not had chance to breath at all. It was only when James, the cook spotted all of you on the ice. He told the captain, who told us we had to stop and try to get you on board.”
“Right, and that brings us back to here.” Korra laughed but there was no humour to it.
Helping the Doctor had left Korra covered in blood. Trying to find a place to wash the blood off, even a pool of standing water would have done but nothing. She gave up and wiped it on her tunic.
I could still hear Strike shouting out orders to Mikhail, the disharmony in natures magic much fainter since Strikes arrow hit the Imperial Battle Wizard.
As I was still not much use as a healer or crew I decided to help the only way I knew how. Casting off my worldly chains I plunged into the water and looking through the ocean I searched for the enemy. Mikhail watched my body hold onto the side of the ship, my head fall back while my eyes rolled towards the back of my head, leaving only the whites showing.
“The enemy have seen to largely encircle the last of the House Foldor ships, they are pretty much closing the net on them.” I relay to captain, in a faraway voice.
I feel Mikhail look at me, then turning to crew he whispers. “All on deck, silent running.” Immediately all the crew hunker down and tried to do the remaining duties as quietly as possible.
In the silence it was just possible to hear muffled cannon fire and people shouting and or screaming from battle raging outside the wall of whiteness.
With time to think Mikhail surveyed his ship, assessing the situation.
“I don’t rate our chances if these mists clear. If what you say is true and they have taken the rest of the House Fleet, we are badly damaged already, we won’t stand much chance against the Royal Fleet, let alone when they have an Imperial War Wizard on board.”
Strike whispered a curse. Even with everyone quiet, either thinking or listening it was only the tone not the words that could be heard.
“What we need is a convenient fort or hold fast.” Korra mumbled.
Returning to my body I turn to the Captain.
“Would you prefer me to stay with you and keep a look out or go below and help with wounded?”
He stared at me critically for several heartbeats before answering.
“Given what little I have seen of your abilities, you might be the only ace in the hole we have, they won’t be expecting us to have another; I’m sorry I don’t know if you use the name wizard?”
“Druid? Oh my apologies. They won’t be expecting us to have a practitioner on board.”
“Then I’ll stay here.”
“Is there anything you can do to help us with the mist? As I say if it clears, we’re pretty much dead in the water, they will snuff us out like that.” He clicked his fingers for emphasis.
“In all honesty I am more of a shape changer. I can see through the water, talk to various objects and animals but I am not very skilled with controlling other forms of nature.” As I explain I wish I could do more.
Mikhail nodded grimly.
“I understand but I have no experience, I am not a practitioner myself, I’ll leave you to help in your own way, I do not know your capabilities.”
“I will try and help in any way I can.” Silently asking the Elders for any secret talents to come forth.
With nothing else she can do below, Korra re-appeared on deck standing next to Strike who had stopped firing, not wanting to give our position away.
Mikhail gestured for one of his men standing nearby to take the wheel. Leaving the trusted crewman he then walks down to where the three of us were standing on deck.
“Since we appear to have a lull in activities the least I can do is explain what we’re doing here. Admittedly seeing you was quite a surprise. I did not expect come across you on the ice flows I was simply trying to find a place where I could lose the Royal Fleet. You recall when last we met, after you took the stone man from us, you suggested we go back to the Emperor with the story that it had been confiscated and taken from us; which is what I did. Whilst I was there I accidently came across a…let’s just say I stumbled across a meeting I was not supposed to have witnessed. As I arrived at the Imperial Court to speak with the Emperor, he had just finished a meeting with a something…I don’t…I don’t know what it was and I witnessed this…thing leaving the Imperial Mansion. I don’t know entirely what it was. It was tall, err it looked a little like yourself Demanor. But it had dark skin, savage tusks; claws too. It was as though someone had taken yourself and all the beauty that Elves possess and turned it into savagery and just looking at the thing.” He visibly shuddered at the recollection, from the way he spoke he still didn’t believe what he had seen.
