The Hunter's Pledge

The Hunter's Pledge

A Story by Vincent Lakes
"

Tanissa Darksky is forced to leave her home and life behind, and escape out into the wild. She wanders south, hoping to find safety from Blackwater, the ancient capital city of the North.

"

The Hunter's Pledge


2nd edition


by


Vincent Lakes


For additional information, including world maps, and more stories, visit the official website of Vincent Lakes at www.vincentlakes.com


1.

Tanissa Darksky, daughter of the Chief of Heldar, was sitting alone in her room. A long blond hair was lining her beautiful, but saddened, face. Her pale-blue eyes were swollen and watery from all the tears she had shed during that night and her heart was heavy from the daunting despair.

She was an exceptional girl for her age as she was one of the most skilled hunters in the icy vale of Darfalon. She had proven herself once again that day by killing a moose calf all by herself. Knowing she would get into trouble by going out on her own, she did it anyway as it was the only way to break the dull boredom inside the village.

Around her neck Tanissa was carrying a delicate silver necklace with a beautiful sapphire amulet attached to it, shaped to resemble a flying hawk, a miniature model of the same bird that was often seen with her. In fact, that amulet, or the spell that was engraved on the surface of it, was used to summon this majestic bird. She only needed to pronounce the true name of her pet and the hawk answered the call.

The necklace was a birthday present from her brother, Malin, when she had passed the mark of her sixteenth summer. It had been three years now, but the memory of that birthday remains crystal clear in her mind. The feeling she had experienced when she called the hawk for the first time was something she cannot describe with words. Still today, when she summons her pet, the same glimpse of pure joy fills her heart for a moment. It was something truly special, and she would always be grateful to her brother for such a magnificent gift.

Tanissa's left cheek was bearing a dark bruise which was a mark from a punishment delivered by her father. Marek Darksky, just like any other father among the northern tribes, used very physical ways to discipline his children. He had smacked Tanissa in the face so hard that her lip ruptured, and as it turned out later, created a large purple bruise on the smooth skin of her cheek.

That was the price she had to pay for her little private hunting trips, foolish and dangerous, but Tanissa was very stubborn, acting openly against her father's will. She loved to wander out in the open plains with nothing but the hawk gliding by her side. In the frozen wilds of Darfalon she was free instead of being trapped, suffocating in her father's house.

She was not sad because of her father's violence, she knew the consequences for her actions, and she accepted them, but she could not accept Marek's announcement afterwards.

He had asked Tanissa to sit down, then revealed her that they would get visitors from the neighboring Frosthorn clan very soon, possibly as early as the next morning. Argan Frosthorn and his son, Garyn, were arriving to Heldar in order to discuss the details of a joining1 ceremony.

Without ever bothering to ask his daughter, Marek had promised Tanissa's hand to Garyn Frosthorn as a sign of good will, practically selling his daughter to make sure that an alliance between the two clans would become reality. Tanissa did not like this plan at all, she could not imagine herself turning into a slave and a mere housewife for someone she had never even met before, let alone loved. She was a hunter, a free soul of the northern wastes. She could never feel comfortable with her father's decision. There just did not seem to be a way, and that was the reason why she was sitting on her bed alone in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. She was staring outside the window with her misty eyes, but without really seeing anything. Her fingers were slowly sliding on the surface of the deep blue sapphire-hawk, like desperately hoping the bird would grow larger and carry her away. She was able to feel the carved signs of might on the beautiful gem, signs that revealed the amulet being enchanted by a mystic, someone who knew the secret language of Sul'Awen2.

It was getting late, but Tanissa still had no hope for sleeping. She watched the guards returning from the gate and the new ones getting in position for the night. Even when the village got all quiet and only the shadows of the dancing flames continued their constant, hypnotic movement, she was still lying awake.

The once tall candle on her nightstand was about to burn out, but she did not care, perhaps the darkness could bring her comfort that daylight failed to deliver.

She thought about escaping and running as far as her feet could carry. Somewhere had to be a place for her, a place that would not tie her heart in chains, but allows her soul to wander and grant her the freedom she wanted so much.

Dark hours of the night passed and dusky light of the morning began to sneak into the room. It would not get much brighter than that, not because of the winter as the spring was already at the door, but because the sun had not shown itself for the last hundred years or so. It had something to do with the mystics and their strange work in the South. No one knew for sure what it was, but suddenly thick and dark clouds covered the entire sky, hiding the sun behind a deep black veil spreading beyond the horizon, and nothing more than just a weak glimpse of grey light filtered through. The sun was nothing but a legend for the Northlanders, a myth, a subject of tales told by the great bonfires at night.

At some point Tanissa had finally fallen into restless sleep, but unfortunately, that was not allowed to last for long. Her foggy mind was penetrated by disturbing voices coming from outside. Without bothering to check, Tanissa knew what was going on: Argan and his cursed son were approaching the village, earlier than the messenger had informed them, the leaders of the clans did not want to waste any time with this matter.

The people were looking forward to the feast that would include plenty of eating and drinking. They did not care about Tanissa's feelings, for this kind of arrangement was nothing special, similar joinings happened all the time around the vale. They were a good way to seal alliances between two clans, and it had been the proper way for centuries, nothing would make this one an exception.

The villagers had been preparing the celebration ever since their leader had brought them the news. This happened while Tanissa was out in the wild by herself. Marek's wife, Merath, was busy trying to get the Celebration Hall ready for the anticipated event. The entire clan was gathering together for the party, which would mark the dawn of a new and better age for the people.

The air was cold but perfectly still, making the freezing temperature feel somewhat bearable. Some men lingered near the gate, waiting to see the first glimpse of Argan's people. It was extremely rare to receive such a large group of visitors from another clan. Usually the outsiders were lonely messengers delivering letters between the leaders of the clans.

Tanissa dragged herself out of the bed and rubbed her itching eyes. She added some logs to the fireplace as soon as she was up. The room was not cold yet, but she knew more than well that if the fire was allowed to die, the freezing air would crawl inside in a matter of minutes.

After taking care of the fireplace she looked outside, feeling disgusted by all the clamor around the upcoming event that would chain her down for the rest of her life. She desired to get out so much that without even thinking about it she started gathering all the required equipment together for a new expedition. Deep in her heart she knew it would just make things worse, but it made her feel much better than sitting around and quietly accepting her miserable fate.



2.

”Greetings, Marek Darksky, chief of the Darksky clan!” the frontman of the foreign convoy declared as he climbed down from the saddle. He was wearing a thick leather armor and a large, soft cloak made from wolf's fur. About fifty warriors followed right behind their leader, offering an impressive view for the people of Heldar to admire.

”Greetings, Argan, and welcome to Heldar, chief of the Frosthorn clan!” Marek replied, following the common code of courtesy.

After the official part of the greeting ceremony was over, the chiefs moved on to a more relaxed and friendly conversation which contained introduction of their closest company. Argan's party included Garyn of course, but also his younger son, Corwyn, who was only fourteen summers old. Malin was representing the Darksky clan, but Tanissa was nowhere to be seen. This little detail was not missed by the Frosthorns. The wives were absent, for it was commonly considered that a woman's place was not in such events. Merath Darksky would get her moment later as the hostess of the party, while Argan's wife was not expected to take the long, harsh journey through the snow. She was also acting as a recognised clan leader in the absence of her husband and elder son. Tanissa, however, was expected to be there because of her status as the bride.

”Where might be your daughter, the one who's beauty is rumored to compete with the stars?” Argan wondered out loud.

The old saying was a little out of place considering the fact that nobody had seen a glimpse of the clear skies for the last hundred years. But nonetheless, it was still a compliment and a demonstration of good will, which required a good, formal answer.

Marek was prepared for this, for he had anticipated such questions to occur upon his daughter's absence.

”Please, accept my apology, high chief. She is preparing to present herself as the most beautiful girl in Darfalon before the eyes of your son. You know how the girls are, always late!” He spoke smoothly, grinning cunningly at Argan, who rewarded him with an approving nod.

”They are indeed,” he snorted and continued, “then perhaps my son could go and meet her in private before the feast. That would give the young ones a moment of peace, and a fine chance for informal introductions before we move on with the joining arrangements.”

”I have absolutely nothing against such a brilliant idea, if that is master Garyn's wish,” Marek said smiling.

The young man standing right behind his father stepped forward and bowed down before Chief Marek.

”That would be an honor,” he said with a creeping cold, joyless smile briefly appearing on his frozen face.

Garyn Frosthorn was twentytwo summers old, the son of the chief of Frosthorn clan, recognised as a skilled fighter and a huntsman among his own. He was respected, but also known to have a habit for excessive cruelty and highly unpredictable behavior during the hunting expeditions. His father was secretly hoping that he would calm down a little as a result of this joining and abandon his reckless ways, thinking it was very inappropriate for a man of his status and title. However, he was deeply pleased with the level of skill his son had achieved so far, which made him very proud. Garyn was a rough diamond that needed to be polished before he could truly shine, and Argan was confident that a woman's touch would do great things for his beloved son, and Tanissa Darksky served that purpose perfectly.

Marek asked his son to show Garyn the way while the rest of the guests would move to a large wooden hall at the back of the village, where they traditionally had all the noteworthy parties. This time they would enjoy a great feast there for the honor of the Frosthorn clan. Later, in just a few days, Tanissa and Garyn were expected to perform their dance of joining in that very same place, right after they had gone through the joining ceremony in the Clan House.

Garyn was wearing heavy leather armor with plenty of skillfully made decorative details to show off his rank in the clan. He was wearing a same kind of cloak as his father did, a heavy one-handed sword rested on his belt, while a long dagger was hanging on the other side. The people of the North rarely departed from their weapons, and usually slept with them nearby. Being prepared was the key to survival in this environment.

Malin did not know what to think as he was leading Garyn towards the Clan House. He knew this man only by his reputation and he was very concerned what might happen if this madness was allowed to go all the way through. He was terribly worried about his sister, but he had no clue how to prevent this man from seeing her.

Tanissa was wearing her regular hunting outfit, a light leather armor with a layer of woolen clothes underneath, and a large, grey leather cloak, very protective against the freezing winds of the wild. Simple and plain hilt was sticking out from beneath her cloak, the dagger was completely hidden under the thick cloth, and her longbow was laying on the bed by a quiver full of arrows. She was about ready, despite of what happened last night, she was going to rebel against her father's strict order once again. She did not care about the inevitable, severe punishment she would have to face, she just wanted to get out for a while.

A sudden knock on the door startled her badly.

Tanissa was not expecting anyone to come looking for her so early. She had estimated that there was enough time to sneak out before anyone would notice, but now it looked like she had to find some other way.

”It's open,” she said shortly.

Malin opened the door with an apologizing look on his face, Garyn followed right behind him, smiling lightly. Tanissa faced her brother, who glanced at the items laying on her bed with an raised eyebrow, but held any uncomfortable questions to himself.

”I was asked to introduce Garyn Frosthorn to you, my sister, he is the son of the chief from Frosthorn clan.” Malin said, then he stepped aside to allow Garyn come closer.

”Greetings, daughter of the Darksky,” Garyn said, while measuring Tanissa from her head to toe. “I can honestly admit that the tales of your beauty have been truthful.” There was slight amusement in his voice as his eyes continued to wander on her firm, lean body. He seemed to be evaluating her like if she was a piece of cheap merchandise - which in all honesty - she truly felt she was.

Tanissa nodded lightly, feeling awkward because of his shameless stare. She did not care for the compliments of this man, and as she looked at Garyn, her heart felt nothing. There was no love, no desire, nothing but discomfort of being in the same room with him. Tanissa felt herself sick, desperately needing some fresh air, but she was trapped in her own room with this dreadful stranger.

”My good man, Malin,” Garyn said smoothly. “Could you give us a moment of privacy? I believe the bride is a bit shy in this new situation,” he explained as he turned to Tanissa's brother. Malin did not want to leave, but it would have been extremely rude gesture to go against such a seemingly harmless request. He nodded lightly at Garyn as a sign of approval, then he left the room and closed the door behind him, but while doing so, he also decided that he would not go too far away. Malin did not like the nervous and uneasy feeling he got in the presence of this man.

”Finally alone with my beautiful bride,” Garyn sighed and smiled at Tanissa, who was silently staring at him with her pale-blue eyes. There was no sign of emotion in those eyes, dimly glittering like dark reflections on the surface of a frozen lake.

“Interesting choice for an outfit to be used in a formal ceremony,” Garyn chuckled coldly, pointing at the equipment on Tanissa's bed.

”I don't want to join you,” she said straightforwardly with an ice-cold voice, ignoring his remark.

Garyn laughed wryly. ”I've already figured that since you did not bother to show up to greet our clan outside,” he said, while still staring at her well-formed, agile body. The leather armor she was wearing did a poor job on covering her features, and Garyn's shameless glare made her feel naked and uncomfortable.

