by F. Charles Murdock
Long before fate beckoned his footfalls, Beard was but a boy of few words, having proven himself in deed at Blēstdemnare, the lair of daemons. There he’d earned warriorship and a place at his father’s table. Now formal celebration was in order for Beard, though his enthusiasm for such pomp had been stripped away in that damnable cavern.
After his already legendary Rite of Daemon Slaughter, there commenced a week of feasting in Beard’s name. Roast boarpig from the Southland and lobstrosities from the Western Sea, boiled hardroot, countless casseroles and pastes; it was a joyous occasion, though a man wouldn’t know if taking hint from the new warrior’s face.
In his youth Beard had been a keen conversationalist and an oft-seen face among the popular haunts of the tribe. Now, though, after taking seat with his father and the other renowned warriors of Thorgithe in the Long Hall of Kgortel, he’d become blunted, his temperament tepid, his young soul silenced. Even his body had been transformed -- tempered like a stiff blade of sinew and muscle -- in such little time.
Apparent was the fact that something had changed Beard in the unknown depths of Blēstdemnare, something greater than even life or death.
So came the tenth day since the slaughter, the Great Winter’s winds still howling as though Wuthweirgen were snapping her far-reaching jaws outside every door and window. On that day six-score warriors gathered in a tight semicircle at the lip of Cōm-Labi where Bergrin and his son, Beard, peered into its belly. The king’s hand was clasped proudly on his son’s shoulder, the heavy rings he wore glimmering in the dying light of the day.
“Warriors of Thorgithe!” Bergrin called to the party behind him.
“Hail, Bergrin!” the warriors replied in chorus.
“What waits at the unseen bottom of Cōm-Labi?” the king asked.
“Death!” the warriors replied.
“Yes,” Bergrin said, “darkness and death... but only for the weak and unproven.” He bowed his head and turned to the warriors, leaving Beard to stare into the great pit alone. The king raised his mighty arm in a fist and struck his chest. The thump it made, like a great war drum, was torn away by the bitter cold winds.
“Our lifeblood is thick with violence, but not catastrophe. Our bodies are hewn to vessels of power, but not to ruin. Our souls are shaped by destruction, but not by damnation. As has always been will always be,” Bergrin said, his fist held to the coming night. “We are warriors of honor, descendants of Kgortel and the great barbarians lost to time. In our veins their blood flows. In our bodies their spirit reigns. In our souls they are and will be. And we honor them this night.”
The king bowed his head and his warriors followed. There was a moment of silence, not just among the men, but the unrelenting wind found pause as well. The whole land seemed to sigh at the great king’s voice. Then Bergrin lifted his head and turned back to his waiting son.
“Beard has proven himself to me and to each of you in turn,” he said, rejoining the young warrior at the jagged rim of Cōm-Labi. “He has passed the Great Rite and has honored Kgortel and our bloodline. Thus gains he warriorhood, now and forevermore.”
The two warriors -- father and son in bond and flood -- gazed into the shadowed canyon, each warrior behind them saluting the newest to their rank. Then they left in silence, back to the village to prepare for their next battle, as inevitable as they were. Only one man remained with the king and his son and as he approached, he drew his long sword with a terrible grin etched on his face.
“Hail Bergrin and hail Beard,” Brōg said, burying his sword in the ancient volcanic rock before him. He passed the blade, its whirr climbing into the night as it settled into the rock. Then he laid his hands on the backs of Bergrin and Beard, peering over their shoulders into the whirling darkness below. Beard couldn’t help but remember all those mornings of his youth spent nursing the welts those hands had created with stalks of dried hardroot.
Even then the blood had come quick.
“Brōg,” the king said, hailing the man who’d saved him in war so many cycles ago. “You are well come. Your ancient techniques and regimen have been most helpful to Beard. Without you, we would, perhaps, be dumping his body into this caldera rather than honoring him at its edge.”
“You honor me, Bergrin,” Brōg said, “but the celebration of your son’s performance should not be cheapened by granting any to me. He did well, but...” He shifted his attention to Beard. “...his training has but just begun. As grand as Beard’s victory was over the daemon population, it was a mere minor feat, lord.”
“About that you are right, Brōg,” Bergrin said. “He is destined for great things to be sure, but his first step on that path has been a fair one.”
“Gods forbid he falters.”
“We needn’t worry,” Bergrin said, turning from his silent son. “As it is, he was taught by the finest swordsman in innumerable cycles, eh, Brōg?”
