Watcher in the Rocks
Location: Crag above Stormholm Caer, Daranau Eira, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: Mid-November 3550
It was early in the day when the great snow white dire wolf settled on a rock warmed by the sun. The crag she chose had a unique vantage point for one wanting to view the comings and goings of Stormhold Keep. The trail to this watching place was known by few and rarely used out of respect to those living in the hold. The first snows had yet to fall but the day was cold and crisp, and the wolf’s keen senses told her that it would soon be time to return to her lair. The wolf was not overly unusual for her kind, being somewhat larger than the usual Highland gray or red wolves and a bit sturdier of limb. In overall size, she was a bit smaller than the average Dire Wolf, but still not one to be discounted in a hunt or in defending herself if the need arose. The wolf yawned, showing the unique double set of upper and lower canines, another distinguishing feature of the Dire Wolf opposed to a Highland wolf who only had four canines, two uppers and two lower. The four upper and four lower fangs were larger than those of other wolves with a more pronounced curve distinguishing the Dire Wolf as a hunter of the world’s megafauna.
But this day, Snowspirit was not on the mountain to hunt, she was there to watch and observe. After a few minutes of standing and watching the hold far below, she lay down and let the warmth of the sun kissed stone sink into her belly. Not far away, sheltered in the shadows of a rock fall and forest was the wolf’s sole companion, a barsk.
Barsk were far more feared than even the mighty Dire Wolf being odd, almost alien looking animal and, like the Dire Wolf, they were adapted for hunting the land’s megafauna. It had the reputation of being bold, fearless, intelligent as well as cunning, and very dangerous. It was a canid, possibly an offshoot of one of the branches of wolves. Barsk were rarely sighted as they lived in the highest reaches of the great mountains. In the distant past, barsk roamed lowland forests and plains, but Menfolk had hunted them so fiercely, due to fear and the lure of their fantastic manes and hides, that they eventually disappeared. It was thought they were extinct until one was sighted in the Cambrians.
In size, they were also comparable to Dire Wolves, with males averaging in height between three and a half to four feet at the withers (nape of neck), females were only slightly smaller. When measured from the top of the head to the ground, due to the way their head and neck were carried, they could measure up to five feet tall. The body seemed rather small in comparison to the length of its legs which were long and rather thin, designed for speed and agility. The legs ended in almost cat-like paws. Each arched paw sported three deadly claws. The tail was a short furred tuft, usually held erect where it would curve slightly over the animal’s hindquarters. The muzzle was not overlong and widened to a head that was almost perfectly wedge shaped. Eyes, set aslant beneath a slight brow ridge, were usually blue in color, but some barsk had been noted with amber or topaz colored eyes. The head widened out at the brow to allow for the wide-set, upswept ears and the narrow muzzle carried large curved teeth and fangs. Barsk had a bite that would rival that of the biggest Dire Wolves known. While the barsk was a very tall animal, it was not overly massive in weight, built instead for speed and endurance.
The coats of the barsk were spectacular and highly prized in some parts of Aereth. The barsk’s head was covered by short, sleek fur that matched the base color of their mane. The mane itself, formerly cherished as short tunics and jackets, was thick, silken and luxurious. It was usually darker than the animal's base color and rippled with the lighter colors of its coat. The mane started at the back of the head and flowed to the animal’s shoulders and down the front of its chest. The body and legs were covered in a shorter, very dense fur and usually patterned in subtle stripes. The tails were covered in a silken fur that matched the animal’s mane. Barsk’s body fur was striped in a dark and light pattern that broke up the animal’s outline. Each stripe pattern was unique. From spring to fall barsk had a wide range of colors including black and gray, dark and light brown, tan and cream and the most prized of all, deep red gold with lighter golden stripes. By winter, barsk shed their colorful coats and replaced them with thicker winter colors of white and gray, the colors of the rocks and stones in the highest mountain reaches.
Barsk were agile animals and fierce, cunning hunters, easily able to take down the massive Highland Elk, wild boar, and bison. Their most common prey, however, were a small camelid called suri, and mountain sheep. Their odd shaped paws provided them with balance and a phenomenal grip on the dangerous cliffs and ledges of their mountain territories. Once they had a grip on their prey with their muzzle, they could also use the front claws to help hold it and the back ones to disembowel the animal. Barsk had been known to even take down the daeodon and kelenkin.
