The Blackraven Hall was indeed quite a busy place of late as Freyr Darkwine had decreed that an attack would be launched on Three-Troll. The first large scale assault against the Irrisen forces of its kind in recent memory and with that the Raven’s were eager to engage in battle. The training hall saw Ravens sparring ferociously, keeping their skills and wits as sharp as their blades but it was not only the Ravens preparing but the ‘Wyrds’ were ensuring their readiness through study and perfecting their incantations of their potent fire magics.
Word throughout the hall was that the attack and march for Three-Troll would commence in a weeks time. Garros knew this was a critical moment, he knew that they had been making waves in Irrisen and the time for subterfuge would now be dispensed with. Tom was right; the initiative was theirs and it was time to strike at the heart of the Verge – Redtooth. Duke Arvanoff, the Son of Elvanna would be next.
The retainer had been resourceful throughout their attacks in Irrisen and this time was no different. He knew he could rely on Rakim and the Warrant of Trade he now possessed – this would grant them passage into the inner city of Redtooth unmolested. But, it was Vassily who was the most important chip to be played. Garros knew that they were walking into a pack of wolves and that would prove dangerous if not deadly. Surely then, why not walk straight into the den and dispatch the alpha of the pack? It would be suicide walking through the city prying for information and attempting to find ways into the Keep of the Hound. Vassily had been hired by Yuri and the retainer would use that connection as the stepping stone to the Duke.
As the fated hour approached, it did not take cajoling on Garros’ part as everyone had their reason to join this cause, though it was Li’s that made the swordsman ponder the most. Garros had ultimately concluded that he was simply content traveling with the group wherever that road would take them. This was more than enough to give cause for being allies but deeper than that – friendship.
The marching leaving the Blackraven Hall was truly a sight to behold and any Ulfen would have swelled with pride had they witnessed such a moment. This was no different for the Ravens and the Wyrd’s – Freyr at the head of the forces and with Witch hunting hero’s among their ranks, it was almost ceremonious for the troops. Garros was clasping wrists with many of the Ravens, encouraging them to fight harder and stronger and as the swordsman looked into each of their eyes he could see they felt invincible next to the hero’s of Kalsgard.
It never had crossed Garros’ mind – a hero? No, this was not for glory or for fame. Redtooth would be the staging point for every injustice, every life taken – the loss of Aelion and Owain. Though the retainer could not deny that he was not the only one to have been made to suffer at the hands of the Jadwiga and felt a uniting sense of purpose with the Ravens as they marched onwards. The White Witch’s of Irrisen would be stopped.
The march came to a stop as eventually it would have to – the hero’s of Kalsgard would make their way east as the Raven’s headed further south. Garros approached Freyr and keenly observed him, then left out a chuckle, “Many of the Raven’s claim to be the next hero’s to be sung about in the Blackraven Hall! You can’t die yet Freyr, for I want to hear what the skalds will sing of you when we return!” as he clasped his forearm. Freyr beings to speak, “Someone has to show these men how it’s done Garros! I don’t know what you have planned for Redtooh but I don’t think I need Wyrdmake to divine that answer – strike true my friend!”
The merchant cart veered away and Garros watched as the attack force marched on – these men were ready to lay down their lives against the forces of Irrisen. Delving deeper back into the Verge revealed just how severe the never ending winter really was. A constant of cold, snow and ice. What a hell the swordsman thought. As the group made their approach to Redtooth, Rakim had voiced his intent to part ways with them – citing an interest to preserve his business. Travelers come and they go, Garros would not begrudge Rakim for his desire. There had been a mutual benefit betwen the two parties and now their paths would take them in different directions.
It was up to Vassily now, he had been here before and it was time he settled his debt. Everyone paid their debts even with the blood price – or so Vassily said. The group made its way for the Keep of the Hound and Vas expressed who he was and an audience would be arranged with Yuri via one of the guards. They were escorted into a courtyard where intricate stonework was observed on the walkway. Guards were garbed with the eight-point snow flake of Irrisen and Garros saw snow glistening over top of the walk way. At the further end of the courtyard two men stood talking to each other, one who towered over the other. One wore a dead hand around his neck.
Garros was beginning to feel the all to familiar rush just before he would let loose his blades and begin to engage in the dance of death. However, he kept himself in check. Surely, this was the Duke and engaging out in the open like this would be a fools death. As he was scanning the area, he noticed two archers above but further to that he caught something from the corner of his eye. Li and Vas were casting spells. Garros wanted to say something but before he had a chance the Duke had already caught the spells being cast.
“What’s this, an attempt on my life!? Guards!” roared the Duke. A bloody battled had ensued and reinforcements had come to the aid of the Duke of Redtooth but Garros disregarded them and focused his blades on Arvanoff himself. That mummified hand dangled and bounced off his chest as he swung his massive great sword, he truly was ferocious – no regard for his own well being, only in attempt to flay his would be death dealers. Some men have been said to fight on even after the most grievous of wounds, yet Arvanoff soaked up everything that was delt to him. Eventually everyone will drop to their knees and Garros saw the Duke make a run from the battle. Dropping to one knee, blood pooling around him, the Duke grasped the hand around his neck and roared, “Mother!!”