“Again, you honor me.”
“Deservedly so,” Bergrin said. “And Beard...”
Beard, after much time in thought, finally turned to meet his father’s eye. The king’s face was jovial, but his son’s stern, his cold expression having been chiseled in the cycles of demon rather than those of man -- too quickly, most would say.
“What say you, Beard?” Bergrin asked him with Brōg listening intently behind.
“Of what, father?”
“Of warriorhood, the battle with the daemons, life... anything, my boy.”
“There is naught to say that my blade cannot,” Beard said. “And my sword will play orator, father. Its speeches will honor you far and near until all men know your name.”
“And now it is I who is honored,” Bergrin said smiling. “We will leave you to your thoughts, Beard, but prepare for a momentous piking tomorrow, the grandest of your celebrations, the final day of glorification.”
“It will be so,” Beard said.
Their conversation done, Bergrin and his advisor left together to make preparations for that last day of celebration. They would talk in merriment, their mutual bloodlust sated vicariously through the young warrior they were leaving behind. Yes, tomorrow will be a final day, indeed, thought Brōg as they went, his face a mask of lies for the good king. Unfortunately, there existed no presage in the land powerful enough to sift the meaning of this cryptic thought. As ever, time would provide truth.
Beard stayed at that wide cliff for hours after his father had left and the world had rolled into shadow. The Dream Realm beckoned him and the wounds he’d collected burned along his flesh, but still he remained, his eyes on the impossible darkness below.
His warrior’s soul yearned for that faraway citadel and the demoness that dwelled there, the unseen ring he wore thumping in tandem with the beat of his mightyheart. There they’d shared something sacred and profound, indescribable in languages both common and old. Even Beard didn’t fully understand what had happened in that place and he would spend countless cycles searching for answers.
Unless a darker fate had otherwise been arranged.
The Long Hall of Kgortel was once a grand fortress, but the era in which it had ruled the landscape had long since passed. The present age was fraught with far too many wars to waste time and resources repairing old buildings. Despite this, the ruins were used still as a gathering hall for the Thorgithen warriors. It was a sacred place, both sanctuary and training ground. Behind the once proud architecture of the Hall was an intact balcony, called Balcho of the Mother Wolf, that stretched over the campgrounds outside the village proper. At its northern corner was a pole which held a large blue banner displaying the face of a proud wolf, the emblem of both Kgortel and his bloodline. At the opposite corner was a tall pike, its point aimed at Old Star above, present day and night since the end of the last age. Here Beard’s celebration would be put to end and his duties as a full warrior would rightfully begin.
Beard stood on the threshold between the Great Hall and the balcony, a Jute-twine sack hanging from one hand, the Learning Blade from the other. He would relinquish both this day, offering them as a key to unlock his future with the tribe. The bag was pulled taut with deadweight, but its contents weren’t as malodorous as Beard would’ve thought: the brine and oils of preservation the bone-casters used were far more potent than the young warrior had realized.
“...and so, with this piking, we display the triumph of a new warrior of Thorgithe and the triumph of all Thorgithen over man and beast,” Bergrin announced to the multitude of commoners below. A great cheer erupted as his speech came to end. Then the king motioned for his son to approach the balustrade. Beard did as ordered, the sword and the sack held high as he walked.
“Are you ready, Beard?” Bergrin asked him.
“That is a question only Bafal can answer,” Beard replied. The king chuckled and led his son to the pike, which had been sharpened and polished by Bledbuan the smithe the previous night. They stood proud, king and son, both birthrights ever-present as the wind howled around them.
In an instant the sack was cast aside and its contents presented to the crowd below: the head of Bafal, eyeless and sneering, met the gaze of a thousand widened eyes. The crowd hailed the new warrior, their boisterous cheers shaking the very foundations of the ancient hall in which he stood. Beard nodded to his country and turned to the pike, the head held high.
The sound of the impaling, like a warhammer to a teratorn egg, stopped the crowd. The head slumped forward, its weight threatening to topple the pike that’d served this very purpose for ages untold. Then it stopped, the stumps of once proud antlers pointing toward the far cavern where the creature had once reigned. If any daemons of Blēstdemnare lived still, the sight of their ruined king would surely cause them to flee the Northland.
