Unfortunately, dear readers, unless you fall into the former group, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until I finish this story in text form to get the whole summary, but at least it will be complete in detail!
Onward to the third part of The Northern Hunt.
The Third Day of the Moon
Month of Yule
Local Year 5315
Divine Association: Eir, Goddess of Mercy
Literal Meaning: Year
- Right-side: Promise, Renewal, Reward
- Inverted: Interminable, Repetition, Reversal
This evening it is reckoned to be the winter solstice and for many including myself, the midwinter festival of Yule. Back in my homeland we would count the beginning of a new year during the Vetrnætr (Winter Nights) festival or as it is known locally, Samhain; folk in these lands tend to place the beginning of a new year on the solstice, so I will follow the local custom out of ease.
It was said amongst my folk that during the small hours of this night, the Wild Hunt, led by Wodin astride his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, would be at its peak and it would pass all-throughout the lands of Midgard. Many Nordthic-folk, mostly children, would fill their socks or shoes with hay and place it outside their doors to feed Sleipnir for the chance to be bestowed a gift or boon by Wodin. I am unashamed to admit I plan on following this tradition before I retire for the evening.
Tomorrow, Ajax and I take our leave of Greyward Keep and Shale Glacier, and begin the remainder of our sojourn to the thorp of Amsel, where we are to look into such dire rumors of this 'wendigo' creature.
To make the journey through the lands now locked in snow, frost, and rime, the two of us ventured a fortnight ago into the burg in an attempt to locate a suitable means of transportation; as I mentioned before, I had a few ideas of possible ways we could make our passage.
It came to my realization during my stay in here that I had missed reproducing my piece taken from the Pilgrim's Guide to Arrakis on Shale Glacier into my journal entry:
-An excerpt from “A Pilgrim's Guide to Arrakis”
“It is in the East, just before the craggy Dragon Peaks, that evidence of Ankh's feudal tradition is still seen. One of the larger baronies sits just to the North of freshwater-Loch Moraine. Shale Glacier is a town still steeped in that feudal culture, one that still boasts the largest functional iron and orichalcum mine in the West. Although out of the way, The Pilgrim's Guide to Arrakis suggests that if you are making your way East through the mountains, do so by way of Shale Glacier. The Loch ensures a fair temperature most of the year, and the locally-brewed Maolanach Mead provides more than enough of a reason to stay in the Winter!"
"It is suggested however, that pilgrims avoid straying too far off the path and into the mountains, as the locals readily tell tales of the hostile mountain fauna. Beyond the typical monstrous fare, there are also savage-Human tribes that tend toward brigandry or prisoner-taking. The Pilgrim's Guide suggests the following as locations of note in Shale Glacier - Twin Vixen Taphouse is one of the oldest establishments in the town and was said to be named after a pair of local amiable Succubi! The enormous open-air forges are also worth seeing, and any visit to the town would not be complete without an orichalcum souvenir from one of its artisans. Finally, the forest that surrounds the lake is replete with boar and stag for the pilgrim looking for a challenging hunt!”
For a relatively remote settlement, Shale Glacier is a surprisingly robust town, even in during winter; the Pilgrim's Guide failed to note the population mixture, which appears to be mostly humans and dwarfs, though I did glimpse what appeared to be jötunn of a familiar cast of those of my homeland.“Pilgrims may note the difficult and rugged road that leads North from Shale Glacier; The Guide suggests employing a skilled boatman, as a small but present merchant line uses the river to travel upstream to the smaller towns to the North. However for the dedicated Pilgrim, the road is not impassible and certainly no more dangerous than what is to be expected. Carrying on North, the Pilgrim...”
Before I could personally investigate further Ajax directed me towards the market section of the town; the streets and eaves of the half-timbered buildings were decorated with what my companion referred to as 'bunts' (small wedge-shaped flags coloured and adorned with the crests of prominent families), in cheer for the yuletide season.
Thinking it unwise to strike out on my own, I accompanied Ajax as we began our inquiries; our first several visits were to shoppes that commonly traded in commodities brought in from other settlements whilst exporting local goods, hoping to gain passage as we did before on a procession heading to Shale Glacier. Unfortunately, it was not to be; all the trade companies we spoke with were not planning any excursions northward until the first spring thaw.
During our endeavor, I did behold two distinct ideas of my own for traversing the rime-scape: The first was pair of devices, fashioned of wooden frames and woven with rawhide lacing, that when worn underneath ones' shod feet, would aid when walking through deep snow (or more correctly, over-top); though I was sure we were not considering making the vast distance on foot, I thought such footwear would be practical in the snowladen wilds.
