1963-12-12 - Call of the Wyld - Part III
Summary: Now that they’re back among the Horse Lords, what next? Hrimhari and Scarlett prepare for a meeting with the elders of the tribes, before going to face-off against the mysterious merchant and his deadly wares…
Related: Call of the Wyld - Part II
Theme Song: None
hrimhari rogue 

The village of the Horse Lords has a name, somewhere, not one to be found on any map. Its population bulges with warriors amassed against the undead threat, the refugees streaming in from other hamlets and settlements scattered over the plains. Nomadic life serves them well, when they can take their horses and ride. Yet this forgotten spot in the middle of the realm heaves with more people because of its defensive position and the simple fact elders, children, pregnant women, and ill men cannot ride away.

Devastation reigns in the uplands beyond the foothills where the prince ran forth from, conveyed in whispers and shadowy looks exchanged among the doughty warriors asked to guard the line.

The whole place is led by a grizzled grey warrior with a scar running down half his face, and his council of six warriors, all wrapped in furs and armed to the teeth. The Mogul of the Mystic Mountain has allowed no other choice.

They cannot afford to host noncombatants long. Supplies are low. Answers and solutions are needed, and no great heroes have emerged to wipe the undead from the map. What Hela’s forces want? That’s open to speculation, be it the extra bodies for an assault, wiping out resistance to the warlord on yon hill… Something else?


Scarlett rubs her hands up her ruined garments, and can dream of the minor spells mastered even by the likes of Amora in her reduced state to fix the tears and cuts. Nothing to be shown here; she doesn’t make the attempt, out of fear of reprimand if anything else.

Her arms wrapped around her knees, she sits apart from the fire by a healthy distance. A bone or steel needle offered her by a stranger moved to kindness by delivering a babe and Hrimhari she holds in her fingers, unable to deny the hospitality. Yet she cannot will deliverance into existence, her fingers loosely stitching at the ragged edges of the cloth. Metal mesh cannot be repaired this way. Leather requires a punch.

“Praytell, my lord, why should they pursue you in such abandon?” she asks quietly of Hrimhari, favouring the lowest volume for sake of the sleeping babe. “Surely even the meagre spark of intellect would lend some sense pursuit of you and your host is perilous beyond words. What could possibly drive them?”


Hrimhari looks back at Scarlett with his golden eyes and raises his eyebrows. The wolfman stands at her side, silver fur glistening with morning dew (he slept outside), his tail brushing against the grass underpaw.

In his clawed hand is the Black Coin.

Goran, the war-chief of this particular band of riders, had explained what he could of the situation to the prince — and yet despite such good relations between the Horse-Lords and the wolves, had also bidden Hrimhari and Scarlett leave with all haste.

"This one is not sure it is he the undead are hunting," he replies after a while. "This began six nights ago; a supposed trader — a Two-Leg from the South — traded these… Black Coins for food, horses, trinkets… Wherever the coins have gone… the Draugr have followed. The forest animals will not return… the wolves of Hrimhari have had to leave the Horse-Lands in order to eat…"

He trails off, his claws enclosing about the Coin. Then he turns away from Scarlett to scan the horizon. "It is this one's thought that the trader… intended this. Horse-Lord settlements lie under siege, and my wolves… cannot come to their aid. Whom does milady think benefits the most from this torment of nature? Shall we hunt for the coins? Or hunt for the trader who bartered them?"


“They are beacons,” says the redhead without the least pause, the wheels of her thoughts grinding and spinning against one another. The God of Mischief has to keep her around for a reason, and being brick-headed probably isn’t one of them. “Whence they go, they perhaps leave a mark or a call the draugr follow. For when I interceded, they were not driven by the same intense purpose as chasing you.”

Albeit she wasn’t looking over her shoulder at a hailstorm of black arrows on bone — for Hel lacks for trees — eager to slam into their exposed backs. The vast torrential rainbow hammering into the nameless realm certainly blinds, too.

She’ll take that sight of awe to her grave.

The redhead flexes her fingers to test whether the torn gloves still maintain any suppleness. Then she goes back to crudely sewing up the cuts, doing the best she can. No one will appreciate her dropping a warrior to a comatose state with a pat on the haunch or the back.

“The trader strike me as the agent for a greater purpose. We might well inquire of him about that, which gives us a superior insight to his designs. Consider this.” Idle musing this is not, but a measured approach. “Collecting more of the coins, by definition, attracts more focus. What will you do once you have the field? Call to your uncle and your kindred to battle them? For it is a legitimate strategy; we cannot, even for all our resourcefulness, take on an entire legion alone. Visiting the trader will be a risk upon the Horse Lords, and I dread the cost, but without information we are at pains to act.”

