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Chapter 27

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Chapter XXVII

A Wolf's Tale - Part 1

 

Jack had been on the road now for a few weeks, it had taken a lot longer than he had first thought to travel to these remote villages and towns. He was used to the quick travel of the southern lands where they had air travel, and even on the roads up to Normanguard where the roads, whilst not in great shape, had been usable.

This was different. The roads here were nothing more than tracks once a person headed out into the wilderness. Whilst the dwarves prided themselves on their craftmanship, they had clearly not invested in keeping them up to date, and as such, were now in a rapid state of disrepair.

Jack had so far stopped off at two small towns, bringing the kings order to them. Not that they had taken it well, and only grudgingly agreeing to join this united army that Fierhand was proposing after seeing that he was one of them. His wristband that gleamed in the sunlight had been key in winning these people over to his side.

Now would be much trickier, those towns had been small, and they had little to offer them in terms of marshal prowess, only a few hundred riders followed him from these towns. This next one on his map; a large town called Bredon was much bigger, and much prouder than the others.

 

It was another hour before they reached the large town, and it put all the others, including some of the southern towns to shame.

Bredon was built at the foot of mountain range, and unlike Bergskort, all of its building looked in good condition. They were a large collection of two-story buildings and few others reaching higher, creating a great image as it sat at the foot of the mountains behind it. Smoke rose from may sone chimneys, as the sign of life, which had been strangely absent from his journey to this place was in full swing here. Around the town was a large stone wall, not that high, but much more defensible than the wood or earth works that had surrounded the two previous towns and Bergskort before it.

“Do not look for welcome here young one.” One of the elderly north-men that had joined Jack on the road said, looking towards the town.

“Sure.” Jack said looking at the old man with trepidation before riding towards the town, followed by his small, but growing army.

 

Through the gates they rode, attracting the attention of quiet a few of the inhabitants, who looked up at their approach, but quickly returning to what they were previously doing once they realised that they were no threat to them. Jack guessed from the size that the town’s population had to be somewhere in the thousands, enough to effectively increase his army size twenty-fold if they agreed to join him.

Around him however, these people seemed more interested in peace, there was little sign of any military presence around, no guard to be seen and he began to feel bad about the storm that he was about to bring upon them.

Jack continued to observe the town when he felt the gaze of an old man on him. Turning around he saw Tore, the elderly watcher. The man was shrunken almost to the point of withered, with wispy grey hair and beard, but it was his eyes that stood out. They were milky white, he was blind.

“What are you doing here boy?” Tore asked, feeling his way towards him, behind the elderly man, followed a group of about twenty others.

“Are you the leader here?” Jack asked the blind man, it made sense, he was the oldest person that he had ever seen outside of the mountain fortress. But to his surprise Tore merely smiled.

“I have not, nor have I ever ruled here.” Tore responded, the man reminded Jack of old Karl Mo, the bartender at The Mountain Base Inn, back at Bergskort, only older and wiser. “You are running from something, aren’t you boy?” Tore asked, his voice almost a croak due to his advanced age. The question took Jack aback for a moment, it was such an odd thing to say that he didn’t know initially how to respond.

“I’m n-not running from anything.” Jack said, stuttering on the lie that he had just said, something that Tore seemed to grasp as he smiled his toothless smile once more.

“Everyone here is running from something Jackson Brian Wolfrick.” Tore said as he pattered Jack’s shoulder’s reassuringly, not that it did anything to help.

This latest comment had really freaked Jack out, as he wondered ‘how in the gods name does he know my name, my full name at that.’ Even his own family never used it, even when he had gotten into trouble.

“How do you kno…” Jack started. But he was interrupted when a tall guard approached him from the town hall, he was a thickset man with a blond beard.

“There ready for you now.” The guard said and turned away from him. Jack made to continue his conversation with the old man, but he too was heading inside the town hall. And so, Jack followed suit, choosing to bring up the conversation later.

 

Jack found himself standing in the centre of the town hall, with what seemed like half the town in attendance and all looking at him. The local lord of the town, Edvar Frisk, a grey-haired muscular man, sat in the highchair as the man who had half dragged him here talked to him.

He kept his hand on the hilt of his axe, that was something at least, they hadn’t disarmed him, meaning that they thought he was trustworthy, or about as trustworthy as he was likely to be.

“He said he crossed the ridgeline...” Valter started before Edvar cut him off.

“Impossible.” Edvar retorted at Valter, before quickly nodding to his friend and Valter turned around to face Jack for the first time since arriving.

“Talk.” Valter commanded, looking at the boy.

“I have been sent here, at the request of our grace, Fierhand.” Jack started as a murmur went around the room, despite Fierhand being king, he very rarely troubled the people that lived this far north. Instead choosing to let them sort themselves out, including any potential quarrels between each other. But now was different. “We are at war and…” Jack made to continue before he was cut off.

