My recent layoff has given me a little time to get my writing straight. I have been sweating writing for years...I feel as if I have a hundred stories in my brain, but the leap from brain to page is my weak point. Lately I have been running some Play by Post games on the www.paizo.com
website, using the descriptive format as a writing skill exercise. It has been working somewhat, though I seem to have developed some weird late-season dyslexia when writing quickly. That and I seem to have a love/hate with the whole 'I before E' rule, but that's been true since elementary school.
Anyway, for what it is worth, here is the rough exploration of a world I have been dwelling on:
There was once a city that perched on the side of a dark jungle. It was a way-station of sorts, a shore where the flotsam of humanity piled. Founded by refugees from the Bright Wars, it took all who came and asked no questions of them. Some who landed there moved on into the jungle to work on the sugar plantations. Others signed aboard the trading ships that filled the city’s harbor. Some decided to settle in the city itself and wrest a living from its narrow cobblestone roads.
The Tale of Ferrik:
To the north of the storm-tossed Typhon Sea lay the icy island continent of Yithrik. Yithrik was an inhospitable place, a land of glacier-cloaked mountains, deep evergreen forests and ice-clad plains. The Thorek reigned supreme here, hunting the mighty arctic mammoths and saberfangs.
The Thorek were a breed related to humanity, standing over two meters tall and almost as wide. Their faces were squashed-looking; eyes squinted from staring at the white ice, massive jaws equipped with large lower tusks that jutted from their lips. White hair coated their bodies, brushed to shining radiance on their knobby skulls with liberal amounts of animal fat. Fantastically strong, these large folk ruled the icy wastes, living on the razor’s edge of survival, driving along the tundra in sleds pulled by massive wolf teams.
The trading port of Cold Harbor clung to southernmost coast of Yithrik. At the nadir of the year, the Thorek gathered at Cold Harbor to trade their ivory, furs and gems with the ships that came to call. Cold Harbor was considered peace-holy by all. All vendettas and feuds were put aside so that the Thorek could trade for Dragoran steel, Obernai silk, and Malatzin coffee.
Cold Harbor was home to sailors, misfits and washashores from a dozen nations. A quiet, frigid town, the inhabitants fished in the warm seasons and grew hardy crops during the long bright summer days. When the snow began to fall and the nights stretched longer and longer, the merchants of Cold Harbor began preparing for the pinnacle of their season, the Winter Trading.
The Winter Trading festival was the main reason Cold Harbor existed in the first place. The scattered clans of the Thorek nation would roam the colder reaches of Yithrik during the long summer months, chasing the mammoth, caribou, and Musk Oxen herds as they migrated north. When the wheel of seasons turned, the sleds of the Thoreks headed back south after months of trapping, hunting and prospecting in the more inaccessible parts of the frozen continent. Their yelping barely-tamed wolves would pull their massive sleds southwards, packed with the items needed to survive a life lived on the endless ice.
The harvested wheat fields outside Cold Harbor were cordoned off as Winter Solstice approached. The merchants waited for the first Thorek arrivals, their sled bells jingling as they approached the grey walls of the harbor town. Ships from many lands began to appear in the small harbor, their captains contesting with the Cold Harbor merchants for the chance to trade with the bury ice-dwelling folk.
For over a week the clans had been arriving. The frigid air rang out with the sounds of wolves snarling, tent spikes clanging, bellows of mirth from tusked mouths and the chants and dances that accompany the festival. The men of the clans gathered their wares and began the earnest dickering with the southron traders while the females stayed with the children at the tent city, visiting friends and relatives from distant clans.
The fur parkas of the Thorek were cleaned and brushed to a sparkling shine. Beads of amber, garnet and carnelian were strung on cords dangling along the edge of the heavy coats. Ear plugs of green jade and rings of flashing gold and pale-blue sapphire were dug out of their safe spots and worn with pride. The long white hair of both sexes was festooned with beads of semi-precious stones, some so burdened they clacked like a busy abacus as they walked. Older clansmen sniffed at the vanity of the younger members, but this display had been occurring since the sun god Mikluq first emerged from the Icy reaches of the Typhon Sea to race across Yithrik’s pale sky.
This particular year, the sleds of the Snow Serpent Clan were late to the trading festival. Their chieftain Morvek had gambled on finding many of the soft-fleeced mountain sheep that lived on the chain of mountains known as the White Widows. All the Snow Serpent Clan had found the previous summer was avalanches and disease in the high passes. They now limped to their traditional camping field outside Cold Harbor with a paltry collection of amber and auroch horns, their numbers reduced by a third and their sacred clan totem missing.
Among the sorry collection of Snow Serpent sleds was an even sorrier one. It traveled slowly, lagging behind the others. Its wolves were gaunt, and there were several missing from the leather traces. At the reins a young Thorek youth watched the sleds of his clan as they pulled up and begin the task of unloading. He glanced back to the main part of his worn sled to the huddled form of his mother.
