Sunday, 17 January 2016

Kampi's Saga: The Northern Hunt - Part II

I present part two of our current Kampi's Saga arc: The Northern Hunt.

I originally planned on writing all the events of Ajax and Kampi's visit to Shale Glacier in a single entry, but whilst I was developing it, it just grew so much; so much in fact I'm going to have to divide the remainder of events to the next entry. This is good because I love how rich this is getting in detail, but at the same time this will probably prolong me from finishing this story arc by the beginning of February. I have plenty of other tasks that also need to be done by then!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy part two!

The Second Day of the Sun
Month of Yule
Local Year 5315

Runes: Isa

Divine Association: Skadthi, the Goddess of the Mountains
Literal Meanings: Ice
Interpretations: Stasis
  • Right-side: Contemplation, Patience, Reflection
  • Inverted: Frustration, Isolation, Stagnation

Ajax and I have been here at his family estate, Greyward Keep, about a fortnight now. Our journey to Shale Glacier, following my previous entry, was relatively uneventful; I admit how shameful it was for me for my thoughts to become so dark, particularly the presumptions I began to make of the trader folk whose vessel we shared during the voyage. Fortunately, I kept such thoughts to myself and refrained from inadvertently causing any grievance. I wish those kindly merchants a prosperous new year; I shall send appeals to the god Freyng to see that they are rewarded for their good nature and generosity.

Several nights journey following our brief halt at that riverside trading hub, we entered into the southern mouth of Loch Moraine early in the day; this large lake is home to the township of Shale Glacier across it at the northern end.

When we at last disembarked at the pier near the town, gathered our belongings, rendered full payment to our skipper and said our farewells, my companion and I, instead of making for the path towards the village proper, followed the shoreline. When I inquired to this reason, Ajax told me that this was the way up to Greyward Keep that required the least effort.

This did puzzled me, for if the manor dwelt on the precipice of the tor, than surely it would cost us less exertion taking the gradual path through the town and up the side of the mount rather than attempting to scale the sheer rock face our current route was leading us adjacent to.

Upon rounding an outcrop, our sights befell upon a small assemblage of buildings radiating out from the side of the cliff. Aside from the makings of a large sealed entrance constructed into the base of the crag, I noticed a single, thick woven cord ascending parallel to the cliff face from the smokestack of one of the buildings.

Though I could not see what this line was attached to above, for it faded away into the snowy haze, I soon discovered it's purpose: We moved to the building it sprouted from and Ajax knocked upon the door. A moment later, a slat set midway into the entrance slid open and a pair of dark, scrutinizing eyes stared up at us whilst a gruff voice inquired to our business.

Ajax replied in his genial way, disregarding the question and asking his own: that if the pair of eyes belonged to a 'Reginn Farlode', at which the eyes narrowed further and staidly replied what did it matter if they were? Ajax flung open the dirty travelling cloak he had wrapped about himself to reveal the surcoat he wore underneath; I could see the eyes widen as they fell upon the family crest.

The slat quickly snapped shut and the door opened; a dwarf sporting a shorn pate and a wiry beard rapidly ushered inside whilst muttering apologies that he didn't initially recognize his 'lordship'. The inside of the building was a single room that mostly consisted of benches adjacent to the walls around the fire-pit in the centre; at least I first mistook it for a fire-pit, but it was empty of both fuel and flame, and instead a small hearth rested against the far wall, around which two other individuals, a man and another dwarf, had sat before they rose in silent greeting.

The pit in the middle of the room descended some distance below the floor into the ground; the cord spotted outside continued down from the shaft in the ceiling and disappeared into the pit, and on closer inspection I could see it was not braided of any natural fibre but bore the resemblance to ferric tendons. Adjacent to the pit, was some sort of machine of wood and metal that I could only liken to a wheel used for spinning yarn, although much greater in size and more complex in purpose; beside that nearly taking up the entirety of the southern wall was a large round shape similar to a water wheel.

