Serpent-dreamer

She dreamed of blood. Hip deep in it, like she was wading into the Kaltlina.

The raid had been brief, but successful. Now, they headed south, following an old logging trail. The wounded were culled, so they wouldn’t be slowed. They hadn’t even been buried properly, left for the carrion birds to pick at, bloated and unrecognizable under thick, dark dried blood. She didn’t look back, stumbling to keep up with the horse he was tied to.

She dreamed of blood. It was whispering something, she couldn’t catch it over the splashing underfoot.

Her feet were bleeding. She could feel it soaking through the wrappings, was she leaving a trail, a clear “here, follow me, right this way” drawn along the trail like a child with paints? Don’t look back, don’t turn around- just go, go-
She’d stopped briefly, getting as close as she dared to the river, to bathe and check her wounds. The cold felt like knives. But she was clean, she was awake. She was alive. More than she could say for others. Keep going. Keep going.

She dreamed of blood. Faces appeared, distorted, ran away with the current. Netta, laying just out of reach. Her father’s braid, hanging on a belt- she knew whose but the face was blurred. The dream wouldn’t let her see clearly-

“Do you speak Gothic?”
She shook her head.
“Another refugee- poor thing.”
The woman made a sympathetic noise and motioned her inside. She was given a change of clothes. A pair of boots. Food. When she made a confused noise- she didn’t want to take it from someone who needed it more- the two women shook their heads. They tried to pray over her, tried to bathe her. She panicked and shoved them away, expecting a slap or a shout. But they just…looked at her. Like a wild thing. Like something to be pitied.

She didn’t want to dream anymore, frenzied and exhausted, trudging on towards the next settlement, the next safety.

But it came in again, like the tide, when fatigue pulled her down.

In the Shadow of Leaves 9: Of Things to Come

The longer the old hermit was allowed with his thoughts, the more he pondered things he’d never pondered before. On reflection, most of his life to date had been spent in a sheltered sort of daze. His ‘otherness’ hadn’t been terribly apparent, at least he’d never noticed it much. Folks had always been nice to him, and he’d always been nice to folks back. It hadn’t made much difference if it was in the wood or the town or the church or whatever. Folks were nice, he was nice, the world kept moving at its slow and steady pace.

Something had happened a few years ago, and that had started to change. The mists that had protected and kept this place walled off from everything else had started to change, and with those changes, his awareness of his otherness had also changed. It wasn’t a bad thing; the hermit had decided that the mists were bad a long while ago, and that they would need to be dispelled at some point. They existed separated from the rest of Humanity, and the light that burned just behind his eyes was so excruciatingly clear that their *purpose* was to be united. Standing apart was preventing them from fulfilling what God had set before them. The world was broken, and it would forever remain broken until Humanity united in thought and actuality. The town’s resistance to dismissing the mist, he felt, was pure fear, a concept he didn’t really grasp well anymore. To the hermit, it was simple; Luisant’s resistance to pushing aside the mists and rejoining with their fellows was much like a child who had long outgrown their crib, yet insisted on staying within its comfortable confines.

Those thoughts. Yeah, that was a new thing. He’d used to like to watch insects for hours. Or track deer just to watch their ears swivel (they had really cute ears). Or listen to water trickle off the leaves during a rainstorm. They were simple appreciations of the natural world, but that had been where he’d spent most of his thought. Now it was… well, he wasn’t sure what it was. Bigger? More grand? He could still appreciate these little things, but he had to slow and be still for a time. His vision had to be narrowed down to something fine and miniscule to notice the wings of flies or a raindrop.

When the world was quiet and he could just sit in contemplation, the light would envelope him. Peace would wash over him with the warmth of it. Voices would filter through the haze. Words that gave encouragement, reassurance, and banished hesitation. He knew that if he sat with those voices long enough, true enlightenment would come. All that was uncertain was if he had enough time.

