Crunching through the snow up to his knees Cannis watched his breath condense in slight gray wisps as it touched the bitterly cold air, ice particles clung into the wolf hair lining of his hood, it grew in the balaclava covering his nose and mouth. Icicles growing ever bigger with each tiny breath. Flexing his freezing fingers around the shafts of his arrows and the grip of his goat horn bow the small elk looked up from the frozen stream, kicking the ground hard with its front hoof, smashing a hole in the ice for it to drink. Looking around it studied the flat white landscape for several long moments, dark eyes glancing every time over Cannis as he crouched motionless in his white hunting pelts. Come on...drink...He urged it. Eventually it lowered its head and began lapping up the crystal clear water with its steaming pink tongue. Carefully notching an arrow Cannis rubbed his fingers together. Locking them into the bow string. With a just of wind like a sudden cough its direction changed...the elk lifted its head. Eyes locking straight into his own. Leaping it darted for its escape, it didn't matter Cannis had it. Calmly standing he aimed down the sight of the arrow...lead it for just a few moments. Twang.
With a high pitched wail and a great plume of fine white powder the dark pelted elk crashed into the earth, his arrow buried perfectly through the middle of its massive chest, piercing it's heart. 'Ha!' he smiled charging over to his kill. The hunt fulfilled Cannis like nothing else; Father had always said 'I only ever feel a true man on three occasions, in battle, in bed, and in the midst of a good hunt!' He understood what he meant now. Kneeling beside his kill he removed his gloves and buried his hands into the thick course hairs of the animals pelt, searching for bare skin. When skin met skin he closed his eyes. 'Greatest of hunters thank you for blessing me with this kill, father always told me hunters never listened to priests, they only ever listened to other hunters. So listen to me now I implore you. Protect my isle and it's people...I fear war may be mounting as the false dragon tightens his grip around your home. Bless me with your hunters eyes so I might better understand what lies ahead.' A muffled crunch of a heavy footstep broke the silence of the snow fields.
Freezing mid prayer Cannis felt every hair on his body suddenly stand on end, another crunch, then another and another. They were getting louder. Slowly opening his eyes a sleek shape walked from a billowing cloud of snow picked up by a strong just of wind. Fear shot through him like a red hot spear. The very creature he had just been praying too, offering his kill to was striding towards him. The Ice Leopard walked with such an economy of motion, every move was purposeful every muscle built to do a specific job, just under five foot tall from paw to head it was a massive beast. Covered in the dark rings the old gods marked upon the first of their kind so they would forever be seen in their hunting grounds they truly were a sight to behold. But Cannis wasn't looking at the markings. He was looking at the gleaming yellow eyes that bored into him, long whiskers dripping with water and tiny miniature icicles, the canines of its top jaw as long as his middle finger, hanging over its bottom jaw like gleaming ivory daggers.
Staring at the colossal hunter before him Cannis daren't take his eyes from it, one sign of weakness it'd kill him without a moment’s hesitation. It stared him up an down, sun coloured eyes pouring into his very soul, suddenly the feeling stopped. Even the cold stopped crawling against his skin. The Great Hunter had sent his greatest child to him as an answer to his prayer, but what did it mean? Staring into the leopards deep yellow eyes he searched for answers...but...nothing came to him. 'Cannis!' a voice shouted through the snow. Without even looking at the source of the noise the leopard simply turned and began striding back into the white stretches. Turning Pyce and his twin brother Drest were riding towards him, the dark silhouette of the Fang a ghostly smudge on the horizon behind them. 'Cannis,' said Pyce breathless as his horse stopped in front of him. 'Nice kill,' he said through his thick ginger beard. 'Fang needs you!'
'I don't know your father sent me, but I heard shouts from the Wolf Hall.' Turning back for any sign of the leopard Cannis's thoughts once again turned to the Gods. I know your telling me to do something...so I will. Just guide me.
'I'll be there soon,' he said picking up his bow.
'No good, they need you now.' said Drest dismounting. 'We'll butcher this for you, we can find our way back.' Spitting image of his twin minus the bushy ginger beard he passed Cannis the reins of his horse. Mounting up Cannis spurred the horse into a gallop, charging through only the shallowest of snow using his extensive knowledge of the landscape and his tracking skills to keep the horse safe. Soon the gray spear sticking from the horizon became a great gray sword, then a gigantic shaft of deep gray rock. When the old gods hunted Ice Leopards they underestimated the prey they had created, the Great Hunter stalked a god and killed one by biting out his heart. As the god fell his spear stuck into the earth, this...became the Fang. Capital of the White Isle and greatest keep ever forged by the hands of man. Thousands lived around the base of the great mountain; even more lived in the houses and halls carved into its very facade. And at the very pinnacle of the Fang, the Wolf Hall, and he knew...Trouble.
Kicking the door open took more effort than his aching limbs would allow, it'd been a long hunt. But something was certainly amiss in his city. Everyone he passed cried out to him, shouting words he didn't catch as he thundered up the spiral street towards the keep. Something had happened. Every face in the hall turned to face him as he stood in the open doorway; it was a full council, without ale. This is very bad. Before the dais under the carving of predators stood a broad man with a furious expression on his face, clutching a petite young woman close to him as she wept into her hands. Dozens of the king’s soldiers littered the walls of the hall, one stood before the dais battered and bloodied, beside his arrogant general in his sleek black armour. Striding into the hall one of the king’s soldiers shut the doors behind him with a loud slam causing the girl to weep even more. 'Ah Cannis my good man,' spoke the general casually.
