“It was 1165AE, and it fell in thick, furious flurries that evening. I remember it well, watching my parents leave with the late night patrol, their large frames distorted and eventually concealed by the snow. I turned around to see the snug, warm room, its open fire crackling and blazing, keeping us cosy. I was not alone, though I wouldn’t have cared at that point. I was very young and naïve, not realising the true dangers of the wilderness. Other children were in the dwelling, some younger than me, others older. We had been gathered together and were told to stay as a group, to stay with our guardians.
“I didn’t find it strange back then, as it was a regular occurrence for our elders to head out into the wild, to hunt, patrol our lands, and eventually return, usually with some prized meat, ready to be skinned and roasted over a spit. It was different this time though. My parents never returned.
“A group of injured and tired scouts had managed to return to us in the early hours of the next morning, warning us of imminent danger. The patrol was holding off a large contingent of dragon spawn, but they were ultimately failing. Our leader Asgeir Dragonrender, quickly followed behind, a giant fang carried between ten large male norn. Asgeir lead us away from our homes, insistent that the only way to defeat the Dragon one day, would be to survive now.
“That is my earliest memory. Unpleasant, it’s true, but without the withdrawal of our species, we would not be here today. I would not be here with you now, to give you my memories. Remember my words, and remember our past. You are now our future, our survival depends on you and your friends.”
I gazed out of the small, wooden-framed window, remember my Grandmother’s words, watching the snow fall lightly amongst the tall, fir trees. Her tired, strained voice in my head, the words haunting me on a regular occurrence. My Grandmother had always amazed me though. She had lived far beyond a Norn would have normally lived, for some of our elders reached 120 years, but she, well, she had lived to 165! The leaders believed she had been blessed by a spirit to have lived so long, outliving her friends and even some of her own family. Maybe she had, for I had no other idea how it could be so. She eventually passed away peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by her family, myself included. I was 5 years old, but I understood what was happening. My mother had been killed 2 years ago whilst out hunting with her group one evening. It had been a terrible accident, stupid really; she had fallen from a cliff top after chasing a bear down with her bare hands. So engrossed was she in her battle with the beast, she did not foresee the incoming danger. Her group had tried to warn her, but she had become the bear, her primal instincts kicking in, to kill or to be killed. They had tumbled together over the edge, the prize taken along with her life.
My Grandmother had been there for me as much as she could in her old age, my Father, well, I’m not sure what he is doing now. After Mother’s death, he lives in the taverns, drunk with grief. Many of the Norn in our village believed him to be a failure, for not continuing his life with honour, in memory of her. It’s hard for me to agree with them, for he is still my Father, but it’s hard not to as well.
He had stood beside me at the passing of our loving Grandmother, not afraid to hide his tears, his sorrow. I joined him, and the songs and lyrical joy for her were sung well into the following day. We treat death as a celebration of a life, of deeds done, of legends we sing. My Grandmother was a legend. I will miss her terribly, but her teachings live on in me, and my fellow Norn.
I pulled the shutters to, and turned around, gazing into the flickering flames of the open fire. I grabbed a poker from the mantle, and prodded a few logs around on the hearth. Cosy, just like she was that day. Smiling at the memory, I fell lazily into my bed, the furs of bear and wolf wrapped around my body. I quickly fell into a sleep filled with dreams. One however, stuck in my mind as the flames dwindled in my room, the night closing in around us.
Be not afraid, child of the mine own; though no longer a child, but a woman, grown.
We come to you with a warning, for darkness approaches you and yours.
Be quick my cub, live on, flee on all four paws.
My eyes flew open at the words, the image of Wolf within my head. Sitting upright, I noticed the cold within my room first; my bear fur had slipped to the floor in a heap, the flames of my fire, no longer alight. I clutched the remaining wolf fur against my chest, my other hand rubbing at my face as I tried to focus. Wolf’s words echoed in my mind. What did it mean? I focused on the charcoal remains of the logs on the hearth. “For darkness approaches you and yours.” I could see the flames had gone out, no longer providing warmth or light. Somehow though, I didn’t believe it was warning me of my dwindled fire. I forced myself out of bed, hastily donning my thick leggings, cuirass, gloves and leather boots, and eyed my weapons that were hung neatly on the wall. I shook my head. I won’t need those, not yet. I left them hanging, and exited the wooden dwelling I called home. The cold hit me in the face first. Hugging myself against the wind, I took careful steps through the thick snow towards the main village lodge. Cragstead was not a large village, basically consisting of its wooden dwellings for each family, the main village lodge at one end, and merchant and crafting huts scattered about. That was it, but it was my home. A home that was being threatened, but by what I did not know.
As I drew closer to the Lodge, I could hear raised voices on the wind. I tried to make out the words but the snow and wind together were too loud. I was surprised when I reached the building to find snow-laden Norn dripping ice water onto the wooden rug-covered floors. The leaders were none to impressed, telling them to shake out their clothes before entering, but getting nowhere as the patrol group, cold and flustered tried to convey their report.
I decided to interrupt. “Excuse me.” I tapped one of the Norn patrol on the shoulder, hard enough that he stopped his rant and peered over his shoulder at me.
“Get out of here, young one. This is a private meeting.”
“Private? You’re speaking loud enough to wake the village. Well if the weather wasn’t just enough to cover you all, anyway.” I retorted. “Besides, I need to speak with the council.”
