White. Endless white and biting cold. Those were the first memories to flood back into my mind. For a while, I felt nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing. Nothing seemed to be able to draw me out of this bleak nightmare. Suddenly, I heard a sound. Very faint and distant, but as I strained to listen, it became louder and clearer. Crackling. It was a fire crackling nearby. Slowly the warmth of the fire spread across my body. The feeling was bliss. With both hearing and feeling back, I strained to regain control over the last aspect of my body: my sight. However, my eyelids felt like sheets of iron, welded shut. As I summoned all the strength I had in me to open my eyes, I could not suppress a moan.
“Whoa!” I could hear a deep voice booming from somewhere near. “It looks like our kitty has come to life!”
Every muscle in my body tensed. If I was able to move, I would have lunged at the voice but now, I was as helpless as a cub fresh from the womb.
“You might be covered in fur, big cat, but the cold here will cut right through that! Then again, you already noticed that, now didn’t you? Ha!”
“Where am I?” I said, but it was so soft that it seemed that the words were stuck to my lips.
“Just wandering around here,” the voice continued obviously unaware that I asked him a question, “with nothing on you but some rags! Not even a scrap of armor!”
More memories marched in, unannounced and unwanted. With the greatest of efforts, I managed to pull myself up against the wall and open my eyes. I pinched them together, almost straight away. It would appear that I was rather close to the fire and its flames blinded me. When my eyes finally managed to get used to the hot light, I could see my surroundings. I was placed on a wooden bed and covered with pelts of all kinds of animals; wolves, bears, dolyaks and more. A small fire was burning close by and a slender norn sat on a stool on the other end of the fire. The light of the flames reflected in his dark eyes and cast deep lines in his stern face. As he stared at me, he seemed more worried than anything and all my prior feelings of lunging at his throat slowly ebbed away.
“Why didn’t you carry any armor, hairy friend?” the norn said softly. “I do not understand.”
-Bah,- I thought, -you could not understand.-
Instead of saying such things, I managed a painful shrug ending in a guttural moan.
“Careful,” the norn said, “It will take quite a while for the cold to leave your body.”
Just as he finished saying that, a female norn stepped into the room with short, brisk steps. Where the male seemed able only to sit around fires telling children tales, this female was very muscular and clearly fit enough for battle. She was carrying a tankard in one of her strong hands.
“By Raven’s wings, you look terrible, charr!” the female said as she shoved the tankard into my paws.
There was no mistaking it; I had to drink whatever was in that tankard. Now that I saw the murky fluid sloshing around, my throat stung with anticipation. One would think that being buried in snow would leave me well hydrated. I closed my eyes and chugged down the fluid. It was cheap, norn ale, but as the warmth spread throughout my body, I deemed it the best drink ever had. As the heat continued to fight the cold in my limbs, sleep once again fell over me.
This time when I woke up, there was no norn staring at me, nor was there a fire burning. It must have been midday as the light outside the small circular windows was intense. It stung my eyes. Averting my glance to the door, I saw the male norn pushing aside the thick curtain that separated the area where I lay from the rest of the homestead. On entry, the norn shot me a smile.
“I see you are doing well, lost kitten!” he beamed.
“Call me that again and we will see just how well I am doing,” I snarled at him, bearing my fangs.
His roaring laugh took me off guard. He slapped himself on the knee while glistening drops appeared in the corner of his eyes.
“You are doing just fine, I see!” he wheezed once he found the breath to do so.
Unsure whether it was an insult or not I chose to remain silent and fix my stare at him. This had the desired effect as his laughing quickly died out.
Averting his eyes, he said, “I’m sorry, charr.”
I did feel a lot better, though, sitting upright in the bed and leaning against the wall. I had already stretched my claws a couple of times to make sure the feeling had returned.
“So, where am I?” I asked in my least threatening voice. Or so I hoped.
“Now, now,” the norn rebuked, holding his hands in front of him. “It’s bad manners to bombard your host with questions while he doesn’t even know you.”
I was about to snap at him as my annoyance was matched only by my discomfort, but a thundering laugh knocked the spirit out of me. This voice had power and life in it, unlike the voice of the male norn who, when laughing, was more annoying than anything else.
“You speak to a charr about bad manners?” the voice rang.
The male was taken aback a bit, just long enough for me to notice.
“Very well,” he said with a frown, “you are in my homestead-“
“My homestead!” the voice boomed.
“-Our homestead,” the norn continued seemingly unfazed. “My name is Vadi.”
“And my name is Kára,” the female norn stated as she walked into the room, still holding a cleaver loosely in her hand.
“Are you a couple?” I heard myself asking.
“Ha!” Kára boomed. “By Bear’s claws, no! This good for nothing here is my brother!”
“Thank you,” he said with a shallow smile.
I could not help but smile a little.
“Although he is lousy in combat and worse in the hunt, he did have a point. I do want to know who you are, charr. And what brought you here.”
