Early the next day, Lee sought out someone to take care of Finn and we split ways with the caravan. I’ll miss the friends I made among the guards, but maybe we’ll meet again someday. Rauk suggested and insisted on taking the stealthier route, and Thargald assured us that he could lead us through the trail, but that it would be dangerous. We were sure we could handle anything.
Lee was excited at first, never having been this far north or away from the city this long. She and Thargald scouted ahead, returned to us with a smug look on her face as she told us she noticed signs that a small group had been this way, that the group was probably an elvish scouting group or raiding party. At this news, Rauk demanded that we go after them. The girls agreed as long as we proceeded with caution.
As the hours dragged on, Lee and Ari became more and more distressed by the cold and the hard pace Rauk had set. When the orc began throwing strained looks and exasperated sighs over his shoulder at the two, I fell back to provide them with light banter and humorous stories of my youth to distract them from the cold. It seemed to work, and the two, though nearly frozen, pressed on.
An hour later, Thargald called for a halt, warning us of an impending storm and suggested we find shelter. Rauk, well aware of how dangerous storms in the mountains could be, especially for a group unaccustomed to the northern climate, quickly set out to find a cave in which we could hide from the storm. As he searched, heavy flakes of snow began to descend around us, obscuring our vision. Turning to check on Ari and Lee, I noticed the half-elf whispering softly to herself, and soon after, the snow lessened. I can’t be sure, but I think she might have been praying to her god. Around us, the snow fell lighter, but no one else seemed to notice. Rauk managed to find us a cave, and Lee hurried to make us a fire. As soon as we were safely inside and warming up, the snow began to fall heavily outside.
We were just settling in, discussing sleeping rotations, when Lee suddenly perked up and silenced us.
“Something’s outside,” she said as she drew her bow. We all tensed, hands hovering over our weapons, when we saw a pack of wolves pacing outside the cave.
“Building a bigger fire should keep them out,” Ari said. We threw what kindling we had onto the bonfire, building it up and hoping that it would last us through the storm. With more light, Lee looked around the cave and confirmed that it must belong to the wolves. In the back of the cave, Lee found a satchel containing foodstuffs and a journal, but none of us could read the swirling, nearly elvish text. Lee pocketed the book for later. The night dragged on, none of us sleeping well.
In the morning, the wolves had dispersed, leaving only their paw prints behind. I ducked out of the cave to look around, and as I did, I felt the familiar warmth of Tyr fluttering at the edges of my mind, and I knew that the storm had lessened, but that the snowfall would remain consistent. I conveyed this to the others, and with a slight shake of his head, Rauk told us we should keep moving.
“It’s going to be even more dangerous now,” Ari said. “With the snow piling up. Maybe we should head back.”
Rauk didn’t even argue, he only trudged out into the snow, Lisette scurrying to catch up. Lee placed a hand on Ari’s shoulder.
“He’s not going back, not now. We should stick with him.”
Ari didn’t seem convinced. “Are you sure?”
Lee shrugged. “Have you met this asshole?”
Hours into our difficult hike, Lee started showing signs of exhaustion and was shivering violently. She had her cloak tightly wrapped around her, her head ducked low, and her pace was slowing noticeably. This time, nothing I said seemed to help her forget her frozen limbs and aching muscles. I expected Rauk to scold, to insist on leaving her behind, but instead, he patiently took the shield that Lisette always carries and dropped it on the snowy ground.
“Climb on,” he said. Lee settled onto the shield-made-sled, pulled her cloak tighter around her, and was delighted when Lisette climbed onto it with her. The two pressed close together for warmth, giggling with glee when Rauk had secured the shield with a rope and pulled the two along. I couldn’t help but be jealous. It looked like so much fun.
The good cheer afforded by the makeshift sled didn’t last. Ari was now feeling the cold as well, her pace slowing. Rauk and I had our minds elsewhere, bored with trudging through the snow in heavy armor, and him dragging a shield with two people on it. Suddenly the wind picked up, and we braced ourselves along the cliff-face. The wind felt unnatural, and we noticed that it was localized. Over the sound of its roar, I heard Rauk yelling something about elves. Down the slope, we could pick out a group of elves surrounding someone wearing a thick cloak. It looked as if this stranger in the middle was conjuring the wind. As we watched, a bolt of lightening struck the tip of a mountain nearby, and Ari yelled at us to seek lower ground. Lee shoved Lisette off the shield and lunged down the slope on her makeshift sled, Rauk cursing and charging after her. Ari and I traded glances before following, Thargald staying behind to watch the battle.
