[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 81

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Fri Jan 11 00:20:25 CST 2002

12/28 - 1am

Yegern spat into the snow, his chiselled features rasping against the air as 
he surveyed the broad, empty road.  The night was full of a familiar chill 
and so he tucked his frame into the thick furs bundled across each shoulder 
and around his waist.  His tribe brothers were similarly attired in bear 
skins.  All had long, wicked, bone knives hanging from their tanned belts.  
Each blade was different, unique, fashioned by the very warrior who had slew 
the beast that the bone had come from.  He ran his green, callused fingers 
across the blade, fashioned from the very rib of the bear whose skin he now 
wore.  He had made the priest of his tribe bless it before leaving the 
Giantdowns, on the hope that it would be soaked in the blood of the filthy, 
cursed creatures that inhabited the great Keep which barred the southern 
lands from the tribes of the North.

And so, with great dismay he continued his circuit of the relay station 
alongside the road leading North-South, wondering if they would ever get to 
use those knives.  The North Bear tribe hailed from a region abutting the 
eastern flanks of the Dragon Mountains, where some of the largest bears in 
the world roamed. He had left behind two young ones, already old enough to be 
helping to tan the bear hides, cook the meat, and fashion the organs into 
pouches, wineskins, and the like.  Yet when Nasoj had called, he had been 
forced to leave them behind in that world of night and shadow.

In the ten years since Nasoj had claimed total dominion over all of the many 
disparate northern tribes this was the first time that the North Bear tribe 
had been summoned away from their ancestral hunting grounds.  They had been 
promised greater lands upon which to hunt, but had refused, for they did not 
need any more than their tribal lands could provide.  They had been promised 
great quantities of gold, but had refused, for they had no use for the heavy 
yellow metal that the tribes to the west and south seemed to covet.  They had 
been promised glory, and balked even at that.  Glory often came with the 
heavy price of blood, and against the bastion of the southern lands' defence 
that price was especially steep.  The Blood Fang and Shattered Axe tribes 
could attest to that, for they had the greatest glory among the tribes, but 
had the highest mortality rate among the young warriors.

In the end it had been the threat of annihilation at the hands of Nasoj's 
warrior mages that brought forth the warriors of the North Bear tribe.

Glancing at his fellows he knew that many of them were thinking the same 
things.  Where was the glory they would bring to their people in waiting here 
in this empty stretch of road?  Here they could kill none of these Keepers, 
and here they could not wet their blades with the blood of men.  The sting of 
betrayal was like bile in his mouth, making him spit again, the vitriol 
making a wet splotch against the hazy blue glow of the winter's blanket.  He 
watched it sink and melt the snow a bit before it froze, leaving behind only 
a dark hole in the night shadowed snow to mark it.

Yegern grunted, frowning as he hefted the bone knife into his hands, turning 
it over and inspecting it.  Smooth on both ends, yellowed from use and decay, 
it was still sharp where it mattered, and the slight hook at the end was the 
sign of a slight deformity in the bear.  Even so, it had made for a wonderful 
knife, as the tip alone could slice through almost any skin or leather 
armour.  It had never tasted the blood of a human though, as the North Bear 
Tribe was too remote to see any who were not the agents of Nasoj.  It had 
been responsible for the deaths of several bears, as well as the assortment 
of foul, rodents, and other animals that they trapped for food.  The 
moccasins his children wore had been skinned with that knife; and when his 
own skins wore thin and drew the attention of fleas he would make new furs 
for himself with that same knife.  The bone knife in many ways was more the 
symbol of his tribe than even the bear was, at least that was how Yegern saw 

A sudden scampering of claws up a tree caught his attention and the Lutin 
turned to one side of the road to see what had caused it.  The sound was out 
of place in the chill winter night and brought his guard up instantly.  No 
animals, hunter or prey, would be out at such a desolate hour in this season. 
 The other members of his tribe also turned as one to peer into the dark, 
claustrophobic depths of the wood, blades coming up as their lassitude 
vanished in a tense, silent hush.  Even if the sound should prove to be 
nothing more than a sleep-walking rodent it would do them good to actually do 
something, for the rations of dried vegetables were rather tasteless, if not 
distasteful.  Alas, that was about all that they would receive in Nasoj's 
army, unless they caught more interesting game themselves.

