There was no break in the weather today. Apparently these patchy rains and overcast skies are common towards the end of the Freljordian spring, passing over as summer takes hold, and we have been unfortunate enough to catch the last of them. Aelfric says that we will likely see their end before Rakkelstake and I am glad to hear it. Not only would I rather travel beneath clear skies, but it would do the whole expedition good if Heilwig had one less thing to complain about before we part company with him. I fear he has done as much to dampen our spirits as the rain.
It’s been something of a relief to distance myself from Mathias’ group and they’ve been good enough to respect my intentions so far. I may officially be part of the Institute’s delegation, but I know very little of what they hope to achieve here or how their summoners will judge the site. In much the same way, I feel as though they’re not quite sure how they should act around me. We may work together on the Fields but, without that connection, we belong in different worlds altogether and it shows.
I’ve been finding better company with Aelfric and his men. This isn’t the first time he’s been contracted to lead an expedition from the Institute into the north, and his professionalism and confidence is plain to see. Most of his men are born warriors or hunters, who have spent their whole lives on this tundra, and have been good enough to answer any of my questions. They aren’t phased by my status as a champion of the League and just seem glad that someone else in the party can match their pace. Standing watch with them in the early hours of the morning, listening to their local songs and stories, I’ve felt a sort of quiet acceptance I haven’t known for some time.
Sometimes I feel them close to me and have to ask myself whether it’s their voices I’m hearing, not the Freljordians. Then I sleep, and in my dreams I hear them clearly; I hear those voices that have been silent for the last decade. Sometimes we’re all there, laughing around the fire, and others a single voice stands alone, every bit as clear as when they were all still flesh and blood. I woke with a start last night and expected to see Ardus stoking the embers, that familiar grin breaking across his lips.
He wasn’t there.
I feel as though it’s only right that I repay their kindness with a story or two of my own but nothing that’s come to mind feels right. Things still feel sore now that should’ve healed long ago, and what little else remains is all of war, blood and death. Even the old stories from my youth sit a little uneasy upon my mind, but my best hope lies with them. Perhaps I may yet find something suitable.
Yesterday brought us into the shadow of the cliff face which marks the edge of the great natural bowl that circles their territory, and it offered us a measure of cover from today’s downpour. Most people speak of this land as though it’s nothing but an endless expanse of snow, but that certainly isn’t true of the south. Our journey has taken us through dense forests of pine and elm, marked with spurs of rock, as we’ve traveled further towards the heartlands of the Avarosan. Clear rivers, green hills; were it not for the rain it would’ve been perfect.
Men like councillor Heilwig may curse the mud and the cold, and want nothing more than to return to ‘civilisation’, but there’s something about this place that fascinates me. The Freljord has always been this strange and distant place, set far apart from the rest of the world, and now that I see it with my own eyes, I only find myself wanting to know more. I never doubted that I would feel some anxiety about arriving in Rakkelstake, but now I think I feel as much again simply out of desire to learn what lies beyond the edge of the bowl. If Aelfric’s stories are anything to go by, I shouldn’t have to worry about being disappointed.
We should be in the city within the week and then, after a few days rest and negotiations, we will leave Heilwig to his business with the Avarosan and make for the Frostguard’s territory in the east. Our guides are reluctant to talk about Lissandra’s people, saying it would be better that we hear from the Queen herself, and that worries me. These tribes are supposed to be sworn allies; have they drifted apart in the years since?
I’m not sure what I should expect.