CHAPTER 4 – THE WOLVES OF HROTHGAR

Written by Matt Ochs | Layout by John Kimmel


Bergheim, Seat of House Hrothgar

Time - 1100 hours

Year 889 AF


Spoils of War | Art by Ascary Lazos

His features were lit in relief, taking their shape from the icy light of the holo glowing below. He stood hunched over the display, and but for the terrain it shone in ghostly miniature, he was alone.

Hours ago he had dismissed the small army comprised of his councilors, retainers, advisors, generals, stewards…

Gods, who else?

Ah, of course - guards.

Ha! The fact that he had a contingent of bodyguards dogging his step still felt awkward for its newness. It had been many counts of the moon since he ascended the high step of Hrothgar and claimed the Wolf’s Mantle, and still it felt strange. But such was his duty, and from it he had not flinched. Of all the lessons he had taught, his father might have included a warning that solitude would be at a premium when the time came. Sure there was some to be gleaned from the gene-memories, but the crush of his public life had not been amongst those revelations.

Gods be good, all he seemed to dream of these nights was just that. Freedom to run, to hunt, unencumbered by a train of vassals and supplicants, minor lords and pontificates.

“Such is duty,” he sighed. Gods damned duty.

“Pah!” He spat and swiped a massive paw through the spectral likeness of Aesir, the seat of house Vassad.

“First shackled by an unending train of subjects, then caged within the high walls of Bergheim.  Vassad is likely laughing his little head off while he plots his next move.”

He tightened his grip on the hewn stone haldja that cradled the holo-display. Not even his formidable strength would be enough to sunder its granite, so he snarled gripped a little harder.

“Careful, brother.”

His frown deepened, if only to hide the smirk from his face. Had he not been cradle mates with this one, it would not have made one drop of difference; he would recognize that voice anywhere. The gene-sense was strong about some things, and this was one of them.

“Worgana. Should I speculate on how long you have been watching me, lurking in the shadows?”

She stepped playfully from behind the smoky veil cast by an enormous censer.

“To infiltrate the sanctum of the mighty Fenris Hrothgar and remain undetected, I dare say someone should lose their head,” she said showing a canine grin. “Perhaps it should be you.”

Fenris had gathered himself to his full height and turned to where his sister stood, across alternating tiles of gleaming marble and lapis lazuli. The electro-torches were turned down low and his silhouette stood out in fearsome relief, framed by the holo’s blue glow. Clad only in a light leather tunic and a few pieces of ceremonial wargear, it was apparent that it would take much to sever that great head from its meaty shoulders.

He thrust his chin back and bellowed what could easily be mistaken for a howl. The war room shook with its thunder, and the stained glass rattled in their panes, as if the heroic depictions of his ancestors would spring to life. Or flee at the sound.

Fenris raised an arm as thick as an ironwood sapling and wiped away a gobbet of saliva.

“Aye, perhaps. But did I say you took me unawares ‘Gana?

She softened at the mention of his pet name for her. It had lasted through the ages and still had never lost its power. Just as suddenly a look of awareness crossed her eyes and then her features snapped back into a snarl.

“An easy riposte, brother. I should stick a dagger between your ribs next time and then listen to how you explain that.”

Fenris remarked at his sister’s predatory hunch and the wild light in her eyes and envied her for it. The dull blade of duty had not touched her yet, and she was still sharp, dangerous even. Worgana had ever been impulsive and this one was unseasoned.

“Easy for you to say so, sister.” He spread his arms wide, “come now and plant it where you will. Or is all that bold talk you spout a bladder of hot air?”

Surrounded by the scenes of their ancestors’ triumph, the two siblings appeared every ounce as monolithic as those cast in the colored panes of glass. The wolf cub Worgana crouched, ready to launch herself into a missile of steel and fury, the elder tall and unmoving, a demi-god wrapped in leather and clad in gold. The air crackled with a palatable sense of tension and the shadows deepened, withdrawing as far as their corners would allow them. At the sight a mortal might have simply soiled themselves.

It was the white shard of canine he saw peeking that told Fenris he had her. And then, he couldn’t contain the grin from dashing the levity from his face.

“Malack himself isn’t so bold,” Worgana laughed, shaking her head.

“Or Yuli so foolish,” he smiled.

“Who are you to say the trickster god is a fool?” She said, mock consternation losing feebly to her wide grin.