Running downhill, I could see Lee farther down dodging arrows as the elves shot at her. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw one graze her arm. Still, she continued down at break-neck speed. I couldn’t help but stop to watch as Lee drew her bow and took a shot at one of the elves while still sliding down on the shield. The elf staggered, but the others notched their bows and readied to shoot. With quick thinking, Lee managed to pull the shield up, turning it from a sled into convenient cover. I reached her in time to duck behind the shield with her, informing her of the approach of what looked like elven barbarians. Ari caught up to us, and Rauk charged by, towards the stranger, who I could now see was wielding a staff and calling up a gust of wind. I quickly blessed the stranger and my friends, and rushed to join the battle.
The barbarian elves had pet wolves with vicious teeth and strong jaws. Rauk, Ari, and I battled with them while Lee took quick shots at the archers and the stranger, much to our surprise, called lightning down to strike at our enemies. After trying battle, it seemed we would win the fight against the elven scouting party. The remaining elves scurried away from us, and Rauk seemed to be of a mind to let them go. Lee, however, thought to take one hostage. She dashed after a fleeing archer, managed to disarm him, and as they grappled with each other, one of the remaining barbarians rushed to aid his friend. I hurried to Lee, shield up and ready to defend her. The barbarian and I scuffled for a while, but at a word from his friend, he disengaged from our fight and fled with the rest of his comrades. As Lee went to grab at the elf she had caught, we watched in horror as the captured elf slid a knife through his own throat, and fell over dead. Lee cursed and kicked at the corpse, and I pulled her away with a scolding glare.
Tired and bleeding, our group gathered around the stranger. Ari approached him and spoke to him in elven, but he cut her off before she could say much. She seemed offended by whatever it was he had said, and continued to talk to him. After her speech in elven, he cursed. In the common language, he bid us to follow him.
As the strange druid led us along a path we didn’t notice before, Ari explained to him in common (for our benefit) about the dark power underneath Two Rivers. The druid nodded, as if he was already aware.
“The elves are after it as well,” the druid told us. Before we could ask why, he added, “It’s one of their gods, after all.”
The path led us to three stone statues, partially concealed by the falling snow. Here, the druid explained to us that his people, the other druids, don’t worship any gods. They are the watchers and protectors of the north. He told us a story, of how long ago, during the Godswar, one of the gods managed to escape and flee south. Back then, the empire had covered the map, and Two Rivers was merely a garrison. The members of the garrison, the druids, and the southern gods worked together to bind the escaped god of the north. The druid explained how it had taken a lot of power to do this, and that a lot of that power has been lost over the years, mostly due to meddling forces.
“Can’t we bind the god again?” Lee asked the druid.
No, the druid told us. Too much of the spell has been forgotten, and the southern gods are not what they used to be.
“Couldn’t the gods help us?” Lee insisted, seemed skeptical of her own idea. Ari threw her a glare.
“The gods have been doing what they can,” the druid told us, looking pointedly at Ari and me. “But something, someone, is chipping away at the binding.”
We grew quiet as we contemplated this knowledge.
After a time, the druid spoke up, “The elves will be laying siege on the castle shortly. I was…expecting others to bring me news of the elves movement. I was not expecting you.”
“We’re the best bet to get a warning to the castle,” Lee said, “if you can guide us there, that’d be great.”
The druid agreed to lead us, but expressed doubt that the castle can stand alone. “Two Rivers has been neglecting its outposts. They haven’t been getting the supplies or support they need.”
“We can seek help from the orcs,” Ari said. “And see if we can reinforce the castle. We can call storms down, reduce visibility.”
“How big is this army?” Lee asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I predict an army of a few hundred,” the druid told us.
Rauk shook his head. “We have to be careful in convincing the orcs to help us. If we call a Bloody March, the orcs will just raze the castle to the ground. I suggest we negotiate with a few of the closest tribes, convince them that there’s honor in killing these elves and oathbreakers.”
“Is there anyway to get word to Two Rivers? Get them to send some support?” Lee asked.
“I’m not sure we have enough time,” Ari said. “Let’s first get to the castle, see what the situation is, and go from there.”
As we mulled over our plan, we each looked up at the three giant statues the druid had brought us to. The storm had lesson, and finally, we could see what they were.
Maid, Mother, and Crone.
“Miss Haberdash,” I breathed.
“Could she help us?” Lee asked aloud, to no one in particular.
The druid sighed wistfully. “She can only point people in the direction they need to go. She does not involve herself. She won’t help you.”
“But,” he continued after a slight pause, “if she sent you here, you four must be our best bet.”
None of us seemed to be instilled with confidence at his words.