The heart of the eternal

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The death of a madman

The next morning came with sleet and sour winds and it was just appropriate. The entire city was up and about but the children were ushered away and the trial was to be held out side the Ath’ir’s hut. Some benches had been brought forth but most of the spectators and the people present there had to stand on their own feet. Dagar had been kept under watch and he was forced to be there and tell his side of the story. Ahravan had decided that Prina was to be kept away from the trial, she would be told of the execution afterwards, she didn’t need to be made more agitated than she already was. Ehbrial was watching her with Imh and she had been told that Mjorr had been captured but she hadn’t reacted to the news. It was as if she didn’t really understand and her eyes were blank and empty.

The crowd was silent and the atmosphere was tense and eerie. Ahravan had put on his armour and so had Rhawan and Wenja was wearing a black cloak made from fur and velvet, she did look like a queen this day and many did stare at her with obvious admiration. Dagar was given a seat, he was deteriorating fast now, he had nothing left now and he would be forced to accept the full truth of his son’s nature. He was a hard man, harsh and greedy and fond of power but he had never been mad and Mjorr had acted like a mad man, like an animal. The shame did weight down on him like a thousand heavy stones and Wenja was shocked when she saw Dagar. She did barely recognize him, he had aged a lot and the spiteful and arrogant glimpse within his eyes was gone and replaced by a deep agony and despair.

Ahravan was the war chief but the one with the power in such cases was the shaman and some of the elders and they did sit down and did look very sombre and their faces were hard. The shaman did raise her hand and she did stare at the crowd. “The Gods will speak here today, through us all. Justice will be served, and their will be done. No living being here may doubt that or their wisdom”

Everybody was mumbling and fell silent again as Mjorr was dragged forth. He was wearing chains and a thin tunic which was very long. He did also wear pants and boots but nothing else and he was cussing and swearing. His uncouth looks did turn him into a Wildman and many did shake their heads in disgust. He did see Wenja and his eyes got huge, then he sort of exploded. “You feckin’ cunt, goddamn whore! I am gonna get you, I am gonna get you and when I am done with you not even those pointy eared freaks are gonna bother with that dirty snatch of yours!”

The crowd did gasp in unison and their eyes got ice cold. Ahravan did raise a hand. “Honored ones, I do plead you to add whiplashes to the punishment, for slandering the name of our beloved Eth’ir”

The shaman did grin, the grin was vicious. “Granted”

Mjorr was howling with anger and struggling against the chains but Resh’kha and Floth’bha pluss a couple of elven warriors did hold them and he didn’t stand a chance. Resh’kha did look as if she really did enjoy this.

Dagar did stare at Mjorr and there were tears in his eyes. He did shake and then he did speak. “My son, please, do apologize, do beg them for forgiveness. Do not let this happen to you”

Mjorr got aware of his father and his eyes widened, he did snarl at Dagar. “You are here? You idiot, I could have dealt with this on my own but no, you had to interfere, I spit on your name, and that of our kin, do you hear? You are worthless old man, just food for the vultures”

This time the crowd almost lost it and screams and cries in disgust were heard, speaking like that to your father was unheard of, it was horrible. A crime unlike few others. Mjorr was suddenly hit by several wet cow piles and rotten fruit.

The shaman did raise a hand and everybody did shut up, her eyes were shooting lightning and she stared at Mjorr with a gaze so cold it could have frozen the great river solid. “If anybody has anything to say now do it please, we do accept those who wish to bear witness if there is anything they do know”

Ahravan did frown when the leader of the three men did step forth. He did look down and his face was pale but he did walk forth with steady steps and Mjorr saw him and his face contorted with rage. It was obvious that he knew the man and Geir did take a deep breath. “Honoured ones, I and my two friends did arrive here some weeks ago, but our mission isn’t what we told everybody it was. We have lied and for that we are very sorry. We are mercenaries, or rather, we were mercenaries. Old age is catching up with us and we accepted a job we never should have taken just out of desperation. This man here, Mjorr son of Dagar, did hire us to travel ahead of him and his father and kill his sister.”

Dagar did gape, his eyes were filled with disbelief and he did go very pale indeed. He had not known anything about this, how devious was Mjorr really? Ahravan tilted his head. “You are telling us this because?”

Geir did raise his head again, there was some pride in his gaze. “Because we realized that Mjorr was trying to hide something terrible, and when we did reach the city we found out what it was. We would never murder a woman my lord, and especially not one who is expecting. Mjorr is a beast, a monster and a coward, we spit on his name and shit on his honour. He did rape his own sister and for that we hate him, we are mercenaries but we do have honour, he doesn’t have any at all”

Dagar did gasp, he did look faint and two of the guards had to hold him up or else he would have collapsed. He let out a thin wail. “NO! please, don’t tell me that is the truth? It cannot be…NO!”

Ahravan did sigh. “I am sorry old man, it is the truth.”

Dagar screamed. “I cannot believe it, I refuse to believe it”

Rhawan did nod to two of the guards and they went off and after a while they did return with Prina, they had originally meant to keep her hidden but this did require that she was there. They needed the evidence.

Prina was being supported on either side by Ehbrial and Imh and she did waddle, her huge belly very visible for she wore only a thin dress and her long hair was unbraided and greasy. Her eyes were empty as before and Wenja did cringe at the sight. Ahravan did point at her. “Here she is Dagar, your daughter! She is with child, her brother’s child!”

Dagar stared again, his eyes were enormous and he was pale as snow, trembling. The shock and the shame was beyond anything he could ever have imagined, and he stared at Mjorr and couldn’t even speak. His mouth was moving but not a sound was being heard. Both rape and incest were among the absolute taboos of their people and those two combined?

