As Ulfridda walked through the snow, she remembered that day, 163 years ago.
Endless walking. It felt like the bottoms of her feet were devoid of skin, and the bones ground together in agony. She clutched her daughter close to her chest, warding away the cold, barely able to hold her attunement to Flame she was so exhausted.
“Ulfridda!” a voice called her in the blizzard. She turned, unable to see where it had come from. She was unsure if it had even occurred, it was so faint in the wind.
“Ulfridda!” The voice called again. This time she was sure she heard it. She attuned to air, blowing out a gust from her body powerful enough to ward away the blizzard. Without the howling of the wind, the air around her suddenly became quiet. The child in her arms wriggled, and began to cry.
“Hush, Orma, hush” She consoled the baby, keeping her ears alert. The child wriggled, denied the warmth of her attunement, and its lips beginning to turn blue. Suddenly, she felt something on her shoulder.
“Ulfridda, there you are. You’ve strayed from the group. We’ve been looking for hours” The voice of her husband sent a warm rush down her spine, and she was renewed with energy. He smiled, and released his virtue of Resolve. She felt regenerated, and attuned to flame, allowing its warmth to engulf the group of three.
“There you are, Bor. We got lost, and Orma is so cold.” Ulfridda kissed him, and the icicles hanging from his beard hissed and melted when she got close.
“Come. Hinrik is safe, with the others. We need you, Ulfridda.”
They walked towards where Bor had pointed, and after a while, rejoined the group. So few were left. She knew most, having recruited many herself, and she suffered to know how many had been lost. The blizzard began to die down, and they could see the bodies of the fallen lying haphazardly along the path they had travelled, frozen in bitter exhaustion. Ulfridda concentrated, and the air around them grew warm. Bor held her shoulder, and gave her his strength.
Hinrik came bounding out of the arms of Gaerta Whitebear, and hugged his mother.
“Mother! You’re safe! How’s Omma?”
Ulfridda smiled down at her son. “She is safe, love. Has Gaerta been taking care of you?”
“She and Knut both. They’re nice, but Knut complains a lot. And she doesn’t like me touching her mind.”
“Gaerta isn’t known for her love of mesmers, Hinrik, it’s why we call her ‘Bane of Lies’”
“But using mind magic isn’t lying, mother.”
“It can be.” Ulfridda stroked her son’s raven black hair. The light blonde of her husband had passed to none of their children but they all had his deep amber eyes. Hinrik stared up at her with these eyes now.
“Mesmers can use their gifts to trick and deceive, child” Gaerta Whitebear reached them, giving Ulfridda a brief kiss on the cheek, before turning to Hinrik.
“Or, they may elect to use their gifts to heal the sickness of the mind.” She tweaked his nose, and he laughed, darting behind his father, who picked him up and carried him to where Knut was standing, gesticulating with some shamans. Gaerta turned to Ulfridda again.
“You got lost?” It was loaded with implied meaning.
“I am fine, Gaerta.” Ulfridda gave her a sharp look.
Gaerta smiled sympathetically.
“Were you trying to go back?”
Ulfridda turned away. “I wasn’t. But I think I was too deep in my memories, and didn’t follow the group. Please don’t tell Bor.”
“Few have lived as long as you and I, Elder, and feel the closeness to the lands we just left. It’s harder for you, as the oldest among us, to leave the lands you have seen pass between so many seasons.”
Ulfridda nodded. She had seen the Far Shiverpeaks shift and change, and changed with it.
“I am back now. Does Knut know if we will be able to stop soon?”
“The rangers say the Icebrood have slowed in their chase. I suspect it’s because they grow weaker as they stray away from Jormag.”
Ulfridda shivered at the name. The Ice dragon, barely woken, had carved his way south and destroyed norn civilisation in his wake. He had consumed everything in his bitter coldness, and turned even the most stalwart of minds to his corruption with his lure of power.
Knut and Bor joined Ulfridda and Gaerta, after dismissing the shamans.