As their world and the outside world came closer to merging, the horror that lay dying and locked in the earth thrashed about and roused. The reckoning was coming, he could feel it. In the pit of his stomach, he felt it. Any yet, no fear came with that realization, just resolve. Before long, his Purpose would be fulfilled. And with it, he would either pass from this earth to be reunited with his beloved God. Or that choir of voices would reveal the rest of his Purpose. He would be equally satisfied with either. The voices told him there was nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. And so, sitting in the quiet wood, he hummed to himself quietly and waiting for new dawn to rise.

In Cold Blood

*Click.*
The mechanisms of his crossbow turned as Rosto thumbed the brass cylinder, a new habit formed quickly with the unusual machine. A bolt, tip honed to a murderous edge , settled snugly into place along side it’s siblings
*Click.*
His tools laid out on oil cloth, cleaned and tended to after a Market of hard use. Knives sharped and polished, throwing daggers honed and balanced, bow unstrung to rest and fouling blood and wrenched rust removed with the care of a master craftsman preparing for the next day.
*Click.*
His mind wandered, lulled by the familiarity of routine. To the Market, to the forest, to the cold and wet and dark. To his death. He hadn’t wanted to worry them, and with the murder of Nobility his own death was… inconsequential. Wrong place at the wrong time, trying to do the right thing. A great-blade singing through flesh and bone and fat and gore.
Funny, he remembered his blood being a different shade of red last time….
*Click.*
Laying in a pool of his own blood, the chilling mists stealing what warmth he had left, dim lights fading as everyone else left him behind. A whispered voice he could still hear, cold and soft, like freshly fallen snow
“How was your first death, hmm?”
*Click.*
Some part of his brain, far off and distant, wondered if he would ever be warm again.

*Click.*

*Click.*

*Click…*

Unlikely
After all, they always said he was a cold blooded killer

*Click.*

The Silence after an Avalanche Fell

Eidr stood at the edge of the somber gathering, the weight of the cask of beer resting heavily on his shoulder. The funeral was a solemn affair, with mourners clad in dark furs and heavy cloaks, their breath forming frosty clouds in the frigid air. The bleak, rain-touched fall landscape served as a stark backdrop to the assembly, a reflection of the void left by Hallbjorn’s passing.

As he listened to the eulogies and laments of those around him, Eidr felt a profound sense of conflict within himself. It had been a long time since he had last taken on the mantle of a Skald, before his time in the unforgiving Rhimelands, before he had been forced to scavenge and fight for mere survival. In those days, he had roamed the harsh wilderness, far from the halls of poetry and song.

Now, as the Master of Coin of Runeheim, entrusted with the practical matters of the community, he felt that he had lost the right to call himself a Skald. The weight of responsibility had shifted from crafting verses, reading runes, and weaving tales to balancing ledgers and ensuring the clan’s economic stability. It had been a trade of skills, out of necessity, but it had left him feeling detached from the art of storytelling and the bardic tradition he had once held dear.

Eidr’s hands tightened around the cask of beer as he contemplated whether he had any right to stand before the assembly and recite the eddaic verses he had learned for the occassion. The verses, though etched in his memory, felt distant, like fragments of a past life. Doubts gnawed at his heart, whispering that he was no longer worthy to be called a Skald.

But as the ceremony continued, a deep sense of duty stirred within him. He could not deny the bonds of friendship that had connected him to Hallbjorn, and the promise he had made in the moonlit night, to honor his friend’s memory, weighed heavily on his soul. Eidr knew that, despite his changed role in the clan, he had a duty to pay homage to the fallen warrior in the most heartfelt way he could.

With this determination, Eidr steeled himself for the moment when he would step forward and share the poem he had prepared, knowing that even if his path had diverged from the art of the Skald, his heart remained tethered to the traditions and to the memory of his dear friend, Hallbjorn.