“There is no we boy.” Edvar said smiling a cruel smile at the teen. A small laugh echoed through the hall as the people took up the jibe. However, despite this, Jack did notice that Tore and his followers did not take up the laugh. Not that it seemed to concern Edvar, who got up out of his chair and walked down to face Jack head on, not before however, looking down at Jack’s wristband and smiling. “You may think your one of us because some whore took pity on you, a cripple. But you are still southron to us. You reek of your privileged imperial life. Now leave, and do not ever think to command us again.” Edvar finished as he got right up in Jack’s face.

“I’m sorry. Can’t do that I’m afraid.” Jack said, it was taking all his will power to not strike down this old man for what he had just said about Erika, but he thought that it would not look good on him if he slaughtered an entire town when he was supposed to be bringing them together. “I’ll leave once you agree to join me.” Jack finished. Edvar had been halfway back to his seat when that comment was made, and he turned around, a terrible look on his face. However, it was Valter that stepped forward now.

“The old man said get out.” Valter said, getting uncomfortably close to Jack, his breath reeked of whatever he had been eating last, which didn’t smell good either way. But before Jack could respond to this threat. Tore, the elderly man he had met outside stood up.

“I think it is best that we find out what the young lad has to say.” Tore said, his voice quiet, but when he spoke, the room at large listened. Tore may not have ever ruled here, but Jack sensed that his words still carried weight. Valter looked up at Edvar in confusion, before the governor spoke up.

“This boy is not one of us Tore. He is not from here.” Edvar spoke and there was a small murmur of ascent, but not as loud and positive as it had been before the old man spoke.

“None of us are from here Edvar.” Tore replied, his white eyes looking around the room, not seeing the people gathered, whilst also seeing them clearly. “The boy is running, like we all did. That is what it is to be from here. To run away from their individual problems for the simple life.” Tore finished smiling before slowly looking around the room once more, before he and his followers departed, leaving Jack alone.

For his part Jack wanted them to stay, they had been the only ones that had supported him, and now that they were gone. He was now on his own. Before he could speak however, Valter gets a grin on his face, looks up at Edvar, who also nods his approval.

“Alright boy, you want to earn our trust. Very well.” Valter said, an evil grin on his face, which Jack did not like, not one bit. But he allowed the man to continue. “We’ve been having some trouble, we recently sent out a group of men into the mountains to establish a watch point, and since then none have returned to us, we fear that they are being kept up there by a potential hoard. If we join this army, we need them delt with, what is the point, after all, of riding off to war, only to return and find these monsters running amok in our lands.” Valter continued, the grin was still on his face, and Jack wasn’t sure why.

“So, you want me to go and hunt some zombies.” Jack said, this seemed too easy, he was no longer the inexperienced tracker and hunter that needed to rely on his younger brother skills in those field when he had been when he first came to this land. During his time with the north-men, he had learnt that himself. “Easy.” Jack finished, although he was halted in his confidence by the look in Valter’s face.

“Yes, drive out this hoard. But you may come into contact with much worst than them.” Valter said, his smile not disappearing from his weedy face.

“Like what?” Jack asked, although he already thought that he knew, this part of the north was well known to house some of the most terrible beasts that were known outside the waste lands of the east.

“Mountain wolves. And trolls.” Valter said, his smug face alive with malice, it had been exactly what Jack had expected the man to say, although it didn’t make him feel any better about it.

 

The trolls of the north were said to be a violent group but had been brought to heel throughout the years by both north-men and dwarves alike, whenever they had dared to rouse themselves from their mountain homes. The enmity was well known as, even though the beasts had fought alongside the forces of the living during the first war with The Shadow, they were not trusted and thus had been as nothing short of cannon fodder during those battles. Since then, they had been hunted to near extinction, and been forced to flee to the far northern mountains where they made their home.

It was odd to think that they still lived up there, as even the north-men knew the dangers that the winter provided and built shelters to defend themselves, but the trolls had not, at least to anyone’s knowledge, as nobody who ventured into those mountains ever returned.

 

That was the reason most like that they had given him the job, either he would sort out their problems, or die in the attempt. Which would suit their needs as well, as they could claim that he had never visited them, since the trolls never left evidence of their kills behind.

Jack did his best to smile at Valter, although it pained him to do so, and spoke as politely as possible.

“Consider your missing person problem done.” Jack said, continuing to smile, and with that, turned around and left the town hall for what he thought might be the final time.

 

As Jack walked out of the building, he looked up and saw the great northern mountains ahead of him, looming across his already limited field of vision. He wondered whether or not he would return from those hills with his life. The cliffs were ominous, rising into the sky, almost blocking the horizon, and casting a deep shadow across the small collection of hills that the town was built on. Jack called out to one of the people who had accompanied him, and a small lad by the name of Evert, who by his guess was no older than Dave walked up to him.

