Glarian had found the Healer, purchased some boneknit root and enough basic supplies to hopefully last the winter. He could feel something looming large on the horizon as he approached the inn and it was making him nervous.
“Strange weather eh?” The man at the door said, looking at a cloudbank that was towering over the forest. “Is a bit early for a storm but I ken we’re gettin un. Yeh need a room fer th night?”
Glarian looked back at the hand cart he was pulling; he knew that he wouldn’t be able to drag it through any amount of snow. He shook his head, “I’d best be heading back. If I get caught out in the snow I’ll never make it home. I do need a cask of wine and a jug though, something to keep me warm during those cold winter nights.”
“Wha yeh need’s a woman ter warm yer bed.” The doorman said with a grin, “I’ll get yer whiskey ‘ol man.” He raised his voice and shouted into the common room behind him, “Lex! Get yer arse t’ th’ cellar fer a cask!”
Glarian waited outside, keeping a watchful eye on the clouds. A group of Huntsmen and were approaching the Inn, chatting with several serving maids.
“Yer still worryin’ ‘bout tha chit of a girl eh? Dunno why yer wastin yer time. I’m sure tha ‘ol tanner man’s got her in his shack or summat.” The speaker was one of the three who had been chasing Callindra and he saw the other two were with him. The fourth Glarian knew from a previous dispute over a stag; he couldn’t quite recall the man’s name.
“Ah, Huntsmen! How went the bear hunt?” He hailed them cheerfully noting their glares. “I hear missing a beast is a sign of a terrible winter, hopefully it was a success?”
“Tha fuck’r you?” The one who had been speaking asked, “Anyone’s been in town knows th’ Lord bagged a huge black monster. Should be a mild ‘un this winter.”
“Ferin, tha’s th’ geezer wha lives inna Lord’s forest.” The fourth man said nervously. He hadn’t fared well in the disagreement.
“Issat so? Heard tell yer a force t’ be reckoned wi ‘ol man.” He put his hand on the longsword at his belt. “Yeh got some nerve freeloadin’ out there.”
“Ferin, watch yehsel-“
“Oh shut it Wess yeh weasel! I’ll deal wi th’ ol’ ass.” Ferin looked back at Glarian, “Yeh wan ter test me ol’ man?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it Ferin, testing would imply I had something to teach you.” Glarian casually leaned back in his cart’s harness, putting his hand on the hilt of the hidden Sakar. “We both know the Lord’s Huntsmen are the best in the realm, what in the God’s name could I teach you?”
The doorman had returned, carrying a clay jug and behind him a hulking figure was carrying a wooden cask. “Ah, Glarian, here yeh be, jug ‘o whiskey an cask a red wine.” He noticed the Huntsmen, “Gents, comin fer a pint are yeh? Good ter see yeh, hunt wen well, tha’s a good sign, good indeed.”
“I got some business wi’ th’ ‘ol man Shep, yeh and Lex jus’ stay there. Won’ take but a moment.” Ferin said, his eyes shining. “Yeh owes me an apology ‘ol man. Give it now an we won’ have issue.”
“If I knew exactly what I was apologizing for it would help Ferin. Haven’t I been completely courteous to you?” If it had been any other person besides the scum who had driven Callindra into the path of that angry bear Glarian might have let it go, but this time he couldn’t bring himself to kowtow.
“Yeh got a mouth on yeh ‘ol man.” He drew his longsword and rested it on Glarian’s shoulder with the blade touching his neck. Without thinking, Glarian reached back and grabbed Sakar’s hilt, feeling arcane energies course into his body. With his other hand, he brushed at Ferin’s blade as though it were a gnat.
“This is a fine blade, too bad it has a flaw that will make it shatter.” At the last word his fingertips came in contact with the sword and it exploded into splinters. Glarian turned his attention to Shep, “How much do I owe you friend?”
“Nnno charge.” The man stammered, staring in shock.
The Huntsmen were slowly moving apart, Ferin was holding his hand which was seeping blood from a deep cut. One of them had strung a bow, two others drew daggers.
“I think it was fifteen silver last spring.” Said Glarian, counting the silver and holding it out.
“You go now.” Lex was standing behind Glarian and pointing at the other men. He carefully set the cask of wine down on the hand cart with one hand and fixed the Huntsmen with a baleful look. “No good, four with weapons and one old man.” He carefully took Glarian’s coins and tucked them into a belt pouch.
