Eirick washed his face in the stream at the foot of the mountain while Aasmund kept watch for any danger. The three had been walking for a week next to the vast forest, before they had headed into the forest and now they had been walking for about two weeks towards the north. Nora had enough knowledge about the forests of the Sorian continent to avoid anything poisonous. She would teach them anything she could, but her old body would also slow them down.
The young Ismarkian had planned to move along the mountains until they reached the sea and then head south to Syrenthal or any coastal village and try to get back North. How they would do this, he had no idea. There were stories of Ismarkians having settled the northern coast line, but he seemed to remember them being chased away by the Ettins, the ancient enemy that the Ismarkians faced there.
The sound of clanking armor sounded from the wrapping that Aasmund and he had created from vines. Dark red armor could be seen through the net, the only thing Eirick was wearing were the two armguards. He had quickly decided that the armor was constantly in the way in the forest. His curved short swords hung at either side of his hip. He had not had a reason to use them, but it was reassuring to have them there. It did feel like a shame to use them on vines and thick brushes, but they did not seem worse for wear. The black blades were still as sharp as the day he had first held them. It must be the obsidian steel, he thought.
Nora was collecting different herbs and fruits and showing them to Aasmund. She had been invaluable for them with her foresting skills. Even in this land, which was foreign to her, she would gather up fruits and nuts that were edible. Eirick had tried to hunt some of the animals, but his hunting skill was no match for her knowledge of the woodlands. He had at one point managed to catch some fish using a spear sharpened with his short sword. They feasted that night, but that was the only night they had eaten in abundance.
“Look at this!” Nora held a branch with blue colored berries from a tree with white bark and light green leaves. “Elven berries. I have never seen them so numerous and large.” Aasmund looked at them with some interest. “Do not eat these. Unless you are having problems with constipation. You would be stuck on the privy for weeks.” She picked a few and put them into a jar containing dried versions of the same berries. She smiled at Eirick. “You never know.”
All three had found a renewed vigor after the descent from the mountain a week earlier, but they had still not found a trail to follow. Some days they would run into a large gathering of trees and bushes that was impossible to traverse. Eirick was worried, but still more than happy to lead the trio towards an unknown fate. At least they were free.
The forest here was filled with trees of all sorts and it did not seem like they had been cultivated for ages. In some clearings at certain places, they could find traces of habitation, but the leavings of whatever had been living there were unknown to Nora and the two Ismarkian boys. Metal shards with crude Dwarven writing and some ancient tools were still there, but nothing else. Every night the forest was filled with sounds that Eirick had never heard before. Strange bird calls, cats growling and some other beast screaming in either pain or warning.
“I wonder why we cannot see any animals or the creatures the Sorians awlays talked about.” Aasmund’s voice carried some worry in it and he had been the one that was most likely to wake up in a start when Eirick sat guard. The two would often share that duty and allowing Nora to sleep. Her knowledge of herbs and cooking was far too important not to lose because of exhaustion.
“There has to be a lot of animals around if the sounds are anything to go by.” The older Ismarkian swung the axe he had picked up during the escape from Barkoth with an assured skill he had developed over the last few weeks. “What I would not give for a deer. Grilled over a campfire.” Eirick looked at Aasmund as the older boy spoke. Eirick smiled at it. “I would take a fried Barkothian lizard at this point.” Eirick felt his mouth water as he said it. Any cooked meat would be welcome right now.
“Are you two complaining about my food?” The old woman spoke with a teasing tone. Aasmund held up his arms in protest. “Not at all, Nora. We are simply allowing our minds to wander.” She harrumphed. “Well, keep it on the here and now.”
Eirick smiled. He could not remember the last time he felt as good as he did right now. The world seemed brighter and filled with possibilities. Even though they did not know where the next meal would come from and what lay behind the next tree, at least they were free. At least no Sorian could ever tell him or the two others what to do anymore.
Two more days passed without any change. Sleep, walk, cut through forest, camp, sleep, walk, cut through forest and camp. Aasmund would joke and keep the spirits up, Nora would tell stories of her travels and Eirick would tell them about the Ismarkian gods. Eirick wanted to teach what was taught to him by Rolph. It needed to survive. He thought about it. The free Ismarkian of Eriksdal probably still kept the traditions alive through, bards, rituals and stories told to children in their beds.
