'The southren lords deny us existence when it is us that covers their backs! They deny us the very mean to protect our own homes! We must act!' Bellowed the huge iron smith Garrick Larmen, slamming his anvil sized fist onto the aged wooden table so hard for a moment Cannis thought it would crack in half. Every major lord was in the Wolf Hall, casks of ale in hand bellowing their thoughts to anyone that would listen. The hall that held feast after feast after feast, a place that was so often full of laughter, music. Giggles of the serving girls as drunken men attempted to woo them with sweet drunken words...was now filled with angry cries for war. Cannis sat with his back against the cold hard stone of the left hand wall, a pretty southren maid beside him who was visiting White Isle for a reason Cannis missed when she introduced herself.
'This is barbaric.' she whispered. Cannis laughed.
'This is politics love.' he said into his ale cask as he downed the drink, head swimming at the sudden buzz he turned his eyes to the top table. Beneath the great carving of predators in his grand stone throne carved from a single piece of black obsidian sat the Lone Wolf himself, Lord Harrad Wolfborn. Lord of the Fang, High Lord of White Isle and defender of the north. Beside him the four lords and lone lady of the remaining castles of White Isle. Huge Lord Beka with his scared gray face and long flowing beard, Lady Siren Queen of the Mammoth riders, Lord Kear. A man of diminutive stature but with eyes as black as night that wouldn’t look out of place on an Ice Leopard. Lord Heron of Moon Rock, the youngest Lord at the table after his father had been killed during a hunt, and lastly Lord Mearford of Heavenfall, tall dark and foreboding he had a face Cannis wouldn't have like to have seen during a dark night.
But none looked as memorable as Lord Harrad. His leathers burnt etched with the interlocking patterns of the Isle's greatest artisans, a necklace of wolf teeth surrounding his thin wrinkled neck, bald scalp encircled by a small ring of long silver hair. A similarly silver beard sat around his thin lips. The thing about Harrad he was thin! Tall...very tall pushing six foot five on a good day, but all his limbs seemed to be thin as beanstalks, but Cannis knew every muscle on his body was honed and thin for a purpose...hunting. As quick as a flash he could have leapt from his throne and reached the door of the hall by the time people even realised he'd moved. And despite appearances...he was immensely strong. Currently sat with his eyes closed and fingers steepled in front of his frozen wrinkled face many people were murmuring he was sleeping, Cannis knew different, as did the lords and people that knew him.
'The last time we marched against the southren isles we got slaughtered on their fields! How many men and women are buried now in land instead of ice because of that!' shouted someone Cannis didn't recognise from the middle of one of the tables.
'The last time the north marched the south had dragons at their backs! Now they don't!' retorted Garrick.
'We need the strength of the other north lords!' bellowed the Fang's master-at-arms Cromwell Ironhand. A man born to a small nomadic tribe in the Flakes but brought to the Fang by his mother for protection and training, now the man of a thousand hunts was well into his fifties but could take the youngest swordsmen as easily as he downed his ale.
'My daughter has more balls than Tristan Mannax!' bellowed someone Cannis couldn't see. A ripple of laughter cut the tension. 'And Dragon Isle hasn't marched against anything since their pets left! Not even against the Mad King seven centuries past!'
'Without reinforcements the Ice Gate will be scaled! I promise you that!' shouted a guard by the door.
'The barbarians grow bolder with every raid on our lands, I fear he might be right...' said Lord Mearford across the din of the other shouts.
'What if we don't march on the south?' bellowed one of the serving girls. With comical synchronicity the entire hall turned to look at her as she walked between the tables holding massive ale casks in both hands. She froze staring at the hundred odd faces glaring at her. 'March on the Ice Islands beyond the Veil...' for the first time in almost three hours...silence.
'Just shows what a woman’s mind grasps of war!' a deep voice spoke. Many laughed, the Mammoth riders didn't and when Cannis and the rest of the hall looked to Lady Siren the laughter soon died.
'The wench has a point,' she said coldly.
'Thank you mi'lady.' curtsied the maid before striding off into the kitchens with a smug look over her face, Cannis smiled.
'It cannot be done!'
'The fogs that shroud their islands are impenetrable, every ship we've launched into the Veil has either never come back or her driftwood has crashed against the cliffs of Storm Fall.' said Lord Kear confidently.
'The barbarians do it!' yelled what sounded like the voice of a child.
'That they do, but they chew off their tongues first before talking, guards take that child out.' commanded Lord Beka, constantly rubbing a hand through the silver strands of his long beard. A guard moved from the doorway and with a childish laugh several small boys and girls broke off from under the tables bolting for the doors with high pitched whoops and squeals as the guards chased after them clumsily.
'War councils for ones so young?' said one of the generals of Lord Kear's personal guard.
'They have a voice and a right to be heard just like every man at the Fang.' spoke Garrick, muscled arms folded across his chest, scared face staring out over the hall. 'The youngling has a point...the barbarians can navigate the Veil.'
'Wisdom does often roll from the tongues of babes...' said one of the Fang's Apothecaries in his white cloak, deep crimson hood pulled over hishead abscuring much of his face. 'But the barbarians use no charts.'
