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The Stricken

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The Stricken

Post  The Sub-Creator on Mon Nov 16, 2009 8:12 pm

The wind blew cold from the north, sweeping through the vale with tiny crystalline fingers that covered everything it touched in a pale, sparkling frost. Sheer cliff faces of old and rugged grey rock towered upward only a few hundred paces from one another, their forms leaning forward into the valley nearer the apex, like hunched crones no longer capable of standing upright. At their feet, chaotic rows of fell pines—so named for their smooth, skin-like bark that resembled bleached bone—capitulated to the harsh environs with branches of thin blue needles sagging beneath the tangible weight of the air and pointed tops swaying hypnotically from windy gusts. Above, a sunless, cloudless sky bled silver light destitute of warmth.

In the midst of the narrow dale, between the sorrowful fell pines, a single Icelandic mare clopped along in the brittle sward at a solemn pace. Her chestnut coat grew long for protection against the endless wintry climate; her mane and tail appeared virtually an albino white, though hints of the beautiful natural gold coloring shone through as each swish of her tail broke away clinging ice particles. Only a saddle blanket separated horse and rider, who sat loosely upon her back, body lolling from side-to-side gently as she meandered forward. So many times, her companion had concerned himself with her well-being, thrusting himself into dangerous situations so she might run free from them. Now, she carried him from graver danger, desiring nothing more than to save him, if just this once.

For his part, the man suffered no injury . . . not outwardly.

Blood caked his face, frozen into clumps that preserved the bold, rich crimson color that clashed with the blue-tinged paleness of his skin. Uncaring, unblinking eyes of dull amber hue gazed ahead, but saw nothing. Lifeless arms dangled unresponsively at his sides. A long, tangled mess of wavy blond hair draped stiffly to his shoulder blades, the blood that streaked through it solidifying into grotesque knots. Hoarfrost clung greedily to a short beard, with accumulation so thick the facial hair appeared formed entirely from it.

The ravenous cold sought to consume him entirely, desperately trying to worm its way so deep into his flesh and bone that it might fool the man into feeling hallucinatory warmth just before it snuffed out his life. Instead, he unwittingly mocked its malicious desires through sheer apathy for physical distress. His consciousness descended to darker, more traumatizing, places within the recesses of his mind. There, the torments of vivid, living memory engrossed and ensnared his very being, insulating him within the confines of its horror, grief, and regret . . .

It’s truth.

His thoughts fixed within that dreadful place, incompliant, as one trapped inside a nightmare without the ability to awaken. Restless spirits lingered there with him, their moaning pleas and screeching accusations reverberating through the formless void of endless shadow. The swirling cacophony of despairing voices somehow blended into the lonesome, shrill howl on the wind—no, it was the wind—that haunted the high mountain passes since the beginning of time.

That same Wailing Wind, of which, mothers had warned their children throughout countless generations of his people.

That same Faerie Tale that had come to claim them all.

This is my word, and, as such, is beyond contestation.

The Sub-Creator

Posts : 513
Join date : 2009-09-19

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Re: The Stricken

Post  The Sub-Creator on Thu Nov 19, 2009 6:00 pm

In mountain passes of frozen stone,
A sorrow lingers, cold and alone.
Beware, my child, what its voice portends!
The maddening call; the Wailing Winds.

—excerpt from “The Wailing Winds”

Holvayd Holvid-son crouched upon the precipice of a relatively small mountain known as Witching Rock, used by the people of Northid as a lookout point. From that high location, the thousands of dark forms mustering in Treldarid Pass—the largest thoroughfare leading out of the Forgotten Lands to the extreme north—appeared as nothing more than a roiling mass of blistering shadow. His breath materialized and dissipated rhythmically as he considered the distant legions with more trepidation than felt right for a seasoned warrior of the Northidim. A gloved hand slid unconsciously, comfortably, to the iron pommel of his sword, fashioned into the sneering head of a yeti.

“They swarm like beasts,” Sutheid grumbled from a standing position behind him.

“They are beasts,” Holvayd reminded his scouting companion. The man’s face twisted into a silent snarl, as if he detested being reminded of that fact.

Six days ago, the two men had stumbled across a small group of the creatures that had forayed farther south along the same pass they now watched. Bjorg, a third warrior, had accompanied them at the time, but he had fallen beneath the raking claws and devouring maws of the rapacious, dog-man beasts. The things grew to a height no taller than an average man’s chest, were covered in thick black fur that greyed around the hunch in their back, and glared savagely through burning reddish-yellow eyes that resembled the blood moon. Holvayd recognized a desperate, feral intelligence within those raging orbs, yet they fought without any semblance of cohesion. That fact, more than anything, had saved the men’s lives, he believed.