“In the corridor it brushed past me, obviously having no fear of me and where it touched my skin I felt the coldness of pure evil go through me. I did not mention it to the Emperor, it does not do well to question the Emperor of the Sapphire Islands when on the Islands themselves. I am not entirely without contacts, as I say I am a well renowned traveller and so is my House. I spoke to my contacts and the rest of my House, we travel far and wide we often get news that others do not have and I was told that one of the royal vessels had brought this, this creature, this thing, whatever it was to the Sapphire Islands to discuss a peace treaty with the Emperor. Now I may not be a wise man, I make no clams to be a good man. Lord knows I have done things in my life that would keep some men awake at night, with good cause for them to lose sleep. But I do know evil when I see it and I know that any alliance with such a creature could not be a good thing. It should not be permitted. So I tried to muster what forces I could to me, to make a stand if necessary. However one of my contacts must have sold me out to the Imperial Household and we were set upon by the Royal Fleet. I sailed to the ice flows, here is the most traitorous piece of water I know. I hoped my superior seamanship and knowledge of the local trade routes would allow me to lose them but I had not expected the vast numbers they sent out against us. It was only thanks to James” He paused to gesture over to the well fed cook who at that moment was helping distribute sawdust on the deck. “And his sharp eyesight that he spotted you on the ice at all. I could barely see three feet in front…What were you doing there?” He asked realising that we still had not had chance to explain ourselves yet.
Korra laughed and looked at Strike who returned the snigger.
“Conquering the Northlands.”
“Fighting the undead.”
They said over each other.
Captain Mikhail raised an eyebrow at the totally obscure explanation but stayed silent.
“You remember we spoke to you of two armies massing?” Korra asked.
“Yes, of course I remember, how could I not? It was a horrifying tale”
“The first was the army of the dead. It would appear that Strike has managed to dispose of them by dispatching their creator.” Korra continued.
“Confronting his past you might say.” I chipped in.
The Captain looked a little shocked by this news.
“Well that…I shall sleep a little easier knowing that.”
“The second, I believe, is an army of what we have come to call Dark Elves. Who may or may not have been created by some kind of magic which is corrupting much of the forests, or maybe the cause of that magic. Certainly from what I have seen them doing in the Southlands, we do not want an alliance with them.”
Mikhail nodded gravely in agreement.
“But I’m unsure what we can do.”
Any suggestions would be gratefully received though unsaid, hung over our group.
“Kill ‘em.” This was Strikes suggestion for everything.
We all carefully ignored him.
“This will depend very much on the other powers in the area, whether hostile or friend. Fortunately we seem to have a contact in the North.” Korra looked over at Strike.
“Then let us hope by; I’m going to say Loki’s grace that some of my people survived.” I believe that was Strike’s version of a prayer.
“As much as I agree that the news you are discussing is indeed grave, at the moment my concerns are a little nearer to home. I’ll worry about the rest of this once we manage to get past the Royal Fleet. My only hope, and I hate to say this, after all, the people that are dying out there are members of my household, my cousins, my relatives, my brothers, are all out there. My only hope is that when they have finished with them, they will not notice one ship is missing. If they do finish them off and whatever remains of the Royal Fleet decides to search these waters they will find us and given the damaged state of my ship” He waved his hand in a gesture to the general mayhem. “Even with your formidable skills with the bow” Strike nodded at the recognition. “And whatever arcane arts you possess” He looked towards me and Korra with a glimmer of hope.
“Nothing of use in battle I’m afraid.” Korra confessed.
“We won’t stand much of a chance against them.” Mikhail said, visually deflating.
“Then that is why I would suggest, coming around the Island we depart to land, send your ship; empty and at full sail they will follow the ship.” Strike put forward.
“We would not be able to sail it entirely empty, maybe with a skeleton crew but…” Said the Captain looking thoughtful.
“Doesn’t need to be for very long, just needs to be at full sail.” Strike concluded.
“It needs to go out the fog so we can go the opposite way.” I tried explaining.
“I think I see what you are suggesting but surely if there is no people on board they’d notice.” Mikhail said, trying to explore every eventuality.
“Not until they reach the ship, by which time you have already managed to get further into land and where I know we have a ship yard where we have undamaged ships and if not, the means of repairing yours.” Strike answered.
“Perhaps even faster ones, I dunno.” Korra said, appealing to Human greed.
“So you’re suggesting we go ashore on the Northlands? Forgive me for saying so, I mean no offence, the Northlands do not have a, a, a strong reputation for welcoming outsiders. ” Mikhail said, clearly uncomfortable with the idea.
Having being around Humans a lot recently I worked out that when Humans say no offence that is a sort of code for I am going to offend you but as I have warned you, you must ignore the insult.
“Then it is a good job that I am their Chief isn’t it?” Strike said with brittle brightness, finishing off with a flash of a smile a shark would be proud of.
“Better dye your hand before we get on the land.” I said reminding everyone of the important task of showing that Strike was no longer just another goby Northlander.
“Right, so what does that entail?” Korra queried.
“Blood.” Strike said simply.
That couldn’t be all, true it is nearly impossible to shift from clothing but dried blood washes easily off skin.
“And red dye I presume.” I added.
