Stormfall Exile of the Varangia.

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30 August, 2018, 3:51 PM UTC

Hey guys!


The brilliant minds at Stormfall: Saga of survival asked for some fanfiction the other day so I decided to write some.

When I came up with a plot I looked up some lore from both Saga....and Rise of Balur/Age of War. I've written some Stormfall fiction before so I relied on both (or all) games' lore to come up with the plot.

Since I did that it's only fair that I not only post it on the Saga of Survival page but here as well. With permission from the guys at Saga, I decided to post my work here as well. 

Have a read, post a comment if you like and please tell me if you want to see some more.

Take care and see you in Darkshine! 


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It has been five years since the death of Greer the Elder, one of the mightiest lords of Stormfall. Internecine feuds that once ravaged the land have long abated and peace, at long last, reigned supreme over the common folk. It was time for Greer's heir to take the late lord's place as the one true ruler of those lands. Alas, ill omens hang about like  a storm cloud.... 

 

The Legions of Balur have crossed over the Farwol mountains into Stormfall once more, they are led by a cunning Warchief called Gorvar the Red. Under Gorvar, the Hordes have smashed their way through the dwarven mountain defenses and pillaged all along the king's road. Oberon of Stormfall has called all the Lords and Ladies of Stormfall to arms to counter this threat. He has instructed the new Lady Greer to hold off the orc hordes long enough for reinforcements to arrive, under the command of Oberon's adoptive daughter Ser Amelie of Stormfall.   

 

 In ages past, House Greer was the first to defend the lands of Darkshine of the horde of orcs and their evil kin that came from beyond Farwol's ridge. Now the new heir Lady Vanera Greer, untested in the ways of war and has only started to learn how to rule, must pass this baptism by fire. If House Greer holds off Gorvar's Horde, Lady Vanera's reign will be accepted by all surrounding lords and her bannermen along with a long and prosperous fortune guarenteed by Oberon.  Together with her younger siblings Varwynia, an warrior of Varangian descent, and Thorgal, a adept spear druid, and their adoptive uncle the dwarven lord Hadgar Dainson, House Greer stands on the precipe of glory or ultimate failure for should House Greer fail in stopping Gorvar's Horde, all of southern Stormfall would be defenseless against Balur's children..... 

  

Present, 

Beyond the Farwol's Ridge, Eastern Marshes.  

 

Varwynia kept focused as the rain plummeted down from the dark skies above. Despite her flax linen hood, her auburn hair beneath it was sodden as were all her clothes. She felt clammy, cold and her throat started to burn as she suspected a common cold would suprise her in the morning. She quickly put that thought aside and focused on her prey. She went of the sodden road and followed the muddy deer tracks through the trees, thanking the gods for the reprieve from the rains as their mighty branches caught most of it, as quickly but as silently as possible. One wrong move, one snap of a branch was the difference between roasted venison or berry tea with turnips for the tenth time. She rubbed her green ring for good luck.  

 

She kept her spear close as she moved through the forest, feeling the familar weight of the rocks on her purse along with the rope that served as her slingshot. A far cry from her days when she had access to all kinds of magical items back when she was a Varangia for House Greer. Only the spear, it's head made of dwarf metal with inscribed runes, was what she was allowed to take with her into exile. That spearhead, which she has named Bran after the god who created the stunty mountain folk, was the only thing she could truly rely on in the wilds. More reliable then any man, beast or magical spell she ever had the chance of knowing. She thanked her uncle Hadgar for that gift numerous times since her exile.  

 

The rain lessened, the noise of raindrops dropped significantly. If the deer listened carefully, it could hear it's hunter. Varwynia slowed her pace as she made her way through the rushes. She stopped. There it was. A tall, brown buck drinking from a small stream. It's brown fur still glistened from the rain and it's antlers seemed worn and yellowed. A old beast, no wonder she managed to keep up with it. She did not hesitate. Carefully she placed the spear down and took out her sling. With her blue eyes, she scanned the area. She rubbed her green ring. Her fingers found her purse and picked up the biggest rock she could. The rock was placed in the sling. She only had one shot at this, the briefest of moments. She quietly stood up and began swinging the sling, rolling her wrists to make momentum. The deer heard something but could not place it. It looked all over before his eyes met hers....and was about to dart away. The rock launched from it's sling and hit it's target. Right in the head.  

 

The deer fell down to the ground, crying out in pain. Varwynia picked up her spear and darted for the downed creature. She leapt and slammed her spear into the deer's neck. It was dead in moments. Her breath come in shallows, it took her a moment for her heart to calm down. The adrenaline left her body, leaving a sense of bliss. A smile danced on her lips. She did it. She killed the deer. Immdiatly she took out her knife and began cutting away. Leather for was taken as well as choice meats. She could not take the whole deer, not without drawing a lot of attention. Best case were other exiles like her, at least they you could reason with...and she had killed men before. Animals such as wolves.... 

 

A growl drew her attention, the sound of several bodies moving through the tall grass. Two bright eyes flared up in the bushes where she was but a few moments ago. She kept her spear close as several more pairs of eyes surrounded her. One. Two, three....six pairs, wait....eleven eyes. One of them was missing one. Canine teeth were the first thing she truely saw of her rivals, the distant howling that accompanied wolf came second. Wolves, it seems this pack were also following this old buck. Varwynia took great care not to show fear. Her thumb ran over her green ring nerviously, drawing strength from it.  

They had her surrounded, their intentions were obvious. The wolves beyond the Farwol's Ridge were more dangerious than their kin down in softer Stormfall. They avoided humans and knew not to kill one lest a whole village would come into the forest and eradicate the whole pack. But the wolves she faced her were those orcs rode into battle, homocidal beings who dined on human flesh just as much as other prey. One pack of these could kill a whole village if no armoured guards were there to protect them.  

 

The largest one came out in full view. A hungry, slobbering creature about her size even on its four legs. Matted black fur marred with numerious scars and a missing eye. It's undermaw was slightly crooked to the right and strangest of all, it had a old saddle on it's back.  

"Balur's balls..." she cursed softly. She heard of this pack from other exiles. One eye, the largest wolf beyond Farwol, an escaped wolf mount from an orcish raiding party. He could kill a knight and her horse by himself the stories say.  

It stepped forward, growling as drool came down from it's mismatched maw.  One of the lesser wolves came closer, growling at her as well. It was the last thing it did. One eye's powerful jaws came around the wolf's neck and snapped it. the others in the pack backed off, it was clear their alpha wanted this human all to himself.  

That's fine, Varwynia thought, one on one. She held her spear close and went into a defensive stance. She controlled her breathing and kept her eye on the monster.  

" Come on then..." she urged." I don't have all day."  

One eye howled loudly before it charged at her. She gave a mighty cry and jammed her spear, hoping it will be enough.  

 

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One month ago,  

Greehold, seat of House Greer.  

 

She loved the open balcony, showing her the distant Farwol mountains and the two large statues carved on the mountain face that stood aside of the one path that led through Farwol's ridge. The first statue was that of a barbarian king holding a sword in it's sheath while leaning a shield with a boar emblazoned upon it while the second was that of a dwarven king leaning on his axe, large gems were decorated along the axe's edges that could still be seen from miles away, depending on the alignment of the sun.  

 

The one on the left was her ancestor, Greer the first, the lord of Stormfall who turned Greehold from a small collection of barbarian clans into a proper Stronghold against the forces of Balur. Legends say Greer was a barbarian chieftain whose clan settled in what would become Greehold later on along with a few other clans. The soil was farmable, the lifestock was fat and the waters were clear. It was a paradise on earth safe for the orcish invasions. For generations the clans lived in fear of orcish raids until one year a large raid would've wiped out all the clans.  Greer knew that divided the clans would fail so he united them and pushed the orcs back thanks to the help of the dwarf king who was immortalised next to him.  

The dwarven king Dain, aided Greer the first in the construction of Greehold and gave them dwarven steel to give the barbarians more bite. The daughters of Greer the first, and every Greer that followed, would be known as Varangia, warrior maidens of the North. Warrior queens of barbarian blood that would often lead the fight against Balur's children.  

As House Greer became more like the southern Houses of Darkshine however, the practice faded untill the daughters became just as meek as the other ladies of Stormfall. Her father, Greer the Elder, brought the old tradition into practice when he sired Varwynia with a nomad woman and had her trained in the ways of her mother's people until she was of age to come life at Greehold.   

 

Varwynia took the liberty as the younger sister to ride across Greehold and the lands around it. Sometimes hunting boars, sometimes fighting harpies, helping out farmers or sometimes going to the pub for a drink. Greer the elder left big shoes to be filled and after the infighting with their cousins, the Greer family name needed to be out in the public more often. To be honest she enjoyed helping the common folk out, going on adventures with her trustworthy friends.  

   

But what she enjoyed most of all was the fact she got to wake up next to the love of her life. She looked up to the sleeping figure she had rested her auburn head on during her sleep. He was an elf. A handsome elf with the perfect jawline, dazzling smile with long white haired and green eyes. He was a champion of her father's back when Greer the Elder still ruled and sided with her side of the family during the civil war with her cousins. During that conflict a love bloomed between them, one forged in blood and adventure and sealed in the bedroom. He was her world and she was his.  

 

The Varangia turned to her lover and began straying his long, pointy ears. The elf's eyes fluttered awake, a smile creeping on his lips. " Who knew you druids could be so full of stamina?" She smirked."Barely had time to sleep." 

Halmadir closed his eyes as he enjoyed his mistress' ministrations." No...us elves are just well versed in the art of love making..." 

Varwynia snorted." There's that arrogance of yours again....but well founded." she slid her fingers around his chest. He held her in his arms, both not saying anything but enjoying each other's company. Her eyes fell on Halmadir's green ring, an heirloom he had on him ever since the day they first met." Think we'll need Eir's help today?" 

Halmadir breathed deeply." It always helps to have a bit of luck on our side...." he began rubbing the ring himself." It's been in my family for generations....always gives the best of luck." 

"Always?" She asked. 

"Always." he replied with a kiss. He strayed her cheek." When are you going to tell your family about our plans?" 

"Soon." she replied. 

 His ears dropped a bit as he gave a mock pout." Are you ashamed of me then?"  

Varwynia took her lover's hand and placed it on her cheek." After this battle, I will tell my sister that I, Varwynia daughter of Greer the Elder will take you Halmadir, druid of Tal Alrand, to be my husband. For now until the end of times." She kissed him lovingly.  

When she broke off, Halmadir smiled." In that case, we best celebrate it...." He flipped her so she was on her back again." The elven way..." 

 

The couple kissed each other deeply as their passions reignited, stopping only when the door to her bedroom opened. Even before she saw who entered, she knew who it was. Only one man in the castle was brazen enough to enter her room without permission. The dwarf was rougly half her size with a long, red beard with grey streaks here and there. Already he was dressed in his armour, in thick metal inscribed with runes and decked out with shiny gems. His hammer was slung on his back, it to likewise was covered in similar runes and gems. He gave an annoyed growl.  

"Uncle!" Varwynia groaned annoyed herself. 

"Commander Dainson..." Halmadir smirked." Care to join us?" 

The dwarf did not take the bait. "War council is on in half an hour...be there, alright lass?" 

"Yes uncle..." she replied.  

He nodded. "Good." he turned to leave. " Although i'm sure this sapling will be done in a minute."  

Halmadir's reply was smothered by Varwynia's bosom." We'll see about that, uncle!" 

The two lovers continued their play as the dwarf left the bedroom.  

 

Half an hour later, the playful Varwynia was replaced by the Varangia. Blue warpaint had been applied beneath her eyes along the ridge of her nose. Dressed in leather armour showing the Greer boar and a spear befitting her station as heir to House Greer, she entered the war council. Inside were the elite pikemen along with her sister Vanera, her uncle Hadgar and her brother Thorgal.  

Vanera was dressed in her own military garb, befitting a warrior queen although it was obvious to the learned eye that the armour did not fit her like a second skin yet to the eldest daughter of Greer the Elder. Unlike Varwynia, who was sired by her father on a nomad, Vanera was a daughter of a Stormfall noblewoman and only had the basic of warcraft under her belt. Thorgal, her younger brother, was their second child. As a scribe he came up new technologies and magics nearly daily and uncovered lost arts that some thought would never surface again after the fall of the larger Stormfall empire.  

 

"Finally, you're here sister." Vanera called her over." Don't you know we have a war on?" 

Varwynia mocked. "So you mean all those pikemen, dwarves and boar riders that are camping outside our walls are not for show?"  

Her elder sister glared." At least I know my duty takes priority over carnal pleasures." 

"Vanera, if there is someone who desperately needs carnal pleasures in this room, it's you." 

"Alright, settle down you two." Hadgar interceded just like he always did since the two were children." I swear you're both worse than your old man when he was your age. Bran's beard..." he turned to Thorgal and gave a nod to the scholar. 

Thorgal unfolded the large map that encompassed Greehold and it's surrounding lands." We have word from our Shades that a large orcish force is headed for a hamlet north of us, a place called Denerim fields." 

"How big is the force?" Vanera asked as servants propped small figures that served as indicators of enemy forces on the map.  

"A thousand orcs give or take, two hundred cavalry and some ogres. They've already sacked three villages" Thorgal replied." We also have reports a large swath is following them as well. Women and children....my Shades also claim Gorvar is part of this warband."  

Varwynia rubbed her chin thoughtfully." And our numbers?" 

"We have four regiments of pikemen, two regiments of dwarven warriors from Karag Bolg, my group of Necromancers and several of the boar and horsemen tribes answered our call to arms." Thorgal paused." Even so the orcs numbers us three to four times over."  

"Bran' beard..." Hadgar cursed in his own beard." That's a lot of 'em." 

"Getting scared, uncle?" Varwynia asked.  

The dwarf guffawed." Hardly, lass. I've faced worse. Still...." he moved the figurines that represented House Greer." If we move our forces to this hamlet, it will be protected from the river Strik from both the east and west. This bottlecap can hold off the Gorvar's forces long enough for Amelie's army to arrive and relieve us."  

 

Vanera rubbed her chin thoughtfully." A good plan uncle....but it lacks a more deadly approach."  

The dwarf raised his brow." Oh?" 

"Holding them off is one thing....but if we were to get Gorvar?" The Lady of Greehold took some of boar riders and knights and placed them east of the map." When Gorvar comes to hammer on us at the hamlet, a cavalry force charges in, cutting straight through the horde....and kill  him?" She took one of the orc pieces." Balur's children are chaotic beings by nature. If we kill their leader, they'll begin fighting each other to see who becomes the next leader." 

"A big IF, lass." Hadgar replied." The reason why we're waiting for Oberon's forces is because we lack the men to defeat this Horde. Our cavalry will receive heavy losses. Near damn suicide. Even if Thorgal's necromancers do their magics." He shook his hand over the map as if he was casting a spell himself." We wait for Amelie and Oberon's men." 

"And if we wait for Oberon's men, Gorvar might get away and bring in more orcs from across the Farwol Ridge to burn our villages down." the eldest daughter of Greer the elder said." Uncle, you promised my father on his deathbed you would be there to help me. Help me do this, please. I need your help." She turned to her siblings." I need all your help."  

The war council fell silent. It was a daring plan but it could prove very costly.  

Thorgal asked." Who would lead the cavalry charge? I can do it if you like." 

 

"No, you stay here in case the worst happens. There always needs to be a Greer in Greehold." Vanera placed the orc piece down before she turned her gaze, to her sister." Var, can you lead the charge?" 

This caught the Varangia by surprise. Vanera and her never got along, not only because they were half-siblings but they had different ideals. She was the noble, the regal Queen. At home at balls and political intrigue. Varwynia was the warrior, uncaring of the politics and social norms. The complete polar opposite of her sister. Even now this daring plan to kill Gorvar the Red was a game. If Gorvar were to fall it would save a lot of lives, true...but it would also impress Lord Oberon who was the closest thing to an over-arching ruler over all of Stormfall.  

   

Varwynia gave it some thought." It's an idea....a bold one." She ran the plan through her mind. It was very risky but the pay-off would be worth the risk. " I will do my best.....but me and my men will need an opening afterwards so we can escape." 

Hadgar reluctantly approved." I can provide that. You have one shot to kill the Warchief. Even if you fail you head to the bottleneck so I can let you and your men in." The dwarven commander frowned at her, every word that came from his mouth was very clear. "One shot and you and your men come home.Do you understand?" 

"I do."  

He continued. "Lass...this is a very dangerous plan. You might-" 

Varwynia waved it away." I know....but I know the men. I know Denerim fields. The terrain, used to go hunting there with Halmadir, Thorgal and Vili. I'll be fine." 

Her brother held her shoulder." I promise, my necromancers will do all they can to give you that opening. I've your back, sister." 

She smiled and held her brother's hand.   

A pregnant pause fell over the room.  

"Well then...." Hadgar sighed." Guess we have our plan then." He rested his hands on the table." May the gods be with us...." 

  

Three days later, Commander Hadgar Dainson had his answer.  

The forces of House Greer took up fortifications on the food hamlet. A river circled around the hamlet with only one bridge leading inside the place and beyond that, outer Greehold. The dwarves quickly created a proper wall on the bridge made out of stone and brick as the civilians were urged to go to the safety of Greehold. Despite the warnings, it did not stop a band of militia from being formed who offered their help to the soldiers of Greehold. Commander Dainson, admiring these men and women who were as stubborn as dwarves, set them to work along the edges of the frontline to deal with any fires or securing the wounded when the fighting would begin. Groups of nomads from Varwynia's tribe further north also heard the call and set up positions along the hamlet, ready to rain their arrows upon the enemy. Along with the knights of Greehold came the Boar riders, more barbarians from the north who had long distant ties with Greer the first and unlike the men who now lived in Greehold remained the same people as they were centuries ago. The boar on House Greer's banner came from the fact that Greer the first was in fact a chieftain of one of those tribes.  

The men of Greehold armed and dressed in steel, who were once distantly related to these half naked fur wearing warriors, looked upon their allies suspiciously but knew to mind their tongue.  

 

A few third parties flocked to Denerim Fields as well, sellswords mostly but also a few camp followers who set up camp just outside the hamlet. The women offered their services to the fighting men (and some of the nomads as well) but even they kept their distance from Thorgal's necromancers. 

Men and women in dark robes covered in bones and tomes kept their own company. They remained in their dark purple tents and allowed none in except Shades who were jsut as mysterious. 

"Do not fear the Necromancers." Thorgal told them before." They use fire to fight fire, making Balur's children burn for their treachery for their god hates him for his betrayal. It took me years to understand their rites and even more to get them to respect me enough to get them to be on our side. They swore their immortal souls to me that they would serve House Greer. The moment they turn, I will deal with them, personally."  

  

A day after they arrived, Varwynia led her cavalry across the bridge and led her men to a small cave alcove west of the hamlet. She rubbed the green ring around her finger as she had ridden out of the hamlet. 

"I want you to have this." Halmadir told her." You need it more than I do." 

"But it's your ring..." she replied as her servants saddled up her horse. 

"No, it belongs to my family...which you'll be after this battle" He held her hand lovingly. 

"May I?" 

She gave a small nod as the elf eased his ring on her finger. It fit like a glove, nice and snug. The very ring itself seemed to bring her at ease. 

"Whatever happens, when you rub that ring know that I'm always with you." The two held each other for as long as they could.  

  

Two days after the war council, Warchief Gorvar and his men marched down Denerim Fields.  

The children of Balur numbered many, way more than a thousand. Green skinned monsters the sizes of men but dressed in dark armour, armed with wicked looking blades and chanting their ugly tongue. Varwynia did find it interesting that all orcs, and some ogres, had some article of red on them. Either a bandana, war paint or a piece of armour dyed red. She had faced orcs before but those were a incoherent war parties that were easy rattled. This gave them a sense of unity. All clans were together in this crusade.  

It was obvious to spot their leader as well. 

 

Gorvar was a tall orc, covered in red warpaint and red armour. He was mounted on a large wolf with pitch black fur. Unlike the other orcs who were chanting and acting on their primal extinct, Gorvar the Red was calm. Reserved. He did not bark his commands like his officers but sternly ordered his troops as if they were a proper army. The heavily armoured orcs and ogres, that were from his clan guessing by the amount of red on them, behaved more like an Stormfall army than a orcish rabble.  

Varwynia remembered her uncle speak of the quiet orcs. 

"The quiet ones are the ones you need to worry about. They're the ones who are figuring things out. How to climb to that ladder and maintain that power."   

 

Pikemen and dwarven soldiers held the line as the orcish hordes came for them. Pikes penetrated green flesh, axes chopped off limbs and magic spells and skeletons were thrown by Thorgal's Necromancers. Halmadir, dressed in his wooden armour along with a wooden mask that had the shape of a monster that lurked in the woods, picked leaves from the ground and uttered softly to them before he blew them at the enemy. When they touched the enemy, the soft leaves became like knives and cut through their skin. Hadgar's hammer glowed bright blue as he smashed one wave of orc aside after another. Lady Vanera to was at the frontline, protected by her elite guard but she fought alongside them. The banner of the Greer boar flew bravely against the red horde of Gorvar.   

Despite the many orcish deaths, House Greer received just as many in return.  

 

As the battle was waged afar, Varwynia prayed her sister, her uncle and Halmadir were safe.  

"Balur's balls..." she cursed softly. She rubbed the green ring around her finger and remembered the conversation she had with Halmadir the day before. Varwynia held the cavalry back until she knew for certain where Gorvar was. When she saw the massive red banner driven into battle towards the bottleneck she knew.  It was time.  

Varwynia turned to face her knights and boar riders. The knights were properly armoured, their steeds ready for battle. The ladies made blessings to Veyon and Ran as the boar riders began working themselves up to a berserker frenzy. Varwynia smiled, she was proud of her and they would do all they can for their House Greer.  

"Listen men! You only have permission to die when Gorvar is dead!" She held up her spear as her men cheered." For Greehold! For House Greer!"  

"For Greehold! For Varwynia!" They cried in return.  

She led the spurs on her horse as the cavalry charged at the orcish horde.  A wolf rider noticed her and turned around. Varwynia held out her spear and thrusted it towards her enemy. The rider was speared through the chest, dropping off his mount as a knight took out the wolf mount. She kept up the charge as they plunged into the orc horde, stabbing with her spear as she cried out a mighty battle cry. One way or another, glory would be found on this battlefield. 

 

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One month later,  

Varwynia's camp, beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes. 

 

Pain was her constant companion. She held her side where she was bleeding and used her bloodied spear as a walking cane. Her clothes were covered in bite and scratch marks, trouser legs torn and her slingshot ripped to pieces.  

Blood covered her green ring when she rubbed it, making it more slippery from the constant rain. She saw her dwelling on the hill, a small wooden building she found and managed to rebuild somewhat in the early days of her exile.  

The climb up the hill was a struggle and filled with pain. "One foot in front of the other." She remembered her mother teach her." In life you will go through pain. Life is pain. Pain is life. All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and show life you're more stubborn than it." One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other.  

She barely remembered falling through her door before darkness claimed her. 

 

That night her dreams were visited by the same old nightmares. She was back on that battlefield near that hamlet. Orcs, wolves, a disapproving Vaerna who looked away with disappointment. Halmadir was standing in the middle of it all, waving at her with his handsome smile. Varwynia was shouting, pointing behind him as an ogre came toward him. She shouted, cursed, pointed by the elf kept waving. Even when the ogre picked te elf up and brought his head to his mouth. A sickening crunch is what woke her up. 

