This story is part 2 in a continuing adventure through an Ancient Winter. If you would like to start at part 1, click here.
After a hearty meal at the cozy tavern in the small northern village, you feel warm and toasty. You still do not know how you arrived in this snowy wilderness or why you have been brought here, but the people seem friendly and are doing what they can to make you feel at home.
The man who greeted you when you first stumbled into the village returns with a smile.
"I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Brynar, and I am a huntsman of sorts."
"Of sorts?" you inquire.
"Well, the things I hunt are not typical game. There are many dark creatures in these woods, and it is my duty to keep them from straying too close to our town and harassing our children and livestock." He smiles brightly, as if such terrors were of no concern. "Perhaps 'warrior' would be a better title than hunter, but I do sometimes also bring food for the feasts, so either term is as good as the other."
You ask him about the creatures and what forms they take or names they bear, but he waves you off.
"I do not like to discuss such things in the warmth of the village. Speaking of evil can draw it near. Suffice it to say, you are safe within these walls and have nothing to fear while you remain with us."
Perhaps this is all well and good, but you remember him hinting that there might be a journey before you. Hopefully your journey will not involve such monsters.
"Come," Brynar then says. "Let me take you to my home. I have told my wife you are coming, and she says she will prepare a meal in your honor while we wait for the elders to gather to discuss your circumstances."
You leave the tavern and find that it has both grown late and that the sky has cleared while you were resting within. Instead of slate gray clouds, an expanse of twinkling stars stretches above you, set in the deep blue of an endless sky. Upon the horizon northern lights flicker over the trees in shades of bright green and soothing violet. You draw in a deep breath of icy fresh air.
Brynar leads you through the village to a house near the shores of the great frozen lake. You pause for a moment to take in how the lights of the sky reflect off the pure, smooth ice before you follow your host into his home.
It is a small building, with wood beam ceilings and roughly hewn furniture. A woman stands before the hearth, stirring a pot from which wafts a delightful aroma of exotic spices. She casts you a smile.
"I have been told you have already eaten, but I thought a cup of something warm would help you sleep." She fills a drinking horn with red frothy wine and passes it to you.
You sit as the smoke from the fire seasons your drink and watch the flames dance within the hearth. As you stare into the blaze, they twist and turn, shaping into images. Assuming you've had too much to drink, you almost drop your wine, but then find your courage and watch as the shapes sharpen and clarify.
In the blaze you see an image of a mountain, with a split summit, both peaks tall and sharp and surrounded by the dancing northern lights. The image changes to a bush dripping with red berries. A crow flies through the smoke to land within the branches. It takes one of the round, crimson fruits within its beak and launches once more into the air. It circles you and the berry falls into your hand.
The vision ends and you find yourself staring into the fire once more. You hop up from your seat and ask your hosts if they saw what you did.
Both shake their heads in confusion. You recount your vision and a look of understanding passes over Brynar's face.
"It is the wizard," he explains. "He has sent you instructions for your quest. I know that mountain." Brynar opens a chest and pulls out an aged map. He shows you the coastline where your boat came ashore, the path through the woods, and his tiny village by the lake. Across the lake, another path twines through thick woods before coming to a two-peaked mountain, just like the one in your vision.
You swallow. "Is it far?"
"Not far. You can make the journey in a day if you leave at dawn. I know not why the wizard desires this, but all stories say he is a good man, powerful and strange but benevolent and kind. If he wishes it, it must be for good reason."
You nod. Hopefully you have the courage for what lies ahead. You say you will leave at once.
Brynar's wife touches your shoulder. "Not tonight. Tonight rest here. In the morning I will provide you with food for your journey, but now, sleep."
You snuggle into a pile of warm furs beside the fire. Tomorrow a great journey awaits. For now, though, you will rest.
The tale continues in our next post, A Journey Through the Northern Woods.
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