The dwarf Reginn Farlode inquired if "My Lord Greyward and companion", referring to Ajax and myself, were planning on heading up to the Keep; when Ajax confirmed this conjecture, the two other dwellers wordlessly moved to the odd device and began setting it into motion by means the manipulation of levers by the man and by the dwarf climbing into the wheel and turning it with his steady gait; Reginn attempted his best at polite idle talk with the voluble Ajax.

I admit I do not recall most of their exchange for I was fascinated watching the whirling of the machine and how it spooled in the lone cable similarly to how the cranes of the harbour of Helm's Deep function. After a few moderately quiet moments, I was suddenly startled by a great tumult from the roof of the building as a large object, barrel in shape, descended from the smokeshaft and came to a stop partially in the pit; the bottom of a what appeared to be door set into the side rested level with the floor and faced the two of us.

Reginn shuffled over to the door, swung it open, and made a exaggerated sweeping gesture for us to enter; Ajax indifferently did so, and after a moment of hesitation on my part, I did as well. When the door was shut fast, locking the two us in the small cell and it began to ascend, my mind could not help but briefly fall upon how lawbreakers must have felt when hung out in a gibbet.

As the cask was lifted out of the flue of the building and began to rise far above the land below, it must have been quite apparent to Ajax my unease as I gripped tightly to the internal frame whilst staring in a mixture of dread and wonder through the glass portholes at our surroundings: one looked upon the craggy rock face of the cliff as it scrolled by; another offered a breathtaking sight over Loch Moraine; and the canopy offered the view of three cables tenuously lifting our cell to wrought-iron arms extending from a magnificent manor build into/onto the summit. Ajax did his best to stifle a laugh with a lopsided grin at my obvious awe.

After what seemed an eternity we finally halted our ascent, the door of our lift leading onto a metal lattice extending from a keep wall build into the cliff-face. When my legs found their strength and I was able to quell the unease in my gut, I followed Ajax across the iron gangway and though the entryway set into the opposite wall. Once inside, we were accosted by a pair of armed men wearing colours similar to the fir-and-blond hues worn by Ajax, who upon pulling back his hood and shuffling off his cloak, silently commanded respect with his mere appearance, as it did before with Reginn back down at the base of the mountain.

Unlike the dour dwarf, their mood was considerably more cordial and after paying their respects, one offered to send word throughout the keep that Ajax had returned from his travels abroad whilst the other would port our belongings; in response my friend politely declined these offers, claiming that he 'wished to make no fuss and that we would see to ourselves'. And here I thought Ajax would never turn down the chance to be the centre of attention; returning home has perhaps humbled him a bit?

Ajax led both of us down a brief passage and then up a winding stair until it opened onto a great long hall, lit by the daylight streaming in from numerous paned windows along its length. Just as we reached the far end of the corridor, a pair of footsteps hailed us. A man, more stocky and squat than either of us, with a great flaxen beard and dressed in finery of the familiar shades of Greyward household yet with a look of soldiery about him, welcomed Ajax and grasped him firmly by the arm. Aside from their differences, certain features were quite similar between the two: they both had that look that only comes from a blending of man and dwarven blood; they certainly spoke the same accent:

"Tis great to see ye back 'ome and well, me brotheh!" Ajax heartily returned the sentiment. His brother's eyes briefly fell upon me and he continued in a slightly more upright tone: "And aye see ye finally took me advice on getting yerself a squire. Sensible! No Greyward should be venturing without eh good retainer to keep 'is effects and 'is affairs in order!"

I do admit the desire to speak out at that moment was rather strong, but I decided that would not be polite for a guest, so I remained still other than to glance over at Ajax, who only responded with a chuckle and that showy grin he commonly donned during awkward moments. His brother spoke again: "Twas on my way to see Dah in the smithy. Are we to see 'im together?"

"Nah, go'n'head, 'twas planning on seein' Mum first, and then the rest o' the clan once we've 'ad a meal, unloaded our gear, and may'aps 'ave 'ad a bit o' wash." replied Ajax.

"Understandable given the rigours o' travel. I'll inform Dah of yer return nonetheless. We shall talk further o'er suppeh tonight!" spoke his brother before clapping him on his shoulder and continuing on his way.