“Tell the group that I have something to do. Tell them to wait here until my return.” Jack said and hoping that they would obey, he knew the north-men, despite what Edvar said about him. They were an unruly lot, and he feared that with him gone they may just as well decide to return home.

“Yes sir.” Evert said and rushed back to inform the group. Jack smiled at this for a moment thinking that he had been wrong to doubt them.

He was however, brought out of his thoughts when a small group of people came up to him, they were few, but he noted that they were some that had not taken up the laugher when Edvar and Valter had insulted him. As Tore walked up to him once more.

“You going up the mountains youngen?” Tore said croaking slightly as he spoke, his wispy white hair blowing about in the breeze.

“Yep.” Jack said, looking back up at the mountains. As Tore walked blindly up to him and put his hands on Jack’s shoulders and smiled at the teen.

“I sense that you will need to be careful boy. This is no adventure that you are about to attempt.” Tore said, the sky seemed to get darker as he spoke, although there was no sign of clouds. It took Jack aback somewhat, the certainty around the words that had been said to him unnerved him. “You and I will speak on your return.” Tore said, and before Jack could respond. Tore gently tapped him on the shoulders and walked away, leaving Jack on his own as the rest of the group that surrounded themselves around the blind man followed in his wake.

Leaving Jack to ponder these words, he took what he thought would be one last look at his horse, shouldered his pack and marched towards the looming cliffs.

 

It took a while on the mountains before Jack made his first discovery, not that it was a pleasant one. The snows up here still hadn’t fully melted, which explained why he had almost missed it. But upon further inspection, he found the remains of what looked like heavily decayed corpses littering the ground, half submerged, but still visible.

If it hadn’t been for the daylight, Jack may have missed them, but he didn’t, the remains of a dead hoard. Who they had been before being turned? Jack neither knew nor cared. The hoard had definitely been attacked, as the body parts scattered the path both ahead and behind him. He then realised that no human could have done this amount of damage without casualties, which he saw none of. Not even Brutus or his equal Brydon were capable of such destruction.

If he had been tasked with finding the hoard, that would have been that, and he could return to the town. That was unfortunately not to be however, and so with a heavy heart and an increasing sense of unease. Jack continued up the small rise in the track in order to complete his mission of locating the missing group. He felt odd, as whilst he had found the corpses of the hoard, there had been no site of these missing people and he started to wonder what had really happened to them. If they were not attacked by the hoard or had been and then killed afterwards by something else, then what was it, and why had this mysterious attacker not continued to attack the town.

As Jack crested the rise, his fur coat blowing in the cold wind, despite the fact that it was still summer, this far north, that fact meant little on itself. He had been in colder temperatures back on his own journey to the mountain, but even so, this weather at this time of the year unnerved him, the almost unnatural cold. Unknown to Jack however, as he continued to walk, was the red eyes watching his progress through the path.

 

It was almost nightfall by the time that Jack reached the outpost that had been described to him. It was a simple affair, made of steel and seemingly in the process of being built into the mountainside. But it was what was outside that troubled him.

A north-men propped up on a spike, bits of frost building in his frozen beard, his eyes were frozen wide with the fear of whatever had killed him. Thinking of the zombies he had discovered in the snows and wondering if they had something to do with this, Jack paused for a moment and gave a silent prayer to the corpse before entering the outpost, it was dark, all the power was out, and there was no torch light to be seen. He felt like he was back in the crypts beneath the Wolfrick graveyard back home, only colder.

He finally reached the control room of the outpost two floors up, for how little time the group had had to build this place, they had done remarkably well. The control room was a simple affair, with a few computers lining the metal walls, and a small window in order to observe the mountain pass outside. Continuing his search of the outpost, he discovered something that was likely to help him in his quest; a small camera mounted into the wall, it looked heavily damaged, but that seemed to be more of an indirect attack, rather than a targeted strike at the recording software.

Heading over to the controls, Jack managed to draw enough power from the battery in his own torch to bring up the last recorded clip he could find, only a few days ago, and clicked play.

 

The image was fuzzy, but he was able to make out something very large, and very hairy advancing into the compound, whilst being fired at from all directions, the bullets seemed to have no effect, on what he guessed was the troll, only enraging the creature further. Then the beast charged towards its attackers and striking the camera as it did so, before the monitor went black, as the power finally drained out of the machines.

This certainly confirmed his earlier suspicions on the fact that the group had not been attacked by the hoard, but why had the trolls stopped here. Why not continue on, if the stories about these monsters were true, then they could have easily destroyed Bredon. He realised that this was more complex than he had first realised, and so in that moment he made up his mind. Thinking that he was mad to do it, he pulled up the hood on his cloak and headed out to find the creatures that had attacked the outpost.