Serrimak was old, with forty winters spent on the ice. This summer had seen both her husband and eldest son carried off by an avalanche high in the White Widows. All the ice gods had left her was her memories and her youngest son, last of five children she had borne for her husband. She spent her days slowly slipping into the Atamaq, the dream state presaging the final journey into the afterworld. Her eyes, once pale blue and piercing had now become grey and cloudy, looking out at the white expanse they traversed in more and more confusion.
Her son Ferrik cast a final worried look at his nodding mother and then back to his team. Gnasher was limping badly now, his paws bloody after pulling hard for a thousand miles. One Fang limped as well, the burden of even the scantly-provisioned sled beginning to wear on the old wolf.
I need to find a way to pay for some new pups. Ferrik thought worriedly. A family without a healthy wolf team was doomed.
Ferrik had always looked forward to the Winter Trading. His father Burrek had often allowed him his freedom, and he had wandered the narrow streets of the strange buildings, drinking in the sights and sounds of southern civilization.
Cold Harbor boasted merchants from dozens of nations in winter, all eager to trade with the Thorek clans. Large ships from as far away as Malatzin made the dangerous crossing to meet the Thoreks on their southernmost camping point. Pirates, merchants and clansmen all congregated along the cold stones of Cold Harbor in hopes of making a fortune in the exotic wares traded here.
Ferrik had always had a perverse interest in other cultures, marveling at their speech, dress and manners. His father had laughed when Ferrik returned to their yurt, prattling on about the odd southron folk he had encountered in the town.
“The strange can seem exotic to the young,” Burrek would chuckle as Ferrik regaled him with his stories. “Remember the only reason they are interesting is that they are strangers on our land. You would be as interesting to their children should you ever be in their lands.”
“Perish the thought!” Serrimak would counter as she arranged the furs they would be selling. “A Thorek is a part of the land here. Nothing but evil tidings can come of straying from the purifying lands of ice.”
The pleasant memories washed over Ferrik and receded, leaving the stormwrack of the present. There would be no lingering in the souks and taverns of the southrons this year. This year would decide whether his family could continue on or whether they would become Ghurnak, thralls to another family. Morvek had already made casual inquiries to Ferrik about the possibility. Thralldom to Morvek would guarantee Ferrik and his mother food and shelter, but he would never be allowed to decide his own destiny. He would be forever Morvek’s minion, unable to raise his voice at clan gatherings.
Ferrik pulled into the camping plain. The Snow Serpent Clan was busy putting their yurts up with the speed and economy of movement only nomads have. Ferrik brought his sled to a torn patch of ground, far from the others.
“We’re at the camp Mother,” Ferrik said softly, stepping off the sled and fetching the bag of offal he used to feed the wolves. His mother didn’t reply, staring off into to distance, her eyelids drooping.
Ferrik unhitched the wolves, securing them to an iron spike. He brought out the wax-impregnated offal bag and cast a few pieces to the tired animals. He began unlacing the yurt at the back of the sled, spreading the fabric out and attempting to lift the circular tent by himself as best he could.
As he worked, a trio of Thorek youths ambled by. The youths were dressed in heavy furs dyed in bright patterns, beaded heavily with amber and semi-precious stones. Tall rabbit-skin hats shielded their heads from the cold.
The three youths guffawed as Ferrik attempted to raise the tent.
“You’re as graceful as a bear in heat,” The largest of the well-dressed youths sneered.
Ferrik continued attempting to get the yurt up, knowing that any acknowledgement would just encourage their sport. He was painfully aware of his own matted fur clothing, stripped of all ornamentation during the autumn as he sold all unnecessary items to provision himself and his mother.
“Adder strike your tongue orphan?” The large youth continued. “Have you no family to help you put you ragged yurt up? Where is your mother? Nodding from too much Akkatuq?”
Ferrik whirled, his face darkening and a deep growl issuing from his tusked mouth.
“Insult my mother at your peril Morvek,” He spat at the youth.
The chieftain’s oldest son sneered, his hand descending to his sword’s pommel. His lieutenants Drevik and Nog smirked at Ferrik.
“Will you fight to avenge your mother’s honor, Ghurnak? When my father buys your sled I will have your mother left on the side of the trail where she should have been when she descended into Atamaq.”
Ferrik squinted at the large sneering youth, his gnarled fists clenching.
“Neither you nor your trail-dazed father will ever own my family’s sled,” Ferrik snarled. “It’s his fault my father and brother died.”
Morvek’s eyes widened and he roared, running at Ferrik with the swiftness of a maddened bison. His two minions followed close, the gleam of bloodsport in their eyes.
Ferrik grasped a yurt support, the yellowed ivory swallowed up in his hand. The three descended upon him, fists at the ready.