Eidr’s mind wandered back to the grim and fateful night previous, when he had first seen Hallbjorn’s lifeless body, surrounded by a circle of people, illuminated by the flickering firelight. The image was etched into his memory like a haunting painting. Hallbjorn’s chest bore the gruesome evidence of his demise—12 stab wounds, a grotesque testament to the brutality of his end. Worst of all, his heart had been ripped from his chest, a horrifying desecration of the fallen warrior.

As Eidr gazed upon the lifeless form of his friend, a seething rage had surged within him. His hands had clenched into fists as he watched Knut, another clansman, engaged in a one-on-one duel with the heretical enemy responsible for this vile act. The scene played out before him, and Eidr couldn’t comprehend why they allowed the wolf of slaughter the dignity of a duel, rather than descending as a united crowd to exact swift and brutal revenge.

He had expected the so-called heretic by the White Lion to pay dearly for the sacrilege of defiling Hallbjorn’s body. But as the duel unfolded, despair settled upon Eidr’s heart. The warrior, perhaps a coward in Eidr’s eyes, managed to evade the felling blows and slipped away like a wraith into the shrouds of the night, disappearing like smoke into the darkness. The grudge went unpunished, leaving Eidr and others with a gnawing sense of injustice, an unquenchable thirst for vengeance that was never sated.

In that moment, as he stood beside the fresh grave, with the echoes of the Eddaic poem still ringing in the cold air, Eidr couldn’t help but feel that the memory of Hallbjorn deserved more. His friend had been a warrior of unmatched valor, and the heretic’s vile act had gone unanswered.

After watching the enemy slip away into the night, with rage and despair gnawing at his soul, Eidr had retreated to the moonlit clearing he remembered so well. It was there that he had performed a ritual that was both an act of remembrance and a plea for justice in the afterlife.

In the quiet stillness of the clearing, he had sacrificed a fox, mirroring the gruesome manner in which Hallbjorn had met his end. The ritual had been a somber reflection of the depths of his emotions, with rage and despair mingling within him. Eidr had called out to Auvfaldr, the god of their traditional ways, beseeching the deity to grant Hallbjorn honor in the afterlife, despite the fact that his dear friend had followed the path of the White Lion God, Benalus. Eidr’s heart ached with the knowledge that their paths of faith had diverged, but he still sought to ensure Hallbjorn’s story and honor was preserved and that he received his rightful place among the Branded Men.

As he offered the fox’s life to Auvfaldr, the moonlight filtering through the trees seemed to cast an ethereal glow upon the clearing. Eidr’s voice had risen, fervent in its plea, and the very same Eddaic poem that he now considered reciting during the funeral had echoed through the woods. The words had flowed from him like a tribute to Hallbjorn’s legacy, a recollection of the Branding that had earned him the title of the Avalanche, a name that still rang through the hearts of Runeheim.

Eidr’s memories were a tapestry of emotions, intertwining with the traditions of his people and the unbreakable bond he shared with Hallbjorn. Now, as he prepared to share the Eddaic poem once more, he hoped that his story, his friend’s memory, and their shared history would be recorded among the annals of the Branded Men, so that future generations might know the tale of the Avalanche and the enduring friendship that transcended even the divisions of faith.

He spoke.

“Neath the mountain Einjallar, on the Wolfchaser river,
Winter’s ice thawing, the river-banks swelling,
As village-gates opened to spring’s first endeavors,
A wild man descended the rime-covered mountain.

He came to the meadhall, calling for guest-right.
His trunk as a barrel, limbs stout as tree-trunks.
The hair on his chest mixed with blood long forgotten.
Hallbjorn his birth-name, scion of Greywolf.

On the mountain he trained, through windstorm and blizzard,
The fire of his rage overcoming the winter.
His mentor surpassed, now he came to the lowlands
For bloodshed and glory, the hunt never-ending.

The men of the village met these words with a challenge,
The warrior’s way, a test of the stranger.
Should he prove himself strong against the warrior chosen,
Then he would be welcome, with shelter and feasting.