That was when Prina lifted her head and there was life in her eyes again, black hatred. She stared at Mjorr and bared her teeth. Hissed like a snake, pointed at him. “There he is, the snake, the filth, the evil doer. There he is, the evil one who took me in our barn, forced himself onto me and took the only thing I had of value. The father of my child, the bringer of my doom!”

She screamed the last words and Mjorr stared at her belly with obvious shock, he hadn’t known that he had knocked her up and he didn’t really know what to say.

Geir did swallow hard. “We saw that she was pregnant and swore that we would make sure that Mjorr was punished”

Mjorr did laugh, a wild laughter filled with evil mirth. “Oh but why is she complaining? She wanted cock so I gave her some, and I cannot help being a potent and fertile man, she should thank me. Nobody else wanted to touch that dry little cunt with a ten foot pole!”

Prina did scream, a wild piercing cry and she did a sudden move and managed to knock Ehbrial out of balance. She had grasped his belt knife and Wenja did almost scream as Prina did tear the dress away from her belly and showed it to Mjorr. “Here it is, your offspring, your seed! Do not think that your line will continue, it ends now!”

Ehbrial tried to grasp her but he was too late, she was incredibly fast as she plunged the knife into her own belly with a sore scream and made a deep long cut from which blood did gush immediately. Wenja did scream, many there did faint and Mjorr did stare at the grotesque scene with disbelief. Dagar did pass out and Ahnriel and other healers did descend upon Prina like a flock of hungry ravens. Prina did reach into the wound and she did pull forth something which wriggled slightly. “Behold your son Mjorr, may he join you in hell!”

Then she did collapse and the healers did cover her up and carried her off, blood was raining from the stretcher and Ahravan was pale. Rhawan was just staring and Wenja did weep. Rhawan did embrace her lovingly and Mjorr was laughing, it did sound like a hyena.

The shaman was visibly shaken. “A bad omen, an invitation for evil.”

She turned to Geir. “You could have told us of this when you arrived but we blame you not, you did come clean after all and you have proved yourselves to be good men deep down. You are welcome to stay, we need every fighter we can get our hands on from now on”

Geir did nod and bowed his head. “We are very thankful. Mjorr deserves a very long and slow death”

Ahravan did clear his voice. “And that he will be given”

The shaman did stare at the elders and they all nodded. “Mjorr son of Dagar, you have lost the right to live among decent beings, your crimes are unmentionable and your name will be cursed forever. The punishment starts now”

Mjorr let out a wail of protest and one of the warriors did tear the tunic off him and another one did step forth with one of the long whips they used to control the herds of cattle. It was made from rawhide and the warrior did shake it out with great care, as if to make sure that Mjorr saw it. The shaman did nod. “Twenty lashes, make them bite well”

Wenja did shiver, seeing what Prina had done had left her in shock and she did cry. Rhawan was rocking her in his arms and he too was visibly shaken up. The healers were good but Wenja suspected that Prina didn’t want to live anymore.

The warrior did swing the whip over Mjorr’s back and the technique was wonderful. The elven warriors were so good with a whip they could snatch a fly from a cows ear twenty feet away without the cow feeling it and the whip did tear into the flesh and skin without overlapping even once. When Mjorr felt the first hit he did squeal like a girl and he kept cussing and screaming insults the whole time. When the warrior was done Mjorr’s back was covered with parallel wounds and they did bleed but not too much. Mjorr was gasping with pain but far from broken and Ahravan did raise an arm. “It is time for the last part of the punishment. Those of you who wish to leave do it now!”

Some did leave but most did stay and the atmosphere was one of intense hatred, Mjorr had truly become someone they all hated now. Two of the elves did carry a sort of bench forth, it was rather simple and yet sturdy and Resh’kha did grin and held Mjorr as Floth’bha did tear off the rest of his clothes. He did scream and wriggle but to no prevail, the half orc was way stronger than him. When he was naked they forced him down over the bench, his arms were tied up straight out to his sides and his chest did rest on the top of it but the rest of the torso was free. The feet were chained to the bottom of the bench, spread far apart. It started to dawn on him what this was about and he started to plead and beg but nobody did listen. He was strapped to the contraption and couldn’t move at all and a rope was fastened around his neck and threaded through a hole in the solid wood. It could be tightened by someone standing next to the condemned and the shaman did stare at Mjorr with no amount of pity. “A man who has repented his crimes and truly regrets them may be given some mercy, but for you there will be none.”

She stared at the people present and a few figures did step forth, they all wore black cloaks which covered even the face but their eyes were visible. All were female and all wore a sort of attachable phallus, placed at their groin. Mjorr did let out a wail of denial, this was so below his dignity he had a hard time believing it to be true. To be taken by a man was bad enough, but to have a woman fuck his ass? That was just unbelievable, it couldn’t be true. He started to scream the worst insults anybody had ever heard and many more did leave. They didn’t want to listen to him anymore. The shaman did smile at the five women, three were human and two were elves and the tools they were to use were rather grotesque with ridges and bulbs and odd shapes. These were made to create agony instead of pleasure and Floth’bha did take the rope and she nodded at the shaman. She was the one to do the first part of the choking. Igkhan did wait behind her, he was to end Mjorr, after what hopefully would be a long struggle. The shaman bowed her head. “Proceed sisters, but make him last until sunset, we want his agony to last”

Wenja did turn around as the first of the executioners did grasp Mjorr by the hips and forced the wooden phallus inside. Mjorr wasn’t a large man, he was slender and yet his body was soft and pale and not at all very attractive, he fought with all his strength but it wasn’t enough by far. His scream of pain did not make anybody feel sorry for him. The woman did thrust vigorously and he did wail and cry and scream and oddly enough he did get an erection from it, it was probably because of the stimulance and not pleasure.

