The Winter Witch: Part 4

Story by The Nimrodellian Tale-Spinner

The guardian raised his head carefully, remembering the pain of the last few attempts. He could still feel that faint throbbing at the back of his neck that flared up whenever he tried to overexert himself and now added to it was something more.

He was cold, colder than he should be even considering his predicament. It was a draining sort of weakness that permeated his entire body, making even the most basic movements a chore. It bothered Mericc because he was a well conditioned and battle hardened warrior,  used to going for days without rest, pushing his body to the limit. But now he lay on a stone bed, unable to move, unable to think.

He tried to remember how he had gotten where he was, but even this was a strain. He recalled the fight in the snow storm and waking up on a rock in a strange cave, and a girl…but at least one of these didn’t make sense. He had been dreaming, and it was possible that in his condition the dream had crept into reality. Mericc took a deep breath, rubbed his eyes slowly and began to survey his surroundings again.

Suddenly a movement and a sound caught his eye and Mericc turned his head, a little too quickly, and beheld something that took him quite out of his reckoning. A beautiful woman stood looking down at him, her dark hair and crystalline blue eyes, gazing at him with a look of both concern and amazement. He rubbed his eyes again but still she was there, radiant and alive and completely out of place in this frozen hell.

The warrior tried to speak, but he found his mouth to be dry and words difficult to come by. How did she get here and how had she kept herself alive in this inhospitable environment? Mericc himself had found the trek through the mountains difficult, and yet here she was staring down at him and asking him, with a voice clear and musical, if he was well now and if there was anything she could do for him.

With an effort Mericc waved his hand dismissively and indicated that he was fine, not wanting her to know how weak he was feeling. She seemed unconvinced, but Mericc deflected her concerns by asking her questions that he was very keen on having answered, like who was she, how had she gotten there, and for that matter how had he gotten there?

She told him that she was part of a party of traders who were making their way south towards Hollin and the lands beyond to conduct some business in Rohan. Part way through their journey they were ambushed by a group of goblin raiders who took the few survivors up into the mountains as their prisoners.

It was a hard journey and the goblins were not kind, one or two of her people fell along the way, but she and another of her companions managed to survive. It was because of this companion, a large strong blacksmith, that she was alive today. The goblins were cruel but not as watchful as they should have been, confident now that they were in their own lands in the mountain, they left minimal guard for their prisoners one night.

It was then that the blacksmith made his move. Bursting his bonds, he fell upon the goblins, overwhelming them with sheer ferocity and rage, tearing at them with bare hands and whatever else he could get his hands on. The goblins inflicted many wounds both light and serious, but none of them seemed to faze him as he waded into them until every last one of them lay dead.

After that was a treacherous trek through the mountains to try and find their way back, but they were lost and the blacksmith’s condition grew more and more dire. They spotted the cave that Briana and Mericc now occupied, but before they could make it, the blacksmith succumbed to his wounds and Briana found herself alone, lost and in despair. Since then she had done her best to survive but was glad now that Mericc’s arrival had brought her hope.

Mericc listened to her story and considered it as best he could as he raised himself to a sitting position on the rock he had been laying on. It was an amazing tale of hardship and bravery and the woman was lucky to still be alive. Still, a nagging sensation inside Mericc told him that something just didn’t seem right.

But the guardian found himself too weak to concentrate on it very well and he resumed questioning the girl while he had the strength. Without warning, the pain at the back of his neck flared up, Mericc’s hands slipped and he would have fallen if Briana had not caught him. Her hands closed around his chest to steady him and Mericc felt a sudden injection of warmth into his body, starting at her fingertips, easing the numbing cold and weakness he felt.

She pulled away, her lips smiling as he thanked her. Despite his discipline and reservations about her, he found himself wishing she had not taken her hands away because as soon as she did, his body began to grow weaker, his mind, less focused. Mericc steeled himself as best he could, he couldn’t succumb to feelings like that, he had to find a way to get him and the woman out of their current predicament, and he still didn’t fully trust what was going on.

—————————————————————-

A mile or more distant, Aqualondo walked across the snow, following in the general direction that he knew Mericc had taken. It was difficult and slow going for the hunter, not because of the cold weather, which was more of an inconvenience, but because the storm’s wayward winds and constant snowfall made spotting signs of the guardian’s passage a tricky business.

Every once in a while Aqua would spot the barest indents of a body moving through a drift, or footfalls to imperceptible for anyone but a seasoned tracker(Or an elf Aqua smirked) to notice. Never the less, The Elf, as Mericc would sometimes refer to him, was making progress.

Aqualondo shielded his eyes and looked out across the frozen wasteland, over rocky cliffs and jagged outcroppings, trying to decide on which way to proceed with his search. He wouldn’t admit it to himself and certainly never to anyone else, but he was starting to worry about his companion who should have gotten back to him some time ago.

Suddenly he squinted as he focused on something strange moving out in the distance. At first he thought it was just a gust of wind moving over a snow bank, kicking up snow and ice as it moved along, but it appeared to move apart from the storm around it.

Aqualondo blinked and shook his head, sure that he was starting to see things since he had gone at least a full day without any alcohol or pipe-smoke in him to make him think straight. But the more he watched the more he was sure. He had heard tales in his youth of malevolent spirits of wind and ice that lived in the mountains and preyed on adventurers foolish enough to brave the peaks, and now he was seeing one for himself.

Is it possible, Aqualondo thought, that Mericc had run afoul of one of these creatures and was now in a very bad way? He didn’t have any answers for that, and part of him didn’t want to know, but lacking any further leads at the moment, the elvish hunter stealthily started to follow the grim spirit.

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