The Thorgithens erupted in applause as Beard turned from them. Their cheers followed him into the Long Hall where only Bergrin and Brōg were waiting. They bowed to him in turn and took their respective seats at the Ovate Table, the many other seats left empty for this particular meeting.
“You’ve done well, Beard,” Bergrin said. “My heart swells with pride. You will make a grand ruler when I take the Last Path.” “Don’t speak of such doomful matters, father,” Beard said, raven-faced, “for all our sakes, but especially mine.” “You needn’t worry, my boy, for my cycles are far from unwound,” the king said warmly. “But the tribe is in your hands -- its people and its future. If you’re as capable of leading as you are of killing, though, the Northfolk will have nothing to worry about outside this damnable winter.”
“My best will be done,” Beard said, scanning the few buttresses that remained of the castle.
“I am assured,” Bergrin said. Before he could continue, though, Brōg leaned in to share a private word with the king. After a moment, Bergrin nodded and stood from his ornate chair at the head of the table, the eyes of his advisor never leaving Beard’s narrow gaze. The king took to a vast alcove joining the main hall while the others stayed, their eyes speaking a language their tongues would never know.
“Rise, Beard, and join me in this sacred room,” Bergrin called from beyond the high arch. Beard stood, the Learning Blade at his side. He left his old trainer at the Ovate, his eyes on the alcove, his hand wound tightly on the hilt of his blade. He wasn’t yet beneath the arch before he heard Brōg stand. Though expected, the sound of steel sliding free of its leather baldric never came.
“Come, Beard,” Bergrin said from the far wall, “stand eye-to-eye with your father.”
As Beard entered the chamber, he found the king standing proudly beside a narrow mantel under which a small fire was crackling, the orange flames staving off those damned specters of Hunerhime. Bergrin’s tunic, its make of thick leather sown with gold rings, danced with the flames, making him appear otherworldly even to such a familiar as his son.
Beard approached the king, the Learning Blade aglow with the light from the fire. At his side, Bergrin laid hands on his son’s strong shoulders and looked him over, the subtle light of the room drawing thick lines on both their faces. Their eyes locked and both nodded, the words of man unneeded to understand their bond of blood.
“You’ve grown a most magnificent beard in such little time,” the king said. “I’m wont to say it rivals mine in both thickness and length. A grand mane for what will surely be a grand lion... and an even grander ruler.”
“It is but one of many things that has matured over these last several days, father,” Beard said.
“Of that I’m sure,” the king said, withdrawing his mighty hands. Bergrin turned from his son, his crimson cloak flowing along an ethereal whirl. He bowed his head, seeming suddenly lost in thought as Brōg strode past Beard and stopped at the king’s side.
“Bow your head, Beard,” Bergrin said.
“Stop being such a sniveling Dreg,” Brōg said with a growl. “Do as you’re told.”
Beard relented with a sigh. At once, he heard rustling and one of the men approaching. His eyes were open, but with his head bowed, all the new warrior could see were a pair of thick boots come into his line of sight. Then he felt a strange weight on his head and couldn’t help but raise his eyes.
His father stood before him once again, though something had changed. Beard’s keen eye was quick to notice the difference. He hadn’t ever before seen his father without a crown adorning his regal head and, now that it was bare, he was an eerie sight, a shade from the Dream Realm made real by some wicked magick.
“This weight you feel on your scalp is more than just the crown I’ve worn on mine for threescore cycles,” the king said. “Do you feel the power, Beard? The call to duty? Do you feel your forekings beckoning you to greatness?”
“I do, father,” Beard said.
“Then all is as it should be,” Bergrin said. “One day you will wear this crown and lead the Northfolk to greatness unimaginable.” He turned to Brōg. “Wouldn’t you agree, Brōg?”
“It is as written, lord,” Brōg said, “and prophecy has been kind to your blood.”
“That it has, Brōg,” Bergrin said.
“Father, this crown is not yet mine,” Beard said suddenly. “That I yet wear it is a disgrace to your living honor.” Brōg scoffed behind the king, but Bergrin paid no attention to either of them.
“Relinquish to me the Learning Blade, Beard,” Bergrin said, his hand held out in waiting.
“Lord, perhaps the crown should be returned before this deed be done,” Brōg said from the vague shadows of the room.
“Nonsense, Brōg,” the king replied. “Need I remind you that giving Beard this glance of the future was your idea?”
“Your will be done, Bergrin,” the advisor said.
