We arrived at Podaga Steading without any problems occurring. Plodding through the fresh snow in a mountain pass was onerous, but otherwise uneventful. I expected Podaga Steading to be another Lion Guard haven, but it was not. The name should have told me enough, but I got so used to traveling from haven to haven over the past few days, that I forgot that these roads did have rest stops before the havens were erected.
Before our days where haunted by the elder dragons.
We rested up in the steading, had meals and a few ales and left the following morning, ever eastward. Following the snaky path up a hill, we came across a rickety wooden bridge suspended over a divide. Snowdrift Haven was within sight, even with the snow gently falling around us, but I had great difficulty trusting the bridge. Garron and Svart had no such reservations and crossed with the dolyak. Still, it was not until all of them were on the other side that I dared cross with Thornfang.
The bridge held, much to my surprise.
Snowdrift Haven was not large, but they did their best to accommodate us. We were given some hay in one of the haven’s towers to sleep, and the guards allowed us their fire to cook. After a short discussion, it was Garron who went and cooked for us, with surprising results.
“How did you get this taste?” I said, gnawing on a bit of rabbit that I shot earlier.
“Yes, yes, you see, herbs can do miracles to the taste.”
“Herbs?” Svart asked, his mouth full of meat. “Where did you get herbs?”
“Oh,” I said, “is that why you asked me to gather those plants?”
“Yes, yes, indeed it is. You see, I know how to use them, but not how to find them. Luckily you do.”
I gave a shrug, and said, “If me gathering the materials and you cooking means I can get used to meals like these, I have no objection.”
At that the other two chuckled.
The next day, just before we left, one of the guards came to us.
“Be ever watchful,” the short asura said, looking rather ridiculous in his thick clothes. “Where might you be heading?”
“To the haven further east,” I said.
“Ah, yes, you must have an outdated map. That haven is no more, it has been blasted by servants of the ice dragon and is now home to all kinds of icebrood. If at all possible, I suggest taking the long way round.”
“Thank you,” I said. “But I don’t feel much for delay. Now that we’re warned, we’ll manage.”
“If you say so,” the asura said with a shrug, his moral obligation fulfilled.
“Icebrood?” Garron said, scratching his chin. “Are those the same creatures you fought to get you that name?”
“Well, as far as I know, the one I fought was just one of their… kind?”
“Yes…” Svart said darkly. “The icebrood are creatures corrupted by Jormag. As such, they can take as many shapes as there are creatures in the Shiverpeaks.”
“I see. We’ll keep our eyes open, then. Which was after all my speciality.”
The road through Hrothgar’s Pass was long, not just because it was a long way to go, but also because we were extra vigilant. So far, though, we saw naught but wild beasts and jotun which were at least equally wild.
Night was approaching fast when we arrived at a point where the main road dipped down through rocky overhangs.
“That does not look safe,” I said. “Svart, do you know a way around?”
He looked at the sky, and said, “I do, yes. It’s a little of path, but if we head north we’ll arrive at a homestead of a friend of mine. We could spend the night there.”
“Well, you see, why didn’t you tell us this sooner?” Garron asked.
“Because you guys seemed intent on making the journey as quick as possible, and this is a detour.”
Garron and I exchanges exasperated looks.
“Very well,” I said. “Lead the way.”
A few hours later we crested the top of a small hill. The first thing we saw—and smelled—was a pen of dolyak. A little beyond there was the homestead, looking like any other homestead I had seen. In front of the building was a norn cub, chopping logs into firewood. As we approached, Svart hailed him.
The boy looked up and grinned.
“Svart! Dad has plenty of ale left, you know!”
However, the boy’s smile faded as he caught sight of me and Garron.
“Those are some big cats…”
Garron chuckled and I just sighed.
“Those are charr,” Svart said.
“Oh! Okay. Dad’s in the stead.”
“Thank you, Salli.”
With that we followed Svart into the stead and the cub continued on chopping wood, seemingly undisturbed. Entering the homestead, we saw that it was mostly abandoned. There was a single norn seated in a large chair, staring at an empty fireplace, seemingly lost in thought.
“Bjalfi!” Svart said, opening his arms, dodging the dolyak in the room.
The norn seemed to awaken from his musings and stared at Svart for a fraction of a second before a grin split his face.
“Svart! Old buddy, what brings you here? And,” he said, as he leaned over to take a look at us, “with guests?”
“Ah, yes, we’re on our way to Highpass Haven and needed a place to stay the night.”
“If it’s alright,” I added at which the norn smiled.
“He is want to invite himself. But, I welcome any and all visitors. The stead is far too quiet lately.”
He stood up and walked towards the door, where he turned around.
“Make yourselves comfortable!” he said. “I’ll grab some firewood and get the fireplace going.”
“I’ll get some meat,” I said as I unslung my bow.
“That would be great,” Bjalfi said. “But be warned, these hills are dangerous, especially so close to night.”
“I can handle wild beasts, don’t worry.”
He looked at me through squinted eyes, but eventually nodded.
“Take care, then.”
About an hour later I came back, with a deer slung over my shoulder, Thornfang right behind me eying the meat hungrily.
“You made it back!” Svart said, sitting in front of the fireplace which was burning now.
“Doe?” Garron said, his brow raised. “Yes, yes, I see…” he continued, rifling through the various pouches he had. “Needs a different seasoning.”