It did look obscene and he was gasping for air and shivering with the force of the thrusts. After a while one of the other women did take over for the first one and blood was dribbling down his legs now. They kept going and Floth’bha did tighten the rope a wee bit with each hour. The day went by and now very few were present, Wenja did stay there though, she felt icecold on the inside and now Mjorr was whimpering and gasping for air. She felt no pity, she would have pitied a rabid dog, not this man.

As the day turned towards the evening Mjorr didn’t have the strength to struggle anymore, he just hung there, gasping and gargling and he was torn open and bleeding rather profusely. The pain had to be horrible but nobody did even think of showing him any mercy.

Dagar had been taken away and Wenja did blame Mjorr also for Prina’s mad action at the trial, he was guilty of so much hurt and as the sun did head towards the horizon Floth’bha did tighten the rope so much Mjorr had real problems breathing. He was just gargling now and his eyes were rolling in his head. His tongue did stick out and it was dark and spit did run down his chin. The shaman did nod as the sun did sink beneath the horizon. “His spirit will be lost in darkness, condemned to walk behind the shadows forever. His name will be cursed and forgotten, his death one of the unclean”

She raised a hand and Igkhan did take the rope from Floth’bha. He did grasp it with firm hands and stared at Mjorr, the man was only half conscious now from bloodloss, pain and strangulation. “You killed my sister, my sweet precious little sister who knew no evil and were innoscent as a newborn babe.I do claim your life for hers, may your soul burn forever!”

He did pull, Mjorr did tremble, the body fighting death and rasping sounds could be heard as the lungs fought for air. Igkhan did pull harder and harder and Mjorr was blue now, shaking and trembling. One of the women did grasp the phallus she had used and stuffed it into the trembling man, to the very hilt. It was very obvious what she felt about him.

Igkhan did hold the rope taut until Mjorr no longer moved, blood dripped from the mouth and the eyes were empty and glazed. Ahravan did give Igkhan a sword and the young hunter did bring the blade up and cut the head off the man with one mighy blow. He did grasp it by the hair and held it up with a roar of triump and sorrow and Wenja felt that she did weep. Not for Mjorr, but for all his victims.

The body was being taken away from the city to be thrown to the wolves and Wenja did follow Ahravan and Rhawan to the healers hut. She felt her heart beating fast, she was faint and felt as if this day had been some bizarre and horrible dream but it had been real. Ahravan did enter and he did look sombre when he came out. “The baby is dead naturally enough, she stabbed it, and it was too early for it to be taken from the womb. She will not make it!”

He didn’t say anything more and Wenja did sob and Rhawan did lift her and carried her back to the hut, she was trembling in his arms and the three of them did huddle together on the bed, seeking comfort and safety among those they loved.

Dagar had been taken to a hut and he just laid there, in shock and grief. He knew how his son was to die and the shame was burning in him like an open flame. He had lost everything, his name and his honour and there was just one thing he could do to erase this guilt. His son had done the unspeakable crime, if he returned to the valley he would be shunned, a pariah, an unclean person. A filthy pig would be more revered than him and his money and wealth wouldn’t matter, they would spit at him and use his name as a swearword. Dagar did sit there like a statue, there were two guards in the hut and they were discussing something in their own language.

Dagar did get up slowly, there was a lamp on the table, a large one filled with fat and it burned well. Dagar did pick it up and the guards saw him and shouted out but he didn’t even look at them. He did lift the lamp and poured the fat over himself, let the burning wick fall onto his body and there was a boof and the old man was covered with flames. The two guards did cry out and they tried to cover him with blankets but the old man ran out through the door and collapsed outside of the hut, like a living torch. He didn’t scream, he just burned and nobody dared to get any closer, the fat did burn very hot and it didn’t take long before he was dead and the body became fuel to a rather fiery blaze. Everybody were silent, they understood his last deed, it had been the only choice for him, the only way to regain at least some honour. This way he paid for his shortcommings and the blame would forever be on Mjorr. They let the body burn into ashes undisturbed. There was nothing else to do.

Wenja did wake up with a headache, she felt horrible and Rhawan had slept so close to her they both were sweaty and sticky. Ahravan wasn’t that clingy when he was sleeping but even he had sought physical contact this night. He had crawled low on the bed and lay with his head on Wenja’s stomach and his feet almost dangling off the edge. It was a good thing his bed was massive, there was space there even for that sort of manouvering.

Wenja didn’t want to get up, she was warm and safe and it felt so good being held by her two husbands like that. But she had to pee and her head hurt and she was thirsty.

Rhawan did get up first and shouted for someone to bring warm water. Then he shouted for some food to be brought and helped Wenja get up. There was some hot water in the hut but it was just enough for tea and Ahravan did brew some which could alleviate a headache. Wenja drank a whole cup, even if it did taste like crap. She remembered the remedies Sina had used whenever one of the family felt ill and compared to that this was downright delicious. Rhawan too had some and when water was carried inn they all had a swift bath. Wenja felt a lot better when she got cleaned off, Ahravan loved to wash her with his bare hands and Rhawan too enjoyed that and before long she was ready for the day, clean and rubbed with sweet smelling ointments and all.

The food came just afterwards, some women did carry inn some baskets and Ahravan did thank them profusely and opened the baskets to find bread, cheese and some ham. Some of the clans were experts at making dried ham and Wenja did already love the slightly salted meat with its unusual consistency. The hams she had tasted previously had been tough as old boots and did taste and smell of old ram and these were the opposite. They did almost melt on your tongue and they didn’t smell much at all. Wenja had some with the traditional flat bread the women of the clans did make, she had never learned that art and was looking forwards to seeing how it was done.