“Then it will be done,” the king said warmly. “Brōg, present to him a warrior’s blade in exchange for the one that trained him. May he raise it high and proud and begin his fateful journey.”
“Aye, King Bergrin,” Brōg said, stepping into the firelight.
“I thank you, father,” Beard said. “I will accept this blade with a promise of glory, but this crown... I’m not yet ready to wear it.”
“Of that I’m sure,” Brōg said, clamping Beard’s hand hard around the hilt of the Learning Blade. In a single motion, too quick for the other men to comprehend, Brōg jerked Beard’s hand forward, the sword it held skewering the crownless king just beneath his breastbone. Bergrin moaned and slumped forward, a thick stream of blood flowing from the corner of his mouth. Brōg brought his other hand to the king’s forehead and, with another quick jolt, freed the blade from his trembling body. The sound of Bergrin collapsing to the cold stone floor recalled Bafal’s head being stuck on the pike’s point, forcing Beard to wretch and drop the sword.
“King Bergrin the Knowing, eh?” Brōg chuckled as he turned to his confounded student. He smiled crookedly, staring into the cold eyes of the boy he’d been training since the Beardling’s fourth cycle. “All Hail King Beard,” the man spat, stepping away from the young man and his dying father.
“What betrayal is this, Brōg?” Beard yelled, his voice booming in the small chamber. “Be you man-daemon or merely a coward?”
“What is done is done and with reason,” said Brōg. “One day, many cycles from now, you will understand that this murder is not only warranted, but necessary for the future of the North.”
“Your madness speaks words your tongue does not know!” Beard screamed. “Either way, you will accompany my father on the Last Path and, at its end, he will escort you to the darkest pit of Hunerhime, I’m sure.”
“Then let vengeance be sought, boy,” Brōg whispered. “Let your bloodthirst be sated else your head be the next to see the sharp end of the pike.”
Beard stooped to grab his fallen blade, but Brōg had placed a firm boot to its edge, holding it in place as he had Beard’s hand as it ran his father through. Beard charged the man, his cool demeanor broken by the sight of his dying father. As the crown dropped to the ground beside the king, Brōg was driven into the mantel, flames licking at his legs as he pushed himself from the new warrior. Then both men were on the ground, the grace of swordsmanship thrown to the wayside. On that dark floor both warriors traded blows as their king lay dying beside them. The battle came as slivers in the dark room, the light of Am’gog, the great firebeing of the South, roaring as the battle raged before it. Then Brōg was on his feet, the Learning Blade in hand, its edge against the soft flesh beneath Beard’s chin. Then silence.
“You’re skills are commendable, have no doubt, boy,” Brōg said between hurried draughts of air, “but you let emotion blind you still... even after the trial beneath Blēstdemnare. By the way, you’re quite welcome for such an opportunity.”
“You released that monster on me?”
“What is done is done and with reason,” Brōg said.
“Speak not that damnable phrase!” Beard hollered. “You will die here and now.”
“Will I?” Brōg laughed. “Do you not see my clear advantage?”
“As has always been will always be,” Beard said, recalling the words his father had spoken when the king could still draw air. “The blood of Kgortel will live on.”
“Of that,” Brōg said, withdrawing the Learning Blade, “I’m sure.” In another flicker of the elated flames behind him, Brōg turned the ancient blade on himself and collapsed to the floor.
“What madness is this, Brōg?” Beard asked as he rose to his feet. He kicked the man’s body as it writhed on the floor. “You dare rob me of my revenge?”
“One day...” Brōg said, “it will be... clear... to you.”
Beard spat on his dying teacher’s body before dashing to Bergrin’s side, hoping the wound wasn’t as severe as it’d looked. But the fallen king was cold to the touch, his body overtaken by both death and the Great Winter. The pool of blood beneath him was already solidifying, a wisp of steam issuing forth from the offending wound as though his soul was escaping his still body.
An age of Thorgithe history had ended in the span of a thunderclap.
“Father?” Beard said, kneeling at the dead king’s side. “This treachery cannot be your downfall. Your people need you... I chief among them.”
The blue lips below him were still.
“I cannot be king,” Beard said, blood from his nose spilling over his face. He wiped this blood from his lips and stared at it. “Though Kgortel lives within me, Bervild and Borgin too, I cannot lead your warriors, father. There is no substitute for the reign of Bergrin the Knowing.”
