Firstly, Happy Women’s History Month!
Secondly, I recently added a section to the Quick Reads page dedicated to the multiverse, an endless collection of worlds introduced fully in my novel Mordecai Episode One: Bloodthirsty. But my first two novels, The Book of Ardilia and The War for Yokendale, also live inside that multiverse.
The short story I’m sharing today is from the world of Yokendale, and specifically from its rivaling country, the Hoarfrost Territory. Finding Fire takes place right after the events of The War for Yokendale, but you don’t need to have read that in order to enjoy this story. If you would like to check out The War for Yokendale, you can find it here. You can take a peek at all the books I’ve written on my Books page, too.
Now, have a good read…
– Tales from Yokendale –
Blood soaked Ayana’s mittens, seeping through to her skin. She took shallow breaths to avoid the stench of death. The mountain hounds of the Hoarfrost Territory we’re infamously rank, but still Ayana was thankful for the beast’s sustenance. Though she would never admit it, the warm blood was almost a comfort in the blizzard and cold that devoured the Territory. Fire wasn’t an option, she knew. She had never seen fire and had only been told of it once by her great grandfather before he died in the Gravest War. Ayana lifted a strip of the hound’s flesh towards her mouth and nodded, silently telling herself that she would have to eat the meat raw and that she’d have to be happy with that. Using her great grandfather’s long, serrated blade, she cut away a chunk of meat. Eat or die were her options. Tears in her eyes, she ate.
She loosened her head wrap to see more clearly. Everything was engulfed by the blizzard. As far as the snow allowed in every direction, there was nothing to be seen. Ayana held hope that a caravan was just out of sight, coming to save her. No caravan came. No hunters were on the lookout. No scouts. Such actions would not be taken on a Frostlander woman’s account.
Steam rose from the warm blood of her lunch, but she couldn’t stomach anymore of the wolf. She dropped the raw meat, tried and failed to wipe her blade clean, and hugged herself tight. Standing, she kept walking, limping, in the direction she thought home was.
Ayana had fallen from the back of her father’s carriage hours ago, though it felt like days, and hit the icy ground squarely on the side of her ankle. She couldn’t know for certain in the numbing cold, but she suspected a sprain. She should have rested, she knew. But the moment she rested, the wind would chill her bones, and she would die where she sat.
She shrugged, considering the idea of death. When night came it would find her either way, rest or no. And night did come.
Where once there was the blistering brightness of the snow, at night there was only darkness. The wind was a malicious ghost come to drag wanderers and soldiers alike into the depths of an endless winter. The clustered snowflakes felt like pebbles pelting Ayana’s face, even through her layers of cloth. Her boots had been soaked through, and as the sunlight vanished, the chill reached her toes. Frostbite set in. Her teeth stopped jittering. Her muscles gave into the cold. The dark skin around her eyes was tinted blue. She was rigid, a reanimated corpse.
The wind carried a new sound with it. It wasn’t a whistle or the echo of a far off avalanche. Ayana paused, looked over her shoulder. It was a howl. The mountain hounds had found their fallen ally. With trembling hands, she searched the folds of her cloak for her dagger. It’s blade was still crusted with frozen blood from her lunch. She found a lone tree in the wintry wasteland and lowered onto her haunches beside it, waiting for her killers to come.
The gentle pitter-patter of a dozen wolves running across the snow grew quickly into the stampeding of a hungry pack. Their noses sniffed furiously at the wind, their yellow eyes darting across the snowscape with anxious wanting. Blood dripped from their fangs and muzzles. They had fed off their fallen brethren, but they were hungry still. They were bloodthirsty.
Ayana peered around the tree, otherwise holding as still as she could manage. The pack panned out, sniffing the air and inhaling the Frostlander’s delicious scent. She tightened her lips, abating her breath.
Somewhere in the darkness there was a low rumble, another animal larger than any wolf. Ayana let out a muted gasp, her warm breath turning to a cloud of fog that drifted away and into the open.
The wolves saw it.
She was tackled to the ground, the mouth of a wolf racing to her face. Her dagger surged up, sliding through the wolf’s jaw, into its mouth, and through its tongue. It snarled, gurgling its own blood. The red liquid spilled, steaming, onto Ayana’s face. She flipped the beast off of her, sliding her weapon down its throat to finish the job and turning to meet the other contenders. There were seven more, all circling her with watchful gazes.
The other, unseen animal made another noise, the crushing of snow under foot. It was as though the sound gave the wolves haste, and all at once they plunged into Ayana. She swung her blade, wildly but precisely stabbing at the pack, turning the snow into a crimson slush. She had hope but for a moment before a mouthful of fangs sank deep and harsh into her arm. She screamed, a banshee’s call to the living world. The wolves piled on, taking her to the ground. Her dagger found its mark again, in the largest wolf of the pack. It collapsed, pinned her down. Even as she sank into the bloody snowbed, the heavy hooves of the other animal ripped through the night and a blazing light filled the darkness.
The figure of another person cloaked from head to toe took form through the blizzard. Light like the shine of the sun sprung from the newcomer’s hands, turning the wolves into smoking hunks of meat. One wolf escaped, circling around and attacking from behind. The figure turned and caught the animal by its mouth, breaking its jaw and frying it like the others. “Don’t move, Frostlander,” said the warrior. His voice was heavy and quiet. He ran his hand along the neck of his steed, an elk accustomed to the cold. He crossed the bloody scene to Ayana’s side and knelt down. “You’re bleeding out and this will hurt.” Again the sun’s blaze poured from the man’s fingers, cauterizing the wounds that covered Ayana’s body.
She screamed loud enough to wake the ancient khans from their eternal slumbers. Though she fought to stay awake, consciousness was slipping through her fingers. He lifted her easily from the snow. “Who are you?” she muttered. At first the man didn’t answer, but as Ayana fell under she heard his voice come hesitantly.
“Tobias,” he said.
of Part One
Stay tuned for Part Two! I’m going to try to have it out in a week, a week and a half at most. For more reading, take a look at the aforementioned Quick Reads page, or jump right to my last post, a short story called The Merits of Orange Juice.
Have a great day! And don’t forget to celebrate the women in your life this month.
Tamra knelt down on the ice, holding her chisel steady. She’d finally found it…