Mikhail, realising this conversation no longer applied to him took his leave and strolled back to his crew.
“All of you take provisions on board make ready to leave the ship. We depart ashore for the Northlands. Rig the ship to sail out of the fog. With any luck the remnants Imperial Fleet will follow it and buy us some time.” His crew scattered like cockroaches in sudden light.
Watching the crew scuttle about the ship a thought struck me.
“This is a morbid thought” I said slowly in case the idea ran away before I could relay it. “But do we have time to lash the dead to look like they are manning the ship?”
“They’d still be lashed, they wouldn’t be manning the ship.” Korra pointed out.
After all we had seen I understood her confusion.
“No, to give the illusion of a skeleton crew.”
“It would indeed give that impression.” Strike said deliberately, beginning to see my plan.
“Yeah, that’s a good point, yeah I can see that, let’s do that.” Korra said also catching my drift.
Hearing the concept Mikhail did not look happy at all with this idea but like any good Captain did see the wisdom of what I was saying.
“It’s your ship sir. I am sorry.” I said trying to soften the blow a little.
“I understand. It has to be done.”
He nodded with a grimace of distaste then leant over to the nearest crewman.
“Get some sturdy rope. Gather all dead and mortally wounded we have from below deck, only those that will not make the trip. Make ready to lash them to the wheel, to their posts, to the rigging…”
“Aren’t there any wounded that would last long enough to manage the trip?” I was a little taken aback with Korra’s sudden lack of empathy, Strike must be more of an influence that I first thought.
“Not mortally wounded no, we will still have to lash the wheel.” Strike intervened.
It took a little time for the plan to come together but as the last of the ropes were tightened I make a show of blessing the ship and the wretched crew knowing it will not make a dammed bit of difference I spoke in Elvish to them …at least they will have no fleas for a while.
Mikhail saw my gesture, nodded and smiled gratefully. At least his mind was at ease.
While last of the crew readied the ship on its final voyage I help Strike perform the ritual for dying his hand.
The blood was not hard to get hold of.
“They died in battle, it is noble blood.” Strike explained to me as I filled a wooden bowl half way. Exploring the almost empty contents of my healing bag I found Orca and red henna and a few other herbs that had disintegrated into a mess of unrecognisable dust and added the powders to the bowl.
Stand in an empty corner of the ship Strike began the ceremony.
“I thank Oden for my wisdom, Thor for my strength, Loki for my dark side and Hel for the afterlife that follows.” He looked to me, signalling for me to do my part which I spoke in Elvish, using same blessing for banishing fleas.
In the shadows Korra stood watching and record it for a part in her saga, when she asked I could not really refuse but I decided not let either of them know the actual blessing.
While she observed James climbed down, making final checks to the ship before leaving. Walking over to her, wiping his face with handkerchief as he stood next to her. He watches us for a few moments before, not taking eyes off the ritual he whispers “what’d they doin’?”He seemed shocked at seeing Strike dip his hand in a bowl of blood, henna and various flea repelling herbs.
“He has recently claimed the title of King of the North or he will be claiming the title soon. This is part of the ritual.” She explained as we completed the rite.
“You have to keep the mix on your skin until it dries for it to be dyed brightly enough.” I said, not sure if he already knew this.
“I killed lots of Chiefs, I am the Chief.” He explained simply to the confused looking cook.
James suddenly looked like he remembered all the scary Northlander stories from childhood all at once.
“We’re hoping that by taking the King of the North to where we’re going it will have some sway.” Korra said, trying to quell his fears.
“The only Chief unaccounted for and by that I mean not killed by Ragnar or myself is the biggest and hardest of the Orcs, Chief Gregorin. Hence us going straight for the Orcs. He is rumoured to be one of the Orc One eyes, their name for shaman who is unusually cunning for an Orc. When Ragnar and my uncle were at war Gregorin sent word to both sides saying he would be neutral but serve the victor. He is not actually the Chief but advisor to chief of the time, that’s why he been able to unofficially run the tribe for so long, the others kept busy killing each other for top spot while he is sitting quietly running the place. ” Strike informed us as we joined the others on the top deck.
“We can’t risk pulling much closer to shore, we are going to have to jump and wade.” The Captain told us.
“We are going to have to wade, so I highly suggest you all strip to the waist to keep your clothing dry. This water is colder than anything you have experienced before. You will go numb” Strike said, I shook my head, nothing like gathering moral then.
“Ok, no one knows the North better than a Northlander.” Korra conceded.
As all on board followed Strikes orders and began to strip I cast my cloak of changing and turn into a brown bear.