Morvek arrived at Ferrik first, one large fist swinging at his skull. Ferrik brought his ivory support up, breaking it in two on Morvek’s arm. Morvek howled as the thin ivory rod stung his forearm.
Drevik and Nog pounced on Ferrik, their larger size and experience no match for the young Thorek. They swiftly had him pinioned; then they restrained him between them.
Morvek rounded on Ferrik, fists bunched. “Now you will pay for your insults,” Morvek snarled, smashing his fist into the restrained Ferrik’s midsection. Nog laughed, a harsh braying sound, as Morvek worked Ferrik over with his fists. Ferrik’s dogs snarled in frustration as the three men beat their master into a bloody pulp, snapping uselessly at the end of their tether.
After a time that seemed to stretch into eons, the three left Ferrik in a puddle of his own blood. The sun was falling towards the horizon quickly, and the yurt still had to be raised. Painfully, Ferrik dragged himself up. His swollen face throbbed where a tooth had been knocked loose from his jaw.
A thin singing issued from the sled. Serrimak remained where she had been, but was now more awake than before. Her chipped tusks bobbed in her pursed mouth as she hummed and chanted syllables from a nursery song. Bundled tightly with furs and felt blankets, she looked like a large wrinkled child prepared to go upon her mother’s back. She looked at her bruised and bloodied son in wonder.
“Ferrik are you fighting with those boys again? Your father will switch you for ruining your clothes.” She said in a quavery voice.
“Just an accident Mother mine, all will be well,” Ferrik replied, the vacant look on Serrimak’s face more painful to him than a thousand beatings.
“I’m cold,” Serrimak complained. “Have you started the brazier fire yet?”
“Just a short while Mother mine and we shall be cozy and warm.” Ferrik replied, wishing he felt as confident as his words were.
Ferrik raced about the yurt hide, attempting to get the yurt raised before the true cold of deep night descended upon him and his mother. Two supports were gone, one smashed on Morvek’s arm, another trampled into the muddy snow by the attackers’ feet. Ferrik labored to find a few branches in the nearby trees to substitute for the missing supports. The final result looked like a deflated wineskin, but it was at least tight from the weather.
Ferrik could feel his face swelling larger as he labored. Fortunately the youths had refrained from breaking any of his limbs; that could have been a death sentence. He unloaded the sled and set up the brazier inside the small yurt. A small bag of coal was all that remained of their heating supplies. He stoked the squat iron stove and set a teapot upon it. He picked his mother up from the sled and brought her inside, arranging her upon the few blankets that remained to them.
Serrimak dozed, her wrinkled tusked face oddly serene. Ferrik remembered her stern visage from his childhood, when she served as the anchor for the family as they roamed the Yithrik Plains with the clan. His father had been the dreamer of the family, always hoping to find a clutch of white stoats or a ruby in a streambed. Serrimak had been the one to make sure there was food on the table and their clothes were mended and oiled against the wind and cold. Now it was up to him to protect her.
Ferrik began to assemble the few bits of food that remained, cutting the withered roots and jerked meat into a stewpot on the brazier. He looked over the small pile of furs he had managed to catch during the retreat off the White Widows after the final avalanche had taken the clan’s totem down a crevasse.
It will have to do. He thought morosely.
There had to be some southron trader willing to make a deal with him. If he could parley the furs into a few gold wheels, he could buy some coal and a few new blankets and some fresh puppies for the sled team. Food he’d have to hunt, but that wouldn’t bother him. A good season could put him back on track, and he could save up to pay a bride price for a good woman to aid him and help with Serrimak.
These happy hopes took his mind off his swelling bruises as he arranged the meal. Ferrik then fetched the wolves inside. It wasn’t strictly proper to have the wolves inside the yurt, but there was space enough, and their body heat would make the cold space more bearable. The wolves whined and tried to lick Ferrik’s wounds, then subsided as he waved them off. They watched his food preparations with hungry eyes, silent as ghosts.
Ferrik continued to cook his stew, the small coal fire the only light in the yurt. The wolves smelt the cooking meat and drooled at the scent, but they had been fed and were tired from the long day of pulling the sled. They remained quiescent on the floor.
Ferrik finally judged the stew finished and brought some over to his mother.
“Mother mine; I have some stew for you.” Ferrik said gently, waking her from her sleep.
“Eh? I am not hungry lad, I will wait until your father returns from his hunt,” Serrimak replied dreamily. “He promised he would find me a brace of nice fat lemmings.”
“Nevertheless Mother mine, you should eat,” Ferrik said, blinking hard. “For Father might be delayed and have to stay on the hunt tonight.”
“Tch. Very well,” Serrimak replied grumpily, slurping the stew from the spoon Ferrik proffered it to her with.
