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The shades of evening draw over the village at midsummer, slowly, spreading apart, a swarm of hungry wolves that follow their prey without a sound. When the roots no longer cast shadow, the weary laborers, caked with dirt, make their way back to the village, as the horns sound from the citadel. The gate has been there since time immemorial, a hard black iron fence encompassing the village, and keeping out all things that cast shadows against the moonlight, that the baron's hounds bark at by night. For the night, the elders say, is when the soul enters the world of dreams, and even evil men dream, when secrets and fears that are only spoken in whispers, fill the clouds, breathe in the dark. Then, the village of Zakaron is at the mercy of these gates, barbed, with poles bent to resemble hideous monsters, that may repel the evil beings from entry. The village templar Ergiers, paying tribute to Lord Fenlieb, god of growth, cast a spell of thorns, and so vines, like immense serpents from the ground grew, full of rattling thorns, that clasped the walls, a foreboding sign to anyone who dare invade the lands acquired by Baron Zakar. Few evil things were said to startle Zakar's men as they slept, and nights often passed with no thoughts of terror. Even the thrulls avoided his lands on their raids, and the cattle and pheasants of Zakar were thought to grow the fattest.

Iphigenia stared out into the moonlight, the youngest daughter born of the House of Zakar. Thotor would be there soon, and wave back his lantern to make his presence known. Iphigenia's lily white feet fluttered down the stairs of the northern staircase, and without grating the door, let him in. They had to meet clandestinely now, for Zakar would refuse his daughter to a man of such low birth as Thotor, despite him being the favorite of the baron's groundskeepers.

Together, they touched the flagstone passage leading to the baron's private quarters. Here, Iphigenia's grandfather and his father before him, were taken in the dark days, the Brothers' War, when the village was under siege. Not her father, though. In the event that Zakaron was under attack, and had not been since the days Iphigenia's sisters were in swaddling clothes, Zakar charged a fleet of his noble steeds into battle, and always bringing with him the head of the king. Their skulls now adorned this room, and by night, Zakar would tell his daughter how he slayed many men better than himself, and of the king who took his arm in battle. Zakar the Blood-Drinker, they called him in the land from which Thotor had been captured as a boy.

A passion in him awoke, from the day he saw Iphigenia roam the stables. He was only thirteen then, and remembered how his father once told him if he misbehaved, that Zakar the Blood-Drinker would come for him. Yet, no longer did the morning dew remind him of the tears he shed when first learning of his parents' deaths, but of the first day of spring, and this girl more striking than any of the flowers that burst open at dawn. One morning she surprised him, leaving a pale blue peony that would not close as the day drew on, a spell had been cast upon it by Ergiers. She smiled at him the next morning, and he knew she felt the same passion. Six years had passed, and both hoped for the day they would no longer have to meet like this. She was always curious about the strange sounds that came from below in the dungeons, but Thotor knew better, having to sleep in them for a month before Zakar turned him loose, beside an old Erg Raider who the guards secretly gave a holding of ale every night. Thotor was Icatian by birth, and the idea of a stranger of the far North entranced her, she wanted to know if it was true that his people rode on mammoths, that they built houses of dragon bones and only arrows of glass could withstand the cold tundra in battle.

“And tell me about these armored beasts,” she whispered, as they lie together on Zakar's immense couch. She wanted to know all about them, and about the skinwalkers that took the form of wolves and roved the baron's forests by night.

“Ah, the glyptodons, but they are no more,” he nodded. Because Zakar, as a peace settlement, would claim them as trophies. It would seem that the baron hated peace, and needed carnage in light of soldiers. How often too, he wept, when a battle ended, because there was no one left to slay.

“Quite alright, you may tell her,” grinned Zakar now, his shadow dragging over them at length.

“My lord...”

“None of mine!” he threw his cup of mead. “You would betray your host with his own flesh and blood! And as for you, my Iphigenia, the only punishment fit is exile!”


“No longer! If your heart be his, then far from it shall you ever be!”

Thotor dared not fight as two armed guards seized him, dragged him to the hellish corridors he knew so well.

Now, from a hay strewn floor, he watches the moon. Somewhere beyond his prison cell, a stag shivers in the chills of early spring, straggling its antlers against the wall of thorns. Before it has a moment to turn its head to notice the bent blade of grass, its throat is turn, blood and flesh pulled apart as easily as the petals of the flower she left on Thotor's pillow in his boyhood. Iphigenia, her fur glowing in the sickly moonlight, howls. How Zakar would weep, seeing his prized herd lying dead.

Soon, father, you will join them. And my sisters. It was my village's fear and avarice which drove me into the wild, and soon, I shall bring the wild back into my village.



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