The small chapel was quiet when Cannis entered the small stone building; everyone was too busy preparing to even think about their gods. Chapels littered the Fang and the huge mass of buildings circling its base, each one had its own priest...apart from this one. Father never liked priests so insisted the one in the Wolf Hall would not have one, he always said he knew how to talk to the Great Hunter so he had no need of some elderly telling him he was doing it wrong. Only six pews stood in the small chapel, a great antler chandelier hung from a thick black chain buried into the stone ceiling, candle wax dripping down from the antlers in solid white stalactites. At the end of the hall was a huge fresco of the Great Hunter, the Ice Leopard. Stood on a field of pure white with its piercing yellow eyes made from two huge pieces of yellow quartz, its fur made from clear unpolished diamonds, the markings polished horseshoe shapes of black marble. Other hunters were in the background behind the Great Hunter, Ice Bear's, Black Wolves, Snow Foxes, Sea Eagle's and the great black and white Orca jumping from the deep black ocean.
Father's broad shoulders blocked out a great deal of the bottom corner as he sat in the first pew, Ariel on his lap. She looks so much like her mother. She had his dark black hair and pale flesh, but she had her mother’s deep green eyes and round heart shaped face. 'What did they do Grandpa?' her soft angelic voice said.
'The dragons my Snowdrop burned everything in their path. Whole cities were scorched to nothing but ashes, the oldest and most powerful dragons even levelled a mountain on Black Isle creating the vast desert that sits at the heart of the isle. After that they left. No one has ever seen one since.'
'How long have they been gone?' asked Ariel. Cannis softly made his way up the central isle, the soft soles of his shoes making barely a sound on the hard black slate floor.
'Nearly four thousand years now,' said Father. 'People whisper that they are nesting in the Gods Spine mountains but no one has ever seen one. And the peaks are far too high for humans to climb, after they left the royal house at the time lost all its power. Without dragons at their backs they were mortal once again. War broke out, but before we could rally our banners the Barbarians launched the single greatest attack in living memory. After six months they scaled the Ice Gate, after a year nearly all of White Isle was taken. No one had ever seen them so organised and disciplined, but then came the Phoenix Knight with his flaming red sword and half an army at his back. Together with the five houses of White Isle we drove the barbarians back into their fog.'
'Mummy says the Phoenix Knight killed a lot of people,' moving ever closer to them Cannis winced at her question. 'Mummy says the Phoenix Knight is a bad man.'
'No my Snowdrop...no. He is lost. But I am sure the Great Hunter will let him find his way home once again.' spinning Father locked eyes with his son. 'Don't you agree son?' Cannis stopped. Such a great hunter brought down by his own land. During a hunt a huge snow storm had kicked up sending Harrad Wolfborn miles and miles away from the Fang. In the storm he lost his snow goggles. It was nigh on a month before he was found wondering aimlessly through the wastes, blinded forever by the snow.
'Daddy!' smiled Ariel jumping from her grandfather’s lap leaping into his arms.
'Hello baby,' he said hugging her tiny frame close to him.
'Grandpa was telling me about dragons and krakens and ogres and giants.' she smiled.
'Oh wow really? You'll have to tell me about them when I tuck you in tonight. No go, run along, bath then bed.' he said putting her down. Kissing the top of her small head.
'Yes Daddy,' running down the short isle with her dress flapping wildly Lyella smiled at her daughter and took her by the arm. Giving her husband a half smile the two left the tiny chapel, the door creaking shut behind them.
'She grows like a weed that one,' said Father with a small smile. 'Does she still look like her mother? With your hair?' he asked, unseeing gray eyes staring straight ahead of him.
'Yes father, but she has wolf blood in her. Before I left on the hunt a local butchers boy twice her age and size was bullying her friend Alena, Ariel beat him into submission with her doll.' Harrad Wolfborn laughed a great booming belly laugh, white teeth turning orange in the light from the dozens of candles in the chandelier.