Sutheid gripped his shoulder, the contact shattering the gruesome memory. “Come,” the man beckoned, “We must warn the people of Trilleim.”

“Aye,” Holvayd agreed. He rose and followed his companion back to their horses. His steed stomped about nervously as he approached, and whinnied softly, giving voice to some perceived displeasure in her thoughts. Holvayd smiled reassuringly at the Icelandic mare, and gently stroked the long, soft chestnut coat at her neck, issuing a peaceful, “Shhh, Nefarious . . . all is well now.” He expected that the mare hardly believed him—how could she, when he hardly believed the words?—but she nodded anyway, and pushed her head further into his comforting touch.

His partner chuckled derisively at the affectionate display between the two. “That horse is a coward,” he proclaimed, and not for the first time. “Get yourself a real steed—one fit for a warrior, and able to be ridden into battle!”

He smiled knowingly at Sutheid’s comments, though, in reality, the expression was meant more for the mare, to counter any hurt feelings the words might have caused Nefarious. “Nay,” he replied, easily, “I do not ride into battle.” With a quick step and hop, Holvayd sprung up onto the mare’s back, still holding his smile as he regarded the man. “As such, Sutheid, I do not seek a companion for the fight, but a friend for the journey to it.”

Sutheid laughed even as he shook his head, unconvinced. Without another word on the matter, however, the man turned his horse about, and started back along the route down the mountain.

Holvayd gently heeled Nefarious to follow, but suddenly stopped her just as quickly. His head cocked to the side, then, slowly it twisted around to point north. Constant gusts slapped against the warrior’s face, blowing his hair back away from his shoulders to flap like a pennon behind him. His eyes narrowed, as if straining to focus on some peculiar object in the distance—not the dark mass of beasts forming there, but above it, beyond it. He searched the vast depths of that Pass for many long moments, seeking the source of the faint sound carried to his ears on the wind.

Finally, after a long and fruitless scrutiny of the area, Holvayd nudged Nefarious forward. Doubts formed in his mind as to whether he had heard it to begin with, and the more the man thought about it, the more he realized the ridiculousness of thinking he had. The wind in the Pass, he decided at last. Playing tricks on my ears.

A piece of the warrior’s mind refused to wave it away as inconsequential, however. He had spent well over a decade of his life navigating the northern passes, and knew full well how strangely the breezes sounded as they swept through the mountains and valleys. More than once, men of valor had been found cackling like madmen after being lost amidst the great ranges for too long. Holvayd had heard all the whisperings of the wind, but never felt phased by them, not in the ways told about by those stricken to madness by them. But this time . . .

Holvayd patted the side of the mare’s neck tenderly, trying to pull his mind away from that which he couldn’t possibly have heard howling through the Pass.

The sound of laughter.

This is my word, and, as such, is beyond contestation.

The Sub-Creator

Posts : 513
Join date : 2009-09-19

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Re: The Stricken

Post  The Sub-Creator on Thu Dec 10, 2009 8:21 pm

He knelt beside where his daughter lay tightly bundled beneath her furs in serene sleep. He watched the movement of her eyes beneath the lids, and admired the slight upturn at the corners of her mouth that hinted at a smile. It reminded him of that frigid night four winters ago when the midwife had thrust this helpless, wailing little bundle into his arms and congratulated him at the birth of a strong-willed daughter. The woman’s brows had arched in surprise when the infant quieted mere moments after his receiving her, that tiny, strained face becoming peaceful and content—even happy. His daughter had worn that same beautiful smile then as now, and, then as now, it disarmed his warrior nature like nothing else could.

He often wondered since that day how something so fragile, so absolutely dependent, might instill him with such irrevocable joy that every moment he looked upon her warmed his soul; how her tears wrenched at his insides every time he left home; how her excited laughter cleansed the dreariness from his mind and body every time he returned. It had concerned him once upon a time, so much so that he had approached the Wisdoms about it, fearing that her birth had stripped from him that warrior pride needed to survive in the wilds of Northid. They assured him such was not the case, and his wife had laughed at him when he later confessed those worries to her. “Daughters do not strip a man of pride,” she had whispered to him soon after, “They become it.” As ever, his love’s light-hearted wisdom had eased his doubts . . .

And, still, he knew, as he gently brushed aside stray strands of bright golden locks that settled upon her face, his daughter swelled in him irrevocable joy.

“We must go,” Sutheid’s voice carried easily across the room from the doorway. His voice pitched a bit from drink, but the venison he had gorged upon for the last hour helped to offset the amount of alcohol consumed in that time.