“My name…” I started, but stopped to hesitate. “My name is Kumara.”
“Oh?” the male replied with surprise. “What about your warband name?”
The very notion of my warband left a cold feeling in me that made the snow outside seem like a fire pit big enough to roast a dolyak whole.
“It is not important.” I strained.
“So you’re a gladium then?” Vadi said.
It may have been my posture, or the look in my eyes, but something drove Kára to slap her brother against the back of the head so hard, that he nearly toppled over.
“Did you not hear him?” she scoffed. “He said it wasn’t important.”
“By Wolf’s paw, I was just trying to get to know our guest!”
“Well, don’t. He told us his name, that’s all we have to know about his personal life.”
“What about his purpose here?” Vadi said, much like a child trying to prove his right.
She stared intently after that. I knew very well that these two norn had not only saved my life, but have helped me recover as well. So, I decided to tell them, cutting Kára off who had just opened her mouth.
“I left Ascalon for my own reasons and decided to wander away. This area was the first I encountered. Because I have lived in Ascalon my whole live, I woefully underestimated the Shiverpeaks.”
“Yea,” Vadi nodded in agreement, “we noticed that.”
“And,” Kára said softly, “what do you plan to do now?”
I sighed. That very question has haunted me from the moment I decided to leave Ascalon and I had yet to find a satisfying answer.
“I’m not sure,” I said pondering. “I think I will continue wandering around.”
“You… plan to just wander?” Vadi replied with a mix of shock and wonder.
Kára, meanwhile, was shaking her head, rustling her long braids from side to side. I arched an eyebrow at her when she set her eyes on me again.
“Not in those rags. You wouldn’t survive.”
My left arm strained as I drew back the string. The feathers of the arrow nocked on my bow stroke the fur on my cheek. Somewhere in the distance a snow owl lifted its wings and took off from the branch it sat on, sending a blob of snow downward. It was the only sound that could be heard in this frozen land. The Deer heard it too and as its head shot up, he started to scan his surroundings with his big, black eyes. The creature seemed to calm down a bit, but it was still nervously glaring every direction. Had it not been for the bush in front of me and the light snowfall, it would have surely seen me. The string sang as I relaxed my paw and the arrow flew towards the deer swift and silently. It rammed into the creature’s head with such force that I could hear the cracking of its skull and see the arrowhead jutting from the other side, glistening with warm blood. Lifeless, the deer sank through its knees and collapsed to the ground. I briskly walked towards the creature to inspect and secure it. A smile cracked my face. Tonight, we would have a good meal. I carefully examined my bow; it was a long bow, made of both wood and metal displaying an intricate pattern of leaves and flowers. It was the only relic of my past. Kára was impressed that I was able to shoot a bow like this. As I softly ran my claw across the pattern, I was startled by a loud yell nearby. Nobody who was hunting would make such a noise and nobody came here who wasn’t hunting. I hastily grabbed the deer and threw it over my shoulder before setting of in the direction of the sound. Using my bow to deflect any low hanging branches, I made quick progress through the sparse forest until I reached the edge. There, a rarely trotted path snaked its way around the little hills and brooks scattered across the landscape.
Although finding travelers on this road was rare, I could now see a whole bunch of creatures huddled on the road. Four of them were obviously grawl. What they were doing so far away from their territory, I could only guess. My eyes shifted to two other creatures; beings I had never seen before. In my experience, shrubbery should not be able to move, but there in front of me, I saw two plantlike beings walking on two legs. They were obviously travelers as they wore large rug sacks. One of them was the origin of the sound. It was lying on the ground, desperately trying to block a club with a dagger. While letting the deer slide of my shoulder, I nocked an arrow and started to move towards the struggle. I did not stop to aim, so it was a wild shot but still, the arrow imbedded itself into the side of the grawl harassing the plant. The beast cried out in pain, spraying bloody foam from its mouth before falling over. The other grawl immediately turned their attention to me. One of them had a bow as well, but a quick arrow to the chest taught him who the better marksman was. One of the other two was now so close that it lunged at me, wildly swinging his sword in a horizontal arc. It was all too predictable. While loosening a small axe from my hip, I rolled forward, deftly dodging the blade that was aimed at my head. Finding myself behind the stinker, I spun around with a furious swing hacking the axe into the grawl’s neck, ripping its head of. The thrill of battle coursed through me, but I managed to hear the mumbling of the other grawl. The beast was conjuring a spell of sorts. Without a second thought, I hurled the bloody axe towards the grawl. As it spun through the air, drops of blood flew off and shone like rubies in the sunlight. The axe found its resting place in the forehead of the beast. Its eyes rolled slowly inwards as it collapsed. I strode to the grawl with large steps and had to pull rather hard to remove it. It nearly took the head with it.
Not sure if the battle had ended or not I shifted my focus back to the two shrubberies who stared back at me with a mixture of fear and awe.
End of Part 1