Ajax only became amenable to the acquisition of this gear after I showed him another set of objects and elaborated upon the primary idea I had for traveling under our own power; whilst the 'snowshoe' was sometimes used back in my lands, it was not as common for wintertime travel as mush as the ski. The word 'skidth' can be roughly translated to the Old Nordthic meaning for a 'stick'; a ski was basically that, a long, flat plank of wood that one attached underneath ones foot midway along the skis length. The wearer would then glide upon the ski over snow or frozen surfaces by expending little effort in comparison to trekking through it, using their free leg to propel themselves; a single pole aided in balance.
When I explained all of this to Ajax, he balked at the very prospect of us doing so, for he claimed it would be impossible, and even if it was not, only elves would be 'delicate' enough to be able to 'dance' across snow in such manner; Ajax then attempted to mask his unease by making a tired joke about my lean stature. I admit that I might have allowed myself to get unduly excited for the chance to go 'skiing', but I had to agree that doing so would not be feasible with our large collection of gear.
Our traveling prospects having turned up empty, we decided to take a brief respite; even before I could mention it, Ajax said with a grin that we were going to 'see the girls' at the (in)famous Twin Vixen Taphouse.
My companion led us through several alleyways and in though a rear door of the establishment; evidently Ajax wanted to limit the chance that knowledge of one of the Duke's sons seen visiting this place could find its way into the wrong ears.
Even in the rear of the building it was warm and humid inside; almost beyond comfort even after we doffed most of our apparel. It was easy to discern one of the reasons for this heat, for it permitted patrons of this tavern, perhaps more so the barmaids, to wear less wear despite the chilly season. We found seat at the bar, right by Ajax's 'favourite spot', and I decided to partake in the Guide's endorsement and ordered a Maolanach Mead for the both of us.
By the gods, I enjoy a good mead, and we did enjoy several of these delicious drinks. Whilst Ajax was busy wandering the tavern, making vulgar talk with whatever female would indulge his presence, I struck up an exchange with an elven traveler named Fenni. I mentioned how uncommon I found it to see any of his kind in this town and that his dress spoke of one who was not local, much like myself, to which he elaborated that he recently arrived in Shale Glacier and haled from outside of the community of Icebreeze; which even in my slightly drunken state, I recalled was a settlement marked upon Ajax's map inside of a great track of old-growth forest, just on the northern side of Cayoush Lake.
The look of my realization on the fateful implications of that statement, as it slowly dawned upon my face, Fenni must have found quite amusing; I immediately inquired further on his method of travel though the cold hinterlands, which he explained thusly: He and several other companions made their journey southwards through the icebound lands over the course of a few days using sleighs drawn by 'trandaros', stag-like animals that tend to inhabit the northern regions.
I made polite discussion on other topics and bought us a round of drinks before I shared the particulars of our sojourn, and after I came to the part detailing our current situation, emboldened by drink, I plainly appealed to him for aid in reaching our destination and that he would be generously compensated for his time and effort; this was a falsehood on my part, as I personally had little of value to grant for such a request.
Fenni spoke that it was perhaps foolish for the two of us to undertake such a perilous journey in the heart of wintertide, and more so that we were making Amsel our destination, for he heard the rumours of creature that has benighted that thorpe for several months. But he did promise that he would speak with his companions and meet me back at the taphouse in a weeks' time, and with that oath he took his leave; my mind buzzed for ideas which I may keep my own promise of payment.
Soon afterwards, Ajax finally reappeared, his drunkenness exaggerating his gait, speech, and grin. I told him the news I had learnt and our possible prospects, to which he halfheartedly listened to, for his glazed eyes were busy cavorting over the form of a female dressed in an relatively moderate frock, compared to the attire of most women in that establishment. To both our surprise, she approached us, smiling, but to me something of her countenance told me she was not to be trifled with.
"Inanna!" Blurted Ajax in slurred greeting. "Greetings, Ajax. You appear to have me confused with my sister. I'm Mara." she replied in a sultry yet razor-sharp tone.
"'Ave ye come teh keep meh companeh, luv? 'Tis been a while since we've seen nor been wit' eacho'ther." replied Ajax in a manner in which suggested he had forgotten I was present; or that he would have preferred if I was not.
To which Mara replied: "Indeed, it has been sometime. If I recall correctly it was a rather... short... time." I choked upon my drink and poorly stifled a laugh as Ajax responded with a tepid chuckle before saying: "Thun aye'll joost 'ave to make up for los'time, eh lass?"
"Unfortunately Ajax, after speaking with some of the other girls about your past... shall we say, deeds, and now your present return, your presence here has grown somewhat, wanting as of late. Have you come to make good on your myriad of promises?" Something glinted in her hand while she said that; a shining blade made my mind quickly become sober.
