This is the end of the first part. It all goes back in time, which is part of the structure of the thing, being all about regrets and things in the past that you cannot change, and how they affect the things that we try to do in the present.
The song is bad, but I'm ok with this; the songs in fantasy novels are always bad. It's a tradition, or an old charter or something.
Action vs Introspection
Mia sang to her daughter, a lullaby that her own mother had sung to her when she had been a troublesome baby herself. It was a quiet song with no real melody to it, and it went like this:
I’ll wrap you up in marzipan,
My little princess you will be,
Through the deepest forest,
Across the darkest sea,
I’ll wrap you up in marzipan,
Take you away from me.
It wasn’t a very nice lyric, Mia was well aware, but at least the baby didn’t die in this song, unlike all the other lullabies that she knew.
The child closed her eyes and made little ‘o’s with her mouth as she drifted off in the swaddle of blankets. Mia rocked her gently and let the relief at the girl’s silence wash over her. It wasn’t that she didn’t love the child, but she couldn’t pretend to herself that she had wanted this. Or, rather, she could pretend to herself, but it was such an effort to do so that it just left her exhausted.
Mia worried about her big sister too. She wanted her around. Nina had left surrounded by an air of despair before the child had been born. She always managed to make things seem to be about her, it was infuriating, but of course Mia still missed her. She still had the idea that this would be easier to deal with if Nina was around to help, and yes, she still needed Nina’s support.
Nina would come back, she could look after herself, she was her big sister and she knew what she was doing. That was the problem. She didn’t know if Nina would come back. She sometimes wished that she wouldn’t – in a way it would make things easier. A horrible way. but that’s what it did to you, loving someone like Nina. She still needed her back.
Mia felt the strange compulsion to look around her, to take in everything that was in her life, in her tent, but she didn’t have the energy. All that she could do was just sit there and stare at the opposite wall as she mechanically shifted the child in her arms, let her eyes droop and let the distant smell of burning wash through her mind.
Heavy leather boots creaked with the cold, obliterating the thin layer of permafrost with every step. There were not many, only a few hundred, but the vapour from their combined breath hung like a cloud above them, a self generated fog of war. They came from the north, where they wore few clothes because of the warmer climate, where the desert, long in retreat, had turned back to encroach upon their land once more. The cold only spurred them further on. They would not be warm until they had pillaged, bathing in the heat of burning.
The Wolfstar encampment had been set down just at the edge of the forest, on the bank of the wide river. They were under the ruined shadow of a featureless tower and by the crumbled but still functional remains of the only bridge for miles around.
It wasn’t an ideal camping ground, Wolfstar legends spoke strange and deadly about the tower, but it had been forced upon them by the weather. In the bright moonlight the old stone shone oddly. Fenris, leader of the whole Wolfstar tribe and namesake of their great patron, looked up at it and felt worry line his stomach. Upon the top of the tower he thought that he saw a figure looking down over his camp, but he could not tell if this was true or just the play of shadows.
The legends of his tribe told Fenris that this was the spot from which they had been born, the place the tribe had started, but they did not say what had been here before – only that it had been bondage. He knew of the time as one of stasis, but that was all, and then the new stars had come into the sky and his people had been free. To have brought the whole tribe back here did not feel right. He knew of many of his people, himself included, who had made the journey alone or in groups. Even whole clans had at times stayed in this part for the summer, but they had always moved on by the equinox and come together for the winter gathering in a different part of their realm.
The figure still seemed to be there, Fenris had the feeling now that it was staring at him, holding him to account for the homes of his people, spread out in their entirety once more upon the plain below. The figure that he could not be certain existed, but which filled him with an ancestral dread.
Although Fenris could not know this, the statue that stood upon the top of the tower, for it was a statue, a frozen form of stone and not a trick of the fleeting light, did not gaze down upon him. But instead she glanced fearfully at the eastern horizon, maintaining a silent vigil for the threat that might come to destroy her people. The statue was not of a god, however, and the destruction that Fenris feared was not that which marched from the east.
The sentries were the first to die. The leading Gothenwald warriors just picked up their pace with a loose limbed ease that was terrifying to behold and cut them down as they ran to warn the rest. The screams that the murdered were granted time to loose gave the Wolfstar some warning of what was to come, but it was not enough.