Approximately 30th day of the New Order incursion.
~The North, older than all other corners of the world and isolated by the Rhawn mountains, is a land of mysteries and legends, where the laws governing other lands submit more easily than they govern. It is a remnant of the Before Age, and the domain of a being older than mortal existence: Winsyria. In this, the Third Age, his power is diminished, his influence restricted to The North. Nevertheless, he remains the caretaker of his people, feared and loathed by the Ascended gods since a time older than reminiscence; and until all creation fails, he will continue to rule The North.~
Deep within The North, protected by the Rhawn Mountains, a circle of ancient trees swayed in the ceaseless wind burdened, yet uncompromising, beneath the undisturbed ice of millennia. Stately firs pierced the tenebrous sky while dominant spruces stretched protective limbs over the shorter rowans and shaded the mingled willows. A wall of stout cypress, eucalyptus, and baobabs concealed the trunks of these primordial sentries, their grandeur undiminished by their inferior height. A magnificent sequoia reigned over all of these from the center of a white lake, its graceful limbs also stretched out protectively over its attendants. The implacable northern wind caressed the sequoia's fragile, golden leaves as snowflakes kissed its alabaster skin.
Men did not venture here often for the Rhawn are perilous to ascend and worse to descend, and this sanctuary was secreted deep within their peeks.
A howl reached down the sheer pass leading up to the glade, and the sanctuary stirred in welcome, its drowsy soul rousing from a century of isolation. A White Wolf of Winsyria materialized from the eternal blizzard and strolled into the circle of trees. The unearthly canine settled beside the pond and started to drink, its eyes alive with an unnatural intelligence.
The Wolf remained unperturbed when a second figure materialized from the storm; a man advancing with a hesitant step, his features defined by the tundra-cold eyes, the pale northern hair, and the scars dealt to his skin by his harsh motherland.
The deranger scanned the lake, probing through the dense fog veiling its surface. Although the mist stretched out to embrace him, one could still see the bow of rare black rowan hanging across his shoulder beside a quiver of three dozen arrows fletched with the feathers of black swans.
A ripple stroked the abnormally serene water, alerting the deranger that his presence was noted. Chagrined, though no sign of it broke the impassivity of his features, the deranger drew his cowl back.
He smiled at his foolishness, a rare moment of unveiled humor for him, recollecting that his skill would not conceal him from the man he sought. The deranger—a Ranger-Warden of Winsyria—thus named by the Northern people due to his habitual insanity of braving The North's harshest maelstroms, walked to the lake's bank and knelt beside the Wolf. Closing hazel eyes, he slipped into a half trance, allowing his mind to relinquish the constraints of his body. With the air of beginning a ritual, he unsheathed his glass sword and plunged it into the water, returning the blade to the forge of its birth. The true North welcomed him; mists and half-formed shadows granted him wordless visions of beauty and solitude that transcended both distance and time.
To an outsider, The North was a sinister land encircled by baleful mountains; but to those within those mountains, the land was a haven.
Submerged in the ancient majesty of his homeland, the deranger lost track of time, drifting until the mists receded from the lake's crystalline waters and unveiled another man kneeling, immersed to his breast. The deranger exhaled a long breath, relinquishing his trance, and unsheathed the glass sword from the water, its spine shimmering with captured light; the impurities cleansed.
The Rhawn Mountains murmured, their voices like grinding stone. The deranger glanced up, not for fear of the Rhawn or Winsyria's storms—they were facets of a home he cherished—but for what they portended.
The immersed man stood, tied back the locks of bronze hair and strode to the shore, water streaming down his naked torso over an intricate tapestry of indigo tattoos. “Hello, Maern.” The High-Warden spoke with a soft, graceful cadence despite his size, and at his words, the storm calmed.
Maern stood, sheathing the glass sword but hesitating to speak. “The New Order has entered The North, circumventing Adriat under cover of night, battle, and enchantments. Some four thousand of them.” Maern fell into step, and the White Wolf followed.
“Yes, and they bring demons in their company.” The High-Warden slowed, aligning his stride with his companion’s.
“The war that Lord Dellak predicted has arrived.”
“None of us ever doubted his words; we've had time to prepare for this.”
Maern nodded, beginning to struggle through the fresh snow. In contrast, the High-Warden moved easily, leaving no history of his passage as they ventured deeper into the Rhawn Mountains. Unperturbed by the arduous trek, Maern continued, “Lord Antiark solicits your aid.”