Beard did not weep at his father’s side nor did he beat his chest or gnash his teeth as was customary in times of old. Instead, he howled. The sound was deep and guttural, like the primitive language of the Scerobi Steppe tribes of the past. It was a mourning cry in the vein of Old Mother, the great wolf of the North. Beard’s sorrow rose into the day, through stone and mortar, through wind and light, to guide his taken father to the Great Beyond.
“What is this mutiny?” a voice rose from below the high arch. Beard ceased his howling, his eyes drawn to the figure at the door. Donovyn, a warrior of but a few cycles more than Beard, stood there in awe, the blood on the floor draining the color from his face.
“Donovyn, you must fly to the others, quickly!” Beard shouted, “tell them that Brōg has...”
“Murder!” Donovyn yelled, his gray face pulled taut. “Beard Weirheowdth has usurped the throne of his father!”
“Halt your tongue, Donovyn,” Beard said. “You know naught of what you...”
“Bergrin’s ghost is shed! Blood has spilt blood!” Donovyn yelled.
A half dozen of Thorgithe’s greatest living warriors answered the boy’s summons, rushing into the chamber with weapons drawn.
The scene they found was chilling. Beard stood above two lifeless bodies, both run through with the Learning Blade. Both had been without weapons themselves and had died in cold blood. King Bergrin and his most trusted advisor, struck down by a cruel hand, the crown of his people overturned in a pool of his own precious blood.
The warriors descended upon Beard like a murder of crows, his broad arms restrained by a dozen others. They pulled the dazed man to his feet, but he didn’t feel it: his body had been numb since his blade had been forced through his father’s ribs. “The king lies dead,” one of the men said. “What say you Beard?”
“Though my blade was the instrument of his destruction, mine was not the hand that wrought it,” Beard said, slumping over to spew fresh blood from his mouth. Before it had left his lips, however, Beard was struck from behind and he lost his footing, though the might of his fellow warriors steadied him at once.
“The Elders will see to that, murderer,” another warrior said from behind.
Then he was being dragged through the great hall of his forefathers, his tongue stilled by both tragedy and injustice. The winter’s wind had grown to a roar as suddenly as death had come to the king, forcing the men to guard their faces as they went along. They passed by the Balcho of the Mother Wolf on their way to the village proper, where the Elders would be having their midday meal of venison and greens.
As the mob passed the balcony, all eyes were forced elsewhere as they went along -- all but Beard’s. Past the threshold where he’d piked the head of Bafal, there stood the only being Beard knew better than his father. Wuthweirgen, with sons Ceolas and Ierremod, watched as the frenzied men dragged away her manpup. Beard saw her face well, even in the bustle, the tears of blood streaming from her opal eyes, the sorrow on her face.
The Mother Wolf turned away then and leapt into the wind with her kin, leaving behind the Beardling to suffer the laws of man.
The Elders had been called to council by the blare of the Gorehorn, the signal of tragedy among the Thorgithens. Its warble had risen over the Northland, forcing all manner of avian from their perches. So intense was its song that a sounder of Devilboar, recognizing the timbre of a horn of its brethren, stopped pursuit of their prey to turn head toward the great village of Thorgithe over seventy iles away. The blare was slow to die away, lasting long after Beard’s fate had been decided. The Elders had assembled in the Cloister of Judgment, a vast sanctum at the heart of the catacombs beneath the village. This network of advanced masonry had been left behind by some long-forgotten people, though nothing of their race had survived within its walls save a single black arch made smooth by unknown means.
The Eighteen Elders and lone Grand Elder stood beneath the tall arch, their gray robes flowing and druidic in appearance. Beard was brought before the council in shackles, his face expressionless as his captors forced him to his knees. The Grand Elder stepped forward, his eyes opaque with blindness, his robe of crimson silk mimicking every move.
“Beard, son of Bergrin, son of Borgin, son of Bervild, son of Kgortel,” the Grand Elder spoke, “you’ve been charged with a murder most heinous -- regicide and grand treason against the North. Do you deny these accusations?” “I do,” Beard said.
“We’ll now hear accounts from witnesses and the accused,” another member of the council said.
Both parties imparted their knowledge of the incident -- Beard of Brōg’s terrible bloodlust and suicide, Donovyn and the others of finding Bergrin and Brōg dead, both without swords. After hearing the accounts, the Elders convened in a small chamber behind the sanctum. Beard waited in silence as they deliberated, the mob behind him eager for vengeance. Finally, after what seemed a thousand cycles, the Elders marched back into the sanctum, their heads bowed, their faces obscured by thick hoods. They formed a semi-circle around Beard with the Grand Elder standing directly before him. The man shed his hood, his ivory eyes piercing despite their debilitation.