Aasmund had asked him about the stories of Magnar and Skathi. How they met, how they married and how he fell in battle with the Vanir. It was strange for Eirick to teach someone who nine moons ago had been the one supporting him. Eirick did find it odd how little Aasmund knew about his own lands, but Eirick believed himself lucky to have had a guardian and teacher as Rolph.
When they woke up on the third day, Nora came up to him.
“Have you dreamt of anything? Any guiding signs for us to find the way through this vast forest?” Eirick shook his head. “My dreams have been quiet ever since the day we fled Barkoth.” Nora seemed to think about it.
“Perhaps the gods believe capable of finding the way.” She smiled as she spoke. Eirick had noticed that she had almost become younger, but she was still the wise old woman that everyone in the mining camp had sought out for advice.
“Perhaps. I think just heading north will lead us to the coastline and maybe some ancient Ismarkian settlement. Per chance that the free Ismarkians still have settlements here.” He did not believe this, but saying it gave him hope.
“I do have a way for you to speak with the gods.” She held out her hand and in the palm of it there was black seeds that she had been plucking out of the yellow fruits that grew in abundance in this swampy land. “This has been used by several clerics and mystics to seek the gods and ask them questions.” Eirick regarded the seeds.
“I do not know if I want to speak with the gods anymore.” Nora seemed shocked. “It is a great honor to speak to the gods.” Eirick continued walking and hacking through the trees and bushes. “My dreams scare me. I dream something and it comes true. Or at least my dreams contain truth.” Nora stayed his hand.
“The gods do not promise us that what they have to say is easy to face or that the life they show us will give us only what we want.” She turned Eirick around to face her. “They only show us what we need and what they want from us. They are not wishing wells.” She sighed. “You have been given a great gift and you need to use it.” Eirick turned away and looked into the dense forest.
“I just want to get us to the northern coast and then we will decide what to do.” His voice hid his feeling of insecurity. The forest sometimes felt like it was safe and he just wanted to continue in the path he had set out on. All he wanted was to join the rebels in the North. The gods would have to wait.
That night as they made camp, Eirick said only what he needed to. Something that Nora gnawed at him. Why had the gods talked to him? What made him special? It haunted him while he sat watch and even when Aasmund relieved him in the night he thought of it.
Two days later they had taken shelter from the deluge of rain the before and they woke up to a mild roar. Eirick stepped out of the hollowed out old tree and he felt the ground give in a little as the mud spread out from the force of his sandal. That footwear had taken a beating from the current rain and Eirick feared that they would not last the trek up north.
“We might need some more clothing.” Aasmund looked up the treetops as though he was trying to look through the cover of the leaves to the heavens. He was sitting on one of the massive roots. Eirick picked up the wrappings containing his armor.
“You might be right.” He tightened the straps on his armguards. The leather still held really well, even in the rain, but he was worried for everything else. The questions had started to fill his mind.
“Maybe the next clearing contains some old fabric of some sort. Or you could hunt some animal.” Aasmund grinned teasingly. He had been there the last time, Eirick had tried to hunt some small burrowing animal.
“Perhaps I should. I do see some weak creature around here.” Eirick looked at Aasmund with mock menace. A yawn was heard from the interior of the tree. Nora stuck her head out.
“What are you two arguing about now?” She tried to hide a smile, but Eirick could hear her mocking tone. Eirick felt his heart be lifted by this. At least they had each other.
The day continued the same as the others before. Eirick and Aasmund would clear forest, Nora would pick food and teach Aasmund about different herbs she would find and she would try and ask Eirick about his dreams.
When the evening started to fall, the roar grew and in turn Eirick’s worry. The sound was familiar and looks were exchanged several times during the day, but no one spoke. Underneath them the ground started to become more and more muddy and filled with water. Eirik had taken to walk up a hill that seemed to have some view and when he got up on the plateau, his fears were realized. A huge river spanned the landscape in front of him, larger than anything he had ever seen. Aasmund and Nora came up the hill slowly.
“What are you looking…” Aasmund never finished, but his face told of the shock. Nora looked out at the shore on the other side.
“We cannot cross this.” Eirick looked out at the vast river. To the east of them, they could see the reason for the roar, a huge cataract with minor waterfalls dominated the landscape. Eirick looked for anyway of crossing it, but it seemed impossible.
“I think we need to camp here and see what can be done in the morning.” Nora started to unpack her wrappings and satchel. Eirick felt his heart drop. He turned to Nora.
“Do you remember those seeds you showed me?”