Dusk fell on Hoelbrak and the lights of the lodges bathed the Might and Main in a soft glow. The lunar new year had come and in the spirit of renewal Knut had organised a feast. Games, ale, meats of every kind and laughter filled the open expanse, the cold night never a deterrent to the lighthearted norn.
Hoelbrak had quietened down significantly since his trial. Koda’s Breath had mostly gone about his work with Ulfridda, who kept him close at all times. They had discussed the possibility of Serene Wrath’s escape during his meditation sessions, and as a precaution, she had forbidden him from meditating. This had proven to be troublesome as the act of meditation was a part of his daily routine, even after he had lost his memories. Not being able to meditate could have dire effects on the Voice of a Sanctuary, although the types and kinds of effects remained to be known.
His memories were returning slowly and mostly in his sleep. When he slept he experienced visions of the construction of The Spear of The Sea, as a young cub, his twin sister Sonorous Peals, his first kiss , his trials to become Voice; they came back overnight in a slurry of emotions that left his body weak emotionally drained and dissatisfied.
During these feasts the norn boasted, drank and fought between themselves. Although all good-natured, Koda’s Breath felt out of place in such a raucous environment. Kodan society was peaceful, and with few exceptions they were discouraged from revealing their true feelings about certain subjects. Such was the sacrifice for Harmony. Their Keepers of Words often suggested that it was due to their habitable environment: on Sanctuaries, where everyone knew each other and were most often related, harmony must be kept. Balance, it was said, is achieved by all parts functioning to make their whole. And so he sat far to the edge of the festivities, next to Ulfridda. They sat largely in silence, Ulfridda’s piercing blue eyes observing the scene before her, clearly sharp and at work. She wore her steel grey hair upon her head, her long single braid twisted into a makeshift crown held in place with an old, weather-worn hairpin.
Koda’s Breath had been gifted new townclothes as compensation for his recent imprisonment. Wolf Havroun Valda had them commissioned by the kodan of Song of Final Exile and the warm wolf pelts and red cloth had been made in kodan style. Its most significant addition was a hood which kept the cold off his ears. The kodan from Song of Final Exile had copied the symbols from his now ruined armour he had worn in the battle against Drakkar, and these familiar shapes had given him great comfort. As a secondary gift, their Voice had sent him a pelt dye-kit, allowing him to redye his fur in the customary style befitting a Voice.
The night wore on, the norn growing increasingly more drunk, and it was well past midnight when Ulfridda suggest they leave. He agreed and they made their way back to Bear Lodge.
“Come to my tent a moment Koda’s Breath” Ulfridda asked when they were inside and away from the frosty wind “I have something to ask you”
“Of course, Elder” He answered, and they made their way to her living quarters. Once inside, she bent down and picked up two heavy packs.
“We leave tonight. The sooner we can release your Claw from this shard, the sooner we have a solution to the Icebrood.” She hefted the pack onto her shoulders and stood straight. “Are you ready?”
“I am. But why leave tonight?”
“The fewer questions asked, the better. I know my people, we have always been incurable gossips. Blast, but I was one too when I was young. Old as I am, kodan, I indulge like every norn.” She moved towards the door. “I have a signed letter from Knut ordering the wolfborn of the Southern Watchpost to not mention our departure. If we leave now, we can get to the Durmand Priory in a few days.”
Koda’s Breath’s head was full of questions, but he held them in. “I understand.”
Ulfridda walked out of her quarters.“I’ll explain more on the way, but we are going to see my cousin, who can at least point us in the right direction.”
Getting to the Southern Watchpost was easier said than done but they were fortunate that most norn were in the Might and Main and were able to sneak through the Hall of Legends fairly easily. The guard of the Southern Watchpost took the letter and read it slowly, before waving them through. Ulfridda breathed a sigh of relief, and took her first step before a shout rang out in the night.
“Close the gate! An army of jotun is at Wolf’s Shrine!”
In the moonlight They could see a figure running towards them, dressed in the garb of a Wolf Shaman. Ulfridda recognised the man and ran towards him, and he collapsed in her arms.
“What happened?” She asked, as Koda’s Breath lifted the huge norn out of her arms with the assistance of the nearby wolfborn. They sat him down under a cherry blossom tree, and the wolfborn ran off to get Knut.