”I must be very fortunate,” he then continued, breaking the suffocating silence.

”Why is that, son of the chief?” Tanissa asked, trying to gain anger to her voice for Garyn's insulting behavior. In the end she was not sure if it was anger, or just hopeless fear. Whatever it was, it did not work.

”Because nobody seems to care what you want,” he laughed, winking playfully.

Tanissa was painfully aware of this, but hearing the words was twice as hurtful. She was being very careful not to show it because she could not bear the humiliation of defeat.

”I will refuse to join with you,” she whispered, ”even if I have to pay for it with my life, I am not going to become a mindless slave!”

Garyn chuckled dreadfully and stepped closer, forcing Tanissa in the corner.

”That can be arranged, my dear.” He spoke now with a cold, stingy voice. ”You can take your life, or I can take it for you, it doesn't really matter. But know this; all your loved ones, your family, would spit on your grave for letting them down. Are you willing to die with such a burden on your little shoulders, my sweetheart?

A single tear rolled down on Tanissa's cheek, shortly followed by another. An overwhelming despair washed over her. She sometimes felt chained under her father's strict discipline, but that was nothing compared to what she was facing now. Drifting in her thoughts for a while, she tried hard to think of a way out. Garyn used this brief moment of internal struggle to sneak even closer to her.

Tanissa gasped as she felt an arm around her, a thick, lustful voice whispered in her ear, paralyzing her completely.

“I am going to have a taste of you now, my dear,” the voice hissed. “Be a good girl, don't try to resist, and I promise you it will be over soon.”

While still talking, Garyn slid his hand inside Tanissa's leather shirt to touch her soft skin, proceeding upwards to grope her breasts.

Tanissa was too shocked to react, unable to believe this disgusting man had laid his hand on her, then she did what her instincts were telling her to do.

The steel blade of a dagger flashed dimly in the candlelight.

Malin ran into the room as soon as he heard a sharp scream from inside. He saw Garyn holding Tanissa in his hands, a bone handle of her dagger was sticking out from his bleeding thigh. Tanissa had drawn the blade from her belt and thrusted it into Garyn's thigh so deep that the tip was poking out from the opposite side.

”Get away from her!” Malin yelled, charging furiously at Garyn, who was now fully concentrated to the shredding pain in his leg.

Malin pulled the man away from Tanissa. He fell down on the floor, holding his bleeding leg with both hands.

”Damn you Darksky,” he growled, and his voice was getting stronger and louder with every breath. ”One day you will learn to offer yourself to me when I just snap my fingers, you foolish girl! I will make sure your father knows everything about your insane behavior and see that you'll be properly punished.” Last words he was yelling as loud as he could.

Malin decided to cut him off by knocking him in the head with a pommel of his sword. Garyn's eyes rolled over as he lost his consciousness for a while. He was leaning against Tanissa's bed, which held him in half-sitting position. Beneath his pierced leg, a pool of blood was slowly spreading.

”Thank you,” Tanissa said shortly, while she was picking up her equipment. ”And I am really sorry for causing all this.”

Malin smiled sadly and looked his sister in the eyes.

”Don't worry about it, I didn't like that guy anyway, but our father,” Malin said, and pointed at the man on the floor, ”he might have more to say about this.”

Tanissa knew there was truth in her brother's words, and not much time to be wasted.

”I have to go away for a while,” Tanissa said quietly, and Malin nodded in agreement. Apparently he had already figured out the same as Tanissa. Stabbing the son of the chief of another clan, who had arrived for a friendly visit, could have the most horrid consequences. It could end up costing Tanissa her life.

”Try to seek shelter in the caves of the ravines south from here. I will come find you as soon as I know how things will turn out in here and bring you whatever news I have.”

Tanissa knew the snowy ravines her brother was talking about. It was a large area south from Heldar, up in the foothills of Gorumbar Mountains, a very dangerous place with saberfangs and black bears dwelling there, but that was still her best choice. Going north would be a suicide with the icy ocean winds blowing through Sarost, the very air could kill her in there.

Tanissa could not find any words to say, but she gave her brother a long hug before she turned around.

”Take care out there, I will be right behind you,” Malin whispered to his sister. He had to swallow hard a couple of times to prevent his shivering voice from breaking.

”Be careful,” she replied, opening the partially frost-covered window. She stepped onto the icy ledge, but her feet never hesitated on the slippery tiles. She waved at her brother for the one last time, then she jumped off the edge into a large pile of snow right below the window and disappeared into the shadows..

Malin stared at the empty window for a while before turning his head down to the man on the floor. Garyn was mumbling quietly, indicating that he was regaining consciousness. Malin reached his hand and grabbed him by the shoulder of his furry tunic, forcing the man to get up.

”We have to get you to Ergaron, the healer of the village. That leg seems to be bleeding pretty badly,” he explained with a cold, careless voice.

Malin had no sympathy for this man, but he had to make sure he would live to see another day, or their problems would escalate to a whole new level.



3.

When the news of the incident reached the leaders in the Clan House, Tanissa was already far away from the village. Argan was enraged, while Marek's first reaction was concern, not so much for his daughter, but for how all this would affect the unborn alliance of the two clans. Poor Merath did not know what she was supposed to do, so she just kept smiling and serving drinks for the guests, as if nothing had happened. All the warriors were nervous and restless about the sudden turn in the situation. Nobody cared for the food or drinks, son of the chief was attacked and wounded by none other but the bride herself, they could have an open conflict at hand.

Garyn was sitting by his father, staring quietly into the fire. He remained silent during the entire heated discussion. A mere woman had insulted him in a terrible way, and instead of being properly punished, she had managed to escape. And as if that was not enough, her brother had gone missing as well, the only one who had witnessed the assault, the only one who might know where Tanissa was hiding.

Garyn was partially wrong, Malin had disappeared, but he was not gone yet. He was on the roof of the Celebration House, listening carefully what was being said. He could not take the chance of being imprisoned for attacking Garyn at Tanissa's room. He knew very well how much his father wanted this alliance to happen, but the way things were going, it might slip out of his fingers like a handful of melting snow. Who knows what he might be ready to do for saving it. He had sacrificed his daughter already, so why not sacrifice his son as well?

Garyn wanted Malin dead. He would gladly see Tanissa dead as well, but he had to admit that her figure greatly pleased his eye, and the challenge to force her into submission was almost more tempting than the idea of killing her. He could settle for twenty lashes performed in public, but after all, he did not care how, for as long as the stains of this insult were washed away with blood.

Without any kind of a warning, Garyn suddenly stood up and coughed sharply, quickly gaining the attention of everyone in the hall.

”My respected father,” he said and paused, letting the general noise to calm down before continuing. ”Honorable Chief Marek of the Darksky, I seek vengeance for this insulting act of cruelty that was brought upon me. I simply ask for twenty men to go with me, and I will track down Tanissa and her brother. I promise that I will bring them back to Heldar for justice and proper punishment. I seek your blessing for my attempt, most honorable, chief of the Darksky.” He looked at Marek, waiting for his reply. Chief of the Darksky saw his chance and eagerly took it without hesitation.

”I hear good words,” he said, “and I must fully support you with this effort.” Then he stood up to put more weight on his words. “I will give you my best hunters to aid you,” Marek continued without blinking an eye as he sold his both children for a dream of an alliance.

”I have a suggestion,” Argan then said. ”I say that you take ten men from the Frosthorn clan and ten men from the Darksky clan. Make this be our first effort together, because even after all that has happened, I don't see why our clans could not work as allies.”

Marek smiled and nodded. ”I hear wisdom in your words, my friend. Let it be done!”

Malin had heard enough. Silently he jumped off the roof after making sure that nobody was watching. He climbed over the wooden fence built in front of the village, and began to follow his sister's tracks towards south. He had to find Tanissa and figure out what to do next, the gates of Heldar were closed for them - possibly forever.

Marek was smoking his pipe contently as everything fell into place. It would be a loose alliance without a joining between the clans, but perhaps there could be other joinings among the common people to create blood ties, and that way weave the alliance stronger. Maybe young Corwyn happens to find a nice girl among the Darksky clan, which would do wonders for the plan, the situation was not as bad as he had feared.

Argan wanted this alliance to happen just to get more men for his ever growing army. He wished to secure the position of the Frosthorn clan as one of the most powerful in Darfalon. Even a small clan, like Darksky, could help tremendously to achieve this goal. They had several skilled hunters, but also great wealth generated by their fine craftsmanship. Darksky clan was very prosperous because of their high quality leatherwork was so greatly valued in Valoran's free market, Argan's desire was to gain a share of this income.

Garyn started preparing his hunt immediately after he gained the support of both clan leaders. There was no time to be wasted, every minute spent in Heldar gave Tanissa and her brother a stronger advantage against them. There was still a lot to be done before a party of twenty men could leave the village, and Garyn's patience was already running thin. When they were finally ready later in the afternoon, Garyn was in a very bad mood. He could not stand the chance of Tanissa and Malin slipping away from his hands, he was willing to do anything to prevent that.

With twenty skilled hunters it did not take very long before they had a clear heading for the south.

“We must catch her before she makes it out of the vale,” Garyn yelled at his men. It was useless, they all knew what was the bet in this game, and they did not want to be in the shoes of the losing side.

If Tanissa makes it into Needlewood, tracking her would become considerably harder as the snow-cover turns thinner. Spring was coming, turning the hunt into a race against time. Tanissa might catch the snow line in the forest, and as a skilled hunter she could easily lose all the tracks in there.



4.

”Sharanoth,” Tanissa whispered, and her heart jumped with joy as she saw her dear bird beginning to form in the air. Silently the hawk spread her blue wings and ascended higher. The sound of her soft wings was very comforting, it might not make a big difference, but she felt better knowing that she was not alone.

“Fly with me, Frostwing,” Tanissa said softly, using the more familiar name she had given for the bird, and quite surprisingly, over time the hawk had learned to recognise this nickname alongside with her true name, which was required to summon her.

Tanissa gasped quietly as she began to share the incredible vision of the hawk. She had used the sapphire amulet for countless of times before, but still the sudden expansion of the view in her mind caused a strong reaction. Discovering this spiritual bond between her and the hawk had been an accident as it required concentration from her to establish the connection. However, it did not take more than a few days before she had it all figured out. This happened during one of her first hunting expeditions with the other hunters of the village. It had been very confusing at first, but in the end of the day it helped them to get the best catch of the year as Frostwing's sharp eyes revealed a sleeping herd of deers hidden in the middle of the snowy trees. That was the first of many times she had been celebrated as the hunter of the day, securing the clan's food supply for several days.

Tanissa asked Frostwing to gain more altitude, so that she could gain clear vision in all directions. The large hawk followed her wish instantly climbed higher until Tanissa asked her to stop. The bird stabilized herself and glided silently above her mistress.

The improved awareness and understanding of the landscape helped her greatly to prevent unwanted surprises along the way, everything was clear and exposed around her. She saw the high, snowy peaks of Gorumbar Mountains on her right side. They were the best landmark for her to follow, preventing her from getting misled by any lesser landmarks. She wanted to get up a little higher because running through the rocky area would keep her tracks down to minimal. She tried to force herself into a bit slower pace for her brother would still have to be able to catch her.

The last rays of grey daylight were fading fast and soon the frozen lands were shrouded in darkness. It would be nearly impossible to see anything at night, but Tanissa had no choice, she had to keep going until she would reach the mountains. There she could find a safe place to wait for her brother.

It took a while but finally she was climbing up through the first boulders of the foothills. There were no trees around her at this height, and the snow cover was getting thinner because of the constant wind. Tanissa stopped and turned around for a moment to observe the landscape.

There was nothing. Just endless snow dunes one after another and some scattered evergreens further down the hill. Then suddenly, she was alarmed by something she was not quite sure what it was. She thought of spotting movement through Frostwing's eyes, and even though it was probably a false alarm, she could not take the risk of leaving it unchecked. Tanissa commanded her hawk to fly closer to the location, while she sought cover behind the boulders.

This time the extra work paid off because there was indeed an approaching figure walking in the snow, but it was too dark for even Frostwing to see clearly, she was unable to identify the lonely walker.

Without wasting any time, she started looking around for a better spot to hide, she needed a good, clear view down the hills to aim with her bow. After a few moments of sneaking around on the snowy ledges, she found a pretty good place behind a large rock surrounded by some stunted juniper bushes. They covered her completely as long as she was kneeling down. It was not perfect, but there was no time to look any further.

Tanissa armed her bow and watched through the eyes of her hawk as the stranger walked closer, straight towards the place where she was hiding. She did not dare to hope for seeing her brother's friendly face so soon again, but just one man walking in the darkness did not seem exactly what Garyn would do.