Rhawan and Ahravan were silently discussing the plans as they ate, the moving of the city had to be done soon and the route was decided but they still had to decide how to protect everybody as they were moving. The caravan was huge and so was the number of people and not all were warriors. With the arrival of the Snowbear clan they suddenly had even more women and children to look out for and it was very hard on Ahravan to have this responsibility. For most of his reign he had dealt with minor packs of monsters, and they could be easy to beat and were months and even years apart. This however called for something much more drastic and he wondered of they had enough warriors to make it. The monsters weren’t immortal, they were animals but hard to kill and if the ancient evil which had controlled them was back it would be even harder to get rid of this threat.

Wenja was done eating when Sefa did ask for permission to enter, she came inn with Imh and Theka and it was obvious that they were crying, Imh was sobbing and Theka did look like seven sorrows moulded into one.

Ahravan did sigh. “It is Prina?!”

Sefa sat down and wiped off her eyes. “Yes, she died this morning, they couldn’t save her. Too much bloodloss and no will to live”

Imh gasped for air. “The poor darling, she never really had a chance now did she? That bastard did ruin her completely”

Wenja felt her heart sink and she felt a lump form in her throat, Rhawan did embrace her and Ahravan did kiss the top of her head, there was grief in his eyes. “It is tragic, that brute did claim yet another life, after his own death.”

Imh did nod. “At least she is at peace now, with her little one”

Wenja sobbed. “When is the funeral?”

Sefa took a deep breath. “This evening, no point in waiting. She has no kin here and there is no reason for the body to be kept. “

Wenja sighed and buried her face against Ahravan’s wide chest. “I want to attend, to show her my respects.”

Ahravan did stroke her long burgundy hair and his eyes were distant. “We will all be there, she was a victim and the whole city knows that. “

Wenja closed her eyes and let Ahravan continue stroking her hair, it did soothe her and felt so very good. “Aye, everybody knows”



Prina’s funeral was a very quiet one, some did bring gifts and others did chant and sing but the tragedy of this death did make most there silent. Wenja didn’t really speak at all, she just stood there until the fire had burned down and Ahravan did caress her hand while Rhawan had a hand on her shoulders the whole time. Sefa did weep and so did the others, Ebhrial did stand there and he did look crushed, Prina had used his knife to cut herself open and he felt guilty, besides, he had both liked her and felt sorry for her and Ahravan did walk over and whispered a few words of comfort to the heart stricken eternal.

The sunset was very red that evening and Wenja knew that some thought that to be a bad omen, they were to move the city in just a few days and already the first preparations were on the way. Horses were gathered and checked for injuries, the tack was being oiled and prepared. The wagons were being checked too and Wenja did like the sudden liveliness there but at the same time, the cause for it wasn’t the normal joyful one. She was being more or less forced to ride everyday now, she had been given a small brown mare and she did handle the horse pretty well but it did still feel a bit nervewracking to be riding on her own. Ahravan was busy all the time now and Rhawan did also spent a lot of time away from Wenja but he did try to show her his affection whenever they were together and many did laugh and make jokes at his obvious admiration and rather lustful behavious. Ahravan wasn’t any different but he was more discret if in no way less passionate. He was the most endurant of them and Wenja did some times believe that she would be the first in history to die of pleasure. He could keep going for an unholy amount of time and she usually ended up so wired up and sensitive the smallest touch made her cum screaming.

The scouts were out the whole time now, changing three times a day and Resh’kha and Floth’bha did usually go out on patrol together. The two had become great friends and Ahravan did joke a bit about it. Resh’kha had been exiled from her tribe because of a male but perhaps females was what she truly did desire?

Yahlen of the Snowbearclan was also riding around watching out, she was consumed by anger and grief and Wenja felt unease whenever she was around. The elven woman was so intense and she had such darkness in her eyes. Ahravan said that she would die avenging her husband, it was her right to do so but he didn’t like it. A person like that could drag others down with them, they did no longer care about life or death, just vengeance. Wenja felt that it was tragic but she guessed that the loss of a lifemate was so traumatic to an elf that it almost drove them insane. After all, elves aren’t supposed to die at all.

The day of the moving was approaching fast and Ahravan was everywhere at once or so it seemed, the routines had to be changed a lot and the dwarves which followed the city had been busy making weapons for weeks. Wenja did get a sword from Rhawan, it was not very long but very slender and extremely sharp and clearly made for a woman. She had no idea of how to use it but she was grateful nonetheless. At least she had something more intimidating than a butterknife.

The day before the move was to begin the scouts returned with a small group of people, they were survivors from a group which had lived to the west of the city and they had been attacked some days ago. Bagir and Igkhan were shocked to see the injuries they had suffered and they hadn’t brought anything except their horses and the clothes on their back. They were twenty in all, youngsters who had been out herding goats when the attack came and their swift horses the only reason why they did escape in the first place. Bagir had been deeply shocked by what Prina had done and he had sort of retreated into his own mind for a few days, refusing to speak to anyone. Igkhan had been shocked too but he had understood her desperation and her choice, to a woman from his tribe such an action would have been downright normal. Bagir did sit with Wenja quite often after the funeral, he did talk about relatively insignificant things but Wenja knew that he just needed to get a distance between himself and the death of Prina. He hadn’t known her but he had known that she suffered a lot. It was a shame in that but Dagar had been one they all feared and nobody had dared to help the poor girl.

The ones who were injured were tended to by the healers and Ahravan did interrogate the others for a long time. Wenja realized that these creatures were something which simply didn’t belong in this world, that it was something unnatural and wicked and that the clans in truth did excist to protect everybody else from this danger. Rhawan had told her that the monsters were of many different types but common for them all was that they were driven by a common bloodthirst and desire to kill and destroy. That evening they all went to rest early, the moving day was a hectic one and they all needed to be in good shape and well rested. Wenja was a bit ashamed, she had started her moon days again and she felt that it was embarrassing but neither Ahravan nor Rhawan did see anything odd or disgusting in that. They just accepted it and for the first time she did see Ahravan take Rhawan, she had of course known that they sometimes were that intimate but they hadn’t done it until now and she was fascinated and also strangely humbled by the obvious tenderness and care between the two.

