Wishes in Winter

Letters Home to Irrisen, Part 11

Heartseeker:

It’s days like these that are really rotten. We are in a empty house deep in The Howlings waiting for the time to strike. We have the information we need to attack. Now we are just waiting on The Heralds of Summer’s Return to make their preparations. Duzak is using the time to make some magical items for Temerith and Athelryn. I spent what monies I had left on a pair of magical boots. Duzak asked if I wanted him to make them for me, saving me quite a bit of coin, but we have waited too long already. I want to move sooner rather than later. The boots are nice leather and make me magically faster. When I see Mercy next, I might actually have a chance against her in a foot race!

The others are restless too. Duzak and Temerith spent their time, when Duzak isn’t enchanting something, discussing matters of the Universe. “The Mirrors are the Gates are The Locks are The Keys”, Duzak says in his usual rumbling cryptic way. Temerith, perches on a chair and bobs her head in agreement. She said she’s related to a Vrock, whatever that is. I asked if it was her mother or her father. She looked at me with her small bright eyes, her head tilled like a colourful bird of prey, and said “Yes”. Athelryn, in her corner, snorted. They looked at each other and laughed, Temerith beaming like she has told a particularity clever joke. Even Duzak chuckled. I don’t know if their laughing at my confusion or there is something deeper here that I’m missing. I think I’ll go back to my post by the window and smell around.

Athelryn asked me why I write letters to you. I told her because I always have, I need to keep my family updated on what is happening in my life. She nodded and asked for a piece of paper. I gave it to her and she went into her corner and stared at it. After a few hours I gave her a piece of charcoal to write with. She blinked in confusion at first, then suddenly understood. I think she’s writing a letter home. To who or what I don’t know, but she’s sending a message back to whatever shadowy place she hails from. Eerie.

We changed our plans and decided, at the suggestion of Ringeirr, to enter Whitethrone through the gate at The Howlings. Yes, there are actual guards now posted at the Howlings. We met two Winterguards. One a Winterwolf, who obviously had been doing this job for a while because he was looking us over with utter boredom. Didn’t even bother to change out of his human form for a customary sniff. The woman was Jadwiga, as officious as the other was bored. Once she heard we were delivering a message for whatever Prince we are using as our cover, she hastily gave us back our papers and sent us on our way, as if she was worried that whatever smut we were carrying would smear onto her. They spent more time hassling Ringeirr. It was a tense few minutes as we waited around a corner and watched. If they pull in Ringeirr, he could use us as a chip for his own life.

After the check point, Ringeirr left us to go find his contacts so we got a room at one of the taverns. I should of thought it through better because I pick one that I remember from my brief posting here. I hope the innkeeper didn’t recognize me. All of this espionage is new to me. I can almost feel your scolding nip on my shoulder. We kept to the back streets but this place is nearly empty. The wolves have almost all been sent through the Gates. So few are left. There is more trolls and fae here now than wolves. The streets are quiet and smell bad.

Some goblins thought to try and rob Duzak at the inn. They hid around a corner and waited for him. Sadly for them, the other three of us where with him. We are so quiet! They jump out in front of us and we stared at them dumbfounded. They quickly muttered an apology and ran away. I asked the innkeeper if they were our breakfast. She said, in between gulps of her ale, that the snow goblins were the only paying customers she’s had in awhile. So sad. Fat snow goblins are delicious but one can not just go around eaten citizens. I ended up just chewing on fish instead. Some of the Ulfen are upset that I said I would eat an intelligent being. I think that if it’s dumb enough to try and rob Duzak, then it qualifies as food.

We met with Ringeirr’s contact. We had a moment of confusion because he looks just like the forger we used in Yetterjerna! I mean, identical. His scent is the only thing that gave it away. He never asked us any questions and we gave no answers but I think he’s the forger’s twin brother. How strange. Anyway, he lead us to The Heralds of Summer’s Return and to the remnants of the Iron Guard. We met them in a hidden barracks under a bath-house. Damn the Jadwiga and they’re little luxuries. Who wants a whole building that is sweltering hot, even to those who aren’t effected by the heat? We even had to pass through a Hidden Garden. All this heat just to grow fruit. Humans and their diets.