“Yeh halfwit, orderin’ us around aint a good idea.” One of the Huntsmen drawled and loosed an arrow at Lex. Glarian was too fast for him; he drew Weave through Sakar again and a blast of air rushed from the fingers of his right hand knocking the arrow off course.
“Gentlemen, I believe my friend Lex is correct.” Glarian focused arcane energies once more, amplifying his voice and causing shadows to move and shift in unsettling patterns. “It is time for you to go.”
Whatever the other men saw or thought they saw was enough to send them running down the street. It didn’t seem to have any effect on Lex though, he was still glaring at their retreating forms. “They bad men. Never pay, have big tab, start fights.”
“Thank you for your help Lex, I’d better get moving before that storm hits.” Said Glarian, eyeing the sky.
A terrible gust of wind shook the house and rattled a shutter, waking Callindra from fitful sleep. She leaned over and opened the stove, setting a chunk of firewood on top of the glowing bed of coals. Even that small bit of effort left her white faced and panting in pain, but she also took a taper from the table and lit a candle stub.
The candle flame flickered in the wind, throwing shadows high on the walls and ceiling of her room. She sent a silent prayer to whatever Gods were listening that the shutters would stay closed; there was no way she would be able to close them if one were to blow open. Judging by the amount of snow that was filtering through the crack, she had been right about the storm. Strange, she didn’t remember having any kind of weather sense before.
A bright flash shortly followed by a loud crackle of thunder made her start and she cried out in pain from jostling her leg. Even through the pain, she had the presence of mind to remember that lightning did not usually occur in snow storms. The door to the house opened and she heard footsteps.
“Glarian? Is that you?” Gods above she wished her voice hadn’t quavered like a little girl’s.
The footsteps came into the room and she saw a tall figure, swathed from head to toe in black. Above his right shoulder rose the haft of an axe and only the slightest dusting of snow was on his head or the black leather armor he wore.
“Glarian? No, I am not he. I’m an acquaintance of his. Who might you be little one?” He moved further into the room, Callindra could hardly breathe in his presence. His hand touched the haft of his axe, “I said Who are you?”
“I am Callindra.” She responded, before she could stop herself.
“Very good, much better. So Callindra, why are you here?”
“A bear attacked me and Glarian rescued me.” She said, the words tumbling out of her mouth. This man was so wonderful, she wanted to tell him everything, “He’s an old man, but I am forced to rely on him. You see the bear shattered my leg and it will be months before I can walk again.”
“Ah, and the Power I’ve recently been feeling here? Has he been training you?”
“Training? No, he’s not much of a nursemaid and his idea of teaching me how to read was to give me books and let me figure it out for myself. What do you mean by power?” Her brow furrowed in confusion, “What could he possibly teach me?”
“Never mind about that, where is he now?”
“He went into town to buy supplies but he’s probably going to get caught in this storm and I’m afraid I’ll freeze to death before he can get back, if he gets back at all.” Callindra’s teeth chattered as her secret fear of being abandoned and helpless bubbled to the surface. “He insisted on going even though I told him –“
“Ah. Well now, I suppose I should go question a few of the townsfolk then. Thank you for your cooperation Callindra, forget you ever saw me.” He turned and stalked from the room while she stared blankly at the candle for a few moments then shook herself out of her reverie.
“I hope that foolish old man gets back here soon.” She shivered, wincing in pain, knowing that she was taking her anger out on him like a child but too tired and sick to care. “I don’t think I can bear to stoke the fire again.” Feeling too awful to sleep, she picked up her book and read by the flickering candle light.
‘In our action last night I was forced to resort to using magic. I cannot abide by them usually; I see magery as a refuge for those too weak in body or tactics to get the job done themselves. In this case, however, I was made aware that the enemy was deploying mages of their own and had no recourse.
‘I consulted with my Lieutenants and we came to the conclusion that if we were going to employ a magic user, we should use the most powerful and capable person available to us. As a result, we contacted a group known as The Order. Their style of magic is more comfortable to us, they channel the Weave through their weapon which is a unique piece only they can wield.
‘The mage they sent told me in no uncertain terms that he would strictly adhere to the laws of combat, that he would take no part in underhanded tactics and would end the conflict with as few casualties as possible. If I had a problem with that, he said he would leave and if I tried to stop him, he claimed he would best me in single combat without the use of magic.