Once out of earshot of his sibling, Ajax turned to me: "Sorry I didn't introduce ya proper like there. That 'twas Adoras, my eldest brotheh. Don' take the 'ol squire comment personally, 'e dinne mean it as an insult. E's sometimes a bit o' bastard that one, and as commanda o' Shale Glacier's garrison, 'e wants things to be proper like. I'll set 'im straight about friendship at suppeh, aight?"

Even though I replied to Ajax that the comment was nothing to be concerned about and we continued on are way through the passageways, a small part of me did wonder if that was the actual reason why he brought me along on his expedition, even just make a showing to his family. I decided that although at times boastful, even Ajax wouldn't be that underhanded with a friend. Would he?

Eventually, after passing by several other individuals whom appeared and acted as household retainers as we wound our way through the keep, we entered into a large cookery. The scent of various different foods roasting, baking, frying, and boiling made me realize the last time I had eaten a full cooked meal (about a week ago in Bone Cove) and the queasy feeling in my stomach from the soaring ascent up the mountain was quickly replaced with that of hunger.

Several people moved to and fro with tasks, but one aged human woman, dressed in an emerald gown trimmed with golden icovellavna, stood out amongst them: she was full-figured with a trellis of radiant hair cascading down her back in braidwork. When her soft face fell upon my companion, her smile lit up the room, and with grace she seemed to glide over to Ajax, hold him in a tight embrace, and plant a kiss upon each of his cheeks. It still amuses me now to have seen my companion, a man who until that moment seemed to be entirely without shame, blush.

Following a brief reception between mother and son, when prompted, Ajax formally introduced me to Lady Iolanthe Lambeatorix, whose kindly welcome to Greyward Keep honoured me deeply. It has been a long time since I experienced such hospitality, not since I made that fateful voyage from my homeland over a year ago; I had to mask my feelings as the thought reminded me of what I had lost.

When Ajax began to casually pick at the available fare as the two Greywards spoke of familial matters, she slapped his hand away and began to usher us from the cookery, claiming that food would be sent up to our rooms but only enough to sate our hunger until the feast that evening.

We quickly ascended to our respective quarters, and once having dressed out of our bedraggled travelling gear and washed in the basins provided, food and drink was provided and our worn clothes taken to be mended and laundered. Over our shared meal I came to the realization that I had no wear formal enough for the feast tonight and shared this concern with Ajax, who assuaged me by saying not to worry about it and something of his own shall be provided. Once my belly was full of warm food and ale, I could not but help to allow myself to drift off into slumber.

Several hours later following a rather peaceful sleep, I awoke to hear a faint rapping against the door of my quarters. I, clad only in my drawers, opened it expecting to see Ajax but instead I was met by a comely chambermaid with reddish-blonde hair who was presenting me with a wardrobe in the style of the Greyward house. She stuttered in embarrassment, and realizing my boorish indiscretion I quickly took the outfit from her and shut the door, all the while alternating between expressing thankfulness and apology.

Once I overcame my own humiliation, I dressed in the provided clothes, which were a little broad on me. And as I was combing the tangles out of my hair another knock came at my door: this time it was Ajax, who inquired if I slept well; I told him I did and thanked him again for the clothes without mentioning the incident that occurred whilst acquiring them, to which he only grinned in response.

I followed him down to the great hall where the tables were set in preparation for the evening repast. Whilst I was searching for a seat proper for a guest at one of the lower tables, Ajax bade me to sit beside him at the end at the high table; as I began to protest Lady Lambeatorix arrived with several other members of the household and said that that particular spot had been set aside for myself, so I absolutely had to sit there. Embarrassed with honour, I took my place beside Ajax.

Across from me sat the youngest Greyward son (Ajax's little brother), Aleks, a long-haired youth who from conversation I learned was a churchman in the service of Cheeba. When he heard from his elder brother that I was also a man of some conviction, he was eager to question me about my beliefs and the Æsir, but I tried politely to steer such talk to other things; I did not feel it was polite to discuss matters of faith over supper, particularly when one is a guest.