It took her a moment to get her bearings. She was in her bed, bandaged, with the fire roaring.  

She took a moment to calm herself, to try and remember. The last thing she remembered was One eye, she barely got away from her. Killed a wolf. No that was earlier. She remembered pain and barely making it to the house....a cold realization hit. 

She fell flat on the floor. She didn't bandage herself or pet herself in bed or put on a fire.  

Someone else was here. Her spear was to her right, she lunged for it when the pain flared up. With a painful yelp she fell to the ground, holding her bandaged side. 

 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you..." a female voice said. Varwynia looked up. A ebony woman in similar exile attire like Varwynia was sat at the fire, tending to the venison which she fried on a skillet. She walked over and knelt down and helped her back on the bed. 

"Easy, easy...." the woman said." If I wanted you dead, you'd be."  

Varwynia calmed herself down as the pain subsided. Her guest who made herself at home went back to the fire and flipped the venison." I thought you wouldn't mind me helping you make dinner." She pointed to the cleaned out purse in the corner that held the meat and leather." The meat would've gone off otherwise." 

   

Varwynia saw her guest look around the house. 

"Where do you keep your spices?" 

Cautiously she pointed towards the cupboard. The woman opened it." Ah, thank the gods. The meal would've been ruined otherwise!" She quickly added some to the venison before she began setting up the table. She took things from her own rugsack and placed down plates with forks and knives. " Dinner will be ready soon!" She said cheerfully.  

"Who are you?" Varwynia asked.  

"Oh, my appologies. My name is Sheva." She pulled the wooden chair back a bit and urged her to sit.  

Cautiously Varwynia moved over to the table, using her spear as a cane, and took a seat as Sheva dished out the meal. Venison with turnips and some potatoes.  

"I don't grow potatoes...." Varwynia looked up. 

"Oh those are mine." Sheva smiled." After all...it's the least I can do to make a proper meal for the Traitor of Denerim Fields."  

 

UTC +0:00
3
Community Manager
31 August, 2018, 8:36 AM UTC
Amazing story, 10/10! I'm extremely excited to see the continuation! 
UTC +2:00
2
User
2 September, 2018, 2:35 PM UTC

Present.  

Varwynia's camp, beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.   

  

The venison was cooked to perfection, the potatoes boiled hard enough so they were nice and soft on the inside and the turnips were nicely marinated in the hot juices of the meat.   

To Varwynia who was used to eating cold turnips, drinking berry tea and cold bread on a good day, this was a feast. And yet she ate with discomfort. For her companion who saved her knew who she was. The traitor of Meido fields. Sheva she called herself, an ebon skinned woman, a woman who not only cooked her dinner but also nursed her to health after a brush with death with the large wolf One eye. The Varangia guessed by her accent that she was from beyond the Golden sea but that is as far as she got, she knew little that was beyond the lands of Darkshine or the former Stormfall Empire.   

Sheva ate her meal, smiling happily, content in this uncomfortable silence.  

Varwynia chewed on her meat, thinking how to aproach this. She made the first move.  

  

"How do you know who I am?" she asked her guest.   

"Oh, I've seen you fight the first day you came to the Eastern Marches." she replied." When those thugs were trying to shake you down, you took them down in five seconds." Sheva gave a cheeky grin." And the way you used that spear....only Varangia move that swift and deadly."  

Varwynia raised her brow." You've seen my kind before then?"  

"Oh yes....on raids on my people." Sheva took another bite of the venison." I remember one vicious woman....long red hair, blue warpaint that made her look like a wolf out of legend." She stared at her own fork." I remember how my village burned as I was taken away, the smell of smoke and flesh, and the howling...oh yes, the howling." She cut a potato in half." I was sold for five hundred gold to a Stormfall Lord who wanted to create his own harem. He treated me right I suppose......unless he was drunk, which was often."    

  

Varwynia read her guest as she told her story. The way she told it made it sound like she was a third party in her own tale.   

"I'm sorry." the exile of Greehold said.  

"Nothing you could've done to stop it." Sheva replied." Besides, when he went to far I took his life. In gratitude his wife had me exiled instead of killed. And so....here I am."   

"So why did you save me?" Varwynia asked.  

"Because there is someone who wants to meet you." Sheva replied. There it was, she was working for someone.  

"Who?"  

" When you came here, at first nobody knew who you were except that you were a Varangia. So my boss asked the guards yesterday when they dropped off another exile who you were."  

The daughter of Greer the Elder frowned." She...asked the guard?"  

Sheva smiled." And they told her who you were."  

Varwynia had enough of this game. "Who is she?"  

"Her name is Sylva, a Dryad Warlord. She's getting as many exiles together as she can."  

  

"A dryad?" Varwynia asked confused. What did a dryad do to warrant eternal exile passed Farwol's ridge?  

"Yes, a very fierce one. The first day she was send here she found her way to the strongest clan in the marshes and killed their leader. By the end of the week, she had the three strongest clans in her command. Her throne is made of thorns and the bones of her enemes and that throne rises more and more with every passing day." Sheva chuckled." Corpses make excellent compost for her trees. Did you know she has the last elm trees left here in the Marches?"   

Varwynia did not give a flying fig about trees. "What's her plan then?"  

"Oh nothing much. Building an army."   

  

"So why is she gathering an army then? To better survive here?"  

Sheva snorted." No.....to get out. March passed Karag Bolg like Gorvar the Red did"  

Now Varwynia was interested." There've been several Exile Kings and Queens before who tried that. None of them made it past the Farwol Ridge. Every time they came close the dwarves of Karag Bolg struck them down and if not them, the armies of Stormfall. The mountain holds are impregnable, the walls to steep and the tunnel is to well built to be breached."  

Sheva nodded." True. But....those same defenses were overcome earlier by Gorvar the Red. And...." she leant close." Sylva knows you spoke to him."  

  

A loud knock slammed on the door. A puzzled expression came upon Sheva's face.  

Varwynia took up her spear as the banging increased, a loud moan on the other end." Friends of yours?"  

When she turned to Sheva she saw that the jovial guest had turned paler.   

"No...." Sheva replied." Far worse."  

The knocking got harder, louder as the door began breaking.   

"It's them!" Sheva cried.  

"What?!"   

"The Grey Hunger!"   

-----------------------------------------------------------------  

One month ago  

Meido Fields  

  

The smell of horse, the iron taste of blood danced on her tongue and the adrenaline danced through her veins as her sword cleaved through one orc after another. Years of practice made her own soear-arm seem sentient, striking as if by itself although the magic blade her brother gave her earlier might've something to do with it as well.  

Her banner bearer was close by, the Greehold boar waving bravely against the red flag of Gorvar the Red. Her vision went bright red and were it not for her mother's training, she would've been as lost in the bloodlust as any savage orc. She retained her mind." Forward!" she cried to her knights." Slay the Warchief!"  

Her cavalry, composed of knights and barbarian boar riders, pushed through the toothed swamp that was the orcish horde. Distant death spells cast from her brother's Warlocks fell just before more of the orc hordes. Some of the green monsters dropped dead, only to slowly get back up, twitching and moaning before they lunged at their former friends. Gods praise the Occult arts, Varwynia thought. However the undead were quickly taken down, as if all the orcs knew how to destroy the living dead. That was curious, she would speak to Thorgal about it later.   

  

The battered battleline of pikemen and dwarven warrior cheered as the cavalry took the pressure off. Sensing the flow of battle, she heard her uncle Hadgar cry out and lead the counter-attack. An ogre fell as her uncle slammed his warhammer into it's face. Pikes plunged into orc armour as dwarven axes made quick work of stragglers. Barbarian nomads had ridden around the flanks of the Horde and rained down arrows upon the greenskins. Halmadir called upon the forces of nature to call down a healing rain to reinvogorate the battleline.   

The way out was being prepared, the only thing the cavalry had to do was find the Warchief and end it.   

It did not take long for Gorvar the Red to be found. He towered over his orc kin, nearly as tall as a small ogre. He was covered in red plate armour, his helmet looked like a dragon's maw with two massive underjutting teeth on his lower jaw. His large war axe was covered in red gore as he calmly gave his orders to his men. He had not seen her.   

"GORVAR!" She cried out. As he turned to face her, she had aimed her spear at the Warchief." YOU'RE DEAD!"  

Her horse raced towards the Warchief, she switched back to her spear and had it aimed at his head.   

His bodyguards grunted and screamed to leap at her but all fall silent as he moved forward, his warriors moved away like water to let him pass.   

   

The following happend in such a short amount of time but to Varwynia, it all happened so slow. The Warchief's axe raised his axe high above himself as Varwynia and her cavalry came. She cried out the name of Greehold and pulled her spear back for the plunge. It never came.   

The axe went down fast, unnaturally so, as the Warchief made a horizontal slash at her horse. For a moment Varwynia felt weightless as she fell from her horse. In the one moment of her being airborne, her feeling from rightious adrenaline turned to that of horror. The massive orc cut through her knights' armour as if they were made of paper. She landed her on the muddy ground, breath went out her lungs. Everything turned dark for a moment as bright lights hurt her mind and eyes. The blow felt like she was hit by a whirlwind, ripping through her and her men.   

  

It felt like an eternity for her to get back up while in reality it couldn't have been more then three minutes. The sight shocked the Varangia to her core. Horses lay cut in half around them along with their dead mistresses. A single boar, riderless, charged around as it was chased by hungry goblins.   

The din of steel and steel was diminishing by the moment. She saw her bannermen, her horse lying dead behind her, duelling Gorvar the Red. She struck out at him with her own blade which he swatted aside with ease with his own gauntlet. She struck out again but this time he caught the blade with his hand, the orc staring the woman down. It was like watching a full grown soldier taking a child's wooden sword by the blade.   

She swore she saw her bannermen plead for her life before his axe came down. She stood there for a moment before she was split in half from head to torso, organs falling to the ground along with the Greehold banner on the muddy ground.   

  

Varwynia did not hesitate. She picked up her spear from her dead horse and lunged it at the orc. The massive orc gave a painful cry as the dwarven inscribed spearhead bite deeply into his red armour. The spear protruded from his back like a mast from a ship. He turned around, anger in his eyes as the Varangia charged at him with her sword drawn.  

She darted around him, sword poking  at his exposed flesh where she could find a spot. She jumped away from his unnatural fast axe, trying to find a quick killing blow.   

When he raised his axe above his head she went to jam her blade into his torso. The blade did not reach it's target. The orc jumped back before he used the flat edge of his axe to knock her to the ground. The last thing she saw was a large red gauntlet that raced towards her head.  

   

She knew she was not dead because death did not hurt. She slowly opened her eyes and found herself laying on a fur rug. Everything hurt. Her arms, legs, bones...but she was alive.   

The tent she was in was made from thick leather hides, she recognised as mammoth. She had a carpet like this back home in Greehold in her room, it kept her feet nice and warm during the winter months and was nice to wrap herself and Halmadir in to keep themselves warm in more than one way. But the ornaments around her were wolf skulls and bones that were strung around the entrance like a ward to keep out evil spirts. A custom only practiced by orcs.    

Her wounds were dressed and most suprising of all was, her gear was laid prepared next to her. Her armour, sword, boots....but not her spear. This was not normal. She was captured no doubt. This was a trap. It had to be. Orcs took no prisoners.   

She waited a few moments, waiting for her captures to come claim here. When none came she risked getting up and dressed.   

  

Everything still ached when she left the tent. The bright sun blinded her but for a moment before her vision returned. She was indeed in an orc camp. A very, very large orc camp.   

She had seen and attacked camps similar to this in the past. Large bonfires, wolf skeletons and rows of tents like the one she just came out of. But those camps were just populated by orcs, wolves and ogres preparing for a next raid, to slaughter innocents. Here she saw small orcs, children, running about at play. Some even used an ogre as a mount, screaming happily as the dumb creature ran about the camp. Other greenskins which she assumed were female were washing up clothes and armour, preparing weapons or making food. Orcs of both genders in robes were seated around a large bonfire higher up, their faces painted like a red skull as they worshipped an idol shaped like a bird, also painted red. Like everything in the camp, it all had a shade of red painted somewhere.   

She did spot a few warriors here and there but the women and children outnumbered those  by a large margin. It became to abundantly clear her brother's earlier estimate of a thousand orcs was very conservative.   

This was not a war camp, this was a people's home.   

"Balur's balls..." she cursed. No wonder why she was given her sword, there was no chance she could fight her way out.   

  

One of the warriors came forward. Cautiously Varwynia had her hand on the pommel of her blade as it approached.  

"Gorvar the Red wishes to speak with you." the orc spoke with a thick accent.   

Varwynia glared." And if I refuse?"  

The orc did not reply, staring confused at the Varangia." Gorvar the Red, speak with you." He said again.  

Varwynia found herself in new territory. She followed the orc as she walked down the camp. She felt the eyes of hundreds of greenskins on her, their ugly tongue stopped as she came passed. Women were cautious and kept their children close. Some even made a gesture that involved flapping their hands as if to ward off her evil. Varwynia glared, how dared they claim she was evil when they were the ones who burned down villages.   

  

 She was led down to the largest bonfire where she found not only her spear....but the one she tried to kill with it.   

Gorvar the Red was out of his armour as he was seated on a bench. He was dressed in light leather, similar to what she wore when she was lounging at home. He was eating a boar's leg, which she assumed was from one of her own boar riders. Her spear was by his side as well.   

To his side were several females, one of them a shaman, and a single ogre who stood by his side, arms folded.   

The orc who guided her quickly rushed to Gorvar' side and spoke in their dark tongue again. Gorvar listened attentivly before he motioned the orc to have some boar from the spit nearby. The orc happily took some of the roasted meat.  

The Varangia had her hand still on the pommel of her blade and stood erect." You wished to see me, orc?"  

Gorvar grunted as he sat up and picked up her spear. He inspected it. What followed next nearly made the Varangia stare in disbelief.  

" Double casted mithril steel, inscribed by a master runesmith. Costs about five thousand gold coins in today's economy. Only the Lords of Stormfall can afford such a weapon " The Warchief spoke in a clear tongue with only a slight hint of an accent. He turned to her." And you threw it at me like it was a pointy stick."  

He extended his hand to an empty spot on the opposing bench.   

  

Varwynia waited for a moment before she sat down, sensing no trap." I was trying to kill you, orc."  

Gorvar chuckled." You were indeed, Varwynia daughter of Greer the Elder."   

"So you know me?" She scoffed." Everyone does around here. Should I be impressed?"  

"No, you should listen." He tossed the spear over to her. She caught the spear and slammed the end down by her feet.  

"Your people and mine have both lost enough at Meido Fields." Gorvar said." We seek no longer conflict."  

She snorted." Says the orc whom we defeated..."  

Gorvar shook his head." Both our sides lost. You lost nearly all your cavalry and your battline as your dwarf destroyed the bridge. My people cannot pass to a safer haven and your losses are heavy."   

Destroying the bridge was the kind of tactic she expected from her uncle. No doubt he was busy taking away as much as he could from the hamlet before he would torch it.   

"Haven?" Varwynia asked." You're saying your fleeing?" From Lord Oberon, no doubt.   

Gorvar nodded." Yes, we are. My people are fleeing from the Eastern Marshes." He paused." A threat has arisen from the East that not even Balur himself can or wishes to stop. My people are dying in their thousands."   

"Think of an enemy you cannot kill and you cannot intimidate. It keeps coming at you, night after night. Unstopping. Unyielding and with no mercy." He turned to his shaman woman." The shaman prayed to Balur for aid, my Chieftain sacrificed many people to have a vision or an answer to deal with it. In the end Balur denied us an answer. In the end we did recieve a vision. My wife dreamt of a red bird. A bird made out of flame."   

"A phoenix?" Varwynia asked.  

The Warchief shrugged." I do not know what you humans call it, probably. But the next day at morn we did see a bird in flames, flying passed the mountains...passed the ridge. We gathered what people we could and followed the red bird into the mountains. My chieftain remained and gave us time as we fled."   

Varwynia raised her brow." What from?"  

"We call it the 'Grey Hunger'.   

  

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------  

Present.  

Varwynia's camp, beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.   

  

The door was ripped apart as the creature outside made it's way in.   

It was a terrible beast, what made it worse was it once could've been human. It had a gray skin, teeth caked in old blood, it's hair was long and filthy as it's arms were long and purple with dark veins pumping some unholy ichor through it's body. It's height was that of an ogre and it's eyes that of hunger. Knives were embedded in it's chest and a arrow jutted out of his shoulder.  

"Oh no....it got the others!" Sheva cried.   

"What?!" Varwynia shouted.  

"There were five people outside to keep us safe!" Sheva held her host' shoulder." Do you have any spare weapons?!"  

  

Varwynia's nostrils were filled with the stench of rotting flesh. Without effort it flung the table aside as Sheva fled further into the house.   

The Varangia, forgetting her wounds and biting through the pain, stabbed with her spear. The creature cried out in pain as the spear penetrated it' skin. Black blood sprayed out. Some landed on her hand. A harsh pain much like acid burned her hand which Varwynia wiped away on the wall. The creature roared loudly and swung at her with his grey, sharp claws. Parts of the wall were torn open as the claws hit the wall, the massive creature hissing as spittle flew around it.   

   

Varwynia danced around it as Sheva rooted through the pantry for a means to defend herself.  

Her guest eventually came by her side holding a skilet which she held like a weapon. Varwynia turned to her guest with a vague look before focusing back on the monster.  

For the first time in a long time, Varwynia felt fear.  




UTC +0:00
0
Community Manager
3 September, 2018, 11:12 AM UTC

Great story, GORVAR!

Thanks for sharing it on SFM Forum as well! Absolutely love it 

Community Manager
UTC +2:00
1
User
3 September, 2018, 9:17 PM UTC

Thanks Alina!


I try to reach as wide an audience as I can. 

Glad you guys at Plarium seem to dig my story, happy to write it for you all :)
UTC +0:00
0
Moderator
12 September, 2018, 7:23 PM UTC
Gorvar said:

Thanks Alina!


I try to reach as wide an audience as I can. 

Glad you guys at Plarium seem to dig my story, happy to write it for you all :)
I really enjoyed reading this as well!! Great job, you are a very creative and talented writer!
star
UTC +5:00
1
User
16 September, 2018, 1:41 PM UTC

Present.  

Varwynia's camp, beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.   

 

Her spear darted in and out at the undead behemoth, like a viper taking bites at it's prey. The runes of the spearhead flared each time contact was made. Despite the numerious wounds and the amount of black ichor that served as this Grey hunger's blood, it still moved at the same speed as when it barged through the house. 

Varwynia's guest was huddled in the corner, the skellet in her hand trembling, as the Varangia danced around the creature. The Grey hunger roared and trashed but it was always one step behind the wounded Varangia. 

 

However the Varangia had two major disadvantages to the creature. One, she was wounded and tired still from her encounter with the large wolf, One eye. Second, she was getting more and more drained with every passing moment while it still kept moved with the same speed. It was clear this had to end soon.  

She turned to her guest. " Sheva, there is a chest underneath my bed, open it!"  

The ebon skinned woman still shook heavily and did not move, her eyes big with fear. The creature swung, it's black claws were inches away from her face, specks of dried red blood were flecked on her cheek as she jumped back. She rubbed the green ring for luck.   

"SHEVA!" Varwynia called out. This time she did snap out of her fear. " Chest, open! NOW!"  

 

Sheva ran for the chest and dropped the skellet along the way. She opened it. 

"There's a ring here!" she cried. 

"Get it!" the Varangia threw the table at the creature and ran for the chest. Sheva held up the ring. Varwynia snatched it and shoved her spear in Sheva's hands." Hold my spear." She placed Sheva's hands around the haft of it." And keep it steady." 

Quickly she placed the ring on her finger next to her lucky green one and made a fist aimed at the Grey hunger. As it lunged toward him, time slowed. It threw the table away, splinters hovered in the air like dust particles. She faintly heard Sheva praying in her own native language. She could hear her own heart beating like a drum in her ears, the fear clawing at the back of her mind. Varwynia did her hardest to not make her hands shake and cried out a word." SOL!" 

 

A warm glow erupted from her finger that had the new ring on as it quickly turned into a blaze. The heat became solid flame as it collided with the creature. For the first time it cried out in pain and agony as the flames licked at it's grey skin that began to peel. Varwynia snatched the spear from Sheva as the creature tried to douse the flames by slapping himself. With one lunge, precise and short, she embedded the creature's head through it's left eye, through the brain. The struggling stopped immidiatly. She withdrew the spear as the body of the Grey hunger fell to the ground.  

A sense of euphoria reinvogorated the Varangia, the primal feeling of victory. When Sheva screamed and pointed at the door when more undead men came in, Varwynia nearly cheered with joy. She rubbed her green ring as she with a cry worthy of a Varangia, she lunged at the undead like a tiger on it's prey.  

This was good, this is what she wanted. 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

Four weeks ago, 

Gorvar the Red's war camp.  

 

For the first time since the day her mother had given her away to her father to be raised at Greehold, Varwynia felt confused and isolated.  

Warchief Gorvar called her a guest but she knew it was just a fancy word of saying prisoner. She tried to escape a few times obviously but somehow the Warchief knew exactly where she was and she had to abort her escape. But even so in her two days of imprisonment, she started to see the orc in a different way. 

  

She had fought orcs before. The children of Balur were cruel creatures, formed by the worst vices the mortal races had in them and made manifest. She raided numerious camps alongside her father, Halmadir and her uncle Hadgar. Dirty, black stains on otherwise green lands decorated with skulls, rotting wood and gore to symbolise their hatred for all other races in Stormfall. There was no organisation in how the camps were built solely that in the center with a large bonfire where a large wooden construction vageuly resembling an humanoid creature stood over all, a representation of the dark god Balur.  The orcs attacked villages, kidnapping people for their dark rituals or worse. Orcs kept their prisoners in dirty cages, using them as lifestock or worse, brood mares.  

Most who survived the orc camps were never the same again when they came back home.  

 

She still vividly remembered her first raid. Her first orc kill, her spear through it's chest, the smell of it's rancid breath in her face before she kicked it off. The sheer chaos of the camp, the very feel of it feeling wrong. Every time Halmadir cast a nature spell that sprouted trees from beneath the ground that began to slam the orcs into the ground, every time Hadgar crushed a orc's skull or chest with his mighty hammer or just every time anyone in House Greer slew a greenskin, it felt like a cleansing. Every time a camp was burned to the ground, it felt like a victory well earnt. But even so when she returned home she always had a warm bath drawn and soaked in it for at least an hour to get the smell and grime out, longer if Halmadir decided to keep her company.  

 

But the orcs here under Gorvar were not the same type of orc. For one their camp looked clean, compared to their other kin, the black replaced by red paint. The camp was seperated in seperate areas with each area being ruled by one clan. She recognised the Goat skull helmets of the Skullhead clan, theblack and white  striped wolves of the Thunderbolt clan and was suprised to see the seafaring orcs of the Red Tide clan present among them.  

Instead of Balur, the red bird was prevalent. Her tent was one of the better ones and the food brought her to were always the finest cuts of meat. As if she were a highly honoured guest. The orc women greeted her friendly enough in their orcish tongue and the orc children seemed fascinated by the Varangia. In her time raiding camps, she had never seen orc children before. Were it not for their green skins and tusks, they could've been like normal human children.  

