one of toil and blood
when blackness was a virtue
and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness
a creature void of form
"Come in" she said "I'll give you
shelter from the storm"
And if I pass this way again
you can rest assured
I'll always do my best for her
on that I give my word
In a world of steeleyed death
and men who are fighting to be warm
"Come in" she said "I'll give you
shelter from the storm"
"Shelter from the storm" by Bob Dylan (Album: Blood on the tracks)
Part 1: Another Lifetime
"A child was not part of the deal when we agreed to let you in here!" Ulraunt gave Gorion a hard stare " This is not a nursery. And you say the child is not even your own offspring!"
"I am sure he has good reasons for bringing her here, Ulraunt." Tethtoril sounded a bit more forgiving, but a little worried too. "I have a feeling she is not an ordinary child. When I look at her… Ahem, but maybe Gorion would like to elaborate?"
"Of course, First Reader, I will not keep anything from you. But I have to tell this in my own way, if you will allow me?"
"Very well, in your own way." Tethtoril said. "If the Keeper of the Tomes agrees?" He added quickly. Ulraunt just grunted and leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest. "Go ahead…"
Gorion studied the two men in front of him. He knew it was Tethtoril he had to convince, and then rely on him to persuade Ulraunt. But it would still be a difficult task.
I'd better make my every word count, little one…
"My tale starts in the early spring, two years ago. The group of adventures I was leading at that time, had been fighting with a red dragon, and it ended in tragedy. We made one tactical error after another, and in the end… The dragon and I were the only ones still alive. The dragon was too wounded to fight on, and it fled while promising to find me again some day. My friends were mostly burned into ashes. I could do little for them except cover their remnants with stones and branches and place their weapons in the ground to mark out their last resting place.
"There I was alone, grieving and wounded, with little hope of ever seeing my home again. I knew if I went back the way we had come, it would take me several days to reach the nearest farm. Days, I most likely would not survive. There were bandits and beasts lying await in the woods, and I was too weak to survive an encounter with them.
"On a hunch, I decided to walk towards the mountains instead, even if I had never heard of anyone living up there. For hours I walked until, by pure chance or the mercy of some god, I stumbled upon what looked like a road. I followed it through a pass, and on the other side there was a valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains. I could not see any dwellings ahead, but I continued walking, reasoning that if I followed a road, sooner or later I would find people.
"The light was getting dim, it had started to snow and the wind howled. At least I thought it was the wind. But then I noticed dark shapes moving through the drifting snow. It looked like the snowflakes avoided them. Their unnatural howls filled the air around me. Sometimes far away, sometimes so close, I swear I could feel teeth snapping at my heels. The snow blew continually in my face, and for a while I was sure I was walking around in circles. So you can imagine my relief when I finally spotted lights up ahead.
"Luck had lead me towards a small village, but I was still not in the clear. In the sparse light I caught a glance of shadows sneaking alongside the walls. I tried knocking on a door, but the residents obviously mistook me for my pursuers, and they bolted the door and shouted curses at me. Desperately I tried every door of every house, while begging for help, but everywhere I got the same response. I had almost given up, when suddenly a door was flung open, and I could see a silhouette against the light inside, waving for me to come in. I ran towards it, thankful that someone finally had taken pity on me.
"The woman in the doorway was clenching an axe in her hands. She was staring into the darkness, and didn't look at me as I passed her on my way in. As soon as I had come inside, she slammed the door shut and relaxed her grip on the weapon.
"You are lucky man to be alive, prey seldom escapes when the hounds of hell are out hunting," she said. "And how did you find this godforsaken place, anyway?" Her dialect was not like any other I have heard. It sounded a bit broken too, as if she was not speaking in her own tongue.
"I told her about my misfortune, and thanked her for saving me from the beasts. She just shrugged and turned away from me to hang a kettle over the fire.
"I know how it is like to be a stranger in need. And cheating the dogs for their dinner is a bonus" she casually remarked. "It should be safe for you to leave in the morning. The shadowbeasts will have retreated by then, they only hunt at night."
"What kind of creatures are they?" I asked. "I have never encountered anything like them before."
"Servants of an evil master, they will rip you apart if they catch you. You don't need to know more." She replied. The tone of her voice indicated that she was reluctant to give me any more details, but I was unwilling to let go of the subject. I asked her who their master was. She just looked at me sadly and said that he was not someone whose name she wanted to speak out loud."
"Are all these details really necessary?" Ulraunt interrupted, clearly irritated at Gorions lengthy retelling of his experiences.
"I am sorry to bore you, but the details are important. I have my reasons for including them"
"Hmpf. You may continue, but please, try shortening it down a bit"
"Thank you, Keeper, I will" Gorion drew a deep breath, and continued.
"The woman filled a basin with hot water, and helped me wash the worst grime off. Afterwards she tended to my wounds. She seemed used to doing such things, but since she was using herbal ointments and bandages rather then spells and potions, I assumed that healing was not her true profession. But then she started chanting words in a foreign language, and in-between she would pause to spit four times in different directions before continuing. When she was finished, I asked her what she was doing, and she said it was a spell to ward against inflammations.
"I was too tired to talk any more that night, or even to eat the food she gave me. So when she offered me her bed, I gladly accepted. That would be the last night of peaceful sleep I got in a long time"