“Beard Weirheowdth, you’ve been deemed blameworthy of the deaths of King Bergrin the Knowing and his advisor, Brōg the Unknown,” the Grand Elder said. The warriors of Thorgithe raised their fists at this decision, each of them joyous that justice was to be served for the slaying of their king.
“Death to the king-killer!” one of them roared.
“However...” the Grand Elder interrupted.
The mob fell silent.
“...being that Beard possesses the blood of kings himself, from Bergrin to the great Kgortel, he cannot, by sacred decree, be put to death.”
The half-dozen warriors of Thorgithe (and many curious more who’d been drawn to the spectacle) voiced their outrage, wanting their king’s death avenged.
“Warriors of Thorgithe, arrest yourselves,” the Grand Elder said, raising a hand to the indignant crowd. “This council is wont to spend eternity in the darkest pit below Hunerhime before encroaching upon ancient edicts. We must honor them or be undone.”
“What does this mean, Grand Elder?” Donovyn the tyro asked with a heavy heart.
“Beard,” the Grand Elder said, returning his attention to the young warrior, “I, with the Council of Elders of Thorgithe, having found you guilty of this most grievous crime against your country, hereby deem you exiled, to never step foot in our lands for as long as you may live. Your warriorship is hereby void and your name will be disgraced forevermore in all Thorgithen records as per the law of the land.”
“He is the law!” someone yelled from the sanctum’s narrow entrance.
All eyes turned to Bledbuan, the greatest smithe who ever lived. The man burst into the room, his agility incongruent with the bulk of his body. He came to Beard’s side, his face crimson with anger. The many warriors around him made room, wanting nothing to do with the broad arms the smithe carried at his sides.
“Beard Weirheowdth would never kill his father,” Bledbuan said.
“He’s killed royalty before,” someone yelled.
“Yes, a lord of the daemons,” the smithe roared. “As I recall, every one of you applauded this feat, dubbing him a prodigy. Perhaps envy has been quick to overcome your weak hearts.”
“The council has spoken, Bledbuan,” the Grand Elder said. “There is naught to be said or done. Beard is to be exiled immediately, his armor stripped, his blade reclaimed.”
“You have done momentous wrong here today and it will be on your heads long after the Great Beyond opens before your eyes,” the smithe yelled to the crowd. Without further complaint, Bledbuan left the sanctum, his breathing quick with rage like that of the Great Wyvern of Valēyē. The warriors scoffed at the smithe, unable to comprehend how any sane man could defend such a heartless king-killer.
“Then exile be the sentence?” Malkov, a veteran warrior, asked the council.
“It is,” the Grand Elder replied.
“Then his banishment be done and now,” Dryn, an even older warrior, said.
“Make it so,” the Grand Elder said. Then he turned and left the sanctum with the others. The angry mob, eager to carry out the council’s decree, dragged the silent Beard from the chamber as they had from the Long Hall of Kgortel only an hour before.
At the edge of Northlands, thirty iles south of the Hall of Kgortel and its surrounding villages, the warriors dumped Beard into the grime of the wilderness. Some of them delivered blows, some spat and yelled, but soon the Solight dipping behind the tall ironwood trees sent them on the road home. They’d left him there by official decree, bloody and without weapon, only his grit and training affording him a chance of survival in the deadly lands beyond civilization.
Long after Sol had set and the moon had come to its apex, Beard rose to his feet, his eyes aching to see their motherland. He denied them, though, just as he’d been denied real justice. He would set all to rights, though... in time. For now, he would gather himself in the Southron, as soon as he could reach it. Besides, clearing his name wasn’t the force that’d drawn him to his feet, but rather the face of his wolf-mother and the blood she’d so freely cried. He’d seen their meaning behind the she-wolf’s eyes even as his brethren tore his life away from him.
The bloody tears she’d spilt were born of sorrow, yes, but not for the present. Their presence had been a clear omen of some fast approaching calamity and it was now Beard’s duty to prevent it. He turned from the lands he’d known since birth, his dead father’s face a curse on his thoughts.
Now, for the first time in his life, Beard was truly alone without blade or hope as he entered the unknown world before him.