The night’s chill deepened as the two finished their meal. Serrimak drifted back into her dream-filled doze as Ferrik planned for the next day’s trading. The wolves clustered around his mother’s form, pooling their heat for the long night ahead.
Outside the sounds of revelry and merriment began as the more fortunate members of the Snow Serpent Clan celebrated their arrival at Cold Harbor. Shouts and calls echoed from the other clan encampments as old friends met each other and traded stories of the summer’s travel. The Black Rabbits and the Ice Hawks were nearby, as were the Snow Eagles.
Bonfires roared to life and young men and women danced about their fiery hearts. The older male clan members sat farther back, drinking Akkatuq and discussing the trading, politics and hunting. The women sat in their own cluster, avidly watching the youths dance and dickering among themselves, spinning their endless webs of marital alliances.
Two youths from the Snow Wolf Clan began the knife walking dance, tossing the traditional four knives back and forth until it seemed as if there was a river of steel between them. One cursed as a misjudged grab left him with a gash on his callused palm. His friend helped him bandage the wound and the two went off to the dancing, laughing raucously.
A bulky figure detached himself from the group of Snow Serpent clansmen and weaved out to the outer ring of the fires. Relieving himself in the trench dug for that purpose, the large Thorek glanced over at the ragged crumpled tent at the edge of the encampment. He frowned as he laced his breeches back up, considering the sad-looking dwelling. He walked carefully over the rippled ice towards the solitary shelter.
Ferrik finished the last of his thin stew and began to prepare for bed. Mumbling a hurried prayer to the small house god idol, he arranged his blankets and made sure Serrimak was comfortable. He banked the small coal fire in the brazier. The yurt darkened, the only light visible a dim glow coming from the distant bonfires at the center of the camp. He lay down in the nest of blankets and drifted off into an uneasy sleep. At some point later a voice at the yurt’s sealed entrance roused him.
“Ferrik! Boy I would have words with you.”
It was Morvek, his chieftain.
Ferrik grimaced, and rose from his blankets. Morvek wouldn’t go away, only get louder if ignored. Ferrik grabbed his father’s sword and strapped it to his belt calling out, “One moment.”
Ferrik slowly unlaced the yurt’s entry, feeling the fingers of icy wind force their way past the loosened leather thongs. He threw the flap open and strode out to face his hulking chieftain. Morvek walked into the dark area behind Ferrik’s yurt, panting slightly and cursing as his foot slipped. Ferrik followed until they were far enough from the yurts to speak without waking the dogs or Serrimak.
“Yes Morvek?” He inquired, staring up at his flushed face.
“My son has told me you insulted me and him,” Morvek said, weaving slightly. “He said he was forced to fight you for our honor.”
“I see nothing honorable about mocking a fellow clansman who is attempting to erect his yurt,” Ferrik replied, stung. “I see nothing honorable about a man who uses his companions to hold another down so that he can beat him.”
Morvek’s flushed face darkened further and his hands dropped towards his sword.
“You insult my son again and you will deal with me,” Morvek growled. “You and your mother need my assistance to survive. I am willing to find you a place at my fire, and your mother too for the time she has left. That will not happen if you provoke Morvek again.”
Ferrik spat at Morvek’s boots.
“I would rather freeze on the steppes than find a place by your fire. I would rather kiss a snow cobra then apologize for saying the truth. You dishonor our clan and you dishonor yourself. I might be poor, but you and your sons leech off the clan like ticks on a caribou. You have no honor.”
Morvek snarled and unsheathed his sword. Ferrik mirrored him, although more awkwardly. The two circled each other warily, the older Thorek more skilled in the ways of swords but drunk, the younger inexperienced but sober. Morvek broke the silence.
“You are outcast from the clan,” He snarled. “Your sled is no longer welcome to travel with us. If I find you here tomorrow I will have the men kill you.”
Ferrik reeled. Could Morvek presume to outcast him? He had gained a lot of power after the deaths of so many clan members, despite the clan’s journey to the White Widows this summer being his idea. Outcast was customarily a pronouncement of the entire clan, but even if Ferrik forced a clan meeting who could he turn to for support? His father’s family was the last in their line, and his closest relative was Morvek himself, a third cousin. His mother was an Ice Hawk; her brothers would be old men, her nephews’ virtual strangers. Being outcast was as sure a death as if Morvek sliced him with his sword across the throat.
Ferrik felt his fear morphing into a black rage so thick and hot it felt as if he had been dunked in the lava of Hell. That this honorless drunken tyrant could kill him and his mother for the crime of calling him exactly what he was!
Almost without thought Ferrik snarled as swung his father’s long sword in a clumsy overhand blow. Morvek parried, and then riposted.
Ferrik collapsed, trying to evade the blurred steel of Morvek’s blade. The battle evolved into thrust and slash, block and parry. Morvek drove the inexperienced youth along the treacherous icy ground, laughing drunkenly as Ferrik tried to keep his guard up.
