Blizzards were notoriously common in Alvkhret, though, in the woman’s twenty years, she’d never been caught in one so fierce. Whilst initially she’d relished being lost in a white blanket of cold, she was realizing now that these crude outlines that made up her hands looked were becoming frostbitten. Vivid images of the blacksmith’s wife came into view, the woman who had returned with black fingers and entire patches of skin missing. Shivers ran up her spine as she remembered watching the woman pull off her shoe, and in the process, her toe.
She wiggled her toes and pressed her gloved hands beneath her armpits and continued walking – hoping that she was walking in the right direction. All she knew in this white world was that she was headed downhill, avoiding branches that found themselves suddenly before her.
In the distance, an orange light flickered into view, perhaps fire? As she stood still, attempting to determine its distance she felt her blood cooling. I need to move. Kicking through the knee-deep snow, she dragged herself onward; at least she had a focus now – light. Light that was growing with each step. Her hands instinctively reached towards what her eyes couldn’t adjust to, meeting warm glass. Slowly, she could decypher the interior of a house, people, movement – an inn.
Her body twisted to look for an entrance, instead seeing only a wooden post by a cobblestone path. Moving closer, finally she could see the words: Ejrra Inn painted boldly in red on a wooden banner, swinging high above her. She followed the path to a thick door and pushed her way inside, slamming it shut behind her.
In an instant, it was as though she’d entered a different world, she could hear things other than wind, men and women alike; chatter, the clinking of drinks, footsteps and somewhere a singer. Her vision cleared and finally she could see the room. She’d entered a tavern, the area before her was a bar, behind it a woman greeted her with a nod.
She swung her cloak off. Melted snow dripped behind her as she shuffled to a table, noticing that it was beneath the window she’d looked through. After placing her frost-tinged gloves on the table, the numbness began to fade. She checked for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing of the sort, just pale, worn hands, battered from training. They moved thoughtfully to the sack attached to her leather belt, filled with Tiks. Never had she used them but now she was technically on the outskirts of the Wastes, they’d come in handy. Her mother had taught her how other countries managed their trade, but she’d never put it into practice and as the barmaid was glancing at her pretty frequently, she knew now was the time. She took off the woolen jumper she’d made herself years ago, she’d outgrown it slightly, but it was still warm and in this weather, that’s what mattered most. Her lavender tunic stood out like a sore thumb here, even if she didn’t want it to.
“I’d like to rent a room – please.” She said, portraying a level of confidence her mother had worn into her. In the corner of her eye she spotted something, steam rising from a dark liquid, the man who was drinking it looked content enough. “And whatever that is.” She added, waiting for the barmaid to reply, which she eventually did with a nod.
Leaving what she hoped was the correct amount on the counter, she collected a pint of what the barmaid called ‘Arridian Charm’. To her it smelt like nuts. She took her seat. She’d never tasted anything from Arridia before, she attempted to hide her excitement, though in the process almost spilled it.
The blizzard on the outside seemed to grow wilder as she watched it, wind beat against the window, rattling it. Her gaze was fixated on the swinging signpost, briefly coming into view before fading out as the winter storm roared.
Her ears twitched as the door bashed open and a hulking felian squeezed though, followed by what appeared to be a colossal mound of snow, clinging to his armor, frozen to his fur. In her whole life, she’d never seen such a large creature, she wiped her eyes, no, he definitely was a giant. The soldiers working for her mother, even the larger felian generals, in their full steel armor couldn’t match him.
Silence began to linger, the bard briefly stopped singing, then began again, quieter this time, and slowly the noise returned. Her attention was back on her drink, but routinely, she glanced over to see what he was up to. Right now, he was chatting to the barmaid, who poured him an Arridian Charm, he turned, obviously looking for a place to sit. Awkwardly, she found herself making eye contact with him, she looked back at her drink to distract herself, but it was too late; a moment later the felian was gingerly trying to squeeze onto the bench across from her, causing the floor to squeal loudly under the bench’s stubborn movement. Now he was close, she could clearly see him. His fur was dulled white, the cloak he wore was an amalgamation of animal pelts covering his chest and back, but his thick arms were exposed, revealing just how muscular he was. One of his ears was torn, but their pointedness still remained, when he smiled – which seemed to be always – his canines protruded over his bottom lip.
“From Alvkhret are ya?” the felian asked. The first thing she noticed about his voice was its pitch, low, masculine, reminding her of Darak, a high-ranking officer she’d trained under. Usually she’d be intimidated but his tone was one she strangely associated with her late Grandmother: happy, friendly, open. “The purple’s a dead giveaway. Long way from home.”
“Yes.” She replied. There was an awkward silence, only interrupted by her casual sipping at the drink, trying not to make eye contact with the smiling felian.
“So, how’d you end up here?” the felian asked. “Or should I tell you my story first?” she shrugged in reply. “Aye. Alright. I’ve been roaming Honvarj for a few months, helping travelers who get lost this side of the mountain. Trust me, happens more than you’d think. You were lucky to have found this place, that blizzard’s foul.”
“It hit this morning.” She replied. His build was that of a soldier, she was certain, no way he was just some felian.
“Been out that long?” he asked, and took a long gulp of his drink.
“I’ve been traveling for nearly a month now. Blizzards seem to follow me.”
“So you’ve been traveling alone, in a blizzard, for a month; with no idea where you’re headed.” He asked.
“At the moment, I’m headed for the Wastes, from there – no idea.”
“Why the Wastes?”
“Never been. I haven’t seen much of the world, I planned on going to Jupe but that’d mean backtracking so I’ll try my luck at Arridia, then who knows? Maybe the Silverstates.” She stopped to think for a moment, still wondering who this felian was and why he cared. “You’re military. I was raised around them. I sense it.”
“I was. Raised in Gatlykta.” Ah, Gatlykta, a place she’d been, though it was years ago.
“Well… shouldn’t you be there now?” she said quickly, waiting for a reaction.
“Was.” He said firmly,
“So you’re not part of a lodge anymore? Just a felian, wondering around the mountainside?” she asked. “I can’t see why you’d do that. Where’s the honor? Your ancestors -” She stopped before she said what she was thinking, what her grandmother had always said to her. About how deserters had not decency, no honor. She wasn’t here to offend anyone.
“I don’t expect someone like you to understand.” He laughed, his smile returning as he took another sip. Someone like her? “You’re Nibra aren’t you?” He looked down at her drink, noticing that it was empty. “I’ll buy you another.” He rose to his feet, drawing the attention of the rest of the guests.
“Who are you?” she asked defensively. Her mind was screaming at her to get as close to her weapons as she could, but some other part of her instinctively knew he wasn’t there to harm her, at least, he wasn’t a threat.
“A friend. Call me Jaromir.”
By Josh Aldred