“There is an army of them—Savage jotun. They— ate— my wolf pack”. He said through his exhaustion.
“How many Hraggorn? How many did you see?” Ulfridda wiped the sweat from his brow, and reached into her backpack. She drew a small mug and a thin bottle. Emptying the bottle into the mug, she called upon Flame, and let it’s heat radiate into her hands, warming the earthenware until the liquid steamed. She offered it to the norn and he took a long swig, the colour returning to his face.
“Wolf’s tail that’s good Ulfridda. Thank you” Hraggorn sat up straight and Koda’s Breath offered an arm to help him stand. “Thank you kodan”
“If the jotun are attacking, Hoelbrak is in danger.” Koda’s Breath turned to Ulfridda. “The jotun of the north are savage, and their fall from a powerful society a fable to teach our children humility. I have heard their story many times”
“Our jotnar are the same. A brutish, savage species. There has been no giant-king since Korag’s death at the hands of the Slayer of Issormir, and if another has risen to command an army it is not just Hoelbrak that is in danger. When Modmagniir was king and the norn fled south, he took us as a threat and tried to wipe us out. We fled from one war against Jormag into another with the jotnar. I slew Modmagniir all those years ago. To our knowledge, he was the last surviving jotnar from the zenith of their kind. His subjects were the brutish lot you see today, but he was an intelligent and powerful foe. If another giant-king commands them, he or she would have to be one of the Old Ones, as the jotnar call them.”
Although the wolfborn had been sent to get Knut, naturally he had told a few norn along the way and as Knut arrived a crowd was already beginning to build. The gate at the Southern Watchpost was shut, the wolfborn around on high alert and Knut’s presence silenced the crowd.
“Go home to your beds! I will sort this out!” Knut waved the crowd away and once most had left, conferred with Ulfridda.
“Hraggorn is safe?”
“I gave him a revitalising potion. One of Kaelbarns’ concoctions. Knut, if there really is an army of jotnar, we will be unable to go to the Priory.”
Knut agreed. Koda’s Breath was only half listening, though, as a quiet voice whispered to him on the wind.
‘Wrath! How can you—?’
‘Something comes Ko. A deep disturbance. I can feel it in my mind.’
‘What kind of disturbance?”
‘Something even the Mists is rejecting. A dark, unnatural thing. I can feel—’
Serene Wrath became silent as there was a thunderous banging at the gate.
Knut, Koda’s Breath and Ulfridda raced to the gate and climbed the ladder on one side. They peered over the edge to see a small band of jotun below. They had between them a battering ram on their shoulders. One jotun was furiously winching the ram back, while another stood and watched.
“I can take them” Ulfridda said, as she attuned to Flame. The surrounding air grew suddenly dry and hot, and she reached into her coat. Knut stayed her hand.
“You can kill this small band but it would set us on a path to war. We cannot afford to fight against The Sons of Svanir, Mordremoth and the jotun.
“Perhaps diplomacy could solve this?” Koda’s Breath ventured.
“Blast!” Ulfridda shoved her sceptre back into its pouch, and crossed her arms.
“Well said, kodan.” Knut smiled at him. The burly norn turned to the small party below, and called out into the cold night.
“I am Knut, Master of the Great Lodge of Hoelbrak! What brings you here to our gate?”
The onlooking jotun looked up to their position and called back.
“I am Ungrundr, Steward of the House of Ymir. We request parlay!”
Ulfridda called out. “Why should we parlay with the jotun?”
Ungrundr smiled. “Because if you don’t, I shall tell my mistress and she shall set her army upon you. Hoelbrak cannot withstand an assault of four hundred jotun warriors!”
Knut and Ulfridda looked at each other. Four hundred jotun was more than Hoelbrak could handle. Most of their warriors were either to the north, or had been taken with Eir when she had gone to assist the Pact to the west. After a moment, Knut spoke.
“Tell your mistress we will parlay with her. She is to be accompanied by no more than a skeleton guard. She shall come to no harm in Hoelbrak, you have my word.”
Ungrundr nodded, and ordered his party to retreat. As they left, he called over his shoulder.
“The one of Koda must also be there. If he is not, we have nought to say to you.”
Koda’s Breath went cold. Ulfridda looked at him, then back to Knut.
“Why do they want to talk to you?” Knut asked.
Koda’s Breath remembered Serene Wrath’s warning.
“I don’t know”.