“I know, but I cannot aid him. This is a war whose entirety we do not yet fully comprehend. There are other evils out there with their eyes fixed on us while other, fouler things, stir. Messages of portentous events rise on dark wings, and the Hounds of Karrassain walk this land again. In the West, Cardolyn Tyier broods upon his throne, eyes cast heavenwards.”
At the mention of Karrassain, a prison for gods and their ilk, Maern's step faltered.
The High-Warden continued undeterred, “For the first time in decades, Tiberius Whyte leaves Apelium to converse with the last Avenar Prince while Morrehiegann laughs in his dark tower, gloating over our plight and inner conflicts. Rumors speak in susurrations; the harbinger of something terrible that has long slumbered. A Dread Lord walks the Mortal Kingdoms again, and with this messiah's arrival, the curse inflicted upon the Avenar Princes is reawakened.”
The High-Warden arrived at a simple abode—carven from the mountain as if grown—and opened its door, beckoning both man and Wolf to enter. Maern hurried inward and the High-Warden followed, bending under the high door frame. The Wolf entered last, at ease in the deteriorating weather.
Motioning Maern to a chair before the hearth, the High-Warden donned a shirt from the mattress in a corner. The Wolf claimed the hearthstones with a satisfied huff, sniffing and rubbing the dense, scented furs that blanketed the floor. Within the hearth, the house’s kelbrok slumbered heavily, steam rising from the nostrils on its beak with every exhale. Its large scales flared periodically, exposing the vibrant blue skin beneath and expelling drafts of heat. It lay coiled around a darkened, half-eaten cedar log.
Allowing the heat to sooth him, Maern brooded, uneasy with his lack of knowledge. The North always balanced on war's precipice with the Light and Dark Pantheons ruling the exterior world, forever ravenous to enter but denied the necessary conduit. Gods needed devotees to manifest their will upon the world, mortals to pray and seek their miracles in true belief, and none such existed in The North. In this slow process of rumination, realization struck. “The gods will fall on us like crows upon the dead.”
“Yes, the gods will come: Telacra shall ride the backs of her New Order, and Malbreyth will invade as the first drop of human blood falls. Jaidar will enter through the flames and agony as the slightest threads of chaos sunder our unity; and where Jaidar goes, Enecki soon follows.”
Maern watched shadows cast by the kelbrok’s light flicker across the hearth’s interior, contorting into myriad shapes and guises. First, there was a solitary Wolf running in place and then its brethren joined it, their heads lifted in the ancient lament they had sung since the first dawn.
The High-Warden continued, “Still, it is not the gods I fear; everything is stirring, both the evils in their prisons and the guardians in their holds, some of which have been asleep so long they will not recognize the world. I fear what will be demanded of them.”
He took the vacant seat, offering Maern dark bread and cold mutton while a tea kettle whistled from a hook over the kelbrok. The High-Warden took a pair of mugs from pegs driven into the walls and poured tea into each. Maern accepted a mug, beginning to murmur his gratitude but fell silent as something flickered through the High-Warden's eyes. “Winsyria recedes; his power is no longer used as it was. Many consider it a weakening, but it is not; a bargain has been struck, and I cannot see its laws. All paths hence are shadowed; I do not know which road is best. I think we are all pawns for now, and until I discover more, we shall remain thus. The question is: who's controlling the game?”
At these last words, a shiver ran through Maern's blood. He leaned back, setting aside his repast and clasping the tea mug for warmth. His mind wandered the roads of queries and doubts, guessing at players he could not conceive.
Hours passed before Maern surfaced from his thoughts. The kelbrok had waken and was gradually swallowing the cedar log whole. Night had fallen, calling the Wolf away to its eternal song, and the High-Warden stood at the hearth, bronze eyes veiled with internal shadows.
Maern stood, reaching for his glass sword. He felt a summons from The North, a silent reminder that his labors were incomplete. The derangers patrolled the trackless North, searching for whatever managed to slip past Adriat. They gave little heed to the affairs of kingdoms and empires, of armies or warlords. They guarded the land while lesser men guard their children.
“You will be needed in Antiark.”
“I know. I can hear their pleas, the dead accusing and the living bitter; I cannot help either. I have my own tasks waiting. When it is done, I will lend my strength to Antiark.” The High-Warden knelt to offer the kelbrok a new log, which it sniffed then declined. “I suspect this war shall reach its wretched fingers into our heartland up to the walls of Antiark. I believe those who call The North home shall trade tranquility for power and tainted gold.”
