First Waxing Crescent Moon (on or about Nuwmont 2-3, 998AC)
I nearly forgot just how cold mornings were in the mountains. Particularly the mountains of northern Karameikos. Particularly in the tail end of an unusually savage winter from which the lands still recovered.
Our second day on the road was unremarkable. Despite the conditions of the trails, Demarra’s vardo did not falter in the muck. It only took until sundown for Gilliam to give up placing bets with the woman on whether or not the wagon would mire.
“It’s unnatural,” the warrior complained to Varis. “The draft horses nearly went into that puddle up to their knees. You saw it,” he said, turning to me. “Tell me that is not natural.”
“Where roads and travel are involved, very little the Darine do could be considered ‘natural,’” I told him. “Why do you think the Darokin merchants are so tolerant of them mingling with their caravans?”
I woke well before dawn on the third day. I felt the tingling of Sera’s work at the borders of our little camp site, knew that she’d woven a buffer of air and heat between us and the cold winter’s night. So the cold sank only skin deep, rather than into the bones. Fortunately, her wardings also served to keep the heat of the campfire from leeching away as well.
Gilliam came closer to the fire as I coaxed it to life, rubbing his hands together.
“Morning greet you,” I said, inclining my head.
“And you as well,” he said, through chattering teeth. “Your pardon if we forego the ritual of waters. Mine seems to’ve frozen in its skin.” The warrior flexed his fingers before slipping his gloves back on. “Is it just me, or is it slightly warmer here?”
“A working of Sera’s,” I said. “Some sort of warding of Thought and Energy, to keep the worst of the night’s cold at bay.”
“Did she work any magics to keep the wildlife at bay, as well?”
I frowned. “She didn’t mention it.” I concentrated, leaning slightly on my awareness of the weaver. She was still asleep in the vardo, quite warm. And dreaming of— Well, she dreamt, and I will leave it at that.
Ever so faintly, the threads of Thought and Energy shimmered at the corners of my vision. I turned a slow circle. “I do not sense any threads of Entropy, beyond those needed to anchor the warding,” I said.
“It was a very quiet night. Too quiet.” He huddled closer to the fire, feeding it extra kindling. “Can’t you just do that thing you usually do?” he asked, waggling his gloved fingers at the slowly growing flames.
“Not today,” I said.
“Don’t tell me, it’s your weaver’s time of the moon, and it’s affecting your magic, too?”
I shook my head. “Ah, no. It has more to do with the night’s unusual quiet. Let us just say, the less magic used today, the better. And she is not my weaver.”
Gilliam snorted. “Keep telling yourself that, Thorn. I almost envy you.”
Varis hunched down next to us, the battered helmet that had become our cook pot held in his gloved hands, heaped with fresh snow. I took hold of the chin strap, hanging it over the tripod Gilliam had erected from the longer branches we’d collected the day before. One learns very quickly, I was told, not to invest in such trivialities as cook pots and fancy trail gear. Having lost most of our supplies on the way to the Lost Valley, I could not argue the point.
“I don’t suppose you could get that to boil a bit faster?” the bigger warrior asked, rubbing his upper arms.
“Not today,” I said, again.
The vardo’s door creaked open, the brass chimes jingling. Aurora stepped lightly into the cold ground, and I heard the two men beside me suck in sharp breaths.
“That ground is still half-frozen,” Gilliam muttered. “I just want to hold them down and put some hose on them.”
“You’re more than welcome to try,” Varis said. “I’ll give you ten to one odds on the little one.”
Aurora reached up, but Silva ignored her sister’s hand. In fact, she ignored the steps as well, jumping from the doorsill to land a good yard behind the shrike. Aurora shook her head, closing the door quietly while giving her twin a sour look.
It earned her a face full of snowball.
Silva’s laughter was like the silvery chimes that adorned the far corner of the vardo. Aurora had barely brushed the snow from her hair when another smacked into her shoulder, causing her to sputter and spit out the half mouthful of snow.
“Which of us is supposed to be the elder?” she called, ducking a third snowy projectile.
“I have been caged, and then with the sickness,” Silva said. “You have much more time to play in the winter-fall than I.”
“I was busy helping this sorry lot turn the weather right side up!” Aurora shouted, flinging a snowball of her own. Silva’s form blurred, then resolved a foot to the left, untouched by snow.
“You spend too many times at work. Play for a time, like when we were growing up.” She lobbed another snowball.
I’d seen her throw rocks hard enough to stagger an ogre. She was pulling her punches.
Aurora threw two more snowballs, one passing through another image of her sister, the second spattering over Silva’s gown as she rematerialized. She gave a shriek of surprise.
“Girls!” I called. “Girls!” I shouted, as loudly as I dared.
They looked up, arms full of snow, poised to shower each other. Gold and silver eyes blinked, each a picture of innocence.
“I would remind you that we are in ogre territory. Hungry ogres are very light sleepers. The two of you are making nearly enough noise to wake the dead.”
They stared at each other for a long moment before Aurora let her armload of snow plop to the ground. After which point Silva flung hers at the shrike, who scrambled backwards with a very unladylike curse.
Silva swallowed her laughter, holding her hands clasped before her, her head slightly bowed.
“Akhada’kha tadiya zalaka payassa?” she whispered to her sister.
Aurora giggled, despire her dripping hair.
“He makes the words, just like Father,” Silva whispered — in her broken Thyatian, no doubt for my benefit— with a pout.
Aurora tried to scowl. “Shush. You are the elder. You must set the example.”