Frostwing was gliding above the dark figure, allowing Tanissa to follow his path very closely. When he finally came into the range of her bow, she called her hawk back and stood up quietly. Shadows of the junipers, alongside with the large rock, were still offering her good protection.

”Would you be so kind and stop right where you are, or I will have to shoot an arrow through your head?” She raised her voice to make sure the stranger heard her.

The dark figure stopped and raised his hands high up in the air as a sign of surrender.

”Identify yourself, stranger,” Tanissa ordered.

”It's me, Malin,” a quiet voice carried from the darkness.

Tanissa felt a huge wave of relief washing over her as she recognised the familiar voice. She jumped out from her hideout and ran down the hill to meet her brother.

”I am so glad to see you,” she whispered, while giving her brother a long, loving hug.

Malin returned the hug and then spoke quickly. ”We don't have much time, Tani.” He looked very concerned. ”Garyn wants his revenge and it looks like our father doesn't care, he wants his alliance at any price.”

Tanissa was very disappointed with the news. She could not believe that her father would actually do something like that. Marek had abandoned them both, and now they were practically outlaws in Darfalon Vale.

”What should we do? There has to be something, perhaps we could go down to Valoran?” Tanissa's sounded hopeful. She was sure they would be fine together, wherever they decided to go.

Malin sighed deeply, glancing into his sister's sparkling eyes. ”It's not really what we should do, but what you should do,” he then said.

Tanissa shook his head confusedly. ”What do you mean?” she asked with a doubtful look in her eyes.

”Tanissa, my dear sister, Garyn is chasing us with twenty hunters, and he's not very far behind me. They have horses, which gives them an enormous advantage. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to loose them all. Their scouts have no trouble with staying on our tracks, they will keep hunting us until we are too exhausted to run anymore, and eventually they will catch us.”

Tanissa saw where her brother was getting, and she refused to believe it.

”Unless?” she asked, and her voice shivered from repressed emotions. She already knew the answer.

”Unless you will keep going as fast as you can, and I will try to slow them down by staying here.”

Malin was aware of how desperate and hopeless their situation really was if they would try to escape together, but if he would turn around and face the enemy, he might be able to buy enough time for Tanissa. There was a high chance that he would be sacrificing his own life to save his sister, but his deep affection for her made it an easy decision. She deserved to have a fair chance.

Tanissa was grateful for the darkness hiding her tears, she never believed that her life would come down to this. Her dream had always been to become a great and respected hunter of her clan, to help her family and the community to become better and stronger. She never, even in her wildest dreams or nightmares, thought that she would end up having to choose between life as a slave and a lifetime exile from her home. Now, on top of all that, she was likely to lose her brother as well. It was too much for her heart to bear.

”I will return to Heldar,” she said with a shivering voice. ”I can't let you die for me.” She was barely able to hold herself together.

Malin smiled warmly and wrapped his arms around the girl.

”We cannot foresee if I make it or not, but that's how our life here really is. You deserve the chance and I can give it to you. Together we have no hope and we would just die for nothing. By doing this, I can give you the chance to survive, and you can give me the chance to die for a lot more than nothing.”

Tanissa struggled to break free from her brother's tight grip, she wanted to continue the useless debate because it bought her more time with him, but every wasted second brought their enemy closer as well. Malin refused to let go before she would understand and accept what they had to do. Slowly as the seconds passed and she had a little time to digest it all, her resistance got weaker, and finally she gave up. There was wisdom in her brother's words, she could not deny that, but accepting the entire cruel truth was awfully hard for her to do.

”This is not fair,” she cried quietly against his shoulder.

”The world is rarely a fair place, my dear sister,” he said softly, caressing her silky, honey-colored hair.

After holding his sister for a while longer, he gently pushed her away and stepped back. Their time was running out.

”Take this bag I brought to you, there are some supplies in it that you will need to make it through the vale. Head south, seek the town of Blackwater far in the Southwest. It's a large seaport, which should offer plenty of options for you.”

Tanissa stood still, staring at the bag.

”You have to go, Tani,” he now demanded. ”If you stay here, you don't only insult my sacrifice as a brother, but also as a fellow hunter.”

He purposely chose his words in a way that would force Tanissa to follow his wish.

Tears were still rolling down from her misty eyes, but she stood up straight and gained better control over herself. After taking the bag from Malin, she turned around and watched into the cold darkness. She needed to go, but her feet refused to work. Malin would end up dying for her, which was the greatest sacrifice any hunter could grant for another, but it did not make it any easier to walk away.

”Go, Tani, don't look back. Just go.” he whispered, gently, nudging her, encouraging her to leave.

She could not say anything or she would have started crying again, but the one last look at her brother told Malin everything he ever needed to know. All the love and affection she felt for him was shining in those pale-blue eyes for a swift moment before she turned away. Malin swallowed hard, nodding at her with a sad smile on his face, finding himself struggling against his own tears. He sighed deeply and rubbed his itching eye. He would never admit it to himself, let alone anyone else, that he was crying too.

Tanissa raised her hand in the air to salute her brother, her fellow hunter, and then she called for her bird and disappeared into the whirling snow.

Malin was standing alone in the dark, silently wishing for a better life for Tanissa outside of this cursed vale. A life where she would not have to suffer from any restrictions that the rules of a clan were setting up for her.

He would never see his beloved sister again, but he was going to fight furiously for her until his sword would fall from his dead hand. Tanissa was well worth it, and deserved the true chance to taste freedom.

Malin set himself behind the same rock where Tanissa had been hiding earlier. It was a perfect spot with a good view down the hill. There he waited like a saberfang cat for his unsuspecting prey.

It must have not been an hour before he saw movement down in the deep shadows of the evergreens. He knew what it meant, the scouts of Garyn had finally arrived. He was actually very glad to see them approaching because anything was better than waiting in the snow without a chance to move around at all. Smiling to himself, he took his bow and stood up carefully. The scouts showed no sign of alertness, walking around the evergreens quite carelessly. Malin had to admit that Tanissa's choice of location was perfect for his task. One day she would be an amazing hunter if she was allowed to live free and develop her skills even further, and Malin was prepared to do anything to secure that opportunity.

He saw the scouts clearly now, there were two of them and they did not seem too involved in their task. They obviously knew what they were doing, but apparently they just never thought of the chance of an ambush. Garyn had all the odds on his side with a large hunting party, having practically endless source of supplies, against two hunters at the mercy of the harsh weather. They had a clear advantage, but Malin refused to let such detail to bother himself, he was hunting now, and killing the prey was his primary task, any distractions were to be ignored.

Malin armed his bow and aimed at the first scout. He would have to shoot twice, and make it really quick, or the other one would slip away to warn the enemy. After taking a deep breath, he swiftly fired the first arrow, and while it was flying through the air, he was already setting up a new arrow. A short shriek carried from the hillside as the arrow sank deep into the beating muscle, causing deadly damage by tearing his heart into pieces. The dead scout's body had barely touched the ground before the other one turned around, attempting to run away. He managed to take a few steps before the second arrow flew through the darkness and pierced his neck, thus preventing him from screaming. His death, however, was much longer and more painful, for the arrow did not cut his spine. He ended up crawling in the snow, slowly choking as his own blood filled his lungs.

Malin watched contently as the second man fell down. Now he just needed to wait for the main group to arrive, and hope they did not expect a report anytime soon.



5.

About an hour later, Garyn's party found the bodies lying in the snow. In a few seconds they were all dismounted, seeking cover behind the pine trees and juniper bushes. Malin heard some shouts in the distance as the hunters were yelling warnings to each other.

He thought of killing a few more of them from where he was standing, but it turned out to be extremely difficult. It was too dark to see more than glimpses of distant shadowy figures randomly moving under the trees, not nearly enough for a good aim. So instead, he decided to pass the first move to the enemy.

Tanissa's tracks went straight through the hillside, where Malin was waiting, so it would not take long before Garyn sends some men to look ahead, and that would be his chance for a clear shot.

Howling wind swept over the hills, the strong draft created a creepy, whistling sound among the rocks and boulders, other than the wind it was dead silent. Hunters and the hunted were waiting still. Dead bodies created a lot of insecurity among the hunting party, nobody wanted to give up the protection of the trees.

Finally Garyn handpicked two of his men, who of course were from the Darksky clan, and ordered them to go ahead and scout the hills. He was going to save his own men to be sacrificed last. The hunters who got the order, gave each other a long look, but obeyed. Any resistance would have just brought even more shame upon the already stained name of their clan.

Malin saw them coming and realized something he had not thought about before. He knew both of them, which naturally made it a lot harder to shoot, but he had no choice. These men would have to die, and their lives were the currency that buys Tanissa a few more miles.

Just like on the first time, two shots went off only a few seconds apart from each other. The scouts never had a chance.

Garyn lost two more of his men, but he did not care about the casualties. Darksky's men were expendable, besides the last two did not go for nothing as he was now aware of the enemy's location.

A cruel smile played on his thin lips as he turned to his men and picked two more.

”Go around and stay behind the bushes, get to an angle you can shoot from.” Orders were clear and made perfect sense, he was planning to lure Malin out of his position. If he could drag him out from behind the rocks, Malin's fate would be sealed. Several hunters were waiting with their bows ready, it was going to be an instant execution for the crimes committed.

The mem tried to stay under the trees as they made their way around to the north side. They did their best, but Malin had no problems seeing them coming. He smiled to himself, so far everything had been almost too easy.

Malin was well prepared and ready when the next pair reached him around the rocks. First one fell down with an arrow in his throat, and the second one barely even knew what went through him before Malin pulled out his blood-dripping sword.

He was about to turn around and return to his hiding spot, when he felt a dull thud in his back. His bow dropped to the ground as a terrible, shredding pain was shooting through his whole upper torso. Warm blood was running down on his back from the gaping wound over his lung. His breathing was getting harder as he turned around to see who had sneaked up behind him so quietly.

Garyn smirked at him. ”You really didn't think you could drop us all down like ripe apples, did you?”

”I stopped you for long enough,” Malin growled, “Tanissa is out of your reach.” He had to swallow hard as the blood from his pierced lung made him cough.

”Fight me like a true Northlander, not like a cowardly dog!” Malin threw out the challenge with blood-soaked lips. He revealed his sword and approached Garyn who laughed at his face, but could not deny the challenge in front of all his men.

”It will be my pleasure to kill you, Malin, I never liked you much anyway,” he said and did something completely unexpected. He raised his bow and fired another arrow at Malin, causing a shocked roar among the crowd. What he did was strictly against the code of honor, and it took a while before the people even fully realized what happened.

This time the arrow sunk into his leg, making him grimace terribly in pain, but still he continued coming towards Garyn with his sword ready for a fight.

Garyn dropped his bow to the ground and drew out his sword. This fight would not be fair in any terms as Malin was already mortally wounded. He could never match Garyn in this battle, but he was going to fight to the bitter end. Every minute he was able to delay these cursed bloodhounds was a minute more for Tanissa to get farther away.

Smiling at Malin, Garyn reached down and rubbed his thigh. “I couldn't help myself, I wanted to share this pain with you.”

With a wild cry, Malin entered the battle, knowing that he would have absolutely no hope for winning. Garyn warded off his attack easily, but Malin was not going to give up. Stubbornly he raised his sword for a new strike, but with each swing he was getting weaker from the constant loss of blood. He knew it, and Garyn knew it, all he had to do was to wait until Malin would be too weak to continue, and give him the final blow that would end Malin's brave, but hopeless battle.

Garyn's hunters were silently watching the fight, Frosthorn together with Darksky. All of them had witnessed their leader's shameful shot in the back of his enemy, and the second one in the leg to cripple an already wounded man. They had lost all respect for their leader that night, who was now nothing more than a coward in their eyes. However, he was still the son of the chief, and that was the only thing still keeping them from helping Malin. The northern hunters were proud folk, and after seeing Garyn's way of fighting, they all felt deeply ashamed for him.

Garyn knew the consequences of his actions, but he did not care. After all, he was the son of the chief, and his men would have to obey him with or without respect. His first and foremost desire was to catch Tanissa Darksky and make her pay for what she did. She would learn how bad mistake it was to stab Garyn Frosthorn with a dagger, she would be begging for mercy on her knees.

The pace of the battle was constantly slowing down as Malin was getting weaker and weaker. Garyn was fooling around with his helpless enemy, teasing and testing how long he could keep going before reaching his limits. Everyone around them were giving long looks at each other as the cruel show continued. They were amazed about Malin's incredible durability, swing after swing his sword aimed for cutting the enemy's flesh, but every time Garyn dodged easily the weak strikes.

”Are you getting tired, my friend?” he asked playfully.