Scarlett tips her head. “Do they have any notion what a Midgardner is? We might be able to pass off a ruse, if we can find the trader, creating a false alliance.” She opens her palms. “I am loathe to deprive these people of security a moment longer. Let us find this trader, and if it’s an unsatisfactory lead, we collect our prizes and lead them on a hunt.“


"This one agrees," Hrimhari replies with a nod. "As for Midgard, nay. To the Draugr, milady is more 'thing' than 'person' to the Restless Dead. They do not know thy strength. 'Tis to our advantage," he adds as he shifts into his swiftest form. The Black Coin ends up in a little pouch hanging around his neck. It is not quite a collar as such, but more like a wreath of twisted vines and leaves — fashioned by his own will. Rising up on all fours, he gives his silver-furred body a shake and raises his noble head.

"There is another settlement of the Horse-Lords," says he after a moment. "In the North — a holy place known as Ariun Nandin. Outsiders are forbidden, but for us they will make exceptions… If this chaos-peddler is going North, 'tis likely he is making for the same place. We shall have to be the swifter…"

Hrimhari looks at the babe in Scarlett's arms.

"If we are to bring the Two-Leg pup with us… she will need a name. This one is loath to take a pup on such a journey, but it is doubtful she would be safer here among warriors-only. What says milady Bloodcrown?"


A thing.

Asgard has an extremely imprecise definition for ‘thing’ and one that Scarlett may take growing umbrage to, her eyes narrowing the moment Hrimhari confirms even the dead assume she is not worth the time due to an absence of living. To her advantage, yes. To everyone else’s, no.

“Would you carry the child? She would gain more by your protection than mine, which bestows no tangible benefit. Surely may she have no finer guardian and caregiver than yon noble prince.” None but death, as it should chance. All the same, she can twist her cloak into a secure sling, one that will easily span a wolf if it must.

Hrimhari is a father by adoption. The precedents are there, his grandsire among them. Honour done by the one who takes a child into his furry denhold reflects upon his entire house. Congratulations, Papa Hrimmy.

She tips her head. “Your chaos-peddlar travels only so fast by foot. Mine be faster by air, and I can transport you and her swifter, mayhap, unless you wish to rendezvous there. I shall give him no reason to delight in a hasty journey.”
And then it is but a matter of sorting out the hows and the wheres to reach the place, for she is pleased enough to storm the horizon if they must.


"A sound plan, milady."

As a wolf, Himrhari pads over to his companion and nods his head before taking the swaddled child in his cavernous mouth — to carry, not to eat. Holding her in his arms might have been more natural… for a human, which the prince is not. Also, in this form it would be easier for Scarlett to carry him.

The prince nods his head to Lady Bloodcrown, and permits her to pick him up. He indicates the way to go with a turn of his head. Below them in the nearest valley, wolves can be seen already running North — moving like the wind.


<Hush, little one,> Hrimhari tells the infant girl, telepathically — whether she can hear his mind-voice or not. <The journey will not be long.> Before them lies a flight over many leagues, crossing plains that wash up like green waters upon the shores of the Steppes and the higher mountains beyond.

There lies Ariun Nandin, holy city of the Horse-Lords.

Soon to become a city of the restless dead.


Scarlett’s great speed is tempered to allow for the child not to wail in terror, and dread the wind every day of her life. Besides, wrapped up in the double embrace of wolf prince and redhead, there is at least some protection and warmth.

They circle the holy city long before they land, taking a series of passes that give a sense for its situation: whether outfitted for war, overrun, silent as crypt. Aerial observation gives a good sense for the paths threading through it, all converging on the stony arches and the wooden, long hall rebuilt for a thousand years.

Broad avenues shaded by thin, angular arches cast a weirdly geometric design upon a realm in which the natural, plain and hill and forest, should dominate. Maybe this is the Horse Lords’ stamp upon their world.

Either way, they land at the northern gate. Or what passes for a gate, the main road leading in. “I lament to be uneducated upon this people’s customs, and dread that we may cause undue offense,” she says, arranging her tattered cloak around her shoulders for a better appearance of anonymity.

“Hopes they might evacuate seem too likely by half. Here, let me take the babe from you a moment.” It does not come naturally for Scarlett to hold a snuffling infant, but she at least wishes Hrimhari the freedom to not drool all over her, holding her in his mouth surely drying it out.