Yegern knew though that whatever had been in those woods was certainly well 
out of reach by now, and turned from the trees, casting his eyes about for 
Hulra.  If there was something to hunt here, he would be the best to send for 
he would not reveal himself.  The oddly coloured Lutin had come to the tribe 
a parentless waif six years earlier, found sick and alone in the cave of a 
hibernating bear.  The pale white of his skin was looked upon as a blessing 
from the Ice and thus the strange looking Lutin was freely accepted into 
their tribe.  The tall, slender Lutin was also an amazing hunter. Yegern 
moved to sheathe his bone blade when a subtle sound reached his ears.  Not a 
scampering this time, but a barely audible twang.  Glancing about in 
bewilderment, he heard gasps from his fellows as he watched arrows sprout 
with wet chuffs from their chests and necks.  The stricken fell to the ground 
limply as if the Ice had stolen away their spirits, clutching impotently at 
the narrow shafts in disbelief as their last breaths misted in the biting 
winter air.

Yegern had ducked down slightly at that first quiet twang and heard the angry 
hiss of an arrow sail over top of his head.  He scurried hastily to one side 
of the road and tucked himself beneath a pile of rocks, gripping the knife 
firmly in his hand, green knuckles tensing with his own blood.  The missiles 
appeared to be coming from all directions about them, striking down his 
comrades with careless disregard.  With an angry eye he saw his own brother, 
Verner, stumbling about, grasping futilely at the three arrows fitted into 
his back, blood frothing from his mouth.  Nearby was Dozi, the harsh-tongued 
old Lutin who had guided Yegern in his very first hunt many years ago, laying 
face down in the snow-covered road stuck like a porcupine.  Verner fell over 
the old hunter's corpse, landing heavily in the snow with the bloodied metal 
tip of an arrow jutting from his temple.  Yegern found himself staring into 
the eyes of his brother, barely two arm-lengths away, and watched the spark 
of life fade as his soul was given over to the Ice.  

Biting back his rage he waited, safely ensconced beneath the pile of rocks, 
watching as his tribe brothers were cut down by the storm of arrows.  The 
forest returned to silence soon after, with only the last gasps of his 
friends as they died rising up from the snowy depths, smothered by hands 
unseen.  Yegern waited, knowing that he too would die, but hoping that his 
blade could taste some blood before it would lose its master.  He knew that 
it had to have been the Keepers, so he would wait until they stepped out from 
hiding onto the road to pillage what they could.  The thought of one of those 
freaks cutting up Dozi or Verner for food and supplies made his heart pound 
faster in his fury.

Yet, as he lay there in the cold wet earth underneath the rocks, all he saw 
was the blood of his comrades freeze in the winter chill.  Had the Keepers 
wished to take anything form them they had wasted their chance, as the flesh 
had to be cut from the skin quickly in this clime if it were to be of any 
use.  Finally, when he could feel sleepiness begin to overtake him from lying 
out in the cold so long, he crawled out from the rocks and peered about at 
the woods.  No arrows were loosed to meet his exposed flesh and no warning 
cry was sounded.  With a start, Yegern realised that the enemy had already 
left, leaving the bodies to rot out under the ineffective winter sun!

"Damn you, Keepers!" Yegern muttered under his breath, a part of him not 
wishing them to return.  If they could destroy his own tribe in minutes 
without ever once showing themselves then he was as equally vulnerable.

Wandering amongst the bodies, he leaned over Verner and rested his green, 
callused hands over his brother's chest, and then offered a prayer to the 
spirits of their tribe; the Ice, the Bear, and the Fire in the Winter Sky.  
Reaching down to his brother's side he took the bone knife, which Verner had 
claimed from the shoulder of a Tundra Mole he had slain, and placed it in his 
sack.  Moving from each of their bodies he did this, taking the bone knives 
for each was as individual as their owner.  He found Hulra only by the splash 
of blood fanned across the snow before the babbling lutin, his hands clasped 
over his side where the Ice had stabbed him with a slender, fragile sword.

That statement startled the older hunter as he knelt before his dying nephew, 
sighing sadly.  Father and adoptive son both slain in the same futile 
gesture; watching a useless stretch of wagon-ruts through the forest in the 
dead cold of winter.  Hulra babbled about the Ice; she had come from the snow 
and attacked him with the blade of a southlander.  She was known for her 
moods, the Ice, but Hulra had never known that she had white fur to accent 
her wintry wardrobe, nor the face of an ice-weasel.  Yegern's young adoptive 
nephew died with that painful question of faith upon his lips, slowly 
slumping to one side, his own bone blade falling into the snow between his 

With a heavy sigh the older hunter took up that blade, blooded only with the 
dark crimson of its creator as it was dropped into the stained snow.  He 
offered a prayer for his younger friend, for the first time in his life 
omitting the Ice from that quiet lament.  If indeed she had taken with the 
Keepers, and walked among them as an ice-weasel, then she did not deserve 
this one soul.  Once his pack was full he stopped, offering another prayer, 
and started through the woods to the Northwest.  He'd make his way amongst 
the mountains and skirt the Dike completely.

