Chapter 2 The One with the Red Eyes
The mountain air was crisp and bitterly cold.
Aedric woke the next morning after a fitful night of dreams. The longhouse was quiet save for the crackling of a small fire in the hearth. His parents must have left for the town commons earlier. They had awoken him while they quietly discussing the council meeting from the night before. He had stayed in bed, partly due to sleepiness, partly eavesdropping on their conversation. It seemed that the other clan, Clan Laindan, was going to arrive at midday today. Shortly after hearing this, he had drifted back to sleep, but now, despite his continued tiredness, he had to wake and do his work around the homestead.
Aedric slowly slid out of bed, pulled on some wool socks, and climbed down from his loft. He made his way through the chilly house to a large wooden trunk and opened it, pulling out assorted clothes. As he pulled his pants on, he caught sight of himself in a polished steel mirror. He was short for a Moredel, only five and a half spans, and skinny, but that was seemed normal among his tribe. He got his height and build from his mother, but got his dark eyes and chin from his father. His strong nose he had inherited from his grandfather, or that is what his mother had always told him. He never meet him, because his grandparents had passed before his birth. As he stared at himself in the mirror, he found it odd that he could see the changes in his face that age had brought, a stronger jaw, more pronounced cheekbones, but inside he still felt more a child. He did not feel different enough, or wise enough, to consider himself of age. This brought to mind the Trials in a few days and he quickly went back to dressing and then started on his daily chores.
Hours later, as he finished up the last of his tasks, he opened the door of the shed. The snow reflected the bright sun causing him to squint as he left the darkness of the small wooden building. He closed and locked the door, hung two freshly stretched rabbit hides on the side of the structure, and made his way back to the house along the well worn path. He paused for a moment to pet Noka, his family’s dog, who was tied to a small post outside of the house. Almost every family of Clan Ul’Faer had a dog, using them both as a guardian and sometimes a small pack or sled animal. They were a breed descended from the northern wolves, so they were comfortable in the cold and snow. Unlike Noka, Aedric preferred the summer months when the snow melted away and the clan was in the southern valley planting and tending the summer crops. He then opened the door to the house and strode in, kicking the snow from his feet.
Aedric shed his cloak and outer boots, and walked over to the hearth to pour a bowl of soup. The fire was still hot enough from earlier this morning to keep the stew his parents had left for him warm. He sat down in his father’s seat, a large comfortable chair, padded with suede and wool cushions which stayed in front of the fire at all times. He had helped his father build the chair many years ago. They had cut down the tree, chopped the wood to lumber and carved each part with care. They had spent weeks afterward inlaying designs and runes into the wooden portions. Moredel art was often in household things, from furniture to tools. Many things in the house were made by his father and himself, from the chair to the table, and even the hearth had been rebuilt in the past few years. His mother’s chair, which sat pushed up against the wall, had been built by her and her father, its old wood dark with age and use. Their house had been built by his grandfather, when the Ul’Faer clan had first settled in this region, passing on to his mother when his grandparents had passed away.
He curled his legs up underneath himself and slowly ate the soup. Tired from the various morning chores and fitful sleep he had the night before, he leaned back into the suede cushions and looked into the glowing cinders deep in the hearth. He though for a bit on the Trials, but his curiosity of the other clan took up much of his thought. He wondered what was causing them to travel through. Were they just looking for new hunting grounds? Or was the whole clan moving to a new area. Or was it a war band? His parents had spoken often of the old rivalries between the clans. When they were younger the Moredel had often fought skirmishes over tribal borders, as good hunting and farm lands were scarce in the north. His family’s farmlands were small, but they provided enough to feed them through the winter. Of course his parents had served in defense of the clan and so had his grandparents, so if they ran short of supplies, the others in the clan would donate some of their stocks. He wondered if the farmer’s children had to go through a rite of their own at adulthood. He mused for a moment, the warriors led the people in most tribes, but he felt so separated from the farmers in his own clan, how could he make decisions for them one day? He finished up his breakfast, wiped the bowl out, and put it back near the hearth.
He decided as he put on his cloak, that when he was allowed to be part of the council he would have to see what the farmers of his clan lived like. He pulled on his fur outer boots and headed out the door. A bark to his right turned his attention to Noka, “Sorry, but you will have to stay tied up for now. I will make it up to you later.” He pet the dog briefly and headed over to the log pile his father had built up yesterday. He tied up a load of branches and took off up the path to the commons. It was just enough wood to make it look as if he had a purpose going there, but not enough to tire his arms on the journey.
He found his mind racing as he walked, and realized he was allowing himself to become restless and unfocused. He took a deep breath and let all his questions and worries leave his limbs as he walked. He felt the tension fall from his arms then his legs. He listened to the snow crunch under his feet and paid attention to the small noises around him. Hearing a squirrel scampering up the bark of a tree, then some small animal scurrying under the snow to his left, he slowly tried to find his spiritual center. He used a trick his mother had shown him, paying attention to his breath, feeling his chest fill and empty. He let his thoughts flow out with each exhale until he was completely calm.
He kept this calm for the rest of the hike to the commons until he left the trees behind him and entered the clearing near the meeting hall. There the Council stood in the open space before a large group of people on horseback. Regluun was bowing and gesturing with his hands in a sign of welcome. Those on horseback saluted back and began to dismount. His parents were there, talking to and helping the strangers in dismounting and unpacking the horses. The newcomers had a strange style of dress, their clothing much more decorative and bright than those of his clan. Those he picked out as their council all wore bright red cloaks, with fur lining and golden trim. Most wore a strange round metal helmet that had a thick fur trim around the brim, and their masks attached to the helm in front of each ear. Their masks were made of the same bright material their cloaks were made of.
It is part of Moredel culture to wear masks while outside and his parents had told him it stemmed from the old ways, when war was a way of life. Even now, when truces and alliances were much more commonplace, it was a natural part of life to have at the least your lower face hidden while outdoors. This was the first time he had really felt aware of his mask, the fact that he was hiding something from these people, and that they were hiding something from him.
The council members of his clan had gone through the ceremony of welcoming and both they and the others were heading to the meeting hall. It was then that he saw him. The last figure walking with the Clan Laindan council wore no helm, instead having a deep hood on his cloak. At first glance, the cloak looked to be a dark brown, but Aedric then realized it was a deep red, the color of dried blood. The cloak opened slightly as the Moredel walked with a predator like grace and his sleek black armor could be seen underneath. Suddenly Aedric realized this other was staring back at him, its eyes burning through him, seeing past his mask and into him. And in the dark shadows of its hood, those eyes burned a bright red.
The Meeting Between the Clans