Malin did not answer. He was having hard time to breath and it was getting increasingly difficult for him to stay on his feet. Everybody knew he would not last for much longer.

”Surrender and I will grant you rest, for all eternity,” Garyn offered mockingly.

Malin answered with another desperate strike that lacked the accuracy and strength to do any real harm.

”Throw down your sword and beg for mercy on your knees,” Garyn demanded, knowing that a proud warrior like Malin would never do anything like that. He wanted to humiliate his opponent, wanted him to suffer and understand how completely he was defeated in every possible way before the relief of death.

Then, suddenly and without warning, Malin's body got extremely tense like a string of a bow. A burst of blood gushed out from his mouth and with a last gurgling breath his body fell to the blood-stained snow.

One of Garyn's own men, an elder hunter, stood behind Malin with a bloody sword in his hand. He looked at Garyn with his eyes full of despise, but he kept his lips tightly sealed. Quietly he bowed down before the fallen hunter and paid respect to his memory before returning back to the others. He received many approving nods and gestures for his merciful strike. He had saved Malin Darksky from longer indignity, setting his soul free to enter the Gardens of Helberoth3, where Avareth4 was waiting for him.

Garyn was disappointed and mad. He wanted to kill this cursed man who had taken away his entertainment, his moment of winning. Looking at the silent group of men who were all staring back at him, Garyn did nothing, he was a coward but he was not stupid. Knowing that any kind of attempt to punish this fool who had killed Malin would end up costing his own life. he forced some kind of a smile on his face.

”Thank you for finishing him off for me,” he spoke with a seemingly calm voice. ”Let's go find that girl now.”

His men were still glaring at him, debating if they should follow him or just tie him up and escort back to Heldar as a prisoner. Many of them were thinking about it, but because of his position in the clan it would have been very hard to do. Eventually they all returned to their horses and prepared to continue the hunt. Without any light, being delayed for over an hour, it would be a very hard task to find Tanissa. Their best trackers were dead, and after Malin's little demonstration of skill with the bow, none of them were really keen to take on that task. It was a well known fact throughout the whole vale that Tanissa had even greater skill with a bow than her brother.



6.

After carefully wiping all the tracks off the loose snow, Tanissa headed up to the hills. Frostwing, her loyal, magically summoned pet hawk, was guarding the way as she moved through the boulders and rocks. The mountains were devious and deadly for a careless wanderer, and when it was dark, even the highest caution was not always enough. Without her winged companion she would have stepped off from the treacherous ledges a number of times, but the amazing eyes of the hawk saved her life over and over again.

Her heart was still heavy from being forced to leave her brother behind, but she was given no choice. Even though she could not accept it, Tanissa understood the great value of Malin's sacrifice, and she would honor it by using the given time wisely.

Pressing onward to the south, following the foothills of the mountains, she would eventually reach the southern passage and the forest of Needlewood, then she would be free to head anywhere, free to start a new life somewhere far from this frozen vale. Once in the forest, she could go around the southern tip of the mountains and head west towards Blackwater like her brother had advised. The hawk was gliding in a large circle above her, providing a good and clear view of the lands around her.

She had no idea how long her brother could hold off the enemy. Also, Garyn's tenacity was something to worry about. What if he will not stop at the edge of the forest, but follows her all the way to Blackwater? What she could do in that case? It was nothing more than a pure assumption that he would turn around.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Frostwing's piercing shriek, she had seen something alarming. Tanissa focused on her pet to establish the spiritual connection again, and as soon as she did, the cold shivers traveled through her spine as she saw a large group of men right behind her, the enemy had nearly caught up with her.

Tanissa was absolutely stunned. How did they reach her so fast? Something was terribly wrong and she needed to find out what it was before making her next move. The scouts had not found her location yet, which gave her some time to think.

After carefully looking around, she realized that she had ran around in a large circle instead of following the mountains, she had turned too far to her left and moved closer to the plains. The vast foothills had betrayed her in the dark. Without thinking any further, she started running away from the approaching enemies. There was no time to worry about concealing her tracks now, she needed to come up with something else. Observing the scouts with the help of her bird, she moved as fast as she could through the drowning snow. It was dangerous to run like that in the dark, but she needed more distance in between her and the following scouts before the sunrise. Dawn was a double-edged sword as it would offer better visibility, making it easier to move around, but unfortunately, her enemies would gain the same perks, revealing her uncovered tracks. Tanissa did not want to give them the opportunity to see her when it gets light, it would mean that her brother's sacrifice was in vain because of her grave mistake. Guilt stroke through her more painfully than any blade could ever do, but there was no time for self-pity.

Every bone in her body was aching and every muscle demanded rest, but she had to keep running while it was still dark. She tried hard to focus, but her tired eyes failed to keep up, and then she made a baneful mistake.

Without properly seeing where she was heading, Tanissa got too close to the slippery edge of a hidden ravine. Snow had piled up to form a deceptive bridge between two ledges of the deep chasm, so she thought of running on a solid ground when the icy snow suddenly gave in and crumbled away beneath her. There was nothing she could do to prevent the accident as she fell through the snow into the ravine.

Gorumbar Mountains were known for their dangerously steep cliffs and the widespread foothills around them. There were countless deep chasms and deadly ravines partially hidden by the dunes of snow, Tanissa was a victim of one of them. It was a long fall before she landed into the snow, twisting her ankle badly upon landing, feeling the harrowing pain going through her whole foot. The pain was so dire that for a good while she could not do anything but helplessly gasp for air and stare at the ledge above her, which was now clearly visible since Tanissa had brought all the snow down with her. Looked almost as if it was mocking her for all the mistakes she had done along the way. Bitter tears burned in her eyes, but despite the horrid pain, she refused to let out even the slightest whimper, for such noise could lead the enemy straight to her.

Frostwing was still circling in the sky above her. Tanissa ordered her to climb a little higher and wait. Hopefully the enemy could not see the lonely bird near the clouds. It probably did not matter much though, because with a broken ankle she would stand close to no chance of survival, but she refused to allow despair grab a hold of her heart just yet.

After a few minutes of struggling with the infernal pain, she looked around for anything that could be helpful for her, and that is when she saw a small cave entrance not too far from her, which could offer shelter from the snow and the freezing wind. She began to drag herself towards the cave, dearly hoping it was be empty, for she was in no condition to drive off black bears or saberfang cats, which were the most common creatures living in these caves. They both were large and aggressive, especially the bears if disturbed in the middle of their winter hibernation.

Struggling against the shredding pain, Tanissa crawled to the cave entrance and peeked inside, maybe she could leave without being noticed in case the cave was reserved. It was a lot larger than how it looked from the outside, and it seemed like a bear had lived there at some point, but it was abandoned now. Tanissa dragged her aching body inside the cave and continued crawling until she was sitting against the back wall. After breathing for a moment, she took out the large bag given by her brother, which she had tied to her shoulders, and started opening the knots. In this situation any helpful items would be more than welcome.

Tanissa had hard time holding back her tears as she browsed through the bag. She found a large, thick cloak made from the finest wool, which was a real rarity and a true luxury item among the northern hunters. She also found more arrows, some dried meat, and a tinderbox. The last item she pulled out was a small leather pouch with some silver coins inside. Tanissa had heard that southern people used these coins to buy all kinds of things, calling it money. She smiled to herself, wiping off tears from her eyes, these coins would certainly prove out to be useful in Blackwater. She had never even thought of such a thing.

An unbearable sadness and a feeling of loss washed over her, she would have given anything to have her brother there, treating the hurt ankle, comforting her and telling her that everything was going to be alright. The overwhelming loneliness and the grinding pain made it almost impossible to keep the haunting feeling of despair from sneaking into her heart, but struggling against it with every last piece of hope she had, Tanissa finally managed to push it aside for a little further.

There were plenty of small, dry twigs laying around on the cave floor, those could be used to make a small fire, but she would have to be careful with timing. If she made one while it was still dark outside, nothing would prevent it from shining like a beacon for everyone who happened to pass the ravine and look down from the right angle. Even though the dim daylight was not much, it should be enough to serve the purpose of hiding the reflection of fire from the snow, she just needed to wait for a few hours before starting one.

She touched her ankle gently with her fingers, most of the foot was swollen and touching it felt very painful. She was hoping there was no broken bone or torn ligament, because those were the types of injuries that meant a slow death by starvation as she would not be able to walk at all. She might have a chance with a strained ankle, even though such injury would slow her down tremendously, but the time was not right to worry about such things.

After wrapping the woolen cloak tightly around her, she closed her eyes and allowed herself a moment of rest. Before long she fell in a deep, dreamless, refreshing sleep.



7.

”What do you mean the tracks disappeared? How can they just disappear?” Garyn yelled at the confused scouts who had returned a moment earlier.

”We are not sure, son of the chief, perhaps the wind wiped them off.” One of them explained nervously, knowing very well that their leader would not accept such guesses as a briefing.

Garyn had been in a very bad mood ever since his cruel game with Malin had been ruined by his own men. He was not used to experiencing such resistance from anybody, and he was going to pay back the mutiny once they returned to safety of the village.

Dawn was finally at hand and the gloomy grey light of the hidden sun was filtering through the black clouds. The high peaks of Gorumbar Mountains rose from the veil of cold mist, behind the endless dunes of snow that were constantly harassed by the howling winds.

”She has probably fallen into one of the icy chasms, and if the fall did not kill her, the hungry beasts living in those ravines certainly did.” One of the scouts explained to their silent leader.

Walking to the nearby ledge, Garyn looked around the frozen plain. There was no real trees so high up in the mountains, only some small juniper bushes partially covering the deceiving edges of the deadly ravines.

”Perhaps she is hiding in one of those caves,” he said, while scratching his dark beard.

One of the scouts shook his head slightly. ”There are many black bears here. If she's seeking safety from a cave, she might as well put herself out of her misery,” he said, chuckling nervously to his own bad joke.

”Bears, as well as the saberfangs, are very hungry at this time of the year, and their sleep has become light. It's almost time for them to wake up and I am sure they will appreciate her as a breakfast.” The other scout added in a more serious manner.

Garyn nodded lightly but failed to look too confident.

”Perhaps you're right, perhaps you're not,” he said mysteriously, more to himself than anyone around.

They were all tired and hungry. Every man's face was telling that they've had enough. Events of the night had left them with very little morale to follow son of the chief, who had cowardly tortured a wounded man, denying an honorable death from him. Next time they would kill him without questions and turn into renegade hunters rather than witnessing another cruel game with a helpless victim. But Garyn did not want to change, he wanted to play with Tanissa without interruptions, but to do that he needed to get rid of his men. No sane man would pursue a hunt all by himself so far from the villages. It was extremely dangerous and foolish to even try, but Garyn did not think about safety. He was spoiled by his position in the clan, and getting what he wanted was enough reason for him to launch careless measures in order to achieve his goal.

Looking over the endless hills and the deep chasms in between them, Garyn let out an theatrical sigh.

”Well then,” he said, ”I think it's safe to assume that Tanissa Darksky is dead, and therefore she has received her punishment.”

He saw the expressions changing on the faces of his men. As a group of skilled and obstinate hunters, they could have kept going for a long time still, but nobody felt like riding an extra day for this man. They wanted to return home and try to forget the honorless atrocities that occurred in the night.

”I suggest that you turn around and return to Heldar.” Garyn said, pulling all the right strings. ”I will take one last look around the nearby hills before I follow you.”

The men were nodding at each other with approving smirks on their faces. Those were the exact words they wanted to hear right now, and they did not care to waste any thought for the fact that Garyn could be killed by a bear while wandering alone, most of them would consider it as a very fortunate accident.

”See you in Heldar then,” one of the older hunters said, while climbing into the saddle, the rest of the men eagerly followed his example.

”Good luck, Garyn, we shall meet again soon,” another man said, and turned his horse around.

“Take my horse too,” Garyn ordered before the last of his men would ride off. “We are not that far from Heldar, and I can't take it to the hills anyway. Leaving a horse up here alone would be just a free meal for the wandering beasts.”

One of the hunters nodded and tied Garyn's horse to his saddle, then he turned around and rode off, heading back north.

Garyn watched them leaving and waited until the last rider disappeared into the horizon. Tanissa would be all his now, for he had seen signs what the other hunters had missed.

High in the sky, barely visible, a blue-winged hawk flew around in a large circle. Garyn had never seen such a bird before, but he had heard stories about the amazing birthday present from the other hunters. The hawk flying above him was definitely Tanissa's pet, she could not be very far.

Carefully he began to climb down the icy wall of the nearby ravine. The bird was circling right above it, which made him think that Tanissa could have slipped and fallen down in the dark. It took a good while to reach the bottom of the rift, but Garyn wanted to avoid accidents. Feeling excited, he was eager to find the girl and teach her a lesson or two about humility, but he would miss all the fun if he got himself crippled while climbing.