Turning to the side of the road, Yegern spat once more, leaving behind the 
foul taste of unfulfilled vengeance.  How dare the Keepers not reveal 
themselves, and deny him his one chance to resuscitate honour for his tribe!  
And how dare Nasoj have his tribe placed here, where they could gain no 
glory, only stand out in the open to be skewered by arrows.  He spat again, 
shifted the pack on his back a bit, and pulled the straps of bear skin closer 
over his chest, marching into the woods.  To Hell with Nasoj and this Valley 
he thought contemptuously and then began his trek for home.  


12/28 - 3am

Lord Avery paced back and forth in the trampled snow, pausing only 
momentarily to cast his eyes at the overcast sky, grimaced, and then resumed 
pacing. The assault of the relay station had been swift and had only cost 
them three score of arrows and an extremely startled Fellen.  Yet as they 
waited in the small enclave South of the lake for Barnhardt's troops to 
arrive he could only feel his tension mounting.  Without the stars to guide 
them they had no way of knowing what time it was.  Even so it felt as if they 
had been waiting for an hour already.

Angus was busy with the newer recruits, going over techniques with them at a 
feverish pace.  They did not spar of course, as that would have made too much 
noise, but they practised their drills mercilessly.  The plan was to let them 
rest for another hour before they pushed on, after Barnhardt's men arrived.  
It would be many more hours yet before they reached the watchtower, and 
already Alldis and Berchem were rehearsing plans to take it.  It was 
eminently unfortunate that the only bird living in the Glen was Burris, for 
the poor woodpecker was spending his entire time flying about above the 
treetops scanning for Lutins and watching should another snow storm could 
billow in.

This left Lord Brian Avery of the Glen with nothing to do except brood and 
pace.  As he watched the preparations about him, the sharpening of blades, 
the testing of bow strings, and the line of recruits moving about in 
half-remembered forms, he could not help but recall the last time something 
of this scale had been done.  Seven years ago, when Nasoj had first attacked 
Metamor with his lutin hordes, Glen Avery had been a town much like any 
other, and he was the Captain of his father's archers.  

Rubbing his fingers against each other, he could almost feel the bowstring 
between them.  They had always been a forest people, the Glenners, but at the 
time his father had enough security to be slightly aloof from his people, 
though not nearly to the extent that nobles in the Midlands were, or even in 
the rest of the Valley.  Times had been rich, and with their prosperous fur 
trapping, they traded for all that they needed from Metamor.  

Then word of the threat from the Giantdowns reached them.  They had always 
had rather dismissive relations with the Lutin tribes up North.  Every few 
months or so a raiding party would venture past the Dike and some blood would 
be spilled, but it had never been a serious problem as the Lutin tribes were 
so disparate that they could never mount a force significant enough to pose 
any real threat.  Then Nasoj managed to wrest power from the ice and wastes 
of the northern tundras and united them in a common cause against Metamor, 
promising glory, riches, and a whole new land to plunder south of the great 
keep.  The threat became a reality then, one that many had wished to dismiss, 
but found impossible to do so as those armies began marching Southward.

His father had led the defence of Glen Avery of course, while Brian had 
remained in the trees with his fellow archers, watching over the town much as 
they did now, from above.  Even then they had been on very good terms with 
the woods about them, though not nearly to the extent that they were now.  
There had been no homes dwelling high in the tree branches, nor burrows 
beneath their roots.  Their homes had been conventional, arrayed in pleasant 
order along the open groves on the rise over the river.  And now, they were 
all gone.

Nasoj's army had swept out of the Northern hills in a surging flood of 
green-tinted flesh and decimated what had once been a pleasant and thriving 
fur-trapping village.  His father had fallen back towards Metamor, determined 
to hold off the forces as long as he could before they were finally cut down 
at the river's edge.  Brian had been ordered to take as many of his archers 
as he could to Metamor to help protect against the siege.  He had never found 
his father's body, though the torn remnants of his banner were discovered 
lying upon the bank of the river, washed crimson and tattered.

Shaking the unpleasant memory from his mind, Lord Avery stirred from his 
pacing and walked down across the snow packed path to Angus, whose harsh 
whispers did not echo.  The badger turned from his drills, barking a few soft 
orders to the newer recruits before turning to the grey squirrel, glancing 
down the foot and a half of height that separated them. "You look troubled, 

"I was just thinking about the last time-" he stopped, his voice no longer 
working for him, as it descended into barely audible murmurs.  He had trouble 
even facing his friend of many years, who had once served his Father as well.

Angus nodded and placed a thick, furry paw on his shoulder. "We all have, and 
we all remember how that turned out.  It was a hard battle, but Nasoj was 
driven back.  Why shouldn't he be this time?"