The rest of the family took their places at the high table: beside Ajax sat the Duke Agarin Greyward, Lord of Greyward Keep and leader of Shale Glacier; a well-born dwarf with deep auburn hair that was greying at his temples, an impressive beard braided into intricate knots and adorned with coppery-gold beads, and keen, sparkling eyes. Beside him sat his eldest son, Adoras, and the seat next to him was vacant (as I later came to learn it was for the absent son, Armenius, who was a foreign emissary).

On the opposite side of the table adjacent to Aleks, sat (much to our mutual embarrassment) the youngest Greyward sister, Nerys, the young woman I had mistaken to my further shame earlier for a chambermaid. Beside her was Lady Lambeatorix, and next to her was the elder daughter Bronwyn, who much resembled her mother in features apart from having her fathers eyes. She sat with her betrothed, a strapping young dwarf with a large reddish beard named Dunlevy.

Before the feast began, Lord Greyward rose in his seat and made a short speech to all present, primarily speaking of the return of Ajax to their familial home and welcoming me to Shale Glacier; cups were raised in our honour and the meal began: First was a leek stew ladled into the provided hollow rounds of rye bread, and then the main course consisted of a delicious braised stag with roasted potatoes and turnips; all served with generous amounts of heather ale.

Since then, as I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, we have spent a fortnight at Ajax's familial estate, partaking in many meals of rivalling in quality to the one I experienced on my first day as a guest of the Greywards' hospitality. Aside from occasional breaks outside the Keep, things have been otherwise uneventful; I do not mean to imply disrespect, far from it, for I do enjoy the Greyward's company and generosity, but to be honest, I am unused to such a genial atmosphere. 

I find myself spending time my alone when possible: thinking, praying, reading, or rune casting; Aleks gifted me a book of futhark runes apparently written in these lands long ago; intriguing, but I believe the interpretations within have been somewhat heavily coloured by local beliefs. Still provides interesting insight into other faiths, as well as something to ruminate over as I ponder the connection between the futhark and the divine.

I have even working on my own embroidery project that Nerys began teaching me once she overcame her bashfulness; she leaves me alone the least out of everyone here. I suspect she is quite fond of me, and it is oft mentioned that she is unwed, but to my dismay I cannot return her affections; she is a fine, young woman and I'm sure she would make a wonderful and loyal wife, though not for me. I am conflicted and unsure about my own feelings, but I know they are not for her.

On a similar topic, I have been gently pressed from Lady Lambeatorix, as the 'best' friend of Ajax, why he has yet to settle down and find a good wife of his own; they have heard him talk in passing several times about a woman named Erin. I myself recall meeting her once when she briefly apprenticed to Ajax during her time spent on Arrakis and at Dagger Deep, along with her tiny dragon 'pet' Dennis. As I have gathered from when Ajax pines (sometimes vulgarly, but always fondly ) for her above all the women he has been with, that he greatly desires to see her again; but apparently she has returned to her distant nation of Averland, far far away to the south and west.

For good reasons I choose to appear unfit when pressed to find him a suitable match; I wish not to interfere with the affections of my friend nor cause any heartbreak in the pursuit of this request.

All this aside, I believe I can speak for Ajax as well as myself that we are feeling restless to continue on with our other purpose for journeying thus far; we have spoken about in private, and our current plans are laid out thus: we aim to remain in Shale Glacier until after winter solstice and the Yuletide festival, then we shall take our leave for the northlands. Initially our plan when we arrived in Shale Glacier was to sail up the Lilloo River to Cayoush Lake but in weeks since then, it has become much colder and the surface of the waterway has frozen over; now we search for other means.

Proceeding by foot would take far too long and have a greater risk of exposure to the elements (or worse dangers). When we get the chance, Ajax and I plan on heading down into the town in an attempt to discover another way we can make the perilous journey without waiting until a thaw; I have a couple potential solutions in mind, but they depend if the Fates deem them viable.

Praise Be To The Æsir

~Ref 'Kampi' Vandillson

To Be Continued...

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