“Beg me sprat,” Morvek bellowed. “Beg me for your life and I will allow you to scrub the pots at my yurt!”
Ferrik’s only reply was to chop towards his chieftain’s head.
The battle had only gone on for a few minutes, but already Ferrik tired. He had not the long years of experience Morvek had, and his body began to fail him subtly. Morvek played with him, cutting a gash here and there, laughing at Ferrik’s clumsy attempts to block.
“Come boy, throw not your life away on honor,” Morvek said as Ferrik slipped on a patch of slick ice. “Our clan needs its men. I need strong arms at my back. There is still time to beg for your life.”
The deadly dance continued towards the dark space between the Snow Serpent fires and their neighboring clan the Black Rabbits. Ferrik began to despair, his arms screaming as his father’s sword grew heavier and heavier. Morvek had stopped talking; his face set and sweat breaking on his bony brow.
He means to kill me now. Ferrik thought as he attempted to parry the rain of Morvek’s blows. He felt a tall bush brush his back, its branches thick with icy clumps of snow. Almost without thought he reached back and grabbed a handful, flinging it into Morvek’s eyes.
Morvek howled, thrown off guard by the snowball. Ferrik swung his sword up, the point sliding under Morvek’s ribs like a wolf diving into a snow bank, hungry for the hidden rabbit underneath.
Morvek twitched, his eyes widening as his wyrd became clear to him.
“You are cursed boy,” He managed to spit. “I’ll see you in Hell.”
Ferrik felt his father’s sword jerk from his nerveless fingers as Morvek fell backwards. Morvek tumbled onto the creased icy ground, his eyes emptying of life. His blood poured out from under him in a verdigrised pool, black in the starlight. Ferrik stood rooted to the spot, his dreams for a good trading session tomorrow and a fight back to self sufficiency evaporating like the mists over the ice on a sunny day. He was a dead man.
Ferrik shook himself like a wolf that had fallen into a puddle. He gently removed his father’s sword from the cooling carcass of Morvek. There was no hope in hiding the deed, he realized. Tukmuq the clan shaman would find the truth with his fetches, and no one would believe that it had been Morvek’s fault.
Ferrik turned and ran back to his yurt, his heart hammering. He entered the open door and opened the small brazier up. He filled the small iron heater up with coal, and began to pack a few belongings quietly.
Serrimak snored gently, the dogs surrounding her in a furry ring. He cast his eyes towards her then looked away. He would be outlaw in a matter of hours, and there was no way he could escape trying to take the yurt and sled with him. He gathered a few of the furs and the few bits of silver they had. The only way that Serrimak would survive was if someone would take her in. They would both die if he tried to take her along.
Ferrik completed his hurried packing and moved to his sleeping mother’s side.
“Avanuq gurk hadmrak,” He whispered quietly. Gods guide your wyrd.
A quick touch on her brow and he departed the yurt, his eyes filling with unshed tears. Gnasher looked up and whined as he left, then put his grizzled muzzle back into the comforting warmth of the sleeping pile.
Ferrik laced the yurt’s door hurriedly, the icy winter night waking his consciousness to a razor-thin sharpness. He would find no solace in the Thorek clans. The twin tyrants of tradition and taboo ruled the Thoreks with an icy fist. The extreme environment the clans lived in left little room for mercy. The murderer of a clan member was marked for death. The murderer of a chieftain doubly damned for his crimes. Killing during the Winter Trading was another taboo lying broken at Ferrik’s feet. No matter what the situation, killing without witnesses or a called duel was murder. He wasn’t safe anywhere on the Yithrik Plains. Morvek’s sons would hunt for him until the end of his days if he tried to remain. It would have to be an escape to the sea.
Ferrik started off towards the distant fires of the Black Rabbit Clan. His one stroke of good fortune was that there would be many young wanderers among the dark spaces of the clan’s fires, young warriors eager to make the acquaintance of the next clan’s young women. Strangers were not a cause for alarm here at Cold Harbor, one of the few places on the Yithrik Plains it wasn’t.
Ferrik skulked from encampment to encampment, eyes and ears wary for any sound of pursuit. The walls of Cold Harbor loomed ahead, the gates shut for the evening. Ferrik approached, seeing the postern gate open. A pair of human guards stood by a brazier, rubbing their hands and checking the entrants of the town. A drunken Thorek weaved his way out of the gate, belching and humming a tavern tune. His furs proclaimed him as Ferret Clan, and he headed towards their distant fires, full of southron wines and potato brandy.
Ferrik approached the guards, his heart pounding. Behind the guard the town was lit with many torches and lanterns, the brothels, inns and taverns all busy divesting the Thorek clansmen of their riches.
“You headed into town?” The guard inquired roughly in accented Inutuq.