Ajax, who seemed completely obvious to the veiled threat, began to speak but I interrupted him,
We stumbled our way back to Grayward Keep, and after a few hours of recovering I was able to fully disclose our happenstance to a surly Ajax, who reluctantly agreed to the possibility if all other avenues failed. My own pride kept me from mentioning my promise of payment. Over the next several days, the two of us explored any other prospects, but none proved acceptable.
Before I forget to, I should mention a different occurrence of note:
One day, when I was sitting alone in one of the common rooms working upon my needlework, the dwarf Dunlevy, fiancee to Ajax's elder sister Bronwyn, passed by the doorway, halted and sighed, staring in at me the whole time.
"Nah, nah, nah, laddie. 'At's not the only craft fit to be practicin' in this town. Sure ye can do it when you dun 'ave the means to practice forgin' in tha smithy." spoke Dunlevy as he began to hurry me from the room.
I told him that I had only a passing familiarity with the upkeep of my own worn armour and what I had learned from my smith friend, Seppo; to which he replied "Och, and here aye been told that yer Ajax's squire an' yet can't even look after his guard! Well, we'll soon make that right, aye!" Again, I chose not to dispute the presumption, which now seemed fact throughout the Keep. "An' aye could use another hand on somotha the pieces aye been workin' on"
Once we were at the Keep's smithy, Dunlevy showed me the patterns of his current project: as a yuletide gift, Ajax was to be given a set of steel greaves. And after I did my best aiding him whilst he hammered and drew out the plate, to familiarize myself, 'as squire', on their upkeep and maintenance, the dwarf showed me to beat out any dents and polish them. Dunlevy also set me to work on the repair of several timeworn shirts of maille, as well as other pieces of armour. It did please me that my needlework skill was somewhat practical when fixing the tears and rents in the odd quilted gambeson.
Needless to say my time up until a few days before yule was busy learning and practicing the craft of armoursmithing; I feel it helped me from dwelling upon the trials to come.
A week following our parting, I returned to the Twin Vixen Taphouse, full of worry and anticipation; Ajax perhaps wisely decided not to accompany me, though he did assure that funding would be provided if this elf agreed to assist us. Fenni did not fail to turn up soon after my arrival, and his greeting matched the congenial look upon his face; he was kind enough to cease prolonging my anticipation: he and his company agreed to take Ajax and I to the eastern shore of Cayoush Lake where Amsel River fed into it, if we would meet his price; trusting that Ajax could meet it, I agreed and we shook arms upon our pact.
After purchasing him a celebratory drink, I mentioned our intent to leave the day following yuletide (less than a week away) and he told where outside Shale Glacier to meet his company. Fenni left soon afterward having finishing his draft, and I likewise returned to the Grayward house and told Ajax of our progress; he still seemed reticent on the nature of our arraignment, but I could tell he was also relieved we had at last found means to travel.
The days before our departure were filled with preparations, both for the yule festival and for our own plans; even though we kept mostly hush about the details, word quickly spread around the house of our intent to leave following the solstice. It was during this time I actually spoke to the Duke privately, when he pulled me aside before the yuletide feast. Though comparatively short in stature even after he bade me to have a seat, Lord Agarin Greyward towers over one with his mere presence.
The dwarven duke made it clear that in knowing his son Ajax, that he would undoubtedly be drawn to the adventurous rumors of the 'wendigo' in Amsel. Without asking, he presumed where the two of us intended on heading and that his son had not made it apparent as he did not want his mother to worry. Before I could answer he silenced me with an upraised hand and continued that Ajax had already been given an allowance that he was sure was being put toward our preparations; he was not speaking to me to convince us of the futility of this endeavor.
Lord Greyward looked me in the eye as he said: "Despite where yer travels do take the two of ye, the only thing aye ask of ye as 'is friend, is to look after me son as best ye can." Before him and the all the Æsir, I swore to do so; his lordship clapped me on the shoulder and we joined the others for the midwinter banquet.
A truly memorable feast followed: a roasted boar's head, decorated with sprigs of evergreen, holly, and of exotic fruits was the centerpiece. There were pies of venison, smoked salmon, manchet bread, roasted beetroot and shallot, and various puddings for the concluding course. Ale, mead, wine, and other drinks were abundant throughout.
After our meal, there was an exchange of customary gifts between all members of the household; Ajax received the plate greaves Dunlevy had fashioned, and to my own surprise, I was presented with one of maille haubergeons I helped renew to working form. And sweet, sweet Nerys gifted me a pewter cat pendant that reminded me of the goddess Valfreyja. I am deeply honoured by the extent of the Greyward's hospitality, a good part of me regrets we are to take our leave on the morrow.
And now, before I set myself down to sleep a final time in a warm, dry bed, I shall put out my boots that I have filled with hay as an offering to Wodin for approval of this perilous journey ahead.
Praise Be To The Æsir
~Ref 'Kampi' Vandillson