“You speak of the Weshac.”
“Yes. Their latest pretense of a king is dead. Even if he were not, the laws governing their race are fragile. The New Order will find an easy alliance with the outcasts.”
The High-Warden walked to a corner and retrieved the twin pale swords reclining there. The magnificent weapons belonged to him from a time lost to memory, and throughout that time, they had rarely seen the light. They were Talwars, as long from pommel to tip as the average man stands. Though they were heavier than a normal man could wield, the High-Warden held them easily. A full two inches in width at the spine and six inches of blade at the base, the weapons curved, expanding to a near foot before tapering to a point.
“Will you serve, High-Warden?” This question revealed Maern's purpose: a task given to him by Lord Antiark. The query itself was merely decorum, a petition of the High-Warden in days of war: ‘In peace, none shall command greater authority than the High-Warden, though he shall not reign. In times of war, none shall supersede the Lord of Antiark, though the Lord of Antiark has no command over the High-Warden unless the High-Warden submits to his commands.’ This passage declares the High-Warden subordinate to none, unless he submits to Lord Antiark during times of war.
The High-Warden of Winsyria served a single purpose: a guard against the supernatural forces the Mortal Kingdoms harbored. The Lord of Antiark was the sentinel against the mortal tyrants who thrive on the profits of war; only the Winter Court exceeded his authority within The North.
“No, Maern, I will not serve.”
Maern expected nothing else after listening to the High-Warden. “What are the tasks you mentioned?” he queried, intending to convey Lord Antiark's offer of assistance, yet no answer came. The High-Warden, at last, looked up, his eyes raw with fury; a fury inflamed by every black boot treading the soil of his home.
“Though already beset, The North is better served by the prevention of any other foe seeking spoils. These are tasks neither the derangers nor Lord Antiark should interfere with. You still have time though, so rest, and resume your obligations in the morning. Cherish this peace, for it will be hard to find in the days ahead.” The High-Warden gestured to a mattress in another corner.
“High-Warden, if I may, how are you doing? The North can’t be taking this gently.”
“My state is irrelevant, I have a Burden to fulfill, and you rest to take. Leave the door open when you go.”
The deranger accepted. His fatigue, masked while he conversed with the High-Warden, returned in full. Wrapping himself in the woolen blankets, he watched through heavy lids as the High-Warden brushed one callused hand across an ornate pommel. Maern closed his eyes, accepting this gift of tranquility and trusting the High-Warden of Winsyria to accomplish the necessary tasks.
Pulling the intricate scabbards encasing the Talwars across his shoulders, the High-Warden released a breath. The Talwars knew the hour of their first song neared, the scent of that forthcoming moment draped the air.
He commenced his final preparations, first mounding wood beside the kelbrok, then retrieving the remaining meat and bread for Maern. Finally glancing to ensure nothing was displaced, he exited into the storm, knowing he would never return.
He could feel The North's wrath. It desired to unleash itself on the intruders, to ravage them until nothing remained. Interlaced with that rage, however, he felt its elemental instinctive fear and almost wept for it. The North knew the gods would come seeking to crush and shackle it to their Pantheon, nothing more than a broken wolfhound kept for amusement and display.
Feeling their rage reverberating through the earth, he looked toward the Rhawn Mountains, intimidating with their razor peaks and lethal ice storms. The earth trembled, and the heavens thundered with their rage, threatening to split; and they would split, they would shatter if ever he relinquished his hold. The North was gathering its strength. Whether he wished it or not, this land would destroy itself before yielding to the Pantheon. Turning south, he began his journey to Antiark.
Throughout the eternal memory of immortals, the Rhawn had preserved The North as an impenetrable barrier guarding the land. As he stepped onto their black roots, snaking along and beneath the snow, the winds died and the ever-shrouding mist engulfed him. Laying callused hands on the primordial rock, the High-Warden greeted the Rhawn Mountains. They slept now, dreamless and wrathful in their protective vigil. Still, they answered him, rising from their memories at the touch of an old friend. He soothed their troubled thoughts with a murmured promise.
He journeyed southward toward the numberless peaks in an ethereal twilight. He was never alone; the Rhawn Mountains always accompanied him, and The North surrounded him, as real and present as a friend. He heard the wind just beyond his reach, saw the trees thrashing in shared fury while their leaves of gold, burgundy, and emerald fluttered. He opened himself to the natural land and let it fill him, sharing itself and taking from him what he gave freely.