Seven men stood before him, the pride of the village.
As guest he could choose the one he must challenge.
Hallbjorn emptied his ale-horn and met them with laughter.
“Every one will I fight, and be done by the sunset!”

The circle was drawn, the warriors made ready,
Cast lots for the honor to be first to the blood-pit.
They took up their axes and sharpened their daggers,
Each eager to fell the arrogant stranger.

As the first fighter entered, the crowd roared to greet him.
Just as quickly the crowd fell back in stunned silence.
The mirthful great man, the wild man of the mountain,
Before them transformed to a terror of bloodshed.

The blood of the first still steaming, he pointed
To the second in line, and called him to come forward.
As a starving man given the key to the feast-hall
Was Hallbjorn when faced with the chance to do battle.

Seven entered the pit to bring down the stranger.
Seven men carted out, bloodied and broken.
Hallbjorn squinted against the sun not yet setting,
Looked to the crowd and called for more ale.
This was witnessed by Erik, the Skald branded Treehide.
In the feast after battle he stood and declared:
‘This unstoppable power that comes down the mountain,
I name thee the Avalanche, and call for the Branding!'”

Postmortem

Esparei had died.
She knew that with terrible clarity.
Murdered on the bridge, then hidden in the woods. How cowardly. How cruel. How- cold the world suddenly was. Like nothing she’d ever felt. There was no gentle embrace of the divine. No final comfort. Just- cold.

“You poor girl.”
She didn’t know the voice. Her limbs started to twitch. Her skin knit together.

You’ll never be warm again.

She could sit up by some miracle- her fine gown crusted in blood and dirt, her pistol still clutched in her right hand. And the feeling of absolute dread, making the back of her neck tingle. Alone? No- not this time. Not her murderers. A woman.

Then- she was at the tavern door. Then, she was speaking plainly, artlessly, feeling hollow and violated until the anger shot up unexpectedly like a viper.

She had stripped bare, showing Vernon the ugly gashes across her torso- hacked at like she was nothing more than a thing, a piece of meat. She had demanded blood for blood, as was her right. She- she-

You’ll never be warm again.

She screamed. Like something had come undone in her. Like all the grief and rage were pouring out like a storm and she couldn’t stop. Not even if she tried. Screaming and sobbing and pressing herself as far into the corner of her room as she could, until Vernon, barely awake and panicking, rushed in and held her. Soothed her. Let her cry herself out while murmuring prayers softly and squeezing her hand.
“I think you should let the High Inquisitor examine you. I’m worried about you.”

She didn’t respond. Just squeezed his hand a little tighter.

Brushfire Lullaby

It is a warm Summer day, the shadows hanging far from the trees keeping the clearing cool during the long days. ‘Perfect time for a wedding.’ Alex thought to himself as he watched his friends get married, Cadence the Templar he was squired to and Milo, the dashing rogue that always had his back, even during stupid plays. Honestly surprised it was happening this market, they seemed to keep pushing it back, with everything getting in the way. It was honestly Cadence’s trademark, pushing off stuff that they wanted to do and focus on what needs to do.

Henri was officiating the wedding, looking so proud as he opened up his words. The forest behind decided to erupt in noise, trees falling all over. Not wanting their wedding disturbed, Alex would excuse himself to see what went wrong. He’d make it over to the old bridge, listening to it creak and moan with his weight, making sure to only step in spots where it was still sturdy. The beavers had made a mess of everything, eating all of the wood that was good. Stopping near the end of the bridge, he’d see some rustling in the bushes ahead and readying his gun to meet whatever shows up. Three beavers come out, looking straight at him. Sighing, he’d yell to make some noise towards them, scaring them off into the deeper forests. They dropped their sticks in a hurry, trying to lessen the load to get away from the gunman.