“He is the greatest fool, for his plots are always by foiled by his brother Freyr.”

“Ha! Just like a true devotee of the law god to be so blind,” Worgana said, sauntering over to the vacated dining bench and reached for a deserted platter that hosted a boar’s leg still resting in a puddle of its own juices.

She turned towards her brother and made a grand display of sinking her teeth into the supple flesh while sliding her hand behind her back until it brushed the hard round shape of a gan fruit.

Fenris struggled to contain the laughter threatening in his gullet. Foolish girl, but she did have spirit, which he admired. And missed.

“Frey-”

She whirled about as soon as he began to speak, thinking that the most opportune moment to strike; just as he knew she would. His hand snapped up and intercepted the gan in its course aimed at his nose. What he didn’t expect was the boar’s leg that jammed below his ribs with an arc that would see it lodged in his heart - were it a proper blade. Gods she was every bit the Worgana before her. And then some.

He sighed and plucked the boar’s leg from her hand.

“I take it you had a mind when you infiltrated the war room. What is it?”

She stood up straight, obviously proud of herself, and put both hands on her hips, tilting her chin majestically.

“When you leave the Wolf’s Den I will be your second.”

Fenris looked over his sister’s shoulder and pitched the leg back onto the bench in a wide arc. It landed with an unceremonious thud and a shrill rattle of dishware.

She stepped forward a hand’s breadth.

“I’m ready.”

He grunted and turned back towards the holo-display and surveyed the landscape. Aesir to the east, Golgathar to the north and east, and on the front line their home, Bergheim, in the west. Somewhere out beyond the Fracture was the enemy. His lip curled at the thought, showing two fangs that marked him as Hrothgar.

“We should never have let those damned machines go.”

We did not.”

Though she remained at his back, he could sense that look he had come to know very well.

“Krionos did.”

That fact was common enough knowledge amongst the great lords of the Jotune, what their Lord-Emperor had done. But as to why, could only be guessed at with mere speculation - and was well beyond reproach. To voice dissent would be disastrous. Krionos had ruled for the better part of seven-hundred years and for good reason. He had alliances that spanned generations, and a vision that was beyond even the wolf lords.

“Krionos had his reasons, and I suspect that they are still coming to fruition.”

“He had his fears!”

Worgana walked around to the other side of the dias and now Fenris saw her features cast in the same fearsome spectral glow of the holo-projection. She leaned on the granite lip with her hands splayed, intensifying the glare.

“Thousands of metal-men walked out of the wastes and knocked on his door. Instead of facing them in battle as the lords of Hrothgar would have done, he cowered behind his walls.”

“Quiet, girl!”

His sister’s impulsiveness was bordering on treason, and he had no time for it. His own problems were enough to deal with.

“Krionos had his reasons, and it is done. Nothing is going to erase a five-hundred year old mistake.”

Worgana beamed, and for that he knew he had erred.

“So you admit it.”

Looking at his sister’s pleased face he remembered the terrible feeling of the boar’s leg poking under his ribs.

“I admit I would have fought.”

“And yet, you were overlooked by our Lord-Emperor in favor of that dandy,” she flicked her head to the east and the message was clear.

Fenris’s grip tightened and his knuckles turned white.

“You better have a point.”

“I know you plan to leave the Wolf’s Den,” she walked slowly around the dias to where he stood, “and I know where you plan to go.”

“Then you truly have the powers of Yuli to know such things,” he said, scowling down at her.

“No, better. I have your mind,” she said tapping the side of her skull. “Let us go together then, and right the wrong that still lies fresh, if we cannot right that which is bygone.”

“No.”

Worgana stepped back as though struck.

“No? What do you mean, no?”

“You are not ready to leave the Wolf’s Den on such an errand, it’s too soon. Besides, your mother is not yet one with the ancestors, and still has wisdom to impart. Your place is here.”

“I grow tired of this place and I grow tired her lessons! I’m 30 counts of the moon and I’m ready!”

“No. You’re a stripling. And you’ll stay here. If I am to defy the Lord-Emperor, then I will do it alone without risking you and your lineage.”

Fenris had gathered himself once again to his full height and towered over his sister.

“Do not defy me in this and risk my displeasure.”

Worgana bowed her head before looking back into his face.

“Yes, Lord Hrothgar.”