Her gaze flickers at the little fist swaying too close to skin for comfort. “I observed something of a market near this way. The central hall has no smoke from the chimneys, but the very size leads me to presume someone must care for it. Ah, let that go!“

Tiny fingers have caught her braid. “My lord, help? I profess I cannot extricate her without harm.”


Hrimhari works his jaw a bit, and then smiles up at Scarlett and the infant girl. He pauses just for a moment to enjoy the predicament in which his friend finds herself, and then rises up on his hind legs, resting his forepaws on Scarlett's hip.

Immediately the baby lets go of Scarlett's hair… in order to make a grab at Hrimhari's ear.

She misses.

The prince grins again and drops down to all fours, turning to take in their surroundings now that they are on the ground. Ariun Nandin is probably the largest of the Horse-Lords' settlements, given that they all come here at some point or another. The 'city' is high enough in the Steppes to overlook the plains and valleys below, but near enough to their beloved plains that it does not quite feel like it is 'above' anything.

Walls of stone surround it — hewn from the mountain itself — while many of the buildings within are in fact tents. Temporary. Few actually 'stay' here. Also hewn from the rock are massive statues of rearing horses and their riders.

The work of hundreds of years, perhaps thousands.

"No one stays," Hrimhari murmurs in English to Scarlett. "Sooner or later, every Two-Leg soul that comes to Ariun Nandin… moves on. 'Tis their belief that when a soul stays too long in a 'holy place', it becomes corrupt — tainted by its own…hmm, ego. Thus, they come here to remember, to honour, and then… return to the hills and plains, where living truly matters."

He looks back at gates as they open for the newcomers. "This one likes it here… for a Two-Leg den." From the looks of things, the inhabitants of Ariun Nandin have heard about the Draugr scourge across the lands — there are more warriors here, more weapons, more lookouts than usual — but they may not know the cause for the scourge.

Or they would not be letting anyone in, presumably. At this in this case, the sentries have recognised the Wolf-Prince, and so he and Scarlett are permitted entry, no matter the threat. "Come," says he to his friend. "We must also find a denmother willing to take our little mountain rose from us. What we must do next… we cannot do with a pup under our paws."


“I am ill at ease by the notion of leaving a child alone among warriors, for their cause must be ahead of them, not behind in swaddling clothes,” Scarlett murmurs quietly. She tucks her Asgardian styled braid behind her ear, freed from tiny hands that pull and tug. They would much rather bundle into fur.

Still, the girl hasn’t the faintest idea of what to do with one of the Horse-lords’ children. She carries the babe a bit awkwardly.

Then they walk. Their paths through the northern gate leave them to meander where cook fires and dicing are common, though the scent over the air is equally of dung — a good fuel — and horse, leather and acrid iron. The noise and activity are surely enough to make the little one cry, fussing, and not much responding to being juggled about.

Glancing to Hrimhari, the green-eyed Midgardner stifles the urge to pull her cloak around her. Even ragged, it lends a shield from being the outsider, entirely different in facial structure, hair colour, and the like. This is indeed a strange new world.

“The longhouse we saw seems to be a proper starting point,” Scarlett muses, trusting in the wolf prince to guide her elsewhere if necessary. “I reckon they will not understand me, so I prevail upon you to speak.”

It won’t take long to get there, odd looks aside.


"There are more than warriors here," Hrimhari replies with a glance at Scarlett. "But come… you are correct about the longhouse." On the topic of whom should do the talking, he lifts his head and considers.

"Some will understand," says he. "But this one shall not put you in a place of discomfort." Padding ahead of her, the prince inclines his head to those who stop to look. The guards seem to recognise him, and let him pass without a word — although others recognise that the baby in Scarlett's arms is of their own blood.

The skin-tone along would give it away.

No one makes a move to take the child from her, however. Here and there, the odd warrior, priest, and priestess — as well as some of the craftsmen — fall in behind the pair of new-arrivals, following at a discreet distance.

When some of them murmur in another language, notably 'Asian' in its style and intonation, Hrimhari offers Scarlett a smile. "Some believe you are like me — one who can change form. Others ask if you are Aesir… but you do not walk as arrogantly as they generally expect."

One of the younger warriors — a female, who appear to be in her late teens or early twenties, by Midgardian standards — comes over to Scarlett and asks a question in that same foreign Tongue. Hrimhari translates:

"This She is called Tsetseg — it means 'flower'. She asks to know your name and where you come from…" The prince's expression falls as Tsetseg speaks more. "And… if there were survivors besides the child. Speak as you will; this one will convey understanding for you."