It wasn’t as straight forward as when they had sex with her, Ahravan did prepare Rhawan first and they needed some oil and also time but when they finally got there it was obvious that Rhawan did enjoy it, even if there was some pain initially. Afterwards they all just laid there cuddling and Wenja hoped that the next days would go well.

The morning came with clear skies and cold air and it was ideal really. The scouts were out already and the huts were taken apart as soon as everybody were up. The content put on the wagons and then the walls and roof and floor was rolled up and put on the larger wagons. Some of the walls were placed on sleds too and the huge long haired cows did pull those. Everybody had a job to do and Wenja did help Sefa pack all their belongings onto one wagon. It was exciting and Sefa made sure that Wenja was dressed well, the air was cold and it was easy to get frostbite if one wasn’t aware of this.

The children were scooped up and out onto the wagons and the horses and cattle knew where to go and didn’t need drivers. Wenja was impressed, when the wagons were packed there was nothing left. The firepits were covered with rocks and soil and the latrine pits had been covered already. The landscape did almost look as if nobody had ever been there.

The first part of the journey was along the path they normally followed, they had to go by the river for some hours before they could cross it and from then on they would take a new course which lead towards the mountains.

Wenja sat with Imh on one of the wagons and they did discuss the different ways the dwarves did show social status and wealth. She had never known that you could tell that much from just a few braids but Imh did explain that everything about a dwarf’s appeareance told something about that person. She did show Wenja her own braids to make it clear, since she wore three beads in each braid it was a sign that she was a widow, not after a new husband and that she had children. Her beard had beads in it too and they told that she was rather wealthy and also that she was independent. Wenja almost got confused by all this information.

The river was very wide where they arrived to cross, but it was shallow and the bottom was sandy and easy to cross for the wagons. The sleds were a problem though and needed help but they did manage to get everything across in one piece. The herds did follow the caravan from a distance and Wenja saw that the people kept a keen eye on the animals. The herds would warn them if something did approach them.

Resh’kha was riding near the caravan, she was on guard the whole time and she did look very determined and ready for a figth. She had settled down rather well and loved being there and she became more open and jolly by the day. The dwarves who followed the clans had their own wagons and rode small ponies and they were armed and Wenja knew that they were exceptional fighters. They had turned onto the new path and now things became more difficult for they didn’t know this terrain that well. They sent front riders forth to find the best path, the plains were relatively flat but there were rocks and hidden holes here and there which could crack a wheel.

Wenja did see huge areas covered with what appeared to be small mounds of dirt and Sefa did explain that it was the burrows of a type of animal, a bit like a rabbit but minus the long ears and they could undermine the ground completely. They had to stay clear of these cities and their inhabitants. Wenja wondered if the animals were dangerous but Sefa told that they were harmless in themselves but they could carry some nasty diseases and also parasites. They tended to have the flea infestation from hell and Sefa did explain that you usually could see the fleas move in the fur. Wenja did cringe and Sefa got eager and started to describe the parasites of the plain animals in great detail.

The meals now were simple, nothing hot but Wenja didn’t mind, the bread and cheese was enough for her and as the day reached its end they drove the wagons into huge circles and placed guards around them. Wenja did sleep in a tent that night with Ahravan. Rhawan was out on guard duty and sometime during the night he returned and Ahravan took his place. Wenja was glad she was so protected , it allowed her to enjoy the different things she did see. Here and there they had seen huge piles of rocks and everybody would throw a pebble onto the heap when they passed by, it was to ward off evil spirits. They did also see some huge standing stones which had been painted in bright colours and nobody knew why they did it but every year when they passed by these rocks someone would freshen up the colour.

Wenja had been aware of Yahlen’s daughter since the clan did join their’s, the girl was a quiet one and kept to herself but Wenja felt that she perhaps ought to do something to lighten her up. She had lost her father and her mother seemed to be obsessed with vengeance and if that didn’t mess with you she had no idea of what did.

The elven girl was young, in human years she was several centuries already but Wenja did recognize a vulnerability within her which was almost familiar. She did remind Wenja of Halda and Wenja saw her chance as they did rest by a small brook. The elven girl was watering her horse and Wenja did saunter by, looking at the stocky animal. It was unusual in that it had several dark patches and most of the elven horses weren’t born with that sort of colouration at all. They could be dapples but hardly paint. “He is unusual, does he have a name?”

The elven girl did twitch and managed to smile, a very faint smile, there was such pain in her eyes and Wenja felt how the compassion did fill her soul. “Ah, Darkice, he was…he was my fiance’s horse”

Wenja blinked. “Oh, I am so sorry, I didn’t know…”

The girl sighed. “It is alright, how could you know?”

Wenja gathered her courage. “Still, I hurt you there, and for that I do apologize, you were close?”

The elf looked down. “Very, we were to get married come the spring. I mourn him every hour but mother…”

Wenja did reach out and took her hand. “Your mother is blind to your pain and feels only the grief of losing your father right?”

The elf nodded, her eyes blurred. “Mother seeks death, I cannot express it otherwise. She wants to fight. Her spirit is broken and…”

She sniffled and hid her face and Wenja did embrace her, it was awkward for the elf was taller than Wenja but she did hold her the way she had held Halda and the elf shivered slightly. “I am so sorry to hear that, grief can do horrible things to people. What is your name?”