"But so many friends are going to die, no matter what.  I was just thinking 
about my father."

"He did what he felt was best, and saved the Glen in the process, you know 
that.  And you are doing the same thing.  People die in war, nothing we can 
do to stop that.  But at the very least," he cocked a glance over his 
shoulder at the recruits who were swinging their blades over their heads, "we 
do our best to insure that our men will be ready to face the enemy."

Avery nodded at that, glancing back into the black and white chiselled face 
of the badger. "I just don't want my boys to lose their father the way I lost 

Angus placed his other paw firmly on Avery's shoulder, and squeezed them in a 
comradely fashion. "They won't, because this time, we know what to expect." 
He then added with a smirk, "And because you are a damn fine leader when you 
set your heart to it."

Lord Avery offered a small chuckle and reached up with one slender paw to pat 
the badger on the cheek ruff. "And you are a damn fine Captain of the 
Infantry, and friend.  Thank you, Angus., I'll leave you to your men." He 
then peered at the line of Glenners, some of whom were sneaking glances in 
their direction. "Are you all eager to hand Nasoj a sword up the arse?"

There were a few quiet cheers and grins from the men, their eyes sparkling 
with proud defiance.  Angus glowered at them as they fell out of line and 
they were quick to resume their regimen.  Lord Avery laughed and patted his 
friend on the shoulder once more before turning to consider how his other men 
fared.  Angus caught his thick tunic though with one claw, and nodded towards 
him affectionately, "Damn fine leader, no question!" He then let the squirrel 
go, and returned to walking down the line of recruits.

Avery chuckled to himself and walked back towards the lake where, by the pale 
light of a few cloaked lanterns, Berchem and Alldis were pouring over a map.  
He strode towards them, picking out their words in mid-sentence. The skunk 
was shaking his head and gesturing when Avery finally began to hear them 
clearly, "-- than one in that tower, then we can't simply distract them.  
Only one will come to see what is happening."

"But if we have the right distraction, then we can lure them out into the 
open so your archers can skewer them."

"Anything that might draw them all would likely warn most everyone in the 
Valley that something strange is about." Berchem objected, his thick tail 
swirling behind him as he frowned.  "Why is it that Metamor has almost all 
the mages, anyway?" he commented to no one in general as he whisked a few 
stray snowflakes from the map.

Lord Avery paced quietly up to them; his foot paws crunching the snow lightly 
beneath him.  Before they left this grove the entire area would be trampled 
flat. "Making any progress?" He asked in a curious voice, though he knew the 
answer well enough by the tone of their earlier comments.

"Very little," Alldis murmured softly, his antlers slicing through the air 
unrestrained as he turned about. "But we're not going to be able to 
accurately plan until we have a better idea how the Lutins are running the 

Avery sighed and nodded.  He opened his mouth to speak when he saw a dark 
shape descending through the trees, the motion arresting his words as a 
sudden chill raced up his spine, heightening his alertness. It took him only 
a moment to recognize the woodpecker who circled around the stump serving as 
their makeshift table before he finally landed in the snow and shifted to his 
morphic form, shaking a bit of snow out of his tail feathers as he did so.

Berchem was quick to place a thick wool cloak about Burris's shoulders.  The 
woodpecker nodded in appreciation, a hot jet of stem rising from his beak. 
"Ah, much appreciated."

"What have you seen?" Lord Avery asked.

"Lord Barnhardt's men are just over the rise, they should be here in ten 
minutes," Burris replied, snuggling the blanket further about him with his 
wings. "All the men promised are there that I could tell."

"Were there any other birds?" Alldis asked suddenly.  Both Berchem and Avery 
nodded at the question, eager to hear Burris's answer.  Birds were a precious 
commodity at the moment, as they made wonderful spies; and with only one put 
too great a burden on the poor woodpecker's feathered shoulders.  Add to that 
the fact that he was their only mage made his service as airborne scout even 
more treacherous, for were he shot from the sky they would be entirely 
without magic. 

"Two that I saw, a sparrow and an owl."

"Excellent.  They should do wonderfully in this weather," Avery said, feeling 
a bit of excitement fill him.  Perhaps they could win this after all. "We 
should get ready to move shortly.  I want to be marching half an hour after 
they arrive." 

"I'll prepare the archers," Berchem said, rolling the map up in his dark 

"And I'll make sure that the scouts are camouflaged," Alldis added, turning 
to run to the other side of the grove, slender legs plowing easily through 
the snow.

Avery grinned and clapped his paws together. "Excellent, I'll see to it that 
we have one last round of rations before we move out.  We are going to shed 
quite a bit of Lutin blood tomorrow, I hope." The other could only share his 
grin as they set about their own tasks.

End part 81
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