Foreign languages are not precisely Scarlett’s forte; she possesses a hodgepodge of phrases in some, and her Old Norse is nearly passable within Allspeak, thanks in no small part to the tutelage of no less than Thor. Ask why he can sign his own Yule cards in English letters with a hand batter than a preschooler’s, and the exchange will make more sense.

Provided they survive to see that holiday.

Scarlett keeps moving the drowsy, exhausted child in her arms to maintain some semblance of activity. Jostled about a little, the infant is less likely to start fussing, though red cheeks and smacking lips speak both to hunger and other base needs. The baby waves around a clenched fist to reinforce her desires.

“I lost my tribe in childhood, and came into the household of a great scholar and warrior.” It is, in fact, the truth as far as she knows it. Her expression creases, clouded eyes and edged cheekbones lending an authority of regret so old, the scar has gone silver. “I come to deliver the child to a proper guardian, or have your claim acknowledged if they reject her. I do not know their customs. None of her village survived, but the ambush stopped us from searching further. I think it unlikely.”

Destroyer of hope, harbinger of doom, the redhead speaks to Tsetseg through Hrimhari, and she is altogether aware of what every word she speaks nails down. A vibrant community snuffed, an extended circle of kinship falls apart when she snips those faded strands. There is an evil in it.

Her gaze drops. “I feel like the Crone. Let us be quick about our business, my lord, and decide the proper course of action. That trader remains to be discovered, and woe upon him, for he has generously earned my wrath.”


The wolf-prince nods his head solemnly, and listens a while to Tsetseg before responding in her native tongue. Turning back to Scarlett… "Tseteg wishes to convey her sorrows for the loss of your tribe, and…" he gives a bemused half smile. "She also says that being in this one's company… must mean yours is a good heart, and a strong spirit."

Tsetseg notices the wolfman's discomfort and chuckles at him. Clearly the prince's meekness of spirit is known among the Horse-Lords. It amuses them. She walks up to Scarlett as if to lightly grasp her by the shoulders — to which Hrimhari nods encouragingly for his friend — and then bows her head to touch Scarlett's forehead with her own.

After holding the gesture of welcome and friendship for a few seconds, Tsetseg then steps back; she beckons to both newcomers — pointing toward the longhouse.

Hrimhari nods. "Milady Bloodcrown is welcome among her people," he tells his companion. "Their halls… are thine also. Come. She bids us follow; we are expected in Great Hall."


The soul-thief is left to smile wanly at the comment, veiled in sorrows without end, and remorse without a horizon. One’s spirit may be a great many things, but Scarlett’s is so multifaceted in its sharpened fracture lines, it is scarcely safe to discuss here. Secrets remain in her purview, she shares none.

Hrimhari’s nod is the only thing permitting her to tolerate the grip on her shoulders, the battered state of her attire speaking to travel and war, near misses and mishaps. Watching keenly, she raises her gloved hands to grip Tsetseg’s outer arms, a hint of firmness and nothing more, but she assures that touch forehead to forehead hits her scalp. Her hair presents less harm than skin to skin.

The greeting given, she turns neatly on her heel a quarter and awaits Hrimhari to go ahead of her, precedence acknowledged in the tip of her head. Asgardian — by any means — gives him the right. She falls in step a moment later, giving a good position to guard the man’s back against unexpected threats.

Their venture inwards to the low, smoky hall brings her to speaking softly in her own tongue, absorbing the aged beams and low-hanging roofline complete with a good many herbs and charms sprinkled therein. “What hope we to accomplish in this meeting?” she inquires, a soft tinge of distraction about her. “Perchance we may ask after the merchant, or have we another goal?”


"Milady speaks truly," Hrimhari replies as they go inside. "We need their blessing to pursue the merchant ourselves, unhindered. We must also convince them of the danger — this one does not think they know just how dire the situation is."

The place is full of elders and warriors, men and women both — and all eyes are on the newcomers. Beginning at those nearest the entrance and going back to the far side, people stand as the Wolf-Prince approaches with Scarlett and Tsetseg.

It makes Hrimhari's fur ripple in mild annoyance; this is their custom, not his. He says nothing to rebuke them. At the far side of the table sits the oldest of the elders, a man who appears to be both warrior and priest in one, with a beard that goes down to his navel. There is no doubt about it — Hrimhari and Scarlett have walked in upon a war-council, one that is no doubt expecting them, as they had been told.


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