At one point a orc child ran up to her holding a leather ball. He placed it on the ground and kicked it to her. Confused, Varwyinia kicked it back to which the orc pup kicked it back even faster. A smile crept on her face as the daughter of Greer the Elder returned the ball with a powerful kick. Soon more children joined up and joined the game.   

After the game, the orc child would hold his hand on his chest." Volg." 

Varwynia smiled and also placed a hand on her chest." Varwynia."   

  

There was some in fighting and some other typical orcish beheaviour but nowhere near as bad as the other camps. Everywhere she went with Gorvar, the other orcs seemed to worship him. They stopped their brawls, blacksmithing , orc children at play or whatever else they were doing to pay their respects.  

"How did you get all these clans together and not have them kill each other?" She asked Gorvar as they walked through the camps. There was no escort and Varwynia was permitted to walk around with her sword. It was supposed to encourage trust but Varwynia knew if she were to act rash and kill the Warchief, she would be cut down in seconds by the hundreds if not thousands of orcs around her.  

"The same way your people stop fighting each other. a common goal."  

"The red bird?" She asked. 

He nodded." Balur abondened our people in favour of this Grey hunger he created. Most of the other clans believe that by fighting the Grey hunger, they prove themselves worthy of Balur's favour once more. A foolish notion. You do not take a bucket and start shoveling out water when the ship is already half-sunk." 

 

They stopped at noon by the largest of the wooden birds covered in red paint as the shaman converged on the platform below it. As the sun hit it's zenith they began ulalating. A crowd quickly gathered. Fires were being lit as the shaman stripped and began dancing around the statue, cheered on by the crowd, torches swinging around them in exstatic frenzy. 

"Every day when the sun is at it's highest, we thank the red bird in this manner." Gorvar said to the captive Varangia. 

"With fire." she replied. 

"Not just fire." He said." Look more closely." 

She did. The half naked shaman waved fire around, some beginning to mate on the platform, while others began to dance or sing. She saw a invisible glow, a joy of life that spread amongst the crowd. Were it not for the green skins and the red paint, it easily could've been the harvest festival at Greehold.  

"You're celebrating life."  

Gorvar smiled as he nods." We do." 

He looked to her hands." I noticed you have a green ring of elven make." 

Her first instinct was to hide it but fought it. He had already seen it, what's the point of hiding it." Yes." She replied. 

"Family heirloom?" Gorvar asked." I did not know House Greer had elven blood in their lineage." 

"They do not."  

Yet, Varwynia replied in her mind. " This belongs to someone I care about greatly. It gives me luck." 

Gorvar glanced at the ring." This elf must care a lot about you then, the gifts of Eir are not easily passed on to people of the other races."  

  

Varwynia shook her head." I do not understand. I've fought orcs all my life. I killed hundreds of you. But you are the first orc I do not comprehend." She turned to him." Why are you this way? You know small things like jewelry and their origin. You move like a trained soldier. You know how to wage war. You speak my tongue fluently with barely an accent and when you speak you sound...." she did not know how to describe it.  

"More man than orc?" Gorvar straightend himself." Because I was raised as one."  

A light went on in her head." Of course! I get it now! You were a slave!"  

Gorvar chuckled." I was but a pup when I was dragged into a raid. It was a harsh winter, barely any food left. To survive we had to go raiding or the whole clan would starve. We crossed the Farwol ridge and went to village to village, stealing what food we could. After  few victories against some human militia, my clan grew arrogant. Decided to go for bigger prey.  The warleader decided to attack a mage tower, have some of Darkshine's magic to our disposal. A hundred orcs against a tower build to withstand a year long' siege, guarded by the wizard's rock men and their Warlocks. " The orc paused. "...we were cut down in seconds by spells, the youngest of us enslaved." 

" Your warleader sounds like a fool." 

"He was." Gorvar agreed." My father never thought things through." 

"Your father?" For a moment she felt something she thought she would never feel for an orc. Compassion.  

 

"The attack did cause damage to the tower so we were sold off like cattle. I was worth fifty gold coins to a man by the name of Comodus. A prince with no lands who used his slaves as gladiators for a underground fighting ring to sustain his remaining estates." Gorvar grinned." The wizard who sold me would've eaten his own beard if he knew how much I made back in return. In my first fight I killed a centaur, won my master a wager which was three to one." 

Varwynia took stock of the information she knew." So this Comodus further invested in you?" 

"Aye." he nodded." I was taught the arts of war, strategy, speech. I was given the best food, the best of armour and the best stock of orcish women. We made a deal. I would do all he said, win him money if he never whipped me. It was a good life...." 

Intrigued, she leant forward as the ceromony reached a fever pitch. She ignored the orgy that happend and asked." So what happend?" 

" My master died, the wealthy lifestyle killed him. His daughter decide to sell what slaves and items she could to some other slave owner. During the transaction my potential buyer decided to whip my when I was not moving fast enough to her lacking. In return I snapped her neck and returned home." 

"How did your peers react to you coming home?" Varwynia asked. 

"Same as anyone else who enters the clan, had to fight my way in. Thankfully the Chieftain of the clan I entered saw my potential. During raids on other clans and the start of the Grey hunger, he noticed how my warriors fared better than his and how more clans wanted to join us." 

"How?" 

"During my time as a gladiator, I noticed some things. My kind was created out of the vices of yours. Greed, malice, hate, lust, treachery. We owned those traits above all else. But I saw my master use the services of unknown women while his wife waited at home. I saw foremen barely pay their workers so they could keep the lion’ share of the coin. I saw men go to war with one another because of the colour of their skin. If those traits are so prevalent in your people, why wouldn’t it’s virtues also be prevalent in mine? Honour, mercy, kindness, trust, sacrifice. Hope. Because I cared for my men, because they cared for me they fought better. And when it became to obvious the Grey hunger could not be beaten, only few decided to stay while others followed my lead." The Warchief turned to the ritual that was coming to an end. "While Balur’s children fight among themselves, we follow the way of the Red Bird. Not for redemption per se, but something else that is not incessant violence." 

 

The two moved onward after the ritual as the sun began to set.  

"So....why am I here then? You believe keeping me captive will pay your way to freedom?" Varwynia asked.  

"Maybe." Gorvar replied." I've had hoped you'd be willing to speak to your people, tell them to let us pass." 

She raised her brow." You know I cannot do that. They'll think of me as a traitor." 

"For dealing with the children of Balur, yes. But we cast off our ties with our dark father. Is it fair any child should suffer for the sins of their father?" 

"Some sins run to deep, Gorvar." she said his name for the first time." You may have cast off Balur's teachings but some of your people haven't. Several villages have been burned already because you could not keep them in line. What promise can you give that that will not happen again?" 

The orc gave no reply as they quietly moved back to her tent.  

The following day the orc gave his reply.  

 

Commander Hadgar Dainson has not slept for four days. Unlike the humans who could not fare well without sleep, dwarves had no such inclinations. Dwarves were like stone, they were patient and solid. He led the defense at Denerim fields and the attacks that followed afterward. House Greer had suffered losses true, but they could hold until Lady Amelie arrived with her Paladins. He had the nomads attack the orc supply train leading into toward the Farwol ridge and had the men he could spare send to some of the other hamlets along the river in case the orcs would attempt a breakthrough there. The Necromancers were still in their dark tent where none dared aproach, Hadgar never did like magic so the less time he had to waste on it and it's wielders the better.  

 

 It was the early hours of the morning and the mist still hung around the hamlet like a grey cloak.  

He walked through the streets of the hamlet. The Greer boar waved above the town hall as numerious tents were dotted around. The men who were not on watch or duty kept themselves occupied with gambling, whoring or helping to rebuild the buildings damaged by the attacks. He made an effort to be seen by his men, it helped to have leaders who walked amongst their own, sharing their plight. He gave nods to the soldiers who greeted him and just a smile to the camp followers who enticed him to join them in their tents.  

"Not today, lasses. Duty calls." he'd always say. And duty always called.  

 He went to the fortifications when he noticed something.  

A soldier at his post was shivering. 

 

"Commander Dainson, sir!" the spikemen saluted, shivering through his teeth." Nothing to see here, sir!"  

"Soldier." Hadgar spoke to the sentry who saluted. the dwarf gave a quick salute back." By Bran's beard lad, why are you standing here without a coat or a warm drink?" 

"B-both ran out, sir!" the young man replied." But it's fine, my shift changes in an hour." 

Hadgar shook his head. He undid the cloak around his shoulders." Kneel, lad." 

The man looked confused." Sir?" 

"Kneel, I can't reach that high." the dwarf smirked. The young lad knelt down and was given a cloak and some gold.  

"Go to the quartermaster and give half for some warmed up honey mead. That should warm you up." 

"Thank you, sir...." the man smiled happily." But what of the other half?" 

The dwarf shrugged." Keep it or there are other ways to keep warm...." he motioned to the camp followers emcampent along the way. The man gave a knowing look.  

"You're doing good, lad." Hadgar gave him a pat on the arm before he turned to move on. 

"Sir!" the young man shouted." I see something!"  

The dwarf leant over the fortifications." By Bran's beard...." 

 

Halmadir had no slept for days ever since Varwynia went missing. He knew the fate awaited those captured by the orcs. He had attacked numerious patrols, slaying dozens of orcs in a bid to find out what happend to his lover. His golden hair had lost some of it shine as he kind eyes had turned cold.  Bandages and old scars covered his skin when a pikemen entered his tent." Lord Halmadir, Commander Dainson send me!" 

"Not now..." Halmadir grumbled.  

"We found her! She's at the gate!" 

The man barely saw a glimpse of the elf running past him as leaves flowed behind the whirlwind that was Halmadir. The elf ran through the hamlet, nearly throwing over any passer bye's. When he reached the gate, he stood next to Hadgar and a guardsmen. His heart sang with joy before a sign of confusion appeared on his face. 

Varwynia appeared in the distance through the fog like a warrior queen, holding up a white flag. She was riding on a farmer's horse, more meant to tilt soil than be the mount of a warrior. But that was not what was confusing. For she was not alone....a orc child was sat on her lap.  


Present.  

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.   

 

They had loaded up what few supplies they had, they took the turnips that were ready to be plucked and filled the water skins in the stream.  

"Once the Grey Hunger finds a settlement, they will not stop coming until everyone in it is gone or dead." Sheva replied, still slightly shaken." This thing was an Iron Monger, one of the stronger ones. It killed my friends outside without us even hearing them scream." 

"Why were they here to begin with?" Varwynia asked." Were you going to kidnap me? Force me to tell you Gorvar's path?" 

Sheva shook her head." No...no, they were just here to keep us safe in case something came....I didn't think an Ironmonger would show up outside of a Catacomb, let alone here. The orcs mostly keep them in check..." 

Varwynia took the supplies from the dead, picking up a bow and arrow." So Gorvar was right, his people are losing ." She picked up a dagger and threw it to Sheva who caught it with expert skill." Which means us exiles will be next." 

Sheva nodded." Look....I'm sorry I lied to you, I was under orders not to tell you to much. We had to gauge who you were before we could make a former request for an alliance..." 

Varwynia gathered the dead in one big pile inside the house before she poured the little oil she had on the corpses." I guess we're past formaility now." She lit a torch and threw it on the body pile." See me as recruited."  

Sheva had a faint smile." I thought you were content with your exile?" 

"Not anymore." Varwynia replied." The undead are not the type of neighbours i'd like." 

"I hear you." Sheva said and took up her own traveling pack." I'll lead you to Sylva. With your help we'll get out of the Free Marches and claim a piece of Darkshine for ourselves!"  

"We'll see." Varwynia replied and motioned with her spear for Sheva to lead the way.  

 

The Varangia followed her ebon skinned guest as they left the area. She did not look back as her home burned. 



UTC +0:00
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30 September, 2018, 3:49 PM UTC

Present.   

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.    

 

Even with the bear fur and the warm berry tea to drink, the coldness of the Eastern Marshes clung to Varwynia like a cloak. The sun was hidden by a white sky that stretched across the whole horizon. Not a speck of blue was to be seen.  

They had slept rough underneath a tall tree the night before, thankfully the little rain there was that night was held off by the tree's branches. Neither slept for fear of the Grey hunger persuing them. The following morning Varwynia woke up rapidly and rushed for the bushes where she had to throw up. As she retched her food from the night before she hoped it was just from the undercooked venison the night before. After breakfast, which was salted meat with some turnips and some berry tea, both set off again. 

 

Both her and her former guest now guide marched through the underbrush of the marshes, following delapidated roads from whatever civilization that ruled the Eastern Marshes before the Emperor Comodus of Stormfall named the whole region a land desginated solely for exiles. They passed overgrown ruins and long forgotten statues, vandalized by orcs to resemble their dark father Balur. They moved up the hills where the treeline began to lessen which gave a view of the marshes below. From above she could see the river that ran across the Eastern Marshes from it's west side towards the ocean to the east. She noticed smoke from a few spots along the river, which meant other exiles still remained in this area. After a short break where neither spoke, they went further up where it became even colder.  

She carried the coldness proudly of course, for she was of the line of the Varangia's, a bloodline of barbarian queen's who came from the far north.  


  

Her companion suffered the effects of the cold far more, the people from the gilded sea suffered the cold more easily. She wore double the amount of fur to keep her warm but even so she still shivered.  

"Haven't grown accustomed to the cold yet?" Varwynia broke the silence after they had been traveling for hours. 

Sheva turned." Sorry?" 

"For the past day or so I see you do nothing but shiver." the exile of Greehold replied." How long have you been exiled here again?" 

Sheva frowned slightly as if, rightfully, suspecting a trap." I didn't say how long I've been here."  The ebony woman stopped." Half a year." 

Varwynia pointed her spear. "Liar."  

This amused her guide who had a chuckle. "How long do you wager then?" 

"Guessing by the fact you're still shivering....probably one week longer than me." the exile of Greehold replied.  

Sheva seemed to ponder the idea." A good call....unless it has become colder now than before." 

Varwynia shook her head." No, we're in the heart of summer. Autumn is months away." 


Sheva laughed." Oh by the gods above, Varangia! You really do not know the rules here do you? The Eastern Marshes work by their own rules. Balur lords over these lands and changes it to his whim. Why do you think goblins, orcs and the Grey Hunger have such sway here?" The Varangia considerd this but her guide continued. "Also it seems to be you are mighty distrustfull of me. For someone who owes their life to me, you've done nothing but keep an eye on me constantly, even when we sleep." She stepped forward." Varwynia, if I wanted you dead, I would've left you to be eaten by the Grey Hunger or old One eye himself."  

"True but that means Sylvia wants me alive. Were I to refuse your offer, those friends you had with you would've dragged me to her I wager."   

 

"Probably. But those men are dead now, your house is burned down and infested with the Grey hunger. I won't lie, you know the way out of the Marshes and that knowledge is very valuable. However....I know you do need us a well." 

"I can survive by myself. That's how I spend my childhood back on the plains." Images came to her of those sun touched plains, of herds of wild horses dashing across them. For a moment the cold of the marshes were pushed away and was replaced by the warmth of nostalgia. 

"True but how long do you think you can last alone? Even if it was just a few orcs and raiders? A month? Two? More?" 

Varwynia glared." Until my hair goes as white as snow." 

Sheva smiled." People age a lot faster here." Her smile faded." You need us, Varwynia of House Greer." Her guide turned and led them up the path.  

"Why is that?" Varwynia asked. 

"Because if you wanted to leave this place, you would've done so by now." 


 

The duo travelled under silence again for the rest of the day as the hidden sun began to set. Wordlessly both women set up camp in a ruined structure along the road, a small building with three walls and half it's stone roof missing. It seemed like a palace considering the alternative of sleeping rough under a rock or a large tree.  

 Sheva took up an axe from her pack and cut down a small tree as Varwynia collected some rocks to create a fire pit.  

As the ebon woman placed the logs in the pit and placed some trushes beneath it for fuel, the Varangia took out two flint rocks from her purse. She chipped them together above the dry wood as a spark lit up the rushes and a fire kicked off. Varwynia left the camp to hunt for food and sure enough an hour later just before sundown came back with a few rabbits.  

After the skinning, Sheva took out the skellet and the meat of the rabbits on it. Varwynia sat across of Sheva near the fire as night began to set. Varwynia was rubbing her green ring absentmindedly.   

 

"So....." sheva broke the silence again." What is that green ring about?" 

Varwynia looked up." Sorry?" 

"You keep rubbing it." she noted." Is that a good look token?" 

"Of a sort...." Varwynia replied." It belonged to someone who was close to me." 

She pictured Halmadir's face. With his handsome smile, his wit, his warmth, his hands and how they felt on her hips. It was a pain but it was a good pain. As long as she remembered him, he'd life on. Her mind went to the morning when she had to retch and the implications that came with it.   


 

Sheva seemed to have understood she touched a nerve because she did not speak of the ring again that night.  

As the meat began to cook, Sheva spoke again." I think I prefer using this as a food making impliment and not a weapon."  

Varwynia chuckled." Agreed....but you made a good choice using that thing as a weapon." 

Sheva looked suprised." Oh, how so?" 

"Skellets are sturdy things, can do some serious damage if you smack someone across the face with it."  

"Have you used it as a weapon before?" Sheva flipped the meat over." Bleu or well cooked?" 

"Well cooked, I rather not spend my night in the bushes because of badly cooked rabbit." the daughter of Greer the elder replied." And yes, once....I prefer to stick with my spear though." 

"I wanted to talk about your spear." Sheva said as she added some spices to the meat." I noticed it has some runes on it." 

The Varangia's eyes darted to her spear that lay beside her. The wooden pole had been replaced several times but the spearhead always remained the same.  

"Very observant." Varwynia replied." It's dwarven made." 

Sheva chuckled." I knew it! Where did you get it? I didn't know dwarves lived here!" 


 

"They don't. At least I don't think so..." Varwynia held up the spear, inspecting it." It was a gift from my uncle, the only thing I was allowed to keep for my exile." 

"Your uncle is a dwarf?" Sheva asked confused. 

"We're not blood related." the Varangia clarified with a chuckle." Hadgar Dainson. He swore an oath of loyalty to my father when he was a young man, long before I was sired. I think....Fourty years ago?" 

"I sense a story?" Sheva took out some wooden plates and a loaf of bread. 


 

Varwynia sighed." Many years ago, House Greer was just like the other houses in Darkshine. One castle fighting another, Leagues waging war on one another to become the next Emperor or Empress of Stormfall. Armies fighting each other and the smallfolk suffer for it. The lesser houses were forced to pick side or had to fend everyone off by themselves. 


My house is a house of different influinces. We started off as a small barbarian kingdom that became part of the larger Empire and we had strong ties with the local Dwarves. And yes I do have some dwarf blood in my veins. My house' sigil is that of a boar, to symbolise how stubborn we can be and fierce.  We were fighting a war with House Karland to the south for years, the Lions we call them. They were led by Lady Amalia during those days, no relation to Oberon's daughter. A fierce woman, worthy of being called a Varangia. She led a host of knights called the Lionesses, one of the best cavalry fighters in Darkshine. When my grandfather was slain by her, my father was named the next Lord Greer." 

 

During the war our supply of Iron was running low so my father send a large force of miners and soldiers to a Ironmonger hamlet near a mine to stock up, a joint venture of Greer men and dwarves. They were led by an Shamaness and a chieftain of our northeren lands named Boudecia and a dwarven prince called Grimlok, who by all counts was ambitious but very cowardly and self intitled. While he enjoyed the wealth of the mines, he stayed away from the workers. My uncle was a miner among the other warriors, a foremen who knew the men he served with. My uncle claims you have to lead by example, only order a man to do something if you are willing to do it yourself or have done so yourself." 

Sheva replied as she dished out the food." I'm guessing your uncle must've done something really important in those mines to earn your father's attention?" 

Varwynia smirked." He did. A few months later, a Karland army attacked the mine without warning. The attack was like a lion pounce, fierce and brutal. Karland Lionesses attacked the defenses and smashed them down and cut down every men and dwarf they could see. They were fought off but the casulties were heavy. The attack was bit a taste and the scouts reported a force three times the size coming their way.  

 

Boudecia died in the first attack and command fell to Prince Grimlok who cracked under the pressure and suggested a retreat. Everyone with a shred of inteligence knew that was no option, if House Greer retreated not only would the iron be lost but they would be cut down all the way back to Greehold. Grimlok was told this but he was not able to be reasoned with. When he executed one of the miners for a percieved insult,  my uncle stood up and took command forcefully from the whimpering prince. He had the men turn the mine into a fortress. They fought with what little mining equipment they had and  constructed a barricade near the entrance of the mine which served as a bottleneck where the Lion's numbers would mean nothing. The fastest boar rider was send to ask for aid as the men prepared themselves. When the Karlands came they faced the symbolic boar at those mines.  

 

My uncle led the defense for seven days as wave after wave of enemy fighters tried to break the them down. He fought them with a sledgehammer used to break rocks, his men with looted weapons or pickaxes. They fought like enraged boars and the Lions whimpered back.  


When my father arrived, it was to a battlefield where the broken bodies of the remaining Lions were. He strode to the barricade and demand to see the man who led the defense. My uncle stepped up. Now Prince Grimlok tried to claim the credit for the idea and demanded my uncle to be beheaded for treason but he was quickly silenced and send to exile to this very place for his cowardly beheaviour. My uncle was named Captain of Greehold and would assist my father in the war against the Karlands untill Lord Oberon orchestrated a peace treaty years later." 

 

Sheva listened to the story as they both devoured their food.  

"So...how come you're so close to him then?" 

"When I was born, my father was away a lot so he took care of me and my siblings. I think that is because he never had children, I asked him once if he had children but he asked me to never ask him again on the pain of a blood oath. Dwarves are known for two things, their beards and keeping their oaths so I never did ask him again. He told me off when needed, taught me how to make my own weapons, fight. When I became of age to fight in war he gave me this spear, because then in a way he would still be looking out for me that way...." 

"He sounds like a good man." Sheva smiled." Almost like a father." 

Varwynia smiled sadly." Aye....".  

The two continued their meal in silence as the sound of the forest wildlife sounded in the distance and kept them company through the night.  


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User
13 October, 2018, 4:37 PM UTC

Twelve years ago,   

Greehold, seat of House Greer.   

 

"Look at all this mess!" the stablemaster waved his arms at the chaos. Numerious horses ran around the castle's courtyard as the stableboy's tried to calm them down and guide them back to their stables. The other inhabitants of the courtyard either steered clear or in the case of the blacksmiths laughed at their follies, taking a break from their work.  

 " I need to reshoe all these animals before the next patrol tommorow! How in Veyon's name can I get that done in time now?!" 

"What happend?"the dwarf asked. 

"That girl! That damned girl Lord Greer brought back with him! She unleashed all the animals! Even throw a rock at me when I tried to shoe that pony over there!" He pointed to the creature in question, a foal with a hide as black as charcoal. The pony who, unlike his other kin who ran around mindlessly, was tended to by a small girl.  

Hadgar raised his brow." Do we often use ponies for patrols, stablemaster Faol?" 

Faol grunted." No....that is Lady Vanera's horse. She calls it....Princess." 

"I remember....it was given as a birthday present six months ago. Only ridden it twice?" 

"Once a month." Faol corrected." But it is still Lady Vanera's horse." 

"Did anyone get hurt?" 

"No." Faol shook his head." But the girl did use my head as leverage to jump on Princes' back." 