We met the Captain of the Iron Guard, Lord Oryo. I’ve only heard of him by rumour and that he’s a bureaucrat and a solider, fanatically loyal to Baba Yaga. So when we entered the room, lead by our contact, no one was expecting him to go to one knee. Temerith was the most disturbed by this, making little hand gestures for him to rise while making some sort of cooing sound. I think we were all a little stunned by this. The Mantle of the Black Rider must manifest itself in some way the Jadwiga can sense. After the briefest of conversation with the Captian, an Ulfen woman entered. The leader of the Heralds of Summer’s Return is Solveig Ayrdahl, priestess of Milani, the Goddess of rebellion. This is the oddest matching I’ve ever seen. Oryo would kill her and put her skull into the Road happily and Solveig would have him marched down the centre of the city before having him stoned by a mob. They would murder each other, if only they could, but they now need each other. Although their overall goals clash, in the short term, Queen Elvanna’s madness has driven them together into this uncomfortable partnership.

We quickly discuss our backgrounds. They seem surprised that we are just unfortunate foot soldiers tricked into service. They were expecting some sort of impossibly powerful fae creature and they only got us. Lord Oryo is ambivalent about this development; he’s a Irrisen solider and understands that he has to make do. Solveig, less so. She acts as if our existence verifies her view of how deranged Irrisen is. Uppity slave.

The Hut sits in the town square surrounded by trees. Nazhena Vasilliova, the Whitewitch who’s tower we raided, has a contingent of men patrolling the area. The dragon is named Logrivich and is a commander of the Winterguard. He lairs in the clock tower and, if trouble arises in Whitethrone, is able to fly anywhere in minutes. He has a contingent of six ice trolls under his command. Numerous fae creatures also live in the tower, along with a Jadwiga political officer, some old witch who isn’t related to the Queen. There is also a Wikkawak! Finally, I might be able to corner one!

We aren’t sure of numbers but this whole area is pretty well guarded. There is a straight road, cleared of all trees, that leads from the clock tower to the Hut. The plan is for The Iron Guard and The Heralds of Summer’s Return to stage a distraction, drawing off the patrols and engaging Vasilliova. We will strike the clock tower and kill the dragon, then move to the Hut. It seems simple but I’m betting that there is some sort of tricky wards guarding both places.

Solveig has mentioned, in passing, that a prisoner resides in the tower under the dragon’s watchful gaze. An opera singer, named Bella, who sang a song criticizing the Queen. Temerith and Athelryn, with smirks and snickers, believe that Solveig had some sort of romantic relationship with the singer. Add this to the list of things I don’t care about. The only attractive winterwolf I’ve seen this entire trip has been one guarding the gates at Ytterjorna. And even she looked me over, pointed to her great axe and said “Move along lover boy”. This Black Rider duty isn’t one that I can use to meet females, I can tell you!

And now we are waiting. Duzak is crafting a belt and Temerith is watching him. Athelryn is in the corner, I think. She’s hard to keep track of and I think she likes spying on Duzak and Temerith. This is how bored we are. I’m stuck here, my snout poking out of the window, sniffing the empty street, thinking about our mission. Solveig has made me consider what will happen next. Freeing Baba Yaga isn’t going to be as easy as I hoped. Even if we get into the Hut, we have no idea what to do next. Is the weight of the world really on our backs? And what will happen to Irrisen should we fail? And if we succeed and the Queen deposed, who will replace her and what will they do? Solveig vision for the future means freedom for the Ulfen and destruction of their oppressors. But where does that put the monstrous citizens of Irrisen? Does she want our deaths too? This is too confusing and I don’t want to think about it. I’ll leave that up to you and Patience!

Duzak, as we left the meeting, laughed and said I might be able to get a position with the Iron Guard. Athelryn and Temerith both said they hadn’t even thought of the future and beamed at the thoughts of the rewards we might reap. I know better. The Mantle we have is for life. We are Black Riders until we are bone meal in the mill.

Happier thoughts! I’ll get to kill both a wikkawak and a dragon! I’m hungry and tired of fish!

Give my love to Patience and Courageous. And have all of it yourself!

Valorous, Get of Heartseeker, Black Rider of Irrisen and (hopefully) Dragon Slayer!

P.S. I’m sending the rest of the letters I wrote to Piety. They explain more of what is going on. I also left letters with Nadya Petska of Waldsby, if you can find her. I’m also going to send a magical message to both Mercy and Hope, telling them to come home. I’ve already sent one to Piety so watch out for him. Keep safe!

P.P.S. The Ulfen contact of Lord Oryo is trying hard not to ask me questions. The idea of the Dreaded Black Rider needing to send a letter to his mum is making him twitch. He better not say anything because we Black Riders have ways of finding people.

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