“Not as impressive as our Great White Bears.” Strike joked before adding “Take heavy clothing.”
“My pretty dress.” Korra said despondently looking at serviceable but stinky and ragged furs that Strike issued to us when visiting Axehome.
After lashing wheel, the dead and wounded crew to various parts of the ship the remaining crew lower themselves down the ropes drop into the waiting ocean. As was custom, Captain Mikhail was the last off his ship once we had descend into the icy water. I had never heard such colourful language, curses and blessings that were hurled about the place.
I could feel my mind and all other extremities going numb. I didn’t understand how cold it was until I plunged in, suddenly sympathetic to the obscenities of the crew. I don’t think that any water will ever be too hot again and tried to think hot thoughts as I waded towards shore.
We had landed on the southern tip of Northlands, with the idea of make our way out onto more solid ice sheets.
We must have looked a sorry sight, all of us standing shivering, after pulling ourselves out of freezing water. Resembling drowned rats more than intrepid travellers, it was so cold I could not even think let alone move.
We gathered around on the icy shingle covered shores of the Northlands, trying to get warm, the water that saturated our clothes beginning to ice over, our breath crystalizing in the air.
“Jog.” Strike managed.
I looked at him before realising who he was talking to. It took a while for my body to get the idea but once I started jogging I could feel the blood flow returning. My fingers hurt now but it was preferable to them being numb.
Looking around the new landscape there was not much to say. It was a white, barren, frigid, tundra with no visible vegetation.
“Beware. Of. The. White. Bear” Strike said more coherently, now he was warmer. I could not help but check his newly dyed left hand to see if the red had fixed properly.
“White bear?” I had never seen a white one before.
“A white bear. It make your bear look small.”
Really? Need to see one of these I thought.
“What do they do?” Was what I actually said.
“Pound through the ice to eat seals.” Strike said, from his tone, it was an everyday event.
“What’s a seal?” I had never heard of those either.
“A fish that breaths air.” He explained
“Like a dolphin?”
“Yeah. Like a dog faced dolphin.”
“Small?” Strike interrupted
“Are they not a predator?”
“No, yes. Sort of. Just worry about the bear.” S
“About the size of a pig, a seal and pretty tasty.” Korra continued.
“So it’d do some damage then if they came at you?” I really began to feel out of my depth.
“Yeah but just leave the mums and pups alone, like any other creature really.” Korra explained.
“This time o’year they’ll be eating, fattening up for rearing pups.” Strike said, finishing the nature lesson.
Following close behind strike we snaked across the tundra through the biting cold, why does wind have to bite?! Even the weather was inhospitable here. I had pulled my furs up and around my face so that only a thin slit let me look out while not letting much heat out. We were looking for first marker of the village, a flaming torch. Our group pressed on, it would be impossible to miss a thing like that in the wall of white.
Following the lit markers, although only the Elders knew how they stayed alight in this wind we were lead to a small village composed of around twelve round houses, however there could have been more, hiding in the whiteness with longer house in the middle, it reminded me of the same rough layout of Axehome.
The smell wood smoke mixed with strange tinny aroma of snow drifted on the air before we saw the grey smoke curling up a stone chimney of the long house.
In the distance, a few Humans and Orcs male and female were dotted about, going about their everyday life with their children playing not too far from their parents. Strike had told us that it was quite normal for Orcs and Humans to live together in the Northlands where the people had better things to worry about than interracial feuds.
They were all wearing multi layered furs and leathers to keep the cold at bay, leather underclothes that acted like a second skin with thick furs covering the rest.
Even with his dark eyes and hair against the yellow hair and blue eyes that made up most of the village, Strike looked like he had never left. Whereas the rest of the group were from the Sapphire Islands or surrounding jungles with our dark eyes, tanned skin and ebony hair we looked as lost as the green parakeet I had taken the shape of where the cannonballs attacked.
Has Strike just taken a few layers off? I huddle myself in my furs at the thought. After a second look I tucked my vine braided hair away into hood as not to be so conspicuous.
As we approach the residents Strike raised his red left hand.
Orc and Human warriors begin to emerge from Long House armed with axes and spears, we had peaked their interest. Strike, in the face of these great warriors still walked calmly through the village with his left hand raised.
“Do we draw weapons or not?” Korra asked nervously.
“If you wana fight.” S said out the corner of his mouth.
“So not yet.” Korra decided.
One of the Orcs steps forward, he was about six foot tall and just as wide. He looked down his snout at Strike, in his clawed hand was a sharp one bladed axe.
He snorted a derisory laugh, wisps of steam escaping from his muzzle.