 

As Jack continued on his lonely walk through the mountains wondering whether or not he was alone out here, and regrettably thinking that it was unlikely. He wished that he had asked for a few of his recruits to accompany him, but it was too late to turn back now, so he continued, until he eventually came across a break in the mountainside, a sort of archway had been formed by the two large cliffs on either side of him. And in front of him, were two long dead corpses, judging by the smell, they were half decayed due to the colder temperature keeping them from fully decaying, but it did little to keep the bodies fresh.

Throwing caution to the wind, Jack ignored the obvious keep away sign that the corpses represented and proceeded through the archway. It took a few minutes, but he eventually reached a large open area and his mouth dropped open.

 

A massive canyon lay in front of his eye, it resembled the entry hall of Normanguard, with many stairways cut into the mountain leading to caves and small building, from everywhere around and looking down at him were the trolls. Great big creatures, covered head to foot in fur and hunched over, their muscular arms dragging on the ground making it easy for them to charge without warning. Their heads were oddly round, and equally hairy, and they had two pairs of eyes, one set smaller and alert, the other much larger and seemingly closed against the moonlight.

 

Jack continued to walk along the ridge line, uncomfortably aware that he was being watched by many sets of eyes. Although his plans on simply running away were halted when he turned to see the entrance that he had used blocked by trolls that he guessed had been following him here.

Seeing his only escape route blocked, he did the only thing that he could, and continued forward into the heart of the troll lair. As he did so, a few of the creatures walked up near him and started thumping the ground beneath them. Unsure of what to make of this, Jack continued on, but wondered if it was a greeting or a threat.

His initial shock, however, was starting to disappear as he found that the trolls didn’t seem to be that interested in eating him. His axe remained on his belt, but he felt comfortable enough to take his hand away from it at the moment in any case.

He then reached a larger structure, a two-story crude stone building that like the outpost he had investigated was built into the mountain. Standing in front of it, however, was not a dead north-man, but a troll, Jack guessed the leader of this colony. It wore a small stone crown on its head and a rough set of silver armour that looked older than the landscape he was in.

The leader took a few long moments to gaze the newcomer up and down, before relenting and walking away. For a moment Jack did nothing, not being sure what he was supposed to do. Until he felt a shove on his back from a troll behind him, indicating that he was supposed to follow.

Whilst Jack followed the leader a sudden doubt crept into his mind. He had no idea how he was supposed to communicate with these creatures, they didn’t speak the imperial language, or any language as far as he could tell.

He stopped thinking however when the troll leader spun around and raised a stone spear above his head. For a moment, Jack thought that it was the end, and he prepared himself for a brutal death. But the troll merely slammed the tip into the ground in front of him. Not knowing what to do. Jack simply bowed, which did the trick, as the leader gestured for him to enter the crude stone structure.

As he walked forward, he was starting to revaluate his initial thoughts on these creatures, sure they had the capacity for violence, the attack on both the hoard and the outpost were proof of that. But he thought that they had not attacked him, on the road or in their home, they seemed more curious in nature compared to the stories that he and his brothers had been told when they were younger. And with that thought now embedded in his mind, Jack entered the building a lot calmer than before.

 

Inside the building was no warmer than the outside, on a count that it had no windows, just gaps in the stonework. However, that wasn’t the main problem as he quickly realised that he wasn’t alone. Six other trolls, each with their own stone crowns looked up at him as he walked towards them. All curious as to why this human had come to their home. The troll that had greeted him at the door walked past him then and sat down on one of the stone benches and gestured for Jack to do the same.

‘Well, this is weird.’ Jack thought as he sat down in the large room, it was cold, much colder than it had been in the towns. But he chose not to complain, as he was unsure how the trolls would react, only now realising why they were so well covered in fur, so that they could survive the temperature drop that was common this far north.

He was brought out of his thoughts when the troll that he guessed was the leader of this colony, started grunting and pointing at him. Then proceeded to grunt towards the doorway where he had come from.

“I come in peace.” Jack said, looking around at the assembled group of creatures, he only now realised how tall and dangerous that they were, almost certain that they would be able to tear him apart, limb from limb if the trolls so desired to do so.

A few grunts followed this statement, as the leaders slammed the butts of their spears into the snow-covered ground. This was going to be a lot more difficult than he had first thought, he had a mission to complete, and couldn’t get bogged down with this stuff he knew. So, Jack decided to just throw caution to the wind and picked up a piece of wood. This got the troll’s attention as it looked curiously at the newcomer.

“Friend.” Jack said holding up the piece of wood with a crude image of two people holding hands. The troll, looked first at the picture, then at Jack and then back at the picture, before advancing on the young north-man, who was for the first time on this mission that he had been given, was scared out of his wits.

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