The High-Warden completed the journey of weeks in hours, with the Rhawn opening crevices for him and the mist bending distance to hasten his pace until he attained one of the many summits where The North opened, like a tapestry, in all its beauty.
Twelve cities rose across the country of men within The North, beginning with Adriat in Winter’s Gate and concluding with Antiark in Winsyria’s Cradle. Adriat was the City of War, and the only entrance into The North men dared take because only fools travel The Northern Ocean.
The High-Warden looked to the four horizons, soliciting knowledge of current events, and the wind answered his summons. He saw longships with wolf prows searching for a river flowing inland. He saw a serpent of men slithering across the earth racing toward Antiark, pursued by Lord Adriat’s legions.
Yet they were just men, and in the heavens above loomed their goddess, a presence vast as the world: Telacra, Lady of Darkness and Treachery. She brooded over The North and her disciples, waiting for her moment to join them, to manifest a fragment of her being in the physical world, to claim The North. He would not allow that to transpire, for her or any of her kin to despoil his land.
Telacra was the first, but others waited behind: Her brother, Malbreyth, Lord of War and Storms, and her father, Jaidar, god of Chaos. A fourth god sat upon the Dark Pantheon, but his presence had yet to mass in the sky.
The High-Warden of Winsyria issued a final farewell to what he relinquished before commencing his descent of the mountain toward Antiark and the world of men.
When the first men fled through Winter's Gate into the northlands from the oppressive gods and Elder Races, Winsyria gave them asylum. He called the Annuir'Hyme to rise and molded its water into the glass city of Antiark. He parted the clouds, allowing starlight to illuminate his refuge. The stars, however, did more than cast light: they danced. Whether they were solitary lights or vast constellations, the stars wove across the heavens, shifting and swirling in an eternal, slow ballet. It was here under the stars and in a glass city straddling the Annuir'Hyme that the race of northern men was born twelve thousand years ago.
Even in The North where hard men tower over their softer cousins in the Summer-lands and know many wonders, the High-Warden elicited stares. He entered through the gates by the long crystalline bridge leading to Antiark from the mainland. The glass portcullis chimed in the wind as he traversed it, and the trickle of people arriving or departing slowed to watch him. A dozen guards in white oudakc—thick, ankle-length outside coats— reclined around the entrance speaking of inconsequential matters and jesting while their piercing eyes measured all who entered. Deceptively indolent wolfhounds lay on the crystalline ground at their feet, chewing bones and lolling contentedly.
The guards noted his approach from the periphery of their vision, hands resting on long-hilted swords. He bowed in passing, making no attempt to introduce himself or conceal the weapons across his shoulders. They did not—could not—question him. Something in his mien conferred his power, his Burden, and his sacrifice, placing him above inquiry. Thus, though never having seen him, the guards knew and welcomed him. He felt the city stir as well, recognizing and greeting him with pleasure but also disquiet; Antiark feared for her people.
Slipping from the press of men and women going about their morning activities, he soothed her fears, asking her to trust him as he approached one of the rivers that comprised the city's thoroughfares. A flotilla of small coracles populated the river, propelled by the currents to ferry passengers across the city without an oarsman.
He reached the riverbank and a coracle slipped free from the current, running aground near him on the glass shore despite the absence of a dock. He boarded and grasped its stern, propelling the coracle into the gentle currents.
A short while later the coracle slid aground, rasping across the ice as he stepped from the glass vessel onto the shore of Antiark's final bastion. The Citadel was a dour structure, its towers and walls a stark contrast to the northern tundra with their black, sharply hewn stone. The immense iron portcullis stood shut, its vicious jaws lodged in the ice as a reminder of when The North belonged to a more bestial era when mortal men bowed to wolves. Amalgamated tragedy, joy, and anguish hung in the air like curtains for windows that never open: an echo of the Citadel's past lords. Derangers patrolled its parapets and lingered at the solitary gate, their faces unseen within the fabric of their coats, watching The North with eyes that saw beyond Antiark's walls.
The High-Warden approached the gate, his arrival going unnoted until the portcullis lifted of its own accord, drawing the derangers' attentions. One fell into step. “May we be of service, High-Warden?”
“No, you cannot. My words are for Lord Antiark alone.” He paused before continuing, reminding himself of courtesies. “I would like to speak with Lord Antiark in as short a time as can be arranged without inconveniencing him.” The deranger nodded as they ascended the wide stairs and entered the main domicile.