 

Hadgar paused for a moment as he processed what he said. Eventually he nodded." I will deal with it." The dwarf went to move when the stablemaster took him by his shoulder. 

"This is not the first time this girl caused trouble. Freeing the hunting dogs, scaring Lady Vanera and her friends with dead rabbits and making a mockery of Lord Greer. If it were up to me I would give her a good hiding! This needs sorting, Commander Dainson." 

The dwarven commander of Greehold stared the stablemaster right in the eye, hitting the man with the intensity of a dormant volcano. Without a word, Faol let the dwarf' shoulder go.  

"I said, I will deal with it." And the dwarf moved to the little nomad girl and the pony. 

 

She was very unlike the other inhabitants of the castle, dressed in rugged leather befitting the open steppe up north, braids that southern ladies would call savage and a scowl that could sour milk. However the way she treated the horse was that not of a master tending his animal, but of equals comforting each other.  

"Her name is Raindew." She said before the dwarf could even open his mouth." Not Princess."  

 Hadgar raised his brow." Is it?" He gestured if it was allowed to sit next to the girl, she nodded." So why did you the horses?" 

"Horses need to run free, feel the wind in their manes, feel Ran's love!" The girl exclaimed. 

The dwarf chuckled." I know one stablemaster who disagrees with that...and Raindew over here?" 

"Vanera does not treat her right." She said as Hadgar sat down, brushing the pony's hairs gently with a special comb made out of bones and wood." Barely spends time with her. Hits her when they do ride." 

"Noble girls are taught to ride that way." Hadgar said. 

"They're taught wrong." the girl replied. 

 

 

When the dwarf saw the girl for the first time a few weeks ago when she was brought in by her father, and Hadgar's Lord, he did not know what to think of it. In private he asked why he'd bring a Nomad girl who was used to the steppe and the freedom that came with it to the isolating walls of Greehold. As always Lord Greer never gave a straight answer." My children are the future of Greehold. Vanera will be the excellent Lady who can deal with politics and Thorgal is gifted with magic. But what they lack, Varwynia has in spades."  

It took Hadgar a while to decipher but seeing the girl tend to the horse, he realized. House Greer had become a Southern house. It still held the loyalties of several Nomad and Barbarian tribes up north true but the way of the plains had been abandoned in the ways of the court and chivalry. But with Varwynia here, it was a promise to keep a foot into Greehold's past. The founder of House Greer was a Barbarian king, it was time everyone remembered that.  

 

"Am I going to be punished again?" She asked. 

He nodded." Yes, by me." the dwarf replied. 

She sighed." What now? Do I have to kneel in prayer again for six hours? Write that i'm sorry a thousand times next to Thorgal?" 

"Worse." Hadgar smirked through his beard." You'll have to have a tea party with Venara and her friends."  

Varwynia's face went pale as a sheet." I rather pray for six hours." 

"Maybe some piety or learning your letters will do you some good....but I got something else in mind for you girl. First you will help these horses back in their stables." 

She sighed." Very well...." 

"And then." He continued." Meet me at the forges at dawn." 

She raised her brow." The forges? Why?" 

"You'll see." 

She frowned." And what if I don't come?" 

"Then I'll barge in through your door and drag you here, kicking and screaming." He got up." Won't be the first time I had to use my pay to replace a damaged door."  

 

At dawn, Varwynia did not dissapoint the commander of Greehold and was at the forges by dawn. The furnaces were already red hot and the sound of hammer on steel already rang through the courtyard. She was no stranger to steel weapons and her mother had her trained with these. Spears, swords, arows. But she never saw them being made.  

"The god Bran was the first to create the art of creating weapons, to defend ourselves against the horrors of Balur. His children, the dwarves, are masters of the craft." Her mother would say as she taught Varwynia how to sharpen a spear." It's from them and our own understanding humans know how to make weapons." 

"Do we make weapons ourselves?" 

Her mother snorted." Of course not, child! We do not waste time on re-inventing the wheel. We excel in using weapons, not making them."  

 

Her eyes drifted to a sword in a bucket of cold water. Absentmindedly she picked up a sword and lifted it. 

"What do you think you're doing?!" She nearly dropped the blade as a balding, fat man came over, his arms as thick as lumber and a beard nearly as long as any dwarf." That sword isn't finished yet!" 

"Hal, stop shouting at the girl!" One of the other workers came over, a younger man with a tanned complexion, a small moustache whose apron was already quite dirty from smoke and soot." She's the one Commander Dainson told us about!"  

Hal grunted before he turned to Varwynia." The sword was resting, child. Pick it out of the water to soon, you'll disturb the whole process!" 

Varwynia stared at the balding man confused before she placed the sword back in the bucket. Satisfied, Hal went back to his metalwork. 

"You have to excuse my husband." the younger man said." He's very....driven in his work." 

"Is he a dwarf?" Varwynia asked." A very, tall dwarf?" 

The man laughed." No he isn't. Doesn't even have a drop of dwarf blood in him. You must be Varwynia, yes?" She nodded." I'm Phobos, Commander Dainson is right over there."  

He pointed to a small enclave in the forge where the dwarf was already preparing several stacks of steel. Phobos guided her to the enclave before he went back to Hal, smacking him playfully at the arm and chiding him in hushed tones. 

 

"Varwynia, you came! Good, I have prepared our tasks for today." 

She raised her brow." Tasks?" 

"Your punishment, if you will. I have a day planned where we find you a place in this castle." He motioned to the leather apron that hung on a peg next to her.  

"Which is?" She asked as she put the apron on. 

"Well...your sister is groomed as heir, your brother as scribe. It's only fair you become the proverbial sword of Greehold." 

You're going to train me to become a warrior?" She glared." I'm already a warrior! My mother taught me how to hunt!" 

"Yes she did. She taught you to hunt. Bears don't fire arrows at you or come in closed ranks with spears and shields. Fighting a man is not the same as fighting an animal. Start pushing the lever, let's heat this furnace up."  

"Why?" She folded her arms. 

"By Bran's beard, Child! We're in a forge! We can't make weapons with a cold forge." 

 

Both stared each other down untill Varwynia relented and began heating up the forge. She pushed the elver that blew air into the furnace beneath, heating it up.  

"We already have weapons though!" She protested. 

"True but those are not YOUR weapons, child." Hadgar replied as he began throwing the steel into the furnace." My people believe one should only wield a weapon that you yourself created so it becomes an extension of yourself. This steel in fact I got specificly just for you." 

She paused pushing the lever." Is this Winterbite Iron?" 

"Aye, the same iron your people trade with us. I assumed you'd apreciate a weapon from that make. Was I wrong?" 

She shook her head." No." 

"Good. Furnace is getting cold." 

She started pushing the lever again. "What weapon are we making?" 

"That is for you to decide. I got several casts here we can use, you pick which one." 

Her eyes darted across the casts. She quickly made her choice. "That one." 

 

 

 

At the end of the afternoon, after the weapon was casted and placed, Varwynia was in the courtyard again as she trained with her newly aquired weapon against her  instructor, a Greer soldier who was chosen as her sparring partner. 

She leapt and jammed her spear into the man's training shield. She was tired from the hours working on the thing but still the spear felt like it belonged in her hands. She darted left to right and kept on the offensive. 

"Good, child! Good!" the dwarf laughed as he stayed on the sidelines." We'll make a Varangia out of you yet!" 

"You were right!" Varwynia said." This does feel lighter in my hands now I made it myself!" 

"Oh, does it?" Hadgar smirked." Who told you that?" 

Varwynia stopped the attack." You did. You said if you make a weapon yourself it fits you better." 

"Oh, did I? Can't be, it's a big pile of rubbish you tell children to tire themselves out."  

Varwynia felt her exhaustion make way for anger." You lied to me?!" 

"Depends, did you just not say the spear feels lighter in your hands?" He folded his arms." I did say this was a punishment. A punishment you got a spear out of."  

Varwynia glared angrilly. She wanted to scream but felt foolish enough already." I know not to trust you then." 

The dwarf laughed." Trust me or not, I did say I was going to train you as a Varangia and I will." He signalled the battered sparring partner to go." Come, let's go the tavern and get some food. Idellia has some lovely halfling cooking on." 

Varwynia did not realize how hungry she was until he mentioned the word food. 

She held her stomach as it began to gurgle. She walked up to the dwarf to go to the tavern." You know...you remind me of my uncle." She said. 

"Oh, how do?"Hadgar asked. 

"He was a stupid horse' arse as well." 

The dwarf laughed out loud." Very well then, my child. You may call me 'Uncle Hadgar'".  

 

Present.    

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.     

 

Varwynia' spear burst through the chest of the smaller greenskin before she quickly retreated it. Her axe made quick work of another greenskin who thought to have the jump on her while it's comrade died.  

A small group of them set upon her as she was cutting for wood. Smaller than orcs but just as evil and hidious. Armed with rusted spears and patchwork leather that laughably could be called armour.  

The runes on her spear flared brightly as another goblin ran towards her, by instinct she flicked her wrist as the blade slashed across it's belly, making it's green intestines drop to the floor in a bloody mess. She turned to the remaining few and cried out a battlecry she had taken with her all the way from her native plains in Winterbite.  

At the sight of that horror, the other's fled. With a heavy sigh she went through the corpses, taking what resources she could. She had to hold her breath, although not as bad as orc stink the smaller greenskins still smelt terrible. It took her every bit of willpower not to gag and throw up again that morning.  

 

She took what lumber she could carry in her bag before she moved back to the ruined structure where she and Sheva made camp.  

Her guide looked horrified when she returned. 

"By the gods, what happend to you?" 

"Goblins." She dropped the wood pile in front of her. 

"Let me have a look at you for wounds." Sheva went to check but the Varangia held up her hand. 

"No, i'm fine." She said.  

Sheva sighed annoyed." Is it because you still do not trust me?" 

"Honest answer or sweet lie?" Varwynia replied. Sheva held her tongue." In that case make ready to leave camp, Bran knows if more of their kin will show up."  

Sheva began packing." I was told the goblins were coming into the Eastern Marshes in droves." 

"Any idea why?" Varwynia asked as she helped packing.  

"A lot of Orcs are leaving or dying because of the Grey Hunger, power vaccuum." 

Varwynia threw the bag with the lumber over her back." Don't they know the Grey Hunger is here?" 

"Did you or anyone else over that wall?" Sheva was ready to move. Varwynia wanted to say she did, but only because Gorvar the Red had told her. And that knowledge and everything that came afterward caused her to become exiled.  

"No, not really." Varwynia replied and picked up her spear." Let's move." 

 

The journey continued in silence once more with the sun still hiding behind a thick layer of clouds. The roads became more and more ruined until they followed a dirt path. The Eastern Marshes were a strange place. All the trees, ferns and rocks seemed to blend together as if there was no rhyme or reason.  

Sheva at no point seemed concerned they were lost. She hated being powerless like this but if she wanted to leave the Eastern Marshes she had to play along. At least for now. 

"We're nearing Sylva's territory, we're in friendly grounds now. Well mostly..." 

The sun was halfway across the sky when they heard something that wasn't animal noises. or the rustling of leaves. They heard voices. Both women stopped. The voices were becoming louder and they heard footsteps through the mud. Sheva held up her hand and motioned to the trees.  Varwynia quickly climbed up the trees and helped Sheva as well, dragging her up the sturdier branches. Not a moment to soon for a group of seven men came through the same path the two women were walking on a few moments before. However these were not Exiles. They wore plate armour and helmets that obscured their faces, helmets that encompassed their whole face and thick and wide shields....that bore the symbol of a boar. House Greer men. 

 

 

Her heart stopped for a moment. Why would Greer men be here in the Eastern Marshes? Did her uncle send them to retrieve her? Her sister? Or was it more sinister? She had to know. 

She turned to Sheva who shook her head and mouthed the word no. She tried in vain to stop the Varangia as she leapt down. 

Her boots hit the muddy floor as the Paladins turned around to face her. 

"Hello there." she said with a dry voice.  

"It's her, Lady Varwynia!" One of the paladins shouted.  

"It is." She replied." Who send you here?" 

"Your family." The lead Paladin replied. For a moment, however brief, she had hoped it was all a horrible mistake and she was allowed to go home. Her heart broke when they drew their swords. She faintly heard Sheva drop to the ground and run off.  

"Let that one go! No orc-friend shall life!" One of them cried and charged at her. She jumped back and jabbed her spear. The Paladin held up his shield but the runes on the spear flared up and punched through it, hitting the paladin in the eye. The paladin dropped dead and dragged the spear with him, the plate proved to difficult to pull the spear out.  

She drew her axe and stared down the remaining six who all encroanched on her. One went for a lunge as another made sure she could not retrieve her spear from their fallen friend. She slammed her axe on a shield but it bounced off harmlessly.  

"Nothing much without your spear now are you?" Their leader said with malice.  

"We'll see." she replied as she rubbed her green ring.  

 

They lunged again, the Varangia swung her axe to deflect a strike as she picked up a stonr and slammed it into his face. A cut slid across her shoulder as another paladin slashed at her. She danced back and went for another strike that was deflected. Outnumbered and outmatched, dying alone in a swamp. Not the way she prefered to go out but it was better than dying of old age. She deflected another strike as a sword jabbed at her. Her leather armour did little to protect her from the castleforged steel. She felt a sharp pain in her side. She slammed her axe down hard at the Paladin's arm, the satisfying sound of crunching, a painfull cry and the sound of a sword dropping into the mud followed. She quickly picked up the sword and quickly held it up to deflect another strike.  

A black blur caught her eye as suddenly more crunching happend. The sound that swallowed the painfull cry was overwhelmed by one of a wolf's howl. She turned to face the wolf, fearing for a moment it was old One eye but it wasn't. The wolf was large as a man and walked on hind legs, it's muscular arms ripped through the armour like it was made of linnen as it's jaws disemboweled the fallen Paladin. It's eyes had a feral cunning and belied an inteligence similar to a man, A werewolf.  

 

She was distracted by the creature when a strike meant for her came. The wolf held out it's hand and took the blade in it's palm. It gave a little yelp before it pulled the sword out of the paladin's grip. The wolf gave Varwynia a look, as if checking that she was alright. It was here to help her, she realized. Varwynia gave it a nod and stabbed the disarmed warrior in the throat. She turned to the wolf." Aim for the neck where the armour is weakest." It barked in reply.  

The werewolf made towards the remaining Paladins as Varwynia followed. Between the two the would-be assassins were themselves slain.  

Varwynia held her wounds. She turned to the werewolf who recieved many more wounds...but unlike her began to fade away.  

"Varwynia!" The Varangia turned around and saw Sheva running down towards her." Praise the gods you're alive." 

She smiled wearily." Barely."  

A painfull sound came from her right. Where a moment before where there was a werewolf, there was a man. He had long black hair tied back in a bun, a scruffy beard and was nude save for the tattered trousers to hide his modesty. 

"Good thing I came here just in time."the man said as he rubbed his still muscular fore-arms." Those friends of yours would've killed the shite out of you. Who knew the Traitor of Meidos fields would be so hated?" 

"No shite." Varwynia replied." Whom do I owe my life to?" 

"Again." Sheva smirked much to the Varangia's annoyance. 

The man bowed mockingly. "Bowen Karland, exiled son of Lady Katarina Karland. At your service."  

 



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26 October, 2018, 4:05 PM UTC

Present.

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.

The slog through the swamp was made more exhaustive when the adrenaline ebbed away. Varwynia did not show it of course, no use showing weakness in front of those who needed here for just one thing, getting them past the Farwol’s ridge. Her saviour, Bowen Karland, moved up ahead with Sheva. Both were in talks with each other before as they scavenged the dead Greer men for gear and supplies. Bowen took a shirt from a dead man and some boots. “What happened to Errol and the rest?” He asked but Varwynia could already tell from his face he already knew.

When Sheva said what happened to her escort, Bowen did show genuine sorrow at the loss. After they took when they could get from the dead men, the party made their way out of the swamp and left the corpses to the local fauna. No time for a burial.

“The campsite is up ahead.” Bowen called back, blood still caked on his mouth and beard.

“Good.” Sheva gasped.” I’m exhausted….”

Varwynia did not reply as she focused on her breathing and moving one foot in front of the other.

“Is she always this talkative?” Bowen asked his fellow Exile who gave a chuckle.

“On a good day she might even save two words.”

Bowen snorted but otherwise said nothing as they moved onward.

A short hour later, the trio arrived at another destroyed structure. At one point it could’ve been a tower, now it was a ruin with half it’s top fallen to disarray and covered in ivy. Unlike the other building she and Sheva stayed at, there was some glimpse of the civilization from before. As they entered the tower, Bowen immediately set to work to fire up the Firehole as Sheva began laying out the food. Without asking she went to a chest and took out a bottle of red wine. If Bowen minded, he never showed. There were several bedrolls laid out, Bowen had expected more company. Neither he nor Sheva went to remove them for a good hour.

Varwynia sat down in the corner and checked the weapons they looted. She drew the sword out of it’ scabbard. Castleforged steel, made by Phobos and Hal no doubt. Nostalgia took over for a moment, taking her back to the forge. The smell of sweat, smoke and steel, the vibrations of a hammer hitting steel and the heat of it. She fought the memory down, she wasn’t hone anymore. She took another look at the weapons.

Thankfully the swamp did not do much damage to the swords nor the small bits of armour, it would take some polish though.

“Do you have any cloth I can use?” She asked.

“Hark!” Bowen laughed.” She speaks!”

Before Varwynia could regret it, Bowen moved to the nearby chest and took out some wetstone, polish rags and even a small pot of oil. Varwynia recognised the symbol on the pot, a dragon entwined with it’s own tail around a spear.

“This belongs to the Wall Watch.” Varwynia said.

“It did.” Bowen replied as he sat across of her.” Before you say anything no we didn’t kill for this. We bartered for it.”

Varwynia raised her brow.” Bartered?” She began cleaning the swords.

“Oh aye!” Sheva replied as she placed her skillet on the fire.” Gets mighty cold at the wall. We trade fur, drinks-“

“Women.” Bowen grinned which got a playful smack from Sheva.

“Pig.” She said with a cheeky grin herself.

“Werewolf, actually. Thought you’d noticed from earlier.”

Varwynia shook her head, trying to hide a smile, when she noticed several figures covered in moss. A series of several men in armour on their knees, worshipping a long robed goddess with antlers as small pixies danced around her head.

“Ah, that’s one of the Darmor goddesses.” Bowen pointed at the antlered one.” That one was called ’The Morrigan’ if I recall correctly.” He scratched his bloody beard.” War goddess, the Darmor used to make offerings to her before they went to fight their enemies. Orcs, Stormfall and the like. This tower here they called an Broch.”

Varwynia wiped the moss away.” I’ve never heard of Darmor before.”

“Oh, we did a good job wiping them out before we turned the Eastern Marches into a shithole for criminals.” Bowen replied.” They used to rule this place, created artificial isles called Crannógs, performed rituals in circles of standing stones where they made offerings to their gods, like old Morrie on the wall there.”

“Careful, Bowie.” Sheva pointed her wooden spoon at him.” Your education is showing again.”

“I was a lonely child with a big library.” He replied. “Just like our guest was a lonely child with a big armoury.”

“Forge, actually.” Varwynia corrected.” Had to make my own weapons.”

“Hence the spear.” He motioned to it. He leant in closer to the spear and noticed the runes.” What do the runes say?”

Varwynia snatched the spear away.” They say ‘none of your buisiness’.” She paused before she took the polish cloth and wiped the blood away from Bowen’s mouth. ”Stand still.” She ordered.

“Very kind….” Bowen said nonplussed.

“No, the blood is distracting me.” She wiped the rest of it away.” Done.”

“Thank you.” He smiled.

“You’re welcome.” Varwynia pulled back.” You did save my life, I owe you that at least.”

She took away the cloth and tossed it into the fire before she took a new one. As she oiled it up, Varwynia rubbed the green ring on her finger.

“I know that ring.” He said.

“I highly doubt that.” Varwynia replied.

Sheva tried to wave Bowen down but the wolf of Karland continued.” That is an Emerald Dragon Ring. Fortifies the bearer with the strength, courage and fortune of a dragon. Forged in the ancient dragon caves near Ravenwood. Tal Alrand perh-“

He stopped when Varwynia’s fist hit his nose. As he dropped down, Varwynia picked up her spear and held it near Bowen’s throat, sheer anger coloured her face.

“Struck a nerve?” the wolf gasped.

“You speak one more word, I’ll rip your Balur damned throat out, Karland!” Varwynia said through clenched teeth.

“Karland?” Bowen in turn glared.” That name means nothing to me anymore just like Greer should not mater to you anymore. It doesn’t matter if we were lions or boars or spiders! We’re on our own out here and it’s about time you get used to it!”

“Shut up!” She had to fight back the tears.” You don’t know me!”

His voice became deeper, growlier. “Why? Because I speak truth?” Bowen replied. ”You take that spear away or I’ll rip it off you myself!”

“Wow, wow!” Sheva cried.” ENOUGH! Both of you!” She used her spoon to wedge between the two.” In case you haven’t noticed, I just finished making dinner and we might still have the Grey Hunger after us! Varwynia, stop being a moody cow and accept our help for once! Bowen, stop being a know-it-all and give her space! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!”

Both stared at the ebon skinned woman and gave a small nod. Varwynia withdrew her spear and gave Bowen a hand which he accepted and pulled him up.

“Good, now shake and make up. I didn’t bust my ass off getting the spices right to see it all go to waste!” Sheva made her way to the fire and began plating up the food.

Varwynia stared at Sheva as she walked off.

“First time I’ve seen her lose her temper.” She said.” This happen often?”

Bowen shook his head.” No.”

Dinner was delicious as always, hare with red wine sauce.

The trio ate in silence as the fire crackled on it’s own. The song of the night began when the crescent moon took it’s place in the clouded sky as owls hooted and the chirping of the crickets rang through the forest.

“I doubt the Grey Hunger or an orc is nearby.” Bowen said.” I’ll take first watch, just in case.” No-one argued. Soon enough, Sheva was the first to roll into her bedroll and fell asleep.

Bowen went to stand outside as Varwynia kept polishing the swords.

The hours crawled by as the gnawing inside finally got the better of her. She glanced at her green ring and gave it a rub. With a sigh she got up and went outside.

The shirtless Bowen was seated under the stars when Varwynia came to join him.

“You’re not wearing a shirt.” She said.

“I’m hot.” He replied.” It’s a werewolf thing. Constantly hot all the time.” He turned back, wry grin.” Takes me every effort not to take off my trousers.”

Varwynia snorted.” Sheva is right, you ARE a pig.” She motioned to the space next to him in the grass.” Mind if I sit here?”

He gave a nod and allowed her to sit next to him. Both looked up to the stars, not talking for a moment. She recognised a few of the constellations, she saw the huntress that was also seen from her bedroom in Greehold and under the open plains when she still rode with Clan Khengis. She saw the hammer of Bran’s constellation but that was it. Thank Eir she still saw the Northstar, her trusty companion every night since she was a child.

“You a stargazer as well?” He asked.

“I am, my mother taught me. It’s how my people traversed the plains and not get lost.”

He grunted his approval.” I read the Nomad tribes and clans do that. Glad to have that source checked. I used that in my dissertation.”

“Dissertation?” Varwynia asked.

“It was to get me into the Scribe academy in the Citadel, near Lord Oberon’s castle.”