“Who are you who comes to our village bearing the mark of the red left hand?” He said in common tongue. His voice was deep, his speech slightly distorted from his tusks.
“I am Chief now.” Strike informed the Orc who scorned his clam with a deep, rasping laugh.
“I have slain Ragnar.” Strike said his voice somehow still level voice.
“Ragnar has been dead for many years.” The Orc sneered.
“And unfortunately I have slain my uncle.” Strike continued, his voice still steady.
“Your uncle?” The Orc sounded slightly intrigued.
“The former Chief of Axehome.”
There was commotion from behind the Orc as people who had gathered to listen to the unexpected entertainment began talking between themselves.
“Hmmm. We are not at war at present. We are not in need of…”
“Then I bring bad news for you.” Strike interrupted the Orc.
“We do not need a Great King to lead us…”
“We are most certainly at war, you just don’t realise it yet.” Strike cut in again.
“The Sapphire Islands.”
The Orc paused before bellowing with laughter.
A couple of others see their big man laughing and join in.
“Those Islands full of weaklings and their sailors with their woman’s boats who go sailing around trading instead of taking what they want.” He slapped the back of hand into the other to emphasise the point.
“Indeed, the very same.”
“Pfft! They are weak!”
“Those very same people who have just shattered the Ice Sheet.” Strike continued calmly.
There was more commotion form the crowd on hearing this. The spokes Orc gestures with his claw for the rest to be quiet. They settled down but not much.
“That cannot be true. There is no one alive that could shatter the Ice Sheet! They are eternal! They fade in the sun time and return in the cold…”
“Go. And. Look. Whilst I go and talk to your Chief.” Strike spoke over the Orc.
“I am Chief in this village!” The Orc roared.
“Then send scouts, we have time.” Strike shrugged.
The Chief turned round to two of the warriors and still speaking in common tongue “Go, see if what he says is true.”
The warriors, one Orc male, one human female carrying spears, nod and break into a run quickly disappearing into the distance their lean frames hugging low to land, spears close to their bodies, ready to raise at a moment’s notice.
“While they are out there proving what I have said perhaps we could consider talking about the rest of it?” Strike says to the Chief after watching the two scouts fade into the white.
“Well. Since you are obviously of our people” He says looking Strike up and down then turned his gaze on us.
“Although I cannot speak for your friends, they do not smell right to me.”
“They aren’t right. But they are stuck in the same war.”
There was an uneasy silence as the two Chiefs weighed each other up.
“If you are willing to give us a gift. A sign of friendship and respect to our village I will give your friends, these outlanders hospitality.” The Orc spat the word outlander. “You will have our hospitality anyway, you are one of our own.” He finished.
Without word Strike produced Ragnar’s dagger.
The Orc took the weapon, clearly recognising it. He grunted his acknowledgment before tucking it into the thick hide belt that secured his furs to his well-built frame then turned to his followers.
“Bring them all to my house at the centre of the village. We will give them all hospitality.”
I feel our group exhale as one.
“It is a great token you bestow on us.” He said bowing slightly to Strike.
As we follow him to his home the village atmosphere changed, the hostility dissolving as word whispered from one to another.
Entering the Long house we walked into an almost overpowering combination of odours. Stale sweat mixed with sour beer, roasted meats, wood smoke and wet furs all added to heady mixture but could all be forgiven for the roaring fire in the stone hearth.
A huge wooden table stood central and stretching the length of the room with split logs as chairs either side dominated the hall. Off to one side, close enough to the fire to feel the benefits but not so close that it became uncomfortable was a large, intricately calved, wooden throne draped in furs. The Chieftains seat.
The Orc landed heavily on the chair, the wood arguing with the unexpected weight by groaning loudly.
With a clawed hand he gestured for us to sit at the long table in front of him.
Once seated warriors began bringing in various roasted animals boar, white bear, seal, nothing was wasted here.
In the heat of the room Strike began shedding more layers, I on the other hand headed straight towards it, found the closest spot without actually being burned, wrapped my furs even tighter around my body before sitting on a large flat stone that was part of the hearth. I was not enjoying myself at all and soon the smell of smouldering wet fur could be added to the thick air.
Korra, meanwhile looked round the long house for a Northlander wordsmith.
Although she did not see anyone with an instrument, that would be the first clue. She did however, at opposite end of the table, in the corner of the hut spied a large drum, the kind to beat out a rowing rhythm on certain ships Strike tells me with two large sticks resting on the skin.
Korra, ever hopeful looked for owner of drum and or storytellers.
Seeing her searching for a kindred spirit the Chief shouts over to her.