Where the outside stonework was sterile and forbidding, the inside was beautiful. Its stonework was perfect: without scars, dents, or mortar grooves. Patterns of colored glass blanketed the walls, preserving the memories of past lords and safeguarding their rare joys from the currents of time.
They crossed the antechamber, the High-Warden’s strides hushed on the intricate floor. A thousand strands of silver and cobalt glass flared with soft light at his steps. They formed a pattern too intricate to map, each strand twining the names of past Lords and High-Wardens. His name also rested somewhere in the pattern, surrounded by the names of other men both greater and lesser than himself. Across from the hall leading into the main complex, a pair of rowan doors opened of their own accord, welcoming him.
The High-Warden bowed to the deranger. “Please, inform Lord Antiark of my arrival.” He watched the deranger leave before entering. The doors closed behind him, barring anyone who did not bear the Burden.
He entered a vast room seething with heat, the walls to either side of him masked by towering mahogany bookshelves and a dozen hearths with enormous kelbroks, some of the females warming clutches of eggs. He doffed his boots in an alcove at the entrance and then continued onto the blanket of white furs, more out of respect than necessity. Dirt rarely clung to him. The heat dimmed with his passage, yielding to the essence of winter slumbering in his heart as he wove through furnished chairs and mismatched tables.
The oldest books waited on the far wall, their covers gray, torn, or nonexistent while the script on their spines endured. Some recalled the Before Age, others transmitted visions of Lord Arthramain Roy'al and his wars of conquest. The last, those nearest to the shadow-bound ceiling, were loath to surrender their secrets and often obscured them with barren pages and spilled ink. They spoke of forgotten memories, of The North itself and the elemental force known as the Oracle.
He halted at the far wall, his eyes scaling the shelves until they found the pewter carving of a serpentine dragon twisting along the sixth ledge. The High-Warden extended his right hand and traced the beast's curved tail, rising and falling with the sinuous stone, feeling the ancestral carving of scales and horns. The dragon's crest caught his forefinger, opening a minute gash so a drop of his violet blood could slip down the dragon's face and into its open maw. He withdrew, his offering complete.
The dragon's head turned toward him, its maw closing to taste the blood's purity. A shiver ran the length of its form, expanding to cascade through the books, and with its passage, it all became glass: a reflective mirror that nevertheless held its original shape.
The High-Warden stepped into the mirror and entered a library of water that surged up, around, through and over another set of glass books. Even the floor underfoot was comprised of water that pulsed a subtle emerald with every step he took. A gentle ecstasy enfolded him as Winsyria’s quintessence awoke. The whole of this land touched him, transmitting the joy of spring's first awakenings scarred by the portent of rising war.
He waited, knowing the time for the books would come later, and soon a glass figure emerged from the coursing walls, light glinting off its countless facets. This fraction of Winsyria stepped forward and spoke voicelessly, his arctic words entering the High-Warden's mind, “Much time has passed since we last spoke.”
“Yes, by the standards of mortal men,” The High-Warden said, bowing to his lord. “Soon my reckonings will transcend that if they have not already. I do not know whether this pains me yet.”
“It will not pain you now or for decades to come, but it will as all the choices, losses, and broken promises of centuries weigh upon you unrelenting. You shall learn to hate both it and humanity when the ceaseless passing centuries convert to millennia then eons, and as, piece by piece, you are denied all the gifts of mortality. You are eternal, and in living among mortals, you will truly learn all it entails.”
“I know. Just as I know my years of solitude have ended.”
“Yes, and it will bring new pain. I wish such torments need not fall upon the shoulders of any, and I wish I could change your fate, High-Warden. But know this; if a burden must fall, let it fall to one who can bear it.”
“I accepted the Burdening; I will carry it until another is selected.”
“I ask for nothing more, and it is still more than I would ask of you.”
The High-Warden nodded, as a vibration shook the still water. “I can no longer sense you in the earth, my lord, no longer hear you in the wind or taste you in the water, and sometimes the cold now bites my skin; where have you gone?”
“Nowhere, but I am forbidden from aiding in this war. There was an old debt, and I have been called to answer.”
“For how long will this pact hold you?”
“Until this war is done.” The crystalline figure looked heavenwards. “My time is up, High-Warden. We will not speak again until the war reaches its conclusion.” Winsyria's form scattered and merged with the water, restarting the current.