Alex would step off the bridge into the forest, his vision getting clouded for a moment and with a quick wipe, he’d see the forest on fire in front of him. Trees would be long ablaze and the ground shrubs long gone, with the bonfire reaching towards the heavens. The beavers would be replaced by the shadow people, looking back at Alex with their shiny eyes and having multiplied about. All of the eyes would be on him, with him unable to move from his spot and can almost taste the ash on his lips. His hands would feel sticky while grabbing his musket, with what looks like blood covering them. One of the figures pointed back towards the wedding, with Alex forcibly moving his head like it was being held in place by a giant’s hand.

The wedding party would be barely visible through the smoke, the guests all being more shadow people who turned their heads to look at him. The bride and groom would be still look the same, though with both their heads missing and Henri being replaced by a Lion headed man, with a mane of pure flames licking out. Slowly the head would turn to look at him, same as the shadow people.. Same as those in his dreams. A voice would ring out from behind him, making him catch his breath. The flames would blink out, the shadow people all gone and his hands as clean as they were when he first cleared the bridge.

“Is everything okay Alex, anything up ahead?” He’d hear Gerard say from behind him, the town captain showing up to back him up. Taking in a couple of breaths, he cough what felt liked ash from his lungs. “Yeah.. Yeah, its all good. Just some beavers that scampered back into the forest. All is good now.” He’d say, looking back at the wedding just wrapping up. All was well, it was a nice Summer Day for a wedding. His friends looked happy there, now together and able to start a new life together. He’d sigh slightly, ‘That’s something we don’t get to have anymore.’

Ode To An Oak

(A poem heard only by the breeze…)

What knowledge does the storm-tressed hold?
(both wiley and benign);
They say the very wisest
learn their secrets from the skies.

The lithe and whippy willows
are flexible and green;
but all experienced fellows
know that old oaks rule the sheets.

Age know exactly what it wants
and speaks no shame nor lies;
forgive me, strapping youths,
I’ll take your meemaw every time.

It’s Tressertag – so let loose
and have a little fun;
Miss Libby, take this bracelet,
and join me for Lust 1?

I Just Wish This Was Easier

“Why am I talking about him?” I said in bewilderment to my younger sister, Sev. I had not expected her to come to forum, but I guess she had been cooped up in the house for a while now. She did take after her mother a lot, or so it seems. She’s nothing like Dad. She’s more head-in-the-clouds, eccentric, and rambunctious. Many things dad would never allow. God, why am I thinking of him so much. He was so horrible to all of us, Sev probably more than the others. Despite all that, though, I guess he taught us some useful things. Why did I have to inherit his work. It’s just a burning nail of a reminder for me whose trying to live the life he wish he could. It’s so similar to what others saw of him that they see it as the same. It’s not. It absolutely was not. He dealt with coin. He spoke honeyed words to those who would give him money, but saw his own children as cattle, slaves, property. He deceived, or paid off, anyone who would have a second mind about him. He deserves all that came to him. Despite all his going-on about hard work, preparation, vigilance, and all the other bullshit virtues that he hammered into us, he was a bastard. I mean some of those are good things to have. There’s some in town that could use a good lesson or two about hard work. He didn’t even let us be kids, though. From when I could talk, I had a hammer in my hand, or at least a pair of pliers. When all the other kids were out in the mines or out enjoying themselves I was at the smith with him. For good or for ill, he taught me everything I know, and I despise that. I’m an adult now, and only know what he taught me. I don’t know what -I- like, what -I- want to do, only what feels like what he’s worked my mind to like and want.

Fabron takes a big sigh

I can’t let him control me anymore. -I- live for what -I- value and care about. If that’s smithing, that’s not because of him. If that’s caring for -my- family, that sure as hell is not because of him. I-…

I hate him so much, and the only way I see to truly get rid of him is to stop worrying about him.

I just wish it was easier though.

“Hey can I go out into the forest?” Sev asks, snapping me back to reality. How long was I just staring?

“No” Came my practiced response, grimacing at how familiar it sounded.

“Pleeeeease? I’ll be safe” Sev begged.

I glared at her, again in a rather practiced way. Maybe she’d see the pain behind it, or maybe tell from the time it was taking for me to respond that I didn’t want to say no, but only knew this way of taking care of her.

