It took Koda’s Breath little over a week to recover, during which time Ulfridda attended to him when her other patients weren’t in need of her direct attention. She had two assistants, Kaelbarn, the perpetually negative human engineer whose speciality was designing or fixing the various tools Ulfridda used to distil tinctures or administer antitoxins, and Mara, an overweight ranger whose pet bear Meeki was used to warm the bodies of patients suffering hypothermia. Koda’s Breath was a welcome addition to the team of healers, as he was a natural having spent his life training as a guardian and thus, the art of regenerative magic was already his to wield.
Ulfridda was old but showed no sign of the bent back that characterises the elderly, and she would often challenge Koda’s Breath to lift more and more heavy boxes of bandages, phials of various elixirs or tinctures, and most importantly, carry patients to and from the room she used near the back of Bears Lodge for surgery. Despite his weakened state, he quickly became strong. The backbreaking work was good for him and he began to feel his muscles becoming taut once again. Although only of middling height for a kodan, Koda’s Breath was broad chested, his shoulders rounded out well, and his waist slim. Like all kodan, his chest muscles were powerful but did not jut outwards as they grew stronger.
It was three weeks into his return to work when Mara roused him from his meditation in the Lodge, shaking his shoulder in great excitement.
“Kodan, we have good news! Knut has sent me to give you this” her chins wobbled, she could barely contain herself “go on, open it!”
Koda’s Breath sighed, and used a long claw to slit open the envelope. In rough, blockish New Krytan, Knut had sent a letter to invite him to join in a Hunt. He looked back at Mara.
“Koda doesn’t teach the terror of animals for pleasure”
“But Koda’s Breath, you must! It is a great honour to be invited, you know. He is recognising you for all the good deeds you’ve done since coming to us. Besides, you know the kills are – usually – clean.” Koda’s breath didn’t like the concept, but to refuse would be rude, and his new friends were all he had.
“I suppose, if it is an honour. Please let Knut know I would be delighted to join him”
Mara beamed “And you never know, perhaps you will be reminded of who you are while the adrenalin is pumping through your veins or whatnot”
“What does it matter?” asked Kaelbarn, who had strode over to hear what Mara was going on about. “Whether he regains his memories or not, Koda’s Breath fled south for some nefarious reason I’m sure. Regaining his memories could only bring trouble”.
“Kaelbarn, that was harsh. Koda’s Breath has been nothing but helpful since he got here.” Mara chided.
“Kaelbarn shows wisdom, to be cautious of the past. But often it is our guidance into the future.” Koda’s Breath was satisfied that would make peace between them.
“We are all a balance within ourselves. Koda weighs our past with our future.”
Kaelbarn snorted and returned to his bed where he had his nose buried within diagrams for his latest invention. Mara stomped off, her bulky frame causing the lodge’s wooden floorboards to groan under her and Meeki’s weight. Koda’s Breath took the opportunity of quietude to meditate on Serenity.
He found Ulfridda that evening tending a youth who had been overzealous to get a good view of Hoelbrak, as she was placing a splint on his fractured leg. In the light of the setting sun, he had misstepped towards the vista and fallen a few metres down onto the cold frozen ground.
“Come in, Koda’s Breath”. He entered silently, and sat cross-legged beside her.
“I hear you have good news my friend” she said, not taking her eyes off the broken bone, “but first, a test. What are the three methods to deal with a crippling condition?”
Koda’s Breath thought for a moment. “First, we can cleanse the condition. Purge it. Second, we might exchange the cripple for a magical boon, such as swiftness or might. Third, we allow the condition to run its course, but apply a boon to help ease against the condition and increase survivability.
Ulfridda nodded. “Well done. Now hold him down. I’m going to cleanse him.”
Koda’s Breath looked at the boy, and moved behind his head. He had expected the youth to be frightened or determined, but he simply looked bored. Keeping the boy’s arms at his sides, he watched as Ulfridda attuned to water and called upon a cleansing wave, dagger in her left hand swirling with water, and the bone began to reset itself. She removed the splint and sent the lad on his way. The boy offered her a silver piece for her services, but she refused. Once the boy was gone, she returned her attention to Koda’s Breath.
“So, you have been invited to a Hunt.” It was not a question.
“It seems Knut wishes me to feel a part of the community.”
“I did ask him if any news had arrived from Song of Final Exile. They cannot spare any of their Keepers to come and corroborate your identity.”
Koda’s Breath nodded. “Perhaps this is Knut’s idea of consolation. I initially refused. Balance is not kept when we terrorize Koda’s creations. But as Mara pointed out, the outcome might be positive for me enough to warrant such an action. I can employ Ferocity in this.”
“I shall be honest with you m’dear, this was not Knut’s idea. Eir arranged this unscheduled Hunt and old as I am, a fool I am not. Her eagerness to have you included worries me”.
“She has never indicated an ulterior motive, Ulfridda. In fact, I always sensed she preferred her carving to being involved with the rest of the world.”
“That much is true, but she is involved. She leads Destiny’s Edge. She helped the Slayer of Issormir defeat Zhaitan, and faced off against Kralkatorrik with Glint and has made plans for Jormag. Your information about a solution to Jormag would be valuable to all of us. And she has a history of putting putting the end goal before proper preparation. I hope, in her push to uncover your memories, she doesn’t sacrifice you in the meantime.”
“I will be wary Ulfridda. If you are still worried, I’ll take Mara with me?”
“That is wise. Now, you have a lesson to begin. You are a guardian, and as such, can access virtues I cannot. You will practice applying these virtues”.
Koda’s Breath stood, and focused on Courage, then Justice, and finally Resolve, allowing their powerful energies to escape his body, and flow between him to Ulfridda.
“Good. Now keep practicing until you reduce the time it takes for your virtues to return. ” Ulfridda gestured towards a small grey dove in a sturdy iron cage, and rose, using her cane to hold open the tent flap. ”Focus on the dove, and I will return shortly.”
She made her way out into the night. Slowly at first, and then focused on air to send out a great updraft which gave her swiftness and caused the snow around her to swirl in a great frenzy. She arrived at Eir’s steading quickly, and knocked with her cane.
“It’s late. Who is it?” Eirs voice was strong, and never wavered, even though Ulfridda was certain she had been sleeping.
“It’s me, Eir. Let me in.”
The doors swung open and she was greeted by Garm. She need not bend down to scratch his chin as he leapt up, nearly knocking her down.
“Heel Garm”. Eir had been sleeping, and her hearth was unlit. Ulfridda relit it with the flick of her wrist. “I guess his invitation arrived?”
Ulfridda smiled. “That’s not the only reason I have come, I enjoy the company of my great-niece. But yes, and I owe you thanks. It was precisely as I planned.”
“Why did I have to do it?” Eir looked her square in the eyes, her expression as steely as usual.
“Because in my many years, I have discovered that good intentions are not always viewed as thus. It suits me that if his memories are not uncovered, or the madness within is released, the blame is not shifted to me –.”
“ –And that way, you can keep him close if something goes awry.” Eir finished.
“Yes.” Ulfridda conceded.
“What will you do if this ‘solution’ to the Icebrood is for naught? Even though he is frozen in ice, Bor –“
“Please Eir! Say no more. I have had enough heartbreak in my life for you to keep reminding me of it”. Ulfridda turned to leave.
“I am sorry. But you can’t keep him in ice forever” Eir called after her.
“I know. And this kodan may be my only hope.” Ulfridda barely spoke it, though Eirs keen ranger ears heard it on the wind.
She did not see the single tear roll down the aged woman’s face and land frozen in the snow.