Small icy flakes scraped off the wall as he slowly made his way down. They caused a rather spooky sound when falling down as a small avalanche of ice, like thousands of tiny bells ringing at the same time.

Once he got to the bottom, he had several reasons to smile.

He noticed a small cave entrance nearby with no visible tracks of any known beast around the bottom of the rift, but instead, he saw other very interesting marks. If Tanissa came this way and fell down, she might have looked shelter from the cave. If the cave happened to be abandoned, there was no reason to pass such an opportunity to find a good camping site. She needed one badly, if her plan was to get out of the vale.

After studying the strange marks on the snow, he became more curious about the cave. He was not quite sure what exactly the tracks were, because despite the injury, Tanissa had managed to partially wipe them off while dragging herself into the cave. They were confusing and unrecognisable, but they would certainly catch the attention of any hunter with even half the skill of what Garyn had.

He sneaked closer to the cave entrance, curious to see what he could find from there.



8.

Tanissa woke up inside her new warm cloak and yawned. Her ankle was still hurting, but she was able to move it around a little. It was not much, but it made her feel a little better. Of course, the final judgement for her chances would be given by the fact whether she was able to walk with it or not.

After waiting a little bit longer to make sure the sun was high, she collected a pile of dry twigs in front of her, then she pulled out the tinderbox with a piece of flint and steel inside. Not more than a few minutes later, the heat radiating from a small fire made her feel much safer and warmer, while she was chewing on some dried meat for breakfast.

In the middle of her meal, she received an alarming signal from Frostwing, a strange man was climbing down the wall of the chasm, and it did not seem to be too far from where she had landed. Did those cursed scouts track her down here already?

She sent a message to Frostwing, telling her to fly a wider circle around the area to see what she should be prepared for. What she found made her doubt the mental link between her and the bird, only one man was climbing down the wall while the others were actually leaving! This view offered her new hope. Only one man without the element of surprise would be an even match for her. The injured foot would be a problem, of course, but there was no time to worry about that right now.

Looking at the fire in front of her, she thought of trying to put it out, but buried the idea as fast as it had kindled, because such attempt would cause a lot of smoke. There was simply no time to do it properly, besides the fire was not the only thing revealing her hideout.

She knew the tracks outside of the cave would also reveal her presence there. Dragging herself through the entrance left marks that even a strong wind could not wipe away in such a short time, and there was no wind down in the chasm. This time she would not be able to escape.

”Tanissa?”

A voice called her name from the entrance, a voice that made her skin tingle in disgust and shivers running through her back. Leaning against the back wall, she tried to stay still. There was no need for it, but she was hanging on to a childish hope that this evil man would go away if she remained very quiet and still.

”Come out, Tanissa. I have to teach you some manners a good wife should have.” Garyn's creepy, cold laughter echoed in the cave. Tanissa stared silently at the entrance, she was too scared to say anything.

”Even you have to admit that you haven't been the most gracious bride, but don't worry, darling, it may hurt a little at first,” he paused for a moment and chuckled to himself, ” but I promise you that in the end you won't feel a thing.”

A veiled promise of death echoed in his words. Tanissa had insulted her fiancè by stabbing him with a dagger; punishment for such crime was either banishment or death. They practically meant the same thing, one just took a little longer than the other.

After a short moment of silence she heard a heavy sigh from the cave entrance. ”Fine then, I will have to come inside,” Garyn said. ”I was hoping for you to be smarter than your brother to avoid the honorless death of a trapped animal. I really don't know why though, because after all, you and your brother share the same weak blood.”

Laughing to himself, Garyn pushed himself inside through the narrow entrance.

“Did I tell you that your coward brother prayed for me to spare his miserable life before I pierced my sword through his filthy flesh?” The malicious words echoed in the cave. “He begged for mercy on his knees, crying like a helpless infant.”

Tanissa did not answer, but for a moment her mind was free from the chains of fear. Her body was flooded by unimaginable rage which came out as solid determination. Faster than a saberfang cat, she rolled over, sliding out of the woolen cloak. She grabbed it tightly and held it in her hands, then she waited.

Garyn was inside the cave and moved deeper, while trying to see in what condition Tanissa was. He had to bend his head down to be able to walk. The thin white smoke that was rising from the fire made his eyes sore and watery.

”Are you badly hurt?” he asked, pretending to sound like he cared, wanting to find out how careful he needed to be with her. Garyn was well aware of her skills, and he knew that it would be foolish to underestimate this girl in any situation, for him it made this game much more exciting.

Tanissa gave him a long spiteful look. ”I am sure you're just dying to know, aren't you?”

Garyn smiled coldly at her. ”I was just trying to be polite, my dear.”

He took a step closer. ”I am here to hurt you anyway,” he said, while preparing to attack. He wanted to gain control of the situation and disarm Tanissa as fast as he could.

”We'll see,” Tanissa whispered and made her move.

Using all the strength she could get behind her healthy leg, she kicked Garyn, who was completely unprepared, in the middle of his chest. She could not do any serious damage with the kick, but it sent her enemy staggering backwards. His feet swept through the small fire on the cave floor, spreading the burning twigs around in the snow, generating a great amount of smoke. Tanissa added to it by throwing the woolen cloak into the diminishing fire. Dry wool caught fire very easily, filling the small cave with thick, white smoke. Confused Garyn struggled to clear the air with his hand, but the ever thickening smoke forced him to look for the exit.

Suddenly he felt terrible pain in the side of his thigh again, the same one where Tanissa had stabbed him once before.

”Here is a small gift from your loving bride!” Tanissa growled as she sank her dagger deep into the same muscle again, using every last bit of the strength she had gained from her brother's fate.

Garyn gasped for air in horrendous pain, while Tanissa slipped by him, reaching for the cave entrance. She avoided most of the smoke by staying close to the ground where the air was still clear.

”I am going to dig your eyes out for this!” Garyn screamed as he crawled out of the cave, desperately coughing the smoke out of his lungs. Once he made it outside, barely getting the smoke cleared from his watering eyes, a blue-winged hawk attacked him from the air. Her sharp talons pierced his skin causing bleeding wounds all over his face. Garyn covered his eyes to protect them with one hand, then he grabbed the bird tightly with the other one, ignoring the bloodthirsty beak digging deep into his skin, then he furiously threw the large bird against the icy wall. Frostwing could not stop the flight in time, her feather-covered body slammed against the rock and dropped down to the snow, seemingly lifeless.

”Frostwing! No!” Tanissa screamed as she saw her loyal companion fall. The bird began to wither as soon as she hit the ground, the connection between this world and her own world had been broken. Tanissa was struggling to get up with her useless foot. There was nothing she could have done for her pet, who had defended her bravely giving her a few seconds of time, but unfortunately it was not enough.

”I would worry about yourself more than your damn bird,” Garyn growled and smacked Tanissa in the head so hard that it sent her stumbling across the snow, until she hit her back against the icy wall. She became disoriented, losing her sense of time and place for a moment. A rapid stream of blood began to run down from her nose.

Garyn drew out his sword and flashed a cruel smile. ”It's a payback time,” he growled, following Tanissa.

He was too mad to think about the punishment he had so fantasized so much during the journey through the wastes. At this point he only wanted to make her bleed and watch her die. But somewhere under all of his anger, Garyn was scared, even though he refused to admit that. He was scared of this girl who continued fighting no matter what the odds were. That was not something he was accustomed to. Garyn had expected a scared little girl who had ran off, and who would now be more than willing to somehow settle the whole issue, he had never been so wrong. Instead of a scared little mouse, he found a wounded and cornered beast, who was ready to fight until all life had left her supple body.

If Garyn was not such a base coward, he would have respected it, even admired it. But no, he lived to win without bothering to think how he achieved his victories. The ancient code of honor, that most of the Northlanders followed, had no place in his cold heart.

Tanissa regained her consciousness just in time to hear Garyn's steps approaching on the icy snow. Fortunately it took him a while with his new heavily bleeding wound. Tanissa tried to remain still and listen carefully, estimating the location of her enemy. The bow and the quiver of arrows were still on her back, possibly offering her a one last chance. Her intense body was ready for the final desperate move. She would have to be standing, and she needed to have a little distance, neither one of the required conditions were likely to come true in this situation, but she would have to play against all odds, and wish for a miracle.

Garyn stopped in front of her. Tanissa heard his heavy breathing as he was looking at her. She saw the faint shadow moving on the ground as Garyn prepared to strike her dead with his sword.

Using her healthy leg again, she kicked Garyn, aiming for his already wounded thigh. He shrieked in searing pain as Tanissa's boot landed on target, losing his sword as he fell down to his knees, holding his burning leg with both hands, and for a few seconds, Garyn was completely incapacitated.

Tanissa rolled away from her enemy and jumped up. She grimaced as she had to put weight on her injured ankle and struggled to keep her focus. Grabbing her bow and an arrow from the quiver, she tried to rush but her numb fingers were slow and clumsy.

Garyn opened his eyes and saw that Tanissa was not lying on the ground anymore. He struggled to get up and his blood left red stains on the snow. He turned around to face Tanissa, who was now aiming at him with her longbow. Garyn cursed quietly, then he sighed, smiling cunningly at her.

”Clever girl,” he said, ”very nice move.” He was hoping to buy some time to figure out what to do next.

Tanissa looked at him silently, so tired and hurting badly, but as she saw the growing fear in Garyn's eyes, she saw her freedom, just one shot away. And it gave her new strength, nothing could stop her now.

Tanissa fired her bow.

Garyn had no time to react before the arrow pierced through his left eye, sinking deep into his brain. His dead body fell quietly to the icy ground as a pool of blood began to form quickly under his head. His intact eye was staring up into the sky with a surprised, slightly confused look on his dead face.

Tanissa sighed deeply and sat down on a nearby rock to rest for a while. She was still grasping her bow as if she was expecting the dead man to jump up at any second and assault her again.

She was finally free to continue her journey without the fear of someone chasing her.

After resting and calming down for a while, Tanissa decided it was time to go. Very carefully she tried to put a little weight on her injured leg to see if she could walk with it. Feeling relieved to see that her ankle was still somewhat working, she tried to wrap it with a piece of cotton cloth she tore from her cloak. The whole foot was swollen and painful, but she was just barely able to walk with it, which was still far better than the alternative.

”Sharanoth,” she called for her hawk, using her true name, worried if the bird would answer her call anymore. Frostwing had seemed seriously hurt when Garyn threw her against the rocks. Hoping and praying that her companion would answer, she was gazing around to see where the bird would appear, unwilling to think about the alternative yet.

It turned out that her concerns were futile as the familiar form began to take shape in front of her eyes.

”Welcome back, my dear friend,” she whispered, smiling happily. Frostwing greeted her with a high-pitched screech while landing on her shoulder. Tanissa ran her fingers through the soft feathers as an affectionate gesture, she was so glad to see her beloved companion unharmed.

Before leaving the ravine, she briefly returned to the cave and fetched all her belongings from there, including the bag with a tinderbox and the money in it. She headed southeast, following the ravines and hills, dodging any wandering beasts with the help of her bird. Every single day she was praying to see trees in the horizon, any sign of the eternal evergreens welcoming her to the Needlewood forest.


9.

It took several days before the foothills were finally behind her, and without her loyal hawk she would have quickly ended up dead. Gorumbar Mountains were still close, but she was already able to feel a change in weather as it was getting warmer, feeling the gentle touch of an approaching spring in the air.

Tanissa was limping badly with her injured ankle, knowing it required immediate care, but because of her extremely slow pace she was still in the middle of nowhere. She also realized that her food supplies would run out way before she could reach Blackwater. Hoping that somewhere along the way she could find a settlement with a skilled healer and some food to buy, she struggled on one day at a time. Tanissa had never been in Needlewood before, but she had heard other people saying that there were more villages in that forest than in the entire Darfalon Vale, which left her bearing a little more than just fool's hope if she could make it that far. The bandage she had made from her cloak helped some, but it was not nearly enough. She required some pain relieving herbs, a cold wrapping around the ankle to ease up the swelling, and a lot of rest. All of them were luxuries she could not afford to have.

Eight long days after leaving the ravines, Frostwing's eyes finally brought her good news, a green line of trees in the distant horizon, the eternal evergreens of Needlewood. The most welcome view kindled new hope in her heart.

The Forest of Needlewood grows in between Windarf and the hills of Glorfalas, River Brendim runs through the eastern forest, reaching down from the mountain source beyond the Darfin keep of Khaldur. It is a vast forest, one of the largest in northern Dalastra. She was likely to reach the snow line in Needlewood, and while it did not mean absolute safety, her odds to survive would improve greatly.