Snowspirit’s companion barsk, Stelciwr - or Stalker in the common tongue, had shed his magnificent red-gold coat for his winter colors of dark and light gray with touches of silver. When resting in the trees as he was now, with the fall of great boulders behind him, the creature could barely be seen. Tawny gold eyes remained fixed on the wolf although the barsk was motionless.
The Dire Wolf uttered a barely audible sigh and shifted form to that of its human self. Dowager High Lady Kerowyn Stormdanovich, now Kerowyn of Ghostwalker Pack, patted the flat stone next to her. Without a sound, the barsk came to lay down next to her seeming to also utter a sigh of contentment as she buried her hand in the animal’s thick mane, gently scratching and rubbing its neck and shoulders. Kerowyn smiled although she worried about Stelciwr. She knew that barsk mated for life, but this one would not return to the wild except for brief periods to hunt. Guessing his age at only three or four years old, there was still hope that he would eventually leave her and resume his life as a creature of the wild. Until that time, Kerowyn enjoyed his company and the opportunity to learn more about the rare and secretive animal.
Idly, as her left hand rubbed and scratched the massive animal’s head and ears, her right stroked the soft white fur of the tunic she habitually wore in the winter. It was long, reaching her calves when she was standing, and sleeveless, designed to be worn over long-sleeved tunics or gowns. The fur and pelt it was made of, ironically, was that of a white Dire Wolf, one that had had to be killed for raiding livestock and threatening the villagers of Duskhallow. Her grandson, the High Lord of Cymeria, Mikhael Stormdanovich, had dealt with the wolf personally as there was a ban on hunting Dire Wolves for sport or for their pelts in Cymeria. Kerowyn assumed, with some amusement, that Mikhael had wanted to make sure it was not his grandmother that was harrying the villagers, making them lock their doors at night and herd their farm animals into sheds. He had presented the luxurious winter tunic to her two Yules previous when she had gone to the hold for the annual celebration.
And this sojourn on the rocky crags overlooking Stormholm Caer was her annual visit to keep watch, a way of keeping her distance but assuring herself of the wellbeing of her son’s offspring. Like her mate, Mathias, Kimber was long dead, but she still felt occasional pangs of grief for his loss and so made it a point to look in on his children from time to time. Kerowyn was not the cuddly type of grandparent. In fact, she maintained a rather aloof relationship with her grandchildren, though she knew each of them and was, in her way, quite fond of them. Now, her sharp eyes caught movement in one of the hold’s courtyards, and she smiled as she recognized the powerful figure of her only grandson and the much smaller forms of her great grandson and his almost constant companion, Aeonar, one of the Wyr fosterlings. The three set to energetically kicking and tossing a colorful ball about the courtyard. From time to time, their laughter caught on the wind, floated up to the lofty crag where Kerowyn sat with the barsk.
“What do you think, Stelciwr? Should we make one of our rare appearances at this year’s Yule celebrations? I do enjoy the cèilidh, don’t you?” Kerowyn’s voice was rich, somewhat husky, and carried the milder lowland accent of Cymeria, a soft and gentle lilt rather than the stronger Highland burr. “The bard, Taliesin, will surely perform and I like that he avoids many of the sorrowful and tragic laments for livelier tunes.” She turned her eyes on the barsk as she spoke.
The barsk chuffed out a contented response. The animals, to the best of Kerowyn’s knowledge, did not bark, howl or sing to the night as did other canids. In fact, she had never heard Stelciwr make a noise beyond a soft growl of warning when unexpected visitors showed up at her home in Caer Draenár, Stonefall Cottage. Beyond that, his vocalizations seemed limited to a sort of soft chuffing noise and something of a clicking sound. Even when she had found him, horrifically injured by a carelessly abandoned toothed leg trap, he had not cried out nor tried to harm her. In fact, she often thought she saw a strange intelligence lurking in the shadowy golden eyes of her companion.