“Ulric the One Eye is out history teller, songmaker.” He leans over to one of the Orcs serving him “Has Ulric returned from his meditations yet?”
“Yes Chief. I saw him return to the village a little time ago.”
“Then bring him here, I have promised these outlanders hospitality.” The Chief demanded.
“When he is ready.” Korra said, not wanting to trouble anyone.
He stared at her.
“I am the Chief of this village, he is ready when I say he’s ready.”
Korra visibly backed away with hands held up, submissively.
The serving warrior disappeared out of the Longhouse and after a while returned with an older looking man but still with the Northlander warriors build but time takes its toll on all and he leant heavily on a stick to support himself. His years showed in his greyed beard and long hair. A strip of cloth covered half his face, tied with a knot at the back of his head, carefully concealing one eye...
“You have called for me Chief?” Ulric bowed as he spoke.
“Yes. I promised these Outlanders hospitality, One eye. They desire to know of our stories and legends, this one” The Chief said pointing to Korra “has asked for our teller of tails.”
“Yes o great Chief. What is it you want of me Outlander?”
“I too am a song maker, I have travelled with the new Chief for many moons now, I wish to share his story so that you may make a true Northlander song of it.”
Ulric scratched his chin thoughtfully before answering.
“Tell us your tale then.”
Korra described Strikes bravery, laying her creativity heavily on the battle on the Ice Sheets, his skills with boats unfamiliar to him proving his prowess with Northlander boats must be legendary. She also regaled Ulric with the ongoing concern with the Dark Elves finishing with the battle we are yet to have with the Dark Elves.
Ulric sat quietly, listening intently. He seemed fairly impressed with her stories.
“It has been my experience that it is easy to tell such tales. Do you have any proof, any tokens of this bravery of which you speak?” He asked her.
“See the dagger taken from the defeated Ragnar now held by your chief?” Korra was in full storyteller character now.
The Chief took the dagger from his belt and drove it point down in the table where it stood vibrating.
“See the scar on my arm of the Elven arrow. See err, the Elf and the scar across her chest from where she was attacked in the world of shadows.” I turned from the warmth of the hearth, lifted my shirt to show the scar but wrap back up quickly.
Ulric nodded, even more impressed.
“Then indeed you must be brave and worthy of the bloody left hand.”
“I would have not have taken it if I was not worthy.” Strike said through a mouthful of bear meat.
His eyes narrow. “But tell me, are you the…” He paused then started again. “As you have heard I have the knowledge of my people with the sight the Gods have seen to bestow on me. Are you that same Northlander who struck down the previous Chief using a forbidden weapon and then fled from the Northlands to escape justice?”
“I did indeed kill him. Originally and again on the Ice Flow that time in combat. However I did not flee I was banished.” Strike corrected.
Ulric nodded again.
“Still, poison is not a warrior’s weapon.”
“At the time it was the only choice I had to save my sister. Had I been able to fight him face to face the first time round I would have stuck a dagger in his throat there and then.”
On hearing this the warriors around the table, eating and serving nodded and various shouts of hear hear accompanied tankards being banged on the table in approval.
“And I felt that denying him the existence of Valhalla was far greater punishment than that bestrode on me.” Strike said, putting down his hunk of meat. It wasn’t hard to spot that this was still a sore subject for the Northlander.
The Orc Chief who had listened closely to the whole saga nodded and held up his hand for silence.
“It is good. We mean no offence but we before we follow any king, any leader of all the tribes, as you know you are a Northlander. They must prove their worthiness to the tribes. We are only a small village.”
“This very day, in fact in the last couple of days I have seen many of our warriors have the correct burial, Axehome has been destroyed.” Strike added.
This shocked everyone in the Longhouse.
“Explain!” Chief demanded.
“The spirits of Ragnar lay waste to Axehome.”
Ulric gave the Chief a knowing look. On seeing this the Chief held up a clawed hand.
“It is true that my Shaman advised me that he had felt strange stirrings in the life blood of the land recently.”
“My scar is from me trying to discover the source of the imbalance” I interrupted, still as close to the fire as I could get.
He nodded again.
“Then it would seem that if such creatures roam the world then as you say, we are already at war.”
The Chief paused, waiting for silence. “It is odd that you come to us at such a time though, I had also heard that the greatest of the One Eyes; Ragorin has been gathering tribes to his banner. I have assumed that given the deaths of the recent chief that he was planning to make clam on the position himself, even though that is not his way. He came to this village not so long ago and was attempting to persuade us to take his banner. He was making a great show of telling us, like yourself that war would soon be coming to the Mainland and that only with the help of strong allies and mighty warriors could the Northland hope to triumph over our enemies. We are proud warriors in this village I told him we did not need allies, the Northlanders have always stood on our own and forged our own destiny.” The Orc Chiefs words rising more bangs and shouts in agreement.