The High-Warden immersed a hand into the circling waters, feeling only the pressure of a stream, and extracted a book.
He took the slender book in hand, the glass cover undulating beneath his fingers and shaping itself to his hand. Careful of its fragility, he opened the first page, watching the scripture write itself. The words spoke of the ritual he needed, a means to awaken and summon the eldest Rhawn.
A sound broke across the room, sending contrary ripples eddying along the walls. The High-Warden noted the footfalls of Lord Antiark and the accompanying flash of emerald light but continued to read the progressing script, reassuring himself of the essential knowledge. A bare foot touched the water, giving less retort than a mouse might have.
“Greetings, Lord Antiark.” He shut the book, his words unleashing a ripple through the water and glass.
The quiet footfalls ceased as Lord Antiark reached him. “I hope you are faring well, High-Warden; it seems like you haven't aged a day.” Lord Antiark inclined his head, the frosted locks of his pale hair drawn back from a wide, unassuming brow. He wore a deep blue indakc—a tight, knee-length indoor coat intended for daywear—lined with white fur but had abstained from formal garb. “I remember you coming to speak with my grandfather all those years ago when he accepted his Burden. I remember being frightened of you because of your tattoos and size.” Lord Antiark smiled, brushing off his own words.
The High-Warden nodded, recalling the child this man had been those decades before. He remembered the boy for his laughter, made all the stronger because of his heritage. The Lord Antiarks were not blessed with joyous lives; they are the caretakers of a land wild in its aggression and must balance all of mortality's pain coupled with the agonies of immortality. His laughter was one of the reasons the High-Warden had not traveled to Antiark on the eve of his Burdening: he already knew the man.
“You have grown,” the High-Warden said dryly.
Lord Antiark chuckled. “How can you recognize me?”
The High-Warden ignored the question. “The war brings me to Antiark, though not to aid in her defense.”
The smile fled Lord Antiark's face. “I expected as much, but I had hoped.”
The High-Warden raised a hand to forestall further words. “This invasion opens a breach in the Barrier that segregates this land from the gods and their ilk. This cavity broadens every day the New Order remains in The North. Their gods are waiting for the slightest opportunity. They cannot enter, not yet; the Barrier still denies them entrance.”
“I know of the Barrier, but how can it defy the power of four gods with Winsyria gone?”
“The Barrier is not a solid wall; it is a layered defense with each layer bound to a specific divinity. If they desire to enter, the gods must fight alone.”
Lord Antiark nodded, a slight furrowing of his brow the only sign of his rage at the invasion. “What are your intentions?”
The High-Warden responded with dry humor, “Intend? I intend to seal every cavity before the gods use them. If that is unsuccessful, I intend to rip the eyes out of any god who dares enter and hold them until the breach closes. And if all else fails, I intend to bleed as much as The North requires.” The High-Warden replaced the book, the water coiling up his arm. With a gentle motion, he coaxed it back into the river.
“What do you require of us?” Lord Antiark turned to depart.
“Of Antiark itself? Nothing.” The High-Warden followed the man, passing through the glass doorway and into the library.
“If you require nothing of Antiark, why come at all? The forefathers tell me you examined everything in the library years ago?”
“Immortality dominates my blood in many ways, but three centuries are long enough for any man to forget, and I cannot afford to err.”
“What do you need?”
“I require nothing of you; I need a wizard.”
Lord Antiark frowned. “Are we so weak that we need to plead for aid from outsiders?”
“The North is not lacking; I am. What I am in body, if not in soul, is averse to an essential rite. I need to enact a summons, and wizards are my sole recourse.”
“Are you certain? Your past with them is fractious. Moreover, Falain Durensev has grown influential in the council's deliberations.”
The High-Warden answered with a measured voice, “I need the aid of a wizard, not Falain Durensev; I trust one will remember they live in The North.”
“One of them will.”
The High-Warden looked at Lord Antiark for a while. “You are like your ancestors in many ways but different also.”
Stepping away with a gesture of farewell, the High-Warden gave Lord Antiark the hint of a smile. “There is more hope and laughter. Two qualities your grandfather lacked for all his strength of character.”
Lord Antiark gently touched his forearm. “As one of the few of those in this land that can truly understand what it means to be connected to The North, I want to ask how you are doing. Not the land, for I feel its violation everywhere, but you.”
A long silence ensued, then, “I am enraged, Lord Antiark. It is not something I habitually enjoy being.”