Our story begins in the tribe known as the “Vultipos,” or “Wolf-Paw” in the common tongue. Throughout the generations the Vultipos have been a nomadic people who follow the migration of the caribou along the rocky-reach, a territory that stretches from the fingers to the burning lake — nearly a thousand miles of country.
At present the Vultipos count seventy-two in their tribe. You and I probably wouldn’t count the nine White wolves as members of the family-tribe, but we don’t count like halflings do. Middred is the old matriarch of the tribe. Her husband Tessin was a great warrior who rode a White Wolf named Jorset in his youth. Tessin came from another halfling tribe — the Duan, the people of the Bear. The tribes would come together for feasts and marriages, exchange wedding gifts, and shares stories of the folk. They would renew their bonds of peace and tell glorious tales of the tribes who meet-no-more.
It was on one of these feasts, forty-three years ago, that Tessin and Middred were married. A strong and young hunter from the Bear-clan was bonded to a fierce she-wolf. Halfling society is matriarchal, so the young bear came to live among the people of the wolf. It was at the wolf-bear feast the the stranger came — the dragon-eyed woman with silver hair. Three beautiful children as a wedding gift for the young couple. Giving orphans at weddings was common practice to the halflings. Children who lost their parents would be raised by young couples, newly cemented in their love. None could remember a time when an outsider ever did such a thing. The dragon-eyed lady knew much of their culture and spoke the gifting words with grace. She paused over each babe and said words in a language no-one among them could understand.
Middred and Tessin loved them immediately and raised them well. Middred insisted on naming them according to some of the strange words that she had overheard: “Barondal, Charmein, and Shalimar.” These strange children did not grow as quickly as halflings. Tessin and Middred saw their own children grow into adults to have their own children while the trio remained young. It was their grand-child Wedgett, a wolf-whale (his father was from the whale tribe), who would change everything.
Abdar paced back and forth across the room. He was turgid. Stiff and tense and at each accusation he coiled more. He could not fathom how Wedgett had turned East on the way to Leaf’s Lost Ear. He was an excellent tracker — a natural. A far better choice than the son of smug Eilen, a savage warrior named Queawae. There were half a dozen close nearby, and twice that at the mouth of the room.
Middred, his mother and elder matron of the tribe, was as tense as him. She didn’t show it though. As mother of the tribe she had a cool composure under all manner of difficulty. Each emergency in her life was greeted with the same unflappable resolve. She had sent Wedgett alone based on her reading of the signs. Yet she knew more than any of them that prophecies are not a weal to all. The spirits of her ancestors don’t guide her in what is right for a mother, nor do they guide the tribe. There are many tribes-who-do-not-meet. The secret in her heart that those without the gift can never know — is that it shows what must be done. It creates neither fortune nor woe.
“The gods put a curse of treachery in our path. Mother Middred saw it in the bones. We should have sent them with Queawae and his brothers. They are strong warriors. " Eilen paused. Gauging the tenor of Middred and continued. “We don’t know what caused them to turn East, but we cannot follow. The tracks are too well covered across the stone rises and Khoske Canyons. The boy said he knew the way. It must have been treachery that led him astray. Or his own doing,” he said emphatically. Eilen’s accusation hung in the air.
Abdar fought back every instinct to explode in a fit of rage. However, the seed of doubt was in him as well. There was no explanation for the turn Eastward. The tracks were deliberate and steady. Instead he pushed a log over in the fire. An impotent gesture spurred by frustration. Sparks and smoke needlessly filled his eyes.
The fire lakes were a good place to rest for a few days (or more) for Barondil. He preferred the cold but he did find the heat and the fire from the ground…..exotic seemed a good word.
He was going through his pack looking at the things he had collected from the wizard and his band. He actually hadn’t thought of it since he’d wrapped up everything and put the bundle at the bottom of his pack, it was not heavy so he didn’t notice it there and trekking out in the wilderness there wasn’t much use for things that none of them would know how to use anyway….and there hadn’t been anywhere to use the gold or platinum anyways. But here……the hierophant seemed a wise and good sort, maybe he would be able to tell Barondal what the crystal staff was, and the platinum ring, the two vials of liquid and the scroll tubes, and the book. The necklaces were probably just gold, he’d seen gold links used as trade before, and figured that was their purpose, but maybe not
But wrapped in a piece of the wizards black robes he’d kept one of the daggers made of that substance that did…nothing natural. It made him shudder to think of it. He had wondered if leaving all those weapons back in the forest all those months ago was such a good idea. Well, they were buried and there was just too much to carry.
Yes, before they left he would seek out the hierophant and tell him of their travels…..and ask him who he was referring to when he mentioned one of them was not from this world.
And off he went to find Charmaine and Shalamar….and Wedjet to find the hierophant