Two more days passed before Tanissa was finally surrounded by trees, she had never seen so many tall trees at the same time. The snow dunes started to melt into large, dirty puddles as the air got warmer every day. Tanissa was not too happy by this as the watery snow had a tendency to go through her leather boots. The foot-wraps she was wearing inside the boots absorbed all the water until they could not take it anymore, and while the cold felt awfully good on her wounded ankle, she did not care too much for the freezing feet. Every night she made a fire and built a simple rack from the long pine branches, then she dried her boots and foot-wraps over the fire while sleeping. It helped to keep her feet dry for a few hours when she continued her journey in the morning again.

Less than two days after arriving to Needlewood, a most welcome sight opened before her eyes; cut pine trees were lying on the ground, and when she walked a bit further she saw several piles of logs ready for transport. Tanissa could not see the logging camp yet, but she knew there was one somewhere nearby, perhaps she could get some help for her leg from there, and maybe even some food. At the current rate it would be midsummer before she would make it to the city. Tanissa was extremely worried for her ankle because the injury required resting, the constant stress could cause permanent damage if she pushed it too far.

Carefully she sneaked closer to the opening where Frostwing had seen several people working with their axes and saws a few minutes earlier.

“These must be lumberjacks from Valoran,” Tanissa whispered to herself.

Valoran was not much closer than Blackwater, but it was a large center for trading goods in the north, bigger than Blackwater as it was favored by the Darfins of Khaldur, as well as the hunters of Thorlad. Tanissa had considered of going there to get treatment for her leg, but she had abandoned the idea quickly because the people of Valoran were dealing a lot with the northern clans. She did not want to take the chance of running into the wrong people there.

The lumberjacks she saw looked dangerous and intimidating, she was not sure if she was making a grave mistake by revealing herself, but she did not really have too many options at hand.

An awfully dirty, but still incredibly beautiful girl, who suddenly walked out of the forest did get the undivided attention of every man in the clearing.

”Knock me in the head for I am clearly having mushroom sights!” one of the men yelled, pointing at her.

”If you are, then we must have been eating the same stuff,” another one said laughing.

”Apparently we all have been eating the same stuff,” third one growled, making them all burst out in laughter.

Tanissa was standing still, her hand was squeezing the leather grip of her bow. If needed, she could easily take down one of them, but she could never get them all. She sighed nervously and tried to force herself to relax, using the bow did not seem such a good idea at this point.

”Greetings,” Tanissa said with slightly shivering voice, cursing quietly to herself, for this was definitely not a good time to show signs of fear.

”Hey, she talks!,” a large man with a long and curly beard noted laughing.

”Don't worry, I got foot-wraps we can use to shut her up,” another man with a ratlike face said and snickered loudly.

Everybody started laughing except Tanissa, who did not find the situation funny at all. She had made her choice by exposing herself, she did so out of necessity. Reaching Blackwater in her current condition was impossible, tired, hungry, weak from the pain, and walking becoming harder every day. She did what she had to do

Tanissa was able to smell the stinking sweat and disgusting breaths as they surrounded her, blocking every possible escape route, not that she would have been able to escape anyway.

”Let's have some fun with her,” a big fat man with a thick, black beard suggested and pushed Tanissa backwards, sending her staggering backwards until she fell to the ground. She was quickly disarmed and her weapons were thrown into the woods. It seemed like she would have to pay dearly for her choice.

They worked fast to tie her wrists with a thick rope, the most eager ones tried to grab her clothes and pull them off. They had been working in the forest ever since the first day of spring, and even though their master brought them a couple of entertainers from Valoran every two weeks, Tanissa's body, well formed and untouched, made them all go wild. They did not care about her injury as they expected nothing more from her than lying on her back and spreading her legs. They would get their relief on her expense, then she could crawl into the woods and die for all they cared, the beasts of the forest would take care of the rest.

Terrified Tanissa bit her tongue to prevent herself from screaming. She did not know why as it made no difference to these men, nobody would hear her anyway.

Then something unexpected happened.

”What, in the name of Avareth, are you filthy dogs doing in here?” a loud, angry voice suddenly roared behind them.

Every man stopped what they were doing and stood up in a hurry.

Tanissa looked at the direction where the voice was coming from, and saw a man in dark leather armor and a thick green, woolen cloak. He was holding a sword in his hand with a furious fire burning in his eyes, looking like he could slaughter every lumberjack right there and leave their bones for the crows to gnaw. His clean and expensive clothes were telling that he was either some kind of a foreman or a low rank noble. In any case, he seemed to be the overseer of the camp.

”Get back to work you stinking maggots!” he yelled, barely controlling his anger. ”Lord Redwake doesn't pay you for laziness!” he thundered, but seemed to gain better control over himself as he saw Tanissa being unharmed.

Heavily disappointed by the nterruption, the group of men backed away from the girl, for in the end their jobs were more important to them than feeling any girl's legs around their waist for a short moment.

”Do I have to withhold your salary for today as I don't see very much wood being piled up in here?” the overseer asked with a cold voice, while walking towards Tanissa, still holding the sword in his hand.

The group of lumberjacks, who were already retreating from the girl, disbanded quickly, leaving Tanissa alone. They rushed back to the woods with their axes as if nothing had ever happened. Even though she was not thinking about it at the moment, Tanissa witnessed the undeniable power of gold for the first time in her life.

Frostwing landed on a nearby stump, letting out a lonely screech. Tanissa did not dare to even glance at the bird, but knowing that she was there felt very comforting. She wanted to keep the bird's presence a secret for now as she could not trust on what would happen next.

”Greetings...?” the man paused, raising his eyebrow, clearly expecting Tanissa to introduce herself.

”Tanissa,” she replied quietly, almost shyly. She had never seen a man like this, and did not know how exactly she was supposed to act.

The stranger smiled warmly. ”Welcome to Lord Redwake's logging camp, Tanissa. I am Darkin Longriver, a caretaker of my lord's estates.” His voice was soft and soothing, which helped Tanissa to relax a little.

”Greetings, Darkin Longriver, and thank you for your help,” Tanissa said stiffly, while beginning to work her way up from the muddy ground.

Darkin rushed to help her. ”My lord does not tolerate such behavior from his workers,” he said and continued. ”Now, if you don't mind, I would like to ask you to follow me, please.”

”Where are we going?” Tanissa wondered with a shade of suspicion in her voice.

”To the Redwake Lodge. Do not worry, it's just a short way to the south,” the man assured.

Tanissa thought she could try to escape into the woods, but that would not help her at all. She would end up in the same situation as before, including all the same problems.

Wincing in pain, she turned around to go pick up her weapons that were thrown all over the woods. Darkin saw the grimace on her face and rushed to help her again.

”Please, I didn't realize that you were hurt. I apologize for being so blind.”

Tanissa heard real genuine concern in his voice and smiled lightly, ”It's alright, you had no way to know.”

With Darkin's help, Tanissa got all her weapons back, then she allowed him to support her as they slowly walked through the woods. It was so much easier when she was able to lean against the man's shoulder and get some weight off of her foot.

Darkin's words were true, their journey through the woods was very short, barely taking them outside of the clearing before they already found themselves in front of a large house made from massive pine logs. A small creek ran through the yard on the south side, and even though the creek was not very wide, it seemed to be rather deep. Some silvery trouts were occasionally jumping above the surface, almost as if they were greeting the arriving guests. The house had two stories with a large balcony watching over the creek on the second floor, and a spacious porch at the front with plenty of room for people to rest after a busy day.

Tanissa admired the incredibly beautiful location, while Darkin helped her to the front door, where two guards greeted them politely and joined Darkin to help her up the stairs. One of them came down and offered her some more support, while the other one opened the door.

”Here you can rest for a while,” Darkin promised as he helped Tanissa inside. ”I will send someone to fetch a healer for your leg. Castle Redwake is not very far from here, not more than a day's journey.

”Thank you so much,” Tanissa said, ”you are very kind.”

Darkin laughed again, that same warm laugh he had done in the forest. ”I feel that I owe you something after what happened, Tanissa. We might live in the middle of cold and dark here, but that doesn't mean we have to behave like vile savages.”



10.

Once inside the house, Tanissa was treated with some mild pain relieving herbs, then she got to eat a nice dinner with roasted deer, cheese and wine. Darkin promised her better medicine for the pain as soon as the healer would arrive from Castle Redwake, glad for the warmth and safety, Tanissa was not too worried about it. After all, rest was the first and foremost method of treatment, and now she was finally going to get plenty of it. The house servant brought her clean cloth to replace the dirty and wet piece of cloak she had wrapped around her foot. Right before bedtime, she was served honey tea with cinnamon biscuits, a traditional evening snack among the northern people.

Tanissa could not remember the last time she had a good night's sleep. Darkin guided her to a small room upstairs, where a soft and comfortable bed was waiting for her. A small fireplace was keeping the room warm, and a drowning soft carpet that covered almost the entire floor felt incredibly good against her cold feet. After he had introduced the room, he wished Tanissa good night and closed the door behind him. Darkin promised a peaceful night for her and indeed he was a man of his word, absolutely nothing bothered her that night.

All the sudden kindness did not put her caution aside. Outside the small window, a blue-winged hawk was sitting on the roof and, guarding her sleep. Every now and then the bird took off and flew a large circle around the lodge to make sure nothing suspicious happened around the house, then she returned back to the same spot.

Tanissa woke up in the morning to a sound of light knocking behind the door.

“I am sorry to bother you, but we have breakfast served if you're hungry.” Darkin's polite voice carried through the door.

”I will be right there, just give me a couple of minutes to get ready,” Tanissa replied, while yawning and rubbing her sleepy eyes.

”Take your time, there is no rush,” Darkin said, sounding slightly amused.

Slowly she dragged herself out of the warm bed and pulled her long hair back, revealing her pale, beautiful face. All the long miles were still hanging heavy on her, but she was starting to feel better.

Breakfast was something that could be called majestic; soft bread, cheese, fruit, and hot lemon tea, a lot more than Tanissa's regular breakfast.

While they were eating, Darkin made a few attempts to ask about Tanissa's past. His questions were mostly concerning Tanissa's clan as it was very easy to tell that she was one of the northern hunters, a mindless barbarian, as they would call her in the south, where women never wore leather. But up in the north during the long winter months, leather clothes were one of the essential keys to survive through the harsh winters, they were warm and resisted wind extremely well. A layer of wool in between the skin and the leather armor was a standard costume in Darfalon. Even further up north, the leather was often covered with fur to protect the body from extreme cold.

Tanissa gave him some little pieces of information, but nothing too detailed. She did not want Darkin to find out that she was an outlaw, a renegade who was to be captured or killed on sight by at least two different clans. Tanissa explained that she was a scout for a larger hunting party, who got cheated by the false landmarks in the foothills, which brought her too far south. Darkin listened carefully, nodding knowingly from time to time, and seemingly believed the entire story Tanissa fed him.

Staying away from truth turned out to be a wise choise after Darkin revealed some things about his lord. Dangar Redwake had good connections to Valoran, where he went every year to do business with the northern folk. In other words, it was more than likely that Lord Redwake had been dealing with the Darksky clan before, and she did not want to give even the slightest chance for her clan to come after her again, her luck might run out on second time.

The healer arrived later that day as Dalin had promised. She checked Tanissa's ankle and prepared a medicine wrap for it, also giving Tanissa some goldberries, which were known as strong pain relievers. Tanissa accepted them gladly and crushed some into her tea right away.

When the healer was finished, she gave Tanissa some good news: the ankle was not too badly damaged, but it needed a little rest and some good support around it for a while. In time, however, she would recover completely from her injury. These news were a great relief for her, removing all her fears concerning the foot, her days as a hunter were not over yet.

Darkin did not show himself in the lodge during the whole day, so Tanissa spent most of the time resting. In the evening she was served a great dinner once again, and after she finished eating the meal all by herself, she returned upstairs and fell into reviving sleep.

In the next morning Darkin finally returned and saw Tanissa feeling a lot better after another night of good rest. They were sitting in the main hall by the fireplace, when Darkin apologized his sudden absence. He explained that he had to attend his duties around the camp, but he did not want to bore Tanissa with too many details. He was responsible for the entire logging camp, including the lodge. Dangar Redwake visited there only once a year for the great deer hunt, and just for that one visit, the lodge was kept clean and ready around the year. Vainglorious perhaps, but also a true demonstration of Lord Redwake's wealth.

”I sent a couple of my men up north,” Darkin informed her, when they were having some tea.

”Why did you do that?” Tanissa asked politely, having a pretty good guess of her own.

”Well, I thought you might want to head back home soon, but honestly, I don't think you're able to travel for a couple of more days, and your family must be awfully worried by now.”

Tanissa's face turned darker, but she smiled politely.

”You don't know which clan I belong to,” she reminded Darkin, who smiled and nodded at her.