“Did you get it?”

He shook his head.” This happened.” He pointed to himself.” Got bitten by a wolf while my mother dragged me out hunting. I didn’t want to but Karland men aren’t supposed to be soft, so….” He paused.” Turned out the wolf was cursed as well, who knew?”

Varwynia looked at the abs and muscles of the Karland wolf.” You look anything but a scholar.”

“Well, one of the advantages of this curse. The build up, the stamina….I never had as many girls before the bite.”

Varwynia raised her brow.” You weren’t send away or locked up when you became a werewolf?”

He shook his head.” My uncle helped me control it with potions and such. Locked up every full moon. I didn’t wolf out willingly but a year ago when….” He paused.” That is why I was send here. I accepted my condition, my House did not.” He sat forward.” I was the black sheep and dirty secret of the house.”

“Still, you can control it. That is a feat by itself. How did you do it?”

“Meditation, learning to accept yourself….and making sure the other self knows who is in charge.”

She nodded. Another moment of silence came by before she spoke again.” I’m sorry for the punch in the face. The person who gave me this ring, was very important to me.” She rubbed the green ring.” It’s all I have left of him.”

“It’s alright, I’m sorry. My tongue always got me in trouble, still does.” Bowen replied.” You know I once got punched in the stomach by Captain Amelia Delthanis herself?”

For the first time for what seemed like a lifetime, Varwynia laughed.” No way, why am I not surprised? What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Bowen defended himself.” …Except maybe say she had a fine arse, even in chainmail.” Varwynia laughed even harder with his defence.” I was drunk and horny, I said I was sorry!”

“Well, I met Captain Delthanis myself a few weeks ago.” The Varangia replied.” Excellent fighter, strong commander….” She moved closer.” And her arse DOES look fine, even in chainmail.”

Bowen snickered.” Oh pray tell, I do need to hear this tale.”

Varwynia leant back on her hands.” It was a few days after the battle of Meido Fields….”


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8 November, 2018, 8:52 PM UTC

Heads up, main series might be postponed by one more week but I'm gonna post something on Sunday involving " One eye".

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10 November, 2018, 9:16 PM UTC

Authors Note: I want to apologise for a mistake two weeks ago. I forgot to mention the names of my fellow authors who gave my the backstory for the Darmor architecture and Varwynia's dragon ring given to her by Halmadir. 
I want to thank Feller for his amazing set-up for the Darmor civilization, explaining the ruins in the Eastern Marches we play in Saga, and Deathwarrior for his description of Varwynia's ring. Be sure to check their work on the Discord page. 





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17 November, 2018, 10:54 AM UTC

Four week's ago 

Meido's fields. 

 

When the meeting was called the newly arrived chief of clan Khengis was summoned to attend. As Varwynia, Halmadir and Hadgar made their way across the town square, a large, bald and muscular Northman shouted her name across the village before rushing to her. In a blink of an eye he held her in a choke hold. Halmadir blinked in confusion as Hadgar rolled his eyes. 

"Northmen..." he muttered in his beard and motioned Halmadir to follow him to the townhall.  

"By the gods, Gregor!" she laughed as she struggled to get out." Let me go, we're not children anymore!" 

"Say uncle!" he taunted. 

"Gregooor!" 

"Say iiiiiiiit!" He squeezed her head with his massive biceps.  

With a laugh she tapped her brother's arm to which he immediately released her.  

"Still a piece of mammoth droppings." she panted, her face red. 

"Still a weakling, I see those southern women made you soft." He puffed up his bare chest, covered in blue tattoos. Her brother from her mother was clearly different from her other two siblings back in Greehold.  

Varwynia replied with a punch to the gut which made Gregor drop to his knees. 

"You were saying?" she smirked. 

Her brother replied with a cough and a nod. He gratefully accepted her hand to get back up on his feet. He then proceeded to hug her which made an slightly awkward sight since he was nearly a head and a half taller than her. 

"I missed you, big sister." he said genuinely in their native language.  

"Missed you to. little brother." she replied with a smile, likewise in their language. They let go off one another." How is mother?" 

"Good." he said as they both made their way to the council." She' asking how you are." 

Varwynia had to supress an old anger." She could've asked me herself in the flesh." 

"You know how things are, if she were the leave Clan Khengis' chiefs would kill each other en masse."  

"I suppose. Come on, townhall." Varwynia said. She pushed the pain aside. A loud trumpet brought a smile to her face. " You brought Stantor?" 

Her younger brother smirked." He stomped fifty orcs on the way here. And a cow. The farmer seemed mad." 


 

The council took place in the town hall near Meido's field, the only place isolated enough to discuss the matter of a possible truce between them and Gorvar the Red.  

The meeting was going as well as was expected. The term 'heretic' only fell three times in ten minutes. 

"Are you out of your damned mind?!" Hadgar shouted." That THING is an orc!" 

Other members of the council were less outspoken but like the dwarf had their own private reservations. Among them were her uncle, Ser Ophra, commander of the Greer household knights, Lord Halmadir, her brother Gregor and of course herself.  

"These are not like the other orcs, uncle." Varwynia said. 

"How?" Gregor asked." It looked green, filthy...had pointy ears." He held his fingers up near his own ears.  

Ser Ophra rolled her eyes before she adressed the Varangia." My lady, what you are suggesting is treason. An alliance with orcs?" 

"Not an alliance, a truce. Gorvar the Red is not the major threat." 

"My love, the man burned down several of your villages...." Halmadir unhelpfully reminded the council. 

"I know..." Varwynia replied." I am no fool. But I've spend three days in his camp and seen how his people live. Their camps are like ours, Gregor. They've pushed Balur aside for a new god who is guiding them away from the Eastern Marches." 

  

"How do you mean, away?" Halmadir asked." Like an exodus?" 

"Yes." She unfolded the map of Stormfall before them and pointed to the Farwol Ridge." Something foul is happening in the Eastern Marches. Some kind of evil Balur is spawning that I fear is worse than the orcs. Replace them as his major means to attack us." 

"What proof do you have of this?" Hadgar asked." The word of an orc?" 

"The fact they've taken their women and children with them." Varwynia replied." And....yes, the word of an orc. Who has given his own son to me to barter for a truce and passage." 

"Assuming orcs care for their own spawn..."Hadgar tugged on his greying beard nervously."We've been fighting the greenskins since the Day of the Eclipse...you're asking a lot, even a meeting is treacherous! If Lord Oberon finds out...." 

"Also we do not know for a fact if this threat you describe, this...Grey Hunger, if it's real or not." 

" It is." Halmadir spoke up. Now even Varwynia was surprised. 


 

"Halmadir?" She said confused." What do you know?" 

"From my kin at Ravensong I heard disturbing reports." Halmadir said." Mysterious creatures have appeared all over Stormfall. Undead creatures. At first we thought the Necromancers had run amuck but none of them creatures had the signature of our wizardry..."  

Gregor grunted." I to heard rumours from one of my conquests about undead creatures." 

Ophra likewise agreed." On patrol I did spot a singular dredge, easily disposed off." 

"What if these creatures are the vanguard? Scouts for an upcoming invasion?" Varwynia looked over the council." We need as many people as we can get, avoid casualties where we can. The more people or orcs die the weaker we'll be when the Grey hunger comes." 

The council discussed more before Hadgar decided the course of action. 

"Only Lady Greer can agree to any truce and she's returned to Greehold to call the rest of the League together to oppose Gorvar's horde. Bring the orc to her and pray to the gods she can be convinced."  

"And your brother  Thorgal can research if these rogue undead are indeed the Grey Hunger." Halmadir spoke up.  

"Sapling has a point."Hadgar stretched his back." I cannot leave Meido's Fields before reinforcements have arrived from Karag Bolg. But I can spare you a cart and some bear riders." 

Ser Ophra replied." I have some knights who can escort you, and I can offer you my sword." 

Varwynia held Ophra' shoulder." Thank you." Ophra returned the gesture. 


 

"I'll come along with Stantor." Gregor spoke up." Been waiting two days for battle and nothing happened. Even I tire of alcohol and women if there's no fighting to be done." 

"I'll come to." Halmadir spoke. 

"Then it's decided." Varwynia smiled." At dawn we'll take the orc to Greehold. With luck, we can avoid further needless deaths." 

"And prepare for a war against the living dead...." Hadgar sighed. 

"You mean unliving dead." Gregor spoke up. 

Halmadir raised his brow. "I don't think that's how it works..." 

"Oh shut it." Gregor got up and walked out of the room. Ophra saluted the Varangia before she marched out as Halmadir gracefully left the room. 

"Well...looks like the meeting is adjourned." Hadgar grunted annoyed. 

"It seems so..." Varwynia smiled and held her uncle." Thank you, uncle." 

"Don't thank me yet." The dwarf returned the smile and hug regardless." You had me worried, I thought you were gone lass." 

"For a moment, I thought so to." Varwynia replied." How did Halmadir take it?" 

The dwarf shook his head." Poor bastard barely slept. I think he realised how short-lived life can be. Elf and human alike."  


 

Before the Varangia could retort, the dwarf rooted through his pocket. He pulled out a small wooden box and held it out to her.  

Varwynia picked it from his hand and opened it. Her eyes went wide as she saw it's contents. Two golden rings, each carefully sculped and inscribed by a caring hand. 

"I've had these made in Karag Bolg when I saw you and the elf were getting...very close." he smiled." There's a shaman that came with Gregor's lot if you want to do it discreet." 

She gasped." Are you...certain, uncle?" 

He nodded." Very...just have a proper one later." He patted her shoulder." Now go, it's a scant few hours before dawn." 

"But Gorvar' son-" 

"I'll look after him tonight." Hadgar replied." Now go. Do something stupid so you won't regret it when you die, sooner or later." 


 

Varwynia found Halmadir outside. Before he could speak, she pulled him close and kissed him deeply. A kiss he eagerly returned. Bystanders did their best to ignore this public affection. Both said nothing as they broke the kiss, just enjoying each other's embrace.  

She broke the silence first." Thank you for supporting me in there." 

"No problem." He replied. 

"I didn't know you had kin in Ravenwood." 

"I don't." He chuckled with her.  

She pulled out the box and opened the lit. The elf looked at it's contents. No more words needed to be said. With a tired smile, he nodded.  

She held his hand and motioned to the Northman tents where a elder man wrapped in furs and animal bones was conducting some throat singing. 

The shaman did not need much coaxing to bless the two.  

Before long, the daughter of Greer the Elder and Halmadir of Tal Arand were wed in the eyes of the spirits, the ancestors and whatever god that took interest in such matters.  

For the rest of the night, the newly weds consummated their marriage in as many ways a couple could have one another.  


 

Just before dawn, Gorvar' son was escorted to the carriage by two of Ser Ophra's knights. Varwynia saw the hatred on their eyes but commended their professionalism, after all a few days ago the boy's father had killed a few of their sisters in open battle. For a moment her mind went back to the battle. She remembered the one knight who screamed for mercy before Gorvar's axe cut her in twain. She prayed to the gods that she was the last person who had to die needlessly for a war that could be avoided.   
The orcling walked like a heir of a clan. Dressed in thick fur, embraided with red rocks that look like birds. Straight backed and proud. She guessed him to be ten years old give or take. She gave Gorvar her word no-matter what happend during the negotiations or the outcome of them Threngar, son of Gorvar would return home. 

Threngar turned to her. Despite his proud appearance, she did see a fear in his eyes. A fear she knew all to well. And this time there was no kindly dwarf to help this child. 


She leant down." I know how you feel. This fear of the unknown, it passes." 

"I have no fear." the orcling tried to say as he deepened his voice. 

She smiled. "It's fine to be afraid. How else do you know when to be brave?" 

The orcling gave it some thought and nodded." Can I see you when we ride?" 

She pointed to the window." You'll be able to see me outside that window."  

Threngar, son of Gorvar was pleased with that answer as a smile appeared along his tusks and he stepped on.  

He paused and turned." You have the scent of elf on you." 

Varwynia looked dumbstruck." I do, yes." She replied. 


Threngar glanced at the druid who was speaking to both the horses of the knights and the bears that were chosen as the dwarves' mounts. Enchanted syllables flew as he asked both prey and predator to uphold a truce for this mission and not to harm one another, for the greater good. The handsome druid turned his head to Varwynia and smiled at her, the newborn sun's rays shining on his white hair.  

The orc got inside the carriage." Do not trust him. He smells wrong."  

As she registered the words, she had to hold back a laugh." You're saying I can't trust him because he smells? He is a druid, they tend to-" 

"He smells of the orcs who call my kin Herectics." Threngar closed the doors. 

Varangia shook her head and smacked on the roof of the carriage." We're moving out!"   


   

At dawn the caravan left Meido Fields with a small escort as Hadgar waved them off and bade them good luck. The carriage was pulled by a bear with a dwarf rider, the escort was a small contingent of some horsemen of both Stormfall and Nomad descent. It was nearly small enough to pass through the lands undetected. Were it not for the massive mammoth that followed the procession. His mood only lightened when Varwynia showed her wedding ring and Halmadir was given a welcome-to-the-family hug that might've broken a rib or two. 

Gregor was many things, stealthy and a morning person were those things. 

He was grumpy as he was kicked awake by his sister, forcing him away from his own elven and Nomad lovers and he could not move the massive mammoth without raising his voice.  

Ophra glared annoyed but fascinated at the war beast. The hairy creature trumpeted loudly as barbarian archers hung on it's war harness as Gregor sat on it's head and steered it roughly behind the cart. Although he had a whip, he did not use it on the beast and instead petted it behind the ears or shouted encouraging words in the northern language. 

"By Ran, he's loud..." Ophra said to the Varangia. 

"Stantor or Gregor?" Varwynia asked. 

The knight waved her hand dismissively." Either, both. The whole of Greehold will hear us coming miles away." 

Varwynia laughed." Trust me, if we get attacked along the way you'll be glad to have both. I've known Stantor since I was a babe. My clan always used him to go hunting."  She looked back at the mammoth." A old, gentle soul but fierce in battle. Like clan Khengis itself." 

"You know this creature?" Ophra asked. 

 

"I used to be part of the hunters and warriors who were allowed to mount him or ride him. Only the sons and daughters of chiefs are allowed on mammoths. To ride on a mammoth is a great honour, for the mammoth is the most powerful creature on the northern plans. None can hunt them save humans or the northern drakes." She lowered her speed a little to ride next to Stantor and patted the creature' flank. It's trunk lowered and patted her on the head. "They never forget a rider. Espcially one who nearly fell out of the harness when they forget to check their safety belts."  

Ophra shook her head and moved to the head of the caravan. Varwynia could imagine her muttering 'northeners'.  

 

The caravan made their way along the roads and farms to Greehold. They often came passed farmers in their fields or other travelers. The people who lived near Greehold were used to Northmen and dwarves but even the most jaded of farmers had to put their plough down for a moment to see the massive mammoth march by.  

Varwynia often checked on Threngar through the window, the orcling looking amazed at the sights outside.  

"It's like he's never seen trees before." Halmadir rode up next to his new wife. 

"He probably hasn't, love." she replied." Well not trees like ours. Green, full of life, colourful flowers, blue streams..." 

"Not all creatures wanting to eat him alive." Halmadir said." Did you know Frogs at the Eastern Marches are the size of large dogs?" 

Her eyes went to the orcling. If the son of Gorvar showed any dislike for Halmadir, he did not show it. His words did ring through the Varangia's head however.  

Varwynia chuckled." You don't say?" 

He nodded." Carnivores to. As are the spiders, who are likewise the size of small horses and can spit their poison up to five meters away from it's prey?" 

"So....you are saying we should have our honeymoon in the Eastern Marches?" She grinned.  

"Well....perhaps not. I was thinking somewhere sunnier. Warmer. More of an excuse to wear less clothing." He teased.  

"You're terrible." She gave him a quick kiss on the lips. "I love you." 

"I love you as well, my wife."  

 

The attack came out of nowhere. Were it not for Halmadir's elven reflexes, the arrow meant for her would've been in her left eye socket. The elf caught the arrow with his green leaf cloak.  

"ORCS!" Gregor shouted on the top of his lungs as a group of orcs rushed from under the trees and the bushes. The first few fell by barbarian spears but did nothing to stop the others. The dwarven driver produced a crossbow and fired a bolt which caught another orc in the throat. More orcs appeared in front of them, as if by magic. The carriage was forced to a standstill.  

Varwynia drew her spear as she took a moment to look upon the attackers. These orcs were nothing of red, but wore the standard black armour she was used to seeing. 

"KILL THE HERECTIC!" She heard them shout." KILL HIM! KILL HIIIIIM!" 

"Protect the carriage!" Ser Ophra rallied her knights." Charge the bastards down! FOR GREEHOLD!" 

The knights quickly turned and charged at the orcish footmen, hacking away with their blades. More orcs came through however and soon Varwynia' spear and Halmadir's green blade were the only things keeping the orcs from getting the orcling inside the carriage. The dwarf bear riders fought tooth, claw and axe as they cut at the orcs. The fighting was fierce. For every one of the caravan guards fell, it took ten orcs to do so. But even so it was clear the orcs had numbers. The caravan fought like what felt like hours but Varwynia did not allow them to waver.  

"Gregor, sound the trumpet!" the Varangia shouted. 

The barbarian did not doubt his elder sister's orders and had Stantor trumpet loudly into the air. It did not scare the black orcs, in fact more seemed to arrive regardless. 

 

It would've been the end for the caravan were it not that the orcs made two mistakes, two mistakes she was banking on. 

One, they underestimated the ferocity of the warriors of the House Greer, were these Karland soldiers they would've long fled or died but these were Greer, they were to stubborn to surrender. Two, they attacked the caravan on a popular road used not only by merchants and farmers...but soldiers as well. 

The Varangia hoped for a Greer patrol to come to help but someone else arrived instead.  

 

Reinforcements came when a host of paladins charged into the rear flanks, their banner showing the colours of an united Stormfall Empire, the Citadel. 

They fell upon the orcs with no mercy or pity, led by a fierce captain. With calm, calculated orders as if she was telling a chief how to cut a cake, they cleaved through the orc rabble.   

Just as how the orcs appeared, they soon fled as the paladins finished their bloody work.  

Their leader, the captain in question, wore ornate armour as she marched through the corpses. Her helmet had a long red crest on it made of dyed horse hair.  

"Who is in charge here?" she asked with authority.  

Varwynia dismounted from her horse and moved forward." I am. Varwynia, daughter of Greer the Elder. Whom do I have to thank for our rescue?" 

The paladin captain undid her helmet. Long black hair flowed from her head as she held her battered helmet underneath her arm.  

"I am Captain Amelia Delthanis of the Citadel, send by Lord Oberon himself to see how your war against the orc is going." She took a moment to glance around the dead black orc rabble." It seems I came just in time." 

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2 December, 2018, 2:49 PM UTC

Present.   

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.   



A Crannóg greeted them as they made out of the forest. A large river surrounded the settlement, which Varwynia guessed was roughly the size of Greehold, save for one land made bridge that led to the gates. Small boats were floating on the river as the faint flash of fishing nets shimmered before they were thrown into the waters.   

Wooden palisades and gray smoke greeted them as they arrived at Sylva's stronghold. The walls were manned by scruffy looking exiles wielding crudely made bows. They had no uniform to speak off, save for a green ribbon around their arm. She noticed most were human but the odd half-elf walked amongst their number.   

There was an number of different flags that waved upon the parapets. An assortment of sigils from over a dozen different houses. The Varangia did not recognise most of them although she did see the albatross of House Seagarde and the Mermaid of their offshoot branch. She also noticed the Lion of house Karland. She turned to Bowen who gave a mischievous grin.  

"Three guesses who gave Sylva that one?" He asked.  

"Only need the one." Varwynia replied.       

Although the stronghold would've been considered nothing more than a lesser lord's home back in Stormfall, here in the Eastern Marches it was the closest thing the exiles had to a fortress.   



As they approached the gate, it swung open as the guards let the three in, nodding at Siva and Bowen.  

"They're not even asking who we are?" Varwynia asked.   

"Of course not." Sheva replied." They already know. Sylva has Shades all around the stronghold, they told her we were coming an hour ago."  

Varwynia blinked perplexed." Shades? What did Shades do to deserve exile?"  

"Shady business?" Bowen added unhelpfully.   

Varwynia had to hide a snigger.   

The guards nodded at her in turn, armed in stolen men-at-arms armour and wooden buckler. However she did notice one thing about their weaponry that stood out. Their swords were inscribed in runes. Dwarven runes.   

A hand fell on her shoulder. One of the guard." Hold! That spear, where did you get it?"  

She pointed to Varwynia' spear, it's own runes flaring in the rising sunlight.  

"It's mine." Varwynia replied curtly.  

"Well tough, Sylva said all runed weapons belong to us, hand it over." the guard had her hand around the shaft of the spear. That hand was suitable broken along with her nose. Bowen and Silva interceded quickly before the guards had to draw their runed swords.  

"The spear belongs to her!" Sheva quickly said to the guards." Don't touch it!"  

"She broke Ilse's hand!" one of the guards protested.   

"We'll break her hand in return!" another added.   



Bowen and Sheva stood between them and their charge. Swords were drawn as the wounded guard was dragged off.   

"Come on, mates." Bowen urged." Let's not do anything well regret."  

"Stand aside, beast." the guard snarled.   

"Well that's just rude." Sheva replied, skillet raised. Varwynia got herself ready, spear trained at the closest guard, urging him to do something stupid.   

"That's enough." A stern voice calmed the situation down entirely. All looked upon the wooden wall as a half-elven woman walked down. She was a half elf with red hair, a long blue cloak trailed behind her. She had the figure off a ranger and moved as lithe as an elf. There was a spark in her eye, the hint of a magic twinkle lurked within.  

"A Niathi ." Varwynia realized. No sooner had she said it when the Varangia found herself flat on the ground. The air left her lungs, instinctively she tried to get up but stopped when an arrow was aimed between her eyes.  



The Niathi calmly spoke as she kept her arrow trained on the Varangia." If I ever see you hurt one of my men again, you will lose an eye. Understood?"  

Varwynia glared as she tried to regain her breath.  

"I think she got the point, Veania, please let her go." Sheva pleaded.   

"No, I need to hear her say it."  

"Do as she says, Greer...." Bowen said in a serious tone for once." I've seen her take down old One eye like he was nothing but a mere pup."  

Varwynia did her best not to show how impressed she was with this half-elven ranger/sorceress. She took a moment to catch her breath and placed her war face back on." As long as your men keep away from my spear, I will keep away from them."  

The Niathi let her arrow linger, just a tad to long, before she withdrew it. "Very well." She stepped away and allowed the Varangia to get up by herself." Welcome to Meliai."  

Varwynia wiped the blood from her nose and nodded her thanks to Bowen and Sheva before they moved on.   



The three passed through the gate only to find a smaller secondary gate behind it, the wall around it made out of stone and mortar with the gate made out wood. With a nod from Veania, the smaller gate opened and revealed the inside of Meliai.  

For a moment, Varwynia found herself transported to Greehold. There was a town square with wooden houses, a large ash tree was centred in the square and in full bloom. Stalls were set up as people traded, haggled and bribed. She saw children playing with a leather ball, laughing and cheering. The cobbled together road seemed ancient and different from the buildings around it, as if another civilization had build it. The road led up to a small square building up the hill. The building was made out of stone and seemed very similar to the watchtower they had stayed in a day priot, although this one was in a much better state.   