The elf swallowed. “I am Yalaih, it means swallow”

Wenja smiled. “And I am Wenja”

Yalaih did tilt her head. “The Eth’ir. And human. You are blessed Wenja, the Gods have smiled at you, two strong males to protect you”

Wenja did blush. “Ah I didn’t feel all that blessed to begin with, believe me. I agreed only so that Ahnriel could heal my sister”

Yalaih did frown, there was a glimpse of curiosity within her eyes. “She was ill? Forgive me but our tribe has so little to do with humans. When we came here I had barely even seen a human”

Wenja did sit down on a rock and Yalaih did join her, a bit hesitant. “She had injured her back and couldn’t walk and her lungs were failing too. Ahnriel did fix her though”

Yalaih did think about that for a moment. “How odd, one of us would heal from such injuries rather fast, you seem so fragile and yet…you are stronger than we are in many ways”

Wenja had to stare at the elf. “How come?”

Yalaih shrugged. “Your souls, you face so much grief and yet you go on, as if nothing has happened. You can lose a spouse and just…you don’t give in to the sorrow.”

Wenja did sigh. “I know. My mother lost many children over the years and I guess you get used to loss, somehow”

Yalaih did open her eyes wide. “What? Children? How?”

It was rather apparent that this young female knew close to nothing about humans. Wenja shrugged. “At birth? Or some days or weeks after? It was normal where I am from, if you had ten children perhaps three would survive to grow up”

Yalaih did stare, her eyes huge with shock. “Oh Goddess, at birth? Oh have mercy, it sounds so horrible”

Wenja did nod. “Aye, it always is. But most women would have more children if they survived, it was just the way it is back there”

The elf swallowed hard. “I was too young for us to bond and have children, I do regret that we didn’t now. But then again, I wouldn’t want my son or daughter to grow up without knowing his or her father.”

Wenja smiled. “Yes, that is understandable”

Yalaih did lower her voice. “Mother has gone mad, and I fear for her. I feel as if I am a tiny boat adrift on the great river, and I have no idea of where the current will lead me. They say that I will find a new love but I don’t feel as if I ever can”

Wenja sighed and tilted her head. “I didn’t think I would find love at all, but here I am, with two husbands”

Yalaih did giggle. “I know, so, how…I mean, two?”

Wenja had to laugh. “I am kept very satisfied if that is what you mean, I was so afraid when I was chosen but now I cannot get enough of them”

Yalaih had a confused expression on her face. “Afraid? Of what?”

Wenja felt embarrassed. “Uh, back where I am from the idea of enjoying ah..sex…was seen as a man’s privilege. Us women were to endure and obey”

Yalaih did gasp, her jaw did almost hit her chest. “What? That is…oh goddess, blasphemy!”

Wenja nodded. “I have learned that now yes, my parents were more enlightened but still, the general attitude of the society did get its dirty claws into me. Mjorr was perhaps also to blame for that”

Yalaih did nod and her eyes became hard. “Ah yes, the murderer. He did die very well deserved, my clan couldn’t even understand what his problem was”

Wenja did pull her knees up and stared out into nothing. “I think the problem was that he was his father’s only son and back in the valleys sons are regarded as valuable while daughters are not. He got spoiled and used to having his way no matter what and Dagar did solve all problems for him, he did even cover up his crimes”

Yalaih shake her head. “We would never do that, favour one child over the others. And daughters and sons are just as welcome. “

Wenja smiled. “As it should be”

The horse did nicker and Yalaih did grin. “Know what, talking to you has been enlightening and also relaxing and I thank you. I better get going now”

Wenja did shake her skirts. “Yes, we are to move again.”

Yalaih did take her hand. “Thank you, you took my mind off my grief for a while”

Wenja just nodded and felt a feeling of wonder, she was also rather humble there and then. Being able to help others was after all such a gift.

She did return to the wagon and they did start moving again, the animals had been fed and watered and this was the last stretch of the day before they would have to stop for the night. Wenja did relax and got busy with some embroidery, she had been given some thread and a needle and some nice cloth by Theka and now she was planning on making a nice hairband for Rhawan. The colour of the cloth would fit his dark hair perfectly. She was sitting there when they heard sounds and some of the warriors did ride by at breakneck speed, then another group came racing too and the caravan did stop. The drivers did place the wagons close to each other and the herders did gather the animals and chased the huge long horned cattle forth so they formed a sort of barrier around the wagons. Wenja knew why, the cattle was lethal with those horns and they wouldn’t hesitate using them. Resh’kha came riding on her buffalo, she did wield her axe and her eyes were huge and dark and she was clearly very excited.

More shouts and calls could be heard from afar and Sefa came running, she was pale. “Wenja, get into the wagon, now!”

Wenja did obey, she trusted Sefa and knew that if she said something she meant it. They got into one of the wagons and peeked out through the openings. There was a cloud of dust in the distance and the sounds came from that direction but Wenja saw that something was moving towards them at huge speed. Sefa did gasp and covered her mouth. “Oh no, some have escaped the warriors”

Wenja stared, she had never imagined that anything could look thus. The creatures which were storming towards the wagons were something out of a nightmare, they had long powerful front legs and did resemble a huge ape in body shape but the hind legs were tiny and short and almost crippled, they ran on their front legs. The upper torso was extremely muscular and strong and then there was the heads. Wenja stared, she couldn’t do anything else. It did look as if somebody had mixed a huge crocodile with a shark and then put the head onto these odd bodies. The jaws were long and narrow and filled with teeth and Sefa did move her lips but she didn’t make a sound. It wasn’t a huge group, perhaps ten in all but they were huge and fast and the front legs had horrible claws.