”I am sorry if I seemed rude, Tanissa, but I didn't have to ask. I saw your necklace, so I figured you must be from the Silverhawk clan, which happens to dwell quite close to us, only about two days away I believe, right?”

”Absolutely,” Tanissa said with a straight face, ”and I apologize, I did not mean to question your intelligence by what I said.”

Darkin smiled again. ”Don't worry. You see, most people are not familiar with the clan signs, but I have to know them because we are dealing with the hunters a lot in Valoran, and in this case poor knowledge would mean poor business.”

Tanissa nodded sharply. ”I can perfectly understand that, and I deeply admire your knowledge. I am sure it serves you well in your efforts.”

Darkin blushed lightly as he listened to the compliments. He had learned a long time ago that hunters did not give those lightly, so he knew to appreacite them.

After a little while, Darkin excused himself politely and left Tanissa alone for some rest. She finished her tea and returned to her room, greatly appreciating Darkin's absence, for she needed a moment of privacy to get ready, she was going to leave at nightfall.

The overseer had mistaken the enchanted necklace for a clan insignia, a completely wrong clan, but nevertheless, she needed to get out of there fast. Whole new questions would arise when someone from the Silverhawk clan arrives to Needlewood, or if Darkin's men escorted her back north to the clan village, where no one would recognise her.

It did not take more than an hour for Tanissa to get everything ready. She had a little food stolen from the breakfast and dinner tables, all her weapons, including the longbow, sword and long dagger, were neatly packed away.

When everything was done, she decided to lie down for a moment. Every minute of rest was valuable for the effort she would have to make. It was still a long way to Blackwater.



11.

She had no trouble climbing out the window and reaching the ground without anybody seeing her. Without a sound she vanished into the night, while Frostwing was keeping an eye on the surroundings for any surprises. The sleepy guards were having a yawning competition at the front door, they never noticed anything unusual as Tanissa sneaked by.

Her foot was finally feeling better after resting a couple of days, still sore and hurting when she put weight on it, but the pain was getting somewhat tolerable. She had taken some goldberries from the logde to help along the way, they might prove to be more valuable than gold before the next stop.

Spring was breaking the winter's spine, but the soil beneath the melting snow was still frozen, which prevented the water from being absorbed. In no time the entire ground of the forest was like one giant puddle. Tanissa did not enjoy for getting her feet wet, but she could not deny one thing: water left no tracks, even dogs could not follow her through the flooding woods.

Tanissa moved as fast as she could, heading west with the help of her pet. The southern tips of Gorumbar Mountains were rising above the pine trees in the northwest, she was finally free from their icy prison. There was no other mountains in between her and Blackwater, but that did not mean she would be safe. The Hills of Glorfalas were waiting for her as soon as she stumbles out of the forest. Tanissa was navigating by trying to remember the maps she had studied in Heldar when she was a child, confident that by keeping certain landmarks in mind she would be fine.

After getting a few miles in between herself and the Redwake Lodge, Tanissa left more and more of the scouting responsibility for her bird. It was hard to predict how long it would take before the Silverhawk clan reaches the lodge, but it probably was not going to be more than a day - if even that. Once Darkin's men would reach the clan village, they would immediately know that Tanissa was not one of them as every clan was surely aware if someone goes out missing for longer than a day, but they would be interested to see the amulet, because they might think it is a stolen insignia. This happened a lot during the clan wars, and even though the insignias were nowhere near as valuable as Tanissa's necklace, it was still well worth the trouble of checking out.

They would have no tracks or direction to start from, which probably leads them to choose Valoran as it is a familiar place for the hunters. From the lodge it was about the same distance to Valoran and Blackwater, but the hunters never really visited Blackwater as it was too crowded for them to feel comfortable in there. They probably would not bother to follow her too long, because there simply was no other reason than the assumed insignia. They would most likely turn back in Valoran because Tanissa did not mean anything to either Darkin or the Silverhawks, they would not care enough to make any serious attempts to come after her. Darkin would feel himself insulted for a while after being left behind like that without an explanation as he clearly had some hopes for Tanissa, but after a week or two he would barely remember her.

Dawn brought grey daylight which did not help much, but it was enough to allow Tanissa walk faster. There were other logging camps and small villages in the forest, but Tanissa decided to avoid all the rest of them. From now on she wanted to travel unnoticed.

After a few days of somewhat slow running, she reached the border of the forest, and found herself watching over the rolling hills that stretched far into the horizon. Small groups of naked trees were struggling for their lives as the incessant, cruel wind was constantly tormenting their branches. Tanissa was able to feel a change as she approaching the sea, a brisk tint of salt in the air that she had never felt before.

From the tales she had heard around the bonfires, she knew that Glorfalas was just as dangerous as the foothills of Gorumbar Mountains. Wargrim, the great grey wolves of the north that hunted in large packs dwelled everywhere around these hills, and during the thin years of the darkening, they had generated a habit of attacking anything that wandered down the hills, including people. It was extremely dangerous to enter Glorfalas alone.

Tanissa ordered Frostwing to gain some altitude because she wanted to see the wolves well in advance. They were fast runners and never wandered alone; she did not want to confront them if there was any way to avoid it. The broad mounds and valleys offered some protection from the shredding winds as well as any unwanted eyes, but they did not protect her from the cold spring rain that was pouring down constantly. There was no snow anymore in Glorfalas, and the last summer's grass was still lying dead on the ground, there was not very much of it, and even less would grow back again. The cursed darkness was slowly killing the world, plants turned black before rotting away, and the sickly animals, even the ones that used to be harmless, turned into bloodthirsty predators. The same phenomenon was happening everywhere in Dalastra, and nothing seemed to be safe from it. Tanissa never had a chance to see the changes clearly by living so far in the north where the summer was nothing but a short break to take a deep breath before the next long winter fell upon the vale again, but now she saw the dying world as it was for most people. She had noticed the signs already in Needlewood, but the thick forest was still fighting against the darkness. Glorfalas, however, had already given up the fight.

The rain was falling softly upon the black ground, like a thick mist constantly descending from the sky. Tiny droplets of water seemed to find their way through every layer of clothing she was wearing. Tanissa was cold and exhausted before the first day in the hills had passed, but she could not stop now. All available wood was soaked through and dripping water, there was absolutely no hope of using them for a fire, which meant no chance of drying her clothes either.

Instead of being icy cold, Glorfalas was wet and windy, which could turn out to be just as deadly. There was no chance to rest because there was no shelter anywhere. Tanissa's only hope was to keep going and pray for the rain to stop. It looked like her journey might have an early end once again as it was going to take days before she could reach Blackwater, there was no way to travel that long without rest.

Frostwing was doing an amazing job with the wolves, even though the situation was looking desperate. She followed the hills providing vision down the slope on both sides of the peak, and every time she spotted a wolf pack, she returned to Tanissa and warned her with a sharp screech. Tanissa was able to see the wolves by herself and correcting her heading accordingly, but she appreciated the bird's visits, they encouraged her to press on.

Finally after three days of almost constant rain it just suddenly stopped. When Tanissa found a place with enough dry wood around, she built a small camp to dry up her clothes and to get some rest. She was at the bottom of a valley that offered some protection against the cruel wind. After eating a little of the food she had stolen from the lodge, she took some goldberries and chewed them well before swallowing, despite the bitter and disgusting taste. Her ankle felt like it was on fire after the days of exertion, but the berries numbed the pain, pushing it out of her mind as it slowly vanished from the ankle.

She never saw the wolves with her own eyes, but she knew they were there. Distant howls in the misty hills sounded like ghosts wailing in their tombs. Running as fast as she could, Tanissa always moved to the opposite direction from the wolves. She did her best to keep her heading between west and southwest, but even if she would run into the sea, she could still find her way to Blackwater by following the coast.

Tanissa never saw the sea, but after several days of struggling in the rain, dodging the howling beasts, she finally saw something that touched her very soul, something most welcome for her weary eyes.

A wide river that was running through the landscape, winding through the endless slopes, creating a low purl that echoed in the surrounding hills. It seemed like the hills respected that calm and majestic water by bowing down towards it, allowing the grassland to run down into the freezing water.

”Icedeep,” Tanissa whispered to herself as she watched the rushing water in front of her. She had to wipe a tear from her eye, for she never believed that she would actually get to witness this sight one day. The feeling of relief was so overwhelming that she dropped down to her knees and cried.

And there it was, a river that was separating Glorfalas from the moors of Gremhag. A river that runs through the city of Blackwater in the south before joining the sea. She spent a while there just admiring the magnificent view, allowing herself a moment of rest.

Whatever it meant, she had finally reached her destination.

The wind was flapping her long hair around as she leaned her head backwards and took a deep breath of fresh air.

“Come, my friend, let's go see what the fate has in store for us,” she said to the hawk, then she climbed down the muddy hill and began to follow the river downstream, which would eventually lead her to the city.

Tanissa had finally fulfilled the silent pledge she had given by accepting her brother's sacrifice. Malin paid the highest possible price to grant her this chance, and she would always treasure that legacy in her heart for it was even greater gift than the blue-winged hawk that was flying beside her. It was the gift of freedom.



12.

Tanissa followed the river down southwards, feeling excited even though she was bearing a terrible fear in her heart. What if the people of Blackwater would not accept her in their city? And if they did not, then what she was supposed to do? She tried to push these thoughts aside as she was walking, but they continued to sneak back to haunt her restless mind.

She camped again for a few hours by the river bank. There were no signs of wolves anymore, harmless animals like rabbits, deers and even lynxes were wandering near the water, but nothing that she would need to worry about.

While resting and listening the calming purl of the running water, Tanissa fell to a light sleep for a moment. Well deserved rest, but unfortunately once again, she could not sleep for very long. When she woke up it was still night, but despite the darkness she decided to continue her journey. There was a fair chance that she could reach the city by dawn.

Tanissa's luck did not fail her. She had not been running for more than a couple of hours, when she reached the end of the valley she was following. The river had carved it deep during the centuries, and Tanissa had to be careful with her injured ankle when sliding on the slippery rocks. Once the hills around her began to get lower, the river got wider, running peacefully down the valley until it disappeared under a massive stone wall.

Gasping quietly she looked at the massive structure before her, the walls, high towers, and tall, enormous buildings up to three floors high rose before her eyes, forming a grand, yet mysterious view in the dark night. Further down in the bay, Tanissa saw several large ships anchored, quietly floating upon the dark water and waiting for the sunrise. She saw hundreds of torches lighting the streets of the city, which looked both fascinating and intimidating at the same time. It was something Tanissa had never seen or even imagined before. She was completely mesmerized by the beauty of this city glittering in the middle of the darkness. She wanted to see all the miracles and wonders of the ancient capital city of Halduria, the old kingdom of the northern Hurons. Once strong and feared all the way down in the lands of the Trevlins, but now nothing but a fading memory of the ancient glory, where the whispers of the might of Nolgor still remained. However, Blackwater was still one of those few places left where it was possible to see and sense the ancient might of the Hurons, which was now scattered and divided by trivial disagreements of kings.

Tanissa stopped again and glanced at the sky, she did not want to take the chance of arriving to the city gate when it was still dark, and possibly get turned away because of the odd time.

She decided to spend the rest of the night just sitting and admiring the distant lights of the city. A mild wind felt pleasant against her skin as she closed her eyes and dreamed herself away for a moment.

Slowly the sky turned into lighter grey, indicating sunrise somewhere behind the clouds. Tanissa was able to see the walls much better now; she also saw a road running along the coast. It was paved with granite tiles, but apparently no one ever bothered to maintain it. Frost had cracked and destroyed some of the tiles during the harsh winters, leaving it partially as a muddy wagon trail that followed the coastline before disappearing into the eastern horizon.

Tanissa's eyes focused on the sturdy gate house with a long archway running under the thick wall with five or six guards standing around. Archway could be blocked by dropping down a heavy iron portcullis at the both ends, which would create a cage in the middle.

The large archway gate was the only entrance to the city, the guards were well equipped, and there was absolutely no reason to question their skills either. These were not just any hired drunkards but real soldiers. Their black tabards covered the fine mail armor with a silver tower embroidered on them, which was the royal emblem of Blackwater.

”Return to your own world, my friend. I will call you again when the time is right,” Tanissa whispered to her bird and watched as she faded into a barely visible translucent figure before disappearing. It was one of the ways to prevent problems, a large pet hawk would surely make the guards suspicious, or at least way too curious.

Tanissa was getting nervous as she approached the gate. All possible worst case scenarios were floating through her mind again. What if they would not let her in? The closest city to Blackwater was Meridan, but it would take weeks, if not months, to get all the way there without a horse. Tanissa struggled to drive such thoughts away, when a cold raindrop hit her on the cheek, the rain was starting again. She wrapped her cloak tighter around her to stay warm and dry..