“I believe we will not find many allies except for those I have brought with me and their houses. These are worthy people. They have fought by my side. I have brought you a Shaman from across the great sea, so that you two may talk as the Songmakers may talk.” The drink had been free flowing and from Strikes behaviour he had been missing his home and its traditions.
It was hard for us Outlanders to tell but the look the Orc Chief gave Strike was sceptical at best.
“Is having one of these as an advisor a new tradition for a Chieftain?” He said pointing a talon at me.
“She makes sure I don’t kill everybody we meet.” Strike answered truthfully.
“No, you misunderstand. I only ask as Ragorin also had one with him.”
“Was he dark or was he pale?” Strike enquired.
“No he was pale, like her although his hair was dark, his eyes were dark.” The Orc Chief answered.
“Was that Zephandius?” Korra chimed in.
“No, Zephandius was blond.” I said regretfully, although we had different views on how to bring piece seeing him trapped in the darkness and not able to help was awful.
“I did not hear it referred to by any name.” The Orc Chief replied.
What’s with all the its? I thought huddled in my fur cocoon, Elves do have a name you know.
“She is here because she has earned my respect and for no other reason.” Strike said it like it was a favour to me.
“Then that is good. I believe that when the Ragorin was referring to allies was referring to one of them that was with him…” The Chief pointed at me again.
“Elves.” I suggested.
“This is most troubling because most recently we have learned that they have left this existence…”
“I am the last of the Elves!” I cut over Strike, getting more frustrated by the moment.
“…or have been erased from existence.” He carried on as if I hadn’t spoken.
“I assure you, you are not. I have seen another of your kind in as many weeks.” The Chief answered my
“I suspect further foul play.” Strike considered.
“But what I don’t understand is as few as there are sun white Humans, with the blond hair and pale skin are just as few dark eyed dark haired Elves. What is it that you call them albinos?”
Looking round I notice that Strike was the only dark eyed, dark skinned dark haired human there all others were blue eyed with yellow hair and pale skin.
“No I meant the sun-bleached ones with pink eyes.” I muttered giving up, with so many blonds around it was hard to make my point.
The rest of the night passed by with food, ale, women and fighting. All fairly normal by Northlander standards.
In the lulls of the foresaid entertainment Ulric the One Eye passed the time telling stories. They were pretty mundane but important to the villages. A little like telling your dreams to someone, they were the most exciting thing to happen…if you were there, to a bystander…not so much.
“ What about the time Gorick killed his first white bear?” Ulric began another tale.
Strike, who had shared an ale horn with the Orc Chief, whose name we learned as the drink flowed was Urut nodded a little unsteadily “That’s a good story.” He slurred.
“Do you remember the time when hunting was poor and they took months to find enough Animals to survive?” Another warrior asked.
“How about the time they raided the Sothern coast of Sapphire Islands?” Suggested another.
When the fires began to dye down, the drink was more spilled than drunk and the meat had gone cold we were invited to spend the night in Urut’s Long Hall. A place where only the Chief and his elite bodyguards spent the night. It was not so impressive when we learned this meant most of the of the village sleep in here.
Accepting his offer we were handed furs which, following their lead were thrown down wherever we fancied sleeping. Strike had not enjoyed himself so much in an age and was still helping himself to ale and meat as I chose a large rock hemming that was the fire in and lay down still fully clothed. I watched Ulric choose his spot before feeling my eyes grew heavy.
I was back home in the jungle.
I was overjoyed to feel the sun on my skin but there was something not right. I felt a strange sense of watching the scene but not actually being there, like a floating presence almost.
I moved amongst a small settlement. It was not one I recognised, not the main Elven city but a smaller settlement.
I heard the tinkling sound of fluted Elven laughter.
I followed the sound and saw many of my own kind dancing among the trees and buildings of the settlement which had been built out of the living trees in the area.
As I watched I saw and heard something far less subtle moving amongst the trees.
A churning, roaring, stampeding, number of Human figures were moving towards the settlement. A savage horde of fur clad Humans and Orcs burst from the trees and begin setting upon the Elves. I watch helplessly as the first few Elves were hacked down with axes, and other bladed weapons mercilessly.
At the head of the savage horde was a wiry, gangly Orc with a gaping crater where his left eye must once have been.