“The raven shaman says there is a valley just beyond these mountains.” Bor said.
“But we have a problem. There is a jotnar city in it. We cannot continue south unless we cross this valley. The shamans met a man from something called the Durnam Priory, and he said we could travel through Lornar’s Pass there, but the Icebrood could catch up.” Knut said, looking at them with worry etched onto his young face.
“The jotnar are brutish and stupid. Could we offer them something to secure safe passage?” Ulfridda asked.
“We have nought to offer, Ulfridda.” Knut replied. Gaerta shook her head.
“We have something.” Gaerta said quietly.
“We cannot give them the fang. Its our last beacon of hope, and Aesgir would never part with it” Bor chided.
Ulfridda looked at her husband. “Perhaps if we showed we were no threat to them?”
“That may be our only option.” Bor agreed. “Let us travel to them and ask for sanctuary. I’ll take this idea to Aesgir.”
Aesgir agreed, and the norn nation picked themselves up and continued through the cold to a small pass in between two mountains. Halfway down the pass, a large stone gate blocked their way.
“Who comes to the gate of the Giant King Modmagniir?”
“Aesgir Dragonrender and the nation of the norn. We are refugees. We ask for safe passage through this valley so we may settle to the south.” Bor called up to the single Jotnar above the gate. After some noise made behind the gate, a tall jotnar emerged, glittering with jewels and wrapped in blood-red cloth. His brow was shallow, unlike many of his kin, and his speech was clipped and precise. Next to him was a female, covered in grey cloth from head to toe, only her eyes visible. She wore a crown of crudely wrought iron.
“I am Modmagniir, Giant-King of the Shiverpeaks. Your people are welcome here! Please, come into our great city and rest!”
Relief flooded through the norn, and they filed into the city. It was surrounded by high mountains, but for three passes to the north, east and south. To the west, a great glacier loomed over the city of crudely made homes.
The city was fashioned of small, modest dwellings made from pine tree wood and spread out in a circular fashion around a great central plaza. The norn were ushered into this area as the jotnar hurried to fetch everyone tents and blankets. A few jotnar seemed to command the rest, and they deferred to this small group on every choice. Modmagniir had begun a conversation with Aesgir, and Ulfridda was surprised to hear the jotnar was well-mannered and well-spoken.
Ulfridda put Orma and Hinrik into their tent, started a fire and asked Hinrik to mind his sister. She ventured out into the valley and for the first time, felt safe.
That night the jotnar prepared a feast for the norn. Roast pigs cooked on spits, and ale was wheeled out by the barrow load. Aesgir sat beside Modmagniir and his queen, and Bor next to Aesgir. Ulfridda had elected to sit with the children, and fed Orma with a small wooden spoon. She looked over at her husband, and he smiled. He mouthed three word to her, and her heart swelled. She replied. Suddenly, Modmagniir stood, and banged his staff against the ground.
“Norn of the Far Shiverpeaks! It is my great pleasure to host you here today. The stars foretold of your arrival, and the great invigoration to the land it would bring! The jotnar of the House of Brimir welcome you all! May the rivers be bathed with your blood!”
Ulfridda and the norn looked at him in shock. Suddenly, many of the norn clutched at their throats, and some toppled onto the floor. Ulfridda scanned the crowd, and saw Bor doing the same. Aesgir stood and swung his mighty greataxe at Modmagniir, but the poison was flooding his veins and he fell to his knees. Ulfridda pushed Orma off her lap into Hirnik’s arms and rushed over to Bor. His lips had turned a sour shade of green, and pink froth was bubbling from between his teeth. She looked to the mug in his hand and in its base, spied a small necromantic seal.
Modmagniir began laughing a deep, sonorous laugh at the norns’ fate. Ulfridda clutched at Bor, sobbing through tears, screaming that she loved him. Aesgir seemed to recover, but was charged at by a group of jotnar warriors, and joined the fighting norn in the plaza.
