It has been said that the gods know when great calamity is coming and that they raise heroes to stand before such disasters. Such a belief is as good as any other to explain how Pode could give so many young lives to save not only Capita and the Northern Kingdom, but the entire land of Eyjan from the dargon wars.
Far in the northern reaches of Eyjan, in the north-western corner of the Northern Kingdom was a place so desolate and impoverished that not even the kindest, most charitably minded would venture. Pode was that village, a village so unwanted and so undesirable that even the tax collectors paid another to go in their stead.
In this depressed, squalid place the villagers blood was no longer pure human like the rest of the Northern Kingdom. Too many strange things crept from the Skógur Forest for the people to remain pure in their conception, even those who didn’t interbreed with dwarves, elves and spidren found imperfections creeping into their bloodline. It was from this festering boil on the nether reaches of the continent that our heroes emerged.
Now, dear reader, pay attention. For everyone knows that the cream always rises to the top. Even in the most dented, disgusting and fouled milk pan.
Katrina burst out of the straw thatched hovel she shared with her parents, younger sister and three younger brothers. “I will not marry Cole. I already told him no! Just like I’ve been telling him no for ten years.” She rounded on Cole who, with her mother had followed her outside. “Damn you for going to my mother! Wait till my father comes home.”
Katrina’s mother, Jane, gasped, “But you have to marry him. You’re not getting any younger. Soon you’ll be too old for marriage.” She worried her hands and fretfully looked at Katrina. Her daughter was touched by the gods. It made her proud, but also afraid. Better that she marry Cole, then he could lead her through her decisions.
Katrina rounded on her mother, “No, I don’t. I am a priestess of the goddess of storms, chosen by the goddess herself. I can go anywhere and I will. I’m not going to be stuck here my whole life hearing about how I need to marry Cole.”
Cole frowned, “But Katrina, it is your duty. Our parents agreed to terms, if you don’t you will fail your responsibility as a daughter.” Cole’s frown deepened. She was making him fail as a son.
Katrina blanched when Cole said her father had agreed. She tried to keep her temper, but tiny bolts of lightning jumped across her skin. “My duty is to my goddess.” She hissed through clenched teeth, “It supersedes all others. I will not marry you.” Then she turned and stalked off. Dark clouds formed above her giving clear indication to anyone who cared to know where she was headed. Most likely to check on Mamma Tompkins cold. It was one of the few homes in that direction.
Cole nodded, “Well, at least she is not remiss in her priestly duties.” He liked that in a woman. Especially in his woman. He cared deeply for honor, duty and doing the things that were expected of you. Yet, Katrina’s wildness thrilled him as much as it irritated him. He didn’t know if he wanted to tame the storm in her or ride it. She cared deeply for her family and for her goddess. Now she just needed to obey.
Jane looked up at him. “Do you think she’ll marry you?” She had a compliant temperament that she had failed to pass on to her eldest.
“Oh, she’ll rage for a while, but she’ll calm down and give in. She is always more reasonable with that temper out of the way.”
She sighed, gazing after her errant daughter, “I worry though. The goddess chose her. Maybe her goddess has other plans for her.” It was hard for her to believe any goddess would want a woman to do more than be a wife and mother. What higher calling could a woman have? But every so often that thought bubbled up like water from a overgrown, weed choked spring, spilling through the brambles of her mind for but a moment.
While Cole was smiling condescendingly at Katrina’s mother, ready to rebuke her for such a foolish thought, Kegar of the Frozenpine, a dwarf-druid came sprinting across the field. “Cole! Not quite the cleric I was looking for, but you’ll do.”
Cole frowned. He was at least the equal in medical skill to Katrina, but for some reason everyone went to her first. It irked him. “What’s this about?”
“You remember the flesh and bone spire I spoke of at the town meeting?” Kegar said grinning.
Jane stepped forward, “Yes, my husband was one of the men that went to investigate. What news?”
Cole cut her off, “Sir Wilbur wouldn’t let you investigate it and sent a party of more experienced men.”
Kegar grimaced at Cole’s description, but his news was so exciting, he began smiling again, “Sir Wilbur has sent me to gather a group from the militia.”
Cole squared his shoulders, “I will do my duty.”
