A week after Ulfridda’s quiet visitation to Eir’s homestead, Koda’s Breath was preparing to join the Hunt. Ulfridda had given him encouragement, noting his good health and strong body, putting him through a series of tests before allowing him the day off to join. No such tests were administered to Mara, and the norn woman displayed her enthusiasm in her broad smile. She wore her hair in a long braid today instead of her usual tight bun, and Meeki’s fur was well groomed. She clearly hoped to catch a young norn’s eye. Koda’s Breath suspected he knew who, but was not worried enough to further investigate.
The morning of the day before the Hunt, a young girl had been sent to his tent—having been able to afford a larger one more recently—and informed him that he would be required to present himself to the smith and armoury on the lower balcony of the Great Lodge to receive a gift from Knut: new weapons and armour. Koda’s Breath was glad to be done with the simple shift he had been wearing, and step into society as a fully fledged adventurer.
He made his way across Hoelbrak early evening, while the dusk was just beginning to withdraw its light upon the frozen surface. It was cold and he pulled his shift tight around him hoping that the recently purchased wolf-pelts would ward away the cold. The pelts, and his naturally thick layers of fur kept the cold at bay, but the cold wind stung his nose and dried out his eyes.
He presented himself to the armor master first, the norn beginning to size him quickly.
“Guardian are you?”
“Yes” Koda’s Breath nodded, and squared his shoulders as the norn used a long tape to take his measurements.
“I see. I’ll have to give you heavier plate armor then, says so in my manual. Dunno why to be honest with you though” The norn stood on a stool to take Koda’s Breath’s head circumference. “You wanting something more fancy or functional?”
“I do not think the hunt requires fancy armor” Koda’s Breath chuckled, “All I need is something to protect me”.
“I don’t have much other than fancy stuff at the moment, its the fashion you see” The norn turned to his boxes of items, sorting through the piles to find a matching set of six. He managed to pull out some banded armor, and handed them one by one to Koda’s Breath to try on. He showed Koda’s Breath all the buckles and belts to secure the pieces in place, and had to find a charr helmet to suit his kodan sloped head. The helmet fit well, and the amor master hammered some metal pieces into the area where the charr’s horns would normally be so the helmet covered his entire head. Once finished, Koda’s Breath handed the man some silver and walked across to the weaponsmith.
“Can I help you?” The weaponsmith was cheerful, despite the early hour.
“I am here to receive a weapon from you. Knut sent me”
“Ah~ yes, the special commission. Knut told me you were coming, but I received separate instructions afterwards. This is for you” The norn brought a package out from behind an anvil. The package was large and wrapped up in linen. It was crudely tied, and a note was sticking out from between the strings wrapped copiously around the item. Koda’s breath pried out the scrunched note and unfolded it in the dim light.
I heard on the wind a story of a kodan guardian who arrived south with information to help defeat Jormag. This is how I can render some assistance. My gift to you is Icebreaker. An adventurer owed me a favour. It is yours, and good luck.
The weapon inside was a beautiful hammer, hilt wrapped in bright oiled leather, the pommel a shard of ice, the head consisting of both rock hard ice and engraved steel. The weapon shone in the torchlight, and was surprisingly light despite its size. Koda’s breath hefted the hammer aloft, turning it, and felt the raw power of the weapon. It fit in his hands beautifully, and he gave it a swing.
“This is a beautiful weapon.” the weaponsmith was awestruck “Why was it given to you?
“I don’t know” Koda’s Breath stowed the hammer on his back. “But Koda must want me to have it. A hammer is a tool of balance. With it we can build, or destroy.”
The norn shook his head, and returned to his work. Koda’s Breath turned away from the forge, making his way back across the Might and Main, his concentration fixed on the hammer, and whomever gave it to him. His focus was so intense he did not notice the frozen blood on the ground nor turn his head to see the limp body just off to his left, its form raked with claw marks, cold in the snow.
Koda’s Breath took his new equipment to his tent behind Bear’s Lodge and began to meditate on Serenity. An hour into his meditation, he was roused by shouting.
“Awake, all of you!” a wolfborn shouted into the darkness “two youngsters has been killed!”
Koda’s Breath stood and exited his tent, watching as the norns hurried out of their tents and steadings. Koda’s Breath followed them out into Bear Lodge and then into the windy cold of the Might and Main.
Knut and Eir were speaking in hushed tones as Knut’s sons Sigfast and Skarti organised the wolfborn to create a perimeter around the bodies. Ulfridda was kneeling over their bodies, pressing her fingertips gently into their flesh at various points. She saw Koda’s Breath and beckoned him over.
“Kodan, can you help me. I need to roll this one over.” She pointed at the girl, whose body was white as the snow around her. The boy was still warm, and his blood not yet all frozen.
“Of course, elder” Koda’s Breath reached around the body and rolled its torso, and the limp body moved like a broken doll.
“This one has been dead more than 24 hours” Ulfridda noted. “The boy is—damn” Ulfridda moved the hair out of the boys face, and recognised him as the youth she had recently tended to.
“Those two were known to sneak out at night and meet” Knut spoke to the group, but kept his voice low. “What can you tell us Elder Ulfridda?”
“I think I can guess what has happened. The girl came to meet the boy last night, and was killed. This is no accident. The next day he must have come to meet her and suffered the same fate” Ulfridda closed the eyes of the girl, and continued “They were murdered. These claw marks are similar to a bear, or norn in bear form.”
There was a long pause before Eir spoke. “Call off the Hunt. If there is a dangerous animal or person in Hoelbrak, we need you here”.
“Even if I could, I wouldn’t.” Knut replied. “Our people have been looking forward to a hunt for a long time”.
“If I may?” Ulfridda stood and turned to the two. Knut was a good head and shoulders taller than her, and Eir by a head, but both respected Ulfridda’s experience enough to defer to her wisdom.
“I think this was an animal attack. The clawing was too ferocious, and lacked skill. Even a young norn in bear form would have been more precise.”
Knut and Eir shared a look, before Eir spoke.
“Take the bodies Elder, and do more tests. I want to know for sure.”
Ulfridda had Koda’s Breath and Meeki bring the bodies—now wrapped in white silk – back to her surgery at the back of Bear Lodge. She shooed Mara away and after she was out of earshot turned to Koda’s Breath, fury written across her face.
“Did you do it?”
Koda’s Breath was stunned.
“Of course not!”
“What were you doing when the attacks happened?
“Meditating, as I always do at this hour”
“These markings are consistent with kodan claws. They are too thin for a bear, but have the same positions as a bear would make. Even a norn would resemble a bear more. So I will ask you again, and you will answer me with the truth. Did you do it?” Ulfridda was trembling with contained anger.
Koda’s Breath looked her squarely in the eye. “No.”
In a moment, her expression changed, and she released a sigh.
“If it wasn’t you, it could only have been an animal. Possibly an Icebrood, considering the territorial nature of the killings. These two were in the wrong place after dark. I will let Knut know it was definitely an animal. Thank you, Koda’s Breath, for being honest.”
She left Koda’s Breath and he looked over the bodies of the youths. He placed his claws in the air above the gashes, noting they would have been made by a larger hand.
That night, he had disturbing dreams of murder, blood, and a deep, dark rage.