Chapter 1 - Coming of the World Storm
The storm winds blowing in off from the Tyrda Fell, raged against the coast of Ulfrost Island, bending even the eldest of the mighty Wyrd trees. Beyond their protective embrace, the hamlet of Ulfrost bared itself against the ominous, supernatural gusts of wind and bursts of sky crackling thunder. Every blade of heavenly light threatened to cleave the isle in twain.
Ulfrost island, nestled deep in the southern edge of the One Hundred Isles of Vala, represented one of the greatest and final conquests of the Vikings. Settled at the edge of charted waters, the island chain had proven itself a hard-won home to more than a score of wandering clans. Now, those who returned to the waters of the Tyrda Fell, whispered stories of an encroaching wall of fog, and those who vanished behind it.
The only house in all Ulfrost village, which dared show light in the presence of the godly storms above, lay furthest from the hamlet, within the forest. Kari, the young, blighted herbalist, sat before the roaring fire of her well-lit home. Her strong, skilled and well-worn hands, spun knots in the long flowing strands of her honey hair, as she remembered staring into the frightening, golden eyes, which had borne into her soul, from beyond a veil of cloak shrouded blackness.
The man had appeared with the thunder in a flash of light. The sky had cracked above, only a moment before the man’s walking stick wrapped upon her door. As Kari opened it, her breath grew heavy in her chest, as though she were being crushed within the maw of the earth. In his presence, she could no longer perceive the storm, the crackling of her hearth, or the breath in her chest.
Stumbling backwards, she moved out of the path of the man, tall and ancient. His eyes were the color of gold, his beard, long and silver, hung down to his chest. His dark cloak wrapped around him, concealing most of his face and body. In each bronze colored hand, the elder carried a blanket covered basket, which he sat near to the hearth.
“Your lady chief tells me that you, Kari, are the one, to whom I should entrust these babes.” The man, his voice deeper than the war drums on any of Ulfrost’s longboats, sounded as shale, grinding upon personified stone. He spoke with the power of the ages, the cry of the storm retreating from the sound, as he motioned to two, linen covered baskets.
“High Chief Finna, is rather kind. I was blighted as a child and could never produce a child of my own. Even when my husband, Gram was alive, though we tried, never did we manage.” From the corner of the house, within one of the pair of baskets, a shrill cry pierced the air.
Without pause or any conscious thought, Kari floated across the room with elegant grace and cradled the crying babe in her arms. Pressing the infant, a small, milky white boy to her chest, she soothed him as she looked back to the old man. Seeing what she believed was a smile, forming within his long, grey beard, she gasped.
“Please forgive me, elder. I did not think. I merely…”
“You merely sought to comfort the boy.” The sound of shattering boulders in a rockslide filled the room. “Think nothing of it, child. I can see your chief has chosen wisely.”
“Do you mean?” Kari began, her eyes watering.
“I shall leave these orphans in your care, if you would have them.” He spoke, as he rose to his feet. Something primal within Kari, as though written into her soul, bade her to sit between the children, as the man rose to his full height.
“I thank you, Elder. May the Ancient Ones smile upon you, from the realm eternal.”
“Nothing is eternal, child, save time. Though even time, must change eventually.” She felt an invisible force pressing down on the back of her head, averting her gaze, though she imagined she saw another smile. “The gods are falling, child, and their realms vanish with them. Surely, your clansmen have reported this?” He spoke with neither remorse nor triumph. Kari shivered at the man’s level of acceptance. From him, the event sounded expected. Necessary.
“They made mention of a great many peoples, vanishing beyond a wall of fog.”
“Far to the east, from within the halls of High Lord Skjordsfell, have I brought to you, the last of their clan. The boy was already dead, when I came upon him. With the persuasion of ways older than your fables, he claimed victory over the great hound. The girl, whom I discovered beside the former High Lady, merely stared into my eyes, unafraid, as I collected her.”
“They are not siblings?”
“Nay, though they must never be far apart. Not until they are ready to explore beyond your One Hundred Isles of Vala.”
“Why, Elder?” Kari asked.
“Do not question.” The old man roared with the gift of thunder in his throat. “Your warning, child. The children shall remain, never so far apart they feel the loss. Should one leave the One Hundred Isles, to journey beyond the wall of fog, so must the other! Swear to it, it shall be so!” The man’s thunderous voice continued its swell, until the beams and larders of the house, shook in such a way the storm itself had not caused. Staring deep into the man’s golden eyes, Kari confronted him with all her courage.
“I swear it!” She growled, managing to rise from near prostration, to a knee. The man’s gaze moved from Kari’s, to her body and then returned.
“Then there is one more thing I must give you.” He continued, reaching into the folds of his robes, which proved darker than the depths of the void. From within, he removed a sword in its scabbard, a rarity and sacred treasure among the Viking people.
“This belonged to the boy’s mother. It was from she, I received both it and he. Be certain he cares for it.” He ordered, placing the blade against the hearth.
“It shall be so, elder.” Kari vowed.
“Then may their fates lie with you.” He spoke and a moment later was gone, any sight of him swallowed away in the storm.
Now, nearly an hour since the old man’s departure, Kari stared out the window, watching the storm, still trembling. She stared down at the sound of a sneeze and eyed the blue eyed, baby girl, who stared at her with large, intelligent eyes. She smiled at the babe and lifted her into her arms, cradling her tightly.
“Hello, my little Asta,” she cooed, as the girl reached out with her left hand. Kari, noticing the mark on the youngling’s wrist, allowed the babe to grip her finger. Upon the girl’s left wrist was a birthmark shaped as a slaver’s shackle. The sound of crying broke her transfixion on the mark, as she looked to the second basket.
“Don’t cry, my little Vali. Mummy is here,” she cooed in a loving tone as she carefully lifted the boy. Her brow furrowed once more as she noticed an identical birthmark on the boy’s opposing wrist. Cradling both infants to her chest, she rocked them gently, watching the storm.