It was like a portion of Stormfall was cut out and placed in the small sanctuary of the harsh Eastern Marches. This illusion was quickly broken however when she saw how very small the place was since the walls encompassed the settlement. But still, it was safety.   

Sheva smiled." Welcome home, Varwynia." She motioned to the square building." Sylva is this way."  

People mostly went about their buisiness, ignoring the newcomers. Sometimes a guard walked about with a runed sword.  

"Where do the runed swords come from?" Varwynia asked Sheva.  

"Not sure...." Sheva replied." They're not made here, I can tell you that for free. There are no blacksmiths here in Melia let alone runesmiths."  

"True, those are dwarven runes." Bowen said." Similar to your spear's. Only dwarves from Karag Bolg or Caer Bran can forge those kind of weapons."  

"There are no dwarves here in Melia except for Grond the executioner and he only comes when summoned." Sheva replied." and last I checked he was exiled because his runecrafting was quite terrible."  

Varwynia raised her brow." Really?"  

"Well....those are the rumours." Sheva replied.  

A band of children were singing and dancing as they made their way up the hill.  



"Ring-a-ring o' bones, a night full of moans! We scream! We scream! We all fall down. Ring-a-ring o'bones! We listen to the King of Bones! Ring-a-ring o'bones! We all jump up!" they chanted as they held hands and enacted the story. The more they sang, a cold chill seemed to crawl over the Varangia's own bones.  

Sheva frowned angrily and stormed over to the children, telling them off.  

"That's the second time I've seen her mad." Varwynia said to the Karland man.  

"I can understand this time, however superstitious." Bowen replied." Singing about the King of Bones is a bad idea, no-matter how innocent the song or the ones singing it."  

"The King of Bones?" Varwynia asked." Who is he?"  

He waved his hand." A myth prone to give people nightmares. It's supposed to explain why there is a reason the Darmor Empire fell and these Eastern Marches are cursed. Just a story."   

"It is not just a story!" Sheva snapped." Enough, Sylva is expecting us."  



More guards were in front of the building and as before they were let in without trouble.   

Inside they found a large room, filled with stained windows and stone statues of the Talmor's fallen gods. The guards here were not human but half-elven much like the Niathi from before. However they wore armour made out of wood, much like Halmadir used to, with green cloaks that trailed behind them.    

But the throne in the centre of the room drew her intrest. The throne was exactly like Sheva had said it was but even so words did not justice to its horrible beauty.  

The throne was made of thorns, conjoined into a spiral of wood and dead leaves. Bones and skulls of varying shades of white and yellow bobbed out of the wood like macabre baubles.  


Seated on the throne was the dryad herself, the very kind of creature Varwynia expected to be seated upon it. If dryads were to represent spring with bright green colours, life and merriment, this one was autum with fading green to dark brown. The death of all things. She had the smile of a cat who had seen a bird and wanted it for dinner.   

"Varwynia of House Greer, daughter of the Greer the Elder. Varangia of Greehold and the traitor of Meido fields..." her voice sounded like a cut purring, filled with gleeful malice." It's an honour to meet you, my dear."  

Varwynia replied with a tilted head and a curt nod as she leant on her spear.   

Sheva fell to her knees and bowed deeply before the dryad. Bowen likewise fell to one knee but did not bow his head.   

" My lady, I did as you asked." Sheva said." I brought the Varangia."  



The dryad did not rise from her throne. Instead she was lifted up from it with vines that came to life. They picked her up like a caring parent would to a child and placed her down near her servant. "You've done, my child." Sylva told Sheva.  She tilted her head upwards and bestowed upon her a sincerer smile." Rise. You've done all I asked for."  

Never before had Varwynia seen her guide beam brightly, a big smile on her cheeks. "It was an honour to serve you, my lady."  

"And you will continue to have that honour." Sylva promised as she strayed her cheek." Go to my chamber and await me there."  

Sheva sighed with exstacy and curtsied before she left the room.  

Sylva turned to Bowen." You to will be rewarded, my wolf of Karland. For now, leave us."  

Bowen turned to Varwynia, concern in his eyes before he looked to Sylva." Are you certain, Lady Sylva?"  

The dryad's smile turned more dangerous, sharp teeth gave the creature a wicked grin." Did I stutter, my little wolf?"  

"I'll be fine." Varwynia spoke." I will speak to you later, Bowen."  

Content with this, the Karland man rose up and left the room as well. The two Niathi in the throne room left as well, hearing the wordless order. The opening that led to the room was shut by big wooden vine, locking the dryad in with the Varangia.   



 "Wolves." Sylva chuckled." Like dogs they are easy to tame and easier to control. They want to please their masters so BADLY they would do anything for them."  

Varwynia did not raise to the bait." You've summoned me, Sylva. Here I am. what do you want?"  

The dryad chuckled." You remind me of a certain dwarf, Varwynia. Straight to business...." her smile faded." Unlike him, you've yet to earn my respect. So mind your tongue lest I rip it out of your mouth."   

"Respect works both ways." Varwynia replied coldly." You may have these people wrapped around your fingers but not me. Why am I here?"  

The dryad moved like a leaf among the wind, steping up the stairs back to her throne. She took her seat." You met Gorvar the Red."  

"I have." Varwynia agreed." He spared me and offered a truce between his horde and my house."  

" Did it go well?" the dryad asked.   

"The fact I'm here and that Greer men were send to kill me should tell you how well it went." Varwynia leant on her spear, her fingers clenched around the shaft. Her thumb ran over her green ring, drawing strength from it.   

Sylva laughed again although it sounded there was no mirth in it.   

"Very true. I to met Gorvar, many years ago when he claimed his place in the Eastern Marches. A run-away gladiator who was seeking a home. An orc who was more human now than orc. An outcast. I remember when I first laid eyes on him. Alone, weak and wounded. Cornered by old One eye, on the verge of being eaten. I still do not know why I decided to intervene but had I not, he would've been dead. He would not have helped me kill my competition, become a chieftain of an orc clan. He would not have rallied his clan and followed the fancy of some red bird god which led him on a course with you." The cruel smile danced on her brown lips again." In a way, I am responsible for your exile."  

"No." Varwynia replied." My choices, my mistakes, my triumphs are my own. Not fate or destiny and defiantly not you." She leant forward." Again, why am I here? And we both know it's not just to be your guide through the ridge."  

Sylva leant back." What makes you say that?"  

"Sheva was very well informed about my situation, almost to well. You've made friends with the Watch so you know who is thrown in but then you have shades as well. You know Gorvar believed in his red god and that he followed the sign throughout the mountain passes. It isn't to hard to believe you can find your way yourself through them."  

"So...why would I do so much effort to find and retrieve you?" the dryad asked.  

"You need me for something." Varwynia replied." What however I am not afraid to say I do not know."  

"Not even an inkling?"  

"Well one...." Varwynia relaxed slightly but kept alert." The Grey Hunger. The very thing Gorvar led his people out of the Eastern Marches from."  

The cruel smile appeared again." Good guess. And very true."  

"So...what is it you want me to do about it? I've faced the Grey Hunger, they're unlike anyone undead being i've fought before. Stronger, faster...."  



"More alive." Sylva added." Yes, the Grey Hunger is unlike the dark arts found in old Stormfall. It's more ancient and far more dangerous. It has claimed all of the eastern part of the Marches and is slowly moving its way towards us. It needs to be stopped or at least slowed down enough before we can break through the Farwol Ridge, back home to Stormfall. To do that, I need to know more about it."  

Varwynia raised her brow." Don't you have shades for that?"  

"Yes well...had. The Shades and other pawns I send have disappeared. I need a stronger group, a party of powerful adventurers to investigate the source of the Grey Hunger."  

"And I would be perfect for the job?" the Varangia asked.  

"Aye." Sylva replied." You're a good leader. A good fighter. Few people can survive an attack by One eye or lead a effective defence against an orc horde. You'd be PERFECT, my dear Varangia."  

Varwynia glared." And why would I say no? Maybe I like being exiled. There's nothing for me back in Greehold."  

"True....maybe..." Sylva tapped her brown finger on her chin." Except...oh yes!" She laughed." A home! A save one."  

"I do not need a save home." Varwynia replied.  

"Oh, not for you no...." the dryad warlord leant closer, the wicked smile and her voice accentuating every single syllable she speaks." But you do need one. For your child."   

   
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14 December, 2018, 8:42 AM UTC
Little headd up, might have to postpone the next chapter till after the holidays guys. Sorry. :(
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1 January, 2019, 3:01 PM UTC

Present.     

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.     

Sanctuary  

  

For the first time since her exile, Varwynia felt the safety that only walls could give.   

Sanctuary might've been a converted Darmor city ruled by a manic Dryad Warlord, but there were walls and men on those walls. After having one of the undead break through her door a few nights passed, she really did appreciate those walls. Her room was sparse, just a bed, a window, a bottle of wine and a small case with some books in it. Mostly smutty literature, theological books only her younger brother Thorgal Greer could possibly enjoy reading and tomes on how to create better survival gear. She tucked those tomes in her traveling bag.  

The scent of Elm trees wafted her nose as she turned to see Sylva's gardens. Elm trees and lovely flowers darted across the small forest that was the centre of Sanctuary.   

If rumours were to be believed, Sylva uses the corpses of her enemies as fertiliser. Having met her, she could believe that.   

  

But even so Sylva was not the thing that was on her mind, nor the near suicidal mission she wanted Varwynia to go on. No, not even the mission where she had to travel further east to see what was causing the dead to rise and possibly to delay it long enough for Sylva to organise an exodus out of the Eastern Marches like Gorvar the Red before her scared her.   

Her hand went to her stomach as the scary thought remained. Was she truly with child? Did Halmadir leave her something behind besides just memories? Sylva was a liar surely? To make her go on this mission. But then again the past few days with the sickness every morning had her worried.   

When it was just her she could manage the risks, only her life was on the line. But with a child. She rubbed her green ring for guidance.   

  

A crack in the door caught her off guard. Lightning fast she took her spear and aimed it at the entrance.  

"Wow!" Bowen cried and held his hands in the air." Alright I get it! I should've knocked!"   

The Varangia growled annoyed and lowered her spear." What are you doing here, Karland?"  

He raised his brow." I did say I was going to see you later. Didn't I? Make sure you're alright."   

A sense of guilt filled Varwynia as she lowered her spear." You're right, you did. Sorry."  

Bowen waved his hand." It's fine, I know how Sylva works. She's like the sea. One moment calm and pleasant, the other a tempest and manic."  

Varwynia smirked." I only had the manic." She offered Bowen to sit on the bed for the lack of a chair." Wine? Sadly my host in her infinite wisdom forgot to place glasses"  

Bowen smiled slightly." I think we can slum it."   

  

She moved to the window where the wine bottle was. She caught a few torches on the streets below as some people below milled about doing their business. Some were closing up shop, whores of both genders began to ply their trade as fishermen were preparing their boats to be cast off the next morning.  

"Nothing like Greehold is it?" Bowen said.  

Varwynia took the bottle and opened it." Nothing like Karland Hall either."   

"How do you know, have you been to my ancestral home?" Took the bottle and sniffed it." Ah...vintage. As old as a fornite." He raised the bottle." Cheers."   

  

Varwynia folded her arms and leant on the wall near the window." So you're saying Karland Hall is exactly like Sanctuary? A ruined city that's been spruced up a bit?"  

The exiled son of House Karland snapped his fingers, gulping the wine down." More lions though! All over! Even our chamberpots had lions on them. True story"  

Varwynia snickered." I'm inclined to believe you..." Bowen offered her the bottle but she politely declined.  

Bowen had one more sip." So, did Sylva tell you what our heroic journey is?"  

"Our?" Varwynia asked." You're coming along as well?"  

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hands." Of course! Us posh kids need to stick together!" He belched. He offered the bottle again which the Varangia accepted and had a swig as well.  

  

It was quite nice, a fruity taste and aftertaste but the distinct punch of alcohol was still there. Fizz danced on her tongue as the liquid went down. She to gave a massive belch much to Bowen's enjoyment.  

"Posh indeed." Varwynia agreed and had another swig." Who else is coming?"  

"Sheva no doubt..." Bowen explained." She's taken a liking to you, and it would make Sylva happy. We're headed to New Hamlet first up north, get some runeblades and supplies fur the journey ahead."  

"New Hamlet?" The Varangia asked." Is that a town?" She didn't expect this kind of civilization in the exiled lands. Strongholds were one thing but villages and towns?  

"Village." Bowen motioned for the bottle and was given it." Build around a temple of the Morrigan. The statue outside the temple is still mostly intact....reminds me very much of Mara herself actually." Bowen rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Sylva's dwarven blacksmith lives there along with some of our further escort now we made an alliance with those elite Exiles..." He gulped down the bottle and motioned to her spear." Maybe the blacksmith there can give you a better spear and the such."   

"Not a chance." she placed her hand on her spear as if to comfort a child." This spear was a gift from my uncle. Got me through some heavy ordeals...."   

"Such as meeting Captain Amelia of the Citadel?" Bowen smirked." You didn't finish your story on that score...tell me, how did she react to you being the escort of the son of a orc warchief?"  

Varwynia motioned for the bottle and took a sip after the werewolf passed it along." Not to well..."  

    

Four week's ago   

Greehold Outskirts.  

  

"Who is in charge here?" The captain of the paladin guard demanded to know.   

The captain looked every bit as imposing as the other paladins who came to their aid. Her previous shiny plate armour was covered in black blood, dents and cuts across it. The red crest on her helmet which obscured most of her face made her seem a head taller.  

Varwynia, when she herself was not busy fighting for her life, saw the captain fight. She was like a lioness. Quick attacks but each blow was like that of a powerful bite. Meant to kill or at least fatally injure.  

The Varangia came down from her horse and moved over to the captain. " I am. Varwynia, daughter of Greer the Elder." She saluted the captain with a closed fist to her heart. " Whom do I have to thank for our rescue?"   

The paladin captain undid her helmet. Long black hair flowed from her head as she held her battered helmet underneath her arm. A stern but respectful look fell on Varwynia.  "I am Captain Amelia Delthanis of the Citadel, send by Lord Oberon himself to see how your war against the orc is going." She took a moment to glance around the dead black orc rabble." It seems I came just in time."   

  

Varwynia smiled." Yes indeed. Were it not for you we would've been overrun for certain."  

Amelia in turn gave the hint of a smile." I'm certain you would've given them one hell of a fight before you did. I heard of you Lady Varwynia, your exploits against the greenskins have not gone unheard in the southlands."  

Halmadir smiled with pride at his new wife as he stood by her side.   

To have the ward of Regent Lord Oberon, the closest thing Stormfall had to an Emperor, praise her so filled her with immense pride.  

"House Greer does it's part against the spawn of Balur, my lady." Varwynia spoke.  

"As does Clan Khengis!" Gregor shouted on top of the war elephant. He thumped his chest and uttered a war cry which the surviving barbarians ululated. Varwynia smiled and also thumped her chest in return." As does clan Khengis." She concurred to Amelia.   

  

The captain nodded." Of course we cannot forget-" Amelia passed when her eyes fell upon the carriage. And the occupant within. The orcling within stared back at the captain and sat straight in a attempt not to show fear.   

"Is that an orc in your charge? Not wearing any chains?"  

Varwynia sighed." It's complicated."  

The friendly tone from before quickly changed to a more serious nature." Consorting with orcs is treason, Lady Greer. How do you explain yourself?"  

She tried to speak.  

"I shall speak for myself, thank you." Threngar stopped out of the carriage. The paladins around Amelia had their hands on their pommels when he approached their captain. Poised to attack. She had her hand raised. One flick of her hand would've meant the end of the orcling. "I am Threngar, son of Gorvar the Red. Lady Greer owes my father her life. Instead of killing her in battle, he spared her life."  

Amelia turned to Varwynia." Is this true?"  

  

The Varangia nodded." Yes."  

The captain frowned." I thought only the weak minded could be mind controlled by orcish black magicks."  

Halmadir spoke up." She is not mind controlled, Captain Amelia." the elven druid said." She does not stink of dark magic."  

Amelia looked to Varwinia for introductions.  

"This is Halmadir of Tal Arand, he's a druid and a champion of my Household....and also as of late, my husband."  

The elf smiled with pride in that but kept himself stand with pride.  

Oberon's ward did not look impressed. "And very biased..." she addressed the orcling." So, why did your father save Lady Varwynia's life?"  

The orcling spoke quickly of the events that followed. Of the Grey Hunger in the Eastern Marches, the Red Bird and the wish for a truce.   

  

She listened him out, only interupted to ask a question to further elaborate on a subject. After Threngar was done, the captain paused and pondered. Varwynia noticed some sweat on the captain's brow, no doubt it was boiling in that armour.   

" I've faced such creatures you spoke off before. The undead who are not raised by Stormfall Necromancers." she said." They've started appearing all over Darkshine. Easy enough to face alone but what you speak off is worrying."  

The orcling nodded." My father wishes a truce so he can pass by in peace. You need to save your strength for when the true threat arrives."   

Varwynia spoke." Captain Delthanis, I know this sounds like heresy but I've fought orcs nearly all my life and I've never met a clan like the one my charge hails from."  

"I killed my first orc when I was but fourteen. I've seen how base and vile and evil orcs can be..." she leant in close to the orcling." Why should I believe you?"  

The orcling stood as tall as they could. "Because if my people represent all your sins, is it not possible that our sins are your virtues."   

A moment of silence passed.   

"What a load of shite is that?!" Gregor shouted from the top of the war elephant.   

"For the love of Ran, SHUT UP GREGOR!" Varwynia snarled. Her brother rolled his eyes but did as told.   

  

The captain waited for a moment. " Very well, you made your point. I shall escort you to your hold Lady Varwynia."  

Varwynia exhaled a sigh of relief as tensions eased off her.  

"Thank you, Captain Delthanis" Halmadir bowed." Thank-"  

She held up her hand." Do not thank me yet. From what I heard from your sister's commands, Lady Varwynia...is that she has a more extreme solution in mind for the orc migration problem."  


    
UTC +0:00
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User
20 January, 2019, 2:53 PM UTC

Present.       

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.       

Sanctuary    

  

Day gave way to dusk as Sheva guided the Varangia and the werewolf of Karland Hold to the tavern.   

"Tapsters serves the best drinks in the Eastern Marches!" she said with a gleeful smile.  

Bowen spoke under his breath as he leant closer to Varwynia." It is also the ONLY place that serves drinks."  

Varwynia give a wry smirk and nudged him as Sheva continued her speech.   

"Sylva has asured me no-one will bother us and apparently, there is a special guest tonight. A little fun tonight before we go off to New Hamlet tomorrow."  

"What kind of guest?" Varwynia asked but only got a cheeky smile from Sheva.   


Tapsters, like most of the more stable buildings of Sanctuary, was one of the ruined buildings that had been mended where possible and re-purposed. Instead of a standard or sigh to indicate the place, a well-drawn half naked woman holding a keg and enticingly motioning to enter the establishment.   

Even from the outside Varwynia could hear, and smell, the clientele. As they neared it, something came to Varwynia's attention.  

"This place has no windows." She pointed to the gaps that served as windows. Two patrons near it were more engaged with one another than notice the tourist pointing at them.  

"There is a reason for that." Sheva said. No sooner then she said it, a loud cry went out as through one of the gaps a man was thrown out, battered and bruised and reeking of alcohol.  

"AND STAY OUT!" a loud female voice boomed after him. The party could only stare as the haggard patron whined as he slowly got on his feet and hobbled away.   


"Balur's balls..." Varwynia cursed.   

"Could've been worse." Bowen replied." He could've been chased off by dogs."  

"Didn't we pass a pack of them on the way here?" Varwynia asked to which Bowen only shrugged.   

"Come on." Sheva nudged her friends along and entered the tavern by herself.  

A queasy feeling took over the Varangia. She held on to the wall of the building, a heat flushing over her. Varwynia paused and rubbed her brow to hide the sweat.  

"You alright?" Bowen asked. He placed his hand on her shoulder.   

She shrugged it off." I'm fine." She replied, a bit to curtly.   

The werewolf held up his hands." Clearly, is my nose still on? I've spoken to orcs with better manners than you."  

"Piss off, Bowen." Varwynia waved him off." Not in the mood."  

"Fine." he replied." Except one more thing. Whatever Sylva told you? It's probably lies. So if that's on your mind, leave it."  

Anger was taking hold. "You don't know what you're talking about."  

"No, I don't. Because you don't tell me."   

She glared." We're not friends, Karland."  

She regretted those words almost instantly. The man merely gave a low growl as he went inside. She needed a moment herself before she followed the rest in.   


For a moment Varwynia believed herself to be back at the Green Boar back in Greehold. The sound of glass clattering, the smell of alcohol, patrons playing cards or darts. A red haired buxom wench served drinks to a few men, a mix of barbarians and Stormfall men. One had the ears of a half-elf. The half-elf went to pinch her arse but was stopped by his barbarian compatriot who gave a serious look and shook his head. He motioned to the bar and Varwynia could see why.   


A large woman like statue stood behind the bar, wearing a stained apron. It's booming voice sounded exactly the same as the one who threw the drunk man out earlier.  Green runes flashed in interims, like a heartbeat, as it poured out drinks and spoke to some of the patrons.   

Varwynia had seen golems before. Her cousins, the Greers of Dranmark, had used them during the conflict between their houses to claim Greehold. But those were automatons who followed orders and had no soul. This one seemed to smile as it conversed with her patrons. 

 

"Franka!" Sheva shouted over the din of the crowds and waved at the golem.  

The golem rubbed it's hands, dust flying over her counter, as it turned towards her.  

"Sheva!" the gravel like voice sounded with mirth." You're back! You look so thin! By Druantia's woven locks girl, you never look after yourself. I told you that Sylva woman is bad for you." It clucked like a mother hen fussing over the ebony woman.   

"I'm fine, Franka. It takes more than a few shambling corpses to put me down." Sheva gave the golem a hug." You got a table for us?"  

The golem looked over her companions." The Varangia and the werewolf, I've heard of you." It gave a warning finger." If either of you make trouble, Sylva or no I will throw you out."  

Sheva smiled sweetly." They won't do anything of the sort." she turned to her two friends." You'll enjoy the drinks and company, won't you?"  

Both gave a very re-assuring nod.  

"We'll be very well behaved." Varwynia said." Promise on my honour."  

Bowen followed with a similar praise.   


Franka snorted, the soft demeanour she showed Sheva was not reserved for them." Your exiles, your honour means snot to me. Sit down by the window, I'll send Rosa to you soon."  

Sheva hugged the golem's arm like a child would a parent." Thank you, Franka!" She pecked it on the cheek and motioned to the table.  

After they made their orders with the barmaid, Varwynia turned to Sheva." So...."  

"So what?" Sheva leant back in her chair.  

"You. The golem?" Bowen asked.   

The former guide looked nonplussed." Me and Franka? Oh we're friends, she looked after me when I first got exiled."  

As the barmaid returned, all three gave their thanks as they took their drinks.  

"What is it?" Varwynia asked after a sip of her mead." It seemed very sentient for a golem."  

"SHE." Sheva corrected sharply." Is one of the golems left behind by the Darmor empire and a good person. So don't be rude and call her an it."  

Bowen and Varwynia gave each other a mutual look of understanding.   

"Alright." Both agreed.   