As the Orcs and Humans rampaged through the settlement, setting fire to buildings as they charge though, cutting down anyone who strayed into their path I saw an Orc run down the pathway towards a small Elven child, perhaps 4 summers stood frozen like a rabbit in the sight of a hunting hound. What unnerved me the most was the huge built Northlander Orc, covered in furs, wheedling a large curved bladed axe run towards the child raising his axe over his head ready to bring it down on the youngling was that the boy did not move and the smile on the face of the child did not change at all. No fear, pleading no, it was if the child had seen someone he recognised and waited to be noticed.
The Orc charged, weapon high in the air then, from nowhere flames lick out of the Orcs mouth and ears as if the flames were searching for a way to escape from the inside. The berserker, had, without warning burst into flames.
The settlement continued to burn around this small Elven child, the light reflecting from the burning village in his dark eyes until very little remained. Apart from the small child, whose smile has never left his face there was nothing left.
I watch the gangly Orc with the missing eye approach the small child. A couple of the Northlander Orcs and Humans also ran up with weapons held high, about to cut down the child when the lanky Orc held up a taloned hand and shook his head. He offered out a gnarled hand towards the small child, who without uttering a single word reaches out with a tiny hand up towards the claw, taking the Orcs hand they walk off together.
The surrounding Northlander Orcs and Humans parted, opening a trail into the surrounding jungle. I watched them retreat into the forest then woke up.
Even so close to the hearth and in my furs I woke up in cold sweat, yelling incoherently.
The great feasting hall now reverberated with the sound of snoring, the dead sleep of the drunk. Men, women, Orcs and Humans all farting and snoring in the low light of the dying fire. I looked over to where I had last seen Strike. He was still at the table but now lying on the sawn log bench with his feet resting in a bowl on the table. It was the most relaxed I had ever seen him. The meat, drink, proper blond women, as he would call them mixed with the right temperature? Nope he is not waking up any time soon.
“What, whatisit?” Korra inquired sleepily, waking up to me yelling.
“Nothing. Nothing, I think it was just a dream. You know the ones when you are watching something but can do nothing about it?”
Blood of my land. Strike muttered in his sleep.
“Dreams are very rarely dreams.” I think Korra was still asleep.
“No, no. this was a vision. There was an Elven village being attacked what looked like Northlanders. Orcs and Humans together.”
Strike mumbled something about his land this time before pulling a fur over him.
“I saw it too. It is a dark omen of things to come or things that have been.” We heard Ulric’s voice from across the hall.
“There was a rumour in my village, for want of a better word. That a child was born, the last of my kind’s children. He was supposed to have been killed or at least perished in a fire. If this is what I think it is, a vision, I believe this is what happened to this child.”
The soothsayers furrowed his brow before speaking.
“The problem with you Outlanders is you do not understand.” He pulled a glowing stick from fire and drew a charcoal line on the stone in front of him. “You believe the world is like this line.” He said placing the stick in the middle of the line “this is where you are now, all of this is what has gone before” He pointed to the line behind stick. “And this is all what might be in the future.” He selected another stick and sketched a circle next to the first line. “Those of us who have sacrificed our eye to be given sight by the Gods. We understand the world is like this.” He pointed at the circle.” All things that have been, may come again. All that we are is all that we may yet be.”
“You said that there was a Shaman in your dream but a One Eye.” Korra tried to make sense of the dream it was either far too early or far too late to think about that sort of way of life.
“He didn’t look like a Shaman but he defiantly has the mark.” I answered her, also slightly at a loss to the Seers teachings.
“The leader who was gathering troops, I believe also had an Elven advisor. Perhaps it was his story you were seeing. You did say the village looked unfamiliar. And yet the city from where the child was taken you knew by sight.” Korra persistent.
“That was very true. But in all honesty I only know it as ruins, I have never seen it as it was.” I admitted.
“Right, so it could be either, could be both.” Korra said shaking her head at the unhelpfulness.
“Silanthus did say I would be seeing visions of past, present and future. And had no control of what I see.” I remembered.
“I have seen what the Gods have shown you. The One Eye that you saw with your sight was the Ragorim although far younger than he was when I last saw him.” Ulric advised us.
“If he was far younger then it could not have been a vision of the future. Can your Shamans be reborn?” I asked Ulric.
“We are not reborn. Although some of us such as the Regorim are gifted by the Gods with longer lives so that we may advise our people more and that we may carry on our wisdom to the next generation.”
There was a long silence. This really was maddeningly unhelpful.
“There is really nothing more I can fathom from this. I suggest we go back to sleep.” I concluded while Strike muttered once more.
Sleep crept over the Longhouse for a second time and I dreamed no more that night.