One of the guards turned to greet Tanissa as she got closer.

”Good morning, my lady,” he greeted politely, but there was certain roughness in his voice. “You look like you've come a long way.”

Tanissa smiled lightly and nodded. ”Yes, I am coming from the far north. May I enter the town?” She felt a little embarrassed realizing how silly such question sounded, but for her surprise, the guard smiled lightly and nodded.

”There has been many attempts in the city council to close the gates and the harbor from outsiders because of the problems we've been having here, but for now they remain open for anyone to pass, as long as you don't have intentions to cause problems.”

Tanissa shook her head firmly. ”Thank you. I do not wish to bring any harm to the city, or any of the people living there.” Tanissa was so nervous she felt like she could fall apart any second and just faint there in the middle of the road. She pushed her nails against her palms forcing her chaotic mind to stay clear.

”Well then, I wish you a pleasant stay. I hope you will find what you are looking for,” the guard said and waved his hand as a gesture to move on.

Tanissa was about to start walking, but then she turned around and looked at the guard again with a slightly puzzled expression on her face.

“I am sorry, but I am just curious to know about the nature of these problems. Should I be prepared somehow?”

The guard smiled at her, “It's all politics, my lady. Garkin5 ambassadors are making the city council nervous with their demands, but I believe that is the situation everywhere in Dalastra. We have been on the verge to seal the gates for years now, so I wouldn't worry too much about it.”

“Okay then, thank you very much.” Tanissa replied politely.

She walked through the archway without looking back. An enormous feeling of relief swept through her as she finally entered the city. Tanissa had no idea what these Garkins were, but as long as they would not cause her any problems she was simply going to ignore them.

Then she had to gasp deeply again, but this time in pure amazement. She had never imagined so many people in a same place at the same time. The streets of Blackwater were narrow, and the tall buildings rising on both sides made them look even thinner. Hundreds and hundreds of people were rushing around and taking care of their daily tasks, some of them were seeking inns and taverns for a breakfast or an early lunch, while some of them were rushing to work. It was an ordinary morning in the city.

The massive place was built mostly from grey granite stone and wood. She saw all kinds of stores from regular farmer's markets to expensive jewelry stores in the alleys and alcoves. The alluring smell of freshly baked bread and cakes was floating in the air around the bakeries, blending together with the smell of cooked and grilled foods coming from the numerous taverns and inns, preparing for their first big service of the day. The result was overwhelming and made Tanissa's mouth water as she walked along the crowded streets.

Icedeep ran through the city into the Seawind Bay, dividing the city into two parts. Several bridges of wood and stone were built across the river, connecting the two sides of the city firmly together.

At first Tanissa thought that the people of the city were just rude as they kept bouncing onto her, and after muttering something she could not even understand, they were gone without an apology or any other acknowledgement of insulting her private space. Soon she realized though, that there simply was not enough room in the streets for all the people to walk far apart. It was another thing she would have to accept and get used to.

Finally she decided to look for a place to stop for a moment. She needed to figure out what exactly she wanted to do now that she actually was in Blackwater. While moving closer to the harbor, she started to look for a quiet inn where she could spend some of the coins Malin had given her. She was sure a good meal would help her to think of something.

Tanissa noticed the streets were getting quiet as she approached the harbor area. Apparently the upper class people, like merchants and nobles, did not bother to come down there. The harbor was an area for sailors, thieves, and murderers. It was the dark side of Blackwater, mostly empty during daytime. This side of the city was made to come alive at night, and in there she found a perfect place to sit down for a moment. Despite the location it looked somewhat comfortable inside. The best thing above everything else was that this inn was not as crowded as the other ones she had seen earlier. She had never visited a real inn before, and she did not want to embarass herself in the fancy ones near the gate.

”What can I get for you?” a fat, dirty looking man growled as he rolled out from the back room and parked himself behind the sturdy wooden counter.

”I'm looking for something to eat and drink, perhaps a room to stay for a while as well,” Tanissa explained politely.

The fat innkeeper measured her from head to toe with his swollen pig-eyes.

”Got money?” he then asked, yawning heavily. This innkeeper probably drank about as much as his customers during the nights, which naturally made him a little grumpy at this time of the day, but Tanissa tried not to let such a little detail to bother her.

”Yes, I have some. How much would you consider to be fair?” Tanissa asked a bit nervously. She was not sure about the rates, so she did not really have a clue how much to offer.

”Well, I suppose fifty silvers would cover it all for now. How long are you planning to stay?”

Tanissa had to think for a moment before answering, ”I'm not sure, but I could pay for a week at first?” she suggested.

”Sure thing, show me the money and I'll show you some service,” the innkeeper said straight while picking his hairy nose, looking awfully interested in what he managed to find. Tanissa struggled to keep all snappy remarks to herself. This was not the right time or the place to start trouble.

She counted some coins for the innkeeper, whose face got instantly brighter when he saw the coins dropping on the counter.

”Choose a table for yourself and I'll bring you something to eat!” he declared and disappeared to the kitchen.

After looking around for a minute, Tanissa picked a table in the dark corner right next to a large fireplace. Shortly after sitting down, the innkeeper brought her a cup of tea and a glass of wine to go with the food. Wine was not the best kind, but Tanissa was not able to tell the difference, tea, however, tasted good.

The meal turned out to be delicious fried potatos and a couple of slices of roasted pork. A very fine lunch indeed and Tanissa enjoyed every last piece of it. After finishing the meal, she leaned back and gazed out through the stained glass of a small window. It was time to think for a moment and figure out a plan for the future. For the first time in her life all the roads lied wide open in front of her eyes.



13.

”I have lost my son,” Argan Frosthorn muttered, while chewing on a piece of dried meat. The death of Malin Darksky brought no comfort for his mourning heart, even Tanissa's death was not likely to remove this pain. Argan loved his son very dearly and nothing could ever justify that loss. The grave news had sent his mind into a furious turmoil, not fully comprehending the depth of his own sorrow yet. His younger son, Corwyn, was sitting next to him, staring silently into the distance. He was still too young to understand the magnitude of his father's shock, but he could feel the yearning in his heart and behind his misty eyes. He was old enough to feel anger for it, old enough to desire vengeance, but he could not find a target for these feelings yet..

Marek Darksky was too terrified to speak, his face was pale and his shivering hands were barely able to hold a mug of mead. The news of Malin's fate had opened his eyes, but it was too late to do anything about it. He saw the Darksky clan doomed as it would die away with him, there was no heir left to take his place.

Sitting alone on a wooden bench, Merath Darksky cried quietly. Her world had suddenly crumbled down, leaving nothing but a painful longing for the past when everything had been so much better.

Marek was tired, so tired of everything. An unforeseen disaster had brought him from the road of success, paved by wealth and riches, and dropped him down to the pit of despair and broken dreams. He wanted to blame Tanissa for everything, but he could not do that - it was the line he could not cross. Somewhere deep inside of his heart he knew that the only one he could ever blame was he and himself alone. All his efforts to bring better life for his clan had failed and turned against him. He had lost both of his children because of his own greed. What he had done to his daughter was the worst thing any father could do to their child, abandoning her, denying the love of a father from her. He found himself missing Tanissa now that everything was lost, when it was too late to repair anything.

Now he would have to pay for his deeds.

”Well, Marek,” Argan said with a low, freezing cold voice. ”It looks like your pathetic little clan has very little value to me as an ally now.” The words dropped from his lips bitter like sour wine, each and every drop promising the end of the Darksky clan.

The loss of his son had shaken the mental balance of Argan Frosthorn, driving him mad, and as the flame of hatred burned ever brighter in his heart, the last pieces of good diplomacy were withering away as he was looking for a target for his anger. He was not going to waste his time for this little clan any longer. Heldar was simply going to be conquered, burned down, and the surviving clan members would continue their lives as a part of the Argan's clan. They would resist of course, for the proud people they were, but eventually the choice between life and death would bring them down to a rational conclusion.

”Prepare yourself, Marek Darksky,” Argan said with a husky voice. ”Your days are numbered.”

Then Argan Frosthorn walked out to join his warriors, the battle for Heldar was about to begin. A battle for the life of Darksky clan. And for the one last time, Marek failed as the leader of his people as he remained inside the Clan House, mourning the fate of his children, himself and the people he had betrayed with false illusions of a better life, and he never made an attempt to go out and help his loyal followers to fight. The Darksky clan was confused and badly disorganized, scattered around the village, they were not able to stand against their determined enemy.

The battle was short and brutal, less than ten people, mostly children, were finally imprisoned by the enemy. In time they would be adopted and assimilated to the ways of the new clan. They would become great and respected warriors one day, and in time they might learn to live with what happened at their childhood home, but that would never remove the shame of that day. Their hearts would always carry the stained memory of the past, when the Darksky clan was destroyed, and their name was forever lost.

Marek and Merath Darksky were beheaded by Argan after they had witnessed the complete downfall of their people. Argan and his men burned down the empty village before they headed back home on that same day. The dancing flames comsumed the wooden buildings fast until there was nothing else left but ashes. The next winter would bury the last evidence of the once thriving clan, and it would not be anything more than just a fading memory in the hearts of a few.

Including one very special woman, a hunter of the purest kind.



1. Among the northern tribes “joining” means the same as “marriage” in the south. The word simply describes two souls joining together for life. “Divorce” is an unknown term. Only way to get “divorced” among the northlanders is to become a widow. Accidents do happen, and murders desguised as accidents happen very often. Punishment for killing your spouse is determined by the local clan council. If there is enough evidence for abusive treatment, the murder is possibly ignored. In this case the widow is free to join with someone else. This is very rare though, because usually the evidence is just a statement given by the widow. Punishment is either death or banishment. Under the conditions of Darfalon and Sarost, both sentences usually have the same result, banishment being just a slightly slower way to die.


2. Sul'Awen, also known as “the secret language”, is a language, or symbols, used by the mystics to carve spells on items, paper, different surfaces of walls and floors, and sometimes even on a person's skin. “Tattooed Sul'Awen”, however, is extremely rare. Sul'Awen is also the name of the original crystal that was created by the Immortals in the beginning to provide light and warmth for the world. Later on the evil spirits broke the crystal, and the fragments of it formed the sun and the two moons. Because Aure, the blue moon, is considered to be the source of all might, it was natural that the original name of the crystal was passed on to name the language used to weave that might. It's like one last magnificent remnant of the original flame.that was shining in all colors.


3. The Garden of Helberoth is a realm of the “good Immortals”, where Avareth the Lightbringer rules with Anduniel, The Lady of the Forest. They are guarded and served by the valkyries, winged creatures of breathtaking beauty and majesty. Helberoth was originally the name of the first city built by the Seers before the Great Storm. Underworld is the home of the “evil Immortals”. Demons dwell in there, and are the counterforce of the valkyries. They are winged as well, but twisted and terrible to watch. Underworld is ruled by Morbane, The King of the Dead, and Sagriel, The Queen of the Night.


4. Avareth is said to be the king of all Immortals. He is known as The Lightbringer and the Holy Paladin. He is the divine warrior, which is why the northern clans often turn to him in their prayers.


5. The Garkins are mostly corrupted Varloks and Hurons, who Zekiel cursed and twisted to serve himself in the beginning of the darkening. The Garkins form a major part of the Ironcrown army, and with heavy breeding they have become an independent race, separated very quickly from their forefathers. They are a pure race because there has never been any crossbreeding, but instead, they are a direct result of rapid racial corruption.

© 2011 Vincent Lakes


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I really liked this story, and I think that there is still a lot more you can do with it. It was extremely interesting and had a lot of imagination. I liked the characters and land you painted; the characters were full of depth and well thought out. I think it could also be interesting if you wrote another story to show what happened to Tanissa and even Darkin. Finally, I think it was a good idea for the footnotes. They were very helpful in clarifying.

Posted 11 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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Reviews

I really liked this story, and I think that there is still a lot more you can do with it. It was extremely interesting and had a lot of imagination. I liked the characters and land you painted; the characters were full of depth and well thought out. I think it could also be interesting if you wrote another story to show what happened to Tanissa and even Darkin. Finally, I think it was a good idea for the footnotes. They were very helpful in clarifying.

Posted 11 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This comment has been deleted by the poster.

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318 Views
2 Reviews
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Added on August 10, 2011
Last Updated on August 20, 2011
Tags: Fantasy, bird, hawk, hunter, winter, frost, darkness, dark, sword, sorcery

Author

Vincent Lakes
Vincent Lakes

Finland



About
I like the potential of fantasy as it allows your mind to wander without boundaries through the infinite depths of your imagination. I also like everything that went down in medieval Europe from the f.. more..

Writing
Betrayal Betrayal

A Story by Vincent Lakes