“Aye,” Holvayd agreed quietly, desperate to leave his sleeping angel undisturbed. He bent over the child and kissed her sweetly, softly, upon the brow, careful to not let the scruffiness of his beard tickle her delicate skin. “My body goes, sweetling,” he whispered, a slight tremble evident in his tone, “but my heart remains, as ever, with you.” He smiled, then—not a forced smile, but genuine, keeping the promise he’d made four winters ago that he would never let sadness be the last image his daughter knew of him before departing.

As he turned away from the girl, his gaze fell upon the beauty standing alone before the hearth, her long blond hair cascading down below her waist in thick, natural curls. High cheek bones couched eyes of stunning blue, dancing with translucent flecks that mimicked moon-washed diamonds. It amazed him how adeptly she conveyed her desires through them without ever saying a word. Even now, he stood transfixed by the urgent plea that beckoned him to her rather than to the door, where Sutheid awaited in growing discomfiture.

“Aye,” his partner groaned at last, slipping out into the night. “I’ll ready the damned horses, then!” he exclaimed loudly, though the closing door muffled his frustrations to barely a hushed utterance.

Silently, Holvayd navigated the open space of the room to stand beside his wife. Crackling heat emanating from the hearth bathed both in a warm embrace. He recognized the concern she wore candidly upon her countenance, and knew it stemmed from the long farewell given their daughter. Still, the strength he witnessed in her steadied his courage and fired a deep passion within him for this woman he loved. Eager fingers crawled beneath hair to the opposite side of her neck and pulled his wife to him. She rested her head safely upon his strong shoulder, while he placed his own gently against the crown of her forehead, holding her close and comfortable. She then clasped his free hand in her own and set it affectionately against her swollen belly, where their second child grew.

For a long time—though it seemed so short to them—husband and wife found quiet respite in the other’s touch. His fingertips adoringly caressed the smooth skin along her neck, while she shut her eyes from the world and lost herself in the steady pounding of his heart and gentle, coaxing rhythm of his breathing. When finally she broke the peaceful silence between them, Holvayd closed his own eyes to calm the quickening pace of his heart, which he knew full-well she listened for. He failed.

“What news in the North?” she asked in a muted tone.

“Trilleim has fallen,” he answered, calm as he was able.

The muscles in her neck tightened under the tips of his fingers. “That leaves only Haavlim between us and the beasts,” she said. He heard the fearful tremor in her beautiful voice, and it nearly broke him. “Can you defeat them at Haavlim?”

Holvayd fought against the urge to swallow, knowing that would cast more doubts into the thoughts of his beloved. He needed to remain confident for her sake, but those doubts sat heavy upon his tongue. All he wanted, then, was to promise her everything would be fine, that they would crush the invading dogs against the stone walls of Haavlim, and nightmare of a war would come to an end. Instead, he spoke his doubts.

“I do not know,” he whispered, and he felt her head shift on his shoulder so she could look up at him. Though he realized it absurd, Holvayd kept his eyes closed, afraid that he might see disappointment in hers. The reason for this visit weighed heavily on him, and had since his arrival, yet, still, he struggled to speak what necessity had dictated he must to his wife. He needed to find the strength, he decided. He needed to fend off the doubt. He swallowed . . .

And the doubt remained.

His jaw quivered for an instant, but he quickly clenched it tight and held it until control had been regained. At that time, he proceeded, “Deinheim to the east, and Volsgaard to the west, have also fallen,” he explained. He would not tell her of the details, however—not of what he had seen. None will ever know what he and Sutheid had witnessed looking down on Volsgaard. The two men had sworn a pact on it. He lifted his head to gaze wearily into those intoxicating eyes of his wife. “You must take Brenjla and leave this place.”

Immediately, he registered the defiance in her glare, and as she opened her mouth to voice her refusal, Holvayd stopped it with a sudden, passionate kiss. At first, she tried to break away, adamant about being heard, but he pressed in harder, and prevented any retreat with the hand against her neck. Finally, she gave in completely, and he basked in the taste of her. Slowly, he pulled his lips away, simultaneously bringing up his right hand from her belly to place a quieting finger gently over her mouth.

“Do not refuse me in this,” he pleaded, and the shock of that fact showed evident upon her face. His tone grew more resolute. “You will take to the south passes with our children, and will not stop until you have reached the Green Lands. I swear to you: I will find you there when this is over.”

“I am in no condition for such a journey,” she stated forthright.

“Do not refuse me in this,” he said again, hushed. “You will go.

"You must.”

This is my word, and, as such, is beyond contestation.

The Sub-Creator

Posts : 513
Join date : 2009-09-19

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