Turns out, despite their overall tendency to evil and their brutish attitudes, ice giants love, love, love to do needlepoint. I kid you not. I sure didn’t believe Alfred when he told me, but I had seen the shirt he wore under his leather armor when I healed him. It was definitely a thing of beauty and something that he counted dear. It was one of the last pieces his father had done before Baithor sent him out to die. Not surprising, it was Alfred’s most prize possession, even more so than his sword. He’d lost his shield and wanted to go back to the battle field where he’d lost it when we crossed the valley once more. I told him I’d accompany him if he liked, and he just nodded. I don’t think the hulking man knew how to deal with kindness. Definite trust issues there.
The treasure chest that contained all the spools of thread was to be a wedding dowry from Baithor to the Jarl of Great Stone Fist holding — the bride price for his daughter Glenda. The colors were extremely rare and the gathering of them had taken Baithor the cost of a dozen raiding seasons and the lives of more warriors than Alfred could guess to. One trip alone went into the southlands to bring back a shade of red that no one in his lands had seen before, or likely ever again. The insect the natives of the southlands used to create that particular dye were only prevalent one year out of seven. Alfred knows that much of the clan’s true wealth in looted gems and weapons had gone on that journey. Watching seven great ships leave port fully laden only to have them return with nothing more than a box a child could carry filled with this new and exotic dye.
It seemed so farfetched to me, but who was I to call him a liar? The world is full of strange lands, exotic creatures and headstrong fools who would sacrifice even the long term well-being of their people for short term gratification. Apparently Glenda was homely and small, but well connected and an alliance by marriage would’ve sealed Baithor’s rise in power to the third most powerful ruler of their people. Alfred giving away the thread had been the final straw for his people who had sacrificed so much over the years for Baithor’s greed.
With Baithor dead and the thread gone, those who survived would limp home with nothing to show for this little diversion. Internal warring among the strong would cause the holding to slide further down the pecking order, further bankrupting those who remain at Icewrack. If not for the proximity to ample raiding prospects, it would collapse. But he had confidence that his friend, Gunderson would rise among those who would claim the holdfast, but the purging would be bloody and the rise a long one, with no guarantee that they would ever return to the glory of Alfred’s grandsire’s time.
By choice, and by his actions, Alfred was now an outcast from his people. He had no real hope of returning to anything but humiliation, squander and likely a dishonorable death.
This thing about honor keeps coming up with the warrior races I’ve encountered. Is it not honorable to be true to one’s word? Is it not honorable to defend the weak and use your strength for the greater good? These cultures where “might makes right” rise and fall in great bloody catastrophes. I have read about them in the histories, heard the stories, and so far, met those who follow those precepts blithely. To be fair, I have found examples in those cultures (well, the hobs and goblins) that prove that they are not all cut from the same cloth. How much of our true understanding and historical treatise on other cultures are more based on prejudice and fear? Alfred seems like a good man, even if he is three times my height. He’s not going to be one for sneaking around, but he’s handy in a fight.
Speaking of fight, if we wanted to avoid one, we had to cross that valley once more before the orcs started to return. Of course, there was always the hope that they would all be killed pursuing the giants, but I’m not that naïve. We all agreed to pack up our possessions, take the meat that was now frozen, and make our way back down into the valley before camping for the night. It put us at a slight risk of roving orc bands but would get us across the valley that much sooner once we set of at sunrise.
The journey back down the mountain was eventful only in the fact that one of the brigands fell on the ice and would’ve bounced the short way down the cliff if Alfred had not made a great leaping catch. Oh, young Jasper was only bruised, as was Alfred, but the sudden stop, or the bouncing on the way to the bottom, would’ve turned Jasper to jelly. It was quite a spectacular sight. After that, the brigands began to warm up to Alfred. It’s so much nicer when your travelling companions get along, let me tell you.
Which begs the question, Father Mulcahy. Have you done much travel? Or were you born in the monastery. I know it’s a silly question, but not one I’ve ever asked of you. I don’t want to think I’ve been telling you things you learned long ago in your youth. Oh, I know my explaining my worldly observations shows you the extent of my growth and my own methodology for viewing the world. I realize that insight alone will allow you to discern the state of my mind.
Besides, I was anxious to get to Bob. I know I’ve been distracted by the giants, orcs and even the brigands, but I know my true mission.
And lo and behold, after the sun had set and the cook fire burned low, Alfred and I were on watch. The brigands slept the contented sleep of well-fed, secure individuals. I wasn’t truly sure I’d ever sleep soundly again. Regardless, after the moon was high in the sky, and we were thinking about the next shift waking up, Bob began to sing. At this distance, he was as clear as if he sat next to me. His voice filled me with joy. But Alfred, being who he was, I thought he would cringe at the song, the way I’d seen so many others do. To my surprise, he stood, angling his head toward the tower above and sang along, his booming baritone a solid undertone to Bob’s tenor. I believe Bob must’ve heard Alfred for he faltered for a breath, then picked up again, the two of them in harmony. It brought tears to my eyes. You should’ve heard it, Father. Tears of joy are rare in these days, but there they were. I am blessed to have experienced that one time event. Because, the world sucks in some amazing ways and we don’t always get what we want.