Turning her eyes back to the keep, she laughed softly as the game of ball turned into a three-way wrestling match as both boys piled on Mikhael, howling with laughter as he gently pummeled and tickled them in return. The sounds that floated up to her on the cold air assured her that all was well, at least in one area of the hold’s life.
The huge black wolf had been slinking through the rocky grounds, hiding behind boulders and bushes as he made his way towards where the Lady and her barsk were sitting. Careful to not disturb her, Oréas kept to hiding in the crags, where he could watch without disturbing her. He had been aware of her annual visits for many a year, and whenever he had been close, he had shadowed her steps, not disturbing her vigil, but ensuring she was safe. When Mathias had passed from this world, Oréas had begun to seek out Kerowyn, to ensure her well-being. Out of a self-appointed task of protection, a friendship had sprung which caused him to seek her out more regularly. Ever since her joining of the Blood at the Gathering, Oréas' awareness of her presence had grown. He could sense her close by, and it added the warm feeling of pack that the Children of the Blood shared. Watching her in her vigil, he wondered how she could bear the loneliness at times, she was a lone hunter if he ever had known one.
Shifting back into human form, Oréas moved to announce his presence after she had fallen silent - he knew Stelciwr must have been aware of his presence for a while, but the big hunter had not given him away. Moving closer, so he was visible, he squatted down beside her in the cover of the rocks. "If Stelciwr is opposed to celebrating at the keep, he should guide you to find the Forest Lord's winter ball, at the very least," he said, referencing one of the many colorful legends of the Wyr.
Kerowyn laughed lightly, her eyes warming as Oréas settled next to her. “I would be quite lost at a ball of any sort. I am afraid I am hopeless on the dance floor, two left feet. No doubt even Stelciwr would be a more graceful dancer than I.” The wind tugged at the silken strands of her snow white hair. Impatiently, she brushed it out of her face while slanting a glance at her friend. “Mikhael has kept to the hold since the attack at the Feast of Samhain. I also heard something about an attack against Vasily upon their return from D'hassa in September? I assume all is well at Stormholm now?”
"When you dance with the wind, all you need is to fly," Oréas replied with a small smile, for a moment imagining them both dancing in a forest full of the falling leaves of autumn and Kerowyn's white hair flying between the swirl of red and golden leaves. Her next words brought him back from the fancy to the reality of their lives. "All is well. Mikhael saved Vasily from the attack in time, though we are still working on preventing such an attack from ever happening again. There have been no further signs of the Black Order or their minions." It was not that he was satisfied with that - they needed to build a better defense for the entire High Family, but Oréas knew that Hawke was already working on that end, and he would get the necessary concessions from Mikhael eventually.
Kerowyn gave a nod of her head indicating she understood the situation. She had assumed that all was well, or Mikhael would not be playing in the courtyard with the children, but it felt good to have the verbal verification of it. She glanced at Oréas, noting his handsome profile and how in the shade of the rocks, his deep blue eyes appeared dark and almost mysterious. Kerowyn held silent another moment, enjoying the peace and his companionship. Oréas had been a good friend from before Mathias’ Crossing. Now, she felt a new awareness of him, but could not quite comprehend why, not that it mattered. It felt good.
“The House will do what is necessary. Mikhael is brave, but not, I think, reckless.” Her words indicated she was at peace with the precautions being taken for the family’s sake. Kerowyn’s dark eyes sparkled suddenly, “What about you, Oréas? Do you feel like running with an old wolf and her slightly odd hunting companion?” She gestured at Stelciwr lying patiently by her side.
"There are no old wolves, only wise ones," Oréas replied, with a sparkle in his eyes. They both were about the same age, and the long lives of their kind had them yet to truly reach the years that would make them old. "and it is a good day to run in the woods." Truthfully he enjoyed the times when they went hunting together, or simply explored the mountains. They were among the most peaceful times in his life, and that was because of Kerowyn.
As if sensing what was coming, Stelciwr rose to his feet, fairly towering over the seated humans. Kerowyn smiled in anticipation and in an instant Snowspirit was in her place giving Oréas a toothy wolfish grin. Nipping at Oréas shoulder playfully, the white Dire Wolf turned and glided into the forest. The great barsk did the same, his striped hide disappearing into the shadows provided by the great trees.
~ FINIS ~