Jane was no fool. If Sir Wilbur was sending a second group it was because things hadn’t gone well for the first. She retreated into her house before the boys could see the tears in her eyes.
Kegar slapped him on the back, “That’s the spirit. I need to go fetch Shandra and Strozazand the Dargonman.”
Cole raised an eyebrow at Kegar, “Strozazand the Dargonman? You mean Tommy Tompkins?”
Kegar eyed Cole, “Our houses have thatched roofs, and he can breath fire. If calling him Strozazand the Dargonman or The Fluffy Pink Princess of Alaz makes him happy then we will call him that.”
Jane called out from the house, “Strozazand? I think he took a job at the inn as the new cook. Ever since he started that whole fire breathing thing prices have gone down. He doesn’t just do fire you know. Sometimes he’d even come around here and breathe frost on papa’s kills so they last longer. What a sweet boy.” A quiet sniff filtered through the air, un-remarked upon by the young men, who felt there were more important things to be done than comfort emotional women.
Cole, who had been feeling very important, felt his ego pop the moment she referred to a man his own age as a sweet boy. “I’ll meet you at Sir Wilbur’s.”
Cole headed toward the hovel that he shared with his parents and siblings. He needed to pick up the armor Ellen had made for him.
As Cole approached his home, he saw his father bent over in the north forty. His father waved to him from amongst the furrows in their field, taking the moment to stretch and unbend from the backbreaking work of spring planting. His father called something to Cole, but he couldn’t hear him from the great distance and the young cleric didn’t have time to waste finding out.
His mother, hearing her husband shouting, came to the door. One of Cole’s siblings clutched her leg pathetically. “Oh! Cole! You’re back!” She wiped the flour off her hands as she greeted him. “How did it go with Katrina? Has she accepted your suit yet?”
Cole scowled. “No.”
His mother stepped back to let him in the house, “I’m sorry to hear that. Did you try to romance her first like I told you to? Sing her a song, write her a poem, bring her something she likes?”
Cole’s scowl deepened so fiercely his little brother squeaked and fled outside, “No. I’ve told you, she isn’t that kind of woman.” He went to the armor stand he had fashioned and gently caressed the bone armor lovingly, “Anyway, she is a cleric, like me. That nonsense shouldn’t matter to her. It is her duty and honor to marry me.”
His mother sighed, placing a hand on her hip, “Now you listen here Cole.”
He turned around surprised. His mother’s eyes flashed with a frustration so deep he could see it even in the shadows of their hovel. His shock stunned him into silence.
“Every woman wants to be romanced and you are a fool to think they don’t. Now I don’t know how Katrina likes things. Maybe she doesn’t like flowers and poems and to be whispered sweet things in the moonlight. Maybe she does. But you wouldn’t know either way, now would you? Because you haven’t tried!” Her breath was heavy with repressed anger, “Why don’t you try to befriend her and see what she actually likes? You’re right, she’s a cleric and she loves her goddess, we’ve all seen that, but there is more to her then wind and rain and lightning, just like there is more to you then unyielding sunshine.”
Cole had never heard anything so strange. More to me then unyielding sunshine? More to her then rain? He snorted, trying to hold back his amusement, but it could not be contained. “Mother…” he gasped in between fits of laughter, “that’s… so… meteorological!” he snorted again, trying to regain control of himself, “Well, thank you for cheering me up. Her rejection was starting to get to me, but now I know I to just keep trying.” He sighed wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, “It has been a while since I laughed so hard.”
“Well, I must be going. Kegar needs me to help save the village and all that.” He turned back to his armor stand and the mail on it. It looked like plate mail, but was crafted from the bones and sinew of the strange and magical beasts that lurked inside the woods of Pode. For a reasonable price Ellen was willing to make armor for anyone, and as the only person in the entire town who knew how to craft armor… anyone who had dreams that needed armor, got it from her.
“Not really a task for a woman.” Cole mused quietly, buckling his armor on, “But she certainly does a serviceable job.”
He could hear his mother maundering on and on behind him, but he tuned her ceaseless twittering out as he buckled on his armor. “Wish me luck, mother.” He kissed her on the cheek and left, not waiting to hear her response.