40

The next morning, the blizzard was over. I awoke at dawn, as sunlight was just beginning to creep into the valley. I crawled outside, hesitantly at first, wondering if any spriggans were out there waiting for me, but they were nowhere in sight. There were no footprints in the snow either, but I didn't even know if spriggans left footprints.

I walked out into the clearing and then got my first good look at the strange building I had spent the night in. But my confusion only grew when I realized that it was not a building at all, not some half-collapsed church or hunting lodge, as I had suspected.

It was a boat. A huge sailing vessel, complete with mast and tattered sails, although it was in no condition to sail anywhere now. It was currently tilted at a steep angle, smashed up against some rocks and leaning against a hillside. I had spent the night in the lower galley, exposed from the broken hull, which explained the sail cloth, netting, as well as the crates the barrels. The boat was a wreck, but it wasn't even that old, and I guessed it had only been there perhaps a year.

Had some lunatic managed to cast a levitation spell on an entire ship? Sometimes ambitious wizards attempted such spells, but they rarely worked for long. It was the only possible explanation for this mystery. And whatever crew had worked on this ship was long gone now anyway, so there was no one to ask.

It didn't really matter. Whatever strange set of circumstances had brought this ship here, it was nothing short of a miracle for me, because without that shelter I might not had survived the night. Now that the snowstorm was over and the sun was coming up, it was time for me to get moving.

My best option was to head straight south until I hit the coast, and then head east until I found Fort Frostmoth. But I wondered if it might be easier to go straight east until I found the Iggnir River and then went south. I knew I couldn't exactly get lost, now that I knew what way I was facing, but I wanted to get back by the shortest possible route. The problem was that I didn't know how far north or west I was from the fort. For all I knew, I was north of the village of Thirsk by now, I really had no idea.

I decided to head east. I knew the Iggnir River went almost directly north from the fort almost all the way across Solstheim, so there was no way I could miss it. And it was likely that I was currently closer to Thirsk anyway, so I could stop there to get food and maybe some help. The Nords there had no love for me, but they would not turn me down.

And after that, I had to figure out exactly what I was going to do next. I had to get back to the fort and tell them what I had discovered. Reinhardt would have already informed the Legion about the men who had attacked Raven Rock and where their hideout was, but no one but me knew that Falx Carius and Carnius Magius were now our enemies. Captain Cavorian absolutely needed to know that information, and so did the Imperial Legion.

Falx might get away with it if everyone thought he was dead, but if the Legion knew he was responsible, they would put a price on his head and he would not find it so easy to escape that.

I hurried along as quickly as I could, heading directly east for most of the morning. I was hungry and tired, but once the sun came out, I stayed reasonably warm as long as I kept moving. Once I made my way to Thirsk, I could get something to eat and I would feel much better.

Of course, it was likely that Skjoldr Wolf-Runner would not be very happy to see me, considering what had happened last time I visited his village. I had challenged one of his warriors and killed him in open combat. It was all fair and square, and Wolf-Runner had accepted my victory and let me leave without any problems, but I doubted that I would exactly me welcome there. But they would not turn a hungry traveler away, I was sure of it.

Luckily, I did not run into anything on the way there. I didn't see any wolves or bears, or even more fortunately, any berserkers. I was unarmed except for one knife, and I did not think I would fair well in a fight. I didn't see any spriggans either, but I guess that didn't surprise me. Whatever unfathomable reasons the spriggans had for saving my life, they decided to leave it at that, and I had no more contact with them.

The sun was high in the sky by the time I stumbled onto the Iggnir. I had expected to find the river earlier, but it turned out I had been farther west than I thought, and now I had spent half the day walking, and I was pretty much exhausted. I sat down on a rock and caught my breath. I had done more than my share of walking the past few days, and I felt that if I never had to walk anywhere ever again, it would be too soon.

There were no landmarks to indicate how far north or south I was along the river, so I didn't know if I was closer to the fort or Thirsk. But I was probably closer to the village, so I just decided to start walking north.

It turned out to be the right decision, because Thirsk was not far at all. Barely half an hour later, I crested the top of a low ridge and found myself looking down into the small clearing where Thirsk lay.

The village remained as I had left it a few days before. There had not been much snow here at all, and I could practically make out the footprints in the snow that Mirisa and myself had made when we had left.

Smoke drifted up from the mead hall's two chimneys, and the other, smaller buildings nearby were equally in use. I could hear banging coming from the blacksmith shop, and I could even hear the murmur of voices coming from the mead hall. I sighed wearily and headed down into the village, hoping that no one recognized me on my way in, although that did not seem likely. Hopefully, they saw me for what I was: nothing but a tired, hungry traveler in search of a meal and a warm fire.

As I approached the mead hall, I got the strange feeling that something was wrong. I could hear raised voices inside, and hurried my pace a bit until I reached the front door, where other people were already milling around, peeking in through the open doors. There was angry shouting and uncomfortable grumbling from the crowd inside.

"What's going on?" one of the women in front of me asked nervously.

"It's Anjolnr," one of the guards said in a low voice. "He wants to strike against the Legion while they are weak. I think he's going to challenge the Chief."

I pushed forward and squeezed through the people blocking the door. "Excuse me, excuse me," I muttered, forcing my way inside, eliciting a few comments.

I snuck along the edge of the doorway and emerged into the mead hall. Ahead of me, there was a large crowd of people standing around, facing the clan chief's throne at the head of the main room. I grabbed a mug of mead from one of the tables and gulped it down in one swallow, feeling it burn down my throat. And then I stood up on one of the benches to get a better look at what was going on.

"We have put up with them for too long!" a blonde-haired warrior shouted, stabbing a finger at Skjoldr Wolf-Runner, who sat in his throne, leaning forward intently. The warrior, the one named Anjolnr, was dressed in bearskin, with thick metal bracers on his wrists, and a long-handled axe strapped over his back.

"They don't belong here!" Anjolnr insisted. "For years, we've sat back and let them dominate us, like a bunch of tired old men! But now, they're weak! We should take this chance to get them off our land once and for all!"

A handful of people in the crowd, mostly the young men of fighting age, murmured their agreement. But most of the others, the women and the older warriors, were not very impressed, and did not agree. Skjoldr Wolf-Runner, resting his elbows on the longsword balanced across the arms of his throne, stared harshly at Anjolnr, his expression grim.

It looked like I had arrived in Thirsk just in time.