They heard a roar and Resh’kha did ride straight at them, she and the buffalo did hit the oncoming attack like an avalanche and the buffalo did send one of the beasts flying sky high. Resh’kha did swing the axe and took the head off one of the beasts with a powerful swing and now there were other shouts heard and Floth’bha and some other riders did join inn. And the cattle did roar and ran at the attackers in a living wall of swinging horns. Wenja saw that beasts were being impaled and trampled, the warriors did cut away at their arms and legs and when they were crippled the next in line did decapitate them and it was efficient and bloody and terrible to watch.

The battle did last for a while, the beasts were strong and could survive a lot but not a counterattack like this one. Finally the last one fell and Resh’kha did raise her voice in a roar of joy. Wenja realized that she had held her breath for a very long time and she had to gasp for air and try to breathe once more. Sefa did roll her eyes. “They were too close, it has to be a huge group, I do so hope that everybody is okay”

Wenja suddenly feared for Ahravan and Rhawan and she sat there in the wagon like a bundle of anxiety until the dust clearned and the warriors did return to the caravan. She did see both Ahravan and Rhawan there and they were unharmed, some were wounded but none had been killed, these monsters had been relatively easy to beat since they were very stupid and easy to deceive. Ahravan was roaring orders and the caravan started moving again, this place wasn’t safe at all and Rhawan was riding ahead with the scouts to prepare a camp site.

Ahravan did seek out Wenja when the worst of the organizing was done, he did sit down on the wagon seat next to her and he was covered with dust, blood and sweat. He did look terrible but he was alright and that was the most important thing.

She saw that he was hard pressed and nervous and also that he was tired, there were shadows within his gaze and she saw that there were some lines on his face which hadn’t been visible before. She took his hand and he sighed and squeezed her hand slightly. “Bless you my sweet, how are you doing?”

Wenja scoffed. “How I am doing? I am fine you big oaf, what about you and Rhawan? Were they many?”

Ahravan sighed again and leaned back against the seat, he nodded. “A substantial pack yes, maybe fifty or sixty, there weren’t time to count believe me.”

She swallowed hard and he put an arm around her shoulders. “Worry not my dear, we are gonna keep you safe. We did win easily enough”

Wenja took a deep breath. “The beasts, they were so unnatural, and these are just one of the different versions?”

Ahravan nodded and he kissed her cheek, almost as if he suddenly was shy. “Yes, but like I said, you should not worry. Nobody here will ever let you come to harm”

Wenja did stare at the carcasses, they did stink and they were just leaving them behind. Ahravan kissed her again, very sweetly. “They are nasty but mortal, we can fight them, all the types.”

Wenja had a sinking feeling in her gut. “What if there is something new this time?”

Ahravan frowned. “What makes you say that?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, a feeling I guess?”

Ahravan pulled her close. “I am sure that whatever they throw at us we will cope just fine, this has happened before and we did win back then”

Wenja leaned her head against his shoulder, not bothering with the fact that her hair did look awful due to the amount of dirt she picked up from him.”

“How did you win? Were you there?”

Ahravan did snicker and shook his head. “No, I wasn’t born for yet a few thousand years the last time the gates were open but I have learned about it. The shamans and magicians did manage to close them and the few slips wich happens every now and then are just due to residual magic. Some beasts get through from time to time but the gates are in truth shut.”

Wenja raised an eyebrow. “Then how do they get through?”

Ahravan took a deep breath. “Basically they are late, they have been caught in between their world and this one and when the gates were shut they couldn’t return and after a while they do slowly move towards our dimension and are eventually pushed out into it.”

Wenja was confused, magic and such thing were way above her head. “So the monsters you have fought until now are remnants of that ancient battle?”

Ahravan nodded. “That is correct yes.”

Wenja took a deep breath. “But the beasts you have encountered now, and the demons and everything are a sign that the gates has opened again?”

Ahravan bit his lower lip- “Yes. Most likely.”

She stared at him. “And what can you do with the gates now? Are there shamans that strong and magicians available?”

Ahravan took her hand. “Yes, we have many people among us who are very skilled and the disturbance in the magical force will tell every magician there is that the dimensions are disturbed, there will be help coming from every tribe and every city.”

Wenja didn’t want to say it but she did anyhow. “And if there isn’t any help to be found?”

Ahravan hesitated. “Then we do have a problem”

Wenja looked down. “Yes, I may be naïve but I am not stupid. You can fight herds like the one we just encountered but not even you can fight thousands of beasts. Something must be done”

Ahravan took her hand and his smile was a bit sad. “You are of course right, we will have a meeting soon, the shamans and the seers and the leaders. We have to find out what’s going on and what we can do to stop it.”

He remembered the men they had impaled and their wickedness and also the small demons which had spawned in those dead villagers, there was a chill running down his spine. “Wenja my dearest, it will be alright, I am sure it will. The Gods are not cruel”

Wenja leaned inn against him again. “Yes, they may not be cruel but who says that this has anything to do with them? If they are from somewhere outside of our world then who is to tell if the Gods can truly intervene with this problem at all?”

Ahravan did stare at her with a puzzled expression, she was young and yet so wise, she saw beyond the easy explanations and sought the core of the problem and he was a bit awestruck by the calm determination within her eyes. “We are not sure, as I said, there will be a meeting”

Wenja smiled and held his hand. She wanted to attend to that meeting, somehow she felt that it was something she had to do. Ahravan did kiss her again and jumped off the wagon. “I have to get back to work, the camp needs to be safe for everybody come the darkness”

He whistled for his horse and rode off and Wenja felt alone, she wrapped her cloak around her and stared out over the plains. She had no knowledge about magic to be frank it freaked her out but she was practical. She was a shepherds daughter after all and when there is a herd of something it usually comes from somewhere right? And if you want to prevent them from coming any closer building a fence could be a good idea? Or making them think that entering is a bad idea to begin with?