‘He gave no name but “Master of The North Wind” and his weapon of choice is a massive broadsword, fully eight feet from pommel to point. Unlike many high ranking individuals I have seen he brought no retinue and traveled alone. Granted he arrived floating on the wind, not deigning to use a horse when traveling to a battlefield. He uses that massive blade for everything. I do not jest when I say he cut and pounded his tent stakes with it. Perhaps I have more to learn of magic users than I had first thought.’
Callindra paused; the candle stub she had lit was burning low. The story was compelling; she wanted to know what this so-called Master of The North Wind had employed to solve the General’s problem. She dug through a drawer and found another candle, lighting it from the first. Pinching out what was left of the stub; she fixed the new candle in the holder on the bedside table and picked up the book once more.
‘The battle is over. We have no need even to take the field; the Master of The North Wind will dine in a place of honor at my right hand tonight. I have never seen anything like it; the man walked alone into the center of the would-be battlefield, the enemy forces arrayed before him and ours behind and spoke. He did not raise his voice, yet every man, could clearly hear his words.’
“Hear me now. I am The Master of The North Wind and I command you to quit this field of slaughter. Failure to comply with my demand shall result in your life ending in a swift and yet quite painful manner.”
‘He swung that massive weapon around his head as though it weighed nothing and slammed it into the ground. The sky darkened, and thunder could be heard rumbling above. To a man the enemy took an involuntary step backward. All but one figure draped in black robes.
“I am Dergeras puny swordsman. Neither your threats, your steel or your mediocre magery shall be sufficient to remove me from this place.”
‘A deadly calm fell over the field but a zephyr of wind tickled my ear and I could hear the Master’s voice as though he stood next to me, “Sound an orderly retreat. I would not have collateral damage.”
‘What happened next I cannot describe. The air around the two men came alive with Power. The forces of the blasts leveled trees and laid waste the meadow where our armies would have fought. Dergeras faced the Master, hammering him with bolt after bolt of Power and the Master stood behind the crosstrees of his sword still driven into the earth and stood his ground. A whirlwind of dust and dirt obscured our sight of the two men and the clouds above darkened.
‘While our army had largely retreated to a ridge our enemy had stayed closer, likely wishing to have the tactical advantage once the mages had concluded their combat. I know not which of them unleashed the storm, but it swept the field. Coruscating bolts of lightning fell instead of rain, the cacophony was literally deafening.
‘Abruptly, it all ended. The storm did not abate, it simply ceased to be. Before us we could see the two mages. The Master had impaled Dergeras through the heart with his greatsword, the blunted tip opening a terrible wound in his chest and yet the man still lived.’
“So you have taken unnatural steps to preserve your miserable existence. Know that these things will only serve to make you weak. Fear is a weakness; death comes to us all and looking upon it with fear is foolish. I leave you with these words to think on. Begone!”
‘With that last word, the form of Dergeras vanished from the blade of the sword, his face still snarling in defiance. The meadow was littered with charred corpses of the enemy force. The Master saw the destruction that had been wrought and dropped to his knees, sword over his shoulder and cried like a child.’
“I tried to warn them. Why didn’t they leave?”
“Blademaster” I said, “You are not to blame for the actions of others.”
“Nay General, this has been a test of my skills and I have come up short. There is always a way to improve one’s self. To cease learning is to die.”
‘At this point, I knew he was an honorable soldier. An honorable comrade. A man I could respect.’
Callindra’s eyes were getting heavy; she was exhausted from being in constant pain. She set the book on the bedside table and blew out the candle. Lying in the dark waiting for sleep to come, she imagined she could hear the door open and close.
“Glarian? Is that you?” Gods and demons she wished her voice hadn’t quavered like a little girl’s, but she had been truly worried he wouldn’t return. Callindra felt a strange sense of doing this before, but couldn’t imagine why.
“Yes child.” Glarian said, “I just need to stow the hand cart in the lean-to before it gets buried in snow.” He was standing in the doorway to her room holding a lantern. Snow covered his brown cloak and heavy boots.
After some shuffling and some loud thumps he returned, holding a small vial filled with white powder. “Here lass, this will help the break heal.” He mixed a pinch of the powder into a glass of water and held it out.
She drank it quickly, relieved it had no flavor. Callindra was embarrassed by how comforting she found his presence. “Thank you.” She said before sleep quickly claimed her.