The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.
It’s cold tonight. The snow crunches underfoot with each step. The trees sway and creak amidst a steady northern wind, groaning against the movement given their frozen limbs. Plumes of breath escape me as I continue to push across the frontier, ragged given the lingering cough that has persisted since the last time I saw civilization some weeks ago. More and more I lean on the shaft of my modified lance, more a spear than the traditional mounted weapon, yet onward I move. Dispatches need to be delivered, warmth needs to be obtained. A man has to eat, and you don’t earn a wage by wasting time in the wilderness.
I make it to a clearing and search the sky. It’s cloudless tonight and the moon is full. At least that’s working in my favor. I reorient on the stars, find my bearing, and prepare to move off again. Across the way, not quite in my direction of travel but not far from it either, there is a series of crashes and branches snapping. I stay still, listening, judging. In a few moments the crashes travel away from me, a few moments more they seem to dissipate altogether. I cross the clearing quickly and reenter the woods on the other side.
Some minutes go by when I think I hear the crashing again. Stop. Listen. Nothing. I move on but now I hear it for sure and I know, I am being tracked. I pick up my pace, rushing forward to gain some distance while searching the terrain. Whoever or whatever it is that’s following crashes through the brush, obviously matching my pace and no longer concerned with stealth. Grunts and gurgles sound out, getting closer with each passing minute. I find a large stone outcropping overlooking the path that I am on and immediately make my decision, and none too soon. I can tell that they’ll overcome me if I try to keep running through the snow. Quickly making a false trail and then backtracking over it, I clamber up the side of the rock face.
No sooner am I perched atop the outcropping do three Trollocs burst through the trees. Hideous things, Trollocs, these with the heads of a ram, a wolf, and a raven. They carry barbed clubs and gnarled scythes alongside their wicked intentions. What they are doing in such a remote part of the wilderness I don’t know. Perhaps they are a scouting parting for their Halfman, or maybe they just got separated from their larger horde, a distinct possibility given how stupid the creatures are. Watching them follow my trail with recklessness, I surmise that they are hungry, maybe starving. They pursue with a driven madness that seems to override any caution. Maybe they are confident in their numbers. In any event, they should have slowed down.
I leap off the ledge and make the short drop to the trail. My spear drives downward, piercing through the clavicle of the wolf head, impaling the monster as the blade and shaft pummels into it’s internal organs and bursts forth through it’s stomach. The Trolloc cries out, dropping it’s club while it stumbles off clutching it’s pierced gut, collapsing into a snow drift a moment later. I twist to my left and pull my short short from my hip. The weapon flashes from the scabbard and slices across the raven head’s stomach, it’s arms raised over it’s head in an attempt to strike. A spotted streak of bright red spatters across the trail in stark contrast to the pale white. Astonished pain alights on the Trolloc’s face. It drops it’s weapon behind it as I step forward and finish it with a thrust to the throat.
I spin again and I’m barely able to get my blade up in time to deflect the scythe whistling towards my head. The sheer force of the hit sends me stumbling against a nearby tree. The beast’s counter strike takes the sword out of my hand completely. The ram head, enraged with my audacity, lumbers forward with a grotesque snarl. I retreat, buying time to draw the greatsword on my back. Weapon out, I engage, our blades clashing and ringing in the silent woods. I maneuver against the wild thrashings of the Trolloc and when I see my opening, I lance my blade forward. Yet the Trolloc shows unexpected skill and counters, driving my sword into the snow. It steps forward and backhands me across the face, the blow nearly knocking my head off my shoulders. Through starry eyes I see it come forward and grab me about the throat, lifting me off my feet and slamming me against the stone outcropping.
My breath cut off, I flail about in desperation, at first trying to loosen the Trolloc’s iron grip. Next I try to get to my boot knife, but the beast’s girth doesn’t allow me to reach it. I can smell it’s foul, hot breath on my face, it’s warm snot sprinkling my cheeks. My eyes grow dark as it’s hand constricts further. Slipping towards unconsciousness I feel it there, the unmistakable force that I have buried deep and refused to acknowledge. Unable to control it any longer, the force surges forward and I channel.
As I do, I put my hands on the Trolloc’s head. A spout of fire emerges from each palm, barely enough to light a lantern, but in touching the creature’s head it immediately ignites. The greasy, matted hair gives further life to the flames, and in a flash the Trolloc’s head is engulfed. The hand around my throat opens and I drop, immediately releasing saidin. As consciousness comes back I can hear the screaming of the beast. Once I have some breath back I scramble away on my hands and knees, locating my greatsword and using it to push up to my feet. I turn to find the Trolloc stumbling around, now completely on fire and wildly slashing about. I wait until it’s back is turned and then rush forward, chopping the creature down with a crushing blow.
The flames lick at the night sky as they crackle and pop. I drop to a knee and wipe at my nose and mouth, my hand coming away slick with blood. I try to regain my strength as quickly as I can, at the same time admonishing myself for use of the thing that has brought such shame to my family. Knowing that more Trolloc’s could be close behind, I quickly gather my weapons and set off, creating another false trail before doubling back to my intended direction.
I move quickly. Silently. Dispatches need to be delivered. Wages need to be collected. A man has to eat.