“Yes,” Ferrik grunted, trying to look as drunk as possible.
“A silver Wheel for the evening,” The guard replied, looking bored.
Ferrik grimaced, and fished a silver coin from his belt pouch.
“Enjoy your stay,” The guard said. He and his companion stood aside to let the Thorek youth enter.
The narrow lanes of Cold Harbor were thronged with Thorek clansmen and southron merchants. Storm Isle traders stumped along in a pack, dressed in furs and leather, their straw-colored hair long and tangled. A Malatzin human wandered by Ferrik, swaddled in layers of bright blankets until only his almond eyes and tattooed forehead were visible. Several whores leaned out into the frigid night from second story windows in various states of undress, calling to Ferrik. Thorek, Human, Aelfar, the whore’s race mattered little; they welcomed all who had silver to spend.
Ferrik ignored the salacious catcalls and hurried down the crowded lanes for the harbor. The trader ships lay anchored in the distance, avoiding the ice that piled up along the shoreline. A huge dock ran out into the depths of the icy harbor, lined with small longboats from the larger sea vessels.
The harbor was quiet, the water placid, and the waves gently breaking along the rocky ice-choked shore. Chunks of larger ice bobbled in the water, drifting slowly with the tide. The moon god cleared the horizon, his pocked face a livid orange hue. His consort already twinkled small and green high in the night sky.
Down the long dock Ferrik saw a Thorek man guarding a longboat, chatting with an Aelfar who seemed to be guarding the adjoining boat. Both were dressed warmly, but in wool rather than fur. The strange clansman was shaven bald, with a woolen flap cap jammed on his knobby skull. Ferrik had never seen a Thorek with a shaven head. The heavy white pelt that grew from a Thorek’s crown to the small of their back was an insulator of no mean ability. Shaving your head was as strange to Ferrik as cutting your ears off.
The two passed a small vial to each other, taking quick nips of the substance. Ferrik approached them warily. The conversation died as he approached the two sailors.
“What’re you about?” The Thorek sailor inquired, his accent marking him as a clansman.
“I was wondering if you’re looking for passengers,” Ferrik said.
The Thorek guffawed, his seamed face wrinkling in merriment.
“You’re lookin’ to get a berth eh?” He asked, looking Ferrik up and down. “I ain’t the captain, by Typhon’s wrinkly balls I am not, but if you’re willing to work he’s always looking for crew. “
The sailor stared at Ferrik, as if trying to read his mind.
“We don’t take passengers unless they show gold, and a good handful of it at that. You ever ride the Salt Road before youngun?”
Ferrik shook his head.
“Well, it might be my prejudice, but we Thoreks make fine sailors, once we stop heaving our breakfasts over the rail. You sure you’re looking to leave Yithrik?”
Ferrik nodded, his eyes down.
“You wouldn’t have any friends looking for you?” The older man inquired with a wink.
Ferrik looked up in alarm, then looked away.
“’Bout what I figured,” The older Thorek sighed. “I’ll get you out to the Pride of Malatzin quick. Your mates won’t chase you out to the ship, they’ll just curse your ghost and forget you.”
The sailor stuck out a pitch-stained hand. “I’m Durmuq.”
Ferrik gripped Durmuq’s forearm with his own.
“Welcome to the Salt Road Ferrik.”
Durmuq turned to his companion and trilled out a liquid string of syllables to the Aelfar.
“Song-Of-River’s-Soul here will watch for my mates, I’ll get you to Captain Five Monkey,” Durmuq said. “Climb aboard.”
Ferrik clambered aboard the narrow boat, the gentle rolling causing his stomach to flip just a bit. The night’s events had taken on a surreal quality. It was hard to believe that somewhere in the darkness Morvek’s body stiffened in rigor mortis while Serrimak slumbered in the grip of Atamaq, unaware that she had seen her last living child for the final time.
What will the clan do to her? Ferrik worried as Durmuq rowed silently towards the darkened silhouette of one of the southron ships. Many traditionalists claimed the old ways were best: Leave the one possessed by the forgetting demon outside and let the gods take them to the Everlasting Ice of Heaven. Death by cold was a gentle path, but one Ferrik couldn’t bring to inflict on his mother. Even when faced with outlawry and exile he had avoided the issue, leaving her and their aged wolves to the mercies of the clan and Morvek’s remaining sons.
I am no warrior, Ferrik thought miserably as the chill wind over the harbor eddied around the narrow boat. I am a base coward, skulking away like a beaten wolf when the saber cat chases him away from his kill. I have lost my right to be called Thorek.