God, I just wish this was easier.

One Foot Already In

“Hey mom… its been a while. Winter has finally thawed and snows no longer covering your grave… Its nice out today, light rain, flowers in bloom. You always liked this time of year, when the mornings still cling to your bones with a chill, but burns away midday to where a coat isn’t needed.” Alex would say, taking his hat off and holding it in front of him. Fidgeting and scrunching it up, he’d stammer out, “I.. I… I talked to Lenore recently… She’s doing well it seems. Jan has grown up like a weed, he seems set to be a big as dad…” He’d glance down to the ring on his thumb, sniffling then cough to try and compose himself.

“She told me part of what happened.. How you died shortly after I left. How the man you set her up with turned out to be an alcoholic that got violent with them… How she blamed me for leaving…..” He’d let the words hang out in the air, trying to keep his thoughts from crashing in. “She says she forgives me, I don’t fully believe her. In all honesty though, I don’t blame them if they do. They’ve been living out in the forests for the past couple of years it sounded like and the first time I get to talk to them, Jan is off running into the woods and Lenore has their leg busted open by a bee hive person. Benalus that was awkward… Especially since the reason that Jan left was trying to become a bandit out in the woods, just like their Uncle. I swear I am looking at a mirror set years in the past with how set on adventures he was, though his stubbornness definitely comes from his mother.”

“I do think some of the damage is getting repaired though, the trust I broke. Lenore showed up to church for my re-baptism, going by Alexandre now.. We talked a little about that last time, needing a fresh start. It went nice.” His hands would relax on his hat as he looked at the marker for her, trying to crack a small smile. “I set them up with House Dubois, Granny Jo offered to help us out for the time being, with the hope we’ll fix up a house for them. Honestly with how much I’ve been doing for the town, a house to put up my feet instead of out in the woods sounds real nice. They should be safe there for now, much better than how things were. Especially now since the woods are even more unsafe for those who can’t defend themselves.” He’d say, sighing as his thoughts began to wander.

“I.. I had the intention to promising you I’d take better care of them now.. Of being there for them. But I can’t lie to myself, nor to you mom.. I know you’d be proud of me getting re-baptized, trying to start a new life, but even after the ceremony I still feel this… this weight on my shoulders. When I shot Emile in the street, I thought this was it.. Everyone will know about who I am and they’ll condemn me. But then it didn’t. The town decided they wanted to keep me around and have my penance be working with Cadence to keep the town safe and explore the Mouth. And ever since then I’ve had this feeling that I’m the next tooo…” “Doesn’t matter..” Alex would shuffle in place, his eye drifting to the bare ground next to the plot.

“The town’s different from when we grew up. So many people died from the plague, those that are left are trying to keep the pieces together and yet.. Someone is going to get hurt. They make plans and plans on top of it and then last minute, they shift without telling everyone. And they ask me to keep everyone alive, everyone safe. So honestly.. its gonna be me there, taking hits for others when their plans blow up and living with the consequences afterwards… Well.. that’s if I even..” His face would slump slightly, trying to push out thoughts he was having. He’d run his hands through his hair, setting his hat back on and slipping the sling for his rifle over his shoulder, taking a final look at the marker. “Goodbye mom.. I love and miss you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you then… I’ll see you later, maybe sooner than we both expected..”

Terror most mundane

It is in the most mundane of things that true terror can be found.

Walking alone through the woods at night and hearing the wildlife go quiet.

Staring at a task knowing that if you start you HAVE to finish.

Laying in the grass waiting for the guard to pass.

Heartbeat pounding in your ears as all sound fades.

The creak of wood and clank of iron as a chest opens. Echoing in the night.

Not knowing if all the work, the stress, the fear, is worth the risk of dying alone in an enemy camp.

And the worst.

The congratulations of work well done. The well wishes. The looks.

And knowing.

You might have to do it all over again. As others look to you and what you’ve done before.