'Then capture one.' said Garrick with a shrug.
'They do not speak our tongue master smith, and even if they did as Lord Beka remarked they decide to make a meal of their tongue before capture. If somehow we did capture one, tongue intact, there is no telling where it might lead us, into a trap, rocks, cliffs, reefs...'
'All right! So we march on Jade Isle.' with that the bellowing started again and what civilisation was brought to the council was thrown from the door.
'How do you people ever get anything done?' asked the lady next to Cannis as she took an elegant sip from her cask of ale that she had to hold with both hands.
'We don't.' the lady laughed, gently wiping the corner of her mouth with her handkerchief.
'Lyella.' she smiled holding out her hand. Cannis grinned. I am good.
'Cannis,' taking her hand he kissed it, her skin smelt like rose petals. 'May I say my lady you have a beautiful name, hailing from the Garden Isle?' she smiled.
'Very good,' she nodded. Cannis hadn't really taken notice of the southren girl before, she was just new company. How I could have missed tits like those! Scanning her as best he could from sitting next to her he was very impressed, the north women were beautiful but lacked the grace and elegance of the southren women. Hair the colour of molten iron cascaded down her back and eyes as deep a green as Cannis had ever seen peered over at the strange sight she found herself in. 'Tell me my Cannis,' she smiled. 'Why is the one in the middle called the Lone Wolf.'
'Well Lady Lyella every child of his name since the founding of White Isle has had some form of nickname to do with wolves, Brandon Black Wolf, Tysha the Wolf Claw, Marcus White Pelt to name but a few of his illustrious line. He is known as Lone Wolf because he was the youngest of five sons, all strong men in their own different ways. The bards called them the Five, their prowess on the battlefield unmatched. Until the barbarians raided a small village outside the Ghost Wood, which the five just happened to be staying in. Harrad found the bodies of his butchered brothers and became blood drunk, only pieces of the barbarians remained by morning. Hence the Lone Wolf.' Lyella frowned.
'Such a sad story,'
'The bards rarely sing of happy ones.' he smiled. She locked eyes with him, a mischievous glint behind her emerald eyes.
'How dare you you bastard son of a whore!' the great roar echoed through the entire hall as someone picked up Pyce and tossed him across the table closest to Cannis and Lyanna, sending meats, plates, cutlery and ale crashing to the floor.
'Hello!' smiled Cannis. Staring at the startled face of his friend on the floor. 'This is my kind of politics!' Roaring like a caged animal Cannis launched himself over the table at Pyce's attacker, knocking his dirk from his hand as he tackled him to the ground. Fist's flew in a flurry of blows. One hit home on his chin sending a ringing into his ears. Elbowing the ugly face of the mammoth man more fights broke out across the hall. One hairy beast made a move for Lyella but she brought her casks of ale down onto his head, knocking him out cold.
'ENOUGH!' everyone froze. Bollocks. The throngs of brawlers cleared to reveal Lord Harrad Wolfborn, still sitting in the obsidian throne, eyes still closed. Standing Cannis wiped the blood from his nose with the heel of his palm; everyone took their seats, Cannis made to do the same. 'Where is my son? He has been most quiet during these proceedings, somewhat unlike him.' wincing he stopped in his tracks. Double bollocks.
'I'm here father,' he said loudly turning to face his father. As he opened his eyes for the first time since sitting down cannis found his flint gray eyes already locked onto his fase across the whole length of the hall.
'Typical, not all things can be solved with knuckles and blades my son.'
'Not all...but most.' He joked. No one laughed. Father just stared at him. Coughing away the smile across his face akwardly he dropped his gaze to the floor.
'And what does my only child think of our predicament? What would your advice to me be, as future High Lord of White Isle.' Looking back up at his father he saw his eyes still locked onto his face.
'I have no advice...simply words.' Father shifted a finger, gesturing to the middle of the hall. Doing as he bid Cannis was uncomfortably aware of the eyes on him, and how loud his footsteps were in the silence of the stone hall. 'I will say simply this...are we not northmen? Does are blood not run with ice? Do we not shit slush and piss melt water,' chuckles rippled over the people. 'We are the strong! This is our politics, shouting in a hall with our lords and closest friends where even women and children are allowed to give voice!' turning to look at many faces as possible Cannis raised his hands above his head. 'Does are very sky not wish us dead! Sending drifts of snow fifty feet deep, boulder hail the size of my fist and razor hail sharp as any axe blade!' people started cheering. 'I have this to say to the king and those other southren bastards,' he spat onto the floor. 'Keep your men! They're soft as shite anyway!' more cheers. 'This is our land! We are people of the ice! We belong here...we don't belong down there. If we invade Jade Isle, break the kings royal neck...then what?' he paused letting the comment stick.
'We have a stone throne used by southren weaklings and boy lovers,' laughter broke out this time. 'Marching south will only stretch our forces out to breaking point. I say we stay here! Do what we have been doing for millennia! Defend the Ice Gate...and if the king ever does send more men. We send them back with a single message! We are the north! And we are STRONG!' bellowing the final word the hall erupted into deep guttural cheers and raised ale casks. Through the bodies Cannis spotted father, a smile across his lips.