Serrimak had been a good mother to him and his siblings, and had kept Burrek from flying too high and forgetting the ground. Ferrik remembered the day that he had brought back Burrek and his brother Germuq from the avalanche that had killed them. Serrimak had stood frozen at the yurt’s flap, tears welling in her pale blue eyes as her second to last child and her mate were laid out at her feet. The clansmen who had assisted Ferrik in this grisly chore returned to their tents, leaving the two to their grief. They had managed to bury them under twin cairns of stones and say the proper words so that they would descend to the Everlasting Ice rather than ascend into Hell.
After the final stone had been laid on her dead and the sled packed to join the clan’s retreat south, Serrimak had collapsed. Ferrik had tried to rouse her, but it was to no avail. The shock of the deaths had brought her to Atamaq, and she had never regained her memories in the following months.
Durmuq’s steady rowing brought them closer to the vessel. It swelled in size, larger than Ferrik had imagined when he had seen it from shore.
The Pride of Malatzin was an enormous vessel, bigger than any created thing Ferrik had ever seen. Three huge masts reached to the sky with sails furled in repose. A confusing tangle of rigging descended from the sails towards the deck and nets shrouded the dark hull. Several lanterns burned brightly on the ship, and the sound of men working drifted down from the deck.
The moonlight picked out the fanciful carved figure of some strange southron god firmly attached under the prow. Bright colors silvered in the moonlight accentuated the bizarre horns and frills of the figurehead , making it look like a fantastical mix of human, reptile and insect.
Durmuq followed Ferrik’s eye to the figurehead.
“Like him?” He chuckled as he brought the shore craft to the side of the huge vessel. “That there’s Smoking Obsidian Mirror, Malatzin god of merchants. Ugly cuss, but he’s seen us through a lot of voyages.”
Durmuq called up to the deck and two cables descended. He grabbed the forward one and motioned to Ferrik to grab the rear cable.
“Hold that rope steady and I’ll tie it off as soon as I’m done with this one.” Durmuq said as he deftly tied the rope to the raised prow of the shore craft.
As soon as the two ropes were secured to the ship Durmuq pointed to a rope ladder lying against the hull. “We’ll climb that.” He said.
Ferrik and Durmuq grabbed the ladder and exited the ship. Durmuq yelled again upwards to the unseen deck. “Heave her to!” The ropes pulled tight and the small craft began to rise gently.
Durmuq swarmed up the ladder like a monkey, beckoning Ferrik to follow. No stranger to heights, Ferrik followed almost as quickly as his new companion.
The two Thorek arrived at the deck of the Pride of Malatzin. Durmuq motioned for Ferrik to follow him. They travelled along the deck, avoiding sailors busy scrubbing, caulking and splicing. Every nation of Arcaia seemed to be represented in the ship’s crew, as well as every race. Aelfar, Thorek, Humans, and even brown-furred Krosh worked at maintaining the ship.
Durmuq paused at an ornately-carved door.
“Wait here.” He said, knocking at the door afterwards.
A gruff voice spoke in an odd musical tongue, which Durmuq replied in. The door was opened and a gush of heat rolled into the frigid night. A short Human stood before them, wearing an ornate hat and a long coat. The man’s face was the bronze color of a Malatzin native, but the wild hair that escaped from the large hat was flame red. A pair of violet eyes regarded the two Thorek neutrally. The man, who Ferrik took to be the captain, gestured them inside.
The room was small, but well outfitted. A table with six backless chairs dominated the area, and the walls were covered in nautical charts. Various arcane brass instruments sat on shelves. A large iron brazier glowed red in the corner. The captain sat himself down and gestured the two Thorek to do likewise.
Once the three were seated, the red-haired Human addressed Ferrik in broken Inutuq.
“What your name boy?” The captain said slowly.
“My name is Ferrik,” He replied, feeling awkward and wary.
“Ferrik, do you wish to join crew?”
“Yes sir I do.”
“You ever sail before?”
“Never, sir, just sledded as is custom with my people.”
“You speak Concordant?”
“Valfar? Aelfar Brightspeech? Mixtuatl?”
“You hard worker? Not lazy?”
The captain paused, then turned and rummaged in a desk that sat against the far wall of the cabin. He turned back, a piece of parchment in his hand.
“You understand contract?” The final word was odd to Ferrik, not in Inutuq.
The captain grimaced and put the paper in front of Ferrik.
“This is contract. You promise work hard and no trouble. I promise six silver Wheels a moon. You work hard maybe earn split of cargo profit. You not leave 30 moons.”
The captain fetched a goose quill and pot of ink from the desk and pushed them over to Ferrik.
“Make your mark at line there on paper.”
Ferrik hesitated, the quill clasped in his large fist. 30 moons was a long time, longer than he had anticipated sailing. Somehow he thought he would just sail to the next port and get off. Was he ready to become a Ghurnak for over two years? Wasn’t that what he had fought Morvek over?
The captain frowned as he saw Ferrik hesitating.
“You no want to sign?”