Suddenly a massive concussive force blew out – shattering all the mirrors surrounding the courtyard save one. An immediate deep cold overtook everyone and a silhouette of a finely shaped woman began to appear in the mirror. Not only did this figure appear but she was walking right through the mirror itself. Stark white flowing locks of hair fell off of her shoulders bearing an ice crown on top of her head. There could be no mistaking the Queen of Irrisen – Elvanna, daughter of Baba Yaga. There was a maternal look to her beauty, crows feet at the sides of her eyes and she gracefully made her way to her wounded son. Garros attempted to stand but his legs would allow no such thing. Elvanna was moving her right hand in a motion Garros had seen the White Witches utilize before, a hex was upon them. He struggled both in mind and in body but it was utterly futile and everything turned black.
A little over a month later
In Garros’ mind, one success had set them forward for Freyr’s campaign had been achieved, however, their failure at an attempt on the Duke’s life had set them backwards far further back then where they had started. If it hadn’t been for the Wyrdmake and the Heralds of Summers Return, they would have been executed publicly in the capital of Irrisen.
Being so close to Elvanna and failing to achieve anything was infuriating to Garros. He could not deny that her power was incredible however. He could not fathom how such witchery works but somehow, he and the rest of his companions shared a dream or a vision. The group witness a woman and a young boy – apparitions speaking with Garros. The retainer took a moment to reflect on their escape when this dream occurred.
Wyrdmake and two agents of the Heralds of Summers Return managed to get the group to a small camp outside the border of Redtooth where they took rest for the evening. Perhaps it was left over magics left remnant in the party or perhaps strongest in Garros still but what was certain is that the apparitions were benevolent in nature.
The next morning Tom was the only one who approached Garros about what he saw in his dreams, “Garros, I saw you and what appears to be a woman and a child. But I was asleep, how could this be possible? Garros stared off as he answered Tom, “I heard my wife and child calling out to me… Their voices finally gave me the strength and courage to come to grips with my own suffering.” There was a silence between the two, “Very well Garros, I know when to keep to myself.”
The retainer went back to that moment with Aelion and Owain. It was a release of guilt, of his hatred but it signified a vindication in his actions to this point. He closed his eyes and faded to that moment, “Thank you my love…” Aelion outstretched her translucent hand onto her husbands forearm, little Owain stood roughtly up to Garros’ waist and with a smile he had never forgotten, heard his son say, “Papa’s strong!” The retainer looked into Aelion’s eyes, “No… I didn’t do anything… then… and I can’t now… I’m a man with no honour…” Aelion gave her husband a warm smile, much like she always did when she did not agree with Garros, “No… you have entirely too much!” Just before his eyes, Garros saw his wife and son beginning to fade, “My beloved… we’ll always be together… we’ll always be by your side…”
Their essence began to swirl around the retainer with incredible bright light, so bright that it was hard to keep his eyes open and just as the light began to fade Garros could see they had converged at a point just in front of him. Before the retainer stood a blade – it gleamed with a radiant light becoming more and more dull as he continued to look onward. He paced forward and grabbed the hilt of the blade and a feeling washed over his body and soul, he felt absolution. With the burden of grief and hatred now removed from the retainer he felt free to live his life as he once did. He would continue to hone his skills as a Blade of Doma, he would rebuild that which was taken from him. With Aelion and Owain now always at his side there was an even tempering between the man he used to be and what kind of man he would be now. This would strengthen Garros to means he had never known, he would not fight with a heavy heart but with an open one.
Fate, it seemed now pushed Garros and his companions away from the Land of the Linnorms – the creation and means to undo that creation of the dolls that the White Witches have unleashed upon the lands. Perhaps some sort of means to undo the witchery behind them or an artifact with the power to destroy these abominations that serve Queen Elvanna. Whatever it was they were looking was clearly not in Ulfen territory nor did the party have any means of re-entering Irrisen. Even Wyrdmake has scoured through the libraries of the Blackraven Hall and Kalsgard and no such information could be found.
The party would make their way back to Kalsgard and find a ship to take them south. Much discussion among the group had different points of interest though in all honesty Garros knew little of the south – he had spent his whole life in the Land of the Linnorms and this would be very much a new journey for him. Though he knew he could not stay the retainer felt compelled to aid in one more manner before they departed. He knew it was not yet time to rebuild Doma but he could help the Ulfen people holding against the Jadwiga.
Garros took his leave of his companions and made for an audience with Sveinn Blood-Eagle. Being regarded as a hero, did seem to have its benefits after all and as such being received by the King was easily permissible enough. As Garros entered the King’s chambers he approached Sveinn and kneeled down on one knee, “Jarl I come before you with an offer. I am about to leave these lands in search of a means to bring to an end the manifestations of the cursed dolls roaming the lands sent forth by the Witches of Irrisen. I only ask you take this and use it to further the means to protect Kalsgard. I can only imagine that Elvanna will be retaliating after what has transpired over the last few months.” The retainer handed a pouch with two hundred platinum bars to a huscarl, “Please take this as my way of supporting the Ulfen people while I make for southern lands.”
Garros was leaving his homeland a changed man, he never imagined having to leave for any reason. The search abroad was about to begin but where would it take the travelers?