'It's Lord Cannis to you General Melok, I give you your titles you should honour me with mine too.' he spat shrugging off his white cloak and pulling the balaclava from around his face.
'Last time I checked your father was still alive, so technically...'
'Do not feed me technicalities in mine own hall Melok! We are northmen, our rules up here not yours.' as he walked towards his obsidian throne Cannis spotted the huge smith Garrick Larmen standing with his apprentices in the crowd, along with a large collection of Cannis's own personal guard, master-at-arms Cromwell Ironhand and a large collection of angry looking city folk. Nodding at each of them Cannis walked between the four people stood before the dais. His wife smiled down at him sympathetically filling her throne perfectly. 'My lady,' he said hugging her as she stood before him.
'My lord,' Lyella whispered into his ear. A sharp tingle of pure warmth always seemed to burn from his wife whenever they touched, it felt good. It soothed his aching muscles and pounding head. 'I missed you,' she said as she kissed his cheek.
'And I you.'
'Sorry to interrupt this charming reunion but I believe this council, for want of a better word, is waiting to begin.' Melok said as bold as brass.
'My lord husband rules here, he and he alone says when this council will begin.' said Lyella with a savagery Cannis rarely saw in her.
'And what do you thinks gives you the right to speak amongst men wench?!'
'Watch your tongue when speaking to my wife Melok! Else I'll cut it out and give you it to hold, that way you will never lose it again.' he raged pulling his axe from across his back. Melok smiled but kept his mouth shut as the hall fell silent; Cannis looked to the girl and her father. 'Jaime Thatcher,' he said recognising the old stone mason. 'What's happened here?'
'My Lord Cannis, this...creature raped my daughter my Lord.' spat Jaime pointing to the beaten soldier. His tunic virtually torn from his pale skinny flesh, his face a bloody mass of lumps and raw bruises.
'I did not!' the soldier bellowed.
'Silence!' shouted Lyella behind him. Melok looked as if he was about to make a comment but Cannis silenced him with a shift of his axe.
'What happened Jaime, we'll get to the soldier and his general later...'
'Well mi'lord...I was down the quarry see, an' well. Left Mel alone. When I came back with all mi' rocks I found the soldier been beaten by Garrick and some others,' Cannis glanced at the massive blacksmith; his forge was across the street from Jaime's studio. 'Door was splinters and I found Mel with Garrick's wife lady Berri trying to calm 'er down.' said Jaime clutching onto his weeping daughter ever tighter as he explained.
'Dragon shit!' spat the soldier. 'She liked it 'til he realised she might get preggers! 'Den she pissed her tiny panties and cried rape!'
'Like hell! I heard the screams of that girl over the ringing of my boys smacking cast iron, no one screams like that if they like it.' said Garrick with clench fists.
'Maybe not for you ugly!' said the soldier. One of Garrick's apprentices shot forward with a hammer in hand but the huge smith caught him in his massive hands ulling him back into place roughly.
'Lord Cannis the allegations against my man are clearly for naught so might we end this ridiculous council? Me and my men will return to our duties and you can return to...whatever it is you do.' said Melok with a disgustingly civilised smile.
'Your man didn't rape this girl?' asked Cannis raising an eyebrow.
'End the council,' he repeated through clenched teeth.
'The evidence against him is compelling general, and he has no defence apart from his word as a soldier that it was consensual when witnesses heard her screams. Look at her Melok...by our rules and yours your man must be punished.'
'Crocodile tears! And by the way my men talk about her she has never been shy about spreading her legs...'
'How dare you!' bellowed Jaime. Cannis raised a hand.
'You think you know my own people better than me Melok? You’re more a fool than I took you for. By your own reasoning if she was a slut then she wouldn't be worried about bearing child! Punish your man or I swear to the Great Hunter I'll...'
'You'll do what?' Melok said threateningly, stepping forward so close Cannis could feel his breath on his face. 'You may have a lord in front of your name Cannis but you're still just a savage who doesn't control his own city anymore...we do. Never forget that! One word from me and the king will release his phoenix onto your isle again...and you don't want that...do you boy!' growled the old general. 'We command this isle...I command you! And I'm ordering you, end this fucking council!' When Cannis just stood his ground the general smiled and slipped a hand to the sword at his hip. 'End the council Cannis...or I'll have Bradley here visit your daughter...' a great ugly beast reared its head in his chest. Backing away Cannis blinked several times trying to clear his thoughts. He turned to the crowds of the council, so many friends, people he'd grown up with, looking at the hard faces of his people all nodded to him almost imperceptibly. Garrick, Cromwell, his soldiers, nearly every man and woman all nodded to him. This is what the gods wanted me to do.
Turning to his lady Cannis stared at her, she had changed so much since they were wed nine years ago after meeting in this very hall, but she was still so beautiful, he'd known that the moment he saw her. But love, he never thought that would come to him as swiftly as it had. She'd become as much a part of him as his father, or his home, or the Fang itself. Then she'd graced him with a daughter just as beautiful as her. Ariel. Lyella nodded slightly with a worried look. She didn't like it but she understood. 'You come here, take control of my city with threats the king will release his pet onto us again if we don't do as you say, your soldier rapes an innocent girl and you do nothing, you insult our traditions, our city, insult my wife and threaten my daughter!' Spinning like a top Cannis slammed the blade of his axe into Malok's head splitting his skull in two. All across the hall the kings soldiers leapt into action, Garrick and his boys drew hammers from their belts and began smashing skulls, Cromwell drew his sword killing three men with a single deft stroke. 'Kill every one of them! Let none escape! Then send ravens to the other cities! Tomorrow White Isle will wake under the banner of war!'