Ferrik dipped the quill in the ink and marked his sigil on the line. There was no choice other than this, not since Morvek’s blood had pooled at his feet.
The flame-haired master of the ship grinned when he saw Ferrik’s mark on the paper.
“Good. Welcome aboard. I am Five Monkey, captain of the Pride of Malatzin. On this ship, I am king. You do what I tell you double quick, there be no problems. Durmuq is your guide. You do what Durmuq say all times.”
Captain Five Monkey turned to Durmuq and uttered another string of musical nonsense. Durmuq nodded and motioned for Ferrik to follow him. The two departed into the icy air of the outside.
Ferrik followed Durmuq down a hatch to a large area with dozens of swinging rope hammocks. Durmuq pointed to one at the far side of the compartment.
“That bunk there is yours lad,” He said. “Might as well get some rest now, you and me have a full day tomorrow. We’ll be shipping off soon as our cargo is stowed. I’ll be showing you how to stow it, and how we live onboard here.”
The large sailor scratched his bumpy nose absently.
“For now I’ve got to get back to pick up the carousers back on shore. Sleep well Ferrik.”
Ferrik settled himself in the rope hammock as Durmuq departed. A faint sound of snoring reached him from shrouded figures in other bunks. He stared up into the planking above his head, unable to relax.
What have I done? He thought to himself as the hammock rocked gently to and fro.
The ceiling held no answer for him.
* * *
The next day began cold and windy, the dark sky covered in grey clouds. Ferrik emerged from below deck, red-eyed and exhausted after a sleepless night. Durmuq sat on a coiled rope, chewing on seal jerky and drinking kaffia.
“Good morning Ferrik,” The burly sailor said gesturing for Ferrik to sit by him.
“Morning.” Ferrik didn’t feel the day deserved any part of good.
“We’ll be shipping out today, Five Monkey just finished contracting for the last pile of goods,” Durmuq said. “Your first chore will be helping load all the furs and lumber aboard.”
The remainder of the day was spent on smaller boats shuttling back and forth loaded with goods the Malatzin captain had traded for. Ferrik worked tirelessly, despite the exhaustion that gnawed at his consciousness. The rolling of the sea made him nauseous at first, but he mastered his stomach after a few moments hanging over the side of the boat.
Every time the small boat approached the rude docks at Cold Harbor Ferrik grew anxious, but the dreaded forms of his vengeful clansmen never appeared to drag him off to justice. Perhaps they searched the town, perhaps the forests. Mayhap Morvek wasn’t as missed as Ferrik had thought he might be. Ferrik knew his last thought was wishful thinking, as Morvek son of Morvek would search for his father’s killer ceaselessly. It might just be that there were fewer willing to search with trading almost over and the Snow Serpent Clan just arriving.
Whatever the reason, no one bothered him as he helped load the small craft with the piled bales of furs. The work fell into a rhythm, with the sun never crawling past the horizon line. After what seemed like an eternity, the ship was loaded.
Durmuq clapped Ferrik on his sore shoulder.
“Good job on the boat son,” He said. “They’ll be pulling anchor soon, but we’ve done our part for now. Let’s go get some grub.”
Ferrik followed Durmuq to the galley. The narrow eating area was deserted, but the cook found some stew and biscuits for the hungry pair. The small bench groaned as Ferrik settled his bulk upon it and took to the bowl of stew with relish.
“Enjoy it, the rations only get thinner and wormier the longer we sail,” Durmuq said with a wry grin.
Ferrik looked up at his new mentor.
“Where do we sail to from here?” He asked.
“We head south to Therana, and then eastwards along the Malatzin coast towards the Eastern Isles. Mayhap a stop at Opal, though the captain doesn’t like that port much. There be lots of cargo to be hauled from that city.”
“Isn’t Opal where they have giant lizards?”
“Aye lad, they have lizards in all shapes and sizes at Opal. Lizards with feathers like birds, lizards with spines like hedgehogs, lizards 20 cubits tall if you believe some of the stories they tell in the taverns there.”
Durmuq chuckled, a low rumbling sound.
“You’ll see many a wonder where we’re off to lad. The icy plains of Yithrik will seem mighty small and plain once you get a gander at Therana.”
Ferrik grunted, staring into his stew bowl. Perhaps in time the Yithrik Plains would look small, but right now he wished he could return to his yurt, his mother and his wolves. The rolling cramped quarters of the Pride of Malatzin seemed a much more restrictive life at the moment.
As the two finished their meal, they could hear the yells and curses of the crew as they readied the ship for castoff. The ship began to pitch more, and Ferrik felt the stew he had just wolfed down roll uneasily in his gut. Durmuq gestured for him to follow and they made their way to their hammocks. Tonight Ferrik found sleep an easier foe to conquer, the hard work and the exhaustion staying his conscience for the moment.
Tags: arcaia, fantasy, rough draft, writing
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