Sheva's broad smile appeared once more." Good!" She clapped." Now...." she went into her purse and took out a small box." Who here likes dominoes?"  


Varwynia was more of a checkers fan herself but she enjoyed any game regardless. The three played a few rounds with the wooden tiles, Bowen still his jovial self. A sense of guilt did gnaw at the Varangia but she refused to acknowledge it. Her sense of pride denied it.   

Karlands, know it all's she thought. Her lack of focus probably explained why Sheva was winning all the games.  

"Out once more!" Sheva exclaimed with a big smile and twiddled her fingers.  

"Four times in a row!" Bowen growled." Nobody can be that lucky!"  

"Dominoes is just like any game of chance." Varwynia folded her arms." It's about luck, good or ill, and how you can manage it in your favour."   

Bowen raised his brow." Is there any time where you don't turn everything into a analogy for survival or military tactics?"  

"Depends. Is there any time where you take something seriously?" Varwynia countered.   

"Or maybe I won because I've kept my head in the game." Sheva finished her drink." I'm just better than both of you. And there is nothing you gobbos can do about it."  

Bowen was the first. "Greer, truce?"  

"Truce." She agreed and kissed her green ring for luck." Someone needs to keep the peasants in line."  

Bowen chuckled." Indeed we do, can't have them aspire above their station."  

Sheva cracked her knuckles." Bring it on then."  

Even with the two teaming up, it was stil a tough challenge. But the un-easiness from before was gone and the mood seemed to pick up as the sun had set outside.   


This went for another few rounds and drinks when the golem raised her voice.  

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!" Her voice boomed." We've a special guest tonight! So shut your yaps so we can hear him sing!" the trio stopped their game and turned to the centre of Tapsters where a man was setting up his stage. This had Varwynia worried. She swore she didn't see the man ever enter the building. He was well dressed, more akin to nobilty than just a bard. He had a handsome face and the kind grace of a poet as he spoke to the golem. His skin was pale as snow and his eyes as red as smouldering embers.   

"His name is Mordran." Sheva said." Legends say he's been here before even the first exiles. One of the best singers and entertainers in the Eastern Marches."   

"He smells wrong..." Bowen said, his eyes rested upon the bard with heavy suspicion.   

The man tuned his lute and thanked the wench for his drink. He stood up and bowed deeply before the audience.  

"Tonight, I shall bring you the tragic tale of the last king of Darmor. It is a tale of love, war, tragedy, betrayal and redemption. I call it 'The Ballad of the King of Bones'. I hope you shall enjoy it." He gave another bow as some of the patrons clapped, after a glare from the golem behind the counter.  

As he sung, it was a haunting beautiful voice that came from his lips, the music that came from his lute accentuated it even more. The more Varwynia listened, the more she could picture the story being told.  



In the dales of dusk and shadows, lays the King of Bones.  

The story of how he came to be is that of tearful moans.  

Listen to the tale that the Eastern Marches harbour  

And the reason why some Exiles dare not explore it farther.  

In the time before Stormfall, there was an Empire called Darmor.  

At one time it was ruled by a Queen, who was cheered for with love and clamour.  

But it is not the Queen Boudicia we hear of today, it is of her son. A prince named Aaryavir.  

A warrior who was kind, strong and above else without fear.  

Aaryavir was beloved by his people, just as much as his mother.  

He saved maidens, helped build bridges and gave the local orcs and goblins much bother.  

Blonde hair, strong muscles and a sharp chin described the young man.  

As he rode by on his horse, certain young ladies would begin to fan.  

Alas for those ladies, he already had a lady love.   

A dark druidess woman named Adrienna, whom he loved all above.  

They were not alone, for the prince had two more friends who formed his band.  

His sister Bre, the red headed beauty, and a giant named GagMogag. There was also Amargeet, a bard, who song of their deeds. Together for many years these five roamed the land.   

No orc warlord was safe, no evil deed would go unpunished! Even the odd dragon who faced these heroes fell!    

The prince himself once said "As long as I and my friends draw breath, we shall drive these monsters back to hell!"   

All was well and all was pretty, for Aaryavir and Adrienna were to be wedded!  

(Which was no suprise for the amount of times the two have bedded.)  

With the Queen's blessing the ceremony the wedding was fulfilled.   

 Less than a fortnight later, the first people of Darmor were killed.  

Stormfall had come.  

They came unannounced, full of power and armies of an immense length.  

Men, elves, dwarves, shades and dragons who defeated many Darmor warriors with just as much immense strength.   

Like their banner, they flew and struck much like an eagle.  

All good people of Darmor screamed when they heard the Stormfall beagle.  

Aaryavir heard the news and assured his mother.  

"The invaders are of no bother!"  

He rallied his wife and his friends, he rallied his men and his giants and called in a favour with their own local dragons.  

A great pre-victory feast was held, with a lot of mead and ale shared around in flagons.  

At morn, the greatest army Darmor had ever seen marched.  

(Leaving the castles' wine cellars, they left behind quite parched.)  

The people rechoiced, for they all knew.  

"Prince Aaryavir ALWAYS comes through!"   

A week later, the two armies met.   

The die was cast, the lines were set.   

Alas I am to say,   

The field did not go the Prince's way.  

Hundreds of men died, mostly Darmor's  

But when their lines broke, there would be far more.  

Stormfall magic and drake bested the brave prince,  

"The Prince who fled bravely" he would be known hence.  

His wife was slain, killed by a dwarven quarrel.   

Aaryavir would've joined her fate were it not for GagMogag who forced the unconscious prince into a barrel.  

The barrel was placed on a cart and fled.  

The giant was soon to be captured and kept as a pet.  

Bre survived barely herself.  

Suprising of all, she was saved by a stranger. An elf.  

The people wept, the people cried.  

The prince had promised, the prince had lied!  

Stormfall was coming closer every day!  

The gods of Darmor clearly had had their say.  

Aaryavir, saddened by his loss, locked himself in a tower.  

His only company was a dark plant and the memory of Adrienna, a flower.   

The people were cruel and said he'd rather cower.  

As the days passed by, their mood grew fouler.  

However hope returned with Princess Bre!  

The elf who saved her, his magic was the key.  

He taught her and her brother magic, strong enough to hold back Stormfall.  

Slowly but surely merriment would return to the Queen's hall.  

With their magic, Stormfall was held back!  

And with the Queen herself at the helm, they led an counter-attack.  

They forced Stormfall to back beyond their borders.  

(Some stories say Darmor itself stole many Stormfall daughters).  

If the story ended here, it would've ended bittersweet.  

Stormfall was gone, but sadly Aaryavir would commit a terrible dark deed.  

When he was taught magic, he looked into it deeper.  

What he found, the dark wisdom the elf forewarned, the prince would keep her.  

On the final battle he led the attack, and as before the die was cast and the table was set.  

For the first time he summoned...the walking dead.  

Creatures with skin as grey as death, hunger as bottomless as hell.  

They danced like puppets on strings, and they rose again when they fell.  

The Queen herself when she saw her son died of fright.  

Since then, Darmor was ruled over by night.  

Prince Aaryavir was no more. The handsome, brave young man with joy was gone. He was now a thing.  

There only was the Bone King.   

He ruled Darmor for it's final days, he himself a shadow of what he once was.  

The corpses of his friends were by his side, his queen Adrienna a corpse looking like flax.  

People trembled and lived in fear.  

They would oft say "Abandon all hope all who enter here."  

Death ruled Darmor and monsters ruled the land.  

The King of Bones had even the worse of them eating from the palm of his hand.  

The elf tried to oppose him   

But for that the king had him torn limb from limb.   

This lasted for many years, the sun has never returned since then.  

None knew when the sun in the Eastern Marches will rise again.  

Many years later, a final alliance was made.  

Princess Bre and the Emperor of Stormfall struck for the King's fortress, filled with ice-cold hate.  

A bout of treachery it was, but a deed that had to be done.  

For if the King of Bones succeeded, for Darmor and Stormfall alike there would be no more sun.   

With a final strike from his sister's blade, the king was slain.  

Although she died from her wounds shortly after, she would be forever known as "The Bone King's bane".  

But despite the death of the king, his work was not completely undone.  

Creatures were cursed, the climate changed and as before, there was no sun.  

Darmor was gone, taken by Stormfall but even the Emperor desired no such a prize.  

The Eastern Marches became a place of exiles, solemn and where freedom dies.  

What of the bard, I hear you ask? Where was he in it all? Did he survive all of this with some god given luck?  

No, my dears he a curse to he was struck .  

Doomed to sing the tale of the King of Bones.   

A story of how he came to be, and his tomb that to this day is still filled with tearful moans.  


The patrons fell silent after the ballad, it took a few moments before someone clapped and was taken up by the others.   

Mordran bowed deeply and said his thanks before he played another song, more cheerful and bouncy. Where a few moments before the crowd was sad but impressed, they were now dancing and cheering.   

Sheva was the first to get up and danced with a fisherman who came in halfway through the ballad. More and more people decided to get up and dance.   

She was tapping her finger along with the beat when she felt Bowen's hand on hers.  

He motioned his head to the other dancers and motioned her to get up.   

Varwynia thought it was the booze because before she realized, she to was dancing with Bowen and joined in with the merriment.   

The mead flowed freely and even Franka seemed more pleasant all-around.   

For the first time in a long time, Varwynia felt as close as happy as could be.   



"Change around!" Mordran cried as they swapped partners. Bowen danced with the wench as she danced with a another man, one of the guards on the wall.   

This went around a few times, the song getting faster and faster.   

"Change around!" the bard cried out once more. And like the song the changing happened faster and faster.   

She swapped with so many partner that she nearly lost track of time.  


All that mattered was the song and the dance. There was more drinks, flashes of images. The bard spoke to her, a sad smile on his red lips as they themselves danced. Sheva dancing on the table, joined by two large Barbarians who clapped and danced with her.    

Bowen kissing the barmaid deeply as they were outside the tavern, their attire in states of undress. The half-naked woman holding the keg became alive and actually motioned to her to come to her.   

She remembered laughing before darkness claimed her.   


When she awoke, it was back in her bed in her room. The room was spinning as her head felt like a war mammoth was sat on it the night before. She quickly closed her eyes again. She held her hand on her head as if to push the pain away and waited for the throbbing to stop.  

The Varangia sat up when things felt more stable. She slowly opened her eyes as her hands felt across the bed. The duvet felt to smooth for her on her skin than normal. It was only when she rubbed her hand across her body that she realized she was not wearing any clothes. Her hands went back to the surface of the bed. She stopped when she felt to her side. She was not alone in the bed.  

Cold realization hit her as she turned her head and found a sleeping form by her side.   

Correction, forms. Both as nude as she was.   

The first form was the red-haired bar wench, wrapped up in the blanket, her hair wild and frizzy. By her side was a man with a scruffy black beard and black hair tied in a bun. Bowen.  

The Varangia's eyes went wide with realization.  

"Balur's balls..." she softly cursed.   

   
UTC +0:00
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User
3 February, 2019, 4:13 PM UTC

Present.          

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.          

Sanctuary       

   

"You follow the road for a day. When it stops, keep heading north for two more days." Veania said." Those packs you carry are heavy but trust me after a few days out there you wish it was a lot heavier."   

Heavy rugsacks full of supplies were hoisted on the trio's back. Far more than what was needed for a mere three to four-day trip.    

As always, the wolf of Karland seemed to voice what Varwynia was thinking. "Isn't this trip to New Hamlet the whole point to resupply before we're headed off east?" Bowen asked.    

"For rune weaponry and some able hands." Veania replied in the same stern voice." If you can get supplies there, great. You can praise whatever god you wish but I highly doubt it. Stick with your packs, if you run out you will have to rely on the land."   

   

She spoke like a military commander, with a clear and loud voice, as the guards around her prepped the trio with supplies, gear and weapons. For a bunch of exiles, criminals and worse, they moved like proper soldiers.    

In a way she reminded Varwynia of herself. Envy took hold for a moment, for she wished she had kept that calm, that sense of authority, after her own exile.    

"Do we have any markers?" Varwynia asked as a guard strapped her rug sack tightly." Other villages, rock formations?"   

The Niathi gave a faint nod." There is a Elite Exile camp one day after the roads give out. Camp Titan they call it. We got a treaty with them but for everyone's safety stay away from them. They might see themselves as knights but they are just as deadly and desperate as we are. Sheva, looking at you."   

The ebon skinned woman held up her hands in submission." I'll be good. No talking to strangers."   

"Who do we go to in New Hamlet for these rune weapons?" Varwynia asked.   

"Our man there is called Thorgal, ask for him and he will get you your weapons. He's a nomad like you, Varangia. Clan Khan."   

The name Thorgal nearly made her jump. That was the name of her brother, half-brother.   

"Heard of him?" Vaenia asked. She was good, Varwynia realized. Could read faces almost to well.   

"No, I have heard of clan Khan. My clan had troubles in the past with them." Varwynia replied.   

"You're Khengis, right?" the Niathi asked. Before the Varangia could reply the Niathi added." I heard of the blood feuds and how important it is to Nomads, even to those who have been exiled. But if you follow that path, keep Bowen and Sheva out of it. Get yourself killed at your heart's content but don't drag innocents into it. Understood?"    

Varwynia frowned and clutched to her own spear.    

"I will take that as a yes." the Niathi turned and waved a command. Shortly after the heavy wooden gate opened, revealing the wilderness of the Eastern Marches. After a week's rest, she still felt like she'd barely rested at all when her eyes saw the dark woods, like the maw of an vicious beast. Cold, dark, deadly and always hungry.    

Varwynia gave her green ring a rub. "What's our deadline?"   

"You have a month before we're going to brute force our way through the mountains." Vaenna said." If you come back here after, you will find nothing in Meliai but abandoned ruins."   

"We'll be back before then." Bowen said." Right, Lady Greer?"   

Varwynia did not reply but instead moved forward, her eyes straight ahead of her.    

"We'll be back." Sheva chuckled and followed the Varangia, Bowen behind her. She looked back only once to see the gates close behind them and even for a while after still felt like Sylva had her eyes on her.    

"Here we go again...." the Varangia thought to herself.    

The trip was pretty uneventful all things considered. The birds still tweeted and there was a flurry of snow now and then, same as before.    

During one break, Varwynia kept her eyes peeled when she heard a wolf howl. Her mind flashed back to her fight with the one-eyed wolf. A monster of a beast who not only stole her kill but nearly had her ripped to pieces.    

"Old One Eye?" Shev asked as she stopped stirring her broth. Her hands clutched around her wooden spoon. She showed some sign of worry but not outright fear.    

Bowen waited, another howl went off. He shook his head.    

"No, smaller pack. One of his offspring maybe." he replied. Likewise, without fear.    

Varwynia sat with her companions." How come you two aren't afraid of One Eye?"    

Sheva handed her a bowl, it felt nicely warm in the cold weather." Oh we are. In the same way we're afraid of a hurricane or a massive storm or an earthquake." She sat down herself with a bowl after she dished out Bowen's." Old One eye is a force of nature, you cannot control it or beat it, just survive it."    

"Save for Sylva." Bowen slurped his broth." If the rumours are to be believed."    

Sheva gave the werewolf a ugly glare, his face in a sudden panic. He said too much.    

"What rumours." Varwynia asked.    

He tried to wave it off." Oh you know, just silly rum-" now the Varangia glared at him.    

The werewolf's head darted between the two angry women. His eyes spelled panic. With an angry groan he admitted." Rumours say that Sylva managed to tame Old One Eye years ago...."   

"BOWEN KARLAND!" Sheva raised her voice.   

"She has a spear, Sheva!"  he countered." She can kill me in my sleep!"   

"And I won't?" Sheva folded her arms angrily.    

Varwynia looked puzzled." She tamed him?"   

He shrugged." Apparently. She, Gorvar the Red and a dwarven runesmith managed to trap and collar the beast years ago. Bind the creature to her will. She's happy with it running loose, killing people but when she needs a favour from it she can will it to do so."   

"Like attacking other exiles?"   

He shrugged once again." It's just a rumour. According to another rumour, a massive spider that is the size of a house is somewhere south being worshipped as a god, goblin warbands have become more hostile, pink mammoths are flying over the Gilded sea...all baseless."    

"And we know you had a run-in with that creature." Sheva replied." The last thing we wanted to do is feed you paranoia."    

"Better to be paranoid than dead." Varwynia drank her broth.    

The cook sighed annoyed." Are we back at this stage of the journey? I thought we were passed this?!"   

"Clearly not..."    

"Shut it, Bowen." Sheva shot him down." Besides I noticed you two haven't said a word to each other after the party last night. And you came out of her room with the barmaid this morning."   

Both exiled nobles looked away for a moment.    

"Thought as much..." she sighed annoyed.    

Sheva rubbed her temples." I swear you Stormfall people are just like children..."   

"Begs the question why you're coming along." Varwynia turned to her." You did your job by bringing me to Sanctuary. Why are you here?"   

Sheva faced the Varangia down. She leant on her own knee." Because I asked to come along. Because I have the feeling if I don't come along, you or the wolf here end up killed. I wouldn't be able to life with it."    

"Is it not because Sylva asked you to?" Varwynia asked.    

"She has nothing to do with it." Sheva said." We set off on this path together. A lot of people were killed. I owe it to you and them to see it through."    

Bowen grunted." Likewise,...we want to help you, Varwynia. You're a tough person to like but you're alright. Just wish you could trust us a bit more."   

The Varangia drank some of the broth, enjoying the taste. They had a point; her paranoia was getting out of hand. Sylva was a dryad, an insane dryad...but she was needed alive. And these two people were the closest thing to allies and friends she had. Guilt ate at her.     

She gathered her courage and spoke.   

"I'm sorry."    

The exiled son of Karland and Sheva were shocked.    

"Did she...just say she was sorry?" Bowen asked. He received a nudge in the ribs from Sheva.    

"I've been paranoid. You've cared for me, protected me and have shown nothing but kindness. And in return I just scowled at you both." She placed her bowl down and rubbed her hands over the fire, her eyes lingering on her ring.    

"I was exiled by those I called family, by the people I cared for. I....I lost a part of myself that I know will never get back. Even if by some miracle that we survive this and get back to Stormfall, Greehold won't be my home anymore. I resigned my fate to that. Be friendless and clanless." She sighed." I didn't expect a second chance, especially so quickly."    

Bowen smiled." We're all the same, Greer. Desperate people who cling to each other for help. A second chance."   

"A second chance." Sheva agreed." I don't know what's going to happen on this journey. If we make it out alive or not. But I know one thing. If we are to do this we do this as one group." She extended her hand over the fire. " Friends."   

Bowen nodded and placed his on top of hers." Friends."    

Both looked to Varwynia, expectantly.    

 The Varangia felt something stir within her. It was not the same feeling she feared, that she might be with child, but something stronger. A bound she shared with her soldiers before battle. Comradery.    

She placed her hand on Bowen and Sheva's." Friends."   

"In that case..." Bowen took out a bottle of mead from his pack." Something to celebrate then. A little gift from....a friend."   

"A friend we have in common?" Varwynia smirked as Bowen turned red. She snatched the bottle and opened it. She had the first swig, Sheva laughing and clapping. Laughter reigned that night. Laughter and stories and the attempt at a wolf howl, surprisingly Bowen was the only one who could pull it off.    

Come morning there was a bit of a headache, but morally the trio were refreshed.    

They followed the road until it disappeared into the marshy ground. After that they headed north as Vaena said they should.    

   

The Niathi was correct that they would see the Elite Exile camp. At first they were going to pass it by. That stopped when a group of goblins rushed forward and tried to take them head on.   

Three normal exiles would normally stand no chance against a group of armed Balurspawn. But these were not normal exiles.   

Bowen changed to his lupine self and tore at the greenskins as the Varangia's spear bite through the goblins like a hit knife through butter.    

Sheva helped where she could with her skillet, but most of the fighting was done by the two exiled nobles.    

Varwynia impaled a Balurspawn to a tree before she drew her axe and slammed it in another's forehead, brain and bone spilling everywhere. Laughter escaped from her lips.   

She felt alive, in control. It felt great.    

"Varwynia!" Sheva shouted." They're stealing the supplies!"    

She turned to the shouts of the ebon skinned woman, seeing a small group of them running with one of the rug sacks. Bowen was holding off the rest, ripping and biting them despite nearly being overwhelmed.    

"Go!" Sheva slammed her pan on those who tried to climb on the wolf." We got this!"   

Varwynia nodded, pulled her spear out of the tree and rushed after the thieves.   

She pushed branches aside, her heart beating as loud as a mammoth stampede. Adrenaline fuelled her aching lungs. She made it into the open and saw the goblins running...towards a camp. Palisades, wooden cabins and even a banner. The banner showed a red crown over a blue field, probably the Elite Exiles symbol. She swore she recognised the symbol from somewhere else. Couldnt quite place it.    

 The thieves cried an alarm which caused more goblins to run outside. For a moment Varwynia thought of turning back, not wanting to fight the large amounts of goblins. Through the chattering of the Balurspawn, she heard a noise. A whine. One she hadn't heard in a while. That made up her mind.    

Self-assured the thieves' leader turned around, expecting the Varangia to run....instead it was impaled by a rune spear.    

The others fled and joined up with their reinforcements. She counted about ten in total.    

Good, she thought and charged at them with a savage war cry.    

By the time Bowen and Sheva caught up, the goblins were either dead or ran.   

Bowen had changed back in his human guise, sporting nothing but a few scratches which to were healing. They looked upon the dead goblins, trying not to step in the blood and guts.   

"Varwynia?!" Sheva cried.   

"Greer?!" Bowen shouted as well.   

"Over here!" the Varangia replied." In the camp!"    

As to show this the Varangia stepped out into the camps clearing from a stable, waving at her two companions.    

"Are there any more of them?" Sheva asked.   

Varwynia shook her head." No, most ran off when I got through the palisade."    

   

Sheva stopped and gazed upon the camp." What the hell happened here...?"   

More dead goblins decorated the grounds, before the Elite Exile camp. Although it showed recent sign of goblin habitation, it was obvious they were only here for a short time. The walls bore signs of battle and a door was torn off it's hinges. The smell of burning lingered as some of the buildings showed a black tinge, one having been burned down completely.    

Bowen looked confused when the realization hit in. A goblin warband managed to take over a camp, a heavy guarded one at that.    

" There were fifteen men posted here Vaenna said." Sheva made her way passed the palisade." Heavily armed and well trained as well. No way a small group of gobbos would be able to overwhelm them."   

Bowen grunted in agreement and sniffed the air." You're right...not gobbos.."    

"Not the Grey Hunger either..." Varwynia shook her head." I didn't see any human corpses walking about or saw the gobbos use equipment either. But...I did find something."   

   

She walked towards the stables, urging them to follow. She opened the stables doors, revealing not only that the building was in a very good shape...it had an occupant. A healthy horse, a black and white furred mare. The mare started to whine and jump up as the other two entered the stables.    

Varwynia smiled and spoke soothing words to it in her native language which caused it to calm down almost instantly.   

She gently moved to the horse and strayed the equine creature's long face and mane's.   

"A horse, here, alone?" Sheva asked.    

"Goblins must've caught it and placed it in the stables..." Bowen theorised.    

"Probably." Varwynia said." I'm guessing she got out when things went wrong, came back later...goblins captured her and were keeping her for either a sacrifice or food for later."    

"So if it wasn't the goblins or the Grey Hunger....what happened here?" Sheva asked.    