The caravan did enter a small valley where the warriors were preparing the night camp. They drove the wagons close together again and everybody who had the possibility to do it ran out to gather dry cow dung to burn. They made a ring around the entire camp and it would be set on fire of anybody did spot something out of the ordinary. The wagons were so tighly parked that you could walk between them without touching the ground and she was told that she was to stay in the wagon she had arrived at Ohtanar in. Either Ahravan or Rhawan would join her there and she felt nervous again. Like there was something she had forgotten about and couldn’t remember no matter how hard she tried.

Imh came carrying a tray of food and she and Sefa did sit down to have a quick meal and a chat. Sefa had laid her eyes on Khirien now and was trying to sneak her way into his bed and she was very enthusiastic when she told Wenja about her attempts at making him notice her. Wenja had no doubt that he already knew she was interested, he was just trying to play hard to catch and Sefa was interrogating Wenja about her married life. It ended with giggling and laughter and Sefa had left when Rhawan did enter the wagon to rest. He had washed off but he hadn’t bathed so he did still smell and his clothes were stained. He did remove them swiftly before crawling down next to Wenja. He did sniff her hair and cuddled up next to her and she felt how tired he was. She could sense their mood now, and how they felt and he was exhausted even if he tried to hide it. She held his hand as he drifted off into sleep and laid there playing with his hair, the dark blue colour did look black in the faint light and he was like a shadow to look at, all black but she didn’t fear him. The thing to fear was out there somewhere.

Wenja did fall asleep and the guards were awake and alert, they switched every second hour and Ahravan were riding around looking for danger the whole time. Resh’kha had killed several beasts and she was still caught in the euphoria of victory, Ahravan had to grin when looking at her brilliant grin and shiny eyes. The female orc was a formidable warrior and he was glad she was there. As daylight slowly started to return one of the guards did sound the alarm, he pointed out towards the plain and they saw that something was moving. It was a type of beasts Ahravan had only heard of, wolf like and extremely long legged but instead of fur they only had thick scaly skin and the heads were oddly small but mostly jaw and the teeth were ghastly, like saws. It was a huge pack and Ahravan took a deep breath and tried to calm himself, these were fast and vicious and also way smarter than the monsters they had encountered the day before and the way they moved told of determination. The warriors gathered and Resh’kha did roar a few times, to sort of boost her aggression.

Ahravan knew that these beasts would be hard to stop and he feared the worst but suddenly something very unexpected happened. There was a shadow flying in before the sun and as they looked up an enormous flock of birds did fly overhead, heading towards the beasts. It was all sorts of birds, from the tiny yellow ones which were hardly the size of a fingernail to the enormous black winged eagles which preyed on sheep or even wolves. They were so many they did blot out the sun and Ahravan couldn’t believe what he was seeing, neither could the others. The beasts did hesitate, then they stopped and that was when the birds descended upon them like a thick living mass of feathers and claws.

There was a sound like a distant waterfall, mixed with the shrieking and crying of a million beaks and the beasts did try to defend themselves But the birds were small, and many, and they were fast and flew and the bigger raptors went for the eyes of the enemy and tore them out. Hawks and owls did blind beasts by the dozen and the monsters did run off in a fit of panic. And that was when the biggest surprise appeared, the ground seemed to open underneath the trampling feet and they fell and tumbled and when they went down hundreds of tiny bodies did cover them immediately, gnawing and biting and entering cavities. The screams and roars were horrible and the humans and elves could only stand and watch in horrid fascination as the birds and rodents and other smaller beasts did pick the beasts clean to the bone, one tiny piece at a time.

Ahravan was panting, the sight was unreal, when the cloud of birds did take to the wing only bones were left, bloody and grotesque and completely stripped of tissue. The ground was torn open and transformed into a sandpit and everybody stared at each other. “What in the name of every God was that?”

Laupir was pale and wide eyed and Ahravan shook his head. “I have no idea, but I think the shamans will have the answer. I have never heard of anything like that before.”

There were thick heaps of dead birds there and also dead mice and voles and some rats too and as they approached the area Ahravan did signal for the others to hold back. He did ride forth and Ayr’esh did snort and the horse did tremble a bit. He didn’t like this at all. Ahravan stared at the dead beasts, they hadn’t had a chance and it was ironic, these huge monsters had been killed by something this tiny. Ahravan had never been very sensitive, he was a fighter, not a shaman and he felt nothing out of the ordinary there but the sight of the slaughter did make him shiver a bit. What sort of power was it that had protected them?

He returned to the camp and saw that Rhawan and Wenja had gotten up and approached him, he tried to smile but his face felt stiff, and unnatural. “My light, it seems as if the Gods do smile upon us after all”

Wenja was pale and Rhawan did ride out to see for himself, Ahravan did embrace his wife and felt her tremble. “I heard horrible sounds and I got so scared, so very scared”

Ahravan kissed her and held her close. “No wonder, even I was afraid. We have to move on, there is still a long way to go”

Wenja sighed and then she leaned up as far as she could and pulled his chin down, kissed him gently. “I know”

The caravan started to move but everybody were shocked by the incident and many were frightened, Yahlen and the rest of her clan were visibly upset and speculations and theories were flying everywhere like runaway darts. They had to cross two rivers that day and everybody was helping out. There was a shout of alarm when they reached the second river, dust could be seen on the horizon. Earlier some small groups of people had joined them, survivors from attacks and nomads who didn’t dare to be on their own anymore, but this wasn’t people. The warriors did look nervous but it was animals. The wild herds of the plains seemed to have gathered and now they followed the caravan from a distance and Ahravan saw both the huge round horned sheep which usually were very hard to come by and wild cattle. There were buffalo as well, antelope and even wild horses and they were heading in the same direction.

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