'She is truly is our blood then my son,' Cannis laughed with his father. 'The fates are cruel that the hunters chose to take my sight, I would give anything to see such things. The sight of a sunrise over the Ice Gate, my granddaughters smile, the sight of my only child sitting in the throne of his forefathers.' Cannis moved in front of his father, he was still as lean and fit as he had been, still tall with sharp gray eyes, silvered hair around a bald scalp and bearded.
'I've called the banners...the other lords will come soon and we will plan our invasion against Jade Isle,' he said softly.
'Yes my boy I know...I'm blind not deaf, I heard your men slaughtering the king's soldiers from here. Relax my son,' said his father gently. 'I would have done the same, the barbarians haven't launched a raid in months, the Ice Gate is still solid and the king's soldiers had disrespected us since they arrived. The king has no grounds to keep us captives in our own city.'
'You are not angry?'
'No...Worried. Very worried, but in a strange way I'm proud of you Cannis,' his eyes drifted up his body stopping just below his chin. 'You've done what must be done, it takes a strong man to do that in the face of such a powerful enemy.'
'Oh please...' Father said quickly. 'Calling the banners to war is the easy part; fighting war is something quite different. Your rule is going to be tested in the coming months like it never has been before my son, but your blood is the blood of the wolf...you'll remain strong. I know it.'
'I never wanted to be High Lord...'
'And I never wanted to be blind but there are some things in this world no man can fight Cannis, his fate and birthrights are some of them. What would you have me do? Ostracized you? Renounced your birthrights because you didn't want to rule? No! I was not about to do that to my own blood, your mother didn't die birthing you for nothing my son.' Cannis's heart jumped into his throat. Father rarely ever talked about his mother, the woman who he had given his heart to so completely after she died he never remarried. Even after constant badgering by his advisors.
'You're the High Lord not me...'
'I am a cripple, blinded by snow flare and left to spend the rest of my days sitting useless as a whore in a monastery. I can't lead if I can't see Cannis, you're the High Lord of White Isle now, I know it’s not what you wanted, and I know you hate it. But that makes you good at it. Power always works best in the hands of someone who never wanted to have it.' Cannis smiled down at his father. Blind, old, but still wise as an owl. 'Has the king ever given reason for invading our lands?'
'No, but the whores of Flower Tavern heard drunken soldiers talking about an attempt on the life of the Phoenix Knight several years past.'
'But why invade in the last three years? Why not sooner.'
'To allow his pet to grow more,' said Cannis clenching his fists. 'I thought the Phoenix Knight was supposed to do good! Not slaughter innocent farmers.'
'He is...and will.' said Father tracking the sounds of his sons footsteps as he paced in front of him. 'He is lost Cannis; I do not know how the king controls him but...'
'The king doesn't control him! What he did in that village wasn't the king! It was that fucking monster,'
'I watched too son!' shouted Father over him, his great booming voice bouncing inside the small stone walls. 'A dream came to me during the night...' he whispered. 'I think this is why the gods stole my vision...I saw you fighting with a man with a golden phoenix flying above his head a pitch black wolf at your feet. I saw the black dragon roar in fear as you carved a bloody path through the battlefield together.' pausing the old wolf sighed. 'I cannot be sure...but I know the gods sent it to me...'
'I came within two feet of an Ice Leopard while hunting this morning,' breathed Cannis. Father shot a look to him. This time his eyes found Cannis's.
'The omens favour war...several moons past I had a similar dream, I thought nothing of it at the time but now. A dozen hunters circled a fallen phoenix as it burned through the snow, its wings broken. A black wolf stepped forward, nuzzled the bird and steadily it rose, higher and higher before it took off screaming up into the heavens...to be enveloped in the shadow of a dragon...' silence fell between the father and son as they looked at once another. 'The king controls the young phoenix, I doubt he has told him about his heritage, so only we know the truth...he will come, you know that. The king will send him to discipline you...all that must be done now is to find a way for you to make the phoenix fly.' Smiled the old wolf.