Varwynia had no answer but one." We cannot stay here tonight."   


Four weeks ago.

Greehold, seat of house Greer. 

  

When the green roofed tiles of Greehold came into view, Ser Ophra rode ahead with two knights to prepare for the arrival of the caravan. She was to speak to Thorgal first. Between him and Vanera, he was the more level headed of the two. Varwynia told Threngar to close the window and pull the blinds. The last thing they needed was the people panicking of seeing an orc, as an ambassador or a prisoner.   

“You swore on oath to my father to keep me safe, I will do as you say.”  

Greehold erupted into cheers when the caravan passed through its gates. Me, women and cheered waved strips of green cloth or pictures of a boar, shouting their adoration. Children were seated on the heads of the large boar statues just to have a chance to have a peek at their Varangia. Or the massive war mammoth behind her. Gregor, always humble, was flexing his muscles at the crowd, receiving a quite few cheers (and looks) from the fairer sex. Stantor was used to the din of battle so thankfully he had no problem with adoring crowds.   

“Lady Varwynia has returned!”   

“Long live Lady Greer!”   

“Death to the blackbloods!”   

“I want to ride the big tusk horse!”   

    

Captain Amelie rode next to Varwynia, smiling. “It seems your people have missed you.”  

A sense of pride swelled in her chest.” The people of Greehold are honest, brave and loyal.”  

“If a bit smelly.” Halmadir chimed in, receiving a playful smack from his new wife.   

“You think everyone is smelly.” she retorted.   

“It’s a burden for my sophisticated elven senses.” the druid of Tal Arand grinned cheekily.   

“Are you saying I smell then?”  

“A little, if only because you end up helping your smallfolk with nearly everything they do.”   

Another smack was her reply to which he chuckled.   

Amelie shook her head at the newly-weds.   

  

The caravan rode upward toward the inner citadel, waving at the common folk as they went. The incline was quite steep and Stantor had to help the caravan with a strong push of his tusks to get it up.   

Once behind the closed gates, which were made to be tall enough to allow the entry of a war mammoth, Varwynia opened the door for Threngar.  

The orcling gasped as he saw the beauty of the castle. The large statue of Greer the first, holding his battle axe, greeted him. Green roof tiles and banners amazed the little orc. Smaller statues of fierce boars did seem to scare Threngar slightly as did the worried expression of the inner guard. But the beauty of the flowers and elm trees inside the wall banished those thoughts quickly.   

“Welcome to Greehold.” Varwynia smiled. She looked back to see Amelie enter the hold already with two of her paladins.   

“This place....” he was at a loss for words.   

“I know, I was just the same when I first arrived here.” She knelt down next to him.” It can be overwhelming.”  

    

He saw men and dwarves patrol the inner walls, crossbows at the ready, trebuchets trained to aim at any threats that would come from the outside. When she first arrived so many years ago, she saw those men as jailors, men who took the plains away from her. That same worry seemed to be on Threngar’s face now, replacing the earlier glee.   

“Those men will keep you safe.” Varwynia placed her hand on his tiny shoulder.” I know how you feel. This is not a prison but a fortress.”  

“Looks the same from here.” he replied.  

She smiled weakly.” When I was a girl, I was brought here by my father of my trials on the plains. It felt like a prison to then. Confining, the walls closing in. It drove me mad. I always tried to escape, got into loads of trouble. I felt very alone.”  

“What changed?” the son of Gorvar asked.   

She smiled. “My uncle gave me a job, a purpose. Told me to focus on that, have your world be the one job and focus all your attention on that. In time, and with trust, I could leave these walls.”   

He took heart in that. “I do my job, I get to explore?”  

“Maybe. I’ll see what I can do.” She looked up and saw the familiar robed younger man walk down with two necromancers. A smile came to her. She patted Threngar’s back. “Stay here for a bit, I need to speak to my siblings.”     

    

She nearly ran over to Thorgal and gave him a hug. Holding him in a bear grip.    

The scribe gasped for air but returned the gesture.   

“It’s good to see you as well, sister...” Thorgal gasped.” But please, air....”  

The Varangia released him, giggle snorting.” Sorry, Thor. I forgot how delicate you are.”   

“I prefer to think how strong you are.” he replied with a kind smile. Halmadir and Gregor gave the two siblings a moment to chat as they talked amongst themselves.” I feared the worst, I’m so sorry my Necromancers couldn’t have done more.”  

His escorts did not seem to share his shame.  

“They did all they could, Thor.” she replied.” Gorvar the Red is a powerful foe...he’s unlike any orc we’ve ever seen.”   

Thorgal peered over to Threngar who was inspecting a bank of roses, a guard nearby.” I gathered. Ser Ophra told me but...” he was picking his words.” A truce? With orcs? Var, this is the kind of thing that gets whole houses exiled to the East Marches.”    

“I know how it sounds like.” Varwynia held her brother’s hand.” But you know me. I’d never even entertain the idea unless I had a reason.”  

“I know.” Thorgal nodded.” But I also know you often act without thinking things through.”  

She folded her arms.” Name one.”  

“Freeing all the horses from the stables and riding them down the streets.”  

“I was thirteen!”  

“Fourteen and drunk.” he corrected.” There was also trying to steal Uncle Hadgar’s prized marble chessboard.”  

“You wanted to play with it!”  

“Sleeping with that stable boy in Vanera’s bed-”  

  

She shushed her brother.” Alright fine, aside from THOSE things....”  

“And your sudden marriage to Halmadir.” he concluded.” Of which I want to say congratulations.”  

She smiled.” Thank you...it’s been a while coming.” she sighed. ” Look, all I want is the best for Greehold. Always. What Gorvar told me of this.... Grey Hunger, I believe him. There were children there, Thor. This wasn’t an army that wanted to invade, these were people running. And if something scares orcs, shouldn’t that scare us?”  

Thorgal rubbed his small beard thoughtfully.” I see your point...very well. Come, let’s try to convince our sister.”  

  

Varwynia held her brother again.” Thank you.” She pecked him on the cheek.   

With a smile she waved over her husband and Gregor who came over.   

“THORGAL!” Gregor shouted on the top of his lungs and smacked his half-brother on the back, knocking the wind out of his lungs.” Still reading books for a living?”  

“Quite...” Thorgal replied in a gasp.   

Halmadir merely bowed his head politely.” It seems we are brothers to now.”  

The scribe smiled and motioned to the Citadel.” Let’s go inside.”   

  

The footfalls sounded like thunder steps on the Karag Bolg marble, Varwynia’s heart felt like bursting out of her chest. Convincing Thorgal, whom she was always closer to as a child, was one thing. Trying to convince the leader of their house was another. If there was one thing Vanera inherited from the Greer line, it was stubbornness. She hated orcs with all her heart for reasons Varwynia cannot fault.   

The guards opened the door to the inner throne room. Inside the dignitaries of several smaller houses sworn to House Greer and the ambassador of Karag Bolg fell silent. She spotted Ser Ophra who stood with the honour guard, a small nod in her direction. Vanera was seated on the wooden throne of Greer, shaped like a boar with a gaping maw. Her hands were on the boar’s tusks. She was in conversation with Captain Amelie when the chatter stopped.   

“Lady Varwynia, Lord Thorgal, Lord Halmadir and Captain Gregor!” the valet shouted as the four entered.   

“Oh, Captain!” Gregor exclaimed.” I forgot I had that rank here...”  

Varwynia nudged her brother in the ribs before moving to the throne.   

She knelt before her sister.  

“Welcome back, Varwynia.” Vanera sounded genuine.” We were worried about you.”  

“Thank you, Vanera.” the Varangia replied and stood. “Did Ser Ophra tell you?”  

Lady Greer lifted her chin. Compassion gone in her voice. “She did. As did Captain Amelie.”  

Varwynia nodded.” And?”  

Vanera lean in closer.” I was waiting for you to explain why I shouldn’t clamp you in irons for treason.”  

  

Present.           

Beyond Farwol's ridge, Eastern Marshes.        

Near New Hamlet  

  

The din of battle sounded nearby. Without question, Varwynia rushed ahead on her black and white horse towards it. Already in her mind’s eye she could see Sheva rolling her eyes as Bowen was changing into his werewolf form to catch up.  

She urged Cloudcatcher, she dubbed the horse, onward towards the noise. They broke through the foliage into a bloody scene.   

A caravan was under attack by the Grey Hunger. Its defenders, Elite Exiles she guessed by the red crown banner on the lead caravan, were fighting their best but it was clear they were no much.   

She urged Cloudchaser onward, her spear at the ready. Her eye fell upon one of the outlying undead like a predator on a herd of prey. She steered towards it.   

A Walker slowly turned to face her but could do nothing as her spear severed his head from its neck. She ululated, by the gods it felt good to be back in the saddle! She rushed onward to the caravan which was steadily being driven back.   

They would’ve been already overwhelmed were it not for three fighters.   

  

She spotted one of her kin, a barbarian. His rune sword and battle axe cut through the undead as he cried out to the goddess Ran. His blue tattoos a sharp contrast on red blood on his naked torso.   

A goblin in a red hood was slashing away, cutting the undead at their tendons which made easy work as they fell down, a dagger to the back of the skull to finish the job.   

But the strongest one of them all was a white bearded dwarf. His rune axe shone like a miniature sun as he cut through the undead like a scythe for harvest.   

“Rally around me!” his voice boomed like a giant’s.” Rally around me and don’t you dare die! I got work enough already!”  

That voice, she realized, sounded so much like....  

“Uncle Hadgar?” 

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10 March, 2019, 6:38 PM UTC

Present,  

Near New Hamlet.   


It was like seeing a god of war at his element. The dwarven rune axe cleaved through the undead, runes flashing when it made contact with putrid flesh. Green ichor rained dow from the sky on the dwarven armour.   

He swung his axe with expertise, conserving energy by only making correct axe strokes with the correct amount of push.   

For a moment, she thought of her uncle who used a similar technique with his warhammer, a pile of orc corpses around him. Were it not for the wrinkles, the expression of a timeless statue and the massive white beard, the dwarf could have been her uncle.  

By his side were a few other men bearing the Elite Exile tabard. "Ironfist! Iron within, Iron without!" she heard faintly as they fought on.   

Ironfist, she heard that name before. Thorgal spoke of it but she could not recall the context.   

She snapped herself back to the present and charged towards the undead flocking towards the dwarf and the caravan he was protecting with his companions. Cloudcatcher was well trained, despite the din of battle and the horrible smell of the undead the horse did exactly as Varwynia asked of her. It's hoofs stomped on the undead as it ran one over, it bite another on the shoulder which gave her rider enough time to impale her own rune spear through the head.   



Her spear darted around like a viper, stinging the walkers where possible. After impaling another she took stock away from a group of Walkers and flicked the blood of her blade with a practiced turn of her wrist.   

In the distance she heard a wolf howl. She turned her head as Bowen leapt into the battle, claws and fangs already dripped with undead ichor.   

"Reinforcements!" the dwarf shouted above the din." Clear them a way!"   

"Clear them a way!" Another voice followed up as the Elite Exile men hastily followed orders.   

The few defenders on top of the carts fired bolts from their carts, paving a way for the werewolf.   

Sheva rushed behind him, running to the caravan and aided the wounded.   

The Varangia made a few more rounds around the herd of undead, hamstringing and impaling where she could.   

Sensing the momentum was gone, Varwynia jumped off Cloudchaser and urged her away as she rushed to the caravan's defenders. It was up to proper butcher's work now.   

The red hooded goblin darted between the Walkers, stabbing and cackling as he went. He made a way for her, ensuring no Walkers were on her way. He waved her over." This way, lady!"   

Warily but knowing there was no true alternative, she followed the goblin as the dead rushed behind her. She rubbed her green ring for luck, hoping Halmadir would guide her through this.   



The barbarian stayed his rune sword and axe long enough for her to take a place among their circle of defenders, Lunatice running through his legs." I ain't doing that again, old man!" He cried.  

"You better or I'll kick your green arse back into the herd!" The dwarf shouted as he withdrew his axe from a slain creature.   

"Did Ran send us a warrior maiden or do my eyes deceive me?!" the bald barbarian laughed, sweat and ichor glistening of his biceps.   

She recognised the tattoos up close, the patterns of interwoven blue and markings. Markings of clan Khan, rivals to her own clan back on the plains, clan Khengis. Both clans often came to blows over the centuries, only their common hatred over the balurspawn kept them from going to full on war. Hopefully that unspoken truce also lasted into exile.  

"Khan?" She asked, getting her spear ready.   

He paused a moment." Yes. Khengis?" she nodded." We'll have to tally scores later then."    

"Sounds good to me." As to elaborate on that, she impaled one through the chest which allowed the Khan man to chop his head off with his axe. "Good chop! Thorgal, right?"  

He slammed his rune sword into one' skull." Aye, how do you know me?"  

"Sylva send us." she replied.  

The man's boisterous nature faltered slightly." Oh..."  

Very rarely had she seen barbarians, let alone Khan men, look afraid or even allow themselves to feel fear. Either he truly felt a fear for the dryad warlord that made Balur himself look like nothing more than a small goblin with a dirk...or he did not fear for his own life. She noticed a golden bracelet around his wrist, a betrothal wristband. Sylva, you cruel clever bitch she thought. Now he had to help her.     

"Northman!" the dwarf snapped." Focus, or else I'll kill you myself!"  

The barbarian's mood changed and glared at the son of Bran." You can try, Dainson!"  

Varwynia pulled back her bloodied spear as she turned to see the dwarf." Dainson? Your name is Dainson?"  

"Aye, what of-" he stopped when he saw her spear, it's runes glowing still despite the green ichor that dripped off it. For a moment, the cragged rock like face of the dwarf became soft with nostalgia." Where did you get that?"  

"Hadgar Dainson gave me this." she replied with pride." My uncle."  

A small smile crept on the dwarf's aged visage." Of course he did."   



Bowen snorted." Bonebreaker..." he growled. He pointed his bloodied paw into the forest they just came from. As if summoned, the pathway opened as something terrible pushed through. A large creature, easily the size of a ogre except more monstrous. It was bulging as well, it's massive gut was pulsing and bulging like a overfilled bag. It reminded Varwynia of the creature that destroyed her home a month ago. She gripped the haft of her spear tightly, it's rune flaring as the spear felt her intent.   

Dainson stepped between a Elite Exile spearman and Thorgal." Stay behind me, use that spear. After we survive this, you tell me everything. Agreed?"  

The Varangia nodded." Agreed."   


The Bonebreaker roared as it bull charged straight for the defenders, followed by a pack of lesser undead.   

Dainson turned to the defenders." Let me face the Bonebreaker. The rest of you don't die, or I'll turn your corpses into mulch."  

Sheva gasped." What kind of a speech was that?!" she asked, horrified.   

Varwynia smiled." A Dainson one." 

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17 April, 2019, 11:45 AM UTC

Four weeks ago.   

Greehold, seat of house Greer.    

  

Her husband made love to her in every way a man could make love to a woman.   

He whispered sweet nothings in her ear, made her feel like a goddess., loved and worshipped.   

But it didn’t take away the sense of guilt in her heart.  

Halmadir was snoring still as she got out of bed and went to the balcony, the cold wind bringing memories as the hairs on her arms rose.   

She thought of the plains where she was raised, the feel of the cold wind on her face as she rode her horse in the solitude.   

The moon illuminated the two statues of her ancestor and the dwarf king, still standing side by side after so many centuries.   

“Keep my son safe.” the orc’s deep voice echoed as he placed his hand on his son’ shoulder. ”Swear on your honour.”  

“I swear on my honour.” She had replied with a hand on her chest.” And Ran as my witness.”   

And now her own words had damned her.   

    

“Threngar, son of Gorvar the Red!” the valet announced to the court a few days prior.   

The orcling entered the throne room with two Greer guards by his side. He had his chin raised, chest forward and stood straight as he was brought before the Lady of Greehold. But Varwynia also saw the small hint of the little boy he was in his eyes. He tried so hard to show he had no fear.   

Varwynia stood left to her sister with Lady Amelie to her right. Varwynia was not a fan of etiquette but even she saw the subtle undertow. Those who stood on the right hand of a ruler were deemed more important and reliable than those on the left. Still respected but seen more as a guest, a nuisance that needed to be placated. Before she rode out to face Gorvar’s red Horde, she was always on the right-hand side when dignitaries came.     

  

“Lady Greer.” the orcling bowed his head.  

“Orc.” Vanera replied with steel in her voice.” My sister informed me your father spared her life on the account that he wants peace. Is that true?”   

“Yes.” Threngar replied.  

“She also says you came with your women and children. A whole migration. I am inclined to believe her.”  

“Good, for it is the truth.”   

“And Captain Amelie told me a group of orcs attacked your caravan on the way here.”   

“Yes.” His eyes furrowed. Varwynia gritted her teeth, he was being entrapped.   

Vanera folded her hands and leant forward.” If your father desires peace, then why do your people keep attacking mine and now even you? Is this the fabled word of the great Gorvar the Red?”   

  

The court was silent save for Thorgal who scribbled in the journals as was his duty as scribe, the sound of quil dancing over parchment stopped momentarily as he dipped the quill in the ink.   

Threngar took a moment to reply.” Those orcs are not my people. They still follow Balur, the father of lies. We have quarrel with them just as much as you do.”  

Several of the more religious members of the court vowed an oath to a myriad of gods. Varwynia saw Gregor mutter a prayer to Dana, mother of the Nomads, her people.   

“Then who does your father worship then?” Vanera asked, a grin on her face.” Some other evil deity? One of ours?”  

“The Red Bird.” Threngar replied.” She guided us away from the Eastern Marches, away from the path of Balur.”   

Vanera turned to her brother.” Scribe Thorgal, have you ever heard of this...Red Bird?”  

The scribe paused his scribbling.” Only once, Lady Greer. The bird is a lesser god that hailed from the Darmor lands before the Darmor Pacification. I can take out my codex if-”  

Vanera waved her hand in dismissal.” Keep writing.” She turned back to Threngar.” So your Horde worships this...Red Bird then. Why? Does Balur no longer slake your thirst for blood?”   

  

He stood up right. “Not all orcs are killers just as all humans are good, law-abiding god-fearing people. The Red Bird showed us another way. A better way. She teaches us peace.”  

One of the local lords bust forward.” BY KILLING MY SMALLFOLK?!”  

The court erupted in murmurs and shouts.   

“SILENCE!” Vanera raised her voice above the ruckus. Varwynia slammed the butt of her spear on the floor which carried the Lady of Greehold’s voice. The court fell silent.   

“Lord Fren has a point. His villages were the ones your horde burned when you left the mountains and I have several messages from Karag Bolg that say you attacked their holds.”  

Threngar’s face blushed with restrained anger.” We only defend ourselves. We were attacked by your villages and the dwarven clans, we had no choice!”  

“You could’ve stayed in the Eastern Marches.” Vanera countered.  

“No we could not. Balur has hatched an evil there that kills all, even orc and ogres. We had to flee.” Threngar took a moment to breathe.” All we want is to follow the Red Bird and leave Darkshine in peace.”  

  

Vanera placed her fingers on her chin in a thoughtful pose. A flicker of hope came to Varwynia.   

“What are your father’s terms?” She asked.  

“We seek passage West, the Red Bird tells us to set sail beyond the Gilded Sea. All we want is to pass through Greer lands, through the Pass of Kings. We will not attack your people unless provoked. We have our own food and supplies.”  

“And what do we get in return?” Vanera asked.   

Varwynia raised her brow at this, what was she on about.   

Threngar looked surprised.” In return, Lady Greer?”  

“It’s called a trade, orc.” some of the court chuckled.” What do you offer in return for us allowing you to pass our lands?”  

He smiled and laughed at himself. ”Of course, my apologies. Peace, but we also have plenty of furs and metal ores. We can share knowledge on the Balurspawn and how you can combat them, including the evil that is coming. We need not be friends, but we can part in peace.”  

His eyes fell on Varwynia who could not help but briefly smile. He did really good.   

Tha’s why the blow fell even harder on her.   

  

Vanera rose as the steel in her voice became more ignited.” I heard enough. Your ploy of sending a child to negotiate has backfired, orc. We will not fall to paltry sentiments such as those. Captain Amelie and my bannermen have rallied to drive your people back into the hells where you belong.” She waved her hand to the guards who took the shocked boy by the elbows.   

The boy came out now, confused. He feebly tried to wriggle loose. A hand fell on Varwynia’s arm before she could even think to move forward. She turned to see Halmadir shake his head. She turned to Gregor who shared his sentiments.   

  

“You can’t do this! I’m an emissary! A diplomat!” She heard him cry.   

Lady Vanera Greer replied coldly. “No. You’re an orc. And you will die like one. Take him away!”  

The guard dragged the boy away as he screamed.” YOU HAVE NO HONOUR! NO HONOUR!”  

Lady Vanera ignored the cries and turned to Amelie.” Lady Delthanis, we will rally our forces at Kings pass and slaughter the godless greenskins to the last man.”   

“Forgive me, Lady Greer but would it not be better to use the orcling as a hostage?” Amelie asked.  

“No. As far as they know the trade went alright. Seeing his son’s head on a pike would dishearten him, make him stupider and easier to break. We’ll crush this Red Horde once and for all.”  

Oberon’s Ward agreed to the logic in that and went to discuss wth her Paladins. .   

  

“My lady...” Varwynia began.   

“No, sister.” Vanera cut her off.” I said I’d listen to what he had to say. I did.”  

“I swore to his father I’d bring him back home.” Varwynia pleaded.” He is just a boy.”  

“He is an orc, sister. Swearing to an orc is swearing an oath to a swine. They do not understand the concept.”  

“He send his son because he believed we would -”  

“ENOUGH! Were you not my blood I'd have you chained.” Vanera’ voice strained.  

Before either sibling could say anything, the elven druid stepped in between.” Clearly we are all stressed...how about we all rest and deal with all this on the morrow?”  

“A sensible idea.” Thorgal agreed. “Clear heads make clear actions.”  

“Shut up, Thorgal...” Vanera scolded.” But fair enough. Tomorow.”  

Halmadir smiled.” Good, see you on the morrow my good-sister.”   

“Don't push it.” Vanera warned.  

  

So it was that the preparations for war once again were made. Captain Amelie and her paladins were to form the vanguard for the incoming attack, replacing the pikemen lost at the battle at the hamlet a few days prior. The dwarven reinforcements from Karag Bolg were expected in a few days along with uncle Hadgar and more Nomad kin were arriving every day. Greehold and its surrounding lands became populated with all manners of people.  

  

Varwynia tried to calm herself, it was only a orc after all. For a few hours it was as before.   

Halmadir wooing her, Thorgal boring her with his latest books.   

The men saluted her as they passed, grateful to have their lady back.   

It did not help the guilt in her heart though. He was just a boy. A orc yes, but still a boy.  

He looked so glad to see Greehold, the idea to explore it all. Just be a child. To explore.  

An idea came to her mind.   

  

Without waking her husband, she dressed in her leathers and slowly closed the door behind her.  

The Varangia moved through the corridors with certainty in her step to the guest quarters.   

She pushed the door open to one of the rooms and found her target.   

Gregor was snoring deeply as he held a naked servant girl in his arms, both asleep as the room reeked of fornication. With a annoyed grunt she kicked her brother’s foot which made the man jump up.  

“Get up, we’re going to engineer a jail break.”  

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