I shook my head and looked at Bjalfi. “Where can I clean it?”
“Uh,” he said, staring at the doe. “Anywhere?”
“Inside?” I asked, rising my brow.
“Oh, no, rather not,” he said with a laugh.
With a nod I seated myself outside, where there were various benches around a brazier and I started cleaning the body. Skinning it, and removing the entrails, cutting up the meat to be cookable. As I was cleaning, Bjalfi came outside.
“Nice catch,” he said.
“Big place,” I said, gesturing to the homestead. “Aren’t norn more… communal than this?”
He heaved a big sigh before sitting down on one of the benches.
“Yea,” he said. “This was a busy homestead once. Now it’s just me and my boy left.”
“Jormag,” he said, spitting on the ground.
“The icebrood nearby?”
“Yes, that is certainly one of the problems. Another is… well… To be honest, our homestead was all about strength. About being the strongest, bravest norn around. It’s why we revered bear as much as we did. However, when Jormag appeared, and the sons of Svanir…”
“Ah. Followers of the elder dragon, right?”
“Yes, indeed. Fallen, and some of them corrupted.”
“Yea, a direct path to power. I get the appeal. Not my thing, but I do get it.”
Bjalfi sighed. “So did many of my fellows.”
“Not you, though?”
“Not me, no. Power is great, but useless without freedom.”
That night, I did not sleep well. I kept tossing and turning, watching the light of the fireplace recede, surrendering the room to the darkness of night. As the shadows grew, I remembered my previous times in a homestead like this.
The first homestead was that of Kára and her brother Vadi. Those memories where bitter-sweet. They were good to me, however I did almost freeze to death.
The second time was with Kára on our way to Hoelbrak, where we were raided by sons of Svanir. Or, well, they tried. Still, it left in me a vigilance that I could not shake.
Even now, I glanced out of the windows next to the door. Not that it helped anything, seeing that the glass was frosted over, but I kept watching for the light form torches, or any movement whatsoever.
“You see, you look terrible,” Garron said the next morning.
“Ugh, I had trouble sleeping,” I said groggily.
In the end, I did fall asleep several times, but only a few minutes before waking up again, sure that there was something moving outside. However, nothing came.
“Why?” Garron asked.
“I… I think I’m getting paranoid.”
“Oh, yes, yes, I can see that…”
“Yes. You see, during this trip you have been looking over your shoulder all the time, questioning every moment of peace. What happened to you, Kumara? What happened on your journeys that made you so… afraid?”
“Well,” I said with a sigh. “So far, everywhere I’ve gone, I have ended up in fights. Sometimes… sometimes I lost people, too.”
“Yea. There was this… never mind.”
“No, no, continue on.”
“It’ll do you good, I assure you.”
“Look who’s talking,” I said pointedly.
Garron looked taken aback at that. After a second he looked around the homestead and saw Svart and Bjalfi sitting in the other corner of the stead, drinking beer and laughing merrily.
“Yes, yes, you do have a point.” After taking a deep breath, he continued in a low voice. “The reason I left the Flame Legion… I’m frightened to speak of it.”
“Yes, yes, you see… I did many malicious things as a shaman, as you no doubt can imagine.”
“It… never sat well with me. We were supposed to be one people, us charr. Four legions, one commander, one purpose. Not all this… infighting. As a cub, we were taught that the other legions declared war on us because of jealously. That they were jealous of our skill with magic. Nowadays, I know that the truth is… different.”
“Yea, I can image that you would have been told something like that.”
“So… I was already dubious about whether that was the truth or not, when we got another assignment. We were tasked to disturb supply lines for the Blood Legion and take out one of their camps. My ‘band opted for a surprise attack. It turned out to be a dolyak ranch, a rather big one, so we attacked. My ‘mates rushed in while I set their main building on fire. The fire caught, and the building went up in flames, but as the fire was raging, the doors where thrown open and…”
Garron stopped, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.
“Cubs,” he said. “The ranch was a spot where two young ‘band were being trained for farm duty. We murdered two warband’s worth of cubs, in cold blood. Just like that. You see, that was when I snapped, when I knew that I was not on the right side, so I fled. I couldn’t just go to the Citadel, I’d be killed. So I went away, left everything behind and sought out a new life.”
When he finished, we sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Graymane,” I said, eventually. “In Caledon Forest, I met a scholar, Graymane. He was charr, and basically forced me into an apprenticeship. It’s who I learned herb lore from. However… I lost him.”
“We came across a sylvari who mentioned some weird things. We investigated and found… destroyers.”
“Yes. We fought them, but Graymane… he died. Saving me.”
Garron nodded thoughtfully, and was about to say something when we noticed Svart lumber over.
“Hey, bunch of glooms. Are you coming, it’s time for breakfast!”
“Yea,” I said. “We should get going as soon as possible.”
With that, Garron and I stood up and walked towards Bjalfi who was setting up some bowls.
List Of Recurring Entities:
The following is a list of characters—apart from Kumara, Thornfang and Garron—who have made an appearance before this part, sorted by order of appearance. With all the different stories on CoT, I understand it is hard to keep track of all the characters.
Kára: a norn that rescued Kumara from freezing to death after his flight from Ascalon.
Svart: The norn travelling ales merchant that accompanies the group on their way to Hoalbrak.
Vadi: Kára’s brother.