The Norn stepped to one side, allowing me the view of Braham, a tall, muscular Norn, with red hair. “What is it Arn? We are a little busy here.”
“I must tell you of my dream…”
“A dream?” Braham scoffed.
“Let me finish!” I interrupted. “Not just any dream. It was a Spirit Guide. Wolf. She came to me.”
Braham raised an eyebrow. “And what did Wolf have to say?”
I clasped my hands together. All eyes were now upon me. “She came to me as a warning. A warning for us all that darkness is coming and that we must leave.”
Braham was quiet a moment, eyeing me and the Norn standing beside me. “If what you speak of is true, and I believe you tell the truth, for the Spirits of the Wild run strong in your family, then we are all in great danger. Grahm here also speaks of incoming danger. This cannot be a coincidence. We must not linger. Arn, Grahm, accompany me to the main city. We will require help to defend our village against whatever foe is coming for us.”
“But Braham…” I piped up. “We cannot defend ourselves, it will be suicide!”
Braham shot me a look that made my skin crawl. “YOU have no idea what is coming. Did Wolf tell you? No. Grahm can’t even explain it, just that the local wildlife is fleeing south. They are not Norn. We are. WE can defend our home! I will NOT abandon it to something unknown.”
I shook my head. “That is a fool’s errand Braham, and you know it. To fight something, we must know what it is first. Don’t doom us all to an unworthy death, to fail when our ancestors fled to fight another day. They KNEW. They were warned! Just like we are now!”
Braham bristled at my outburst, but held back from arguing with me. “You are right as usual, Arn.” He paused, thinking a moment, his brow furrowed. “I forget that Knut Whitebear never has enough Norn soldiers to help us. The dredge nearly overran us, but we prevailed with help from outsiders! This time, I fear you may be right about leaving though.” He shook his head, the inner turmoil of leaving his home for good, too much to put into words.
“We will take it back Braham. But to do that, we must be alive.” The Norn beside me spoke wisely. Braham nodded slowly, then sighed heavily.
“So be it. Wake the village. Gather supplies enough for fast travel. We head to Hoelbrak.”
As we left the Lodge, the Grahm stopped me, grabbing my arm. “Wait. Did the Wolf speak of anything else?”
I shook my head. “No, it was just a warning. I’m not even sure it was real until I heard your patrol.”
The Norn nodded. “We have much to discuss then young one. Walk with me on our journey to the city?”
“Of course. Do you know what is coming?”
Grahm grunted. “I fear I do… best not dally here though. Gather your weapons, meet me at the gate.”
We parted then, as I ran as best as I could through the thick snow to my home, flinging open the door, and grabbing a back pack from under my bed. Within the bag were many compartments, some small, some large. I placed some essentials within, including some dried meats, fruit, flint and rope, plus a small med kit for basic injuries. My magic will heal anything more serious, I thought, but I had never been forced to use it yet. All I knew was what I had taught myself so far with my own fighting and hunting injuries, as well as some broken limbs on a few locals. Placing the bag on the bed, I grabbed my greatsword from its hook on the wall. Long, wide and sharp, it had intricate runes that ran down the length of its shaft which when wielded, infused itself with my power and glowed a pulsating icy blue. The first time I had cut someone down with it, I was almost mesmerised by my own weapon. It had caught me off guard at first and nearly cost me my knee. I smiled at the memory it provided. That was a fun hunt. I swung it round onto my back, sheathing it into place.
Next on the wall, was a Scepter; its design was so strange, no one else in the village had ever seen it’s like before. It was one weapon that had been offered to me as a parting gift by my Grandmother. Made from some sort of branch, it glowed pink in colour. No one knew its origin but there were thoughts that it came from a land across the continent, many miles away. With the Scepter, I was given a small focus, which was one of the most captivating weapons I had ever seen. Centuries old, it shone a deep, blood red, the liquid within the stone, swirled with every movement. It was named Bloodseeker, after the old Bloodstones before the dragons awoke; back in a time where Humans and Charr were still enemies.
I gathered the weapons and placed them in their respective holdings either side of my hips, grabbed my bag, slung it across my shoulder, and with a last look around my small home, walked out the door, shutting it slowly behind me. The villagers had been rounded up, some already on their way down to the main gate, partners and children in tow. Others were still straggling behind further up the village. I could just make out their figures through the snow. I headed off towards the gate, thoughts racing through my head as to what might be on its way to attack us. Surely not Dredge again? I mulled over in my brain. Ettin maybe? I shook my head. No we wouldn’t be leaving because of them. I spotted Grahm, standing next to Braham at the village gate. They waved me over. I pulled up next to them, my shoulders and head, gathering snow.
“Arn, took your time!” Braham jibed, his back full of weapons. I noted the lack of any other provisions.
“At least I remembered to pack some food.”
“Hah!” Grahm bellowed. “Always thinking of your belly, girl. I like that!”
I grinned. “So what was it you wanted to tell me?” I asked Grahm.
Braham motioned Grahm to wait until the villagers had passed through the gate. Soldiers lead the way, the other council members behind them, and the remaining villagers in tow. That left the three of us to bring up the rear, but not before we had pulled the village gates closed.
“Now will you tell us what you think is going on?” I probed Grahm.
As we began to plow through the thick snow, Grahm nodded. “Dragon minions.”
Braham looked over at me then Grahm, his eyes speaking of a bloodlust so deep it spilled out in a fury.
“Spirits save us.” I whispered.