“Ul—Fridda—” Bor gasped, his form weak in her arms.
“Bor! Hold on, please!” Ulfridda cried. Gaerta was at her shoulder, holding Bor up with her.
“He needs time for the poison to wear off Ulfridda. We have to get out of here!”
“No! I won’t leave him!”
“You can’t stop the poison Ulfridda! You can’t freeze time!”
Ulfridda stopped crying.
“I can’t freeze time, but I can give him some.”
Ulfridda attuned to water, and reached for her sceptre and dagger. She channeled all her love and rage into one single spell, allowing it to fill her every pore, and released an icy wave at Bor. Instantly, he froze.
“Ulfridda!” Gaerta looked at her, shocked. “You don’t have the power to undo that spell!”
“I know.” Ulfridda said. She turned to Modmagniir, and attuned to flame. The falling snowflakes hissed and turned to steam instantly, and the ground beneath her feet became wet as it melted. Gaerta backed away.
“He is going to pay.”
Ulfridda flew at Modmagniir, screaming, and released every spell she knew in rapid succession. The jotnar king turned to regard her, and lay down necromantic seals at her feet. She ignored them, switching between her attunements and whipping him with everything she had. He stumbled, and fell to his hands and knees. She stopped.
“You would welcome us here to kill us?” she asked him.
“The stars say you shall invigorate this land. We shall sow our seed with your blood, and feed our cattle your flesh. You bring the Swallower of Ice here, norn, and it is your deaths that shall ward against his corruption!” He began laughing again, and she summoned an elemental of fire, commanding it to finish the giant-king off.
Modmagniir began laughing and began to transform. His body warped, growing taller, and turned a glowing shade of green. Horns sprouted from his head, and his legs disappeared.
“Blast!” Ulfridda swore. The jotnar had become a lich. He summoned a small army of undead and commanded they attack Ulfridda. They bit and clawed at her body, and she dodge rolled, attuned to flame and blasted them one by one. He threw ghostly claws at her, ripping through her armour, and she fell down to one knee.
“You stupid norn really think the world cares about you? You are ants among giants. The world turns, and you will be swept up in the hurricane with it.” Modmagniir sneered.
“Unlike you, jotnar, I can become the hurricane.” Ulfridda spun on her heel, and her body turned to air, spinning faster and faster. She was a hurricane, and bore down on Modmagniir. He was thrown into the air, and landed heavily near some of his soldiers. He commanded they attack her, but she did not relent, throwing them in every direction with the rage of a tornado. Modmagniir raised his hands to defend himself, but he was thrown back again, and landed on a waylain spear. Blood poured from his chest, staining the snow, and Ulfridda returned to her physical form once again.
The jotnar panicked and fled. Aesgir and his men chased them from the valley. Although they sung of that day as a victory, Ulfridda had always thought that the day Hoelbrak was founded had been a defeat.
Ulfridda arrived at her destination, and the small campfire ahead of her drew her away from her memories. She walked over to the fire and sat down next to a raven haired woman.
“Good evening, Mother.”
“Good evening Orma. How have you been?” The tone between them was frigid.
“Fine. Making a living. How’s Hinrik?”
“Using his skills the best way he knows how.” Ulfridda smiled.
Orma scoffed. “You mean he is gambling and drinking and occasionally healing some poor sick person’s mind.”
“Your brother may be doing those things but he isn’t harming anyone Orma.” Ulfridda sighed, hoping the subject would change soon.
“As opposed to what I do. I’m surviving, mother. I’m sorry the method isn’t to your pleasing” Orma spat, and wiped her mouth. There was a long pause.
“I need your help, Orma. I need your particular talents.”
Orma laughed. “First time for everything, mother! Still trying to thaw out the old man?”
Ulfridda turned and looked Orma in the eye, before she nodded. “And I may have found a way. But I need you to steal something for me.”
Orma smiled at her mother. “That’s what I do best.”